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The Fastball

By: Ryan

No 9th inning pitcher was feared more last year than Aroldis Chapman. The dude is a beast; standing 6’4 and throwing heat that tops 100 mph, he easily overpowers hitters and eliminates late game heroics. This kind of dominance led to extensive speculation in the offseason about a possible switch to the front half of games. If your best pitcher is your closer, why not have him start?

chapman

While this seems like an easy switch to make for a pitcher, there aren’t that many pitchers who have successfully made the switch. Sure there are numerous guys who have done it, but only John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley remain the only two pitchers to record a 20 W season and a 50 Save season in their careers. The lack of other dominant names suggest the difficulties that pitchers face when transitioning, all of which should be considered when thinking about where Aroldis will pitch.

Obviously, the biggest difference between the two pitching roles is the number of innings. This impacts pitchers in two ways. First is the additional innings during the game, which is analogous to the difference between a sprinter and marathon runner. The marathon runner has to worry about their pace and making it to the end of the race, which is similar to the starter who needs to worry having enough juice to make it deep into the game. In comparison, the sprinter just needs to hurry up and finish. If Aroldis where to start games, his 100+ fastball would likely need be reduced to the mid 90’s so that he could log innings. A mid 90’s fastball is still great, but it lacks the dominance that helps Chapman as a closer. Without trying to overpower hitters on speed alone, Aroldis would have to develop great control over his pitches (which he isn’t known for).

The additional innings also brings Aroldis’ durability into question. His workload will increase from 75 innings a year to 180+. This is a huge increase, especially for someone who experienced left should fatigue after pitching 70 innings last year. The Reds could attempt to mediate this by implementing an innings cap similar to Strasburg after Tommy John, but that also presents problems that question the motive to move Chapman to SP.

An innings cap wouldn’t be the only thing Chapman would share with Stras, both are known for the infamous inverted W pitching motion. This is know to cause tremendous strain on the pitcher’s elbow and shoulder, sometimes resulting in Tommy John surgery as was the case with Strasburg. The inverted W could also explain Chapman’s fatigue at the end of last year, and exposes the risks that can come with a heavier workload.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds

See any similarities?

strasburg inverted w

Strasburg

If Chapman were to start, he’d also have to work through the lineup numerous times in a game. One of the key advantages pitchers use to do so is employ different pitches to deceive the hitter. Currently, Chapman has a fastball, a fastball, and a fastball. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com saw Chapman start recently in spring training and noted, “He couldn’t get his off-speed stuff over the plate.” This is a major problem for any pitcher no matter how fast you throw. Without at least two more pitches at major league level, Chapman shouldn’t even be considered for the starting role.

It won’t help the Reds get to the playoffs by having Chapman struggle and become another mid rotation starter with an injury risk. Instead the Reds are making the right choice by leaving Chapman as the closer and the head a dominant bullpen.

How can we forget.

The Changeup

By: Matt

Aroldis Chapman wants to be a closer. The Reds are shooting for a World Series crown this year and Chapman was one of the best closers in baseball last year. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well…not exactly. Quite simply, if the Cincinnati Reds want to get the maximum value out of Aroldis Chapman. They need him to be a starting pitcher.

When the Reds originally signed Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million contract in 2010, it was with the intention of making him into a starter. He was only thrust into the closer role last year because of injuries. And he took to it. He became one of the elite closers in baseball and his triple-digit fastball put fear into the hearts of many hitters. The back end of the Cincinnati bullpen was quite formidable, especially after a midseason trade for Jonathan Broxton. And the Reds roared into the playoffs with one of the best records in baseball before they ran into trouble. The ace of the staff Cueto went down with an injury, and the rest of the Cincinnati starters were not able to match up, leaving games out of reach and Chapman sitting in the bullpen watching. He logged only 3 innings of work, and gave up 1 run. Not quite the domination that fans were used to during the regular season. Mostly, since he didn’t get the chance to showcase his stuff in limited innings due to his role.

The role of the closer is sexy. They have been immortalized by Hoffman, Rivera, Wild Thing, and Beard, but their value is way overstated.

wild thing

Dominating Closers. Small WARs.

Dominating Closers. Small WARs.

