t_10593671406_7ccd05a506_z

This week, I will begin my annual preview of each division around Major League Baseball. And before I move on to this year, let’s take a look back at last year’s predictions, including how they panned out, what went right and what went wrong with the logic that went into them.

National League West—Preview Prediction

1. San Francisco Giants

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. Colorado Rockies

5. San Diego Padres

NL West—2013 Outcome

1. Dodgers (92-70)

2. Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. Giants (76-86)

4. San Diego (74-86)

5. Colorado (74-88)

The logic on choosing the Giants was based in a carryover of the chemistry that the mostly intact world champions were bringing back. They resigned Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, while their strong pitching staff stayed intact. However, in the end the Dodgers additions of Yasiel Puig, Zack Greinke and Hanley Ramirez, along with a mostly healthy Carl Crawford made the difference. The combinations of rampant injuries in San Francisco, along with the Diamondbacks playing strong ball as well made all of the difference.

National League East—Preview Prediction

1. Washington Nationals

2. Atlanta Braves

3. Philadelphia Phillies

4. New York Mets

5. Miami Marlins

NL East Preview—2013 Outcome

1. Braves (96-66)

2. Nationals (86-76)

3. Mets (74-88)

4. Phillies (73-89)

5. Marlins (62-100)

I wasn’t alone in this one at least, because the Nationals seemed to be the most complete team in the league and were coming off of a very strong season. But it never came together for them for one reason or another, and when combined with the Braves playing very consistent baseball (at one point opening up a 15 game lead), they were never in it until the end of the season. The Mets and Phillies traded blows in the middle, but ultimate treaded water out in a contest of interchangeable seasons.

National League Central—Preview Prediction

1. Cincinnati Reds

2. St. Louis Cardinals

3. Milwaukee Brewers

4. Pittsburgh Pirates

5. Chicago Cubs

NL Central —2013 Outcome

1. Cardinals (97-65)

2. Pirates (94-68)

3. Reds (90-72)

4. Brewers (74-88)

5. Cubs (66-96)

The Central was a knuckle to knuckle fight throughout the entire season and ultimately produced the team that tied for the best record in baseball (Cardinals), along with the two Wild Card clubs as well in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Where I went wrong was considering the Pirates to be the team that ended 2012 in a downward spiral, as opposed to the one that had started that previous season—which was the one they played like completely through 2013. The Reds pitching staff was not as strong as I anticipated, and the rookie immediate impact in St. Louis was greater than I thought, and made the difference for them. The Brewers fell out of the picture when the rash of injuries they sustained and the loss of Ryan Braun.

American League West—Preview Prediction

1. Los Angeles Angels

2. Oakland A’s

3. Texas Rangers

4. Seattle Mariners

5. Houston Astros

AL West—2013 Outcome

1. A’s (96-66)

2. Rangers (91-72)

3. Angels (78-84)

4. Mariners (71-91)

5. Astros (51-111)

The pick was made on the assumption that a) the Angels 2012 effort had been a fluke, and b) that the addition of Josh Hamilton and another year of Mike Trout would take them to the postseason. Yet again, it was the A’s that held their ground in the West. The Rangers pitching played better baseball, and the Mariners fit into the mix between the predictably bad Astros.

American League Central—Preview Prediction

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Indians

4. White Sox

5. Twins

AL Central—2013 Outcome

1. Tigers (93-69)

2. Indians (92-70)

3. Royals (86-76)

4. Twins (66-96)

5. White Sox (63-99)

The easiest division to choose held its serve for the most part. The Tigers took the division (albeit not as easily as I thought they may), while the Royals and Indians played much better baseball than they had the season prior. The White Sox however had a much more severe downturn than I saw coming, which was more the reason why the Twins didn’t find the cellar once again than them playing any better.

