Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia Phillies’

jimmy-rollins-dive

Last summer, I started an ongoing project to look at the Hall of Fame prospects of many of the contemporary stars of the game. This year we are picking that series back up again with a few more current MLBers that have some impressive long-term prospects—potentially.

To get this summer’s edition going the spotlight first will land on longtime Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. It has been a seesaw season for Rollins so far, who has run the gamut with the Phillies over his career in general, but perhaps no year has been as severe as this one. From a brief controversy over his playing time future with the team with manager Ryne Sandberg in Spring Training, all the way to surpassing the franchise’s crown jewel in Mike Schmidt atop the Phillies’ all-time hits list last month, Rollins has had quite the summer even just at the halfway point.

But now as the summer moves on (and potentially the end of his run in Philly as well) it is as good of a time as any to take a look at the surprisingly complete career of Rollins and if it has been enough to build a bridge into Cooperstown potentially for him not too far down the road.

 

The Numbers (as of July 1, 2014)

15 Seasons (age 35): .268 average, 207 home runs, 863 RBI, 2250 hits, 1284 runs scored, 470 doubles, 439 stolen bases, .327 on-base percentage, .434 slugging percentage

1. The Case For: In taking a stand for Rollins career, it is important to look at how well he has displayed every skill that is asked of a shortstop, as well as some that are borderline exceptional for the position. What jumps off the page first is his outstanding athleticism at his peak. He was one of the most dangerous speed elements in the game from his debut into well into his mid-career prime. From 2001-09, he stole at least 20 bases a season, with four seasons of 40 or better, including leading the National League with 46 as rookie and a career-best 47 in 2008. His 438 career stolen bases are the 11th best total ever for a shortstop.

This was also a tool he put to constant use as an offensive presence as well, as he led the NL in triples four times including an absurd 20 in 2007. Of shortstops whose careers began after 1950, his 109 triples is the third best total overall after Robin Yount and Jose Reyes. His athletic skills also were put to great use in the field as well. Able to cover much ground and possessing a strong throwing arm, he was a winner of three (legit) Gold Glove Awards from 2007-09 as well.

Yet what truly began to set him apart from the pack was a deceptive amount of power that he began to develop about halfway through his career. As his swing and knowledge of the game matured, he began to become a threat to go deep as well and four times in his career he has topped 20 home runs in season. Overall, he has 10 seasons of double digit home run totals, including 30 in 2007. His 207 career homers are the 9th best total for a shortstop all-time. Although he has never had a season hitting .300, he did amass a 36 game hitting streak at the end of 2005 year.

2007 is a reoccurring theme in referencing Rollins, and for good reason. It was the year that he put on one of the finest all-around displays of talent in the history of the game in route to winning the 2007 NL Most Valuable Player award. It was a year that he became the first player in MLB history to turn in a 200 hit season, with 20 triples, 30 home runs and 30 steals in one year. In addition, he became the seventh player to ever have 20 doubles, 20 triples and 20 home runs in one season, joining among others Hall of Famers Jim Bottomley (1928), George Brett (1979) and Willie Mays (1957).

2. The Case Against: While he has been steadily good, injuries began to take away from some of the range that he had early in his career in the field around 2009 and also decreased the steadiness of his offensive output as well. After 2007, he only hit over .260 once, while hitting .250 or lower three times. Despite hitting around the top of the lineup for most of his career (leadoff in 1,457 games, second in 303 and third 123 times) he has never been much of an on-base threat, owning a single-season best of .348 in 2004. In his decline years since 2009, he has only once reached base more than 33% of the time despite having over 600 plate appearances in four of his five full seasons over that run.

While All-Star Games appearances can be considered trivial, in many cases it is a fair barometer of a player’s impact in their era. And Rollins has made only three All-Star appearances in his 15 year career, which is a curiously low number for a player at position that is usually easy for elite talents to lock down a spot in (conversely, Ozzie Smith made 12 consecutive ASG appearances and Barry Larkin had two stretches of at least three appearances, only separated by one absent season). Rollins has not reached the All-Star Game since 2005, a stretch of nine seasons that is continuing.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

Rollins has ranged from a great, to exceptional, to excellent, to questionable contributor over the course of his career. Can a balancing act in his final years seal his legacy as a Hall of Famer.

3. Similar Players (through age 35)

– Edgar Renteria (.286 average, 140 home runs, 923 RBI, 2327 hits, 294 stolen bases)

– Alan Trammell (.288 average, 174 home runs, 936 RBI, 2182 hits, 224 stolen bases)

– Craig Biggio (.291 average, 180 home runs, 811 RBI, 2149 hits, 365 stolen bases)

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (what it is going to take): The case for Rollins is perplexing, because in many regards he is the class of NL shortstops for his era. While Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki all have had great runs, Rollins has had the longest sustained presence since Larkin retired. Yet the perplexing situation is just how between the lines where he currently stands is at.

