Monday, March 30, 2015

Kansas City Royals 2015 Team Breakdown

Projected Division Finish

1.              Kansas City Royals
2.              Detroit Tigers
3.              Chicago White Sox
4.              Cleveland Indians
5.              Minnesota Twins

Kansas City Royals

2014 Finish:              89-73 (Second Place)

Projected Batting Order

SS        Alcides Escobar
RF        Alex Rios
CF        Lorenzo Cain
1B       Eric Hosmer
LF        Alex Gordon
C          Salvador Perez
DH       Kendrys Morales
3B       Mike Moustakas
2B       Omar Infante

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Yordano Ventura
LHP                 Danny Duffy
RHP                 Edinson Volquez
LHP                 Jason Vargas
RHP                 Jeremy Guthrie
CLOSER          Greg Holland

The 2014 Royals had quite a run.  After a final push to make the playoffs as a wildcard team, they dispatched the Oakland Athletics in one game and swept the Angels and Orioles before heading to the World Series against the Giants.  It was their first playoff appearance since 1985 and they took it deep into the 7th game of the World Series.  They were unable to come away with the ultimate prize, but did not shrink away from the spotlight and made quite a name for themselves.

They are built on speed, pitching and defense.  If they can play like last year, they should be in good shape.  But they will have to weather the loss of their ace, James Shields, the loss of Billy Butler and Nori Aioki and also, for the first time in a long time, deal with expectations.


The Royals were a specially designed offense.  They were second in the league with a team AVG of 263 and first in stolen bases with 153.  They manufactured runs and were good at it, with an 81% success rate on the bases.  But part of the reason they were so good at it is because they had to be.  They were last in the league in HR and as a result were in the lower half of the league in runs scored.  They lost arguably their best power bat in Billy Butler and are hoping Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios can help offset that loss.  It will always be exciting for the Royals offense, but perhaps even more exciting than they want it to be at times.

Alcides Escobar will be the leadoff hitter for this club after succeeding there at the end of the regular season and through the playoffs last year.  He hit 285 with 31 SB and 74 R.  But that only came with on OBP of 317.  He rarely strikes out and puts the ball in play well, but he doesn’t walk, doesn’t often work the count and isn’t the ideal leadoff candidate.  But he is the best option the Royals have.  If he’s successful in that spot, I would expect another season around 280 with 30-35 SB and 75-80 R.  But I also wouldn’t be surprised if the pressure of hitting leadoff gets to him and he struggles.

I have former leadoff hitter, left fielder Alex Gordon, hitting fifth this year.  This is mainly due to the fact that he is one of the few hitters on this club capable of putting the ball over the fence.  Gordon hit 266 last year with 19 HR and 74 RBI.  He also contributed 12 SB and 87 R.  His 351 OBP is more in the mold of a leadoff guy, but they desperately need his power so he’ll hit in a better RBI spot.  I’ve heard some chatter about him hitting second, and think he could do that well too.  He is such a versatile player he could leadoff, hit second, third or fifth.  I expect he’ll move around.  He is likely not a 300 hitter batting in the middle of the order, but could hit for higher AVG is he was higher up in the lineup and the Royals needed him to.  I like him for 270 with 15 HR, 12 SB and 75 RBI.   If they move him up in the lineup, expect to see his RBI fall towards 60 while his R totals will climb towards 80.

Center fielder Lorenzo Cain had a great second half and became the Royals number 3 hitter for the playoffs.  Last year he hit 301 with 5 HR and 55 RBI.  He’s not a power hitter, which makes him a non-traditional choice to bat third.  But with his ability to hit for AVG and drive the ball into the gaps, the Royals like Cain in this spot.  He is another good base runner, with 28 SB last year.  I like him for another year of 25 SB, 285 AVG and perhaps 75 RBI/R.

Nowhere is the Royals’ lack of power more evident than with first baseman Eric Hosmer.  Despite a strong showing of HRs in the minors, Hosmer has not shown the consistent ability to put the ball over the fence in the major leagues.  He hit 270 last year, but that came with 9 HR and 58 RBI.  It was his first season not to hit double digit HRs.  It’s something the Royals really hope changes.  If it does, this offense will be significantly better.  If not, things will be tight again in KC.  Think 270 with 13 HR and 70 RBI.  He could also chip in 5-10 SBs.

Another underwhelming performer is third baseman Mike Moustakas.  He has the power the Royals lack with 15 HR last year.  But that came with a 212 AVG.  While the Royals do need power, the fact that Moustakas doesn’t contribute anything else is a problem.  He is hot this spring and the Royals hope that carries over.  But I am unsure.  I’d expect another season of 15 HR with only modest improvement in AVG, perhaps around 225.

Catcher Salvador Perez hit 260 in 2014 with 17 HR and 70 RBI.  He has seen his power totals climb each year, but that’s come with a corresponding drop in AVG.  He hit over 300 his first 2 seasons in the majors before falling to 292 and then 260 last year.  The power is good.  It’s also very important on this team.  And as long as he stays at least at 260, the Royals will be happy with him.  I see him hitting 260 again this year, with perhaps 20 HR.  But he could go the other way and see his AVG inflate to 270 with maybe only 15 HR. 

Second baseman Omar Infante is a very good complimentary player who plays strong defense and does a little bit of everything.  Injuries affected him at the plate and dropped his AVG to 252.  But he did chip in 6 HR, 66 RBI, 50 R and 9 SB.  He is not a power threat and doesn’t have game changing speed.  But he puts the ball in play and gives the Royals good ABs.  While I currently have him hitting ninth, he can bat second if the need arises.  I’d expect a return to the 275 region with 5 HR and 10 SB.

The two new offensive pieces on this team are Kendrys Morales and Alex Rios.  Morales is the new DH and is likely a significant step down from Billy Butler.  After rejecting the Mariners qualifying offer he didn’t sign with a team until well into the season and he never got his timing back.  He hit a mere 218 with 8 HR for the Mariners and Twins.  He’s had some recent success hitting over 270 in both 2012 and 2013 with over 20 HRs both seasons.  But he really struggled last year after joining the Mariners late.  I see him as a major question mark this year and don’t know what to expect from him.

