Posts Tagged ‘Clayton Kershaw’

SD-Clayton-Kershaw-2

There is an exciting trend going on in Major League Baseball right now. As the previous Top 10’s thus far have clearly shown, there is an incredible rush of precocious talents at every position around the game right now. However, much of its full potential is often stifled by a matching level of phenomenal pitching as well. There is a golden age of pitching coming together currently, and attempting to pull out who is the best of the lot assures that more than one legitimate, front of the rotation, All-Star level talent will be missed.

When coming together with this countdown, the credentials of the collected group are as eye popping as their signature pitches are. There have been a total of nine Cy Young Awards issued to this group; nearly one per person. There is a league Most Valuable Player, a World Series/League Championship Series MVP and four players alone that will take home nearly $1 million per game this year.

The collected accolades of this group could go on and on, but just be certain: there are three currently active former Cy Young winners that could not even approach the honorable mention of this list, such is how intense the competition for being a true ‘ace’ is in the game today.

So let’s see how it plays out, the Top 10 starting pitchers in baseball today.

To review last year’s list, click here.

 Harvey_

10. Matt Harvey, Mets (Not Ranked in 2015)

2015: 13-8, 2.71 ERA, 188 K’s, 189.1 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 2 Seasons*: 11-6, 2.50 ERA, 190 K’s, 184 innings, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts, 0.97 WHIP

The Dark Knight has officially returned. Throughout all of the headlines regarding his work rate, one thing Harvey proved beyond a shadow of doubt last year is that he is still among the elite power arms in the game. After missing the end of 2013 and all of 2014, Harvey reestablished himself atop the Mets’ rotation and it is of no lack of coincidence the Metropolitans conquered the National League as a result.

He wasted no time in returning to his previous form, despite having his innings on overview during the majority of the year. Harvey locked in during the month of August and pitched as well as he ever had, allowing one run over four starts, while running up 24 strikeouts while allowing only two walks. In the postseason, he flew past the 200 innings mark, still averaging a strikeout per playoff inning and going 2-0 overall, including a heroic eight inning effort that the bullpen ultimately lost after his exit in the decisive game of the World Series.

9. Dallas Keuchel, Astros (NR in ’15)

2015: 20-8, 2.48 ERA, 216 K’s, 232 innings, 3 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.01 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 13-9, 3.33 ERA, 162 K’s, 195 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.20 WHIP

No player in baseball carried his 2014 breakout momentum further in 2015 than Keuchel did. Keuchel confirmed his place as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball, as he guided the Astros back to the postseason and snagged the American League Cy Young award along the way. Keuchel led the AL in wins, innings pitched, shutouts and WHIP, while also finishing within the top five in strikeouts, ERA, complete games and winning percentage as well.

He is a precise pitcher in the classic left-handed way, beating opponents with a sharp mixture of movement on both a slider and sinker, while changing speeds expertly. Over the past two seasons, has won over 50% of his starts and gone the distance eight times. He affirmed his status as a frontline performer by pitching Houston into the postseason by going into Yankee Stadium and holding the home club to three hits over six innings, while running up seven strikeouts in the AL Wild Card game.

8. Chris Sale, White Sox (#3 in ’15)

2015: 13-11, 3.41 ERA, 274 K’s, 208.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-10, 2.92 ERA, 236 K’s, 199 innings, 2 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.04 WHIP

It can be argued that there is no more deceptively dominant of a pitcher in the game today. Sale continued to reaffirm his place as the top victim of circumstance (also known as the best pitcher on a bad team) in the game today. He is coming off a season where he bested his former career high in strikeouts by nearly 50, despite only making one more start than in the season where he set his previous high.

Sale’s ERA did rise by over a run and a half last season, partially due to being supported by the AL’s worst team defense, which allowed for an absurdly high .324 average against him on balls in play. The improvements that the White Sox made defensively around their infield should greatly assist in raising the results of Sale on the mound. Especially since he is a virtual lock to remain one of the most oft-unhittable pitchers in the game today.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 28: Madison Bumgarner #40 of the San Francisco Giants pitches in the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)

 

7. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#6 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 2.93 ERA, 234 K’s, 218 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.00 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 16-9, 2.90 ERA, 217 K’s, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.04 WHIP

On the heels of his super heroic 2014 postseason, expectations were fairly high for Bumgarner has he embarked on the follow up season. And while his remaining at that level was an impossible expectation to believe in, he did continue to ascend up the standings of MLB arms. He matched his 18-win level from the previous year while setting a new personal high in strikeouts for the fourth consecutive year. It was also the fourth straight season his winning percentage increase.

Bumgarner has found a production neighborhood he lives in and has essentially taken out a mortgage there. There is simply not a pitching leaderboard that he will not be a factor on. He’s a lock for 200 innings, 200 strikeouts, his FIP figure is always in the range of 3.00 or lower and he’ll go the distance nearly a handful of times as well. Add in the fact that he’s also going to hit in the range of .250 at the plate, pop five home runs and drive in around 10 runs, and he is the consummate all-around performer on the mound.

6. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#2 in ’15)

2015: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K’s, 201.2 innings, 2 complete games, 2 shutouts, 1.18 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 15-8, 2.86 ERA, 218 K’s, 214 innings, 1 complete game, 1 shutout, 1.06 WHIP

Perhaps keeping the King this high is an overinvestment in the past. However, just as a strong season does not create complete stature, neither does one bad half. Hernandez had a morbidly bad second half by his own standards, where he had a drop in velocity, an increase in home runs surrendered and a drop in effectiveness. However this was preceded by a first half where he was his usual self, working to a 2.84 ERA, 11 wins and holding batters to a .214 average.

His second half was exacerbated by a horrible August, where he allowed a. 328 average, a 6.60 ERA and pitched a season low 30 innings. But in rehabbing the entire picture, he went 3-1 in September, dropped his ERA by 3.76 runs and won three out of his five starts, carrying his season wins total to 18. So while his numbers climbed, by keeping it in context, it is not a full fall off by the King, just more or less his crown slipping briefly.