Look at the players that he is most like just above. Renteria was a multiple time All-Star and champion, but not a Hall of Fame caliber player, although he did have a ‘Rich Man’s Retirement’, with plenty of more baseball he could have played. Moving along to Trammell, who he perhaps best mirrors from an impact standpoint (one-time World Series winner, same amount of Gold Gloves, 15+ year everyday presence with lower than expected All-Star total) and the brink of immortality for Rollins really is made clear. Trammell has lived on the fringe of the Hall of Fame ballot for 14 years now and is not gaining any traction to get before he is removed from it.

The final comparison is a man that is destined for the Hall of Fame in Biggio, who offers similar skill set as Rollins, but differs in the fact that he stayed more consistent for longer and therefore hit a unique spread of accomplishments that will gain him membership to Cooperstown potentially as soon as this year.

Despite all of this, there the element of “it just doesn’t feel like” he has done it all. Perhaps it is because his very best was done in a short span of years and otherwise he has just been very steady at being steady. Meaning he has done certain thing very well, but few of them have been the type of happenings that are highlight worthy. You have to look back to see that he has a Silver Slugger and as many Gold Gloves as he does. Seeing the brilliance of that 2007 season takes some prompting as well, just like the hitting streak of ’05 and the brash confidence that he guided the Phillies back to prominence in the mid-2000’s with as well.

The complex of where Rollins is at is that he has made a definite impact, but is in a purgatory of relevancy. He has to keep pushing and producing regularly to reach out of the “great in his era” range of the Renteria’s and to find the gap between Trammell and Biggio that would reach him to Cooperstown. He has all of the intangible accomplishments that can be asked for: a World Series Champion, MVP, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and All-Star all under wraps. But to really make a more than compelling case for himself, he will need to hit a few milestone stat hurdles as well.

Mainly, he has to keep running up the hit total. With another 300 hits he would top 2,500; an impressive total for a shortstop of any era. That would give him more than Ozzie, Larkin and Trammell, which are important to pass as two are established Hall of Famers and standard bearers for the decades that preceded him and puts him over the proverbial eligibility hump that Trammell has become. One thing that he can still do is run well and run smart, and when Rollins tops 500 stolen bases he’ll have a really plus, round number to lean on as well.

A career of 200 home runs, 500 steals, 2500 hits and 1300 runs scored is awfully impressive. And what’s more, if Rollins is to meet this package of feats, he would be the only shortstop to ever do so. Only the greats Honus Wagner and Derek Jeter come close to that type of display, and when a player is close to that class, they are doing something right. And Rollins has done all lot right for a long time.

However, he will need to finish out his career strong to meet these marks and there is work to be done still. If he can do so, I think Rollins has a more than suitable case to make it in. But if he does not, he could be lost in the haze of the Hall of Very Good, and perhaps rightfully so.

So when it’s all said and done, when the question is asked: is Jimmy Rollins In, Out or In-Between the Hall of Fame, as it stands today, he is IN-BETWEEN, but closer to the rights to the keys to the Hall than it may be believed.

 

For more on the season as it unfolds, follow my columns at The Sports Fan Journal, I-70 Baseball and tune into ‘Live From The Cheap Seats’ as well. For up to the moment words, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Roy+Halladay+Sitting

For much of the decade of the 2000’s, the question about who was the best pitcher in baseball started at number two. Mostly because the dominance of Roy Halladay made it so simple to decide on who was at the top of the list. Whether it was during his run of triumph in-spite of some less than desirable clubs in Toronto, or his turn of fortune (and perfection) in Philadelphia, Doc Halladay has stood for the pinnacle of both competition and resilient results for his career.

Yet, as he has turned into his twilight of his career, where does this place him among the greats that have ever toed the mound? Pitching more so than any other position is guided by the standard set by magic numbers and an ever-changing chance to reach the position’s definitive quality marker: wins. Despite this, Halladay has dominated his era at a quality as good as any hurler has, but has it been great enough, for long enough, for him to sit among the immortals when his time is up? Let’s have a look.

The Numbers (through June 12)—Record: 201-104 (.659 win %), 3.37 ERA, 2101 strikeouts, 2721.2 innings pitched, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts

1. The Case For: At his peak, he was the perfect example of the exception rule. He excelled regardless of surroundings as well as any pitcher in baseball for the bulk of his career. From 2002 to 2009, he pitched for only one team that finished any better than third place in the American League East. However, during this time, he won at least 16 games in six seasons, including 19 in ’02, 22 in ’03 and 20 again in ’08. In those respective seasons, he won 24, 25 and 23 percent of all Blue Jay games. He posted a winning percentage of at least 75% in four seasons, and after turning 25 in ’02, he posted only one season with a winning percentage under 63% for the next ten years. That goes beyond efficiency; that crosses into dominance.

And working in bulk is another of Halladay’s great assets. He’s almost a man out of time in that regard, as in a time where less innings are being pitched by starters and instead being shared by increasingly specialized staffs; Halladay is pitching like it’s the 1960’s still. From 2007-2011, he led the American and National Leagues (respectively) in complete games, totaling 42 across that span. He also led the AL in shutouts from 2008-10, totaling 10. For his career, he has led a league in complete games seven times, shutouts four times, and innings pitched four times as well. He’s a warhorse.

