From Last Night:
- Lorenzo Cain drives in 2 in the first to back Guthrie’s CGSO against the White Sox
- Jose Fernandez allows 1 hit in 7 innings while striking out 9 Phillies in his first ML win
- Strasburg gives up 2 homeruns in 7 innings, but the Nats score 1 in the top of the 9th to outlast the Bucs
- Wainwright struggles for the first time (5 ER in 5.1 IP), but the Cards deliver in the 9th to win
- Dickey gets lit up by the Mariners, Blue Jays fall 8-1
- Hughes throws 8 scoreless as the Yanks top the A’s
What I’m Watching Today:
- Hudson tries to an encore to his 200th win against Niese and the Mets (1p Eastern)
- Halladay looks to straighten out again against the Marlins (230p Eastern)
- Jon Lester. Yu Darvish. Arlington, Texas. (3p Eastern)
- Alex Cobb takes his hot start to Coors Field (4p Eastern)
- Strikeout happy Ryu gets struggling ace Matt Cain at AT&T (8p Eastern)
The Big Question:
- On a day in which Strasburg and Wainwright were on the mound, how did Guthrie, Fernandez, and Hughes headline the night? (Well, Scherzer did his part!)
R.A. Dickey…what’s going on? I certainly expected some regression from the 2012 peak in moving to the AL and a hitter friendly park, but this is pretty serious so far. We’re not deep enough into the season to totally dismiss a small sample size issue, but it’s getting to the point where it just doesn’t look like he’s going to pitch at or around ace levels for the foreseeable future. He’s 2-5 in 7 starts over 42 IP with a 7.07 K/9 and 3.64 BB/9 to go with a 5.36 ERA and 5.19 FIP. Granted, FIP isn’t a great judge of knuckleballers, but the other numbers don’t exactly hearten Blue Jays fans or Dickey fantasy owners (the present author included). If you go back to the much more reasonable 2010-2011 seasons, Dickey’s numbers this year don’t match those either. His strikeouts are up, but his walks are too. His ERA is way up, but his groundball rate is down considerably. That’s the item on the list that catches my attention the most. I haven’t watch Dickey enough to know, but I’m curious if this is the league figuring him out. Maybe he’s not much different and hitters are just getting smarter. I’m not sure, and I know there is some injury talk, but either way, the Mets are starting to look like even better for the offseason deal. The Jays can still turn it around if Dickey finds his groove, but I’m starting to wonder if he will.
From Last Night:
- Yu Darvish nearly twirls the 24th perfect game in MLB history in his first start of the season in Houston.
- Robinson Cano fired Scott Boras and hired Jay-Z to be his agent. That was not my attempt at humor, but rather something that actually occurred. This should be a sign that Cano plans to stay in New York.
- Arencibia struggled to handle Dickey’s knuckleball in a 4-1 loss to the Tribe.
- The Orioles exploded for 5 in the 7th to beat the Rays 7-4. Price gave up 2 runs in 6 innings.
What I’m Watching Today:
- Halladay makes his season debut against the Braves (7p Eastern)
- Matt Harvey looks to pick up where last season ended against the Padres (7p Eastern)
- Lincecum and Beckett duel in a battle of pitchers in need of a bounce back season (10p Eastern)
The Big Question:
- How will the pitchers coming off bad seasons and injuries fare as the open the season?
The big story last night was obviously Yu Darvish who flirted with perfection in Houston against the Astros. He struck out 14 in 8 2/3 innings and didn’t allow a baserunner until there were two outs in the 9th. The Rangers ace looked dominant even if it was against the league’s worst team. His pitch count was elevated early on due to the numerous strikeouts, but he increased his efficiency in the middle innings to temper the worry about a potential pitch count meets perfect game quandary. Bowa and Ripkin on MLB Tonight said they wouldn’t let him go more than 105 in his first start, but Padres fan and host Matt Vasgersian reminded them that some teams fans have never seen a no-hitter and those shouldn’t be cast aside lightly. It was a fun night staying up with Darvish and his quest, even if it ultimately came up short. We’ve only seen 23 perfect games in MLB history and it’s always great to follow along with one, but it’s actually even rarer to see some lose it to the final batter. Darvish becomes just the 11th pitcher to lose a perfect game to the 27th batter. He was masterful and clearly in midseason form in what made for the most exciting game of the young season (Take that Kershaw!). Man, I can’t wait to see Verlander face the Astros. It’s good to have baseball back.