Alex Rios could be an upgrade over Nori Aioki, but he has to bounce back from a subpar year in Texas last season.  When a guy in his mid-thirties has a down year, you start to worry.  But even his “down year” wasn’t that bad, especially when you consider all the nagging injuries he played through.  He hit 280 with 17 SB.  The down part was his power as he only hit 4 HR.  But even if he doesn’t hit for power, he can still hit for AVG and steal bases.  He hit 18 HRs in 2013 and 25 in 2012.  I think he’ll see some of the power come back and continue to hit around 280 as his career mark is 278.  If his power doesn’t come back, he may move up to the second spot in the order to utilize his speed and experience, not to mention his ability to hit for AVG.  I’ll put him down for 270 with 10 HR, 15 SB and either 70 RBI or R, depending on where he hits in the order.

That’s the offense.  Jarred Dyson is around as the fourth outfielder and is one of the fastest guys in the majors.  He stole 36 bases in 120 games.  In many of those games he was a defensive replacement or pinch runner.  I can see him doing more of the same, subbing in for Alex Rios late in games (actually he’ll go to center and move Lorenzo Cain to right) and maybe getting an AB or two.  Put him down for 20-30 SB again.  Eric Kratz is a backup catcher who won’t add much besides defense. 

This offense doesn’t have a lot of pop.  But it has potential, speed and good contact ability.  If they want to be successful, I think Escobar has to be a good leadoff man.  The rest falls into place from there, as Gordon, Rios or Infante can hit second ahead of Cain and Hosmer in the 3 and 4 holes.  But this offense will have to get on base and manufacture runs to be successful.  And that’s tough to do consistently.

The good news is the defense is great.  Escobar and Hosmer are great at short and first respectively.  Infante is a plus defender at second and Moustakas is better than average at third.  In the outfield, Alex Gordon is the best defensive left fielder in the game and Lorenzo Cain is great in center.  Alex Rios still plays well in right, though he’s lost a step.  Jarred Dyson is also strong in center, which allows to Cain to move to right late in games for Rios if necessary.  Salvador Perez is a Gold Glove winner behind the plate. 


The Royals pitching was the key to their success last year.  They had a 3.51 team ERA, fourth in the league.  They also had one of the best bullpens in the league.  The Royals were 65-4 when leading after 6 innings, and all the pieces of their bullpen are back for the 2015 season.

With James Shields gone, the Royals are hoping that Yordano Ventura can step up to be their new ace.  Ventura went 14-10 last year with a 3.20 ERA in 183 IP.  He’s got crazy velocity and ranked in the Top 10 with a 23.6% swing and miss rate. But he wasn’t a big strikeout guy last year and needs to cut down on the walks.  He’s got great stuff, but isn’t quite at ace level with a 1.30 WHIP and 240 BAA.  Not bad numbers at all, especially for a young pitcher.  But being the ace of this staff may be a lot for him to handle.  I think he’ll have a similar season with 12-15 wins, an ERA under 3.50 and perhaps 175 Ks in 200 IP.

I put lefty Dany Duffy down as the number 2 man in this rotation based on stuff alone.  He went 9-12 last year, but had a sparkling 2.53 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP and 209 BAA.  Like Ventura, he’s not a big strikeout guy.  But unlike Ventura, he does not put guys on base and beat himself.  He’s got a fastball in the low to mid 90s that doesn’t move a lot.  So he takes hitters off it by making liberal use of his curve and change.  As long as he continues to pitch to contact, I think he could have a better year than Ventura with an ERA around 3, double-digit wins and 150 Ks in 200 IP.

New acquisition Edinson Volquez has been brought in to help offset the loss of James Shields.  He is not the same caliber of pitcher, but has played well in the past, including last year.  Volquez went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA for the Pirates last year.  But the year before he struggled greatly in a split season with the Padres and Dodgers.  He’s got a career 4.44 ERA and was lucky last season with a very low BABIP (batting average on balls in play).  Additionally, his K/9 rate dropped to a career low, which is never a good sign on an older pitcher.  Frankly, I think the best-case scenario for Volquez is that he ends up being an innings eater, getting to 200 IP with a competitive ERA around 4.  But I suspect a tough season for Volquez with a losing record, 4.25 ERA and a regression to his mean.

Veterans Jeremy Guthrie and Jason Vargas make up the back end of the rotation.  Vargas will likely get the fourth spot in the rotation after going 11-10 with a 3.71 ERA last season.  He’s a fly ball pitcher who doesn’t have great velocity and uses location to get by.  He throws good breaking stuff, but gets in trouble leaving the ball up, especially on the road.  Both his WHIP and BAA were a little high, mainly due to guys getting hits.  The defense usually bails him out, but he’s not a guy you can count on to do much more than eat innings and pitch to an ERA around 4.

Guthrie will be the 5th starter, who may pitch more than the average 5th starter.  I say that because there are questions about Duffy being a fulltime starter (I don’t know why) and Ventura’s frame standing up to a full season of pitching.  At this point in his career, Guthrie is an innings hitter who pitches to an ERA around 4.  Last year his ERA was 4.13 and the year before it was 4.04.  In 5 of the last 6 seasons he’s reached 200 innings and he gets by with so-so stuff.  Guthrie will be competitive and keep the Royals in games, which is more than many other 5th starters can do.

The real stars of this pitching staff reside in the bullpen.  Greg Holland is on the short list for best closer in the game.  For my money he’s number 2 behind Craig Kimbrel.  That makes him the best in the AL and he played like it last year.  He went 46 for 48 in Save opps with a 1.44 ERA and 90 Ks in 62 IP.  He is truly filthy with a 0.91 WHIP and 170 BAA.  There is no question in my mind that he will be great again with 40+ Saves and an ERA under 2.