American League East—Preview Prediction

1. Baltimore Orioles

2. Toronto Blue Jays

3. New York Yankees

4. Tampa Bay Rays

5. Boston Red Sox

AL East—2013 Outcome

1. Red Sox (97-65)

2. Rays (92-71)

3. Orioles (85-77)

4. Yankees (85-77)

5. Blue Jays (74-88)

And finally, my greatest failure of the winter: the AL East. Admittedly, it was the closest of all the divisional choices, with the Rays, who despite being predicted to finish in fourth place were only 2.5 prediction points (the average place of the ranks of each category previewed) back of first place.

However, also admittedly, I was all in on the Orioles taking the next step as well after their showing in 2012. Add in the additions that the Blue Jays made and the terrible shipwreck the Red Sox 2012 ended as and it seemed that it could be legit. But the Red Sox pulled off a preview bottom-to-real life top outcome and ended up being the best team in baseball and the World Series champs.

And that is why the greatest crap shoot of all is a season preview on an outcome that’s eight months removed—and I’ll be rolling the dice again starting tomorrow.

Jhonny Peralta

It was not a jaw dropping off-season in particular for any National League team this season. While their American League counterparts went to war on the free agent battlefield, the NL clubs played it slower, instead choosing in many cases to make the subtle move over the splashy one. As a result, headed into spring it does not appear that this year’s races will be much different than the one’s that just concluded last September.

However, that would a complete error in judgement to assume, because the tortoise is just as adept as the hare in many cases. There flat out were not many teams that needed to have huge offseasons to get much better. The majority of the senior circuit is made up of balanced, well adjusted rosters that have what they need to succeed in place already, it is just about being consistent on a day to day basis. The elite competitors, it is about either eliminating their few blaring weaknesses or setting up their future to stay intact. For the middle tier, the name of the game was making the smart move to get in firing range of the upper class, because as last year showed, the race is never over until it is completely over. And for the few bottom rung teams, it is about honoring the process of the rebuild, and not falling straight on their face trying to get the job done too quick.

With the exceptions of a few clubs, each team achieved these measures by the standards of what was expected coming into the winter. And while a good winter far from guarantees anything much more than good sentiment headed into Opening Day, it does give a read on intent and where a team is looking to land. And in the air tight 2014 NL, every advantage helps out.

Here’s how the 15 NL clubs made out (to date) headed into the new year…

1.) St. Louis Cardinals: A few years ago, if one was to say the Cardinals are going to lose Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran all in one offseason, it would seem asinine to think they had a successful winter in any way. However, not only did all of those things happen—they were actually encouraged.

They did not have many needs to fill, but they addressed all of them and did so both aggressively and concisely. By moving the out of place Freese to Anaheim, they received the rangy Peter Bourjos to man centerfield and improve a limited defensive outfield. Adding Jhonny Peralta at shortstop may be the single-largest upgrade any team makes from 2013 to ’14 offensively, as he replaces Pete Kozma who was rated the worst offensive regular in either league last season. Considering these are the National League Champions, this was the ultimate “final touch” effort made good on.
2.) Washington Nationals: The steal of the offseason may be the Nats grab on Doug Fister, who was moved out as part of the Tigers payroll restructuring effort, and only at the cost of reliever Ian Krol and utility man Steve Lombardozzi. The addition of Nate McLouth gives the Nats the deepest outfield group in the NL, quietly even more than the Dodgers.
3.) Philadelphia Phillies: They stuck to their usual method of pulling in veterans with big contracts, but they also addressed many of their most frustrating gaps as well, by bringing in Marlon Byrd to be an offsetting right handed bat and AJ Burnett to be the needed middle of the rotation arm that had been lacking the previous two years with the downturn of the now retired Roy Halladay.
Carlos Ruiz was retained as well and the gamble taken on young Cuban power throwing righty Miguel Gonzalez could be the move that pulls them back up with the likes of Atlanta and Washington if all goes as right as it possibly can.
4.) San Francisco Giants: They continued their ways of retaining their own guys over making massive splashes in the free agent market by giving substantial extensions to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, as well as retaining Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong. However, they still made room to add Michael Morse and Tim Hudson to round out a roster that is only one underachieving summer removed from a World Series title.
5.) Arizona Diamondbacks: They wanted to make a big splash by landing the likes of a Masahiro Tanaka to pull their rotation to the next level, but they still made out well via a series of smaller moves. They mortgaged a few of their top prospects to land Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed, but both should play a solid part in pushing them completely into the postseason competitive mix.

