Six Man Rotation Pros and Cons

The St. Louis Cardinals saw a small glimpse of the future this weekend.  Jack Flaherty took the mound and dazzled the Busch Stadium crowd with a masterful performance that has now forced the hands of Cardinals management to make a decision they had thought and possibly hoped they wouldn’t be forced to make in 2018.  Flaherty has solidified himself in the rotation similar to the way Luke Weaver did in 2017, he took the decision away from them with his performance.   The Cardinals now stare at a rotation that features Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha, Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty and at the moment Jon Gant.  Formidable as that is the impending return of Carlos Martinez is coming along with a prospect by the name of Alex Reyes…perhaps you have heard of him?  With Gant being the guy most likely to enjoy another bus trip back to Memphis that leaves the birds with an interesting decision.  Six starters, traditionally five spots.  What do they do?  This is a decision that is best handled the old fashion way pros and cons list!

Pros

Six man rotation can save innings for young starters

In a day of Tommy John surgeries being passed around like chicken pox in a kindergarten class room innings restrictions have become the new fun trend of the MLB.  Bulldogs like Nolan Ryan and Cris Carpenter are no longer seemed to exist in a time where players and agents look at the long term over the short.  The Cardinals will feature one of the youngest rotations in baseball with an average age of 25.  They will also feature a rotation that has had its fair share of injuries.  Martinez, Wacha and Reyes stand out as players that have dealt with injuries during their young careers.  While Flaherty, Weaver and Mikolas have all not been featured in rotations for the length of a Major League Baseball season. A six man rotation will allow the Cardinals to limit the innings for the starters will also keeping their starter regiment the same thus not having to worry about transitioning them from the bullpen.

Don’t have to leave an asset in he minors

There seems to be nothing worse for a fanbase then to watch a young talent sit in AAA.  The backlash for Jack Flaherty dominating in Memphis while Adam Wainwright was trying to “find” it at the major league level was frustrating for the fanbase.  Carson Kelly has been another example of a young player that seems to have nothing left to prove at the minor league level but has been blocked by a veteran.  Problem for him is that there is only one player allowed to play catcher per game and that one player for the Cardinals is a potential hall of famer still playing at a high level.  The Cardinals have major league ready starters that have to be played.  Reyes, Weaver and Flaherty cannot waste a year helping Memphis win a championship when they can help the big club bring home a World Series.

Cons

Less starts from your #1

Carlos Martinez, when healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.  He has also graduated to Adam Wainwrights role as a team leader.    Moving to a six man rotation would mean limiting his games started and potentially setting him up for less opportunities down the home stretch of the season.  Limiting your best pitcher is never a recipe for success.

It’s never been done.

The Los Angeles Angels talked about the potential of a six man rotation after signing Japanese sensation Shoehei Otani.  Ultimately deciding not to invest in what I am sure baseball purist see as an abomination to the game.  There is no statistical proof that a six man rotation will improve the likelihood pitcher injuries or improve overall performance.  We live in a baseball world that relies on stats and with no stats to support this strategy then it may as well not be an option.

 

Sabermetrician Russell Carleton wrote that six-man rotations offer few obvious benefits in terms of pitching performance: The extra day of rest doesn’t seem to increase pitcher strikeout rates or reduce walk rates. And, because the extra man entails splitting up the workload among a larger group of people, it tends to dilute the effect of truly great starting pitchers. Over a full season, a six-man rotation results in about 30-50 fewer innings per starter.

The Cardinals have a great problem coming their way when their starters are healthy.  They also have a mind in the dugout like Mike Maddux that can help Matheny transition into a new way of thinking.  Would it be easier to have one of these guys go to the bullpen?  The answer is yes, but would it make your team better to have a potential ace coming in for maybe an inning?  No! I don’t see the Cardinals going with a six man rotation based on the comments from John Mozeliak, but wouldn’t it be cool if for once the Cardinals were at the forefront of alternative baseball thinking.

