Tag Archives: 2013

Revisiting The Nine Best Shortstops for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next few weeks I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

We’ve already covered the catchersfirst basemen, and second basemen so let’s move on to first base. Here’s The Nine Best Shortstops for 2013. Numbers are as of the July 22.

35. Derek Jeter, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 0.0)

When I wrote the list, the word on Jeter was that he’s going to be ready early in the season and that obviously didn’t reflect reality. I absorb some of the blame for not being more cautious on Jeter, but I also can’t do much more than trust a basic medical timetable. He’s played 0 games at SS this year and only one game at DH. MISS

22. Alcides Escobar, Royals (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 0.7)

Escobar was trending up offensively over the last few seasons but has been absolutely awful at the plate this season, posting a 59 wRC+ (what’s wRC+?). Escobar has done a nice job adding value on the bases and on defense so this pick wasn’t a massive whiff, but the previous gains at the plate have gone missing. MISS

21. Elvis Andrus, Rangers (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: 0.7)

The Andrus story matches the Escobar one. He’s been a very solid offensive player over his first few seasons but has looked terrible to date in 2013 at the dish. He’s still adding tons of value on the field and on the bases, but at the dish he’s at 58 wRC+. Coming off a big contract it makes you sweat if you’re a Rangers fan because Andrus doesn’t need to be great to earn the deal, but he can’t be this bad.

18. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 0.9)

Rollins is only a little off the pace I pegged him for at #6, but he’s not putting up the offensive numbers he needs to this season. Right now he’s playing like an average shortstop instead of an above average one and it’s to blame for his stop on this list. He’s getting older, but I bet he’s got another nice run in there somewhere. MISS

17. Jose Reyes, Jays (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 1.0)

Reyes is having a top 3 season right now when he’s on the field, but of course, he’s missed time with an injury. I gambled on health with my ranking, but he’s be matching it if he didn’t get hurt so I don’t feel too bad about the performance half of my judgement. I’m holding off on judgement because he could easily run off an amazing second half and get close to the top of the list. PUSH

10. JJ Hardy, Orioles (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.7)

The Hardy ranking is a little off mostly because of the other guys on the list. He’s having the season I’d have pegged him for, low OBP, nice pop, solid defense. The reason he’s at 10 instead of 5 is because I whiffed on a lot of guys ahead of him. I’m calling this a push for now, but it’s probably going to end up as a miss. PUSH

9. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

Ramirez is getting much of his value from great defense and solid baserunning but he’s doing well enough at the dish (79 wRC+) to add some value at the plate given his position. He has no pop and no eye at the plate, but for now his BABIP is high enough that it is carrying him to a solid batting average. I don’t think this ranking sticks and he was just off my original list. HIT

8. Andrelton Simmons, Braves (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

I thought Simmons would hit a bit better than this, but his amazing, all-world defensive is what carries him. He’s got a 14 UZR right now and is slugging pretty well for a SS despite his low OBP. He’s not going to be in the top 4, but he’s very good. MISS

7. Yunel Escobar, Rays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.3)

Yeah, I never know what to make of this guy. I’m sure I didn’t give him enough credit, partially for his non-baseball issues, but anytime the Rays trade for you, you’re worth watching. Solid bat and good defense for Escobar this year. MISS

6. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.7)

I figured Peralta for a bounce back season, but not to this degree. Peralta is the 5th best SS on our list at the plate and has put together a league average season in the field. Peralta is doing it with a high BABIP, but he’s kept it up for 90+ games, so it’s probably not going to come crashing down and totally erase his value. MISS

5. Everth Cabrera, Padres (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.9)

So he’s a great baserunner and always has been. But he’s added 45 points in OBP and 70 points in SLG over last season. I don’t know what you want from me. If you saw this coming, you’re a better predictor of SS that me. MISS

4. Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.1)

I left Hanley just off the list because I was worried about his ability to stay healthy. Good call, Neil. He’s at 3 WAR in 42 games. Whatever, this is stupid. MISS

3. Jean Segura, Brewers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.3)

Segura is having a great season. He’s hitting like a madman. I didn’t know enough about his skills as a prospect coming into the season to rank him, but at least for now, I’ve missed. I don’t think this level is sustainable, but he’s certainly good enough to have made the list. MISS

2. Ian Desmond, Nationals (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

So I’ll be honest, I have no idea what to make of Ian Desmond. No non-Ben Zobrist SS put up a higher WAR (5.4) in 2012, but it seemingly came out of nowhere. He walked no more than previous years and struck out no less. His BABIP ticked up a bit and UZR liked him better, but he also managed to hit for a lot higher average and more power. That’s generally a good sign, but it’s also a bit strange. He didn’t improve his approach at the plate and his BABIP didn’t shoot up, but he got a lot better. I’m generally favorable toward Desmond, but I just don’t know if we’re going to look back at last year as a fluke or not. I’m not quite ready to buy into him just year, but check back later in the season because he could make me a believer in no time.

That’s what I said about him before the season. I’m just going to let that stand. PUSH

1. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 3.6)

Tulo is the best SS in baseball despite missing 30 games. Great defender and he’s an elite hitter at any position. This is the best shortstop in baseball when he’s on the field, and apparently, sometimes when he isn’t. After a pretty bad ranking so far, I’m hanging my hat on not screwing this one up. HIT

Revisiting The Nine Best Second Basemen for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

We’ve already covered the catchers and first basemen, so let’s move on to first base. Here’s The Nine Best Second Basemen for 2013. Numbers are as of the All-Star Break.

81. Dustin Ackley, Mariners (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: -0.6)

I would feel worse about Ackley if the rest of this list wasn’t as good as it is. I whiffed on this one. Ackley might have a future yet in MLB, but he’s not going to be a top 2B for 2013 unless something otherworldly happens. MISS

26. Aaron Hill, Dbacks (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.5)

Hill’s rate stats are great, he just got hurt and has only played 30 games after fracturing his hand. That’s not an “injury-prone” kind of injury, so it’s not like the kind of thing you should account for when considering a ranking because it could happen to anyone. This one is off, but for good reason. MISS

13. Ian Kinsler, Rangers (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.4)

Kinsler is much the same as Hill, as he missed time with an injury. The rate stats are good, but he hasn’t accumulated the value because he’s about 20-25 games short of his competitors. No sweat. PUSH

12. Neil Walker, Pirates (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 1.5)

Walker, too, is having a good season but missed a bit of time with an injury. He’s still pretty close to on track to finish 7th among 2B, so no issues here. HIT