He’s perhaps the perfect blend of strikeout and control pitcher. He throws hard, yet with consistent control, which allows him to work quickly and control the pace of games, thus his ability to work high innings totals. In 2010 with the Phillies, he became the first pitcher since 1923 to top 250 innings, but walk 30 or less batters. From 2006 to 2011, he only walked more than 40 batters once, while pitching at least 220 innings in each season.

2. The Case Against: The case against Halladay could be that he’s far away from being a member of the 300 win club, or even the 250 win club. While his 201 wins are the second most actively of any pitcher all-time, it ranks him only 107th all-time. While there have been Hall of Famers that have won less, namely Dizzy Dean and Dazzy Vance, of those inducted in the last 30 years, only Don Drysdale’s 209 have been within the same range as Halladay’s total.

Part of this is due to the poor performing Blue Jay clubs he played for, but also due in part to the bookends of his career. Over his first three full seasons, his record was 17-17 and his ERA 5.08. Within the past two seasons, injuries have sidelined him twice and greatly curbed his impact as well. Since the beginning of 2012, he has a 13-12 record and 5.24 ERA. The wins standard is important, and he’s short there, as well as he has only pitched in two playoff series in his career, with his first coming at age 34.

Halladay has the highest career winning percentage of any active pitcher and is in the Top 20 all-time.

Halladay has the highest active career winning percentage and is Top 20 all-time. His percentage is fifth best ever of any pitcher to throw at least 15 seasons.

3. Similar Players (thru age 35):

– Mike Mussina: 270-153 record, 3.68 ERA, .638 win%, 2813 strikeouts, 3562.2 innings pitched

– Tim Hudson: 201-110 record, 3.45 ERA, .646 win%, 1862 strikeouts, 2766 innings pitched

– Dwight Gooden: 194-112 record, 3.51 ERA, .634 win%, 2293 strikeouts, 2800.2 innings pitched

4. Cooperstown Likelihood (thru age 36): Halladay is an interesting case when it comes to Cooperstown profile. Is he one of the greatest of his era? Unquestionably. Yet, has he had the sustained dominance of a no-doubt Hall of Famer? The answer is both yes and no. Nothing tells the story of this better than three players that compare most favorably to him. Each have had three very different careers, and would make no sense in being tied to each other without Halladay being the common denominator. He was regularly above average to excellent in the same style as Mussina, although for not as consecutively long as Moose was. He had an undeniably dominant era in the late 2000’s in a similar fashion to what Gooden did in the mid-80’s. And finally, he had two peaks to his career, but not a long consecutive run, in the same fashion that Hudson did.

In the end, what puts Halladay over is just how great his peak was. He was a Cy Young winner in both leagues, eight seasons apart. At his most transcendent, he threw both a Perfect Game and a No-Hitter in the same season, his first in the National League. And although the opportunities were delayed, two of his five October games were classic efforts, including the no-hitter coming in his first postseason appearance, and his 1-0 battle with best friend and postseason great Chris Carpenter in Game 5 of the NLDS in 2011.

Something can also be said for excellence in the face of adversity. He took the ball and made the Blue Jays favorites at least once every fifth day for 12 years. He is one of the great competitors of all-time, and raised the levels of the players around him as well in a way that even few great players have. He has been responsible for 65.5 Wins Above Replacement level in his career, including six seasons of better than 5 in Toronto, and an astonishing 16.2 in his two Philly seasons combined. And while he’ll probably never return to the full health that enabled him accomplish these feats again, what he’s accomplished thus far has been exceptional to a level that may not be clear when looking at paper years from now, but when viewed in time, was quite often unmatchable.

So to that extent, while the deed may be nearly done for the 36-year-old righty, if the question is asked today if Roy Halladay is in, out or in-between being a Hall of Famer, the answer has to be he is IN. With as strong of a quality over quantity pull as there can be.

For more on the push to the Hall in the day-to-day world of baseball, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

Strasburg

The National League East was the most diverse division in all of baseball a year ago. It was home of the a Cy Young winner on a fourth place team, a former middle reliever that inspired a 23-game winning streak as a starter, the greatest teenage season in baseball history, the farewell of Chipper Jones, two different coming of age stores (that went in two different directions), as well as the most expensive collapse in all of baseball. Yes, the NL East was the scene of five very different stories that left the division looking unlike anything that could have been expected.

The newly minted Miami Marlins entered the year with all the expectations that a complete franchise facelift brings. However, by half way point of the first half, they’d begun to fold already, trading their long-time franchise player and languishing at the bottom of the division. Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the long-time division champs watched their age and injury come together in the worst possible way. Behind David Wright and RA Dickey, the Mets showed some promise, and the Braves continued to be the absolute best second place team imaginable. A place they inhabited because the Washington Nationals rose to power, and never gave it up.

