Manny Machado’s literal attempt at the Bat-Flip Royale concept

When I first started writing about the Bat-Flip Royale, detailing individual’s attempts to gain entry into a (fictional) season-ending bracket of Bat-Flips, the winner of which would be granted the 2014 belt, it was all in fun. Jayson Werth had just punctuated the Marlin’s decision to intentionally walk the batter ahead of him with a grand slam, and his emphatic bat-flip was the icing on the cake. The bat-flip bar was set, and several well-known contenders (offenders?) soon stepped up. Yasiel Puig in fact, took the competition very seriously indeed, adding quantity to his bat-flip quality.

But yesterday, well… to put it lightly, things turned sour, when Manny Machado took the name of my little contest a tad too literally. After his very real effort to start a rumble, Twitter blew up, and calls for him to be suspended for his childish actions abounded. Even as a lover of a good bat-flips, even I must admit this was a step too far. But like a good ol’ train wreck, Machado’s actions can’t be ignored.

Machado’s interesting weekend actually started on Friday night with a seemingly innocuous play. With the option to throw to first to end the third inning, A’s third baseman (and my AL MVP pick so far) Josh Donaldson instead chose to tag Machado, who was literally just in front of him. Unconventional, according to the unwritten rules of baseball, but altogether harmless. The 21-year-old Machado however, thought not, taking exception to what was essentially a love tap, and tumbling to the ground. Whether it stemmed from his recent knee injury, or something else entirely, his reaction was entirely unwarranted, so much so that even the umpires found it amusing. Anyhow, after a round of ‘hold me back’ posturing between the two benches, the game went on with no ejections. Wei-Yin Chen though, plunked Donaldson the next time he came up (Donaldson had earlier hit his 17th homer of the season off of Chen, but dude…). Things were officially on.

On Saturday, Machado teased us with his bat-flip promise. Just look at the frustration in that toss, it’s a thing of beauty. I count a 480° twist on that thing, which in combination with the petulant helmet spike and look of disbelief, really adds to the dramatic effect of it all. His matinee display however, not that we knew then, was just a precursor to the main event that would follow a day later.

Yikes. From whatever angle you look at it, that’s not a pretty sight. Sure Fernando Abad had thrown in on him twice in a long decided game (the Atletics had a 10-0 lead at the time), but Machado had already knocked Oakland’s catcher Derek Norris out of the game with two rather exaggerated backswings. He can’t exactly claim Abad’s retribution was unwarranted. But throwing the bat… jeese Manny. It’s not even Donaldson at third base – it’s Alberto Callaspo! Naturally the benches cleared once again, with Stephen Vogt (who had replaced Norris behind the dish) particularly upset it seemed. This time, crew chief Larry Vanover had the good sense to eject both Abad and Machado, later explaining “It was obvious the pitcher threw at him the second time… then [Machado] threw the bat. That wasn’t accidental. He threw the bat, so two ejections.”

Yeah, no matter what you say Manny, that wasn’t an accident. You are hereby suspended. For the remainder of the season, no theatrical action of yours at the plate will be considered for entry into the Bat-Flip Royale. I suggest you spend the time wisely, getting back into the so far elusive form you displayed during the first half of the 2013 season, where it seemed like every darn plate appearance ended in a double, and doing your best Brooks Robinson impersonation over at third.

And if you really want to get back at Josh Donaldson, taking his crown as the best third baseman in the American League would be a solid, responsible way to go about it.

