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.
Compiling a list of The Nine best left fielders proved interesting this season because so many of the players on this list were not full time left fielders last season. By my count, three or four of the top nine spent time at a different position in 2012 and as of this publication, they are not all 100% locks to play left field. If you’re reading this during the season and are like, “Hey, #1 plays centerfield!” you might be right. Please take the positionality of the outfielders with a grain of salt.
That said, this was a very deep list. Apologies to many who didn’t make the cut. Prove me wrong and end up on next year’s list.
9. Curtis Granderson/Brett Gardner (Yankees)
Now it may seem strange to have the ninth spot go to two players, but I’m just not sure which Yankee is going to be in left field this season and either one would fit right here on my list, so it’s both of them. Whichever plays there, lands here. Granderson hits for power, but Gardner is much better at getting on base and plays a much better defense. Both players have great aspects of their games and both have weaknesses.
8. Yoenis Cespedes (Athletics)
Cespedes hit nicely in 2012, but missed 33 games and played below average defense. It’s hard to be sure about those flaws because we don’t have any great data from his time playing in Cuba, but he has all the necessary tools to excel in the majors. My hesitation with him is merely that I don’t have nearly as much information about him as I do for everyone else on the list. If he repeats his 2012, he’ll move up the list quickly.
7. Carlos Gonzalez (Rockies)
CarGo’s place on this list is really a testament to his contemporaries rather than a knock on him. He’s on base a lot and hits for power to go along with some good baserunning chops. His defense is something of an open question because certain people love it and certain people hate it. Gonzalez gets help from his park to some degree, so that will cost him just a spot or so on the list. Great player, but not a top five left fielder for 2013.
6. Justin Upton (Braves)
Upton still has his prime ahead of him and is moving to the Braves and left field to play with his brother, but he also had a rough season in 2012 compared to a great 2011. Most people see the talent and expect great things, but he also seems to have developed the reputation as an underperformer. The change of scenery should be good for him because his coaching staff and front office won’t be looking to trade him every day. A good season for Upton is ahead, but not a great one.
5. Matt Holliday (Cardinals)
Holliday is a great and consistent offensive performer and is just starting to slow down defensively at 33. He’s the centerpiece of a great lineup and hasn’t been worth fewer than 4 WAR since 2006. The ceiling might be lower than Upton, but the floor is higher.
4. Alex Gordon (Royals)
Gordon took a while to arrive relative to expectations, but he finally did in 2011 and followed it with a great 2012. He’s a gold glove defender in left and does everything well. Power, speed, and discipline mix nicely in Gordon and for my money, after Ben Zobrist, is probably baseball’s most underrated player. The Royals might not have enough to contend this year, but they have a star in left.
3. Bryce Harper (Nationals)
Harper is another player moving to left this season, and he’s doing it on baseball’s best team. He had a great season for a teenager at 19 and another year under his belt should only make him better. Harper is often referred to as a generational talent, but even if he isn’t Mantle or Mays, a single step forward from last season should be enough to put him near the top of this list. Harper does everything well and should be at the top of this list for years to come.
2. Ryan Braun (Brewers)
Ryan Braun is arguably baseball’s best all-around player. He is an MVP at the plate, runs the bases well, and is consistently improving his defense in left. He’s entering his prime despite having a collection of elite seasons already under his belt and has never missed more than twelve games in a season in five and a half big league seasons. The fact that Braun is second on this list despite that resume tells you something about the man ahead of him.
1. Mike Trout (Angels)
Mike Trout had an all-time great season at 20. The guys who do that, tend to be all-time greats. He hit for power and average, ran the bases as well as anyone in the game, and was among the very best defensive centerfielders in the sport. He was, by far, the best player in the league in 2012. That performance is not something you can easily duplicate, but even 75% of what he was last season would be enough to challenge Braun for first on this list. If Trout was half as good as he was last season, he would still be a perennial all-star. Mike Trout might not be the best player in the league for years to come, but it’s hard not to dream on his talent and get caught up in his 2012 season. Lost in this love letter to Trout is that there is a player on the Angels who is good enough on defense that he is pushing Trout to left in 2013; Peter Bourjos. Trout is the best left fielder for 2013 only because there is someone on his team who is a better defensive centerfielder than he is. Pretty amazing.
Like this list? Hate this list? Have a more nuanced feeling about this list? Join the discussion in the comments section or on Facebook and Twitter.
Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Tuesday’s steroid allegations and the writer believes the situation will likely not improve for him, even if it doesn’t get worse.
There was a time, not long ago, that it seemed inevitable that Alex Rodriguez would break Barry Bonds’ all-time homerun record of 762. Today, that certainty is slowly fading.