2012 FINISH (*Wild Card winner)

  1. Washington Nationals (98-64)
  2. Atlanta Braves (94-68)*
  3. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)
  4. New York Mets (74-88)
  5. Miami Marlins (69-93)

Fast forward to now, and things seem a bit more set than they did last summer. Behind a powerhouse lineup and pitching staff, the Nationals have gone from building to win-now status. But the Braves have had as aggressive of an offseason as they’ve had in years to make sure the DC rise isn’t unchallenged. The Phillies, on the other hand, have been in that same “win now” mode for three years, face perhaps the last season where they have a chance to do it. And new eras are coming into play with the Mets and Marlins, and pulling themselves up in a top heavy division will be a challenge of multiple types. But in a division with two teams easily able to represent the NL in October, is the upset even possible?

All Division Team

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves

First Base: Adam LaRoche, Nationals

Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies

Third Base: David Wright, Mets

Shortstop: Ian Desmond, Nationals

Left Field: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Center Field: BJ Upton, Braves

Right Field: Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins

Stanton's prodigous power -to-age ratio is the reason he's the last man standing in Miami.

Stanton’s prodigous power -to-age ratio (40 home run per year average at 23 years old) is the reason he’s the last man standing in Miami.

Starting Pitcher: Stephen Strasberg, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Gio Gonzalez, Nationals

Starting Pitcher: Cole Hamels, Phillies

Starting Pitcher: Cliff Lee, Phillies

Righty Relief: Tyler Clippard, Nationals

Lefty Relief: Jonny Venters, Braves

Closer: Craig Kimbrel, Braves

Top 10

  1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
  2. David Wright, Mets
  3. Stephen Strasberg, Nationals
  4. Cole Hamels, Phillies
  5. Cliff Lee, Phillies
  6. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals
  7. Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
  8. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
  9. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  10. Justin Upton, Braves

Lineup

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Top to bottom, there’s very few NL lineups that can swing with the Nationals. As you’ll see below, there’s no area they are weak in, but the strength is truly in the numbers. They finished in the top five in runs, total bases, team batting average and home runs in the NL. The Phillies haven’t been able to perform at maximum capacity for the past two years, but Ryan Howard and Chase Utley will both enter the season healthy for the first time in that span as well. Atlanta could very well carry six players that top 20 home runs, but could also lead the NL in strikeouts by a wide margin as well.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Wright carried a heavy load in the Mets lineup well a year ago, topping 40 doubles and driving in 93 runs.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Nationals (Harper/Zimmerman/LaRoche)
  2. Braves (Upton/Freeman/Upton)
  3. Phillies (Utley/Howard/Young)
  4. Mets (Wright/Davis/Duda)
  5. Marlins (Stanton/Brantly/Ruggiano)

The emergence of the Adam LaRoche (33 HRs/100 RBI) pushed the Nationals lineup to a new level last year. With Zimmerman and Harper, the Nats have a chance to get 75 homers from the middle of their lineup alone. The Braves revamped the team with the addition of the Uptons, and Freddie Freeman’s continue growth will make the heart of the ATL attack formidable for years to come.

Table Setters

  1. Nationals (Span/Werth)
  2. Braves (Simmons/Heyward)
  3. Phillies (Rollins/Revere)
  4. Marlins (Pierre/Polanco)
  5. Mets (Tejada/Murphy)

Denard Span is the table setter Washington has been after for the last few years, and when coupled with the do it all Harper, the Nats will jump on pitchers early and often. Ben Revere is the type of regular on-base threat the Phillies need. His .294 average was a 27 point increase from 2011. Juan Pierre is still a steady hitter at age 35 and his consistent effort will be helpful in the sparse Marlin lineup.

Bench

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Nationals have the best bench in baseball. Wilson Ramos, Roger Bernadina, Tyler Moore and Steve Lombardozzi start in a lot of other places. The mix of Delmon Young, Lee Mayberry and Freddy Galvis is a promising support group for Charlie Manuel in Philly, as long as they aren’t stretched too thin by being forced into the starting lineup too often due to injury.

Rotation

  1. Nationals
  2. Phillies
  3. Braves
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

The best rotation in the NL got better when Dan Haren joined Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler in DC. This group won a combined (…) games in 2012. Not to be outdone, the Phillies boast two legitimate aces in Lee and Hamels, but the health of Roy Halladay continues to be questionable. The Mets staff is still without Johan Santana, but has several quality young arms in Dillion Gee, Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese.

1-2 Punch

  1. Nationals (Strasberg/Gonzalez)
  2. Phillies (Hamels/Lee)
  3. Braves (Hudson/Medlen)
  4. Mets (Santana/Niese)
  5. Marlins (Nolasco/LeBlanc)

Strasberg and Gonzalez could become the first teammates to both win 20 games in a season since 2002. In Atlanta, Kris Medlen was unbelievable down the stretch last season, with the Braves winning 23 of his starts, consecutively. Paired with the always reliable Tim Hudson, they have the firepower to match up with the more hallowed top of the line in-division arms.