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 10

Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 10, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 10! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Oakland Athletics (5-2 last week, 38-24 overall) Like their Bay Area mates the Giants, Oakland are lapping the field in terms of run differential (their mark of +118 is more than double the next best team, the Blue Jays). Unlike San Francisco however, the rest of their division is looking pretty frisky too, with only the Astros rocking a losing record amongst the other four AL West teams. They might well be the best team in the AL, but the A’s are going to have to be on their game all year long to stay at the summit of their own division with such stellar competition. 
  2. Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 38-25) As a starter, Marcus Stroman has pitched 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball, walking two while striking out 13. As a reliever, he was rocked for 9 earned runs in just 6.1 innings, and had a 2.21 WHIP. A small sample size admittedly, but lets keep handing Stroman the ball to start games, rather than finish them, eh Mr. Gibbons? 
  3. Detroit Tigers (2-4, 33-25) Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like they were pulling away from the rest of the AL Central. Having just swept the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park, getting some measure of revenge for the 2013 ALCS, they stood seven games clear in the division, at 27-12. Since then however, Detroit has gone 6-13, and seen their division lead cut back down to 4. Surprisingly at the forefront of the Tigers’ struggles is their usually dominant pitching; Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have both been excellent, and Rick Porcello his steady self, but Drew Smyly has failed to live up to expectations since being promoted to the rotation in place of the departed Doug Fister, and Justin Verlander looks to be a shell of his former self. Remember the panic this time last year when the 2011 AL MVP had a 3.71 ERA after 13 starts? Well this year, he’s gotten off to an even worse start – through 13 starts, he has a 4.19 ERA, a heightened walk rate (3.7 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.8, and a 2.0 figure in that career 2011 season), and is displaying a diminished strikeout rate (just 6.4 k/9 after averaging 9.0 over the prior four seasons). In return for collecting $20 million in salary this year, Verlander has been distinctly average, as proven by his 101 ERA+. Of course, Verlander rebounded in the second half last season, and might still be getting back into the swing of things after offseason core surgery, but at 31 years old, and owed $28 million per season for the next five years, I’d say there’s significant cause for concern amongst Tigers fans. 
  4. Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 33-28) 
  5. Baltimore Orioles (4-2, 31-29) 
  6. Seattle Mariners (4-1, 32-29) 
  7. New York Yankees (2-5, 31-30)  New York’s record in games in which Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t pitched you ask? 21-28. First on the list of pointers for improvement, stop playing Brendan Ryan at first base while riding with Derek Jeter at shortstop! If you couldn’t tell, this drives me insane. 
  8. Chicago White Sox (3-3, 31-32) Just as I was about ready to gush about how amazing Chris Sale had been of late, Mike Trout happened. Oh well. Prior to the eighth inning last night, Sale had allowed just 5 hits in 31 innings, a mere 7 to the last 107 batters he had faced, and owned a 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. Of course, after 93 pitches and seven scoreless innings last night, aided by an error, he allowed all five Angels he faced in the bottom of the eight to score, as L.A. erased a 5-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Still, as of right now, I’m of the belief that the man known as ‘The Condor’ is the best pitcher in the AL. Mike Trout is the Most Valuable Horse after all. 
  9. Cleveland Indians (5-1, 31-31) In his second game back off the 7-day concussion DL, Carlos Santana yesterday went 2-2, with 2 walks, a home run and a single, lifting the Tribe to an 8-3 win over the Rangers. No more games behind the plate for Mr. Santana methinks… 
  10. Boston Red Sox (1-5, 27-34)  They lose 10 in a row. They win 7 in a row. They lose 6 in a row. Why Boston, must you make it so incredibly difficult for me to rank you?!
  11. Texas Rangers (3-3, 31-31)  Just hours after Kendrys Morales, you know, a designated hitter/first baseman type, signed with the Twins, Mitch Moreland, you know, Texas’ designated hitter/first baseman type, who had replaced Prince Fielder, you know, the Rangers’ presumed first baseman/designate hitter type after he went down with injury, was announced to be in need of reconstructive ankle surgery, and out for the next three months. The Rangers now have made 19 DL moves this season. No other team has made more than 12.
  12. Kansas City Royals (4-3, 30-32) Eric Hosmer home run alert! I repeat, Eric Hosmer home run alert! 
  13. Minnesota Twins  (4-3, 29-31) The Twins came out of nowhere yesterday to ink Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal, thought to be “in the ballpark” of the $10 million contract that Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox in May. After the 30-year-old hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs with Seattle last season, he’ll likely slot into the DH spot which has preeminently been manned by Josmil Pinto (19 GP) this year. Jason Kubel was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move. 
  14. Tampa Bay Rays (1-6, 24-39)  The Rays are holding on to 14th place in these rankings by the skin of their teeth, probably because I still can’t comprehend fully how they are three games back of the Astros. Seriously, I look at the standings and think it’s a mistake. Things have got to a point with the Rays however, where Joe Maddon‘s optimistic tweets, have got about as much baloney to them as the sandwiches he makes in the clubhouse.
  15. Houston Astros (3-3, 27-36)  Not a bad way to get your first hit Jon Singleton

The Senior Class: NL Power Rankings – Week 10!

Every week throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things.  First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 10! (All records correct as of Saturday morning). 