The Braves committed $228 million to four of its best in-home grown talents, with the bulk sum going to its All-Star first baseman Freeman

The Braves committed $228 million to four of its best in-home grown talents, with the bulk sum going to its All-Star first baseman Freeman

6.) Atlanta Braves: They added nothing from outside of the organization, but in the last few weeks made it an offseason could help to define the future course of the franchise, securing Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward through their arbitration years. Sometimes, less is more, especially down the road.
7.) Milwaukee Brewers: For the second straight year, they played the slow hand on the free agent pitching market and came out with a nice deck. They addressed one of their prime needs in landing Matt Garza to solidify a rotation that was nearly constantly in flux a year ago. It remains to be seen however if Mark Reynolds can add the type of power they need to replace the departed Corey Hart at first.
8.) Los Angeles Dodgers: The big move of the offseason was the Clayton Kershaw extension, which was clearly the top priority for the team, but otherwise it was a winter based on potential in LA. IF Juan Uribe and Alexander Guerrero pan out, it was a successful winter, just like IF Brian Wilson and Chris Perez can find their vintage form over the course of a full season they made may have constructed a powerful bullpen group. To be continued all around.
9.) New York Mets: They had a one foot in, one foot out type of winter. On one hand, they made a headline signing in Curtis Granderson, but then were tentative in pursuing Stephen Drew, who would be an instant improvement on their entire roster. Bartolo Colon is good bookmark for their young rotation while Matt Harvey rehabs in 2014 however.
10.) Miami Marlins: It is always hard to read what the Marlin’s intentions truly are, but by all accounts, it looks like they don’t want to be a blantantly terrible as they were a year ago. Jarrod Saltalammachia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker are all solid veteran adds that should make the team relatively more competitive—or at least enough to show Giancarlo Stanton they are “trying”…for now.
11.) San Diego Padres: Questionable winter for the Pads, trading one of their best arms in Luke Gregorson for a platoon outfielder in Seth Smith, only to in turn spend major money on essentially the same type of pitcher in Joaquin Benoit to pitch the eighth. Josh Johnson is a coin flip signing, that if he stays healthy is great, but that rarely happens.
12.) Colorado Rockies: It was a hurricane of a winter in Colorado, but it is still uncertain if all the bluster made a difference. They added Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson, two of the most undependable, upside reputation carrying assets in baseball, to boost their lineup and staff respectively. All while dealing one of their most consistent sure bets, Dexter Fowler, for little in return. It feels like Colorado just ran really, really fast on the treadmill this winter.
13.) Pittsburgh Pirates: Tough to say they took a step back, but without a doubt it feels like they should have done more, especially after being one of the most aggressive teams in the game at the trade deadline last season. In the end, they lose A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones, and only add in return a resigned Clint Barmes. Hard to say that’s a quality winter for a team that is firmly on the edge of breaking through—or topping off.
14.) Chicago Cubs: The deliberate rebuild continues, and they used the winter to patch up their rotation with the additions of Jason Hammel and Jason McDonald, while truly improving their bullpen with Jose Veras and Wesley Wright. But it feels like it is time for Theo and company to make a legit move add some credibility to the only team that is clearly on the outside looking in in the NL Central.
15.) Cincinnati Reds: I’m not sure what the goal was here, unless it was to just write off 2013 as a mulligan and go at it again. At any rate, the losses of Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Hanigan resonate much louder than the additions of Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena. Perhaps the full-on investment in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips was a much heavier cross to carry than they even realized, because they seem frozen from a personnel movement standpoint—and will soon owe Homer Bailey an answer on his future as well.