 

5. Jake Arrieta, Cubs (NR in ’15)

2015: 22-6, 1.77 ERA, 236 K’s, 229 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.86 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 12-5, 2.52 ERA, 154 K’s, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 0.98 WHIP

Arrieta had a Koufax-level breakout season last year, pitching arguably one of the most dominant campaigns in baseball history. And it really shouldn’t come as a surprise because once you see Arrieta’s mixture of explosive release, power fastball and seasickening slider, it is not hard to understand why he so quickly injected himself not only into last summer’s Cy Young picture (a race which he won handily), but also has thrown himself firmly into the handful of best pitchers in baseball.

During his epic 2015, he led the National League in wins, compete games and shutouts, one of which came in the form of a no-hitter versus the LA Dodgers on Sunday Night Baseball. This performance came amid his extraordinarily dominant second half, where he allowed four runs over the course of two months, while going 10-1 with a 0.75 ERA from August through October. The only question about Arrieta is if he can do it again (the spring thus far has indicated that to be resounding ‘yes’), if so he will continue to launch himself up this ranking towards the elite in all of the game, regardless of position.

4. David Price, Red Sox (#9 in ’15)

2015: 18-5, 2.45 ERA, 225 K’s, 220.1 innings, 3 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.07 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 14-8, 3.01 ERA, 216 K’s, 218 innings, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts, 1.08 WHIP

With the exception of Jake Arrieta, no pitcher in the game had a bigger impact on the pennant race last season than Price did. After being dealt from the Detroit Tigers to Toronto at the trade deadline, Price propelled the Jays up the standings. His August-September performance saw him win nine of his 11 Blue Jay starts, while only being credited with one loss. This win total matched his four month total in Detroit and saw him reach at least 18 victories for the third time in his career.

The cumulative effort of his year saw him be the runner-up for the AL Cy Young. He was also an All-Star for the fifth time and finished second in Fielding Independent Pitching a 2.78 (a figure that measures the impact that pitcher alone has at preventing baserunners). On the tail end of this performance, Price became the most sought after free agent available this winter and properly cashed in on the position—inking a $217 million pact in Boston, making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history.

 

Schzerer_

3. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#5 in ’15)

2015: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K’s, 228.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.91 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-7, 2.94 ERA, 256 K’s, 221 innings, 2 complete games, 1 shutout, 1.02 WHIP

There are days when there simply is not a more dominant pitcher alive than Max Scherzer. And when those days happen, it is an event of historical proportions. His 2015 was an eye-popping blend of regular authority, one where 11 times he reached double-digits in strikeouts, threw a perfect game in June, then followed it with just a plain old no-hitter in his season finale in October.

Despite the pothole his season hit late in 2015 (a 0-3, 6.43 ERA August), Scherzer has continued to raise the level of his overwhelming outcomes annually. His season-by-season strikeout totals have risen from 231 to 240 to 252 to 276 annually since 2012. Only once in the last five years has he won less than 15 games in a season as well. No wonder he has won 69 games across two different leagues over the past three years.

2. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (#8 in ’15)

2015: 19-3, 1.66 ERA, 200 K’s, 222.2 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 0.844 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 17-5, 2.30 ERA, 185 K’s, 201 innings, 1 complete game, 0 shutouts, 1.02 WHIP

Greinke has one of the most efficiently, dominant seasons in recent history last year. He posted the lowest full season ERA in 20 years, when Greg Maddux turned in a 1.56 in 1994. Greinke essentially pulled the power plug on all competition, as the highest full month ERA he posted was a 2.04 number in August. Along the way, he had two months where he allowed less than five earned runs and posted a 13-1 record from July 4th through October 3rd. In the same time frame, he pitched at least 7 innings in all but three starts, getting the decision in all but two.

It has just been in recent years where Greinke’s startling regular high level output has truly been understood for how eye popping it is. He has reached double-digits in wins since 2008. Only twice along that time has he failed to pitch 200 innings or make 30 starts. He has now lead each league in ERA once, with a 2.16 ERA in 2009 and last year’s 1.66. He is both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger recipient as well. The $206 million that the Diamondbacks gave him in December was a very sound investment.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 in ’15)

2015: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

Last 3 Years: 18-6, 1.92 ERA, 257 K’s, 232.2 innings, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts, 0.88 WHIP

2015 was the worst season that Kershaw has produced in his past three.

And now that we have that out of the way, it was also a year where he finished third in the NL Cy Young race (his lowest finish since 2010), struck out 301 batters (the most in Majors since Randy Johnson in 2002) and also finished in the top three in innings pitched, ERA, WHIP, win percentage and complete games. However, by his otherworldly standards, this was a downturn in his overall production.

Thus is the life when you are the best pitcher of your generation: a season that would qualify as a career year for most looks like a slight bump along your unflinchingly dominant way. Entering his age 28 season, Kershaw carries three Cy Young Awards, the 2014 NL MVP, 114 wins, five career All-Star selections, a no-hitter and an all-time MLB record for most consecutive years leading the MLB in ERA, a four year streak broken last year—when he finished third instead.

His sustained dominance has placed him far and away from the rest of the pack atop the mound now. Kershaw cannot be fairly compared next to his contemporaries; he’s simply better placed next to where those already in Cooperstown stood at the same age.

 

Just A Bit Outside: Jacob deGrom, Mets; Gerrit Cole, Pirates; Adam Wainwright, Cardinals; Sonny Gray, A’s.

By James Martin, guest post

 

For the past few years, Cheap.Seats.Please and the good folks over at Fanduel, the home of one-day fantasy leagues covering the entire sporting spectrum, have teamed up to bring analysis to get you ready to put your money where your mouth. With baseball season upon us, we are once again coming together to breakdown a particularly important portion of the game: starting pitching.