Ken Rosenthal and the rest of the crew on MLB Network’s Hot Stove yesterday considered the possibility that A-Rod might never make it back to a big league lineup, but at the very least is unlikely to play in 2013. With the loss of an entire season quite possible, A-Rod’s shot at hitting another 116 homeruns is dwindling.
He’ll be 38 in July, which means he’ll be 38/39 in 2014. If we assume 2013 is a lost cause, that gives him four seasons to get to the end of his contract and hit 116 homeruns. Given that he’ll be 42 when the deal is up and that his body is already breaking down, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll play beyond 2017.
If these assumptions hold, does A-Rod have a shot at the record? He would need to average 29 HR a season to get to 763. He hasn’t hit that many since 2010. Granted, he hit 30 or more in every season before 2010, but still. He hasn’t even hit 20 in either of last two seasons. His batting average and walk rate are down from his peak. He’s no longer a great defender and his baserunning is not much to look at.
He’s an aging slugger who is breaking down and losing his athleticism. That doesn’t make for a good formula going into his late 30s and early 40s.
So while 116 more homeruns aren’t out of the question, it doesn’t look likely. Only Barry Bonds hit more homeruns as he got really old, but most don’t. This is a lesson in inevitability and prediction. In baseball, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot can go wrong.
A-Rod, for all of his talent, is likely going to come up short of a mark he looked certain to achieve. And Bonds’ record will stand a little longer. Not that A-Rod breaking the record would make us feel better. He admitted to using PEDs during his Rangers days. He’s one of the least popular star athletes of our lifetime and is a constant source of ridicule.
So I’m not going to get nostalgic and upset about A-Rod’s demise, but I am going to get inquisitive. If not A-Rod, then who? Who among the active baseball world could get to 763 homeruns and unseat Bonds?
Here are five candidates who could get there if they place into their early 40s:
5) Mike Trout (Angels)
Trout is 21 and has 35 homers. He’s probably not going to hit 30 a year every season for 20 years, but even that wouldn’t be enough. He’s good enough to make a run at it, but it’s important to remember that young players have a disadvantage because they have a lot of ground to cover, even if they do have time to do so. Needs: 20 years of 37+HR
4. Bryce Harper (Nationals)
The same goes for the 19 year old Harper who already has 22 homeruns. He’s a generational talent and is very young. He could do it, but the odds are still long given how many he still has in front of him. Needs 22 years of 34+HR
3. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)
Cabrera is a still under thirty for a couple of months and he’s already 321 homeruns into the race. He hit a career high 44 in 2012 and a few more years at that pace will give him a shot at Bonds’ record. But Cabs has always been more of a pure hitter than a power hitter, so 40 homer years might be the exception to a 30 homer pace. Needs 12 years of 37+HR
2. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)
Stanton is only a couple years older than Trout and Harper but he’s 93 homers deep into the chase. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right for him to make it to 763, but I like his odds better just because he’s already near 100. Needs 20 years of 34+ HR
1. Albert Pujols (Angels)
Pujols is easily the furthest along in the race at 475 homeruns, but he’s also the oldest. If we figure he’ll play out the final nine years of his deal in LA, he’ll need to hit 32 a year to make it happen. The task is easiest for him, but he’s also the only player on this list on the wrong side of 30. Needs 9 years of 32+HR
98-64, 1st in the NL East
Lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals
The Washington Nationals were my team to watch in 2012. I said on The Guy Show in March that they would win the East and go to the World Series. While the second part of the prediction didn’t come through, it was way closer than what most people thought. The Nationals were baseball’s best regular season team and came within an out of the NLCS.
The offense doesn’t jump off the page, but they played well together. Ian Desmond (5.4), Bryce Harper (4.9), and Ryan Zimmerman (4.5) all had great years. Danny Espinosa (3.8) and Adam LaRoche (3.8) were also very good.
The starting pitching was extraordinary as well. Gio Gonzalez (5.4), Stephen Strasburg (4.3), Jordan Zimmermann (3.5), Edwin Jackson (2.7), and Ross Detwiler (1.8) made all but 11 of the teams 162 starts. They also got a lot of great innings out of their bullpen.
The Nationals were in command of Game 5 of the NLCS until they weren’t in the final innings and lost to a little of that Cardinals magic.
But two big stories dominated the Nationals season. First, the Nationals are contenders now. They played well and didn’t go away. Most people will agree that they’re the favorites in the National League again in 2013.
The other story was the Strasburg shutdown, which was a huge controversy all season. I’m on board with the shutdown, but a lot of people thought it cost them. (Look for a post on this next week!)
As the offseason has gone on, the Nats have added Denard Span and Dan Haren, so they should be set to contend again in 2013, but it’s hard not to look back at 2012 and enjoy it. The Nationals brought winning baseball back to DC for the first time in decades, and there’s no sign of slowing down.
2012 Grade: A
Early 2013 Projection: 94-68