The AL grades will come down later in the week (because the picture is still painting itself over there), but until follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

Albert_Pujols

In no other sport do “magic numbers” mean more than in baseball. And while if the validity of such automatic qualifier numbers is still current, or needs to be revised for today’s game is another debate completely, there are still round numbers that prove excellence has been met for a long enough time to take note.

Each new summer brings a chance for a new chance for certain career mile-markers to be met each summer. This summer is no exception, as a few standout marks will be met. On the heels of his recent announcement to retire following the season, Derek Jeter will put the finishing touches on his legacy, which will see him move through the top 10 all-time in hits—and potential reach an awe inspiring cap.

Likewise, Albert Pujols will begin to touch some of the hallowed marks that his effort has long forecasted, as will Miguel Cabrera. More surprisingly however, is what the summer could represent for Adrian Beltre, who is on the cusp of several numbers that will begin to create a completely different connotation for his body of work.

Here are the major career milestones that stand to be met in the 2014 MLB campaign.

HITS

3,500 Hits

3,316—Derek Jeter is 184 hits short of becoming the sixth player ever to reach 3,500 hits. He is 199 hits away from moving ahead of Tris Speaker for fifth place all-time (3,514).

2,500 Hits

2,426—Adrian Beltre will easily surpass the 2,500 level and enters an important year towards making a decisive push towards getting aligned for a shot at 3,000 in his late prime at age 35.

2,000 Hits

1,996—Miguel Cabrera is four hits (or a game and a half for him) away.

1,993—Raul Ibanez is seven hits short of the mark at age 41.

HOME RUNS

500 Home Runs

492—Albert Pujols has hit a home run one per every 14.9 per at-bats in his career, and enters the season eight shy. Not that there was any doubt about his legacy, but this is the first in a line of major posts to be met by the three-time MVP.

450 Home Runs

440—Adam Dunn is ten way, and has hit one per every 14.7 at-bats in his career. It is not certain if he’ll continue after 2014, but he would be safely in range of 500 if he plays through 2015.

438—Paul Konerko is 12 short, and has homered once per every 18.9 at-bats in his career, but will be in a part-time role.

431—David Ortiz is 19 short, and has not had a season with less than 20 in a year since 2001.

400 Home Runs

376—Adrian Beltre, and he has averaged 32 per season over the past four years.

365—Miguel Cabrera is 35 away and has hit not had season total below 44 since 2011.

RUNS BATTED IN

1,500 RBI

1,498—Albert Pujols will meet the mark easily.

1,000 RBI

966—Matt Holliday should meet the mark by the All-Star Break at the latest.

963—Ryan Howard (health abiding) should move past the 1,000 mark. He’s never had a season with fewer than 43 RBI.

500 DOUBLES

495—Adrian Beltre will easily surpass the next milestone in his signature hit in the first month of the year.

200 WINS

189—Bartolo Colon is 11 shy of hitting the 200 mark, due to his late career resurgence in Oakland.

186—Mark Buehrle enters the year 14 victories short of the level. However, if history speaks for the future, he’ll have to wait until next summer—he has won 13 in four of the past five years, and has not topped 13 since 2008.

18yankees-sabathia-articleLarge

2,500 STRIKEOUTS

2,389—CC Sabathia will become the ninth left-hander ever to surpass 2,500 strikeouts this summer, joining Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, Mickey Lolich, Frank Tanana, Chuck Finley, Tom Glavine, Warren Spahn and Jerry Koosman.

SAVES

350 Saves

341—Joe Nathan enters the year nine saves shy of becoming the ninth player to ever accumulate 350, and has a shot to reach as high as seventh all-time this summer.

300 Saves

286—Jonathan Papelbon stands to shoot up past the middle-tier of closers historically and into near elite standing this year. With his standard 30+ saves he not only passes 300, but to pass into the top 10 next year.

286—Jose Valverde he was signed by the Mets last week to provide bullpen depth, so there’s no clear road to 300, but if he somehow ends up in the role due to an injury to Bobby Parnell he could meet it.