  1. San Francisco Giants (4-2 last week, 40-21 overall) → As Buster Olney proffered on the Baseball Tonight podcast earliest this week, the Giants are official ridiculous. At 40-21 overall, they’re on pace for a 106-win season, and unsurprisingly have the best playoff odds of any NL team (95.7%). And while they’ve largely done it with pitching (they rank 3rd amongst all ML teams in ERA and BAA, and second in WHIP), their offense has kicked it up a notch of late too. Pablo Sandoval, who was hitting .171 heading into a May 10th game against the Dodgers, has been on fire ever since, batting .340 with six homers and a .932 OPS in a 105 plate appearance sample size. Buster Posey meanwhile, looks to be finally getting back to his MVP-level usual at the dish; his two-run homer (his eighth of the year) off reliever Carlos Torres broke a 2-2 tie in the eighth inning yesterday, not only gave the Giants the lead for good, but extended his hitting streak to five games and concluded his second three-hit effort in less than a week. Every single everyday player in fact, now has an OPS+ over 100 (league average). The moral as always: beware the Bay in an even-numbered year.
  2. Washington Nationals (5-1, 31-28) Doug Fister‘s stats in the five games he has started since his disastrous Nationals debut: 32.1 innings pitched, 25 hits allowed, 2 walks permitted, opposing batters line of .212/.236/.347, 2.23 era, 5-0 record. Hold on, I’m busy getting flashbacks of my feelings circa 2010 about the robbery of Pau Gasol by the Lakers. What a steal. 
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (3-3, 32-30)  Jonah Keri did a fantastic job yesterday breaking down the Matt Kemp quandary, and the Dodger’s unenviable outfield problem: in Keri’s words, “They have four outfielders making too much to sit on the bench, and, despite the seemingly impossible math, Kemp is the fifth-best option.” And that doesn’t even factor in the team’s top prospect, Joc Pederson, who is raking at Triple-A at the moment and would immediately be their best defensive center fielder if he were to be called up to the majors. The Giants are now 8 games ahead in the NL West by the way. 
  4. Atlanta Braves (3-2, 32-27) Congratulations to Craig Kimbrel, who at the tender age of 26, yesterday surpassed John Smoltz as the Braves’ all-time leader in saves, notching no. 155 in a 5-2 win over Arizona. Since debuting in 2010, his 43.1% strikeout rate leads all relievers, as does his 1.41 ERA. During that span, he’s been worth 10.3 WAR (the next highest is Greg Holland at 8.4), and blown just 17 save opportunities. Without question, the best closer in baseball.
  5. Milwaukee Brewers (3-4, 36-26) 
  6. St. Louis Cardinals (2-4, 31-31) 
  7. Miami Marlins (4-3, 32-29) 
  8. Colorado Rockies (0-6, 28-32)  Did I, or did I not say regarding Eddie Butler‘s debut, “He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet.” 5.1 Innings, 13 base runners, and 6 earned runs later, you can’t say you weren’t warned. The Rockies are in the mire right now, and looking at their upcoming schedule (they’re facing Greinke and Kershaw this weekend, before series vs. Atlanta, at San Francisco, at L.A., vs. MIL, vs. STL, at MIL, at WASH, vs L.A.) there’s not much relief on the horizon. Oh well, Colorado: Contenders, was fun while it lasted. 
  9. New York Mets (3-4, 28-33) 
  10. Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 29-31) Cannonball coming! Since losing the first game of a doubleheader to the Yankees back on May 18th, the Bucs have walked away victorious in 12 of their last 18 outings. Josh Harrison has been a minor revelation in that time, batting .325/.366.519 while playing some nice defense out in right field, putting some pressure on Starling Marte out in left. Though an excellent defender, Marte has batted just .234 with a .665 OPS this year, and has been banished to the bench by Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle for the Pirates’ last three games. With Gregory Polanco presumably on the way in the very near future, could it in fact be Marte most at risk of losing playing time? Just two games behind the Cardinals for second place in the NL Central, and with an extremely favorable schedule over the next month, the Pirates have a real chance to make a push for the postseason at the moment. Playing their best guys would be a good idea (#FreePolanco!).
  11. Cincinnati Reds (3-3, 27-32)  I’d have laid big money on Johnny Cueto notching another shutout against the hapless Phillies offense yesterday. Instead, it was the Reds who were anemic on O, and Cueto gave up four runs on six hits, walking one and striking out five over five innings in the 8-0 loss. Can we tie this Cincinnati season in a bag, weight it down, and toss it overboard yet? Please?
  12. San Diego Padres (2-4, 27-34) 
  13. Philadelphia Phillies (1-6, 25-34)  As much as I like Aaron Nola as a pitching prospect, I’m still struggling to figure out why the Phillies popped him at no. 7 overall in the 2014 Amateur Draft. The LSU junior projects to have one of the quickest progressions to the majors, á la Michael Wacha, which would make sense if the Phillies were in the pennant race this year and needed immediate back-end rotation help, or expected to contend in 2015. Unfortunately, Philadelphia are neither, and having gone 5-12 in their last 17 games, are in imminent danger of being surpassed by the Diamondbacks in these rankings.
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 26-37) 
  15. Chicago Cubs (5-1, 24-34) After the selection of Kyle Schwarber, a catcher at Indiana, but likely left fielder or first baseman in the majors, as the no. 4 overall pick on Thursday, a trade of some of the Cubs’ ultra-stocked position player crop for some young pitching talent (or perhaps, David Price) has to be on the horizon right? 

Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 10!

Even when the Royals win, they lose

Aided by Yordano Ventura‘s solid start in his return from elbow soreness, the 23-year-old allowing just two earned runs in six innings of work*, the Kansas City Royals yesterday snuck past Michael Wacha and the Cardinals 3-2. In doing so, they took the ‘Battle of Missouri’ 3 games to 1, and secured bragging rights in the I-70 area for the next 12 months, so congratulations to them. Naturally though, seeing as how nothing good can ever happen for the Royals without something equally bad, or just unintentionally hilarious, striking them back, this happened during the win:

Yep, that’s Nori Aoki getting drilled in the back of the head by Yadier Molina, who was simply throwing back to the pitcher from the crouch, as he often does. Not exactly a case of intentionally backing Aoki off the dish. Anyhow, after crumpling to the floor and taking a couple of minutes to regain consciousness shake off the concussion he was hiding compose himself, Aoki would eventually resume his at-bat. Oh and by the way, this was the very first batter of the game for KC! I’d love to know, does not a single day pass without at least once instance of #RoyalsbeingRoyals?