But it’s not just a great closer that makes the Royals fantastic.  It’s their two setup men, Wade Davis and Kelvin Hererra.  Davis is a former starter who has excelled in a setup role for the Royals.  He locked down the 8th inning with 33 Holds last year and 109 Ks in 72 IP.  His 1.00 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 151 BAA show him to be just as dominant as Holland.  And Hererra locks down the 7th with his AVG fastball of 96.4 MPH (Holland is 95.9 and Davis is 95.6).  He had 20 Holds and a 1.41 ERA last year with fewer Ks, but a great 214 BAA and solid 1.14 WHIP.

The rest of the bullpen features talented young arms including Brandon Finnegan and solid veterans like Jason Frasor.  If you only have to win the first 6 innings, baseball gets a lot easier.  And that’s the enviable position the Royals find themselves in. 

The good news for the Royals is that their All Star bullpen stayed together and hasn’t cost them any money.  The bad news is that the same can’t be said about their rotation.  In today’s MLB, mid market teams like the Royals have to make decisions about players based on economics more than what’s best for the on-field product.  Many of these teams draft and develop well, only to see their stars go to major market teams loaded with dough but short on drafting on development abilities.  It’s a shame and probably is something that should be looked at, but won’t be because the business of baseball does better when the major market teams are good.  For those reasons, the Royals were forced to let James Shields walk and replace him with Edinson Volquez.  Shields was more than just a great player on the mound, he was an incredible locker-room presence who brought a winning attitude to K.C.  While their pitching staff still looks good, there is no way it will be as good without Shields.


The AL Central is a funny division.  People talk a lot about how competitive it is, which leads to the assumption that everyone keeps getting better.  But I think that is misleading.  I think a better way to look at it would be the middle teams got better while the top teams got worse.  Some people see this as a division where 4 of the 5 teams could take home the divisional crown.  I only see 3 viable division winners (sorry Cleveland), but I understand the sentiment.  The Royals are definitely one of those teams.

Last year, they turned a hot second half into a wildcard berth, 8-0 AL postseason run and fight to Game 7 of the World Series.  Were they the best team in this division last year?  No I don’t think so.  Are they better this year?  Again, I think the answer is no.  Detroit is still a major force and Chicago got better.  But I think Chicago’s improvement only took them into the realm of being as good as Detroit and Kansas City.  And while K.C. got a little worse, I think the Tigers did too.  The Tigers may be a little better, but I think pitching wins championships, so I’m picking the Royals to win 92 games and take home the division title this year, finishing in first in the AL Central.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Houston Astros 2015 Team Breakdown

Projected Division Finish

1.              Seattle Mariners
2.              Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
3.              Oakland Athletics
4.              Texas Rangers
5.              Houston Astros

Houston Astros

2014 Finish:              70-92 (Fourth Place)

Projected Batting Order:

2B       Jose Altuve
RF        George Springer
SS        Jed Lowrie
1B       Chris Carter
DH       Evan Gattis
3B       Luis Valbuena
C          Jason Castro
CF        Colby Rasmus
LF        Jake Marisnick

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

LHP                 Dallas Keuchel
RHP                 Collin McHugh
RHP                 Scott Feldman
LHP                 Brett Oberholtzer
RHP                 Brad Peacock
CLOSER          Luke Gregerson

The Astros are a team that went nuclear years ago and planned to rebuild.  It’s been a longer re-build than some wanted, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.  Last year, for the first time since their move to the AL, the Astros didn’t finish in last place.  And while this team as gets better every season and should continue to grow in 2015, I still see them as a last place team.

They have some definite young talent and more than a few established players at this point.  But there are still some questions on the roster and in the pitching staff.  The future is bright, but questions and inexperience cloud the present.


I keep talking about improvement on the offensive side, but the team clearly has a long way to go.  The offense ranked last in the league with a team AVG of 242.  They were last in hits and second to last in runs.  But they were second in stolen bases and third in HR.  So they have some power and some guys with speed.  The Astros hope that another year of experience and a few new pieces will help the team improve their AVG, so as to better utilize that power and speed..

Jose Altuve leads the Astros offense.  Altuve was last year’s batting champ hitting 341.  He also led the league with 56 stolen bases.  He has been the Astros number 3 hitter for a while, but is a natural leadoff hitter who makes great contact and wants to steal bases.  He can use the whole field and excels at creating offense.  He should return to the leadoff hole this year.  I like him for a 300 AVG, 40 SB and 90 R.  Expect a drop in AVG because his 360 batting average on balls in play was about 30 points higher than his career norm.

Talented young outfielder George Springer is slated to be the everyday right fielder in Houston this season.  He showed off his prodigious power with 20 HR in only 78 games last season after waiting out his service time requirements.  But his AVG was low and he struck out in 114 of 295 ABs.  The Astros hope with Altuve getting on and perhaps trying to steal, Springer will see more fastballs than normal and he can launch them out of Minute Maid Park.  I don’t know how successful he’ll be, but I can see another 20 HR/10 SB season easily, with perhaps more if he can learn to lay off some of the stuff out of the zone.  His AVG could be anywhere from 220-260.   I’d be surprised if it was out of that range in either direction.

I put SS Jed Lowrie in the three hole.  Lowrie is a guy who has done a little bit of everything in his offensive career, and his experience on this team makes him a good fit in this spot.  A hand injury led to a down season in Oakland in 2014, but he was great there the year before hitting 290 with 15 HR and 75 RBI.  In 2012, he played in 97 games for the Astros and hit 16 HR, albeit with a 240 AVG.  I’d expect a season of 250-260 with 15 HR again.

I put Chris Carter in the cleanup spot and have him manning first base.  He’s your classic slugger:  lots of HRs, low AVG, lots of Ks, lots of walks.  Last year was no different, as he hit 227 with a career high 37 HR and 88 RBI.  The year before he hit 223 with 29 HR and 82 RBI.  With Carter, you know what you are getting and you are okay with it.  But you accept it because of his prodigious power and ability to work the count and earn a base on balls.  Put him down for another 220 season with 30+ HR and 75+ RBI.

Evan Gattis was a big name added in a trade with the Braves.  Gattis has played a lot of catcher and a little left field in the national league.  I think he will be the Astros primary DH and hit fifth in their lineup.  I think he will excel in Houston and be a 30 HR guy with an AVG around 250.  The Astros moving Gattis to DH will keep him healthy and allow him to be a big RBI guy.

