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The Morning Edition (April 4, 2013)

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

From Last Night:

  • Matt Joyce walks-off in an 8-7 win over the Orioles
  • Joey Votto, not to be outdone, hits a walk-off single not ten minutes later in a 5-4 win over the Halos
  • Ervin Santana allows 3 HR in his Royals debut, loses to the White Sox
  • Matt Harvey tosses 7 1-hit innings and fans 10 Padres in an 8-4 win
  • Halladay strikes out 9, walks 3, and allows 5 runs in 3 1/3 innings in a loss to the Braves

What I’m Watching Today:

  • Cliff Lee and Kris Medlen face off in Atlanta in the only premier pitching matchup of the day (7p Eastern)

The Big Question:

  • Which #3/4 starters will give their teams a boost in the first week?

The early season is a great time for hilarious quirks of small sample sizes. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that yesterday I was abuzz about Yu Darvish’s -0.27 FIP. In other words, FIP thinks his strikeout rate, walk rate, homerun rate, and IFFB rate should yield outcomes that literally take runs away from the opposing team. That is quite impressive. Another sample size issue I’m tracking is which player is the first past 1.0 WAR. As I write this, Darvish’s 0.6 is the closest, but on average we wouldn’t expect to see it happen until we were about 10-20 games into the season. I think my money will be on Harper. Much of what happened last night can be encapsulated in the lines above, but yesterday was the first day in which all 30 teams were in action and the benefits of that were reaped by those of us watching around 10pm. I really missed watching MLB Network go back and forth as so many games went down to the wire. Man, baseball is great and I’m never sleeping again.

2013 Preseason Awards: National League MVP

Last season, Buster Posey narrowly escaped a repeat campaign from Ryan Braun to claim his first MVP award. This season, both men will make a run at the award and will likely finish in the top five or six spots in the voting.

But the award will go to the game’s best hitter.

Posey is the best hitting catcher and the leader of a great pitching staff. Braun is a great hitter, but adds a good amount of value on the bases. Tulowitzki brings lots of value with his defense and his position. Heyward is a great all-around player.

The guy I’m picking here is the best at the plate. He’s no slouch in the field, but he is king in the box.

And the award will go to…

Joey Votto

Joey Votto (1B – Reds)

Dude, Votto is ridiculous. He missed time last season with a bad knee, but for the 111 games he was on the field, no one was on the same planet at the dish. Not Miguel Cabrera. Not Mike Trout.

He hit .337/.474/.567 with a league leading .438 wOBA and 177 wRC+. He failed to qualify for the batting title because of the injury, but it’s not like he did this in 50 games. This was 111 games and 475 plate appearances. And it’s not like he doesn’t have a history of being awesome.

Add this together with his preposterous ability to never hit infield popups or foul balls you have the most can’t take your eyes off him batter in the game. He’s a strong defender too.

Votto got on base more than 5% more than Joe Mauer last season and Mauer was the second best on base guy in the league. Votto walked in 19.8% of his plate appearances. And struck out in fewer. His power is insane.

He’s just the best.

The knee looks good this Spring, so we can assume he’s healthy and only has one other season in which he played fewer than 150 games. He’s 29 and in his prime and, for my money, the best hitter in the sport.

As an opposing pitcher, no one scares me more than Votto. As someone who loves baseball, he’s amazing to watch and will be an MVP worthy of your attention this season.

Think Posey or Braun will outdo Votto in 2013? Sound off, but don’t you dare say RBI!

The Nine Best First Basemen for 2013

Last week I rolled out the best catchers for 2013. And let me tell you, that list was a lot easier. The first base crop is great at the top, but then it gets a little bit less clear. Plenty of debate should come from this, but here are my top nine first basemen for the 2013 season.

9. Eric Hosmer (Royals)

Yeah, yeah, yeah his 2012 was a disaster. But I’m a believer. He’s very young and I’m comfortable writing off one bad season after he broke onto the scene in style in 2011 and during spring training last season. I love his glove and when he squares up a pitch, it can go a long way. If 2013 doesn’t go well for him, I’ll back off, but for now, I’m still a believer.