Short Term Value

While WAR has its downsides as a statistic, it is a decent metric for assessing value and will work for this case. Chapman posted a 3.6 WAR last year as the Cincinnati closer which ranked him among the top relievers, however, the difference between WAR for an average and an elite closer is about 1.0. For comparison, Chapman’s possible replacement Jonathan Broxton had a 1.1 WAR in 35 innings with Kansas City before his trade, so if you were to project his numbers across the 70+ innings that Chapman pitched in the regular season you would put him at about 2.2, close to the league average. So, we can project Chapman as about a +1 win player by keeping him in the closer role. An elite closer definitely helps their team, but as you can see, their value is limited.

Now let’s compare with starting pitchers. The league average starter that pitches a full season posts a WAR of around 2.3. The Reds fifth starter, Mike Leake would be the most likely to lose his job were Chapman to move to the rotation. Last year, he made 30 starts, threw 179 innings. Posted a 4.58 ERA and a 4.47 FIP, meaning these numbers were pretty close to accurate. All of this amounted to a WAR of 0.6. Even if Chapman were to not reach ace status and post only his baseline ZiPS projection, he would post a 3.63 ERA across 144 innings with a WAR of around 3.0. This would be far better than Leake, and create more net value and wins for the Reds in the short term than keeping him in the bullpen.

Long Term Value

As for the long term, the value would be way better. The track record for changing relievers into starters is there. Daniel Bard, Neftali Feliz, Lance Lynn, Jeff Samardzija, and Chris Sale have all had success recently. The most obvious comparison for our purposes is with Sale. The hard-throwing lefty made the transition from bullpen to starter last year to great results. The Sox were careful about spacing out his starts and giving him enough rest and he posted a 3.05 ERA in 192 innings with 192 Ks and 5.7 Wins Above Replacement. Sale made the jump to ace status immediately, and since both are hard-throwing left handers with movement, it seems possible that Chapman could do the same. The stuff is obviously there, as Chapman can pop 100 with ease. His slider is nasty, and reports show that his changeup, though still developing was starting to come along in Spring Training. If he were to start, comparisons to Randy Johnson or Dontrelle Willis’s early years are easy to make. If Chapman came even close to these levels, the Reds would be foolish to keep him trapped in the bullpen.

Reds fans might have trouble convincing Snoop to change color loyalties. Hes a fan of the Green.

Starters like Chris Sale get all the love.

The Reds have a team that is built around a strong core of young players. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Brandon Phillips are all under contract for multiple years, and all except for Phillips are under 30. The team does not have to mortgage their future to win right now, and by moving Chapman to a starting role, they would create more value in the short and long term.

The Fastball

By: Ryan

Even though the Oakland Athletics won the AL West last season, team owner, Lou Wolff, has not let the champagne bottles distort his goal of moving the team out of Oakland and into the South Bay. While there has only been one team that has changed cities in nearly 40 years, the move makes sense for both the Oakland Athletics and the City of San Jose.

The Oakland A’s have been struggling with a fan base that just doesn’t seem to want to turn out to games. Since the Barry Zito days (2005), the team has had yearly attendance in the bottom five of all MLB teams every year and was dead last in two of those seasons. Last year, even though the team came from behind to clinch the ALDS on the last day of the season, they still had the fourth worst attendance on the year, averaging only 20,000 fans per game. If we instead look at attendance percentage, the 2012 number looks pretty impressive at 60%. While this rating seems fairly high, the stadium is listed at only holding 35,000 people, with tarps blocking off an extra 20,000 seats that are usually full for Raiders games. Even though the relocation news is motivating the community to make awesome t-shirts and create buyer groups willing to commit to a downtown stadium, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on fan turn out. Unfortunately, the A’s simply can’t afford to stay in Oakland if turnout remains this low.

The timing makes sense as well, since the team is in need of a new stadium. Oakland Coliseum is considered one of the worst stadiums in the MLB, alongside Tropicana Field. Even Bud agrees with this statement. This concrete behemoth is the last multi-purpose stadium left in the United States, and the Mt. Davis facelift it received in 1996, turned the Coliseum into a football stadium that baseball teams play in. Instead of making a new Coliseum in Oakland, which would commit them to the area and obligate them to the taxpayers (if it were publicly funded), it makes more sense for the A’s to move now, so they can begin to develop and invest in their new community.