The rest of the lineup has potential, but also questions.  Colby Rasmus was added on a one-year, make good deal.  Last year he hit 225 with 18 HR, 40 RBI, 4 SB and 45 R in an injury-shortened 104 games.  The year before he only appeared in 118 games, but hit 276 with 22 HR and 66 RBI.  He’s had trouble staying healthy, only surpassing 150 games once in his career and only surpassing 140 games twice (only once in the last 5 years).  However, I think he can really contribute if he stays healthy.

Catcher Jason Castro is looking for a bounce-back season after a rough 2014 after a great 2013 season. He saw a drop in every offensive category hitting only 222 with a mere 286 OBP.  They are okay with Chris Carter hitting like that because he hit 37 HR last year.  Castro hit 14 and plays poor defense.  So the Astros brought in Hank Conger to push Castro a bit.  Conger isn’t as good offensively but his defense is far better.  If both struggle, Gattis could potentially catch on a regular basis, freeing Chris Carter to DH and letting power prospect Jonathan Singleton get another crack at first. 

The last two spots are up in the air.  Third base is a battle between Luis Valbuena and Matt Dominguez.  Dominguez is the holdover, but hasn’t gotten the job done.  His defense is fine, but he strikes out a lot, doesn’t hit for average and never gets on base with one of the lowest OBPs in the majors.  Dominguez has seen his AVG drop 3 straight years.  He hit 16 HR last year and 21 the year before, but the last thing the Astros need is another guy who can hit for power, but no AVG.  The other third base option, Luis Valbuena isn’t as good defensively, but hit 249 with the Cubs last year and slugged 16 HR.  With similar power outlays, Valbuena looks like the frontrunner because he hits for higher AVG, works more walks and strikes out less.  I think he’ll win the battle to start at third, and if so may see time hitting second, to allow Springer’s power to drop into a better RBI spot in the lineup.

Left field is a battle between Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman.  Grossman can play all three outfield positions and is really the only other option to leadoff for the Astros if they decide they want Altuve to hit second or third. Grossman features some speed and the ability to take a walk and work the count. His career OBP is 335, but his AVG is only 248.  He’s better as a fourth outfielder.  Jake Marisnick is the highly regarded prospect that they want to win the job.  Marisnick has limited major league experience, but in 51 games with the Astros in 2014 hit 272 with 3 HR, 19 RBI and 6 stolen bases.  He’s hot this spring and making a bid to stay with the big club.  Interestingly, his biggest challenger is actually Jonathan Singleton, the number two first baseman.  If Singleton can hit, it moves Carter to DH and Gattis to left.  Alex Pressley is also around, fighting for playing time.

This offense, once again, will be very streaky.  However, they could hit for a ton of power.  Carter and Gattis can hit 30.  Either third baseman can hit 15-20.  So can Castro and Rasmus.  And no one knows how many HRs Springer can slug.  Altuve is a great player who can get on, steal bases and score runs.  We’ll see this team swing for fences a lot in 2015.  If they connect, they can score lots of runs.  If not, this will be a long season. 

The defense is also a little iffy because we expect so many guys to get playing time.  Castro is terrible behind the plate.  Conger is great.  But Castro, the better offensive player, is supposed to play more.  If he continues to struggle, they may let Conger take over or even let Gattis catch.  Gattis is as good defensively as Castro, but far worse than Conger.  Chris Carter is not at all good at first.  Singleton is only average, but young and perhaps has room to improve.  Altuve is a plus defender at second but Lowrie is average at best at short and has no range.  Dominguez is solid at third.  Valbuena is below average.  The good news is the outfield should be good.  Springer is great in right, Rasmus is good in center and Marisnick will be phenomenal in left.  He can also play center, as can Springer, if Rasmus struggles.  Gattis would be bad in left, but the hope is he can stay out of there.  Robbie Grossman is a good defender who can backup all three outfield positions. 


The Astros pitching staff is just as young as their offense.  Last year, the Astros pitched a little better than expected to a 4.11 ERA.  However, that mark was fourth worst in the league.  They had to support a streaky offense that struck out a ton and struggled to score runs.  Things don’t look much different this year, other than the defense which looks a little worse.

Dallas Keuchel led the team with 12 wins, a 2.93 ERA and 146 Ks.  Interestingly, he is the most extreme groundball pitcher in the league.  He doesn’t walk a lot of guys pitching to contact.  His BAA is a little high (252), but as long as he’s got a solid defense behind him, he should be okay.  I think he can win double-digit games again, but would expect his ERA to rise a bit as the defense behind him has gotten worse.

Collin McHugh was the other starter to emerge, going 11-9 with a 2.73 ERA.  This was a shock, as he’s never shown this ability before.  After struggling in the Mets organization he was picked up and subsequently dropped by the pitching-needy Rockies.  But upon arriving with the Astros, he was coached up a bit, convinced to scrap his sinker and focused on throwing more cutters and sliders.  The result was more Ks and his best season yet.  He struck out 157 in 154 IP and pitched to a sparkling 1.02 WHIP and 208 BAA.  I think he may become the true ace in Houston and have another double digit win season with an ERA around 3 and perhaps 180 Ks in 200 IP.

Scott Feldman is still around as the number 3 man.  He does his job well, pitching in the middle of the rotation and getting groundball outs.  He went 8-12 last year with a 3.74 ERA in 180 IP.  It’s the innings that are important as he keeps the Astros in ballgames and saves the bullpen.  But both his 1.30 WHIP and 266 BAA show that he’s prone to base runners, mainly via the hit.