10. Brandon Phillips, Reds (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 2.0)

Phillips is pretty much who I thought he’d be. A low on base, solid power guy who plays good defense. His precise ranking isn’t dead on, but it’s very close and there’s no reason to think he won’t be right around 6-8 when all is said and done. HIT

9. Marco Scutaro, Giants (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.1)

Scutaro is a guy who has gotten better as he’s aged and is doing a nice job getting on base and limiting strikeouts. I had him out of the top 9, but not that far. I’ll call it a push and see how things go. He’d certainly have been 10-13th before the season. PUSH

8. Ben Zobrist, Rays (Preseason Rank: 2 among RF, 2013 WAR: 2.2)

Zobrist started the year in RF and I could only rank him in one place. I ranked him as the 2nd best RF in baseball. Nothing you can do about that. PUSH

7. Omar Infante, Tigers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)

Infante has done a very nice job improving his defensive and baserunning game, which has done a lot to improve his overall value. Infante was a middle of the pack guy for me, so I undershot him a little to this point. MISS

6. Howie Kendrick, Angels (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)

Kendrick is another guy who I left just outside the list, and that’s on me. He’s having a strong year with the bat and it’s carrying him onto the list. MISS

5. Chase Utley, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 2.6)

I’m a huge Utley fan and ranked him first as a bit of bold prediction that he’d stay healthy. He’s the best 2B in baseball in my book but he’s had trouble staying healthy, and despite missing about 25 games, he’s still 5th on this list. If he plays 65 games the rest of the way  at the pace he’s on, we’re talking about a 5+ win player in 130 games. I’ll stand by him. He won’t finish first, but he’s definitely going to stick in the top five. HIT

4. Jason Kipnis, Indians (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

Kipnis was one of those young players coming into the season who could easily have taken the leap or faded back. He’s done the former and has established himself as one of the game’s better power hitting second basemen with  .514 SLG to go with his .383 OBP and good baserunning. Kipnis may not sustain this pace, but he’s a very good second baseman who I expect to finish in the 4-7 range this season. HIT

3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.7)

Number 3, nailed it. Pedroia is just a great all-around player. I don’t think much else needs to be said about a guy who gets on base, hits for solid power, plays good defense, and runs the bases well. Pedroia is great. HIT

2. Robinson Cano, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: 3.8)

Another direct hit. Cano is a very good hitter, trailing only Kipnis and the guy who is 1st on the list in wRC+ and his defense and baserunning are about average. He’s been the only Yankees who can stay healthy and he’s setting himself up for a big payday. HIT

1. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 4.3)

I really like Carpenter as a player, I just had no idea he was going to turn into this guy. Pretty much everyone will tell you he’s turned himself into a much better player and when I wrote the original list he wasn’t even a lock to get the 2B job. He’s done a great job. He’s the best hitting 2B in baseball right now and is playing great defense. MISS

Revisiting The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

We’ve already covered the catchers, so let’s move on to first base. Here’s The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013. Numbers reflect start of play on July 6.

56. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: -0.2)

Teixeira was more hurt than I knew when I wrote the original list. Nothing you can do about a guy who only plays 15 games during a season due to injury. MISS

49. Albert Pujols, Angels (Preseason Rank: 2, 2013 WAR: -0.1)

Albert Pujols stated slow last season and came on strong in the second half. I’m not sure if that’s going to happen again or if his foot and ankle injury will improve enough that he can contribute the way he should. Granted, I knew Pujols was on the wrong side of 30 when I wrote the list, so maybe I should have been more cautious about his decline, but it’s safe to say one shouldn’t assume an all-time great player will simply cease being valuable out of nowhere. He’s producing at league average with a 99 wRC+ from a position that demands offense and is below average on defense and on the bases. Pujols likely won’t be this bad all season, but there is no way he can recover enough to save the prediction. MISS

31. Adam LaRoche, Nationals (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.5)

He’s lost some power from his career year in 2012, but the OBP is nearly identical. LaRoche was my bold, wild card type pick, so I’m fine with being off the mark a bit. He’s defense rates below average this year despite being good each of the last three seasons. I assume that will turn around because 1B defensive skills shouldn’t deteriorate that quickly, so he’s probably more of a 2.5 WAR player than a 3.5 WAR player and that’s not a huge whiff. He’s probably a 10-13 1B for the whole season, so this is a miss, but not a huge one. MISS

30. Prince Fielder, Tigers (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 0.5)

Fielder, currently at 123 wRC+, is performing well on offensive relative to league average, but not compared to the bar he set for himself. At this pace, he’s like to finish near the 8-10 mark, but he could easily snap out of it and start hitting for more power at any moment. There’s nothing physically wrong with him and he’s had the occasional season in his career that was just pretty good instead of great at the plate, so he could easily slug .550 the rest of the way and no one would find it strange. He’s costly on defense, but that’s a constant. He’s a top 9 1B on offense right now, but not comfortably enough to make up for his defense. MISS

15. Anthony Rizzo, Cubs (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 1.3)

Despite some recent slumping Rizzo is only a bit off the pace he set in 2012 on which I based my evaluation. He’s 0.3 WAR back of 8th place, so I’m feeling pretty good right now. He’s playing strong defense and has a 110 wRC+. With a little better second half, he’s dead on. HIT

12. Freddie Freeman, Braves (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.4)

Freeman spent 15 days on the DL early in the season, but while he’s been on the field during the 70+ other games, he’s been right on pace for 5th. He’s the 6th best 1B by wRC+ and is hovering just below average on defense. Assuming he’s healthy and plays 140 games or so this season, he’s perfectly on track for the middle of the top 9. HIT

10. Allen Craig, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 1.5 WAR)

Craig is having essentially the exact season I’d have expected from him. In the initial ranking I said he was a phenomenal hitter (he’s 5th in wRC+) and nothing special with the glove (-2.2 UZR). His only issue would be health, which hasn’t bitten him yet and is just 0.1 WAR away from 7th on the list. If he doesn’t miss much time, this one looks great. HIT

9. Eric Hosmer, Royals (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 1.5)

Ha! Nailed it. He started a bit slow but things are picking up nicely and he has added value with the glove too. I’m a fan of his skills and think he can be a great player despite 2012’s disappointment. I’m not going to say much more and just bask in this precisely accurate ranking while it lasts. HIT

8. Brandon Belt, Giants (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR:1.6)

I like Belt, but the Giants have been screwing with his swing and playing time so much over the years it’s hard to feel good about any sort of prediction. He’s a patient hitter with a solid glove and I like him a lot as a player, I just didn’t think it was a good idea to rank him in the top 9 because I couldn’t predict the playing time. MISS