Boston Red Sox v Oakland Athletics

Mt. Davis is above the Center Field wall.

Economically, it makes the most sense for the A’s to move to San Jose. There is no doubt that the team would do wonders for the San Jose economy, reports indicate a $2.9 billion impact over 30 years. This type of money would make any city excited over the possibility of a MLB team moving within their lines. Additionally, the economic benefit to the A’s, although not as large, will surely do wonders for the competitiveness of the team. A move to San Jose would eliminate the team’s eligibility for revenue sharing dollars, which in recent seasons has been around $30 million. Yet, many expect the team to make millions more from ticket sales, concessions, and luxury seats, leaving the A’s in a far better position. This increased revenue will roll over into increased wins, finally giving the A’s the money to lock down their talent instead of shipping them to the Yankees.

swisher

Nick Swisher: Former Athletic

Thus it becomes clear that a move to San Jose would expand on the recent resurgence found in the A’s organization last season and should be the favorite option for the team in the future. If it doesn’t work out, they can always change their name to the San Jose Athletics of Oakland.

The Changeup

By: Matt

My colleague makes some good points about the low turnout of fans in recent seasons. Without fans a team cannot pay its players enough to be competitive. Additionally, without many fans, it is hard to attract players to your team.

That being said, in the years since 2005, the A’s have had only three winning seasons: 2005, 2006 and 2012. It takes a special kind of person to support a team when they have a culture of losing so Oaklanders can be forgiven if they are not buying tickets every night to watch a below .500 team. But in the 2012 season, the A’s played well and made the playoffs on a remarkable run, and what happened? The fans showed up and the A’s had their highest yearly attendance in 5 years. It’s no coincidence that in ’05, ’06, and ’12, the A’s averaged 1.92 million people per year, while in their losing seasons they averaged 1.57 million. If you play well, they will come.

The 2012 Oakland Athletics

The 2012 Oakland Athletics

The way that this debate has drawn out for so many years shows a few things. One, the Giants territorial claim has merit and the commissioner is serious about upholding those rights. And two, though San Jose may be a good place to put a team financially, members of the Oakland community are serious about keeping the A’s.

The idea of “territory” might seem silly to some, but the San Jose Giants have been around since 1988 and have built up a following. They have won 6 class-A league titles in that span and helped to develop more than one hundred big league players. The Giants are serious about keeping San Jose as part of their territory in the same way that the Red Sox would be adamant about blocking an expansion team in Connecticut.

It will be interesting to see if the fans show up for the 2013 season. Coming off a good year that did a lot to build up Oakland pride as well as returning fan favorites like Coco Crisp and Grant Balfour should help boost attendance. But there is only so much of an argument you can make for staying if fans don’t show. It will also be up to business leaders in the Oakland community to come together to put a plan for a new stadium or a renovation of the Coliseum and the surrounding area that shows investment in the community and seriousness about keeping the team around. There is opportunity for all in a new stadium in Oakland, but if Wolff has already made up his mind about leaving he may not see it.

So, what do you think? Should the A’s stay put or move to greener (and golder) pastures? Vote and leave your comments below.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria took out ads in three major south Florida newspapers and wrote a “Letter to our fans.”

Loria took out the ad because he had “sat quietly” for long enough and wanted a chance to respond to his fans about the Marlins losing season and their offseason that included a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays of almost all of the team’s highly-paid star players.

The Fastball

By: Matt

To understand the full villainy of Jeffrey Loria, we have to go back in time and realize what kind of a man this is. This is a man that wants to profit from the game of baseball above all else. He feels no duty to his fans and no duty to put a winning baseball team on the field. Jeffrey Loria

Loria managed to go from a small stake in the Montreal Expos to convincing Major League Baseball to bring back the Nationals in exchange for ownership of a new team in Florida. He then managed to convince taxpayers to build him a new stadium (with some questionable art choices). Loria has done all this because he is smart and because he knows how to use sports to take advantage of people.

Marlins Statue

Taxpayers are still on the hook for over $600 million of the Marlins new stadium-which checks in as the most expensive of all time-but Loria was able to get it built based on promises that the team would dramatically raise their payroll, put out winning teams, and compete for the playoffs every year. And they did, for about half a season.

Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell were the big name free agents signed by the Marlins last offseason. They brought in sparkplug (but World Series winner) Ozzie Guillen and everything looked ready to click. But the season was a disaster, the Marlins went 69-93 and started didn’t even make it a full season before they started to dismantle their team.

Star infielder Hanley Ramirez and reliever Randy Choate were the first to go, off to the Dodgers for a back of the rotation starter. 1st baseman Gaby Sachez was sent to the Pirates. Starter Anibal Sanchez and infielder Omar Infante were sent to the Tigers and Manager Ozzie Guillden was fired (partly for his incendiary comments about Fidel Castro in a town with a large Cuban population). The turning point for the Marlins, though was their blockbuster trade with the Jays. Reyes (a franchise shortstop) and Buehrle (a workhorse starter) were sent off, along with ace Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio.

In total, the Marlins trade 12 players from their opening day roster. They took a payroll of $146.5 million in 2012 to an expected opening day payroll of $45 million (the lowest in baseball) in 2013.

I’m not here to say trading former stars is never a good idea, but when really evaluating the trades and the returns received, it is obvious that the Marlins were looking to dump salary and nothing more. In the Jays trade the Marlins received several prospects that could see time in the major leagues, but these are not your future Trouts or Strasburgs. They aren’t even future Reyes or Johnsons. In fact, none of the Jays top prospects (Travis d’Arnaud, Aaron Sanchez, Noah Syndergaard, and Anthony Gose) were sent off in the deal. Another highlight is the trade of utilityman Emilio Bonifacio. Bonifacio was set to make around a $2.5 million but could play multiple positions, get on base, and is a threat to lead the league in steals. In short, he is the type of player every GM wants on their team. But it seems that every player making over the minimum is too expensive for the Marlins these days.

Loria writes in his appeal to fans that “experts have credited us from going from the 28th ranked Minor League system…to the 5th…Of the Top 100 Minor Leaguers rated by MLB Network, we have six.” This is Loria’s attempt to justify the trade, but it doesn’t hold up. Of the six top 100 prospects, only two were acquired in trades (Nicolino and Marisnick from the Jays). The top two Marlins prospects are outfielder Christian Yelich and pitcher Jose Fernandez, both of which were draft picks that had nothing to do with the trade. Another top prospect was first round pick Andrew Heaney and finally, Marcell Ozuna was a signing from the Dominican Republic.

According to Forbes, the Marlins have made a combined $196 million in operating profits over the previous six seasons. For two of those years, the team’s financial documents list an expense for a “management fee” to the Double Play Company in the millions. Take a guess at who runs that company? Jeffrey Loria and David Sampson, the team president.

This is as low as it gets. Loria has funneled millions of dollars from his team to his pocket, convinced taxpayers to foot the bill on a new stadium, and refuses to do his job of keeping a winning team on the field. But, hey, now that Frank McCourt is gone, someone needs to assume the role of resident scumbag, right?

The Changeup

By: Ryan

I feel like I need to issue a disclaimer before this post. The words that are about to follow we’re difficult to write and hard to justify. But it’s important to say that this post will not attempt to serve as an endorsement of Jeffrey Loria. He is doing his best to demolish a fan base, and, short of having a contest where a fan is selected out of the crowd to start in LF, I’ll be surprised if they fill Opening Day. Instead, I’m going to pitch an idea that attempts to explain the rational behind the recent actions made by the Marlin’s front offices.

The Marlins entered 2012 with a new stadium, a new uniform, and a lineup full of big names. While the lineup was impressive and excitement was at its highest since they won the World Series in 2003, the team started struggling by July. At that point in time, the team had scored the third fewest runs in the game; the team simply wasn’t hitting. A big reason for the offensive struggle resulted from the poor rotation that couldn’t keep them in games. Their starting rotation going into the season was Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez, and Carlos Zambrano. While the Marlins had a rotation of big names, they weren’t performing like it. Plus, none of them could be considered higher than a #3 starter at any point in 2012, and their run differential at mid-season proved it. The Marlins were -66, fourth worst in the league at the end of June.