The rest of the rotation will be made up of Brett Olberholtzer, Dan Straily and Brad Peacock.  Peacock is likely to miss opening day and is shooting to be back with the big club by May 1st.  He’s on schedule to this point, but he isn’t a game changer.  Over 40 career starts, he’s 11-15 with a 4.68 ERA.  He walks too many guys and gives up too many hits.  Oberholtzer has seen his numbers trend the wrong way.  After going 4-5 with a 2.76 ERA in 10 starts with Houston in 2013, he went 5-13 with a 4.39 ERA and 295 BAA in 24 starts last year.  Dan Straily went 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA over 8 starts and 6 relief appearances for the Astros and A’s last year.  He’s got a longer track record, but features a 4.54 career ERA with a 1.31 WHIP over 42 career starts.  He and Oberholtzer will start the season in the rotation, but only because there are no better options.  When Peacock comes back, the three of them will slug it out for the last two spots.

The Astros bullpen situation is kind of up in the air.  Luke Gregerson is the favorite to be the closer.  Gergerson has been a very successful setup man over his career and is hoping to make the transition to the 9th inning.  He made 72 appearances for the A’s last year with 22 Holds and a 2.12 ERA.  He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he doesn’t walk guys (1.01 WHIP) or allow a lot of hits (220 BAA).  I think Gregerson can be successful, even without getting strikeouts.

His main competition is Chad Qualls, who has closing experience but didn’t pitch as well last year.  He made 58 appearances for Houston going 19 for 26 in Save opportunities.  He was fine, but not great with a 3.33 ERA (high for a closer) and gave up more hits than the Astros wanted (265 BAA….very high for a closer).  He’s got the closing experience, but with a career 3.76 ERA, the Astros are hoping someone else can take the bull by the horns, leaving Qualls to be a quality setup man.

Pat Neshek is looking like the primary setup man in Houston after notching 25 holds and a 1.87 ERA in 71 appearances with the Cardinals last year.  He struck out better than a batter an inning, had a 0.79 WHIP and 183 BAA.  In short, he didn’t let anyone reach base.  I expect more good things from him this year.

While the back end of the bullpen looks strong, the track record of the rest of the guys doesn’t breed confidence.

The Astros have an up and coming pitching staff.  The bullpen looks strong at the back end.  The starters look strong up front.  But the holes in the middle will be a major thorn in the side of this Houston team. 


You’ve probably seen this one coming for a while.  I don’t like the Astros this year.  I like them in the future, but not in 2015.  The offense has potential, but may set a record for strikeouts.  The pitching staff also has potential, but less than the offense this year.   With major holes in both areas and very suspect defense, I think the Astros will finish with about 70 wins and end up in last place in the AL West.  

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Texas Rangers 2015 Team Brewkdown

Texas Rangers

2014 Finish:              67-95 (Last Place)

Projected Batting Order                                                         My batting Order

RF        Shin Soo Choo                                                            CF        Leonys Martin
SS        Elvis Andrus                                                              SS        Elvis Andrus
3B       Adrian Beltre                                                             3B       Adrian Beltre
1B       Prince Fielder                                                                        1B       Prince Fielder
DH       Mitch Moreland                                                         RF        Shin Soo Choo
LF        Jake Smolinski                                                           DH       Mitch Moreland
C          Robinson Chirinos                                                     C          Robinson Chirinos
2B       Rougned Odor                                                           LF        Jake Smolinski
CF        Leonys Martin                                                           2B       Rougned Odor

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

LHP                 Derek Holland
RHP                 Yovani Gallardo
LHP                 Ross Detwiler
RHP                 Colby Lewis
RHP                 Nick Tepesch
CLOSER          Neftali Feliz

2014 was a lost season for the Texas Rangers.  Despite an exciting offseason, injuries stopped them in their tracks.  Losing guys like Prince Fielder, Derek Holland and Shin Soo Choo gives you some cover but the rest of the team (aside from Adrian Beltre) played poorly.  And now the Rangers will have to try to come back without Yu Darvish, who will miss the year undergoing Tommy John surgery.

If the Rangers are going to return to legitimacy, they have to stay healthy.  They used the disabled list more than any other team in 2014 and paid over $46 million to players on the DL.  But health may not be enough. The Angels and Mariners look really good and Oakland should be formidable as well.  The Rangers will need to stay healthy, get their offense back to where it was and see the pitching staff get a lot better.  That’s a lot that has to go back for the Rangers to have a chance in 2015. 


Last year’s Rangers team saw a dip in production across the board.  Offensively, their production dipped precipitously.  They ranked below average in R and were second to last in HR, which is shocking considering their home park.  The Rangers are built for offense, so getting better with the bats is key.

Adrian Beltre is the offensive leader on this club.  He was one of two players with a positive WAR last season (with Leonys Martin) and he hit 324 with 19 HR and 77 RBI.  He’s hit over 300 for 4 of the last 5 seasons and he hit over 30 HR 3 of the last 4 seasons.  With better protection, I think we can see him return to 25 HR with an average north of 280 and 85+ RBI. 

Prince Fielder missed the majority of the season with a neck injury.  In his last full season, he hit 279 with 25 HR and 106 RBI, which was actually a down season for him.  The Tigers didn’t like his production, so he was traded to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last offseason before going to the DL for the first time in his career.  The question is, what does Fielder have left?  I personally believe he’s got a good amount left.  He’s still a big strong lefty playing in a park that is perfect for his power.  He may not hit 300 anymore, but if he hits 260+ with 30 HR and 100 RBI, that’s a win for this club. 

The other major offseason addition last year was Shin Soo Choo.   Choo appeared in 123 games last year hitting a mere 242 with 13 HR, 40 RBI, 53 R and 3 SB (in 7 attempts).  He still had an impressive OBP (340) but below his career mark of 383.  I predict a slight bounce back.  Think 270 with an OBP north of 360.  He may add in 15 HR and 80 R.  He spent the majority of his career in Cleveland as a middle of the order bat, but Cincinnati saw his OBP potential two years ago and turned to him to be a leadoff man.  He’s good at it, but with his declining speed I think he profiles better hitting 5th in this lineup, especially with his ability to hit for power.

Highly paid shortstop Elvis Andrus has been a disappointment since they signed him to an extension.  His AVG has fallen three straight years, his defense has gotten sloppy and he still can’t take a walk.  I think Andrus is good for 25+ SB, a 270 AVG and 70 R.  Not bad, but not what they are paying for.