Wild Card Game - San Francisco Giants v Pittsburgh Pirates

 

Last week, I broke down my top 10 starting pitchers today, but now another take on the game’s top arms is ready to weight in on that debate as well, but from a fantasy baseball perspective. And as you will see, regardless of purpose for ranking, it remains a position where the riches are truly plentiful.

Having good starting pitching is one of the most important keys to success in baseball. That is why teams are willing to spend top dollar in free agency to sign great arms, and they will hold onto young and promising guys as tightly as possible. They might be a bit too unpredictable to be drafted really early on in fantasy baseball, but World Series champions know how much they mean. Here is a look at the 5 best pitchers in the game right now going into the 2015 MLB regular season.

 

Clayton Kershaw

When you win a Cy Young Award and a MVP trophy in the same season, it is supposed to be celebrated as one of the best seasons in baseball history. However, the ending of the 2014 season for Kershaw was a little bit bittersweet. He was hit around in the postseason, and that led to an early exit for the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is healthy, in the middle of his prime and hungry to show that he is as dependable as they come. Do not be surprised if he is once again the best regular season pitcher in the game.

 

Felix Hernandez

He didn’t end up winning the Cy Young last year for the Seattle Mariners, but he was still the main reason why they were able to stay in the playoff race until the very end. With some extra support added to the roster in 2015, he will be looking for an even better year statistically. Not only has he been dominant since the beginning, but he has been pretty consistent as well. Pitching in spacious Safeco Field does help him out a little.

 

Madison Bumgarner

By fantasy baseball standards, many look at Bumgarner as a guy who will be extremely overrated going into the regular season. You see, he did not put up monster numbers last year, and he probably will not in the regular season in 2015 either. However, he is still a top 10 pitcher by fantasy baseball standards, and he is arguably the best big-game pitcher in the game right now. He is the ace of the pitching staff for the reigning World Series champions. That has to count for something.

 

Chris Sale

Casual baseball fans might be a bit surprised to see him ranked this highly, but the Chicago White Sox expect big things out of Sale in 2015. He probably would have been the Cy Young Award winner in the American League last year if it was not for some missed playing time. He is still very young, and the White Sox have better talent around him now. He racks up strikeouts with ease, and that always helps all the other numbers as well.

 

Max Scherzer

It can always be tough for a pitcher to change not only teams, but leagues as well. That is what Scherzer is going through this offseason as he joins the Washington Nationals. He will also have the weight of a huge contract on his shoulders that could take a toll on him in general. With all that being said, he is been consistent for a few years now, so it really should not be that much of an issue for him to stay strong.

 

Pulling apart the ten best starting pitchers in baseball is almost certain to create a stir at any point in history. But attempting to do so right now is an even more confounding process, because this is quickly becoming an epic era for arms. The offensive era of Major League Baseball has come to a screeching halt in recent years due to the quality of pitching that has confronted it.

Kershaw_22

Despite the fact that there is a clear cut top guy on the mound today, the distinction between number two and even number 10 can be subject to debate….and even much further than that. Take for example that this offseason, the race to acquire one of the three big name arms on the market between Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and James Shields was the talk of the winter— but only one of those legitimate frontline cornerstones could even make this list. Needless to say, it’s a tough crowd.

But as there is with everything else, the cream has to rise to the top. And in past years while I have made this list separately as a right-handed and left-handed countdown, I am upping the ante and throwing both together. So, here is the best crack I could take a taking at least 20 deserving pitchers and trimming them to ten.

1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (#1 LHP in 2014): Every year it becomes more and more difficult to imagine Kershaw taking his game to another level, but he did yet again last year. He added both the National League Most Valuable Player and a third Cy Young Award to his resume, as he finished with a 21-3 record, 239 strikeouts and a career-low 1.77 ERA. Overall he led his league in over 10 separate categories despite missing the first month of the season and became the first pitcher ever to lead the league in ERA four consecutive years.

2-year average: 18-6, 1.80 ERA, 236 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (#1 RHP in ’14): The King is coming off the second best year of his career and one where he finished as runner up in the American League Cy Young balloting. He won 15 games for the M’s and led the AL with a 2.14 ERA and held batters to a .200 average against. His 248 strikeout were a new career-best as well. In addition, for the third time in his career Hernandez allowed the least hits per nine innings in the game.

2-year average: 14-8, 2.55 ERA, 232 strikeouts, 220 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

3. Chris Sale, White Sox (#4 LHP in ’14): Far and away the AL’s top lefty, Sale had yet another brilliant campaign in 2014. While injuries interrupted a portion of his season, the 25-year-old was oft-dominant every other time out. He lowered his era nearly a full run, to microscopic 2.17 figure over 174 innings, while leading the AL in strikeouts-per-nine innings at 10.8. He made his third straight All-Star appearance and climbed the Cy Young charts for a third straight year as well, a sign of things that could be come.

2-year average: 12-9, 2.67 ERA, 217 strikeouts, 194 innings pitched, 3 complete games, 0 shutouts

4. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (#3 RHP in ’14): The Redbird’s warhorse ace put up another magnificent season, despite battling through some tough arm troubles for most of the year. He reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a career-low 2.38 ERA. It was the fourth time in his past five years he won at least 19 games while making it to the mound for at least 220 innings.

2-year average: 20-9, 2.67 ERA, 199 strikeouts, 234 innings pitched, 5 complete games, 2 shutouts

5. Max Scherzer, Nationals (#4 RHP in ’14): The newest Nat’s free agent voyage was the most notable thing attached his name this year, but earned it with another dominant year on the mound. In his final season in Detroit, the 2013 AL Cy Young winner led the AL in wins for the second straight year and topped 250 strikeouts. Over the past two years, he has posted a remarkable 39-8 record, good for 83% win percentage.