In off the field news concerning Kansas City, the organization made Brandon Finnegan, a left-handed pitcher from TCU, their first round (no.17 overall) pick in the 2014 amateur draft, a move which didn’t exactly go down well on Twitter:

Hey, in a draft supposedly loaded in pitching, anytime you can grab a guy with a potential shoulder injury lurking (and then double down with another lefty, Foster Griffin, at no. 28 overall), you have to do it! Thursday truly was a masterclass in #Royaling.


* Though he only struck out one, his velocity, which had so worryingly dipped in his last outing, was back to its usual ridiculous level; his four seam fastball averaged 98.15mph, his sinker 97.81, and slider 89.43. Sure looks like the ‘Father of Dragons’ is back.

On The Bump: Eddie Butler

As the season progresses (and sadly, as more and more starters succumb to Tommy John surgery), many a young pitcher will be called up to make his ML debut. To introduce some of the more intriguing first-time starters then, I’ve a priming segment: On The Bump. Consider these posts your cliff notes, a cheat sheet if you will, for looking good at the local sports bar in front of your friends, annoying your significant other at home, or purely for feeling smug whilst sneakily watching MLB.tv on your iPhone at work. Whatever floats your boat, you’ll be prepared at least. 

Who is this guy? Timothy Edward Butler, that’s who! No wonder he goes by Eddie… Anyhow, Butler is a 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who grew up in Chesapeake, Virginia, and attended Greenbrier Christian Academy. The Texas Rangers selected him in the 35th round of the 2009 draft straight out of high school, but Butler opted instead to take his talents to Radford University. Three years later, he was a (supplemental) first round pick, this time drafted 46th overall by the Colorado Rockies, and received a $1 million signing bonus. Probably the right choice to stay in school then.

What has he done? Immediately sent to the Pioneer League after signing in 2012, Butler promptly went 7–1 with a 2.13 earned run average (ERA) and 55 strikeouts, leading the league in ERA, WHIP (1.06) and opponents’ average (.230) in his short pro debut. Not a bad start. His 2013 campaign though, would be even more impressive. Beginning the season with the Low-A Asheville Tourists, Butler would make only 9 dominant starts (1.66 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) in the South Atlantic League before being moved up to the Modesto Nuts of the California League. There we would again impress, posting a 2.39 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. After pitching one inning of scoreless ball in the All-Star Futures Game, the then 22-year-old was promoted once again, this time to the Double-A Tulsa Drillers, where he would make six starts to conclude the season. Allowing just two runs in his time at Double-A, Butler would finish the season with a cumulative 1.80 ERA, and strike out 143 batters in 149.2 innings (28 starts), and land on Top 100 rankings released by Baseball America (#24), Baseball Prospectus (#26), and MLB.com (#41). So far in 2014, he’s made 11 starts at Tulsa, throwing 68.2 IP with a 2.49 ERA and 1.180 WHIP, whilst forming one of the scariest one-two combinations in the minor leagues with Jon Gray.

How has he done it? Well, according to Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet’s scouting report when he ranked Butler as the rockies’ no. 1 prospect prior to the 2014 season, “Butler made huge strides with his secondary stuff in 2013 and projects to now have three solid weapons with his mid-to-upper-90s fastball, changeup and slider — all of which feature a lot of movement. He also has a curveball that lags behind his other offerings. Along with swing-and-miss stuff, Butler’s ground-ball tendencies make him an ideal pitcher for Colorado.” Here’s his changeup making Xander Bogaerts, you know, the guy currently hitting .297 with a 133 OPS+ who won a World Series ring with the Boston ‘freakin Red Sox last year and is a whole year younger than me, look particularly foolish during the Futures Game last summer:

With a pretty low arm slot (which helps him get so much late break on his secondary stuff, particularly that upper 80s slider), you’d have thought Butler would be susceptible to large platoon splits. Not the case; left-handed hitters hit just .202/.278/.300 against Butler in 355 plate appearances last year, compared to a .192/.250/.262 line in 512 plate appearances for righties. Though his K/9 rate has dropped off significantly so far in 2014 to just 5.24, it’s not too much of a worry at this point. Just re-watch the gif a few times – he’ll be fine. (For a more complete breakdown of his stuff, I’d recommend Baseball Prospectus’ ‘The Call-Up’ feature, though it’s available to subscribers only).

Why is he pitching in the majors? How about this? Because Franklin Morales is stinking up the joint. Pressed into starting duty after, surprise surprise, Brett Anderson of all people, was injured (who saw that coming?!), Morales has posted a 6.03 ERA in 62.2 innings of work, which is somehow the third-most innings anyone on the Rockies staff has pitched this year. Furthermore, those numbers are not simply bad luck, as evidence by his nauseating 5.77 FIP.