One of the few bright spots for Texas last year was Leonys Martin.  Martin was a platoon player for years until interim manager, Tim Bogar, put Martin in the starting lineup where he excelled.  As a result, Martin played in 155 games, the most in his career, and hit 274 with 31 SB, 68 R and led the league in bunts hits (17).  I see the speedy center fielder hitting 275 with 40 SB and 80 R.  If he plays like that, we may see him move up in the lineup, perhaps freeing Choo to hit 5th and use his power to drive in some runs.

Catcher Robinson Chirinos played in 93 games last year showing good defensive skills and some power with 13 HR.  Jake Smolinski is winning the fight with Michael Choice for the starting job in left field.  Smolinski played well in 24 games last year hitting 349 with 3 HR.  Mitch Moreland is still around to DH and maybe take some at bats at first to give Fielder a rest.  Moreland has a long career of being a complimentary player but never a star.  Jewel of the franchise Jurickson Profar is likely to miss his second straight season with shoulder surgery.  As he was not available to replace Ian Kinsler last year, the team promoted Rougned Odor from Double A.  Odor hit 259 in 114 games last year while manning second.  He needed more seasoning, but the Rangers didn’t have the luxury of waiting.  He showed nice power (9 HR) and solid defense but no plate discipline, swinging at the first pitch in almost one third of his at bats and piling up the Ks.

This offense is top heavy.  They need to get good production from the top four spots of the lineup to really have a chance to succeed.  But those top 4 spots have questions.  Shin Soo Choo was limited by an injury, but struggled while he was playing.  Elvis Andrus has underperformed for 2 straight years.  Adrian Beltre is getting older.  And Prince Fielder is a big question mark whose numbers are trending the wrong way.  If the Rangers are going to succeed this season, Martin and Andrus have to have big years, Fiedler and Choo have to bounce back and Beltre has to keep doing what he’s been doing.

I think this offense will fare better if they are able to utilize the lineup I put up next to their projected batting order.  Choo can do a lot of things well, but they could really use his power, especially now that his speed is diminishing.  Having that power lower in the lineup in an RBI spot will help them.  But that can only happen if Martin continues to paly well enough to take over as the leadoff man.

The defense looks suspect.  Fielder was never good at first, but has gotten worse.  Andrus is losing range at short and playing sloppy.  Age has finally caught up to Adrian Beltre and his third base defense has suffered greatly.  Odor is above average at second.  Choo has lost a step in the outfield and is returning to right, the easiest outfield position to play in Arlington and also where he spent the majority of his career.  Martin is good in center and both Choice and Smolinski will be more than okay in left.  Chirinos is good behind the plate, but that only gives the Rangers two plus defenders in the field and maybe 2 more average ones.


The Rangers pitching staff wasn’t immune to injury either last year either.  They lost Derek Holland, Matin Perez and Matt Harrison and dealt with subpar performances from their substitutes.  As a team, the Rangers had a 4.49 ERA, second worst in the league.  To improve the staff, the Rangers added Yovani Gallardo and Ross Detwiler via trade.  The hope was they could support Holland and Darvish.  But news came down recently that Yu Darvish will need Tommy John surgery and will miss the season.  In addition, Harrison and Perez won’t be ready until June at best so the Rangers will have to figure something out.

Their new ace has to be considered Derek Holland, who truly doesn’t have the stuff to earn that designation.  He missed the majority of the year last season dealing with knee surgery and has reported discomfort in Spring Training, which has pushed his debut back.  Over six MLB seasons, Holland is 51-38 with a 4.32 ERA.  He’s got good command and can use his breaking pitchers at any point in the count, but he’s got to learn to keep runners off base. 

Yovani Gallardo was added this offseason via a trade with the Brewers.  Gallardo used to be considered an ace, but has not pitched like one in recent years.  Last year he went 8-11 with a 3.51 ERA.  Those numbers are fine, but the concern is the drop in Ks.  Gallardo had 200+ Ks from 2009 to 2012, but less that 150 the last few years.  However, he has surpassed 180 innings every year since 2009.  He could stand to avoid the walks more, but I like him for a 200 inning season with an ERA around 3.80 and 10 wins.

Newcomer Ross Detwiler will also be asked to deliver some big innings.  He was relegated to bullpen duty last year on the pitching rich Nationals but has 69 career starts under his belt.  His career ERA is 3.82, but it comes with troubling secondary stats.  Both his 1.37 career WHIP and 271 BAA are much higher than average and you worry about him moving to a great hitters park in the more offensive league.  He’s not a big strikeout guy and gives up too many hits.  I think he may struggle with an ERA north over 4.50 and perhaps more losses than wins.

Colby Lewis will now move from the 5th starter’s spot up into the middle of the rotation.  Last year, he logged 29 starts and went 10-14 with a 5.18 ERA.  The ERA was his worst since he returned to the Rangers (2010) and his WHIP (1.52) and BAA were both terrible.  My best case for Lewis is a sub 5 ERA and 8 wins with a full complement of starts.  He may reach 200 innings, but only because there is no one else to push him.

Expect to see both Tanner Scheppers and Nick Tepesch start some this year.  Tepesch went 5-11 with a 4.36 ERA in 22 starts last season.  He could stand to cut down on both walks and hits allowed, but he won’t kill you out there and the hope is with more experience he will get better.  He’s got the inside track on the fifth rotation spot, ahead of Tanner Scheppers who was terrible as a starter and much better in relief last season.  In 2013, Scheppers was a great reliever with a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances.  They like him be in the bullpen, but he may have to spot start some if Derek Holland is late joining the team or others get injured. 

Neftali Feliz will anchor a bullpen that is due to see a lot of work.  Feliz is back in the closer’s role, after an up and down career.  He tried to start, had Tommy John, then went to the minors because of his loss of velocity.  He got most of it back and returned to the closer’s role at midseason, going 13 for 14 in Save chances with a 1.99 ERA.  He kept hitters off balance (183 BAA) and didn’t put runners on (0.98 WHIP).  I think he can still be an effective closer and pitch to a sub 3 ERA converting the majority of his Saves, despite his dropping K rate.