A month later, Loria apparently had given up on the season, and began restructuring. As they traded Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, they opened up space for Bonifacio, and picked up a slew of highly ranked prospects, two of which will be starting this year. They then attempted to fix their pitching situation by trading Hanley Ramirez, to the Dodgers for Nate Eovaldi. Up to this point in the season, Eovaldi was performing well, especially for his age. And with Hanley far from his MVP numbers from 07-09 (he hasn’t posted a WAR above 2.6 since), it seemed like a way to add back rotation depth in the short term (Eovaldi could be considered at best a mid rotation guy in the long term) and free up payroll to land another deal in the off season. These two moves we’re strategic baseball moves that allowed the Marlins to give up some big names that were under performing for improvements in their rotation and at catcher.

Yet as with all prospects, they take time to grow. And in November, Miami decided they couldn’t wait any longer. So they traded their remaining names off to the Blue Jays for a bunch of no names, with the biggest name, Yunel Escobar, getting shipped off two weeks later. It’s at this point it becomes hard to justify Miami’s actions, if only for the minuscule haul of talent that they received in return. (I think more of the blame should be placed on the catatonic commissioner, but that’s for another time). As my colleague points out there are major flaws in Loria’s argument that the Marlins have one of the best farm systems, but when you consider five of the farm system guys they traded for last season were highly touted in 2012 and are now starting, he does have some truth to the argument.

As for the stadium, it appears that the $161 million Loria mentions is a little high, the correct number is closer to $125.2 million or 20%. (Link) Even with that, as Loria states the public funded portion of the stadium will be funded by tourist’s traveling to and from the city. In other words, this tax is least likely to burden the citizens of Miami, which should make it a hit with the taxpaying Marlin fans. The only negative effects they will directly face is a shortage of revenues for other commodities they receive from the city. However, tourist taxes are highly inelastic and likely to be a stable source of revenue, and while there is no doubt that it will cut into Miami earnings, the city can easily just raise the tax a percentage or two to make up the difference without upsetting the citizens of Miami. (Plus, the stadium has won tons of awards, which will look great next to the stadium’s $73,000 bobble head display case…I couldn’t resist).

With this letter, Loria is attempting to offer the City of Miami an olive branch. Is it a first step? Yes. Does it explain everything that happened last year to the Marlins fans? No. But if he wanted to do that, he should have bought the whole Sunday paper; he definitely can afford it.

Sophomore Stars? The Trout/Harper Debate

No two rookies received as much press last year as Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. Both rookies were highly touted young raw talents, who we’re going to make a big impact on the game, and when they both got called up, it was easy to make comparisons as to which would be the better performer. While Trout easily out shown Harper last year, and nearly every other baseball player for that matter, a new year is upon us and it seems impossible to start this season without speculating which will have the better 2013.

The Fastball

By: Ryan

Trout arguably had the best baseball season last year with his .326 batting average, 49 stolen bases, and 30 homers. Not to mention he had a WAR of 10.8, highest in the Bigs since Barry Bonds had a 11.6 in 2002. While his five-tool talent and numerous web gems weren’t enough to get the Angels to the playoffs, they did earn the kid Rookie of the Year honors, and a second place finish in AL MVP. While the general conception is that Trout is going to come back down to Earth, he is still no doubt going to be an amazing athlete batting near .300 and stealing over 40. However, where 2012 was the breakout for Magic Mike, 2013 will be all about Harper.

In 2012, the kid (and yes I can call him a kid because he’s younger than me, and probably you too) ran into a bit of struggles midway during the season, which coincides to when pitchers discovered Harper’s kryptonite, the curveball. Over the course of the season, with two strikes (traditional junk ball pitch counts), Harper batted .180. Yet the kid still managed to bat .270 on the season by batting .382 in traditional hitters counts. In other words, he can crush the fastball. Yet once he becomes more disciplined at the plate, he’ll be able to work himself into hitters counts and up his walk rate, both which will respectively benefit his raw power and speed. It is also worth noting that while Harper’s worst two months were in July and August, he finished the year with a better offensive September than Mike Trout. Harper’s BA and SLG all topped that of Trout, while they both shared a .400 OBP.