Meanwhile, after starting the season ridiculously hot, the Rockies have cooled significantly of late; since May 20, Colorado has won just two games and lost ten (including being drubbed 16-8 by Arizona last night) to fall two games below .500 and 9 1/2 games behind the division-leading Giants. In that stretch their staff has a 5.58 ERA, the second-worst such mark in the majors, and seen their offense further diminished by the losses of Nolan Arenado (broken finger, May 24th) and Carlos Gonzalez (finger, sent to the 15-day DL today). Throw in Jordan Lyles breaking his glove hand last night, and the Rockies are in addition to suddenly swooning, banged up too, and in need of some help to stay in the NL West race.

What they’re saying: “The time is right… Eddie has been very dominant at times over the last couple of seasons. We knew he was a big-leaguer, it was just a matter of time. We feel like we could use some help in the rotation and he’s a very talented young pitcher.” Thanks for making my job easy Walt Weiss. Much better than Troy Tulowitzi’s offering anyway – “I hope he comes in and pitches well enough to give us a chance to win.” Great insight there Troy.

Worth a follow on Twitter? Err, maybe? Here are a few samples:

Perhaps not actually.

Anything else? He’ll be going up against Hyun-Jin Ryu and the Dodgers when he makes his debut at Coors Field on Friday, so perhaps don’t rush out to add him in your fantasy leagues just yet. Keep an eye out for his Double-A running mate Gray too; with Lyles’ injury, he could soon be arriving in Colorado to partner Butler once again in the very near future.

Vin Scully had himself quite a night, again

Incredibly now in his 65th year of calling Dodgers games, Vin Scully has witnessed a lot of special moments. As pointed out by the folks over at mlb.com’s Cut4 blog, “He’s been in the booth for three perfect games (thrown by Don Larsen, Sandy Koufax, and Dennis Martinez), all six Dodgers World Series titles, at least one earthquake, Hank Aaron‘s 715th home run and basically every important moment the franchise has had over the last 65 years (ya know, except for Josh Beckett‘s Memorial Day Weekend no hitter).” He has provided commentary for Hideo Nomo‘s no-hitter, Bill Buckner‘s fatal error in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, darn near everything. And while he hasn’t had any especially historic performances to announce so far this year, it feels like a career year for Scully.

Already this season, the 86-year-old Scully has anointed Yasiel Puig the King of Bat-Flips, provided move-by-move analysis of a young fan’s dance habits, and narrated what will eventually become the best childhood videos everHeck, he’s even worked through a magnitude 5.1 earthquake that struck an Angels vs Dodgers tilt.

Then, on Tuesday night, he had another couple of gems. First he noted the dialogue going on between Puig and Jose Abreu at first base…*

… before minutes later relaying the entrance of a toddler wearing a tutu, a bow in her hair, beads, and a Puig shirsey:

As Jonah Keri noted on Twitter, “This game has the feels, man.”

Vin Scully’s voice is literally the only thing (aside from the possibility of an obnoxious bat-flip) I like about the Dodgers. He makes their expensive mess (at least so far this season, S/O to belligerent Matt Kemp!) somewhat bearable. I know that some day in the future, unfortunate as it may be, he won’t be behind the microphone. I hope however, it’s a long way off yet, because Vin Scully, like a fine wine, is just getting better with age.


* I would pay big $$ for a transcript of that particular conversation.

Many Happy Returns: Finally, Some Players Make it Back!

If there has been one overarching theme to the 2014 MLB season so far, it’s been players missing time. Whether it’s been because of (asinine) draft pick compensation rules, attending the birth of one’s child (goodness me was that David Murphy-related ‘controversy’ farcical), or as in the vast majority of cases, due to injury, far too many players have been off the field, their absences spoiling the game we all love.

The month of June is off to a promising start however. After the spate of Tommy John surgeries necessitated in April and May, as far as I’m aware, we’ve now gone three days without one being announced (It’s my understanding that Chris Withrow of the Dodgers was the last player to have been announced as going under the knife). Even better, a host of players are making their returns this week – all carrying some relevance. Let’s break them down quickly;

- Stephen Drew, who was only absent by his own/Scott Boras’ doing after turning down a qualifying offer over the winter, finally made his season debut for Boston last night, going 0-2 with a walk in a defeat to the Cleveland Indians. Having played in the minors since May 21st having finally signed a pro-rated contract for around $10 million this year, the left-handed Drew batted eighth in the Red Sox lineup and instantly slotted in at shortstop, pushing Xander Bogaerts to third base, and  with both Mike Napoli and Mike Carp out, the surprisingly effective Brock Holt across the diamond to first. While there were certainly more ideal landing spots out there (Detroit have a more glaring need, and less infield competition), landing back in Boston can only be considered a good thing for Drew. Sure, he probably could have gone to the Mets, but their stinky offense and the Wilpon Quagmire of Financial Despair (H/T to Jonah Keri) would likely have ensured a less than happy tenure in Queens. He won’t be anything special for the Sox, but in need of some stable production, he’ll fill a role nicely – the same attitude with which he should be approached in terms of fantasy pick-ups. He’ll be a stable middle infielder, a low-upside, high-basement type, perfect for a team ravaged by injury or simply short of middle infield depth. Just don’t expect Drew to be a savior, both in reality or fantasy.