After him, there are questions.  Lefty Robbie Ross will join Scheppers as a long man in the bullpen.  The Rangers took a chance on Kyuji Fujikawa who missed last year with Tommy John and failed to impress in two seasons with the Cubs before that.  No other names jump out at you as overly talented, so the pitching staff could be in trouble, lacking guys with successful track records.

This pitching staff was hit hard by injuries last year and really struggled.  They have some injuries already this year and don’t look to be off to a good start.  The back of the rotation has questions, as does the bullpen.  I think this pitching staff will be hurting again this year and ultimately the loss of Darvish will be too much to overcome.


I initially liked the Rangers more this year.  The Astros aren’t ready and the A’s have lost a lot of offensive talent.  I also believe in Fielder and Choo.  If Leonys Martin keeps playing like he did at the end of last season, Beltre stays healthy, and Prince Fielder regains even half of his form, this team will score some runs.  But I think the pitching staff will keep this team well out of the playoff hunt.  I’ll put them down for 75 Wins and a fourth place finish.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Oakland Athletics 2015 Team Breakdown

Oakland Athletics

2014 Finish:              88-74 (Second Place)

Projected Batting Order

CF        Coco Crisp
3B       Brett Lawrie
2B       Ben Zobrist
DH       Billy Butler
RF        Josh Reddick
1B       Ike Davis
C          Stephen Vogt
LF        Sam Fuld
SS        Marcus Semien

Projected Starting Rotation/Closer

RHP                 Sonny Gray
LHP                 Scott Kazmir
RHP                 Jesse Hahn
LHP                 Drew Pomeranz
RHP                 Jarrod Parker
CLOSER          Sean Doolittle

The Oakland A’s have had an interesting offseason.  Billy Beane was extremely active due to the financial constraints placed upon him by his team.  The A’s pinned their hopes to the move to San Jose, but the San Francisco Giants turned to MLB to shut that down.  For that reason the A’s are stuck in an old park dealing with an apathetic fan base in an area that is far more interested in the Giants.  More immediately, that means the A’s are forced to cut ties with players sooner than other teams for economic reasons, not baseball ones.

There have been numerous changes for Oakland again this offseason.  Gone is a litany of quality players including Josh Donaldson, Jon Lester, and Jeff Samardzjia.
In return the A’s got quality prospects and a few major leaguers including Ben Zobrist, Jesse Hahn and Brett Lawrie.  Add to that free agent Billy Butler and the Athletics feature a team that is still talented, but doesn’t cost as much to put on the field.

The hope is that this team can still hit enough to support a talented young pitching staff.  While many think this will be a down year and stretch of mediocrity for Oakland, I’m not so sure.  I think Beane got enough quality major league players back and has enough pitching talent to stay interesting in the division at the very least.


Over the past few years, the A’s have featured a very strong offense to go with some talented pitching.   Last year the offense slipped bit and it cost them.  The A’s hit 244 as a team, tied for second to last in the league.  Interestingly they were third in runs scored, but sat in the bottom half of hits, HR and SB, which means they may have been a bit lucky.  Beane knew he couldn’t afford to hang on to all the pieces of last year’s team and also felt that that team couldn’t win the division.  So he made some trades to keep the A’s competitive in the short term and rebuild a bit for the long term.

This year’s offense looks vastly different from the 2014 version.  At third, the A’s traded away their best player, Josh Donaldson and got Brett Lawrie back.  While he’s certainly a downgrade over Donaldson, the A’s hands were tied due to their financial constraints.  But getting a player of Lawrie’s caliber back is not too bad.  Lawrie’s biggest issue has been health, as he’s never played in more than 125 games in a season and was limited to 70 games last year.  In that time, he hit 247 with 12 HR and 38 RBI.  But his AVG has dropped each year he’s played and he didn’t even attempt a stolen base last year.  Lawrie is a fastball hitter who doesn’t handle breaking stuff well.  Additionally he gest upset easily and plays poorly when he’s angry. 

Billy Butler will join the A’s as their primary DH.  He is a line drive hitter with a career 295 batting average.  Butler played in 151 games with the Royals last year, but still hit fewer home runs (9) than any season other than his rookie year.  Playing in Kansas City saps power some, but playing in Oakland saps it even more.  Butler’s numbers are trending down as he gets older, with his AVG and HR totals dropping consistently over the last 3 years.  But I think he’s got something left in the tank.  He won’t hit 300 with 40 doubles and 100 RBI anymore, but I think he can hit 270 again, with perhaps 10 HR and 70 RBI.

Coco Crisp is the spark that gets the offense going.  This year, the A’s are moving him out of center and into left, hoping the move will keep him healthy.  He’s a career 270 hitter with 297 career SB.  But his speed has been a bit sapped by age and his AVG has dropped over recent years.  Last year he hit 246 with only 19 SB.  But he gets on base at a 330+ clip and is a great clubhouse presence.  Also, he’s got some pop with 9 HR last year and 22 in 2013.  I think a full season from him (which is probably only 140 games) can see a return to the 260 territory with a 330+ OBP, 25 SB, 10 HR and 75 R. 

The last major offensive piece in Oakland this season will be Ben Zobrist, who was added via trade from the Rays.  Zobrist is a very talented player who can contribute a little bit in each category offensively and play just about every position on the field.  Last season, he hit 272 with 10 HR, 10 SB, 52 RBI and 83 R.  I think the A’s will ask Zobrist to hit third this year.  I like him for 270, 10 HR, 70 RBI, 70 R and 10 SB.