2-year average: 20-4, 3.02 ERA, 246 strikeouts, 217 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

madison-bumgarner-40-of-the-san-francisco-giants

6. Madison Bumgarner, Giants (#5 LHP in ’14): No player in the game’s stock rose more than Bumgarner’s did last year, and it was well deserved. Even before his unbelievably awesome postseason (a 1.03 ERA over 52.2 innings and four wins), he had taken a step forward in asserting himself as one of the game’s best arms. He posted career-bests in wins (18), strikeouts (219), innings pitched (217.1) and complete games (4), amongst other categories.

2-year average: 16-10, 2.88 ERA, 209 strikeouts, 209 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

7. Johnny Cueto , Reds (Not Ranked): Cueto jumped from the ranks of underappreciated to unavoidably superb last year. He was more dominant, more often than any other pitcher not named Kershaw. Cueto pitched the most innings in the National League, but still held batters to the lowest average against in NL (.197). Along the way he also won 20 games for the first time, led his circuit in strikeouts and finished with the league’s lowest hits against per nine figure as well.

2-year average: 12-6, 2.82 ERA, 146 strikeouts, 152 innings pitched, 2 complete games, 1 shutout

8. Zack Greinke, Dodgers (#7 RHP in ’14): The ever-efficient, best #2 (by default) in the game had a quietly record-breaking output in 2014. Greinke ran up a streak of 22 straight starts of allow two or fewer earned runs, which dated back into 2013. All-in-all, he won 17 games, with top 10 figures in both ERA and strikeouts, while tacking a Gold Glove on as well.

2-year average: 16-6, 2.68 ERA, 178 strikeouts, 190 innings pitched, 0 complete games, 0 shutouts

9. David Price, Tigers (#3 LHP in ’14): It was an odd year for Price between Tampa and Detroit, and one where he got off to a rugged start. But once he settled in, he was arguably as dominant as he has ever been. Price went on a strikeout spree in June where he ran up 54 strikeouts against only five walks in 39.2 innings. From there he led the Majors in missing bats with 271 strikeouts and innings pitched with 248.1.

2-year average: 12-10, 3.29 ERA, 211 strikeouts, 218 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 0 shutouts

10. Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (Not Ranked): I will admit to being slow to the appreciation train for Zimmermann, but his results have become too regularly impactful to deny at this point. He has been in the top 10 in NL ERA for the past two years, and led the senior circuit in wins two years ago. The consummate control specialist has struck a balance between accuracy on the plate and power as well, has he struck out over 180 batters for the third straight year.

2-year average: 16-7, 2.96 ERA, 172 strikeouts, 206 innings pitched, 4 complete games, 2 shutouts

Runners Up: Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Corey Kluber

 

To catch up on the countdown, scroll back a few days. To keep up with it in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Picking apart the top guy in the National League this year is no easy task. There was brilliance at the plate, as well as over and above dominance on the mound that was worth noting as well. There were also shifts in the waves of impact across the year as well. From the hot start of Tulowitzki and Puig, to the way that Lucroy and Kershaw threw their clubs on their backs, as well as the postseason clinching efforts of McCutchen and Posey. But with all things considered, there was one man’s effort that literally overpowered the rest of the pack and stood out above the rest. Here is his story….

2014 National League Stan Musial Player of the Year—Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

 Giancarlo_Stanton-600x400

“Most Valuable Player” is a term that, at best, is variously defined. Sometimes it is the biggest stat monster, while in other cases it is the player whose presence made the biggest difference on the course of the season. I personally tend to graze the fence between those two elements and think of it as the player who makes the biggest impact on the season, where his performance made the biggest day-to-day impact, while also improving his team’s fortunes and changing the layout of the season.

Giancarlo Stanton checked off each of these boxes with ease this season. The rhetoric on Stanton has been that he is one of the game’s great young talents, BUT….then the conversation always took away from what he was accomplishing on the field. Between injuries, playing for a perpetual lame duck franchise and being the favorite trade rumor on the yearlong hot stove league, what he was actually capable of on the field was taking a backseat.

Yet the receipts that Stanton turned in this summer were enough to drown out any other background noise around his play, because what he accomplished was a thorough destruction of all things pitching related, and in the course of it all, he raised the Marlins into immediate respectability as well. During his year 24 season, Stanton crushed NL pitching to the tone of a league-best 37 home runs. And they were not just run of the mill shots either, as quite often they were the type outfielders or pitchers do not bother turning around to see land either. His “average” (because these type of shots are common for him alone) long ball checked in on average at 415 feet, and defined the term ‘moonshot’ by getting up to 85 feet high and leaving the park at 107 mph, on average. He hit seven shot that went at least 450 feet this year, including a 484 shot in April that flat out defied logic. That is a complete obliteration of the baseball, and he made it his specialty this summer.

But there was more to Stanton than just his signature impact, as he began to round out his game even more. He set career-highs in RBI (105), hits (155), doubles (31), runs scored (89), stolen bases (13), walks (90) and posted his second-best batting average of his career with a .288 mark, despite playing in 22 more games than he did when he set his career high of .290 in 2012. The 37 long balls tied his career best also set in 2012, while his 299 total bases led the National League too, as did his .555 slugging percentage.

Pitchers attempted to wise up to approaching Stanton, and intentionally avoided him 24 times this year, one less time than he been purposefully passed in his entire career to date. But that approach did not breed the expected results, because it put Stanton in place to create opportunity for the other emergent Marlins on the year and created a far better outcome than was expected. With Stanton both as a conduit of run production and an element to be created around, the Fish improved by 15 games from the previous season, even without their emergent star in pitcher Jose Fernandez. This is a credit to having their premier property in Stanton both available, producing and maturing throughout the entire season.

His season was brought to sudden, and scary, stop in mid-September when he was hit in the face by a pitch. Subsequently, the Marlins (smartly) shut his season down, but Stanton is mostly back to good health and in position to return to the field on time next season. But while the clipped schedule on the year shorted him likely from a 40 home run year and an RBI title (where he finished second to Adrian Gonzalez), it should not take away from the fact that no other player made a more decisive difference more often than Giancarlo did. And therefore, he deserves the year’s top NL nod for works done and the path he not only laid, but drug into place this year.