 

For the moments as they inevitably happen in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to I70 Baseball and The Sports Fan Journal.

MLB: Atlanta Braves at Pittsburgh Pirates

There is no job in the game with a more concise, to the point job description than being a relief pitcher: get out there and get the job done, quickly. While this happens in far more than just the ninth inning, more often than not, eventually the most prevailing non-starters will find their way to the game’s final frame to deploy their craft.

Some are built for it, some aren’t, but while the save stat can often be misleading on a pitcher’s effectiveness; it does in many cases show who has the confidence of their club to weigh the team’s day-to-day success squarely on their shoulders.

It is a new day for the race for the head of the table in the world of elite relievers, as the unapproachable greatest closer of all-time, Mariano Rivera, has finished his final game. Yet while the standard setter is gone, the cupboard is far from bare, as there are an impressive and menacing group of late game arms vying for elite status either in or around the game’s most important inning.

Because to reach the upper rungs of this group, simply means you are among the most indispensable players in the game today—here are the top guns setting the new standard today.

10. Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals: Only a few blow the eye test out of the water quicker than the new closer in St. Louis does. He had 29 holds and ran up 103 strikeouts as a rookie, before assuming the ninth inning in the postseason—and establishing a strangle hold on the role going ahead. In two career scoreless postseasons, over 20 innings he has surrendered only six hits against 33 strikeouts.

9. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies: Steady and effective, the fiery and sometimes boastful Papelbon has the attitude that seals the deal—and is bred from his type of results. He has only finished one of his eight full seasons south of 30 saves, but is coming off a career-high seven blown save effort. But his track record indicates that’s an exception over a rule.

8. David Robertson, Yankees: It is no small task replacing the greatest closer of all-time, but Robertson has performed up to the task. As a setup man, he had a 1.91 ERA over the past three seasons and since 2010, is 325 strikeouts are nearly 30 more than any American League reliever.

Balfour_Rays

7. Grant Balfour, Rays: If he continues at the level he has been at over the past three years, the Orioles may have made the error of the offseason backing out of their pact with him. Since leaving Tampa in 2011, he has run up 64 saves and 41 holds, and has failed to convert only 5 of his last 83 save situations.

6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers: An important part of the Dodger ship righting itself was giving Jansen the ball back to in the ninth, and he took the role in an impressive fashion. He struck out 111 in 78 innings, in route to 28 saves and a 1.88 ERA.

5. Greg Holland, Royals: The overpowering Holland made the most of his chance to anchor the superb Royals bullpen, leading all AL relievers with 103 strikeouts, amid a miniscule 1.21 ERA. He closed out 47 games, while only failing on three save attempts, settling a Royals record high in the process.

4. Joe Nathan, Tigers: He re-affirmed his slightly hidden status as one of the great closers of all-time with a vintage effort in Arlington. Two years removed from elbow surgery, he turned in 43 saves on a 1.38 ERA, including closing out a memorable All-Star Game. With his next save, he will break a tie with Rollie Fingers for tenth all-time.

3. Koji Uehara, Red Sox: A long-dominant setup man, Uehara moved to the ninth halfway through the year and began to author one of the greatest relief seasons in MLB history. After June 1, he surrendered one earned run for the remainder of the season, finishing with a 1.09 ERA and 101 strikeouts. At one point, he retired 37 straight batters—good for 12.1 perfect innings.

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks

2. Aroldis Chapman, Reds: When he is on his game, he is the most intimidating and unhittable pitcher in the game. Armed with a fastball that lives over 100 mph on most days, and a slider that appears as if it is going to run straight through the batter, before dying at the last second, batters have survived to a .154 average against him to start his career. Over the last two years, he has struck out 50 more batters than innings pitched.

1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves: He has been the game’s premier closer since day one of assuming the role. Over his three year career, he has led the NL in saves each season, and done so in an undeniably dominant fashion. For his career, he has averaged 15.1 strikeouts per nine innings (381 K’s in 227 innings) and has converted 139 out of 154 career chances. He’s a two pitch pitcher that can choose which one he wants to win with on any given day. And at only age 25, he’s set a curve that should be his for a long while.