From Last Night:
- Bryce Harper backed a great performance from Stephen Strasburg with 2 HR
- Clayton Kershaw twirled a CGSO and homered
- Justin Upton homered in his Braves debut
- The Brewers and Angels both won in extras
What I’m Watching Today:
- David Price begins his Cy Young defense against the O’s in Tampa (3p Eastern)
- The new look Blue Jays begin their season behind R.A. Dickey (7p Eastern)
- Darvish looks to help the Rangers against the undefeated Astros (8p Eastern)
The Big Question:
- What will Hyun-Jin Ryu’s debut look like in LA? (10p Eastern)
It was an exciting Opening Day and today’s abbreviated schedule looks to pact a slightly less forceful punch despite some exciting talent toeing the rubber. I’ll have my eye on the Blue Jays, especially to see if they can get off on the right foot. Check back each and every morning for musings from around the league. As the season gets a little further along, this will become a place for more analysis and debate.
The previous eight weekends have featured lists of The Nine best players at each of the main field positions for the 2013 MLB season. You can access these lists here all season long and I will provide status reports of these lists as we proceed through 2013.
There will be no list for relief pitchers because there are so many of them and their range of performance is so small that making a list isn’t very interesting. There will also be no DH list because there just aren’t enough full time DHs to make it worthwhile. Only 15 teams can have a DH and some of them employ platoons. Picking 9 DHs out of like 13 guys seems silly.
But starting pitching is a place of great interest and I struggled to decide how to break it down. With more than 150 players receiving starts in a given season on the hill versus a number closer to 30 for the field positions, I’ve decided to break it in half. I thought about lefties and righties, but decided American League and National League would be more fun.
Here, without more nonsense, are The Nine best American League starting pitchers for 2013 according to SABR Toothed Tigers. The list is difficult to make because there are many excellent candidates, so as always, don’t get too worked up about it.
9. Max Scherzer (Tigers)
Scherzer will turn 29 during the upcoming season, which will be the fifth full one of his career. The strikeouts shot up last season and he kept his walk rate below 3.00 per 9 for a second straight season. He had some arm issues late in the season, but pitched well enough in the playoffs to make us think the winter off was enough to reset his aching body. He’s a flyball and strikeout pitcher, which will work well with the Tigers defense and last season was his most complete effort in the sense that he didn’t go through long stretches of poor performance. I still wonder if he can repeat his delivery and keep his awkward mechanics in line, but if he can continue on the path he started last year, he has a shot to be a force in the AL.
8. R.A. Dickey (Blue Jays)
Dickey is coming off two and a half very good seasons and an NL Cy Young. We can’t worry too much about his age given his knuckleballing ways, but we should worry that he’s moving to a less pitchers’ friendly Rogers Centre and slightly better AL East. Dickey won’t do quite as well under those conditions, but we can control for those context type factors. I don’t think he’ll be a Cy Young again, but his ability to make the ball dance should be enough to keep him on this list for another season.
7. C.C. Sabathia (Yankees)
Sabathia showed signs of aging in 2012 for the first time after 11 above average to great seasons leading up to it. He’s still a workhorse with great control and hasn’t had an ERA above 3.38 since 2005, with much of that time spend in the tough AL East. CC is probably making his final appearance on this list for his career, but he will remain one of the best pitchers in the AL for 2013.
6. Doug Fister (Tigers)
Fister had a higher WAR than all but 12 AL pitchers last season, despite only making 26 starts due to a nagging oblique injury during the first half of the season. Had he pitched at the same rate over 34 starts as he did over 26, he would have easily been a top nine pitcher last season. There is no reason to think anything but injuries would stand in his way. The strikeout rate is on the way up and his control has been excellent in a Tigers uniform. He’s only 29 and could easily be poised for another fine season. He also happens to be my favorite pitcher to watch. His mix of modesty and control with great fastball movement makes for excellent viewing. He’s also super tall. That’s fun too.
5. David Price (Rays)
The reigning Cy Young winner in the AL is fifth on this list, not because I don’t like him, but because I like his opponents more. Price has three straight 4.0+WAR seasons and is right in the middle of his prime. All signs point to another great year from Price, but I think he’ll be just shy of Cy Young conversation in 2013.
4. Matt Moore (Rays)
So when I previewed the AL East, I said Moore would be the Cy Young of the division. In doing so, I also decided he would be a better pitcher than his teammate David Price. Perhaps that was foolish, but I’m bullish on Moore and think people overlook him. He was a top three prospect entering last season and had made an excellent late season cameo in 2011. A year of control issues later, and everyone seems to be looking past him. I’m not. Moore is not yet 24 and has a lot of developing left to do. He throws gas from the left side with two solid offspeed pitches. He was a solid #3 starter in his first big league season. I don’t see any reason to think he can’t make the leap to #1 a year after he was the best prospect in the league.