3 Things Cardinals need while Pena starts

When Yadier Molina went on the disabled list after his unfortunate incident with Kris Bryant and a 101 MPH fastball the time had come for the world to see what prize prospect Carson Kelly was going to bring to the table. For the Memphis Redbirds, the 23-year-old Kelly was slashing .234/.337/.364 with four doubles, two home runs, and 11 RBIs in 21 games. Kelly is the team’s top catching prospect and is rated third overall by MLB.com behind right-handed hurlers Alex Reyes and Jack Flaherty. Kelly’s familiarity with the young pitching staff was thought to be an easy transition. As the Cardinals enter June they have yet again seen another set back at the catching position. Kelly has been placed on the disabled list with a hamstring injury which has forced the Cardinals to rely on the next man up, Francisco Pena.

Son of former Major League All-Star Tony Pena, Francisco will now be called upon to take over the role as primary catcher until Molina is able to return.  Pena was signed from the Baltimore Orioles in the offseason to serve as backup, allowing Carson Kelly to continue to get consistent at bats in the minors. He will now be asked to keep the Cardinals afloat for the next three weeks (hopefully).  The Cardinals currently sit one game out of the NL Central.  Even with the injuries they should still be looking to contend if they can do these three things.

1.) Young arms must prove they are ready at the Major League Level

The Cardinals rank #4 in team pitching ERA despite the loss of veteran Adam Wainwright and ace Carlos Martinez. Miles Mikolas has been everything the Cardinals could have asked for from a preseason #4 starter leading the team in wins (5), innings (51.1) and first among starters in WHIP (1.05). Adam Wainwright has been moved to the 60-day DL which means that Jack Flaherty will finally be a member of the rotation without the worry of one bad inning means he is headed back to Memphis. Flaherty has shown that he has major league stuff after his first two stars. It will be up to the the youth to guide them through the first half of the season. The youngster will have to trust Pena.

2.) Defensive consistency behind the plate

Pena has been used primarily as defense-first organization depth for more than a decade, with the Mets, Royals and Orioles. He is not fleet of foot and has struggled to hit consistently over 11 Minor League seasons. But he brings a strong arm, good receiving skills and fundamentals in spades. The Cards tracked several of Pena’s throws to second this spring in the 1.80-second range, which is considered an elite pop time.

Replacing a multi time gold glover behind the plate is nearly impossible but Pena will give the Cardinals a serviceable replacement for the time being.

3.) Struggling bats will have to step up

Yadier Molina’s offensive output has been great during the 2018 season.  His 6 HR 17 RBI’s have helped pick up the slack of struggling mainstays in the lineup.  Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler have to pick up their production. They are the veterans of this team that have the track records.  Harrison Bader and Jose Martinez have been great for the Cardinals but it is time for the guys that were projected to be at the top of the order to play to their potential.  If they don’t Matheny cannot wait for them to come around.  Tyler O’Neal is ready to come up and make an impact.  If the Cardinals are relying on Francisco Pena to help the offense they are going to have a tough couple of weeks ahead of them.

The Cardinals made the right decision leaving prospect Andrew Knizner in the minors.  They must allow him to continue to develop his defensive skills.  If they did bring him up and it didn’t go well you can burn what could be a future asset to the club.  Going with Pena is the only option for the Cardinals, it is up to the rest of the team to get them through these weeks with out their leader.

Grizzlies All-Star Reliever set for new role

In the summer of 2017 Micheal Elwood was in Kansas enjoying a Country Stampede concert.   No longer thinking about continuing his baseball career after a Gateway Grizzlies Manager Phil Warren said that there was no room on the roster for him. “I figured that was the end,” said Elwood. He had accepted that maybe his time as a baseball player was over.  Then right as Chase Rice took the stage Elwood received a phone call  from Normal Cornbelters Manager Brooks Carey.  Carey was calling Elwood to offer him a spot on the Cornbelters roster based on his tryout with Gateway. His time as a baseball player was not over yet.