7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)

Someone asked about him when I posted the original piece and I said he’d have been 10 or 11 for me, so finding him at 7, just ahead of that spot isn’t surprising. He’s hitting for a little more power than I thought, but other than that is right on track for the season I thought he’d have. HIT

6. Mark Trumbo, Angels (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

Trumbo wasn’t ranked in the preseason because I expected him to get most of his reps at DH. Nothing you can really do about that one, but he’s a lowish OBP, high power guy who tends to run hot and cold. He’s actually be solid with the glove in Pujols’ stead, so I’m comfortable expecting him to finish near the back half of the list. PUSH

5. James Loney, Rays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.3)

I saw this coming. Not this exactly, but I did. Go to #30 on this list of bold predictions and you’ll see. I didn’t think he’d be a top 9 guy, but I’m taking credit for this because so few people had good things to say abut Loney going into the year. He’s always been a guy who could play defense and hit for average, but he was caught in between while looking to add power in LA, so arriving in Tampa and being told not to worry about it seems to have helped. HIT.

4. Edwin Encarnacion, Jays (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.5)

I had Encarnacion figured in for a lot of games at DH, which has sort of happened. 45 games at 1B, 29 at DH, 10 at 3B so I didn’t expect him to add as much value because of the DH positional adjustment in WAR. I expected him to mash, but not to add this kind of overall value. I’m calling it a push because it was more of a playing time mistake than a production one. PUSH

3. Joey Votto, Reds (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

Joey Votto is great and I said he would be great. His defensive rating is below average, which I don’t think will continue and that is the only think keeping him from another MVP type season. Votto is right on track for the 6.5-7.5 WAR season that I figured for him. HIT

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Dbacks (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 3.4)

Goldy was someone I agonized over and left him off with A-Gon right on the cusp. He’s been good enough to make that prediction a miss, but I do want to make clear I liked him a lot coming in, just not quite as much as I should have. He has amazingly gotten better from year to year across the board since coming to the big leagues and is very much in the MVP conversation with Votto and several other guys who will appear on other lists. I’m a Goldy fan and regret not putting him on the preseason list. MISS

1. Chris Davis, Orioles (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 4.6)

Yeah, didn’t see this coming. No one did. Not even Chris Davis’ mother expected him to elevated his game to near-Cabreraian levels. He’s mashing and is right in the thick of the AL MVP race. He’s not this good, but he’s also clearly good enough to hang on this list the rest of the way and I wouldn’t have put him in the top 12. Easily a miss and pretty darn impressive. I’m not buying him to finish #1, but he’s earned it for now. MISS

Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.

MLB Power Rankings July 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Before the season began, I provided you with how I thought the season would play out in standings form and in power rankings form (30-2120-1110-1). Each week, I’ve updated the standings projection based on the games from the previous week, and at the beginning of every month, have synthesized that into league-wide power rankings. What follows are my MLB Power Rankings for July 2013. (May and June)

The idea is simple. I ranked the teams at the beginning of the season based on how well I thought they would perform over the entire season. I am doing the same thing here, but I just have new information to include based on what I’ve seen so far.

30. Miami Marlins (June Ranking: 30)

No one in baseball hits worse than the Marlins (71 wRC+) and despite a reasonably good defense (11.3 UZR), the 24th ranked pitching staff (5.1 WAR) isn’t enough to keep them out of the cellar. By WAR, they rank 29th in baseball with 6.5, but they play easier competition than the Astros and are downright embarrassing as an organization.

29. Houston Astros (29)

The Astros aren’t really much better than the Marlins, but they get points for actually trying to produce a good team while the Marlins ownership is just sitting on their yachts collecting revenue sharing dollars. The Astros have the 26th best offense, a very poor defense, and the 29th best pitching staff in baseball. Nothing about them is good, but they remain slightly less terrible in my book because they play tougher competition than the Marlins. Without question, the Marlins and Astros are baseball’s two worst teams.

28. Chicago White Sox (22)

The White Sox actually have a very good pitching staff. They rank 3rd in WAR with 11.6, but the offense is so atrocious that it hasn’t really mattered. The White Sox have baseball’s second worst offense and the worst among those who don’t bat the pitcher 9th. They’ve won just 32 games, fewer than all but the Marlins and Astros, and are showing no real signs of improvement. They’re likely to sell hard at the deadline and have yet to play any of their nearly 20 games against the Tigers. The Sox have a solid staff led by Chris Sale, but when your ace is 0-5 in June despite a dominant month, it probably doesn’t bode well for your chances as a team.

27. Milwaukee Brewers (20)

The Brewers have a middle of the road offense, but a terrible pitching staff (ranked 16th and 28th respectively) and Braun remains on the DL. The Brewers seem like obvious sellers and probably shouldn’t be expected to do much in one of baseball’s toughest divisions. They have a couple elite hitters on their team, but everything else is kind of barren.

26. Minnesota Twins (28)

The Twins have a respectable, mediocre offense (97 wRC+), but have played poor defense and have a decidedly below average pitching staff. They certainly aren’t among the comically bad, but there isn’t much on this team that makes me think they’re anything but a bottom five club.

25. Seattle Mariners (26)

Felix and Iwakuma are worth the price of admission but they’re below average at the plate, on the field, and everywhere else in the pitching department. They’re starting to turn things over to the prospects, but the front office and coaching staff is likely on the way out after the season. But hey, 2 out of 5 days they are very watchable and they feature New English D comeback favorite Jeremy Bonderman. Things could be worse.

24. Chicago Cubs (25)

The Cubs are pretty much performing exactly as expected. They have a below average offense (89 wRC+) and an above average pitching staff (7.1 WAR) to go along with a solid defense. The Cubs are likely better than their record, but they are also likely to sell off their valuable pieces during a rebuilding effort, so that should balance out come later September. The Cubs are the Cubs, but they’re worth paying attention to as the NL Central will likely be decided on their terms.

23. New York Mets (24)

The Mets are pretty much a carbon copy of the Cubs, except they can’t play defense. David Wright is having a strong season and Matt Harvey would be my pick to win the Cy Young at the halfway mark, but other than that there have been few bright spots. They’re two good outfielders short of relevance, but Harvey and Wright are doing a nice job making them watchable for now.

22. San Diego Padres (27)

The Padres are quite difficult to pin down and have bounced around these rankings all season long. The offense and defense have performed quite well despite few household names, but the pitching has been awful and is the worst in the league by WAR (-1.6). They’re an unbalanced team, so it’s unclear which direction they will fall but I can’t see anyway in which they finish the season as an above average team in my book.