I see Harper developing into more of a power hitter than Trout, who will regress into a more traditional leadoff batter (high avg, high steal, low slugging). While it’s difficult to compare a true power hitter to a true leadoff man, these two players will continue to be hybrids with a different emphasis on their game. However, what will set Harper apart this year will be a plus average for a power hitter, as evident from his .330 Sept/Oct.

Defensively, Harper will be slow to transition. He finds himself moving to left field, which will take some adjustment. But his WAR of 1.8 in his first year hints at his abilities. Harper has a cannon of an arm, which only got stronger when he bulked up 15 lbs in the offseason. As the season progresses, watch Harper become more of a threat in the outfield, especially over the limited space he’s responsible for.

Plus, let’s not forget about Harper’s hustle. This is the same hustle that allowed him to steal home on Cole Hamels when he tried to pick off the runner at first. This aspect of his game allows him to prove to be a vital asset on the base paths, where he can stretch singles to doubles and double to triples. This aspect of his game allows him and the Nats to capitalize on defensive mental errors, something few other players do as well as Harper.

2013 is going to be an exciting season and its going to be great to watch Trout and Harper duke it out again. But I give Round 2 to Harper; expect his 5.0 WAR to jump as his game continues to develop.

Oh and did I mention, the kid’s only 20.

The Changeup

By: Matt

That’s a clown article, bro.

With respect to my colleague, he’s just taking the party line on these rookies and not actually looking beyond the stats. Yes, Mike Trout is a candidate for regression, and he might even have a sophomore slump. That being said, he was the best player in baseball last year and should have been the MVP; even if he does regress, it is hard to imagine him falling far. Trout put up ridiculous numbers in his first full season, but unlike some rookies that have shone bright and faded, this young man’s numbers don’t actually suggest regression, but insanely, improvement.

Trout ended the season with a .326 BA, .399 OBP, .563 SLG with 27 doubles, 30 home runs, 83 RBIs, and 49 stolen bases (while only being caught stealing 5 times). These are fabulous numbers that bring you back to Barry Bonds pre-steroids or Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime. In some senses he actually beats these two out though thanks to his speed and defensive ability. However, though these are the sexy numbers that people like to tout, the most important numbers are the ones below the surface:

Trout grounded into 7 double plays in 2012, he had a .88/1 Ground ball to fly ball ratio, he drew only about 1 walk per 10 plate appearances and he saw about 4 pitches per at bat. These are not the numbers of a leadoff hitter, but those of a power hitter in his prime. Trout had to carry his team for a few months last season with Prince Albert was slumping, and being a rookie, he faced many fastballs from pitchers who didn’t know his weaknesses yet. And Trout did what any good hitter does with fastballs and hit them a long way, usually in the air. This likely inflated his home run totals, and brought his OBP down. While a .399 OBP is good for a leadoff hitter, it is due mostly to his high average, and ridiculous knowing that Trout only walked at a .105 bb/pa rate. It is likely that Trout in the offseason will work on taking more pitches and drawing more walks, especially since he is likely to see more off-speed and junk pitches in his second season. Trout will face a harder time in his second season, and his numbers will change, but not necessarily for the worse. I see him learning his trade more in his second season, lower power numbers, but higher peripherals.

My predictions for Trout’s second season:
118 R, 192 H, 30 2B, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 58 SB, .320 BA, .415 OBP, .500 SLG, 158 OPS +

Yes the power will be down, but the hits will be up. With Pujols and Hamilton hitting behind him, Trout will be able to do his job and see pitches and get on base. He won’t have to carry the team anymore, and can work on just being the best leadoff hitter in baseball.

Oh and did I mention he’s also the best defensive center fielder in the game?

Alright, on to Bryce Harper. Harper is a young hotshot and he probably gets more scrutiny than he deserves. He is a good player, but not great, and he is a prime candidate for regression, not improvement. Harper is a “hustle” player. He beats out infield singles, turns singles into doubles and makes spectacular plays in the outfield. However, his hustle actually makes up for some glaring problems that he will have to try and fix. Unlike Trout, Harper has not learned how to play the outfield. He gets bad jumps on balls and takes bad routes to get to them, but his hustle and grit often make up for it and he manages to make the catch. Case in point:

Harper’s swing is gorgeous. When he gets a ball where he is expecting to get it he can hit it as far as anyone and he can fly on the basepaths. That being said, he still hasn’t learned how to hit a curve ball. It’s the prototypical problem for young stars that are rushed through the minors, the inability to hit major league off speed. Harper will definitely improve some parts of his game, but he won’t be able to take it to the next level until he learns to hit offspeed pitches and hit them well.