Just A Bit Outside: Sergio Romo, Glen Perkins, Jim Johnson

Thanks for following this year’s ‘Top 10, Today’ countdown. Head over to I-70 Baseball to recap the rundown over the next few days, via a slideshow format and recap. For in the moment analysis, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Wainwright_50

One thing there will always be in the game is a dominant right-hander on the mound. And in the lineage of Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and Bob Feller, the best of the best change the course of an entire day from the moment they touch the mound.

Entering into this summer, there are a plethora of hurlers cut from that game defining cloth, and has this list shows, they approach doing so from every possible angle. There’s two sets of teammates included, both whom do it via running up the strikeouts with overwhelming fastballs. While there is a second set that does so in about as divergent ways as possible—one via 95 mph fastballs and cutters, and another with mid-80’s material that never ends up where you’d think it would.

Overall, making the cut here is no easy task today. There is an MVP, four Cy Young winners (including one that is one in the same). There’s two rookies of the year—one former and one reigning—as well as a two-time World Series winner and a phenom that is quietly earning his stripes. Rounding it off, two arms that are in the business of proving that dominance on one side of the ocean can translate just fine to the other. Consider all of this without the inclusion of the injured Matt Harvey as well.

There’s plenty of ways to get the job done, but the ten guys here have found the most dominant ways to go about creating the hardest scenario in sports—squaring up a baseball.

10. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: His record lies about how well he performed last summer. The Nats managed to net him only eight victories, despite him limiting batters to a .207 average against him, and striking out 191 across 30 starts.

9. Jered Weaver, Angels: One of the trickiest pitchers in the game, his ability to throw six pitches at any point, combined with his long delivery and 6’7 frame make him a frustrating presence to get a read on. Injuries limited him 24 starts last summer, but he won 18 and 20 games respectively in 2011-12.

8. Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners: The owner of maybe the best splitter in baseball made proved his keep in his second season. In route to finishing third for AL Cy Young honors, he won 14 games, with on a 2.66 ERA, while walking only 42 batters in 219 innings.

7. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The only thing that sidetracked him from a season that could have potentially rivaled rotation mate Clayton Kershaw was a broken collarbone from an April brawl. Overall, he won 15 games in 28 starts, reaching the victory marker for the fourth time in five years.

yu-darvish-2013-opening-day

6. Yu Darvish, Rangers: He came up short of two no-hitters after the start of the 7th inning, but despite those disappointments, Darvish’s rise to ace status was undeniable. He led all of baseball with 277 strikeouts and finished fourth in the AL with a 2.83 ERA.

5. Jose Fernandez, Marlins: Maybe only Kerry Wood and Doc Gooden made a more immediate impact on their first arrivals in the last 30 years than Fernandez. The NL Rookie of the Year finished second in the league in ERA and allowed the least hits per game of any starter in baseball, at just over five.

4. Max Scherzer, Tigers: It all came together for Scherzer in route to winning the AL Cy Young and pulling rank on par with his more renown rotation mate. Always an overpowering presence, he added a changeup that took him to the next level. The result was a 21-3 record, which led the Majors in wins, while keeping his strikeouts per nine innings mark north of 10.

3. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: He not only returned to his pre-Tommy John form of 2010, he set a new personal standard. He won the National League in wins , innings pitched, complete games and shutouts, while setting a personal high and strikeouts and finishing second in the NL Cy Young ballot, along with a Gold Glove to boot.

Felix-Hernandez-Seattle-Mariners-

2. Justin Verlander, Tigers: He had a down year by his own otherworldly standards a year ago, but the ship has far from sailed on JV. In the postseason, he gave up a single run over three starts while striking out 31 against only three walks. He’s averaged 18 wins, 236 innings and nearly a strikeout per inning over the last three seasons.