Micheal Elwood, 25,  spent his college career pitching for Canisius College located in Buffalo, New York.  Originally a shortstop/first baseman made the transition to full time pitcher his sophomore year.  “I was pitching in a summer game in Buffalo and after the game a few scouts came up to me and said every pitch I threw was over 90 MPH. I was shocked.”   The transformation into full time pitcher had become official.  He began to focus on pitching, having his most successful season during his senior campaign finishing with 5-4 record, and a 4.26 ERA having thrown in 57 innings throughout the year.

Elwood struggled through is first Frontier League season finishing with a a 7.12 ERA while appearing in 13 games for the Cornbelters.  Despite the rough start Elwood received an invite back to spring training for the 2017 season. Making the 13 hour trip from his home in Texas to Bloomington, Il ready to make his mark in the Frontier league, another call came from Brooks Carey.  Carey informed Elwood that he had been traded to the Gateway Grizzlies the original team that he had tried out for.  Elwood turned his car around and began to head to Sauget, Illinois.

Elwood made an immediate impact with the Gateway Grizzlies  becoming a force out of the bullpen. Working 32 innings across 21 appearances  with a team-leading three wins against zero loses holding a 3.09 ERA in the first half of the season earning him a spot in the Frontier League All- Star game as one of three Gateway Grizzlies representatives. Elwood continued to impress finishing the season with a 3.05 ERA over 42 appearances.

Entering the 2018 season the Gateway Grizzlies had to fill the void left by departing veteran pitchers, JaVuan West, Will Landsheft, and Vince Molesky.  Starting pitching became a need.  Elwood was given the chance to fill one of the holes in the rotation.  “I realized that I can be most helpful to the organization as a starter. I have a knuckleball that I can use more as a starter.” said Elwood when asked about his new role. “We have so many strong arms at the end of the bullpen and the front of the rotation hopefully I can give us six or seven strong every night.”

Elwood will be entering his third season in the Frontier League, for the first time going into the season with a defined role and high expectations.  “We have five guys in the rotation that have been in pro ball for a long time. I learn from them everyday. I think we have all of the pieces to have a championship team.”

Elwood’s new role has will be tested for the first time Wed. May 16th at the Washington Wild Things.  If all goes to plan he will be making his first home start for Gateway will be their next home stand May 22-24 against the Lake Erie Crushers.

 

Pham leading off makes sense

The St. Louis Cardinals lineup debate has been centered around the struggles of Matt Carpenter and Dexter Fowler. Both players have spent time in the leadoff spot for the majority of their careers, because of this the casual fan has this predetermination that they have to be at the top of the lineup to be effective.  That isn’t what makes sense right now in the Cardinals lineup.  During the two game series with the Chicago White Sox, Mike Matheny decided to put Tommy Pham in the leadoff spot.  While the offense didn’t explode, it could be the move that ends up making the Cardinals better offensively the rest of the 2018 season.

When the St. Louis Cardinals signed Dexter Fowler in December, 2016, they were wanting a player with speed who could get on base at the top of the lineup.  This would allow the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to a more RBI-producing role in the middle of lineup that they believed he was better suited for.  The Cardinals abandoned that approach early in 2017 more out of necessity than anything else.  Opening the 2018 campaign, Matheny decided that it was time to put Fowler back in that role in order to accommodate his new toy Marcell Ozuna in the number four spot in the order.  It did not hurt that the top four in the lineup would now feature switch hitter, right handed hitter, left handed hitter and right handed hitter 1-4 in the lineup.  The traditionalist that Mike Matheny is assumed this would cause problems for opposing managers late in games. Matheny’s plan made sense to start the season but with the struggles of Fowler much like 2017, Matheny has been forced to make a change to his lineup once again.

Matt Carpenter was not the leadoff batter for the Cardinals last season until June 7. Once June 7 hit, so did Carpenter. His xwOBA (Execpted Weighted On-base Average)was a solid .368 and his wOBA (Weighted On-Base Average) was 20 points higher at .388, indicating Carpenter’s results might have been a bit lucky. In 2018, Carpenter has seen his luck change a bit even though most advanced statistics have stayed the same and some have improved according to baseballsavant.com. It took Carpenter awhile to find his groove in 2017, I look for him to turn it around as the season goes on.  If he continues to barrel the ball at at 17% rate he will eventually find the holes in the defense.  So the question is why not put Carpenter in the lead off spot?