Currently, the advantage lies with the pitcher, since they can nibble and throw junk until Harper bites and strikes or grounds out. And he does, as evidenced by his .09 bb/pa. Harper still needs to learn how to hit. And he will, but I don’t think he puts it together right away this season. Harper will put up decent numbers and will help his team contend through his hustle and raw talent. And he is raw. He may just be the best #2 hitter in baseball, but he is not much more than that. Until he gets some more seasoning, Harper will continue to be a positive player in the big leagues, but he is still a year or so away from taking the jump and becoming elite.

2013 Projections

No baseball blog would be complete without an attempt by its authors to project the final results of the season. So, here they are, our season predictions:

kgo-cc-giants-trophy-103112-600

Ryan’s Picks

AL West: This division should have belonged to the Angels last season but they always seemed just a couple games out of contention. Expect a showdown between the top two teams this year, but don’t expect the Angels to let the division slip away from them. They’ve got a strong lineup and should be able have enough to top the A’s pitching and chemistry, the latter of which will be hard to replicate again. The Rangers will regret giving a great bat to a division mate, while finding solace in the fact that Berkman doesn’t have eye issues.  Meanwhile, the Mariners will win every five days while the Astros won’t count this season as a total loss; they got new hats.

Angels

Athletics (WC I)

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Champs should have an easy time reclaiming the division with a dominant 1-2 pitching duo and 3-4 hitting duo. The rest of their lineup balances their stars, making the Tigers easy favorites. The White Sox and Indians fill out the second tier in this division, but the Indians outfield advantage trumps the Chi Sox pitching advantage, making Cleveland the better of these two otherwise average teams. The bottom tier gives the advantage to youth and the recent acquisition of James Shields, making the Royals the next best team. The division closes out with Joe Mauer & Co.

Tigers

Indians

White Sox

Royals

Twins

AL East: This division is going to be a toss-up, with each of the top four teams having a different strength but so many question marks. The Orioles are extremely dependent on a shaky starting rotation, and need a balanced production out of their lineup, similar to 2012, to make up for their lack of studs. The Rays always seem to be contenders and I expect them to call up future star Wil Myers at some point in the season to give them an added boost, but will it be enough to counter the loss of James Shields and unproductive bottom of the order. This leaves the Yankees and the Blue Jays. I don’t like putting the Yankees at the top of the division with their aging lineup and pitching rotation, and the holes in their lineup due to injury/free agency that they didn’t seem to replace, but their lineup appears to be the most reliable. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays have a great team, if it were 2012. They paid an awful lot for a lot of question marks, but I think as a whole it was an improvement and a good one to make when there is so much in flux in the division. This should be enough to get them to the postseason.

Yankees

Blue Jays (WC II)

Rays

Orioles

Red Sox

NL West: All eyes will be on the NL West and in particular the Dodgers, but expect the Dodgers to do enough to seal the division. Their superior lineup and arguably superior rotation should be enough for them to edge out the Giants. While I do think that on paper the Dodgers should be able to enter the playoffs with a decent lead over their division rivals, the Giants have been blessed with some great team chemistry that will keep them close. The Diamondbacks will be a distant third without Upton, but their pitching will be enough to get them third place. The Padres are still young and still missing two top of the rotation starters to make them contenders. The Rockies will struggle to lose less than 100 games, but this might prove as an opportunity to Jamie Moyer, who is still better than half the Rockies rotation.

Dodgers

Giants (WC II)

Diamondbacks

Padres

Rockies

NL Central: The Cardinals were the favorites for the division but after losing Chris Carpenter for the season, proved too much for a rotation that is still morning the loss of Lohse. Their strong young lineup should be enough to earn the Cardinals second place in the division and a third place wild card finish. The Reds have a balanced rotation and lineup, making them the favorite for the division. Meanwhile the Brewers and Pirates will be in a tossup for third place, with the Brewers superior rotation giving them the edge over the Pirates. The Cubs and Theo Epstein, in a last ditch effort to rid themselves of their curse; will attempt to sign every member of the 2004 Red Sox lineup to the roster.