Runners Up

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: I discussed the brilliance of Kershaw’s year in his Pitcher of the Year column, and he did make a calculable push for MVP as well. No player made a bigger difference in the direction of the pennant chase than he did and he had one of the great seasons in recent history off the mound.
  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: He finds a new way to steer the Pirates every season, and an MVP-caliber year is his norm. This year he finished third in average (.314), first in on-base percentage (.410) and topped 20 home runs and 80 RBI for the fourth straight year, while playing a brilliant center field as well.
  3. Buster Posey, Giants: He went into overdrive in the second half, hitting .354 after the break and finishing fourth in the NL with a .311 average. Once again spearheaded a Giant charge into September.
  4. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers: He had a brilliant overall year, pulling himself into the talk for the NL’s elite at catcher. He led the Majors with 53 doubles, 46 of which set an MLB record for a catcher.
  5. Anthony Rendon, Nationals: In a team full of bigger names, he was the most important property. Rotating between second and third base as needed, Rendon posted 21 homers, 39 doubles, 83 RBI and 17 stolen bases.
  6. Josh Harrison, Pirates: His breakout year was crucial to filling the many capacities he did for the Pirates. The first-time All-Star spent time at second and third base, shortstop, left and right field, and nearly took the NL batting title as well, hitting for a .315 second place finish.
  7. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers: He played a brilliant first base and led the NL in RBI at 116. Gonzo added 41 doubles to his resume as well, and was the key run producer for the talented Dodger lineup.
  8. Yaisel Puig, Dodgers: He did a little bit of this and little bit of that, providing whatever was needed for LA at the given time. Puig hit .296 with 16 homers, 69 RBI and played his sometimes awe-inspiring (and sometimes confounding) game on the bases and with the glove.
  9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies: Oh what could have been. Tulo’s most brilliant campaign to date was once again curbed by injured. When his season ended in August, he was sporting a .340 average, with 21 homers and 69 RBI in just 315 at-bats.

Previous CSP Votes

2013: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

2012: Buster Posey, Giants

2011: Ryan Braun, Brewers

2014 CSP/BBBA BALLOT REVIEW

 

Stan Musial Players of the Year Awards

NL: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins—.288 avg/37 HR/105 RBI, 31 doubles, .555 slugging %

AL: Mike Trout, Anaheim Angels—.287 avg/36 HR/111 RBI, 39 doubles, 115 runs scored

 

Walter Johnson Pitchers of the Year Awards

NL: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers—21-3 record, 1.77 ERA, 239 strikeouts, 6 complete games

AL: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners—15-6 record, 2.14 ERA, 248 strikeouts, .200 average against

 

Willie Mays Rookie of the Year Awards

NL: Jacob deGrom, New York Mets—9-6 record, 2.69 ERA, 144 strikeouts, 22 starts

AL: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox—.317 avg/36 HR/107 RBI, 35 doubles, .581 slugging %

 

Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year Awards

NL: Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves—47 saves, 1.61 ERA, 92% saves converted, 13.9 strikeouts/9

AL: Greg Holland, Kansas City Royals—46 saves, 1.44 ERA, 96% saves converted, 90 strikeouts

 

Connie Mack Managers of the Year Awards

NL: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants: 88-74 record, 2nd place NL West; Wild Card winner

AL: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles: 96-66 record, 1st place AL East; First division title since 1997

2014 is now officially in the books in the Cheap Seats, and onward to 2015. Stay locked here for more on the upcoming free agent blitz, as w@CheapSeatFanell as a variety of other biz as well. And if you need to now in the moment, as always follow on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The nod for this award in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance goes towards Walter Johnson, and rightfully so. He unquestionably dominated his era to the point that it is still a relevant mile marker for pitching greatness 90+ years later. However, the king of today’s hill is rightfully making his own impact as well, so for the easiest award of the year its not so much about proving it, but rather trying to ground it some in reality. Because what he’s doing right now seems to be unrealistically great….sort of like the namesake of this honor did back in his day.

 

Clayton-Kershaw-no-hitter-600x400

 

2014 National League Walter Johnson Award Winner—Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sometimes when one writes a defense for a choosing a particular player for an award, there is a need to justify it. In other cases there is the push to draw the line between that player and perhaps one or two others. But for Clayton Kershaw, it has reached the point that he is the presumptive holder of the award from the time he takes his first step on the mound in April, and then it is on everyone else to try to take it from him five months in advance. The game’s preeminent ace is far and away the top arm in the game; that is not in dispute. Yet showing just how far off he is from the pack—as well as the historic context he is beginning to reach—is truly what is most impressive about him from a pitching perspective only.

What sets the greats apart from the pack is how regularly superb they actually are. Not a ‘quality start’ (or whatever that is considered to be in today’s game), but a truly excellent outing that would be of huge note for most pitchers, but what’s standard operating procedure from him. For kicks, let’s just say that is eight innings, with at least nine strikeouts and two or fewer walks. Out of his 27 starts on the year, he met those measures eight times. That’s 29% of his outings that can be considered excellent. Moving on.

So let us say that we open up those parameters just a bit further, and lower the strikeout qualifier to eight, the innings requirement to seven and then add in 2 or fewer runs surrendered. Kershaw posted a line that meets those qualifications 19 times. So in 66% of his starts this year, he went at least seven innings, while surrendering two or fewer runs, walking two or less batters and striking out nine. That’s a highlight start for many a pitcher throughout the year, but he regularly met it.

Along the way, the a la carte numbers were stupendous as well: the seven games in double digit strikeouts, the eight walks over the course of two months in June-July, the 41 inning scoreless streak and obviously the no-hitter on June 18th which ranks among the greatest performances in MLB history.