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The answer is no, with Matt Carpenter in the two hole Tommy Pham can feel free to take off whenever he sees an advantage.  Carpenter famously likes to take pitches,  at times seems to prefer to hit with a few strikes on him.  Carpenter’s patience can be a virtue.  The more he takes the better read Pham can get on a pitcher which will allow him to utilize his speed.   With Pham on the move, it can move the defense out of their lefty shift opening up more hitting lanes for Carpenter.  The argument for Carpenter continues to be that he only hits while in the leadoff spot.  His stats do prove the historically he is a better hitter in that spot. Is is just that he can’t hit anywhere else or is it that he has never been given a chance to prove himself anywhere else for long enough?

The movement of Tommy Pham into the lead off spot will allow the Cardinals to put their most productive hitter in a position to get more at bats.  Pham’s .330 BA, .447 OBP both lead the club.  Pham will also be able to move on the base paths more freely while hitting in the lead off spot.  Matheny has to find a way to spark the offense. Tommy Pham is the spark that can light the offensive fire.  He can bring immediate energy to the team similar to the way he lead off the first game of the White Sox series.  Mike has to continue to let this play out.  Carpenter will adjust and Fowler will benefit from the move.  Fowler will be able to let his swing loose and utilize his power from both sides of the plate.  A free swinging Fowler at this point in his career is his best option.  Tommy Pham leading off makes sense for him and for the team as a whole.

 

 

 

Wainwright or Flaherty? The Debate

Adam Wainwright has been the backbone of the St. Louis Cardinals rotation since he became a full time starter in 2007.  146 wins over his career has earned him the respect of players and fans alike, but as he steps on the mound Thursday for the Cardinals home opener the fan base has been split on whether this is the right decision.

Jack Flaherty has been a top prospect in the Cardinals system for the last few seasons.  Reaching as high as #38 on MLB.com’s prospect rankings.  The former first round pick carried his spring training momentum into the regular season striking out 9 over 5 innings against the vaunted Milwaukee Brewers lineup.  Flaherty had the misfortune of being the odd man out of the rotation with the return of Wainwright.  The question for Flaherty is, What happens next?

Flaherty will continue to make starts in Memphis.  While he has nothing more to prove in the minors sending Flaherty down was the only choice to the Cardinals.  Wainwright may one day be an option for the bullpen but as of now you have to see if he still has anything left in the tank. If he does have the ability to get outs it can be a huge asset to a playoff run with his veteran presence on the mound.  No one will debate that Flaherty was great in Milwaukee, but has not yet earned the confidence to say that he is the answer in the rotation.  2017’s 6+ ERA may be a thing of the past but it still lingers in the mind of Cardinals management.

The reason the move has caused such a backlash from Cardinals Nation is really due to Cardinals management giving mixed signals to its fanbase.  During the offseason John Mozeliak made it clear that the Cardinals were set with their young arms.  They planned to move forward with the young arms rather then spend money on a veteran like Jason Vargas or bringing back long time Cardinal Lance Lynn.  After making such a bold statement in the offseason they seem to contradict themselves by sending down the young arm before you are sure your veteran is ready to go.

The St. Louis fanbase lives for their Cardinals.  They are allowed to question the decisions by management.  But when you look at this situation, this was the only move that made sense.  Adam Wainwright is not going to the bullpen, Jack Flaherty makes no sense moving to the bullpen.  By sending Flaherty down now it also allows him to continue his regular rotation spot.  Flaherty has to stay positive – especially with the injury histories of Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright – the uncertainty of Luke Weaver and Miles Mikolas there will be a spot for the young hurler to make an impact in the 2018 season.

Jack Flaherty is going to be a good, possibly great starting pitcher on the major league level but he has to be patient and mature during this process.  Go talk to Carson Kelly about how to handle this situation.  Don’t ask Pham.