21. Kansas City Royals (23)

The Royals have a great defense with a league best 37.8 UZR, but the offense is terrible (88 wRC+) and the pitching staff is just average. The ERA looks good, 3.57, but their FIP is 4.15 which lines up with the idea that the defense is great. The pitching staff isn’t bad, but it’s middle of the pack and defense can’t carry a club very far on it’s own. They prevent runs well, but they cannot score them at all. If only they had a young power hitter like Wil Myers on their roster….

20. Los Angeles Dodgers (19)

Puig and Kershaw are awesome. That’s clear. But everything else about the team is underwhelming and they’ve looked more like a MASH unit than a baseball team. Once again, I’ll remind national writers that money doesn’t make a team good. You have to have good players who aren’t hurt.

19. Colorado Rockies (21)

The Rockies are slow climbers on this list, but they are climbing after I pegged them for the cellar at the open. The offense is solid, but the pitching has been surprisingly good. I still can’t figure that out, but it’s working so far. I’m still skeptical, but they’ve earned some respect and we cannot undo their 41-42 record to date.  I see them finishing right below .500 this season.

18. Philadelphia Phillies (18)

The Phils are just slightly below average across the board. They have some good players and some bad ones, and Cliff Lee is always fun to watch. Cole Hamels is pitching better than the numbers indicate and Chase Utley remains one of baseball’s most underrated players, but the Phils should be sellers this month and shouldn’t expect to play much better than this pace the rest of the way.

17. Los Angeles Angels (17)

The Angels have a very good offense, and their defense will likely be better than it has been to date (-15.6 UZR), but their pitching staff is bad and their “best” starters (Weaver and Wilson) are wildly overrated as it is. They should score runs thanks to Trout and co., but they’re going to allow quite a few. With the Rangers and A’s ahead of them out west and no more games against the Tigers (whom they have owned this year), I can’t see a path for the Angels to be much better than average this season.

16. Toronto Blue Jays (16)

Everything I thought would go wrong with the Blue Jays did early in the season, but they’ve started to get healthy and get back on track as we head into July. I still think it’s probably too late for them to recover from the hole they dug, but they should definitely be relevant as the season wears on. The offense has been solid (99 wRC+), but the pitching staff (5.6 WAR) has left a lot to be desired. The question is how much of a correction they can make before the clock runs out.

15. Cleveland Indians (14)

As I’ve been saying for the last two months, the Indians are a good not great team. They can hit (110 wRC+), but their 26th in pitching WAR and there is no reason to think they’ll get much better in that department. I think they can finish above .500 and have a respectable season, but that’s the ceiling in Francona’s first season.

14. San Francisco Giants (11)

The Giants are scuffling and despite the league’s 10th best offense (100 wRC+), they aren’t getting help from their pitching even if the defense (24.1 UZR) is doing excellent work behind them. Their pitching should get better, but so far it hasn’t and I’m not sure how long you wait before you adjust those expectations. I still think the Giants can pull off a division title, but it’s very close and it isn’t going to be easy.

13. Arizona Diamondbacks (12)

The Dbacks are a below average offense (90 wRC+) and a mid level staff (6.7 WAR), but great defense (21.7 UZR) helps push those ranks up a little overall. They’re 42-39 and in position to win the West, but nothing about them makes me think they aren’t vulnerable to assault from the Giants. Whoever manages to avoid the most brawl related suspensions is the team I’ll bank on for the postseason.

12. New York Yankees (8)

The Yankees are finally feeling the correction from the early season scrubs become stars routine and now have the league’s 28th (!) ranked offense. Their pitching remains strong, but with Teix out for the season, Wells back to his old ways, and Jeter and Grandy still on the shelf, it’s hard to think they’re going to be a powerhouse down the stretch.

11. Pittsburgh Pirates (15)

Here come the Pirates, who are all but assured a winning record for the first time in two decades. But they have the 18th best offense and 19th best pitching staff in baseball. The defense has been good enough to help out, but they are playing over their heads. I don’t think they’ll fall back into oblivion, but I don’t think they’ll have the best record in baseball for the entire season. They’re a borderline wild card team for me, but there’s no shame in that.

10. Washington Nationals (7)

I still believe in the Nats despite an 85 wRC+ and -13.3 UZR. The pitching staff has been good with 8.7 WAR (9th in MLB), but I’m banking on the bats to get going. There is too much talent on the roster for them to hit this poorly, especially as Harper returns this week. I had the Nats as the best team in baseball entering the season, so this is actually a serious drop, but I’m not ready to give up yet.

9. Baltimore Orioles (13)

The O’s have a bad pitching staff, but they can smack the ball and play excellent defense (108 wRC+ and 23.4 UZR) so I’m enough of a believer in their staying power. I don’t like their chances in a short playoff series, but for the remainder of the season, Machado, Davis, and co. should be able to slug their way to another very good finish.

8. Oakland Athletics (10)

The A’s have the league’s 8th best offense and 10th best pitching staff to go with a solidly average defense. Nothing about them is impressive, except for the fact that they are this good despite almost no financial resources. Over the full year, no one has been better and they look poised for another exciting September.

7. Cincinnati Reds (5)

Despite the presence of Votto, Choo, Frazier, and Bruce, the Reds aren’t getting as much out of their offense as they should thanks to Dusty Baker insisting on batting his worst hitting 2nd and killing a great deal of rallies. The defense is solid and the bats are close to average overall (95 wRC+), but the deep pitching staff (9.4 WAR) make the Reds one of the better rounded clubs in baseball. They have a race on their hands, but this is a very good team.

6. Tampa Bay Rays (6)

The Rays, yes those Rays, have the league’s 4th best offense (109 wRC+) and the pitching staff is starting to come around (now ranked 15th in MLB) and will get David Price back this week. Overall, they are 6th in MLB in WAR, which is right where they sit on this list. Their division is good, but I’m a believer in their staying power as they chase the O’s and Sox.

5. Atlanta Braves (4)

The Braves can hit (103 wRC+) and are a solid pitching club (8.1 WAR). They strikeout a lot, but they built themselves a nice cushion in April and have been steady ever since. There are flaws in this team when it comes to success in October, but it’s hard to imagine they fall apart before then.

4. Texas Rangers (3)

The Rangers only fell because of a team who came charging up the rankings. The Rangers are actually a touch below average with the bat (95 wRC+), but with solid defense and great pitching (13.9 WAR), they rank 4th in MLB in total WAR and have the record to prove it. The Rangers are a good all-around team despite the pitchers they have sitting on the DL. Despite what everyone said after the offseason, I told you the Rangers would be fine.