Going back to the sustainable dominance idea, it continues to get more and more impressive. After June 29th, his ERA was never over 2.00 again for the rest of the season.  He had two months were he won every start he made, going 10-0 in June and September. From June 2 through August 5th, his ERA was 0.94 (nine earned runs over 86 innings). To round it all together, he led the NL in nine separate categories and came up three strikeouts short of his second pitcher’s Triple Crown.

And even with all of this accounted for, there is still a “what if” factor in this as well. He missed the entire month of April with a back injury, which left perhaps another five starts on the table. Despite this all, he still ranked first in the NL in wins with 21, second in strikeouts with 239 (three behind the leaders) and still pitched nearly 200 innings. In sort, he was nearly a fifth of the starts on the year behind most of the league but not only pitched to far higher quality per start, but it was such a high quality that it reached the same bar in quantity as well.

In the course of it all, he continued to push one of the great runs in starting pitching in any era to yet another level. He won the MLB ERA title for a record fourth consecutive year (2.28, 2.53, 1.83 and 1.77), and at the age of only 26, continues his precocious run through the game.

Personally, I have given him my best hurler in the NL vote for the past three years and it does not seem to be a push that will deviate any time soon. It is an incomparable run that is quickly placing him among the giants of any era on the mound; far more than just the year-to-year National League field.

Runners Up

  1. Johnny Cueto, Reds: Cueto’s coming of age season included him taking home a share of the NL strikeout lead (242) and meeting 20 wins for the first time as well. He also led the league in innings pitched (243.2) and lowest average against (.194), finished with a sub-1.00 WHIP and an ERA of 2.25, second to only Kershaw.
  2. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: The Redbird workhorse reached 20 wins for the second time in his career, while posting a personal-best 2.38 ERA. He had led the MLB in most starts of over seven innings and 2 or fewer runs yielded and led the NL with three shutouts as well. He was the NL Pitcher of the Month in September, and was the NL All-Star Game starter.
  3. Zack Greinke, Dodgers: The game’s best #2 affirmed that fact again, winning a career-high 17 games while striking out 207. He completed an MLB record of 22 straight games of two or fewer runs yielded as well.
  4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants: Greater glory awaited in October, but the first six months of the year were not too bad for Mad Bum either. He won 18 games and finished fourth in the NL with 219 k’s, setting a team record for lefty strikeouts in the process.

 

Past Winners

2013: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2012: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

2011: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

 

Two awards left to give, and we’ll see how it shakes out in real-time as well. Until then follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan for the word in the works.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Seattle Mariners

It has been an interesting half-season of Baseball thus far. It is one that emerges from the break today with only one divisional lead that is greater than four games. The entire National League is wide open, while the American League East and West are shaping up to fight it out for the long run on the other half. Six teams are within four or fewer games in both Leagues’ Wild Card race. Simply put, it has been a vice grip of a struggle for position this summer.

As the second half takes off this afternoon and evening, who is in the driver’s seat for the awards that will outcome as the seasons turn, the fat is trimmed and the postseason takes charge.

Most Valuable Player

American League—Mike Trout, Angels: Every year of his career thus far he has posted an MVP-caliber campaign, while each has seen him reach a higher peak day-to-day. 2014 has been no exception that either, as Trout continues to do everything possible on the diamond with exceptional skill. This year’s Trout Version 3.0 has seen him launch impossibly long home runs with stunning ease, while leading the AL in on-base + slugging% at 1.005 and total bases (209). However, what’s best is that he’s getting to do it while leading a finally successful Angels club, and the numbers always mean more when they are stacking into W’s as well.

National League—Andrew McCutchen, Pirates: After leading the NL in hits two years ago and then winning its MVP a year ago, somehow The Cutch continues to get even better. He is keeping Pirates relevant in the game’s best division via a stunning campaign that seems him in the top 10 in eleven different categories and playing his usual swarming defense as well. It’s a tight race between himself, Troy Tulowitzki and Giancarlo Stanton, but his all-around masterpiece he’s half-finished with is stunning thus far.

Cy Young

American League—Felix Hernandez, Mariners: It looks almost too easy, but the King (who is just touching his prime) has made dominance the norm. He is the owner of the AL’s top ERA, an 11-2 record and comes in second in K’s and first in WHIP as well. Along the way he has allowed more than 2 earned runs only three starts and has nine games of at least 9 strikeouts and 2 or fewer walks.

National League—Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: What is from Kershaw this year is simply awe-inspiring, as he sits in the top five in wins, ERA, strikeouts, WHIP and average against. But what’s most impressive is that he missed a full month and is still there. Imagine if he’d had that time to work? We would be looking potentially at one of the greatest seasons of all-time—not that we still couldn’t be, however.

Rookie of the Year

American League—Jose Abreu, White Sox: He has already exceeded most full-season expectations here as the second half is yet to begin. Abreu comes out the break the Major’s top home run mark, with 29 and is pushing on the door of 80 RBI already. If he keeps at this pace, he has a pretty good shot at meeting Mark McGwire’s record of 49 rookie home runs.

National League—Billy Hamilton, Reds: The Cincy speedster has delivered where expected on the base paths, with 38 first half steals and six triples to boot. But most impressively, he is putting to bed the rhetoric that he is all sizzle, but no steak at the plate, hitting .317 since the break of June.

Manager of the Year

American League—Bob Melvin, Athletics: In the midst of rapidly toughening division, Melvin has held the A’s head above all in the AL for the duration of the season. Armed with a completely all-in for ’14 Billy Beane in the front office and a full cupboard of perfect pieces in his dugout, the Oakland skipper has his club looking like they are ready to break out of the first round (at least) for the first time since 2006.

National League—Nick Price, Reds: The Reds entered the year, and spent a decent part of the beginning of it, in flux towards the bottom of the NL Central. Plagued by injuries both to the lineup and pitching staff, it was an unpredictable day-to-day situation. But their first year manager Price has done a masterful job of pulling the most of what has been available to him. This has included pulling into within ear shot of the Central lead, as well as sending five of his guys to the All-Star Game, with none of them being Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mat Latos or Jay Bruce.