 

 

Former Grizzlie makes MLB start

When you are a kid playing little league you dream of making it to the big leagues.   You imagine yourself on the mound with thousands of people cheering your name.  The reality is most players never live that dream.  Thousands of players play professional baseball for pennies in stadiums that are falling apart, eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and dinner.   The lucky few that do get signed by professional organizations never actually make it on to a Major League Baseball mound.  But they continue to play, they continue to hold on to their childhood imagination.

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Former Gateway Grizzlies pitcher Trevor Richards, 24,  was one of those that held onto to the dream and it paid off on Monday Night in Miami. Richards made his major league debut just 21 months after his signing by the Marlins organization.  The local product from Aviston, Illinois (about an hour from St. Louis) didn’t get the win but he did inspire the baseball community.  Richards struck out 5 allowed 5 earned runs while going 4.1 innings. The biggest impact he made was on the world, social media blew up seeing the kid that came from obscurity to the majors.

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Richards played his college ball at Drury University a division 2 school in Springfield, Missouri. Never touted highly by pro scouts he went undrafted after his graduation.  Not willing to call it quits yet he signed with the Gateway Grizzlies in 2015. Richards did not disappoint immediately taking a leadership role with the team at the top of the rotation.  His ability to mix up his pitches and locate made him an asset to Manager Phil warren. In 2016 Richards continued his role at the top of the rotation for the Gateway Grizzlies.  While he was pitching well in the Frontier League scouts were still not taking notice.  It was shear luck that a scout was able to see Richards pitch.  The scout that signed Richards, David Espinosa, was actually at a game to look at two relievers from the other team.  “His changeup is an anomaly,” Espinosa said. “According to analytics, the spin rate on a changeup is slower than it is for a fastball. We call it a ‘white ball.’ But the spin rate on his changeup is almost as fast as it is with his fastball.” Richards changeup and poise was enough for Espinosa to pay the $3,000 contract buyout from the Gateway Grizzlies.  It small price to pay for the potential that he saw.  Richards rewarded Espinosa by pitching his way right through three different levels of the Miami system eventually being named 2017 Marlins Minor League Pitcher of the Year.

Richards followed in the footsteps of guys like Scott Patterson former Gateway Grizzlie turned Yankee reliever and St. Louis Cardinal First Baseman Jose Martinez. Before Martinez was hitting in the middle of the beloved Cardinals order, he was hitting dingers for the Frontier League Rockford Aviators.  Richards is just one of the examples of players that have made it from obscurity.  The Frontier League is one month away from beginning its historic 26th season.  While this league may not have . the affiliations of a major league team, they do have players with real ability.  Trevor Richards start was not only a great moment for him and his family, but a great moment for the league as a whole.

The Gateway Grizzlies will look to honor Trevor Richards this season as they host a bobblehead on Friday July 20th.

Come see the next wave of hungry athletes, the Grizzlies season begins on May 11th when the Grizzlies take on the Schaumberg Boomers.

 

NL Central Infield Rankings

Spring training has begun, before you know it the 2018 season will be upon us.  Last week we took a look at the NL Central’s top outfields, the St. Louis Cardinals coming out on top of our rankings, now lets dip into the infields.

5.Pittsburgh Pirates 2017 WAR: 6.6

Projected infield: Josh Bell, Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, Colin Moran

Potential Starter: David Freese

The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the midst of a rebuild. Players like Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer will claim roles on this infield most likely until the trade deadline hits.  Two players that can play multiple positions have become a hot commodity in the MLB.

The emergence of Josh Bell at first base has given this infield a bright spot for the future. Bell’s season went under the radar to most baseball fans, clubbing 26 Homers while driving in 90RBI’s solidified his place in the middle of the Pirates order for many years come.  Bell very well could be the new face of this franchise, fans love the long ball and Bell will hit a lot of the them.