The rest of the A’s offense is a mixed cast.  Ike Davis will play first and hope to finally be healthy.  After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Davis has only managed 20 in the last two seasons.  He did stay on the field for over 140 games last year, but hit a meager 233 with 11 HR between the Mets and Pirates.  Marcus Semien was brought in to upgrade the defense at short.  His offense is a question.  Right now I don’t expect much as he doesn’t handle off speed stuff well and swings for the fences more than he should.  Josh Reddick is the best player remaining on the offense, but he is streaky.  He hit 264 with 12 HR and 54 RBI last year.  After hitting 32 HR in 2012, Reddick has failed to appear in 120 games in either 2013 or 2014 and spread 24 HR across those two seasons.  If he can stay healthy, think another 240 season with 25 HR.  Stephen Vogt will be the primary catcher.  He was a pleasant find last year hitting 279 with 9 HR over 84 games.  However he has only 149 games of experience under his belt.  He always looks to pull the ball with power, so I suspect the AVG will drop.  But he could contribute 15 HR, which would be a welcome addition on this club.  The center field battle will be between Sam Fuld and Craig Gentry.  Fuld, the lefty, has more experience.  He hit 239 over 113 games for the Twins and A’s last year but saw a major drop in production after arriving in Oakland .  Craig Gentry faired a little better in his 94 games with the A’s last year.  He has great speed, going 20 for 22 on the bases, but not much else.  I expect a timeshare with both players getting about 300 ABs.

The A’s will miss Cespedes, Moss and Donaldson, their three best hitters last year.  They’ve added Lawrie, Zobrist and Butler, good players but not as good as what they lost.  I think the A’s will see their offense suffer a bit, with perhaps a better AVG, but fewer R and HR. 

The defense should be greatly improved.  Ike Davis, for all his issues, is a good defensive first baseman and an upgrade over Moss.  Ben Zobrist is not as strong as Eric Sogard at second, but plays the position well.  Semien is a big upgrade over Jed Lowrie in terms of range alone.  Brett Lawrie is very good defensively at third and will be a lot better than Donaldson.  Crisp was a bad defensive center fielder last year, but should be good in left with his speed.  Reddick is great in right.  And both Fuld and Gentry are good in center.  Stephen Vogt needs to work a lot on his defense behind the plate. Butler is the primary DH and not good at first, but not as bad as most people believe.  Eric Sogard is still around to back up second, freeing Zobrist to back up just about every other position.  This defense isn’t great, but it is a big improvement over Oakland’s 2014 squad.

Pitching :

The A’s pitching staff kept them relevant last year.  While recent years have seen them survive more on their offense, 2014 saw a return to the norm in Oakland with the pitching carrying the team.  They were second in the league with a 3.22 team ERA, first in team WHIP at 1.14 and they allowed the second fewest hits and walks.  The A’s will try to repeat that success, despite the loss of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzjia, additions at midseason who played very well down the stretch.

Sonny Gray is the ace.  He went 14-10 over 33 starts last year logging 219 innings and a team leading 183 Ks.  He pitched to a 3.04 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 232 BAA.  He has great stuff, one of the best curves in the game and a phenomenal feel for what to do on the mound.  Think 15 Wins, 200 IP, 175 Ks and an ERA around 3.

Scott Kazmir returns for another season by the bay in the midst of a career renaissance.  He led the A’s with 15 wins last year to go with a 3.55 ERA.  There was concern that his season with Cleveland in 2013 was a bit of an outlier, but he was even better last year in Oakland.  Playing in the Coliseum helps, but Kazmir has enough experience to know how to pitch with diminished stuff.  There is concern that his second half swoon (4-6 with an ERA over 5) is a sign of things to come.  I think he may struggle some this year, but believe he can pitch at least as well as he did in 2013 with the Indians.  Think double digit wins with an ERA around 4.

Jesse Hahn is a very talented young pitcher who the A’s got back in a trade with the Padres.  In 14 games and 12 starts, Hahn went 7-4, his only year in the majors, with a 3.07 ERA and 70 Ks in 73 IP.  He could stand to avoid the walks a bit, but he is very young and will be getting a lot more experience this year.  Hahn has a great future and will be a building block for Oakland for the next few years.  He’s got a good sinker with some up and coming secondary pitches. 

Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin are coming back from Tommy John surgery and hoping to contribute.

Parker missed all of last year but hopes to be back for Opening Day.  He’s not a huge strikeout guy, but he is able to keep his team in games by limiting runners.  If he comes back strong, the goal is 175 good innings. 

Griffin is further behind schedule and not expected back until around the All Star break.  He is 21-11 over 47 big league starts with a 3.60 career ERA.  He’s got good stuff, but may not be back to full strength until next year.

Until both are ready, expect to see Drew Pomeranz and Jesse Chavez fill the void.  Chavez made 33 appearances and 21 starts for the A’s last year, going 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA.  He allows too many runners but gives the A’s quality, competitive innings. 

Drew Pomeranz has the size and stuff to be a star, but it hasn’t translated yet.  He’s your classic 5 inning pitcher who shuts down a lineup the first time through, but struggles as they see him again.  However I think he is a sleeper candidate this year.

Sean Doolittle, the closer, will anchor the bullpen.  Doolittle, a converted first baseman, has been a reliever at the major league level for the last three years.  Last year, his first year as the primary closer, he notched 22 Saves while pitching to a 2.73 ERA.  His 0.73 WHIP was sparkling and his 169 BAA and 89 Ks in 63 IP show how dominating he was.  Unfortunately, Doolittle is coming back from an offseason shoulder injury and will likely miss the start of the year. 

Tyler Clippard will likely start the season as the closer and then go back to the setup role when Doolittle returns.  Ryan Cook and Eric O’Flaherty make up the rest of the bullpen’s core and hope to keep the A’s in the conversation for best bullpen in the league.

Pitching will carry this team.  It will have to as the offense if fairly diminished from last season. Hahn may be the key, as we know what Gray and Kazmir can do.  If the A’s are going to taste postseason baseball this year, then this pitching staff will have to once again be one of the best in the league.


The A’s are consistently competitive despite their financial situation.  They were a playoff team last year but almost missed the postseason and were sent home after the single elimination wildcard game.  They lost their three best offensive players and their two best starters.  They have enough talent to compete, but their offense is not as good as it was last year.  Neither is their starting staff.  Add to that the talent on the Angels and Mariners and I just can’t see this team making the postseason.

I’ll put them down for 85 Wins and a third place finish in the division.  That will have them on the outside looking in of the postseason.