Comeback Player of the (Half) Year

American League—Albert Pujols, Angels: The reports of his death have proven to be greatly exaggerated. While he is not pumping out the .300+ batting average that used to be standard for him, Pujols has already reached 20 home runs, 19 doubles and driven in 64 runs. It is far from a one-man reason why Anaheim is looking newly minted this year.

National League—Tim Hudson, Giants: After that gruesome ankle injury ended his 2013 in Atlanta, Hudson declared himself ready to go this winter much earlier than anticipated. In turn, the Giants took a flier on him and in return he has given them an All-Star in return. That’s more than fair return on investment, I’d say.

Reliever of the Year

American League—Greg Holland, Royals: The emerging dominance he showed in his first year in the ninth in KC has carried over, and it is fair to say that he has a more than fair claim to be the AL’s premier closer. His strikeouts-per-nine rate is still absurd at 13.7 and has converted 25-of-26 save ops thus far.

National League—Craig Kimbrel, Braves: Let’s see—MLB-best 29 saves, sub 2.00 ERA, batters surviving to a .131 average against and over 20 more strikeouts than innings pitched. In other words: just another run of the mill year at the office for Kimbrel.

Injury Setback of the Year

American League—Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees: After putting to bed any and all doubts about his effectiveness translating to the America and the $120M+ the Yankees inked him to as well, Tanaka took the tumble of many a pitcher this season, by tearing his UCL. He was authoring one of the best seasons in the Majors this year, and now will join CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda as injured impact starters for a Yankee team that is suddenly out of answers off the hill again.

National League—Jose Fernandez, Marlins: The most deflating injury of the year is easily Fernandez’s, who joined the Tommy John list in May after getting off to another sensational start. While the game lost one of its most exciting young properties, the surprisingly competitive Marlins lost the biggest difference maker in what could potentially be a stunning breakthrough season for the franchise.

Dodgers-Clayton-Kershaw-Tigers-Max-Scherzer-claim-Cy-Youngs

Last summer, the National League West was the scene of the most drastic 180 in all baseball. Coming into the year, it was fully expected that the Dodgers would grab it early on for themselves and not let up, however that was far from the case. As a matter of fact, due to a mix of injuries and uncertain day-to-day lineup production, LA found itself in the cellar of the division in early May, and no other club really stepped and away either. The defending World Series champs in San Francisco were dealing with a host of injuries and down seasons, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres didn’t make the opportunistic push that they could have. Soon enough, they would grow to regret this.

2013 Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. San Diego Padres (76-86)

4. San Francisco Giants (76-86)

5. Colorado Rockies (74-88)

In mid-May, the Dodgers came around and ran away with the West. Sparked by the promotion of Yasiel Puig and returns of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and (briefly) Matt Kemp, they ran away with the division, finishing with the biggest divisional margin of victory in the Majors. Pulling ahead to this summer, they will enter with the same expectations. However, the division enters in a much better place overall that won’t allow for any temporary slips that the last time around allowed.

The Diamondbacks showed the most growth of any team that did not make the postseason last year, sparked by the coming of age of MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt, and they made some smart additions to continue the process. The Giants never stay down for long, and with a strong core and a few additions to mend their fall of last year, they project well again too. And the Padres and Rockies both are the type of teams that can rock a boat while keeping their hand on it as well.

What does this all mean? And can it continue to be the aggressive mix of a division that has not had a repeat champ since 2009?

All-Division Team

1. Yasiel Puig -RF—Dodgers

2. Carlos Gonzalez-LF—Rockies

3. Troy Tulowitzki-SS—Rockies

4. Buster Posey-C—Giants

5. Paul Goldschmidt-1B—Diamondbacks

6. Matt Kemp-CF—Dodgers

7. Chase Headley-3B—Padres

8. Marco Scutaro-2B—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain—Giants

Right Handed Reliever: Joaquin Benoit—Padres

Lefty Handed Reliever: Rex Brothers—Rockies

Closer: Kenley Jansen—Dodgers

Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

With five current or former All-Stars comprising their everyday lineup, without accounting for Puig, the Dodgers have a undeniably balanced offering that still could do even more than it has to date if they can get a better shake regarding health. Following their addition of Mark Trumbo, the D’Backs are the only NL team running out two 30-home run hitters from a year ago, with Goldschmidt as well. The Rockies always produce, but if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can join NL-batting champ Michael Cuddyer and new addition Justin Morneau with some regularity, they should lead the NL in runs scored again.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years and 20 homers in each campaign.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

The Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Matt Kemp trio that the Dodgers could yield is a pure terror, as is the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer mix in Colorado. However, the Giants could see a big upswing around Buster Posey if Pablo Sandoval’s re-conditioned approach pays out, Brandon Belt continues to develop and Michael Morse can rediscover his 2011-12 form, where he hit .297 with 49 homers over the run.

Table Setters

1. Dodgers

2. Padres

3. Giants

4. Rockies

5. Diamondbacks

The decision to put Puig at the top of the lineup by Don Mattingly is partially due to a lack of a true leadoff hitter, but it is also a case of getting his most diverse talent as many at-bats as possible. If he develops more patience, he could be among the best leadoff options in the NL (.391 on-base % in 2013). The Padres are a throwback of an attack, that has plenty of dash and run options. Before he lost the end of his season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, Everth Cabrera was on pace to lead the NL in stolen bases again, and still managed to swipe 37. He is backed up by the chronically underrated Will Venable.

Depth

1. Diamondbacks

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Rockies

5. Padres

Kirk Gibson has a very deep offering, with the enviable option of alternating between Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and will eventually have the versatile Cody Ross available as well. San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco is one of the better 4th outfielders in the game, and Andre Ethier is currently the best 4th outfielder in baseball—for as long as he lasts in LA.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer in route to a 13-win, 199 strikeout campaign.