1. Felix Hernandez, Mariners: As he has come into his own and made his potential reality, King Felix has made the excellent the norm. He seems to have the rare ability to throw any pitch on demand, regardless of location, speed and count. He topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth consecutive year, and at age 27 he already has 110 wins, a Cy Young win and two other finishes in the top three within the past five years. What’s more is that he is finally pitching for a team that has a few everyday talents that can match his own.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Matt Cain, James Shields, Jordan Zimmermann

Come back tomorrow for the conclusion of this year’s ‘Top 10 Today’, and for the real-time read, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Clayton_Kershaw

The point of a good countdown is to both acknowledge achievement of those featured in it, while also provoking some good debate on how it is ordered. Sometimes this can even create some suspense on the way towards the conclusion, during that wait to see if it works out like it “should” in the end.

Well, I’ve got a bit of bad news—this is not one of those times. If you’ve been following baseball even loosely over the past few years, there’s no question about who the best left-hander (or pitcher at all) is right now, that’s a done deal. There is no great challenge in figuring that out, however that is only half the story, because there is a phenomenal set of southpaws around the Majors right now.

In fact, it is a group so good that even a 17-game winner from just last year couldn’t crack the list, and that’s saying something. So, enjoy the countdown to #2, because it is both a very close call…and well as a testament to how great #1 is, already.

10. Francisco Liriano, Pirates: One of the most fascinating things to watch last summer was how Liriano reinvented himself from washed up power hurler to crafty and precise out machine. Using his slider primarily, he allowed 31% of his runs on the year in only two of his 26 starts and had a 2.14 ERA in the other 24.

9. CC Sabathia, Yankees: It’s easy to say that CC is on the verge of being washed up and that the innings have finally taken their toll, but he’s a gamer that’s never failed to reach double digit wins and will show up to camp as what looks to be 30-40 pounds lighter for the rebuilt Yanks. Something tells me that 2013 will be the aberration over the rule.

8. Jon Lester, Red Sox: He would have been the World Series MVP on any other, non-Ortiz team, winning two games in the Fall Classic, and had an impressive 4-1 postseason record. On the year, he topped 15 wins for the fifth time in six years.

7. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals: He didn’t turn in another 21-win effort for the sulking Nats, but Gonzalez was still turned in over 190 strikeouts for the third straight year and is primed to be a big part of a 2014 turnaround that started late in DC last fall.

ColeHamels1

6. Cole Hamels, Phillies: He seemed to be cursed to just not be able to pull out a win for most of last year, but pitched better than his 14 losses would lead one to believe. Otherwise, his final effort stays close to the level that is accustomed of him, topping both 200 strikeouts and innings, while keeping his ERA at a solid 3.60.

5. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: One of the most underrated, but consistently superb hurlers in the game. He has risen to the top of the Giants staff at just age 24, and has already won 50 games and topped 200 innings each of the last three years, while posting a career-low 2.77 ERA in 2013.

4. Chris Sale, White Sox: He proved his 2012 was no fluke, has he turned in yet an even more impressive effort in his sophomore starting season, despite a decrease in wins on a much worse club. His 226 strikeout were third best in the AL, and the soon-to-be 25 year old hasn’t approached his ceiling yet.

price1

3. David Price, Rays: He had a slow start coming off his Cy Young 2012 effort, due to a triceps injury that sidelined him to the disabled list for the first time. But he returned to his regular form in the second half, going 7-3 with a 2.87 ERA, and winning a gutsy tie-breaker playoff start to push Tampa into the playoffs.

2. Cliff Lee, Phillies: The game’s preeminent control artist was is back at his old tricks. Over the past two seasons, he has struck out 429 batters, while walking only 60 in return. Over that span, he has not pitched less than 211 innings in a season and won 37 games.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Like I said, there’s no drama here—he’s the best pitcher in the world regardless of arm. A winner of two of the last three NL Cy Young Awards (and had a very strong case for the one he finished runner-up for), he’s as dominant of a 25 year old as there has been since Roger Clemens.  Over his past near-700 innings pitched, his ERA is a miniscule 2.21, a stretch that he has won three consecutive ERA titles, including an insane 1.83 a summer ago. Kershaw is $30 million per year well spent.