- Jose Abreu on the other hand, woah boy. This fellow’s return might be make-or-break for your fantasy squad. After two weeks on the disabled list and a couple of simulated games at U.S. Cellular Field, the Cuban slugger, who even after being out since May 18th still led the White Sox in home runs (15) and RBIs (42), was activated in time for the start of a three-game set against L.A. at Dodger Stadium. With no DH hole to be stashed in, Abreu jumped right back into the thick of things playing first base, and picked up where he left off at the plate, muscling out a two-run shot off of Clayton Kershaw in his second at-bat, Chicago’s only runs of the game. And this was after being struck in the chest by an overthrown ball while stretching during pre game warm-ups! The Sox have been treading water without him, but with the AL player of the month for April back in the mix, they could yet put a run together in the disastrous AL Central for second-place behind Detroit. He should immediately be back in fantasy starting lineups too, though it will be worth paying attention to whether he perhaps gets a day of rest from playing the field at some point in this interleague series.

- Elsewhere, Josh Hamilton is slated to make his return to the Angels lineup today in a game against the Astros, in which first base prospect and recent contract signee Jon Singleton will also be making his debut for Houston. Hamilton has been out since April 9 with a torn ligament in his left thumb having (rather rashly) slid into first base headfirst, but was hitting .444 with two home runs in the tiny sample size prior. His return will likely spell trouble for the 42-year-old Raul Ibanez, who has been god-awful in 2014, though I’d be concerned if you were starting him in your league anyway. Hamilton should probably reside on your bench for at least a couple of days while you evaluate his return; thumb injuries can be tricky, and Hamilton is prone to streaks even when fully healthy. Resting him is probably the safe play, unless you don’t have any other viable outfield options. Of course, slotting Mike Trout straight back in after he missed Sunday’s game with back stiffness is a no-brainer.

- Stay away from Yordano Ventura though! After a disastrous May 26th outing in which his velocity noticeably dropped and he was forced to exit in the third inning, the 23-year-old flamethrower dodged the Tommy John bullet and was instead diagnosed with  “lateral elbow discomfort.” After successfully completing a bullpen session, Ventura will be thrown back in on Thursday to face the Cardinals in the Battle For Missouri. In addition to his prior inconsistency, not only do I dislike the match-up, but I’m worried about Ventura’s long-term outlook; elbow injuries don’t normally solve themselves this quickly, especially ones which cause such an appreciable velo decline. Though he’s officially returning, don’t be surprised if Ventura heads straight back to the trainer’s room in a month or so.

- Aramis Ramirez is back in the Milwaukee lineup tomorrow after sustaining a strained left hamstring on May 13. He’ll be able to DH too, given how the Brewers are visiting Target Field for an interleague series. A notorious slow starter, Ramirez should be a more than viable third base option the rest of the way should he avoid re-aggravating that hammy… Andrew Cashner, after an elbow scare, is scheduled to rejoin the Padres’ rotation on Saturday against the Nationals. Unless you’re in absolute need of gaining ground over the weekend however, it’s probably best to let this one play out with the hard-throwing righty on your bench however… Ryan Zimmerman should be appropriately settled back in to the Washington lineup by then – the 29-year-old has been cleared to return on Tuesday after breaking his thumb on April 12th. Where he’ll play however, remains intriguing; the right-hander has been playing left field during his rehab stint at Potomac, so Ryan Zimmerman: ML Outfielder might be a thing now… In obligatory Reds news, Joey Votto (quadriceps) is nearing a rehab assignment, and Mat Latos threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings in his latest Triple-A start. He should be back next week.

The Ray-Do: Can I get a mulligan on Tampa Bay?

While streaming my awesome-binge-watch show of choice during some downtime yesterday afternoon (I’m now on to season 3 of The Wire after finishing Breaking Bad a couple of weeks ago), one particular internet pop-up caught my eye. This site wasn’t as sinister as it may at first sound – I only noticed it because it pictured Tony Parker hypothetically rising up for a dunk (I know, never going to happen right…). It was in fact, an advert for the Bovada Sportsbook.

Anyhow, this illicit prompt triggered a memory of a gambling-related post I wrote way back in Spring Training whilst March Madness was taking place, ‘Busted Bracket? Try some baseball betting!’, a piece in which I unfortunately expressed the following sentiment:

I love, love, LOVE me some Rays action this year… I’ll be taking them to win the whole darn thing. With David Price still leading a loaded pitching staff, Wil Myers’ mighty presence in the offense all year, and Joe Maddon’s usual defense/matchup innovation, at +1500 on sportsbook.com, Tampa Bay represent a terrific value to go all the way.

Sound logic at the time, but boy… just yikes. With the benefit of hindsight (well, about a third of a seasons worth of results anyway), it’s clear there are plenty of rough calls in that piece (hey Prince Fielder: HR Champ!), but that one truly sticks out. Rather than live up to the hype that infected not just I, but numerous other baseball prognosticators too, the Rays have been truly abysmal so far in 2014, and are showing little signs of turning things around (they’re currently on a 6-game losing streak). What has changed then, for the Rays to so suddenly fall off the wagon?