3. Yu Darvish (Rangers)
Darvish tied Price last season for third in the AL in WAR and should still be on his way up. The strikeout rate was superb and if he can limit the walks at all, he’ll be an elite starter. After a year in the states, he should be poised for a better season because he won’t be adjusting to life in America and can focus solely on pitching. The stuff is great and his first year of results matched that.
2. Felix Hernandez (Mariners)
Felix is about to turn 27 and already has 38.3 career WAR and four straight 230 IP + seasons. The velocity ticking down is the only thing to worry about with the game’s richest pitcher, but he’s shown the ability to be effective at all speeds and is coming off one of his best seasons as a pro. He’s an ace and a stud and any word you can think of to describe a top pitcher. The only thing he isn’t is number one on this list.
1. Justin Verlander (Tigers)
I’m not sure what needs to be said about Verlander. His first three seasons were very good and his last four have been phenomenal. He has a ROY, Cy Young, MVP, and has never missed a start in seven seasons. He’s entering his age thirty season as the game’s best and more reliable starting pitching. With four above average to elite pitches, the two time no-hitter thrower is every hitter’s worst nightmare.
How would you rank the AL’s arms? Sound off. Check back next weekend for the NL list.
Last weekend, I had the nerve to go on my honeymoon and missed writing about a lot of baseball trades and signings. To atone for such indiscretions, here’s a post about everything I missed while I was following my wife around the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Blue Jays acquire R.A. Dickey from the Mets, Sign Him to an Extension
This deal also included Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas in exchange for John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Becerra. The Dickey extension is for two additional seasons and $25 million with a club option for 2016.
This is a very solid deal for the Mets in my book as they deal one year of Dickey plus two less than glamorous pieces for some prospects with really high upsides. d’Arnaud isn’t a sure thing, but he’s a top 10 prospect in baseball who can provide legitimate offense from behind the plate, and the other prospects are also potential contributors in the future. I’m not going to break down each of these guys at length, but the value is good for the Mets.
The Jays gave up a lot, but they also got a lot in return. Thole and Nickeas will be useful, but Dickey could be a difference maker. Over the last three seasons he’s been a great starter and capped it off with a Cy Young this season. He’s old and a knuckleballer, but he’s very effective. He’ll make just $5 million in 2013, so he’s a steal. If he maintains similar levels over the course of the extension, the $12 million per season price tag is a steal. If you buy him as someone who can maintain this level of performance, his 4+ WAR levels are worth about twice what he’ll make over the course of this deal.
The Blue Jays paid a premium for his services via trade, but they are right on the cusp of contention. With the addition of Melky Cabrera, Maizer Iztruis, and most of the Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays are easily within a couple wins of a division title and Dickey could make that difference. We’re not great at predicting baseball down to the precise win totals of a team, but we do have a good idea of about where the Blue Jays will fall in 2013 and we think that will be near a spot in the standings where a couple wins could make a big difference.
Grade (Mets): B+, Grade (Jays): B+
Astros Sign Carlos Pena, 1 year, $2.9 million plus incentives
Pena hits for a low average. He walks and hits homeruns. He’s solid on defense at first. While that makes him a below average player, it makes him like the second best Astro. Houston moves to the AL this season so Pena will largely play the role of DH at Minute Maid Park and should see some time at first.
In context this is a great move, even if it isn’t much of anything on a large scale. Pena should provide some offense for a bad team and they’ll get that offense at likely below market value because he has such a low batting average. Any true contender would have trouble selling a .190 hitter to their fan base, but the Astros don’t have that problem. This should pay off, even if it’s the difference between 67 wins and 69.
Cubs Sign Edwin Jackson, 4 years, $52 million
Edwin Jackson is 29 years old. He has made 31 or more starts in seven straight seasons. In the last six seasons, he’s thrown 183 innings or more each year with an ERA at 4.42 or below. Decent strikeout numbers, a few too many walks.
He’s not great, but he’s been close to a 4 WAR pitcher three of the last four seasons and close to a 3 WAR pitcher in the other. He’s pretty good. If you want him to be your ace, that’s a problem. But he’s better than average. If we figure over the next four seasons that he’ll be somewhere between 2 and 4 WAR, we’d offer him $10-$25 million per season depending on inflationary projections.
Obviously the $25 million is at the very high end and you don’t offer contracts with inflation built in. The Cubs have him for $13 million a year. At that rate, he needs to be worth 2 to 3 wins if there is no inflation (and there will be). He’s hasn’t been worth less than 2 WAR since 2008.