Mercer, Harrison and now Bell have become proven MLB players.  The biggest question facing the potential of this infield will be at third base.  Jung Ho Kang was set to be the 3rd baseman of this team for many years, until a drunk driving incident in his native Korea caused a loss of his work visa.  This unfortunate event opened up the chance for veteran and former World Series hero David Freese to assume the starting job. Freese put up solid numbers last season, but ultimately the Pirates are hoping Colin Moran, acquired in the Gerrit Cole deal, will take over the starting spot. Moran, 25, will have a chance to be the starter right away.  Projections show that he has the power of a major league player, but can he consistently hit.  The main reason the Pirates rank last in our projections is that we don’t think 2/4 of this group will even be on the team by the end of the season.

There is some young talent here but overall it’s not great.

4. Milwaukee Brewers 2017 WAR: 7.8

Projected infield: Travis Shaw, Eric Thames, Oswaldo Arcia, Johnathon Villar

Potential Starter: Hernan Perez

The Milwaukee Brewers have a stacked outfield, but the infield has question marks.  Third Baseman Travis Shaw and potential second baseman Hernan Perez had career years in 2017.  Shaw’s power is for real, but he his lefty’s at a much more solid clip then he has in previous seasons.  If Shaw can keep those splits where they are we could see a future star in the making.  Perez on the other hand seemed to come out of nowhere for the Brew Crew in 2017.  His 14 homers and 13 steals were a nice boost to the team in spots starts.  He has to work on pitch selection though as his .289OBP is not something you want to see from a starter.  My guess is he keeps his role as spot starter in 2018, leaving the door open for former hight level prospect Jonathan Villar.

Villar entered 2017 with some high expectations, moving over to 2nd base was going to help him with his defensive issue and allow him to focus on getting on base.  The 2016 stolen base champ with a measly .293OBP, losing at bats the previously mentioned Perez as well as career backup Eric Sogard.  Villar still stole 24 bases in 2017, that part of his game is going anywhere.  But with uncertainty at the plate, expectations can’t and won’t be to high in 2018.

The final pieces of the puzzle, Korea’s Godzilla Eric Thames and Oswaldo Arcia round out an high upside infield core.  Thames proved to be worth the money handed out by the Brewers, bashing 31 homers in 2017, backing it up with a respectable .359OBP, Thames will most likely platoon for the Brewers in 2018, unless he figures out how to hit lefties, still not a bad option at first base.  Finally rookie Oswaldo Arcia impressed in his first full season.  Arcia, could very well be the best shortstop in the MLB one day, we don’t believe that will be in 2018 but very shortly we could see a version of Francisco Lindor on the National League side.

The Brewers have a lot of potential in the infield but with multiple platoon situations coming and the uncertainty of the 2nd base position, we can’t put them higher then 4th.

3. St. Louis Cardinals 2017 WAR: 10.5

Projected Infield: Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, Kolten Wong, Jedd Gyroko

Potential Starter: Jose Martinez

The St. Louis Cardinals made efforts this offseason to improve their offense.  Reports of potential deals for Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado were being reported nearly everyday of the offseason.  But by the time spring training began the only real additions to the infield were prospects, Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock.  While Munoz has been a bright spot early in spring training the infield lineup seems pretty set.

Paul DeJong emerged from out of the shadows of the Cardinals prospect system taking over previous years rookie phenom Aledmys Diaz’s starting spot.  DeJong, has power and a solid glove, but his pitch selection is similar to Diaz’s, he will have to work on the strikeouts to finalize his potential.  While Dejong has the tools to be a star, his double play teammate Kolten Wong has slowly developed into a productive player with star potential.  Wong, is coming off a steady 2017 season, nothing flashy about his numbers, .285BA to go along with .375OBP are both hug improvements for Wong.  Both of these players should see a huge growth on the defensive end as well.  The Cardinals have brought back 3rd base coach and “secret weapon” Jose Oquendo.  Oquendo is well known for his ability to coach up players are the defensive end.