8. Anthony Rizzo (Cubs)

If you multiply the half season he played in the majors in 2012 by 2, he’d have been a top five first basemen. Not everyone is capable of doing that over a full season, but I think Rizzo is. His defense was good for the Cubs and I really like his swing. Solid average and good power. If he can improve the patience a touch, which I think he will, Rizzo could be a star.

7. Allen Craig (Cardinals)

Craig is a bit of tossup. His glove at first isn’t wonderful, but he’s a phenomenal hitter. He mixes contact and power in an excellent fashion. If he can stay healthy he’s great, if not, he won’t be. Simple as that. I’ll bet on only a couple weeks on the DL and say he’ll be a top nine 1B.

6. Mark Teixeira (Yankees)

Teixeira does certain things well. He hits for power. He walks. He plays excellent defensive. What he does not do well, is make contact. People who don’t make contact don’t crack the top five.

5. Freddie Freeman (Braves)

Freeman walks, hits for power, and plays solid defense. The average needs a boost and I buy a breakout from the young Braves first basemen. His lineup is better than last year and he’ll be another year older and wiser. Freeman is a guy to watch in 2013.

4. Adam LaRoche (Nationals)

LaRoche is also someone who combines power, walks, and defense. Well he did in 2012. He’s a bit of a wild card, but I’m going for it. He was a mess in 2011 due to a low BABIP, but I’m going to bank on him for one more year in the middle of that great Nationals lineup.

3. Prince Fielder (Tigers)

Prince is an excellent hitter. He hits for average. He draws walks. He has prodigious power. He hits behind the game’s best slugger and is one of the most durable baseball players in the world. He doesn’t play good defense though, so he can’t crack the top two.

2. Albert Pujols (Angels)

2012 was a down year for The Machine, but 30 HR and 3.9 WAR is better than a down year for almost every person on Earth. Pujols just set a very high bar. The future Hall of Famer is probably on the decline, but coming down from his insane peak still leaves a lot of room for him to be great. Look for a couple more great years before the party is over.

1. Joey Votto (Reds)

There is a case to be made the Votto is the best offensive player in baseball. In 75% of a season in 2012, he posted a 5.9 WAR. He’s a good defender, too, but man the offense. I’m just going to let his slash line do the talking, because really, what could I say that it doesn’t? .337/.474/.567. Read that again and let it sink in. Unbelievable.

Read the Midseason Update

2012 Season in Review: Cincinnati Reds

97-65, 1st in the NL Central, Division Champion

Lost in the NLDS to the Giants

It’s hard not to be happy with 97 wins. That’s a lot of wins. The Reds were a great team in 2012 and should be really happy about everything they did except for those last three playoff games where they let the Giants embarrass them.

Joey Votto played 70 percent of the year and posted a 5.9 WAR. His slash line (.337/474/.567) was something out of a video game. Brandon Phillips, Ryan Hanigan, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick, Zack Cozart, and Jay Bruce all posted starter or better WARs while contributing to baseball’s 10th best cohort of position players.

It’s hard to argue with a top five pitching staff either. The original rotation, led by Johnny Cueto, made 161 starts, yielding only a single game to Todd Redmond at the very end of the season. Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Leake, and Homer Bailey joined Cueto in the original five to form one of the better rotations in the game.

But the bullpen was the story. They posted the second best K/9 rate and the third best FIP in 2012 on the back of fireballer Aroldis Chapman.

The Reds hit well, fielded well enough, and pitched great. That’s a really good formula if you’re trying to win baseball games.

The Reds were a complete team and commanded the soft NL Central for the entire season. They fought off challenges from the Pirates and Cardinals and coasted their way into the postseason. After a strong start on the road in San Francisco, the Reds lost all three home games and called it a season after Game 5 of the NLDS.

It’s hard not to favor the Reds again in 2013 as they return most of their key pieces and look to be moving Chapman to the rotation where he belongs. The Cardinals will have something to say about the Reds’ chance at a repeat division crown, but the Great American Ballpark faithful should clear their schedules for next fall.

2012 Grade: A

Early 2013 Projection: 94-68

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