This is a good deal for the Cubs because most people seem to undervalue Jackson because he performs worse than we think he should given the quality of his raw stuff. He feels like he should be a #2, but he’s really been more of a #3 type guy and his ERA tends to look a little bloated at times. If you check the FIP, he looks better.
If he’s the same guy over the next four seasons minus a little aging as he has been for the last four, this deal will work out for the Cubs.
Rangers Sign A.J. Pierzynski, 1 year, $7.5 million
The Rangers lost out on Greinke, Hamilton, Upton, and pretty much everyone else they’ve wanted in the last twelve months. But gosh darn it, they got A.J.
Former White Sox, jerkish personality aside, this should be a good fit for the Rangers. He’s a durable lefthanded hitting catcher who hits for power. That’s not an easy thing to find. He doesn’t walk, but he rarely strikesout. The defense is suspect at times, but he’s usually commended for his ability to lead staffs.
He’s going to be somewhere between 1 and 3 WAR, just like he has been his whole career, in 2013. If he hits for a lot of power, look toward the high end. If he doesn’t, expect the low end. He’s durable and respectable at the plate. For $7.5 million, you’re only asking him to be better than 1 WAR for it to payoff and he should be able to handle that.
Brief Thoughts on Minor Moves
Phillies sign Mike Adams: Too long for a reliever, but should help.
Red Sox sign Stephen Drew: One year deals are low risk. Should be a good stop gap with some upside and they have the money to spend.
Rays sign the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona: No bad one year deals and the Rays are good at turning these guys into valuable pieces. Can’t hate it.
Marlins sign Placido Polanco: Past his prime and injury prone. In his heyday, he was a master. Now, he might be more of a bench player than a starter. But the Marlins are terrible, so it’s a decent move.
Pirates sign Francisco Liriano: At 2 years and $14 million, there is some risk he’s terrible and they’re out a non-trivial amount of money. But the Pirates need to thicken up their rotation and he could be useful in the pen if it comes to that. I wouldn’t love this deal, but the dollar value is low enough that it could really be a steal if he finds his form for just one of the seasons.
That should get you caught up on the happenings around the league and I have no plans to walk around theme parks for quite some time. We’re less than two months from pitchers and catchers and we’ll have coverage of everything that happens.
74-88, 4th in the NL East
The 2012 version of the Metropolitans was very compelling and super exciting into the early summer, but bottomed out as the dog days arrived. They were led by an MVP contender and the NL Cy Young, but the supporting cast wasn’t enough to make the Mets a player in one of the tougher divisions in the sport.
The afore-alluded to Wright (7.8) was worth more WAR than the next four position players combined. Only Ruben Tejada (2.1) and Scott Hairston (2.0) hit the 2.0 starter threshold. Ike Davis gets honorable mention for doing everything right except getting hits. Great power, good patience, but the .227 batting average dragged the whole thing down. He should be better in 2013.
R.A. Dickey had an RA-diculous season and was my (and the BBWAA) pick for Cy Young. Jonathan Niese also had a fine season, but no other pitcher made more than 21 starts. Johan Santana was good, but got hurt. Dillon Gee too. Chris Young was meh, but not bad for a 5th starter. Matt Harvey was eye-popping good, but only made 10 starts after his callup.
The bullpen was, let’s be generous, a weakness.
The Mets had some bright moments this year, especially the first no-hitter in franchise history, courtesy of Mr. Santana, and a wonderful string of dominance by Dickey. Wright signed an extension and Matt Harvey stepped into the spotlight.
The 2012 season shot some life into Mets fans for the first few months and faded down the stretch. I think they’re on their way up. The starting pitching is there.
A Dickey, Niese, Santana, Harvey, and Gee rotation is very good. If Zach Wheeler is ready to be the 1/2 a lot of us think he can be, they Mets could easily have a top five rotation.
They need offense. Wright is a good centerpiece and they have a handful of guys who can really fill out the bottom of a lineup. They need one or two more formidable bats to surround Wright near the top and they could be good to go.
It wasn’t a great year for the Mets, but the future looks bright.
2012 Grade: D
Early 2013 Projection: 80-82
The news of the day from Nashville comes in many parts, but these are the three that caught my eye.
Red Sox sign C/1B/DH Mike Napoli, 3 years, $39 million
The Sox needed someone to play first base and hit for power after they traded away most of their team to the Dodgers in August and Napoli qualifies. I think a lot of this deal comes from his awesome but lucky 2011 rather than his pretty good 2012. Napoli can certainly be a useful hitter in 2013 and beyond but there’s no way he can provide a lot of value on defense.