Reds

Cardinals

Brewers

Pirates

Cubs

NL East: While the Nationals receive tons of press over their deep pitching staff, the Braves starting rotation proves to be equally as balanced, and their lineup, buoyed by bounce back seasons from both Uggla and McCann will take the NL East. The Nations will be right on their tails in a race that will come down to the wire, but wind up short and with the first wild card spot. The Phillies made a couple key acquisitions in the offseason, but further cemented themselves as the best team of 2005. The Mets will struggle this season, with a subpar lineup, forever thanking themselves that the Marlins are in the NL East.

Braves

Nationals (WC I)

Phillies

Mets

Marlins

Matt’s Picks

AL West: The AL West is turning into a top heavy division. The Angels, A’s and Rangers are all good teams right now, but the movement of the Astros and the permamediocreness of the Mariners keeps the division from getting too strong. The Angels certainly have the hitting to carry them through the season, but their pitching is a question mark. The A’s have the pitching, but their hitting may rely on the further development of Cespedes. Look for the A’s to squeak in with the second wild card and the Rangers to be surprisingly bad and finish close to .500 for the first time in years.

Angels

A’s WC2

Rangers

Mariners

Astros

AL Central: The AL Central has been described as the worst division in baseball by many, and I’m inclined to agree with them. The Tigers will cruise on their pitching and hitting, but the Royals, despite trading away their farm to go all out this year will finish a disappointing second. The rest of the division will fight tooth and nail for .500 and respectability.

Tigers

Royals

White Sox

Indians

Twins

AL East: Its going to be a strong division as usual, but not as strong as you might think. The Rays were surprisingly good last year and that was for the most part without their star player. Joe Madden is underrated look for Mike Montgomery and Wil Myers to make an impact during the stretch drive. The Blue Jays are stacked, but the clubhouse could be an issue, still they will easily take the 1st wild card spot. The Yankees are going to experience a fall off thanks to their aging stars (predicted last year, actually going to happen this year). The Red Sox are going to be very bad, and the Orioles were a fluke.

Rays

Blue Jays WC1

Yankees

Red Sox

Orioles

NL West: This division will be one that everyone is watching as it contains the defending champions, the team that is printing money who are coincidentally the teams that the writers of this blog follow (and three other unimportant teams). The Dodgers will win 95 games and change the way that owners think about the game, but are mortgaging their future successes for this season with bad contracts. The Giants are going to miss the playoffs thanks to injury troubles following an extended World Series season (sound familiar?) and 10 players in the World Baseball Classic and the failed notion of keeping the band together. The Padres youth movement will start to take shape but they are still a season or two away. Kevin Towers is a bad GM who willingly traded away his best players for mediocre ones. And even though Tulo will begin to return to form, the Rockies don’t have the pitching.

Dodgers

Giants

Padres

Diamondbacks

Rockies

NL Central: The Reds and Cardinals will duke it out all season, but the Reds are going to be the team to beat. Aroldis Chapman may or may not work in the rotation, but they have enough pitching and bullpen depth so that it will make no real difference. The Pirates will be decent, but I just kinda feel sorry for McCutchen at this point. The Brewers will be bad and the Cubs will be worse. It will be interesting to see if the MLB decides to take action against Braun and other suspected PED users, and the fate of the Brew Crew will hinge on that (non) decision. Epstein is starting to turn the Cubs around, and I expect strong play from Brett Jackson, but when the best player on your team is Alfonso Soriano there is a problem.

Reds

Cardinals – WC2

Pirates

Brewers

Cubs

NL East: Chone Figgins will hit .360, win a batting title, and spirit the Marlins to the Division championship!!! And then the Marlins one fan that’s left will wake up and shuffle to his $6 dollar seats and get drunk on $10 beer. The Nationals are the best team in baseball and the Braves are arguably the second best. This will be a fun division race, but the limitless Strasburg Nats will take it. The Phillies are old and bad. The Mets are a year or two away from their rebuilding and the Marlins are just a joke at this point. Bring back the Expos?

Nationals

Braves WC1

Phillies

Mets

Marlins