Jonah Keri did a great job of breaking the Ray’s slow start back on May 14th in a piece asking pretty much the same question, ‘Why Do the Preseason Darling Rays Suddenly Look Like the Devil Rays?’. At that point, they were 16-23, and only 4½ games out of first place in the AL East. In other words, there was still some hope, and Keri managed to find some silver linings (I will not plumb the pun depths for ‘Rays of hope’). Since then however, things have continued on in the wrong direction; the Rays are now 23-34, and 4 games back of fourth place, let alone the 10.5 games behind Toronto in first. Their chances of reaching the playoffs now sit at a paltry 5.3%.

The rash of pitching injuries that Keri cited, decimating the starting rotation, remain the inherent problem. Matt Moore is of course out for the year after undergoing tommy John surgery, while Jeremy Hellickson is still yet to make his debut after starting the season on the disabled list. Alex Cobb, after missing time with an oblique strain, is back at least, but his helpful return (I liked him as a good dark horse at 33/1 to win the AL Cy Young award), hasn’t been enough to offset the combination of bad luck and below-par performance currently afflicted David Price; the nominal ace of the Rays staff has a 4.27 ERA after 12 starts, but a 3.24 FIP.

Price hasn’t been alone in his struggles – young starters Chris Archer (4.00 ERA, 1.43 WHIP) and Jake Odorizzi (5.13 and 1.54 in the same categories) have been remained healthy, but have failed to live up to expectations. Combined with their relative ineffectiveness (Tampa as a whole has only 19 quality starts this year, last in the majors), throw in the lack of stamina of Erik Bedard and Cesar Ramos, the other two pitchers to have started for the Rays this year, and the bullpen has been taxed – hard. Grant Balfour and Joel Peralta, previously excellent high-leverage relievers, both sport horrendous numbers. Josh Lueke remains horrid, on and off the field. Only Jake McGee has really excelled in the usual Tampa Bay reliever fashion.

But the Rays haven’t been much better on offense either. After securing AL ROY honors last year, Wil Myers was expected to play Robin to Evan Longoria‘s Batman. Instead, Myers has experienced a brutal sophomore slump (not in his bat-flip game mind you), and was hitting only just .227 with a .666 OPS before he was placed on the DL with an ailing wrist over the weekend. Longoria meanwhile, with 5 home runs and a 98 OPS+ mark, has been anonymous as one of the Joker’s masked henchmen, and unable to buoy an offense anchored by the worst catching production in the majors thus far; for all of Jose Molina‘s and Ryan Hanigan‘s framing abilities, a combined .182/.254/.257 triple slash line with terrible base running should be unacceptable.

As Keri pointed out too, there’s not much help on the way; in addition to drafting terribly over the past few years, and graduating a lot of the prospects who did in fact make it (Price, Desmond Jennings, Moore, Myers kind of etc.), the Rays are tapped out financially. Team GM Andrew Friedman acknowledged as such after a winter in which management gave out multiyear deals to the aforementioned Balfour, Hanigan, and James Loney, and then made an expensive mistake on Heath Bell; at over $80 million, this years payroll is a franchise record, and unsustainable in the long-term.

With Toronto streaking away, Baltimore’s free-agency commitment to winning now, Boston turning it around, and New York looking capable of an above .500 season, contending for the AL East in 2014 is already looking out of the question for the Rays. Besot by injuries, bad luck, and bad form, the trades might soon be coming in order to address that depleted talent pool and over-extended budget, David Price being the obvious candidate to be moved. The rebuild could be well and truly on by October, when by my prediction, they should have been playing for a championship.

The Rays are now +3500 to win it all. And it’s no longer even a decent value play.

The Designated 15: AL Power Rankings – Week 9

Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).

  1. Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall)  With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid. 
  2. Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21)  
  3. Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24)  Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
  4. Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25)  Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws. 
  5. New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) 
  6. Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27)  Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June. 
  7. Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28)  After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too. 
  8. Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29)  After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
  9. Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28)  
  10. Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) 
  11. Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29)  Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakasquick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
  12. Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30)  
  13. Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28)  Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field. 
  14. Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33)  Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too. 
  15. Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33)  Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…

The Senior Class: NL Power Rankings – Week 9!

Every week throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 9! (All records correct as of Saturday morning). 