He’s a DH who won’t embarrass himself at 1B and can catch on occasion. The Sox already have David Ortiz at DH and have a lot of options at catcher, so Napoli figures to be the starting first baseman. They probably should have gone with LaRoche here, but the deal isn’t too big to turn me off. Grade: B-
Anibal Sanchez is asking for 6 years and $90 million
A couple of things to note here. First, a rumor went around that the Tigers offered 4/48 and Sanchez was insulted. Jason Beck of MLB.com says that the rumor is inaccurate, so maybe this isn’t a thing.
The other thing to note here is that a former The Guy Show personality and I had this exchange over the Sanchez news (edited for emphasis):
Him: No way I’m paying Sanchez $90m and no way I give anyone six years!
Me: If you don’t want to sign six year deals, you will never sign big time free agents.
Him: For that money I would want Greinke.
Me: Greinke will sign for many millions more than that.
Him: I would do 6/110.
Me: Then he will sign with the Dodgers and not you.
What we can learn from this exchange is twofold. One, the Tigers won’t sign Sanchez because he wants #2 starter money. The Tigers have two #2 starters already and don’t need a third. Other teams need #2 starters a lot more, and will in turn, pay more for them. Two, Sanchez is not asking for too much. Six years is always risky, but $15 million a season is a fair price if you’re confident in his ability to stay healthy relative to other pitchers.
Salaries are bigger now than they used to be. Teams are paying $5 million per WAR right now and the new TV money is going to bump that up to closer to $7 million per WAR in the near future. Sanchez is worth 3.0 WAR, so this is not an overpay.
R.A. Dickey Trade Talk
Lots of buzz around the Mets dealing Dickey and the Royals and Rangers seem interested. Hard to tell how much of this is media driven speculation and how much is actually happening.
I’m undecided about this move because I think the Mets aren’t that far away and could contend by 2014 if they play things right. Dickey seems willing to sign and extension if it’s a fair deal and knuckleballers age well. If they buy his ability to actually replicate the last two seasons, they should keep him. If they think he’s a flash in the pan, they should move him.
Also! Big news! A-Rod needs surgery and will be out until May or June. I’m sure you are very surprised because none of the national media is covering this story!
Preseason Prediction: Cole Hamels (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
Hamels had a strong season in 2012 for the disappointing Phillies, posting a 4.5 WAR (good for 7th in the NL) and signing a monster contract extension. He went 17-6 in 215.1 innings with a 3.05 ERA and 3.30 FIP. The strikeout rate was excellent at 9.03 next to a great walk rate of 2.17. The Phillies lefthander didn’t have a good enough year to earn my Cy Young praise, but he had a very strong season and should be acknowledged for it.
And the award goes to…
Just like in the AL, three strong candidates emerge for the 2012 NL Cy Young award, but the SABR Toothed Tigers have to give it to someone who sabermetrics can’t quite understand; R.A. Dickey.
Dickey had a phenomenal season by most standards, but WAR doesn’t like him as much as our other two finalists, Clayton Kershaw and Gio Gonzalez. There is a simple reason for this, however. FIP (one of the biggest drivers of WAR) doesn’t know what to do with knuckleballers because they are so rare and have different results profiles than a standard hurler. That said, Dickey was still 6th in the NL in WAR in 2012.
Dickey’s 20-6 record doesn’t mean anything but he tossed 233.2 innings and posted solid strikeout (8.86) and walk numbers (2.08) to go along with his strong 2.73 ERA. His FIP was elevated, but that’s because FIP doesn’t understand him.
The only thing Gonzalez did better than Dickey was strike hitters out, but he threw way fewer innings walked more and had a higher ERA. WAR likes him better, but that’s the knuckleball problem and nothing else.
Kershaw is the strong contender. He tossed six fewer innings, had a higher K rate and higher BB rate, and posted a lower ERA. The WAR spread is +0.9 WAR for Kershaw, but I can’t help wonder how much that gap would close if FIP understood knuckleballers. It would at least close some.
I think Dickey and Kershaw are both good choices, but it’s hard not to give the tie breaker to the guy who threw more innings for a worse team and did so in such a fun way. Dickey was a great story and I’ll always give the tiebreaker to the better story. Plus it is hard not to love Dickey’s NL leading 5 complete games.
We can find plenty of worthy arms in the NL, but R.A. Dickey is this year’s best.
5. Cole Hamels (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
4. Cliff Lee (LHP – Philadelphia Phillies)
3. Gio Gonzalez (LHP – Washington Nationals)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LHP – Los Angeles Dodgers)
1. R.A. Dickey (RHP – New York Mets)