While the middle infield of the Cards is showing potential the real backbone of the organization is on the corners.  Veterans Matt Carpenter and Jedd Gyroko both have there strengths and their flaws.  Gyroko, has found a home at 3rd base, ranking in the top 3 in defensive runs saved, with the addition of Marcell Ozuna, Gyroko will also have less pressure in the lineup, moving down to a role that suits his attributes much better. Matt Carpenter is one of the best lead-off men in baseball, that’s really his only good attribute.

The Cardinals are good on the infield, but they are much better in the outfield.  Third is a fair assessment.

2. Cincinnati Reds 2017 WAR: 13.3

Projected Starters: Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Eugenio Suarez, Jose Peraza

The Cincinnati Reds were a surprising second in total war for Central infielders in 2017 and this total was added up without All-Star Zack Cozart who left for California in the offseason.  The Reds have built a very strong in field heading into the 2018 season.  Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez are perfect fits for the hitter friendly confines of Great American Ballpark. Both supplied power in 2017 and there is no reason to expect anything less in 2018.

The question is can Peraza filled the void of Zack Cozart.  Cozart not only brought production at the plate but he also brought it with the glove.  Peraza has been a utility player for most of his career, establishing a position for him in 2018 could be the push he needs to make him a consistent major leaguer.  With the long time troubles of Billy Hamilton to get on base, Peraza could be thrust into the leadoff role in 2018, while his OBP doesn’t make him the clear canidate, his speed and 30 point higher BA gifts has to make him the frontrunner over Hamilton.

Finally we have Joey Votto, arguably the best first baseman in baseball.  Votto has every offensive tool. He alone, propels this group to the near top of the list.  Such a shame he seems to be wasting away in Cincinnati, hopefully they begin the track back to the top.  A player of this ability needs to have a chance at a World Series

1. Chicago Cubs 2017 WAR: 14.4

Projected Starters: Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Addison Russell

Potential Starter: Ben Zobrist

The Cubs are the most talented defensive and offensive infield potentially in the league.  Their ability to plug in a plus defender at any position is second to none.  The Cubs may plan to use Ben Zobrist or Javy Baez and super utility men in 2018, rotating them as they see fit.  The argument can be made that both players would be plus starters at multiple positions.  We are going to assume they go with Baez at second base and Russell at short.  Both players have limitation at the plate, but the upside far out weighs those limitations.

Russell and Baez make the best defensive middle infield in baseball, Baez took major steps on the offensive end in 2017, his 23 homers along with a .273BA showed a glimpse of his offensive potential.  Baez’s continued emergencs along with a healthy Addison Russell could make the Cubs infield incomparable.

Rizzo and Bryant are MVP contenders every year.  This team’s questions are on in the infield.  The Cubs are the best in the Central, maybe the league.

 

 

NL Central Chess Game- Yu Darvish

The NL Central has seen the most activity as a league during the 2018 off-season, Yu Darvish was just the latest move in a three way chess match for dominance.

The final memory of the 2017 MLB season was forgettable for Yu Darvish.  Two starts in the fall classic ended with Darvish setting new career lows in innings pitched per start. But the Chicago Cubs remembered Darvish a little differently, 6.1 innings pitched allowing 1 run while striking out 7.  Darvish helped end the cubbies season, now he looks to be the final piece for a potential championship.

Saturday, the Cubs inked the All-Star starter to a 6year $126million contract, taking the number 1 rated free agent pitcher off the market.  The Cubs effectively addressed their biggest concern leading into the 2018 season.  After several down seasons the Cubs utilized draft picks to build a strong core of position players which allowed them to make the moves necessary to fill a pitching staff with hired guns.  The Cubs rank dead last in innings pitched by “home grown” talent since 2012. Darvish will take the spot of departing free agent Jake Arrieta, presumably finalizing the 2018 rotation.  Darvish will join Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana, and fellow newcomer Tyler Chatwood,  forming the most complete rotation in the top heavy NL Central.