Rotation

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

For all of the depth of their everyday lineup, it is rotational depth that is the real strength of the Dodgers. Behind their big two, they have a rotation and a half, with a mix of Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dan Haren and options of Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley as well. However, the Giants are not far behind them, with Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogel song providing a solid supporting group.

1-2 Punch

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The West is home to two of the elite starting duos in the game, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw and Greinke combined for a  31-13 record with a 2.23 ERA and 380 strikeouts  last year, with Kershaw winning his second Cy Young in three years. In SF, Cain had a down year, before rebounding with a superb second half, while Bumgarner posted a 2.77 ERA in route to earning this year’s Opening Day nod. Arizona suffered a huge loss in their top guy Patrick Corbin being lost to Tommy John surgery this spring, while the Padres have a blooming star in Andrew Cashner atop their order.

Bullpen

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Giants

5. Rockies

LA boasts a dominant Kenley Jansen at the end of their pen, with two former closers on one-year deals auditioning for a return to the role in Chris Perez and Brian Wilson setting up for him. That’s a mix that leads to some very short games behind their already potent starting staff. The D’Backs have a similar mix, with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler all capable of shutting the door in front of Addison Reed. The Padres annually have a superb pen, and saw to it that it continues to be so by making a big commitment to former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to setup for Huston Street.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

Defense

1. Diamondbacks

2. Padres

3. Rockies

4. Giants

5. Dodgers

Led by all-universe defender Gerardo Parra and the Gold Glover Goldschmidt, the D’Backs can pick it, especially with a healthy Miguel Montero captaining it all behind the plate. The athletic Padres are built to make cover the spacious grounds in Petco Park, with Chase Headley a former Gold Glover and Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso and Cabrera all very good defenders as well. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is the best defensive outfielder in the NL, as is Hunter Pence in right for the Giants.

Manager

1. Giants

2. Padres

3. Diamondbacks

4. Dodgers

5. Rockies

Bruce Bochy has played a major role in the regular success of the Giants, and with two World Series titles under his belt in the last four years, he’ll have them ready for a rebound. Bud Black doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does in getting the cash strapped, young Padres to a respectable finish each year either. Don Mattingly also proved his chops last year, by corralling the spiraling Dodgers back into the race—and saving his job in real-time as well.

Finances

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Rockies

5. Padres

The Dodgers can have whatever they want, it is just a reality of the game that everybody in the market has to adjust to. They are squarely in ‘win now’ mode and will acquire whatever they can to make that a reality. The other teams in the division are more modest with their resources, so what is in tow now is likely to be close to what they compete with, although the D’Backs do have some attractive young prospects they could bargain with.

Impact Additions

1. Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks via trade)

2. Tim Hudson (Giants via free agency)

3. Addison Reed (Diamondbacks via trade)

4. Dan Haren (Dodgers via free agency)

5. Justin Morneau (Rockies via free agency)

The D’Backs mortgaged away some of their young potential to add slightly more proven young Major Leaguers in Trumbo and Addison this winter, to add much needed power in Trumbo, and late inning depth in Reed.  The Dodgers and Giants both made smart, ready-to –win contributions in Haren and Hudson to offset each other’s addition of the other.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL's most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL’s most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Leap Forward

1. Nolan Arenado—Rockies

2. Andrew Cashner—Padres

3. Brandon Belt—Giants

4. Jedd Gyorko—Padres

5. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

Arenado’s rookie year got swept away by the some of the more famous ones around the NL, but he made his own instant impact as well, winning the NL Gold Glove at third base. Look for him to make a more regular impact at the plate this year, as his .311 career minor league average indicates. Cashner could be the breakout starter in the NL this year, as the eccentric, flame throwing righty posted a 2.14 second half ERA, with a .194 average against.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Archie Bradley—Diamondbacks

2. Eddie Butler—Rockies

3. Jonathan Gray—Rockies

4. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

5. Austin Hedges—Padres

The West is home to a group of the premier pitching prospects in the game, with two oddly enough being headed towards Colorado in Butler and Gray. Gray was the 3rd pick in last spring’s Draft, posting a 1.93 ERA in two stops after signing. Butler started 28 games in the minors last year, and dominated to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 143 strikeouts. If they can carry over their success to Coors, it could signal a change of tides for the long-suffering Rockies pitching. Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the minors (12-5, 1.97 ERA at Double A in 2013), and should see action in the desert fairly early in the year due to Corbin’s injury.

PREDICTIONS

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The prognosis for the West seems to be for it to be much more competitive than it was a year ago, even while it stands to be host to one of baseball’s most dominating clubs, it is also compromised of a few teams that are either growing into postseason form or returning to it. The Diamondbacks look to continue their growth into a postseason contender, and despite the loss of their top arm in Corbin, they still have what it takes to continue their push into the wild card picture. They will need to get help from their on-the-verge prospects throughout the year, and may need to add an arm later in the year, but they are close. The same can be said for the Giants, who are only two years removed from being the best team in baseball, and are at a crossroads with their established core. If it has one more run in it, and a consistent offering from its rotation, they will push for the post season.

The Padres are a wild card in the fact that they have the understated cohesiveness to make a difference in the division, even if they are a few years (and a legit offensive star away) from being a factor in the wild card race. The Rockies are still a one-sided affair; potent offensively, but offer very little in the way vital pitching to compete with their division mates.

But in the end, it is the Dodgers division to negotiate their way through from the very beginning. It is about not winning the West, but getting over the NLCS hump that is their task for the year. After a season where they pushed to the brink of the World Series despite never being healthy, it is definitely within reason to expect them to do better entering the year in markedly better shape than they were at any point last year. Making reality meet what paper shows is a completely different thing however, but their prime competition is not from within the West, but from the top of the other divisions.

It has been four years since a team repeated in the West, but it is time for it to happen again. The Dodgers will once again pull away with the division, although by not the same amount of games, in route to posting the National League’s best record. However, expect the Giants and Diamondbacks to compete for one of the Wild Card spots throughout the year, with the Padres being a surprisingly competitive club as well.

For more on the season to come in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.