With O'Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren't beat by the seventh, it's probably not happening.

With O’Flaherty, Kimbrel and Venters waiting in the wings, if the Braves aren’t beat by the seventh, it’s probably not happening.

Bullpen

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

There’s no better bullpen in baseball than Atlanta’s. The late inning gauntlet includes the often untouchable trio of Johnny Venters, Eric O’Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel, and added former All-Star Jordan Walden as well. The Nationals added Rafael Soriano to Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard to form a formidable late game trio of their own. Mike Adams, who has posted an ERA under 2.00 four of the last five years, was added bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon.

Defense

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Mets
  4. Marlins
  5. Phillies

The addition of both Upton brothers to an outfield with Gold Glove winner Jason Heyward makes the Atlanta outfield the best in the game. The Mets infield is strong unit, led by Wright and Ruben Tejada, while Giancarlo Stanton’s bat gets the headlines, but his athleticism and arm both round him out as a one of the best overall players in the game as well.

Speed

  1. Braves
  2. Nationals
  3. Phillies
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

Once again, it all starts with the outfield in the A. While Michael Bourn is gone, the Braves will get even quicker with the combined efforts of the Uptons (49 steals a year ago), as well as Andrelton Simmons. Revere adds 40 steal speed to the Philly attack, and Span has twice hit 10 triples in a season, as well as topped 20 steals.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manuel has averaged 90 wins in his eight years in Philly, and his handling could be the x-factor in the Philly year.

Manager

  1. Davey Johnson, Nationals
  2. Charlie Manuel, Phillies
  3. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
  4. Terry Collins, Mets
  5. Mike Redmond, Marlins

It is Johnson’s last go around in DC (he’s retiring after the season), and the 2012 NL Manager of the Year has the tools at his disposal to make it a memorable departure. Collins has kept the Mets surprisingly afloat the last few years despite the constant turmoil surrounding the Mets the last two years. Rookie manager Redmond will be tasked with a tough task pulling along the stripped down Marlins in his debut year.

Finances

  1. Phillies
  2. Braves
  3. Nationals
  4. Marlins
  5. Mets

The Phillies have the funds to make their usual aggressive additions if they find themselves in the chase late in the season. Despite having three four players due $20 million this season, GM Ruben Amaro has the green light to spend if needed. On the flipside, the Marlins and Mets are two of the biggest financial disasters in sports, despite the substantial $138 million commitment made to Wright this winter.

Impact Additions

  1. Justin Upton (Braves via D’Backs)
  2. BJ Upton (Braves via Rays)
  3. Dan Haren (Nationals via Angels)
  4. Rafael Soriano (Nationals via Yankees)
  5. Ben Revere (Phillies via Twins)

After years of being floated in Arizona, the Justin Upton finally was moved to a place where he can freely play with no rumors hanging off his every move. The Braves re-invented themselves by signing him and his older brother BJ. Meanwhile, the Nationals made several “finishing touch” type moves, highlighted picking up a potential steal in Haren, a 4-time All-Star workhorse who’s averaged 14 wins a season.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
  2. Matt Harvey, Mets
  3. Ike Davis, Mets
  4. Julio Teheran, Braves
  5. Ross Detwiler, Nationals

Harper is the easy call, but considering what could be on deck is one of the most exciting things to look forward to in the season. He hit 22 homers and stole 18 bases a year ago, and has a legitimate shot to become the youngest member of the 30 homer/30 steal club this time around. Harvey was at times completely overpowering as a rookie, averaging 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings over 10 starts.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Zach Wheeler (Pitcher-Mets, AAA)
  2. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher-Mets, AAA)
  3. Anthony Rendon (Third Base-Nationals, AA)
  4. Andrelton Simmons (Shortstop-Braves, MLB)
  5. Adeiny Hechavarria (Shortstop-Marlins, MLB)

The future looks good for the Mets, and it’s most promising of its entire stockpile of young arms. Wheeler has a triple digit fastball, and the stuff to go along with it. Pairing him with D’Arnaud, the former top prospect of the Blue Jays and main return piece for RA Dickey, ensure the Mets will return to relevancy soon enough.

2013 PREDICTIONS

  1. Nationals
  2. Braves
  3. Phillies
  4. Mets
  5. Marlins

Last season was the story of anybody having a chance out in the East, this time around will not be more of the same. The Nationals and Braves are both returning very strong team’s that didn’t lose much over the winter, yet made some substantial additions. On the other hand, the Phillies who have a solid core, made some additions as well, but simply can’t keep up with the younger and more well rounded Nationals and Braves. But they are a veteran laden club with more winning experience than any other team ahead of them and a very good manager, if any team in the NL is capable of spring a surprise heist of a Wild Card spot, it’s them.

The Mets are growing, and have made several moves that have put young talent in their system and Major League staff, but after Wright and Davis, there’s nothing else in their lineup and the East is the wrong division not be able to hit in. The Marlins, after their “everything not named Giancarlo must go” dump are more of a factor in the push for the number spot in the Draft than the division.