While the Cubs had an available spot in the rotation, this can be looked at as a reaction to the moves made by fellow NL Centrals rivals.  The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bolster their offenses to catch up with the powerhouse NL Central Champs.  The Cubs made the best counter move they could by bringing in Darvish.  Questions still loom around the Cubs bullpen, can they replace All-World closer Wade Davis with Brandon Morrow or Steve Cishek?  They also have to question the ability of long time ace Jon Lester, whom saw a nearly one run per game increase in ERA in 2017.  Darvish will provide stability to the rotation, playing his first five season in the bigs in hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington, Darvish should have no fear of fellow hitter friendly Wrigley Field.

The Cubs inability to build pitching has been the lone criticism of a team that has now made three straight playoff appearances as well as two straight NLCS appearance.  But while the Cardinals and Brewers have to wait for young arms to develop, they Cubbies have been able to build a strong rotation that comes in immediately MLB ready.  The length of the contact will also give GM Theo Epstein a chance to continue to build.  If Lester is on his last leg and Kyle Hendricks comes back to the real world, Darvish will be able to fill in as the ace of a staff that will be competing for many years behind the great position player core.

While $126million sounds like a big number, in todays pitcher market Darvish comes in at a bargain price.  The Cardinals and Brewers have just been put on notice.  The Cubs have a grasp on the Central that they will not give up.  With great free agents still on the market it is the Cardinals and Brewers move.

San Francisco (Giant)s Mistakes?

The San Francisco Giants decided to lit a flame to reignite the major league baseball hot stove by acquiring former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen.  McCutchen joins Evan Longoria in a new look middle of the Giants lineup.  The Giants have thrown down the gauntlet in potentially the most stacked division the Major League Baseball’s senior circuit.  While the moves are attention grabbing, does it really put the giants in a place to contend?

McCutchen joins a lineup that has found it a struggle to find offense in the outfield.  With the addition of the 5 time all-star the Giants will be able to move injury machine Hunter Pence into left field solving a problem that has plagued the team for years.  The new problem moves to center field as normal Denard Span was part of the Longoria deal. Early projections show Gorkys Hernandez as the potential starting center fielder, the Giants could shock us all by potentially moving defensive gem Brandon Belt to the outfield and play Buster Posey over at first.  Posey’s move to first is inevitable due to his growing concussions issues as well as the overall wear and tear of playing the position. A move of Belt to the outfield would shift the aging McCutchen to one of the biggest and funkiest center fields in Major League Baseball.

While the outfield has questions the Giants infield has could rival any team defensively. The acquisition of Even Longoria made a strength even stronger, the 2017 Gold Glover joins fellow 2017 Gold Glover Brandon Crawford and defensive standout Joe Panik.  While the move for Longoria shocked most in the baseball world, it was justified when the Giants made the second move to pick up McCutchen.  The Giants are telling their fanbase that they are all in for the 2018 season…at least they have forced themselves all in.

The Giants traded away their most promising prospect Christian Arroyo in order to pick up Longoria. While Longoria is still a viable player moving your top infield prospect to get him was questions by many baseball writers. Giants general manager Bobby Evans and executive vice president of baseball operations Brian Sabean have addressed this, but to summarize, the Giants wanted to improve upon the production they received from third base last season. San Francisco’s third basemen finished last in the Majors in batting average (.216), OPS (.568), home runs (nine) and RBIs (51) in 2017. Despite Longoria’s dip in production in ’17, Giants management believes he has enough left to provide respectable offense for at least a couple of years.  A couple of years may be all the Giants have left as their current farm system ranks in the bottom five and their is no one on the way.  A team that has a lot of older players seems to not have a plan if those players breakdown.

The Giants are going to go into the 2018 season with a lot to be excited about.  Their pitching staff will have a full year of Madison Bumgarner back , assuming he stays off the dirt bike.  They have Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardjia, Mark Melancon, Sam Dyson, so many established major league players. The Giants just seemed to have forgotten that the Dodgers, D-Backs and Rockies are younger and better.  The Giants won’t lose 98 games in 2018 but this team has not improved themselves enough to beat the teams in their own division.  The will battle for a wild card spot but most likely be looking to unload some vets at the trade deadline.  They showed the fanbase they are trying, but I think a rebuild would have made more sense.

But it is an even year.