3. Boston Red Sox (9)

The Sox can hit (league best 113 wRC+) and have a solid pitching staff (7th best at 9.6 WAR). Together, they rank as the 2nd best team in baseball by WAR and they too have the record to prove it. They have a tough division to win and Buchholz’s injury is a concern, but this is a well built team with good depth and should be a contender until the end, even if they can’t hold on in the East.

2. Detroit Tigers (1)

The Tigers have the leagues second best offense (112 wRC+) and the best pitching staff (16.6 WAR) to given them the best WAR of any team in baseball by more than 3 full wins. Their record is a bit out of sync with those numbers, but that’s due in large part to a poorly run bullpen and an insistence on using Jose Valverde for 20 games in May and June. The Tigers are the best team on paper and haven’t yet had the chance to play the bumbling White Sox.

1. St. Louis Cardinals (2)

The Cards are a great team (108 wRC+, 10.9 pitching WAR) and trail only the Tigers and the Sox in total WAR. They have one of the best records in the league and have the deepest all around team in MLB. They have an excellent farm system to replenish any injuries and have some of the most underrated players in baseball on their roster. For now, the Cardinals are the team to beat.

Sound off on the list in the comments section!

Revisiting The Nine Best Catchers for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

In the weeks leading up to the 2013 season, I unveiled my predictions for The Nine best players at each position. Some of the lists look good, some look terrible at this point, but that’s all part of the fun. Over the next two weeks leading up to the All-Star Game I will be revisiting these lists to see how things are going so far, around the halfway mark.

Obviously, the early evaluations will feature fewer than half a season and the later lists will feature a bit more, but try to think of these as the state of the position at the halfway mark. I’ll be using Wins Above Replacement (WAR) to generate the rankings because it is the number that best captures the entire value of a player. It isn’t perfect, so don’t take the precise values too seriously, but it’s certainly the best way to make any type of holistic list. WAR values offense, defense, baserunning, and playing time, so it represents exactly what I was trying to capture when I made the rankings during Spring Training.

Here’s how this will work. Below, you’ll see all nine players I ranked in the preseason and any player who currently ranks in the top 9 at that position. The current ranking drives the order and the preseason ranking and their current WAR is noted. Hit, miss, and push distinctions are based on where their first half places them going forward. For example, I can miss on a player even if I expect them to play much better in the second half if their first half was so poor that it is impossible to make up the ground overall.

Let’s start with catchers! Here’s the original post for you to refer to: The Nine Best Catchers for 2013. (Numbers reflect start of play on June 22).

57. Ryan Hanigan, Reds (Preseason Rank: 9, 2013 WAR: 0.0 WAR)

Hanigan made my original list largely based on his excellent defensive work and his ability to get on base. The defense has been strong as usual, but his .278 OBP has been horrible, especially compared to his .365 mark a year ago. As a result of his poor offense, he’s receiving much less playing time than I expected and isn’t accumulating much value. I don’t think he’ll be replacement level the entire year, but it’s likely too late for him to make any sort of run at a top nine spot. MISS

51. Carlos Ruiz, Phillies (Preseason Rank: 7, 2013 WAR: 0.1 WAR)

Ruiz missed the first 25 games with a suspension, which I knew about going into the season, so I anticipated his value would be backloaded. However, he also got hurt and has only appeared in 19 games to date with 67 PA. He hasn’t played well in that span, but that’s such a small sample that it’s really too hard to tell how he’ll play for the whole season now that he has come off the DL. Even if he matches his career year pace the rest of the way, I think it will be pretty hard for him to crack the top 9, much less be number 7. I expect him to play like a top 10-12 catcher for the rest of the season, but this is an accumulation list and that doesn’t do me much good. MISS

49. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks (Preseason Rank: 4, 2013 WAR: 0.1)

Montero was a pretty safe pick coming into the season, but while his walk rate is still very good the batting average and power have vanished. He’s actually making more contact, but it is, evidently, weaker contact. He’s hitting more balls on the ground than he used to, but the line drive rate is pretty consistent. I’m optimistic that he’ll break out of this, especially because of his home ballpark, but it’s pretty unlikely he can make it to #4 on the list under any circumstances. He’s not this bad, but he’s not as good as I said either. MISS

19. Matt Wieters, Orioles (Preseason Rank: 6, 2013 WAR: 0.9 WAR)

Wieters looked like he was on track to finally become the star player he was billed as coming up in Baltimore, but pretty much every part of his offensive game has taken a big step back this year. The average is down, the walk rate is down, and so is the power. His defense is still excellent, but a .288 OBP isn’t something you can wash away with a nice UZR. From the right side of the plate, he’s been very good, but he spends most of his time hitting left-handed. It might be time to think about bagging the switch hitter thing if this keeps up. MISS

18. Brian McCann, Braves (Preseason Rank: 8, 2013 WAR: 0.9)

McCann’s numbers are in line with what I expected from him. No longer a star player, but still a better than league average hitter who players catcher and does so reasonably well. He missed time to start the season, but appears to be back and healthy now. If he keeps up this pace, he’ll be right around where I figured he’d be. I’m not ready to call this a hit, but it’s certainly not a miss. PUSH

11. Salvador Perez, Royals (Preseason Rank: 5, 2013 WAR: 1.2)

All of Perez’s numbers are very good, especially for a 23 year old, except for his walk rate, which is under 3%. The average is good, the power is good, the defense is excellent. I banked on him developing his approach to some degree this year, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. He’s a very good player (I bet Harold Reynolds loves him because he thinks walks are outs in disguise), but he’s not a top 5 catcher until he learns some patience. I’m going to call this a push, because he’s less than a win away from the spot I pegged him for and some of those guys are overachieving. We’ll revisit this after the season is over. PUSH

9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.3)

Salty was part of a couple of high profile trades and it’s taken him a while to grown into a solid big leaguer, but the power is real even if he has a problem with strikeouts. His OBP is better this year than in the past and that’s probably going to regress a bit, but it is possible he is starting to figure it out. I don’t think he’s going to be a top 10 catcher the rest of the way, but he’s certainly lined up for a respectable season. PUSH

8. A.J. Ellis, Dodgers (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.6)

Ellis broke out last year and is reproducing his excellent approach at the plate, which puts him in line for a great OBP. His defense is looking better but the power has ticked down a bit so he’s probably not going much higher than this. I had him just outside the top nine, so I’m feeling very good about this one. HIT