So this brings it all back to the same two postseason reps from a year ago. The Braves are getting better in a hurry, and with their entire core under 30, their best days are yet to come. A return to the playoffs should be expected, and not just a one and done this year either. But the Nationals better days are here now. The difference comes down the arms: the Braves have a very good pitching staff; the Nationals have a devastating staff, which has four Cy Young capable starters and three relievers with 30 save capability. Add on the prime of Zimmerman, LaRoche and Werth with the rise of Harper and Ian Desmond all happening at once, and the Nationals aren’t just the best in the East. They’re among the two or three best period.

For more on the upcoming MLB campaign along the East coast in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

So far this year in the CHEAP SEATS, the focus has been on breaking down the best units in baseball.  When we last left off, the best pitching units at the back end of games were broken down, but now it’s time to move to front end and the spotlight arms of the game. As last year’s World Series match up proved, a great starting rotation is the difference between night and day in a season. And to make this list, it takes more than just a great number one; having a great 2-4 is huge, and even a fifth arm can make all the difference.

Lee Hamels Halladay

Here is the difference between the cream, and the crop…the best starting staffs in 2013’s upcoming baseball offering. And remember, pitchers and catcher report a month from today. Spring’s saving mercy gets underway in the winter.

 

 

1. Washington Nationals: Top to bottom there’s none better, because even their bottom is better than half the team’s baseball’s top. Stephen Strasberg is on the verge of being the league’s best and is good enough to make a 20-game winner in Gio Gonzalez to second billing. Add in a potentially resurgent Dan Haren, along with two of the most underrated arms in either league in Jordan Zimmermann and Ross Detwiler, and you’ve got a problem everyday of the week in DC.

2. Detroit Tigers: There’s a lot more to the Tigers than Justin Verlander (who’s averaged 20 wins the last four seasons). None of their starters have seen their 30th birthday yet. Max Scherzer actually struck out two more batters per nine innings than Verlander. Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez are tremendous options to be 3rd and 4th arms, while Drew Smyly and Rick Porcello are only 23 years old. This will be a strong collection for years to come.

3. Philadelphia Phllies: For everything that the rotation didn’t do last year, there’s still so much potential here. Cole Hamels has become a perennial Cy Young candidate, and nobody pitched to more tough luck than Cliff Lee did last year (30 starts, 3.16 ERA, but first win on July 4th). Add back a healthy Doc Halladay to the mix and this is as devastating of a top end rotation as there is, still.

4. San Francisco Giants: The strength of the World Champions is based in just how many arms can step up to be the top dog at any time. Matt Cain came into his own as an elite hurler last year, while Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgartner both sported 3.37 ERAs, while winning a combined 30 games. Barry Zito showed a renaissance in the NLCS and World Series, and if Tim Lincecum can manage a similar effort during his contract push this summer, no reason to not at least pencil them back into another October.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers: With the Zack Greinke signing, the Dodgers locked up the toughest 1-2 punch in all of baseball. Kershaw has 35 wins and a 2.40 ERA over the last two years, and Josh Beckett should serve to be an important veteran axis in the middle of the rotation. And they currently have quality options abound for the bottom of the mix, with Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Ted Lilly, Chad Billingsley and Korean star Ryu Hyun-jin all options to round out a suddenly uber-talented mix.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there's a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA's knuckler.

Landing a reigning Cy Young winner is huge (and rare), but there’s a lot more to the new Jays rotation than just RA’s knuckler.

6. Toronto Blue Jays: Of all the moves the Jays made to try to climb out of the bottom of the AL East, their aggressiveness to finally fix their horrible starting pitching should pay out the most. They put together a diverse group in finesse workhorses R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle, while Josh Johnson has one of the livest arms in the game, and Ricky Romero become a huge bounce back candidate as a fifth starter.

7. Oakland A’s: Billy Beane outdid himself putting together a group that came to age in a hurry last summer, and hijacked the AL West. Jarrod Parker and Tom Millone (both acquired in offseason trades) both won 13 games, and long with AJ Griffin (7-1, 3.05 ERA in 15 starts) all could make a claim to best rookie arm in the baseball, and if Brett Anderson can stay healthy to anchor the group, they’ll be a force once again.

8. Cincinnati Reds: It’s all about balance on the Reds understatedly good rotation. Cuerto has been among the NL ERA leaders the last two seasons, and Latos found recaptured his old form in his first year in Cincy. And if they hold true to their plan, and can successfully convert Arodis Chapman into a starter, this will be a very potent group.

9. Tampa Bay Rays: Not many teams could lose Matt Garza and James Shields in back to back years and stay relevant, but there’s also no other team with the young arms of the Rays. Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and the quietly good Alex Cobb make up the meat of the group, but it really doesn’t hurt to have 2012’s Cy Young winner David Price entering his prime atop it all.