Just A Bit Outside: C.J. Wilson, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin

For more in real-time about this and the rest of the Top 10′s across the board, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

yasiel-puig-20141

The position that Babe Ruth first defined, and Hank Aaron later rewrote the record book from is always a home of some of the most potent bats in any era of the game. Today’s offering features that traditional grouping of power conduits, but has also been influenced by a defensive presence that has also been more aligned with center field traditionally, as well as more overall skilled contributors that left fielders have been.

Yet when looking at what is at the position now, there is a mixture of everything at the spot—and that is all before accounting for a new addition to role that has been one of the game’s most all-around talented (and recently controversial) players in the game. All things considered, it’s one of the toughest positions to pull one factor apart from the others, due to offering of skills across the board.

But that’s what I’m here to do, so that’s what we’ll do. Here is the final of this winter’s positional ranks (as well move into pitchers next). As well as one of the toughest to pull apart, between the new additions, the one-year sensations and the standard bearers—both young and established.

 

10. Jayson Werth, Nationals: Year three in DC was much better for The Beard as he delivered what was paid for finally. He delivered a .318 average, along with a .398 on-base percentage via 147 hits, 25 home runs and 82 RBI in 129 games.

9. Hunter Pence, Giants: He put his awkward looking, yet very complete game on full display last season. He topped 90 RBI for the fourth straight year, stole 22 bases and covered more ground in right by the numbers than any other player in baseball.

8. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: The potential is brimming to break over the top, but he just needs to stay on the field to fully deliver on it. Still, he has hit 107 home runs before his 24th birthday, many of the “no doubt” variety—his 2013 average was 413 feet.

Allen_Craig21

7. Allen Craig, Cardinals: He is moving back to the outfield on a more full-time basis this summer, but he’ll be taking the game’s best everyday clutch bat along with him. In addition to his overall .315 average and 97 RBI in 2013, he hit a staggering 59-for-130 (.454 average) and 83 of those RBI with runners in scoring position.

6. Shane Victorino, Red Sox: He found his way again in the Red Sox ensemble and was a memorable part of the push that took the club to a third World Series in 10 years. In the process he also became the best defensive right fielder in the American League by a fair margin, being responsible for a 2.2 wins with his glove alone.

5. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays: Injuries have clipped his production some over the past two years, but he remains among the elite power threats in the game. He hit 97 home runs between 2010-11, and despite his injury-related decline, he has stayed in the top 10 in the MLB home runs per at-bat the past two years.

4. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers: The enigmatic Puig’s approach can be questioned, but the results are beyond reproach. A testament to the value that WAR showcases, in 104 games (hitting .319), he turned around the entire direction of the Dodger season, and consequently, the direction of the franchise as well. He’s a natural—even if it gets clouded in perception.

3. Carlos Beltran, Yankees: His late career resurgence has kept him moved him to the elite class of corner outfielders, as well as becoming the centerpiece of which the Yankee offensive rebuilding effort is based. In his two years in St. Louis, his average season was a .282/.343/.493 with 28 home runs and 90 RBI.

Ryan_Braun

2. Jay Bruce, Reds: He’s 26 years old has never had a season under 20 home runs in his first six seasons. Over the past three, he’s turned it up to 30+. In 2013, he produced a 30 homer, 43 double, 109 RBI effort, but arguably his greater impact continues to be in the field. He had the second best fielding percentage, range rating and outfield assist totals a year ago as well.

1. Ryan Braun, Brewers: The move across the outfield doesn’t change anything about his standing amongst his new peers, and until further notice, neither does the post PED edition either. Braun is simply one of the best hitters of his era; three times in the last five years his season total has seen a .300 average, 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 100 RBI, 20 stolen bases and over 330 total bases.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jason Heyward, Wil Myers, Torii Hunter

For more on the upcoming season and the ranks here, follow me in real-time on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.