  1. San Francisco Giants (9-3 over the last fortnight, 36-19 overall)  After initially hoping they’d be able to avoid a roster move, Matt Cain was finally placed on the DL yesterday, and Yusmeiro Petit will take his turn against the Cardinals today. With Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the offense rolling, and ten consecutive games against sub-.500 teams after this series with St. Louis is complete, there’s probably no better time for the Giants to lose Cain for a stretch. 
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (7-6, 29-26)  With Matt Adams banished to the DL with a calf strain, the Redbirds finally pulled the Super-2 trigger yesterday and called up their top prospect, Oscar Taveras. The jewel of St. Louis’ loaded farm system, Taveras was batting .325 in 49 games with Memphis with seven homers and 40 RBIs, and is being counted on to provide an injection to a languishing Cardinals offense that after leading the senior circuit in darn near every metric last year, is producing just 3.93 runs per game in 2014 (10th best among NL teams). The 21-year-old Dominican will apparently bat sixth in the order, and also presumably push Allen Craig to first base while he plays in right field. The real fun however, will come when the Cards finish up their early June interleague schedule and Adams returns; someone is going to be squeezed out of playing time, a problem shared by the…
  3. Los Angeles Dodgers (6-7, 29-27)  An awkward situation resolved itself on Wednesday when left fielder Carl Crawford was placed on the DL with a left ankle sprain. For the previous 5 days, Matt Kemp had found himself riding the pine, replaced in center field by Andre Ethiersomething that apparently didn’t sit too well with the highly-paid Kemp. Crawford’s injury permitted Kemp back into the lineup, but starting in left field for the first time since his rookie year, the 29-year-old hasn’t exactly excelled since his return; he’s gone 0-13 over the last four days, and is now batting .242 with a .719 OPS on the season. Given how Don Mattingly is making noise that he might not even start Kemp today, it might be time to go out and grab Joc Pedersen in your fantasy leagues. 
  4. Atlanta Braves (7-7, 29-25) 
  5. Milwaukee Brewers (6-7, 33-22)  After racking up 13 saves with a 12.9 K/9 ratio in April, the Francisco Rodriguez revival train came off the tracks in May. Over the past 30 days, K-Rod has allowed 7 earned runs and three homers in just 11 innings pitched, his strikeout rate falling to a meager 6.5/9 in that span. Paging Jim Henderson
  6. Colorado Rockies (4-7, 28-26)  
  7. Washington Nationals (4-8, 26-27)  Ryan Zimmerman went 0-3 as a designated hitter in his first rehab game at Class-A Potomac yesterday, but the bigger news is where he’ll be playing today. Working his way back into the swing of things after breaking his right thumb back on April 12th, Zimmerman will be playing left field, his first experience of the outfield, as the Nationals experiment with him at positions other than third. The 29-year-old will also apparently get time at first base, which he could man for the Nationals while Adam LaRoche remains on the DL.
  8. Miami Marlins (6-5, 28-26)  In some much-needed good injury news, right-hander Henderson Alvarez has been cleared to pitch Tuesday after complaining of a sore elbow in his most recent start. The last thing the Marlins need is another promising starter following Jose Fernandez to the operating table.
  9. New York Mets (6-7, 25-29)  Rafael Montero has been demoted, clearing the way for Daisuke Matsuzaka to start next Wednesday. I would argue, but the Mets have 35 quality starts this season, the third-highest mark in the majors. They must be doing something right. 
  10. Cincinnati Reds (5-8, 24-29)  With a team OPS of .673 for the season, the Cincinnati offense is officially floundering. Jay Bruce is back, but has done little, scratching his way to a .111/.111/.148 triple slash line since making his return. Perhaps worse, he’s now being out-slugged by Billy Hamilton. Only two members of the Reds starting lineup, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco rank above league average by OPS+. Joey Votto, the only other Red who can claim such a title, is eligible to come off the DL today, but unfortunately doesn’t yet appear ready to return. Thank goodness for Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto, and the rest of the excellent starting pitching, a staff should be further boosted by the imminent return of Mat Latos. Without them, my Reds would be dead and buried already. 
  11. Pittsburgh Pirates (8-6, 25-29) 
  12. Philadelphia Phillies (7-6, 24-28)  Ruben Amaro remains a contentious figure at best, but it appears he at least got something right – keeping Chase Utley. After receiving a lucrative contract extension in the midst of a successful streak last summer, the 35-year-old has continued his hot-hitting ways in 2014, batting .323/.379/.525 so far. At the keystone, that’s incredible production, and well worth the $15 million the Phillies have invested in him this season. Whether he can avoid injury and keep it up for the remaining length of the contract however, well into his late thirties, remains the funkier angle of Amaro’s logic. 
  13. San Diego Padres (5-7, 25-30)  
  14. Arizona Diamondbacks (5-6, 23-34) Believe it or not, the D’Backs have actually been relatively respectable in May, going 14-12 over the past month. Arizona’s pitching remains a mess, but with Aaron Hill supporting Paul Goldschmidt nicely, their offense isn’t half the train wreck. They travel to Coors Field this week, so expect the trend of horrific pitching, good hitting to continue. 
  15. Chicago Cubs (6-6, 19-33)  Going into Thursday’s game, Kris Bryant was batting .349 with 15 home runs and 44 RBIs for the Tennessee Smokies, with a .452 OBP (he’s added another home run since, obviously) .Accordingly, he was bumped up to no. 8 in Keith Law’s most recent prospect rankings, leapfrogging fellow Cubs prospect Javier Baez, who checked in at no. 9. The first round selection of the Cubs last year, Bryant has destroyed Southern League pitching to such an extent that a promotion to Triple-A can’t be far away, which will hopefully serve as a prelude to a September cup of coffee in the big leagues. Until then though, it’s another dull losing season at Wrigley.

Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 9!

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