10. Arizona Diamondbacks: A gut of rich young pitching gives the D’Backs is impressive. Ian Kennedy has won 35 games since the start of 2011, and Wade Miley reached All-Star level as a rookie. Add in the potential return of Daniel Hudson from Tommy John Surgery by mid-summer, and the addition of Brandon McCarthy as well, and this is a rotation that will cause a lot of trouble.

Just A Bit Outside: Yankees, Braves, White Sox

 

For more in real-time on these starters starting up their year, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The Perfect Storm of Cole Hamels

Posted: July 25, 2012 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
Tags: , ,

The Philadelphia Phillies had to make a decision, an impossible one. Either let Cole Hamels walk or pay the price to keep the anchor for the future of their club in tow. The price was going to be steep because Hamels has a mixture of everything that you could ask for from a free agent to be on his side: age (28 years old), results and the name your own price combination of being a left-hander in his prime.

Yet the challenge for the Phillies discussed for the better part of a year was how can they afford to give Hamels what he’d demand? With Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Ryan Howard already pulling in over $20 million per season, could they realistically give another deal like that out as well? Well, with the trade deadline bearing down and nearly every team with a glimmer of hope checking on what it would take to get Hamels on their side, the Phillies decided that it was better keep him than ship him, and decided to let history have its place.

Early on Wednesday morning a six-year, $144 million deal with his name on it was finished. Now that may seem like a lot for a guy that has never won more than 15 games in a season and been slid down the rotation with each acquisition the club has made the last few years, and the inevitable “is he worth it” debates have some legitimacy. Is Hamels the best pitcher in the game? Absolutely not. Is he even the best pitcher on his own staff? That’s highly debatable as well. But all of those points are irrelevant, because he had the almighty combination of potential, age and current status on his side to steer his future earnings.

But of the debating on what his results-to-check deal stop here: no player in history, outside of maybe Alex Rodriguez, has had better timing and cashed in on opportunity more than Hamels. The Phillies are in an impossible position of carrying high expectations, and not being out of the race. With Halladay, Howard and Cole Hamels all back and playing together for the first time since last year, they’ve put together their best stretch of the year over the last week with the trade deadline just a week away. How could they possibly get rid of the steadiest pitcher of the year while they are clawing out of the grave?

In the midst of all of this, all Hamels had to do was keep showing up for work every day, because his stock improved itself without him even throwing a pitch. Momentum plus timing plus securing the future of the franchise did all the work for him, and he received the biggest perfect storm deal of all-time. Now he has his deal and the Phillies have the best young arm on their team locked up for the remainder of his career.

The precedent set by the deal is staggering, and how it affects the rest of the team remains to be seen. Before last year, there had never been more than one $20 million pitcher in one rotation, now there are three in Philly. When all of the hype in the collection of pitchers that team is built around is removed, it comes down to stark reality of how much it is their responsibility to see to it this team wins. Will the organization have the finances to improve an aging and injury-prone offense now around their arms? There are a lot of tough-to-impossible to move contracts on the roster now, so this roster is going to have to do it the way it is now. But this is one situation where money really wasn’t an option, because it couldn’t be.

Isn’t it great when a plan comes together? Now let’s see where that plan lands the Phillies this season, and the rest of the team around their $60 million rotation going forward.

For more on the rest of the trade deadline deals, and me running into the slightly less than Hamels, multi-thousand dollar deal I inked to go to work each day, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Hello all. It’s the busy season for me around these parts. Between keeping up with the end of the first half of baseball, all of the All-Star events, trade moves and the game itself, I haven’t been able to get everything in here as quick as I’ve put it out. But have no fear, I haven’t left you in the dust. Here’s a few previews and paths to my latest stuff. Afterwards hang around and I’ll let you know what will be coming out overall, as well as some new joints debuting exclusively here in the Cheap Seats.

But first, the view from The Cheap Seats at The Sports Fan Journal:

“Live Or Let Die: The Plight of the Phillies”

It’s the end of the first half of baseball season, but it’s starting to seem like both a whole lot more and a whole lot less all at once in Philadelphia. See, the Phillies have been bad; no other way to say it. By the lofty standards of the most consistent club in baseball over the last half-decade has set, it’s been a loud fall back to Earth. One that has seemingly come out of nowhere, but by looking a bit closer, the Phillies have been prone for this to happen.

Answers haven’t been easy to come by for Cliff Lee and the Phillies. Let me see what I can do help figure this out…

More than any other team in the game, the Phillies have lived in the moment the last few years. They smelled blood before they won their first World Series in over 25 years back in 2008, and ever since their return to the Series and subsequent defeat a year later, they’ve been out for it with every move they’ve made. In 2010 and ’11, they added the best pitcher in the world at the time, Roy Halladay, and the twice acquired ex-Cy Young winner Cliff Lee, locked up Ryan Howard to the biggest deal in the history of his position, and tacked on the brightest bricks on a crumbling Houston Astros club in Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. All of these were big-money, win-now moves, and the results were in line with what should have been: They dominated seasons on end and won, a lot. All of that adds up to being on the right track, right? Well, you would think so …

But then the reality of this method kicked in full-speed this season, and it became abundantly clear: There was a lot less time left for the Phils than assumed coming into the year….