7. Jason Castro, Astros (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)

Castro has always had a fairly good approach, and the batting average has trended up every season, but this year the power has broken out and it is certainly his carrying tool. He’s never had 300 PA at the MLB level, so it’s a bit of an unknown on a bad team, but I think he’s certainly better than I thought at the beginning of the season. I think he’s going to be an average catcher and I’d have put him around the middle entering the season. PUSH

6. Carlos Santana, Indians (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.8)

I had Santana literally right outside the top 9 going into the season and agonized between him and Hanigan, who I love on defense. Santana has a great approach and great power and can be counted on for above average power and OBP, but he has stepped from a 120 wRC+ guy to a 140 wRC+ guy this year which is enough to take his iffy defense from 10th best catcher to top 6 catcher so far. I’m banking on him falling back on this list, just slightly, such that he’ll be right around the 8-10 range. HIT

5. Evan Gattis, Braves (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 1.9)

Gattis doesn’t give you a great OBP and scouts say he is likely overperforming in that regard, but the power is absolutely incredible and he mashes lefties. Gattis has already provided more value than I had him pegged for entering the year, so it’s an obvious miss, but I’m not so sure he can provide more than another 1-1.5 wins the rest of the way. MISS

4. Russell Martin, Pirates (Preseason Rank: N/A, 2013 WAR: 2.4)

Yeah, so Martin has always been a good defender and had a nice approach, but his strikeouts were trending up and his average was trending down over the last several years and the power had been inconsistent. But it’s all coming back. This calls for a graph:

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I hope you can forgive me for not seeing this Russell Martin coming. Nice sign by the Bucs. MISS

3. Buster Posey, Giants (Preseason Rank: 1, 2013 WAR: 2.8)

Posey is a great player having an excellent season. He’s not 2012 Buster Posey, but that’s a career season. He’s striking out less and is still above average to great at everything except running. HIT

2. Joe Mauer, Twins (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.1)

Mauer, too, is a great player having a great season. His major question mark lately has been health and that hasn’t been an issue so far. High average, excellent approach, and the power has even bounced back to go along with his nice defense and excellent game calling. It’s not his fault no one else on his team is any good. HIT

1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals (Preseason Rank: 3, 2013 WAR: 3.6)

Molina has always been an unquestionable great defensive player who could probably hit .150 and still be worth rostering, but over the last few years he has made the leap to MVP by turning himself into a great hitter too. Catcher defense is not fully appreciated with UZR and DRS, but even without giving him enough credit for his defense he’s still a top player in baseball this year thanks to this offensive adjustment:

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Not bad. HIT

Check back for more The Nine updates featuring the other positions. How will these lists look come October? Sounds off in the comments section.

This Could Be The Year

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Every year could be the year. Even this one. Especially this one.

That’s what we’re all thinking as the baseball season begins today. During this time of year, there is still a chance for all of us. Tigers, Nationals, Twins, and Rockies fans alike all share in this feeling.

Until proven otherwise, every team could go the distance this year. This could be the year.

It’s an annual tradition that we never fail to observe. I wrote about it last year, right about this time, for the Eastern Echo. I wrote of the hope that comes in Spring, both for those who should be hopeful and for those who have nothing better to do than be hopeful.

It’s a hopeful time of year.

Last year around this time, my entire life was changing. I was graduating, getting married, and moving away to start graduate school 700 miles from the baseball team that anchored me so firmly. It was a hopeful time after a long, arduous winter ahead of a summer of upheaval.

And that hope was rewarded with a great season and run deep into October that made me feel close to home while I was far away.

The view from a year later is much clearer. Much less tumultuous, but no less hopeful. The last year for me has been a good one, but it was also taxing and trying. The stress and anxiety that came with such big changes dampened some of the joy that one might expect to find in a baseball team that comes within four wins of a World Series.

Which makes this Spring, this moment, sweeter. Those changes are behind me and with unclouded eyes, I can embrace the 2013 season and the prospect of a title. It’s almost as if the Tigers were waiting for me. I had to take the next step before they would.

The two aren’t connected, but I’m going to believe that they are because, damn it, this is the time of year when everything makes sense. The sun shines brighter and the prospects of a glorious summer are unrestrained.

This could be the year. For the Tigers. For me. For anything.

I’m a pretty rational and analytical person, a true child of the enlightenment. But sometimes, and this is one of those times, the romantic in me emerges. Things are bigger than us and the world is a magical place full of wonder. Sure we can debate all the reasons something shouldn’t happen, but is there anything better than watching a team who has no business winning a division title pour out onto the field to celebrate that title?

I mean, it’s hard not to get romantic about baseball. We all know that. It overwhelms us sometimes. When Adam Greenberg gets another at bat after getting hit in the head after his first and only prior at bat, that’s when it’s hard not to get romantic.

Or when Darrin Downs takes the mound three years after a fractured skull nearly killed him. That’s when it’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.

When your team sprays champagne and the grumpy old man who managers the team starts crying like a baby and waxing poetic about your city, that’s when it’s hard not to get romantic about baseball.

So I’m getting romantic in anticipation about all of that. About the flyover before Opening Day and the crowd on their feet for the nobody journeyman closing in on a no-hitter. About the kid from a small town about to take the big stage for the first time. About the fathers and sons sharing a game for the first time. About watching your team finally, finally hoisting the trophy.

Right now, at this moment, all of that can happen. It will happen. For some of us at least. My hope for all of you, as it always is, is that your faith will be rewarded.

This could be the year, it really, really could.

Crazy Predictions for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

Yesterday, we published a post regarding bold predictions for the upcoming baseball season. In this post, we made predictions based on little, but that were at least somewhat reasonable. This post will go a step further.

Here are ten crazy predictions for 2013. Think of these as the bold predictions that were left on the cutting room floor.

1. A fan of the Miami Marlins will conduct a protest so dynamic that it will make national, non-baseball news. Jeff Loria will celebrate by kidnapping his dog.

2. During Hall of Fame weekend, in which no one will be inducted, a member of the BBWAA will be arrested under suspicion of committing a crime and will be convicted based on shaky evidence. He will not get the irony.

3. Ben Zobrist will become the first baseball player to ever play two positions simultaneously when he plays both 2B and RF at the same time, allowing Joe Maddon to invent a new position called “superfield.” Ben Zobrist will also play that.

4. Ryan Raburn will hit 20 HR. They will all come against the Tigers.

5. Mariners fans will finally just decide that reality is subjective and start to accept the results of Dave Cameron’s MLB The Show season as “how the season is going.”

6. Jason Heyward will have a slump during June. Later in the season, he will attribute it to the fact that his last name isn’t Upton and he felt left out.

7. The All-Star Game will end in a tie. Selig will suggest awarding home-field advantage to the team whose fans send him the most letters.

8. Justin Verlander, desperate for his first career hit, will enter the batter’s box in Prince Fielder’s lucky pants. He will lace a single to right, but will fall down running to first, allowing the outfielder to throw him out.

9. Cubs fans will arrange an elaborate ruse in which they pretend as if they won the 1994 World Series. Eventually, the will start to believe it.

10. The Pirates will win more than half of their games.

2013 Preseason Awards: National League Rookie of the Year

The Rookie of the Year award is one of the most interesting awards to discuss at the end of the season most years because it can mean so many different things. It could be the most valuable rookie, the rookie who played the best during his time in the show, or a rookie who had a good season and looks to have a brighter future.

Predicting who is going to win at the outset of the season is quite difficult most seasons because it is so hard to determine playing time. Oscar Taveras, the Cardinals outfielder, is likely the best player in the NL with rookie status this season, but his path to playing time is blocked. If Carlos Beltran breaks his ankle tomorrow, things change quite a bit.

So when choosing a preseason Rookie of the Year, one must look for talent and one must look for consistent at bats or innings. We at SABR Toothed Tigers considered a number of candidates for this award including Taveras, but ultimately settled on who we consider to be the talented rookie with the clearest path to a full season of playing time.

And the award will go to…

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Adam Eaton (CF – Diamondbacks)

With Justin Upton and Chris Young out of the picture, Cody Ross will slide to right field this season for the Dbacks, giving Eaton a chance to take the everyday job in center. The newly 24 year old Eaton looks to solidify the leadoff spot this season and brings above average regular potential to the table.

Most scouts don’t consider him to have superstar potential, but he could be a very solid major leaguer for years to come. Eaton is very good on defense with excellent speed and a great arm that will play at any of the three outfield spots.

He’s stolen 40 or more bases in each of the last two seasons across multiple levels and has consistently put up a better than .300 average and .400 on base in the minor leagues. His 5’8” frame isn’t built for power, but if you’re looking for a speedy leadoff hitter who plays great defense, Eaton is your guy.

He’s a very good player with little left to prove in the minor leagues and should have an everyday spot on a decent to good big league team. It’s hard to find a lot of other NL players who fit that bill. The Mets and Cardinals have pitchers who could contribute in a big way, but there is more uncertainty there in my opinion. The Padres Jed Gyrko is another candidate, but he’s playing on a lesser club in a tougher park, all while likely playing a new position. He gave Eaton a run for his money in our voting, but came up short.

Adam Eaton has hit at every level and looks poised for a strong rookie campaign in a field of players with difficult paths to full seasons of playing time. He’s not an MVP type player like Mike Trout was last year, but when 2013 is over, he’ll get his hands on some hardware of his own.

2013 Detroit Tigers Season Preview

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Well folks, the time has come. Less than two weeks from now, the Tigers will be at Target Field taking on the Twins and getting the 2013 season under way. It has seemed like a quiet offseason for the defending AL champs, but they actually made some big moves by signing Torii Hunter to a two year deal and re-upping with Anibal Sanchez for five seasons.

The Tigers have two consecutive division titles under their belts and a pennant flying this season for their work thwarting the rest of the AL in 2012. With essentially the entire team coming back in addition to the aforementioned additions and a healthy Victor Martinez, all signs point to another big season for the Tigers. Things can go wrong, but the expectation surely is that the Tigers will repeat as AL Central champs.

You can read my AL Central preview here, my preseason power rankings here, and my standings prediction here, all of which point to my agreement with the conventional wisdom about the Tigers chances. I think they’re going to be very good and a force with which to be reckoned. Here’s why.

The Starting Pitching

The Tigers have six starters who belong in a major league rotation. The staff is led by Justin Verlander, who is the best pitcher in the game according to most, and backed up by three pitchers who can make a strong claim to #2 starter status: Doug Fister, Max Scherzer, and Anibal Sanchez. Those potential number twos are the strength of the rotation because it makes them extremely deep. It would surprise no one if any of those pitchers accomplished something close to a 4 WAR season (they’ve all done it before), and it would be incredible if they all managed to do it.

Think about this, Verlander is the oldest member of the rotation. The Tigers have three pitchers in their primes with a history of strong performance behind the game’s best starter. That’s pretty good.

And then there are Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly. Both of which deserve to start this season. I wrote here that I’d go with Porcello and he is making his case this Spring with an excellent strikeout to walk ratio and a much better breaking ball. To his credit, Smyly isn’t struggling either. It’s a good problem to have.

I would argue the Tigers have the best rotation in baseball and I can’t make a case for them being any worse than third entering the season. In the next two weeks, the Tigers are going to trade, send to the pen, or demote a pitcher capable of a 2-3 win season. That should be all you need to know.

The Lineup

At this point, it just sounds like I’m naming parts of a baseball team, but the lineup is very good. Austin Jackson was a top five AL outfielder last season and is joined by fellow top ten AL outfielder Torii Hunter at the top of the lineup. If that wasn’t enough, MVP and elite hitter Miguel Cabrera follows them, sitting ahead of Prince Fielder and Victor Martinez.

If there is a better first five hitters in the sport, I haven’t found them. Behind that force lurks the underrated Andy Dirks, the on-base machine Alex Avila, and the poised for a bounce back Jhonny Peralta. Omar Infante will hit ninth and hopefully prevent anyone whining about second base this season.

The Tigers are blessed with exceptional depth on the bench, but the overall quality of the lineup is impressive. They can’t replace many of their players, but they should be able to weather one serious injury at a time without much problem. Every player in the Tigers lineup has either been an All-Star or had an All-Star type season very recently with the exception of Dirks. The infield defense is sub par, but with a much improved outfield defense and strikeout inclined starters, they can probably outslug any problems.

Experience

On occasion, pundits overrate the value of experience over talent, but in the Tigers case, it should help. The Tigers have been to the playoffs in consecutive seasons with a very similar roster and the experience of having worked through long seasons with trials and tribulations should play to their advantage. The Tigers players should be well conditioned for October baseball after seeing what it takes to keep themselves in top condition over the last two seasons deep into the Fall.

The Leadership

Again, this is a quality that is somewhat controversial, but the Tigers have a lot of personalities in their clubhouse that will nurture a winning environment. Losing streaks will be handled appropriately and there shouldn’t be any infighting or problems. Victor Martinez’s presence will be welcomed back this season along with the addition of Hunter and the ever-present Jim Leyland, whom everyone seems to adore. Experience and leadership are hard to measure, but if they matter at all, they should work in the Tigers favor.

The Bullpen, Even the Bullpen

I wrote at length recently about why Rondon will succeed as the closer and why it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t. Benoit, Dotel, Coke, Downs, Below, Putkonen, and others are all available out of the pen. The Tigers don’t have anyone like Craig Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman, but they have many, many pitchers who could be solid, reliable relievers. The position is volatile and unpredictable, but the Tigers are well stocked with potential arms in the pen. They won’t lead the league in bullpen-ness, but they won’t be bad.

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I don’t think it is too bold to say that the Tigers are among the best teams, on paper, entering the 2013 season. I would argue they are the second best team, behind Washington. Things can always go wrong, but they go wrong for every team. I always hedge and say that so long as the Tigers are no less unfortunate than their competitors, they should win the division quite easily.

The Royals and Indians are better and the White Sox aren’t pushovers, but the Tigers are the class of the Central. With upheaval in the East and a strong West, the road to another pennant will be trying, but it is certainly within the Tigers’ grasp.

With elite level star power in Verlander, Cabrera, Fielder, and others, it’s hard not to dream on the Tigers 2013 potential. They have it all, including a chip on their shoulders after a poor showing in the Fall Classic.

For the Tigers, this could be the year that the roar is officially restored.

The Nine Best Right Fielders for 2013

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

When I started this series eight weeks ago, I didn’t immediately think that right field was obviously the deepest position in baseball, but after working to rank The Nine best players at each position it is extremely obvious. The top seven players on this list have MVP potential and I left guys off this list who are really good players.

I wasn’t picking between a bunch of question marks for #9, I was choosing among guys who I think are all very talented and who will have good seasons. Again, this list is of players projected to play right field for 2013, so position changes are taken into account. You’ll find Ben Zobrist and Josh Hamilton among this class of players settling into right this year.

My apologies to newly minted Indian Nick Swisher who was an outfielder when I wrote the first basemen list and a first basemen when I wrote the right field list. If Swisher has a big season, this is why he’s not on either list. If he has a bad season, I totally saw it coming.

9. Ichiro (Yankees)

Ichiro, despite his age, still plays great defense in right field, hits for high average, and runs the bases well. He should also see an uptick in power with a friendlier ballpark and should get a little help from a slightly better lineup around him. It would have been a lot better, but all of the Yankees are hurt. He’s not the MVP he once was, but I’m buying a very solid season from Ichiro in the Bronx.

8. Torii Hunter (Tigers)

Hunter had a huge season hitting between Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in 2012, so in choosing his next destination, he searched for a similarly cushy gig. And found it. He’ll hit between Austin Jackson (STT #1 CF) and Miguel Cabrera (STT #1 3B) and will play next to slight Trout downgrade Jackson in the outfield. Hunter had a big season last year, and while he’s not likely to match it, modest regression still earns him a place on this list with his mix of moderate power, speed, and defense.

7. Josh Hamilton (Angels)

Hamilton is baseball’s fragile giant. He’s shown, at times, flashes of historic talent and, at other times, flashes of unparalleled failure. He has impressive power and great raw skills, but has some of the worst plate discipline in a sport that includes Delmon Young. He has health issues and a history of off the field issues (i.e. drugs, alcohol, vision issues, energy drink addition). For my money, he has the widest possible range of outcomes of any player in the league. Hamilton hitting 50 HR seems equally as likely to me as him hitting .210. The upside is there, but age and fragility work against him. Plus there is an effort issue, as showcased by his utter lack of interest in playing baseball last September. Man, I just don’t know.

6. Carlos Beltran (Cardinals)

Beltran is not the defensive and baserunning star he once was, but he is still an extremely talented player when healthy. In seasons in which he has player 100 or more games, he has always posted a 3 WAR or better and has at times, approached 8 WAR. He’s on the downswing of a great career (Tell that to Mets fans!) and should be good for another great year if he remains healthy.

5. Jay Bruce (Reds)

Bruce hits for power and he walks. Those are two valuable qualities in a player, even if he is closer to .250 than .300 most seasons. The defensive numbers are a little all over the place, but he has 134 HR before his 26th birthday. That’s a good recipe for success and he should have it hitting behind the great Joey Votto.

4. Jose Bautista (Blue Jays)

If Joey Bats hadn’t missed half of 2012 with a wrist injury, an injury that is somewhat correlated with a loss in power, he’d probably be at the top of this list. The fact that he is fourth tells you just how good right field is right now. A healthy Bautista is a 40-50 HR guy with the ability to walk at a Bondsian rate while avoiding gaudy Dunnian strikeout numbers. He’s nothing special on defense or on the bases, but he is versatile and an absolute monster at the plate.

3. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)

Stanton has as much raw power as anyone in the game and puts in on display regularly between the lines. He’s a very good defender and he takes his walks at the plate. He’s a great young player, with an emphasis on both great and young separately. That is to say, he’s still very young. But he strikes out a ton and doesn’t do much for me on the bases. That doesn’t make him a bad player, it just keeps him from the top of the list. I’m also a believer in lineup protection more than most saber-guys and think it is especially real at the extremes. There is nobody even closer to Stanton’s level on the Marlins and he will be pitched around a lot. That doesn’t exactly hurt his rate stats, but it will drop the raw production and the frustration with his situation might have a slightly negative effect on his overall performance in 2013 before he gets traded in November.

2. Ben Zobrist (Rays)

The only reason Zobrist is likely no longer baseball’s most underrated player (Alex Gordon?) is because people like me have been talking him up long enough that it has finally caught on. He’s a great defender, a good baserunner, and a very good hitter. The plate discipline is excellent and his versatility makes me blush. He is an above average player at six or seven positions and hasn’t player fewer than 151 games since becoming a regular four years ago. He’s durable, he’s versatile, and he knows the strike zone. If you know anything about the type of players I most like to cheer for, you would rightly suspect that I would lose my mind if the Tigers found a way to acquire him.

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1. Jason Heyward (Braves)

I’ll confess that I wasn’t a Heyward believer after his breakout 2010 season and felt super proud of myself for calling his 2011 regression. Didn’t I look silly in 2012? Heyward has a few trouble spots in that his plate discipline is actually getting worse each season, but he hits for power, plays elite defense, and runs the bases extremely well. On offense alone, he’s in the middle of this list, but he’s so good in the field and on the bases that he vaults himself up to the top. He’s also only 23 and has three seasons under his belt. He’s poised to lead the Braves back to the fake playoffs or better in 2013 with the Upton brothers to his right, and looks to be baseball’s best right fielder in the process.

What do you think? How does your top four look? Sound off in the comments section.

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