For the rest of this, including whether the Phils should roll the dice or cash in what’s left, head to TSFJ here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/columns/live-or-let-die-the-plight-of-phillies/

“The All-Time, Dead or Alive Home Run Derby”

Major League Baseball’s All-Star week is upon us again, and with it comes the greatest skill exhibition in pro sports as well, the Home Run Derby. The annual gathering of each league’s best at attacking the boundaries set by outfield walls displays some of the most awe-inspiring moments of the season. In a few hours, Robinson Cano will look to keep Matt Kemp, Jose Bautista and Price Fielder, among others, off his heels as he looks to defend his title from last summer. While that’s no group to sneeze at, it could get a whole deeper if a few more contestants were made available.

If you could send any player ever to the Home Run Derby, would you take either of these guys? Keep digging to see my squad.

Now it may take a trip that only a DeLorean and Michael J. Fox can deliver to make it happen, but consider what a Home Run Derby would look like with EVERYBODY that ever made the long ball his business? Who would you want to see take their hacks against each other? More than that, who would be the last man standing? Today, we’re taking our hacks at settling at least half of that debate by proposing a few of the many candidates that would make the Ultimate, All-Time Home Run Derby an event to remember.

So what we did here today is got the debate started early, with some picks from myself, followed by the rest of the good folks here at TSFJ. Take a look at the case for each, and cast a vote on who’s got the best chance of taking the all-time crown below. And if you don’t see the best horse for the race, submit your own candidate for the crown. There’s no shortage of candidates qualified for the title…

To see who I picked as my choices for my dream Derby, as well as the rest of the staff over at TSFJ, follow this link here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-all-time-dead-or-alive-home-run-derby/

 

As for what’s to come? Today at St. Louis Sports 360, I’m covering who are the best options for the Cardinals make a trade deadline splash with. And towards the end of the week, I’ll be dropping my picks for first half MLB Awards, with a few shockers that show the baseball landscape is moving towards a brand new day about 100 mph…

As for what will be truly new in the OG Cheap Seats here, it’s time to make my long gone return to the NBA soon, and clear the air on what’s kept me away and what’s been the same and what’s looking new. Also, it’s about time to bring out this year’s summer history project. One that’s sure to spike debate in a brand new direction…

And if that’s not enough, we’ll talk about A day in the life of me that led me to cross paths with three Hall of Famers at once during the All-Star Game festivities in Kansas City and the question I posed that stopped the show…while hopefully bringing it forward.

 

Business is picking up in the Cheap Seats, but in between, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Well, it’s finally here, that part of the summer where the major team sports world is a one-trick pony. It’s the heart of the summer, also known as BASEBALL-ONLY SEASON. The NBA has drafted and Hard Knocks is months off. Now I am not naïve in the slightest, for I know that stretch of the year seems like Death Valley for a lot of sports fans. The NBA and NFL are big business/high interest. Life without them seems unbearable for some, and Sportscenter has the value of a high school Earth Science film on the marsupial mating rituals.

However, there are the brave few that need sports no matter what. It’s what makes their blood boil, and ESPN is the only channel they really know. For those folks who adapt as the year goes on, I gladly welcome you to my paradise on earth that is known as MLB-only time. For me, the season never really ends, but in actuality it’s just now hitting its stride and the story of the season is beginning to write itself as the halfway point is upon us.

So have no fear if you are late to the party, I’ve saved a seat for you. Here’s what’s happened and happening in Major League Baseball’s 2012 offering, as well as what could be on deck to come. If you pay close enough attention, you just may keep watching well after those other leagues have gotten back to whatever it is that they do.

Hamilton has only one of THE stories thus far, and considering what he’s been doing, that’s saying a lot.

There are still 30 teams in 24 different cities. The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series last October, Albert Pujols plays in LA now, the Red Sox and Yankees still really hate each other, and when the clock turned over 2012, it officially ushered in 106 years of World Series-less time for the Chicago Cubs. Now that the table is set, let’s get you into the main courses thus far:

The Texas Rangers are still really good. Actually, they may be better than ever, which is amazing to ponder considering for the second straight year they lost an All-Star, ace pitcher (Cliff Lee in 2011, C.J. Wilson in 2012). But they are propelled by the best lineup in baseball, one that fields potentially six everyday All-Stars,led by Josh Hamilton, who is off to an unreal start and is looking every bit like a future $100 million man this winter when he meets free agency. That’s one loss they may not be able to stomach.

The National League is a lot different than when you last looked. None of last season’s division winners are in first place. The Phillies have spent much of the first half in last place actually, with $25 million parked on the disabled list between Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and the recently returned Chase Utley….

 

For the rest of the debrief on baseball season and the steps to getting caught to it for our later arriving friends, check out the Cheap Seats at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/the-casual-fans-cheat-seat-baseball-season/

 

As for me working through a two weekend work week, and balancing out the craziness that is mid-summer ball season, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan