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Did Braun and Verlander Deserve Their MVP Awards?

Wednesday November 23, 2011

Sam Evans: Over the last two days, Major League Baseball announced their 2011 MVPs. Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers took home the award in the American League while Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers won the National League award. Now that the voting is over, we can look at who really deserved the awards.

American League MVP: In August, Buster Olney sparked discussion on the AL MVP, when he said on Twitter that if he had a vote it would go to Verlander. At the time, I thought that the award was Jose Bautista‘s to lose. However, after watching Verlander dominate team after team, it became clear to me that this was the most valuable player in the American League. He meant more to his team than any other player in the league. Verlander finished with a with a 2.40 ERA in 251 innings. Verlander threw more innings than any other pitcher in the majors, and to have that strong of numbers in those innings makes it even more impressive.

Verlander also threw his second career no-hitter this year, and led the majors in strikeouts. Jacoby Ellsbury and  Jose Bautista are not shabby candidates either, but they didn’t have the effect Verlander did on his team. The Tigers expected to win every single time that Verlander was on the mound. Overall, even if the BBWAA made this decision based on Verlander’s twenty-four wins, it was the right choice. Verlander became the first pitcher to win the MVP since Dennis Eckersley in 1992.

National League MVP:  In somewhat of a surprising decision, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun was awarded the NL MVP award, receiving 20 out of 32 first place votes, and a total of 388 points. Finishing a close second was Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, who received 10 first place votes, and a total of 332 points.

First of all, these were obviously the top two candidates. They both had amazing years that should not go unnoticed despite who actually won the award. What I think it came down to was that Braun made the playoffs and Kemp didn’t. This is somewhat understandable because you can make the argument that if a certain player had such a big impact on their team then they should have made the playoffs. The real question is did Braun really make his team that much better, or did he just play on a much better team? Also, did the distractions surrounding the Dodgers and its ownership affect Kemp’s chances of winning the MVP? It definitely did not help his case.

To truly compare these players first you have to evaluate their defense. Kemp played a much harder position then Braun and he had to cover more ground. Kemp had a UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating, a stat used to show how much ground a player covers) of -4.6. Braun had a UZR of -3.8. Neither of these is very impressive, so I guess we can just call this comparison a draw.

As for offense, in my own opinion, Kemp had a stronger year. Both players were very similar in normal statistics. Braun hit .332 with 33 HR and 111 RBI. Kemp hit .324 with 39 HR and 126 RBI. What impresses me is that Kemp scored more runs than Braun despite not having Prince Fielder batting behind him. Also, Kemp had a harder ballpark to hit in, and plays in a stronger pitching division. Kemp was really the only dangerous hitter in the Dodgers lineup, so pitchers could avoid him more than Braun.

According to Baseball-Reference WAR, Kemp was by far the more valuable player. Kemp led the NL with 10.0 WAR, which make Braun’s 7.7 seem miniscule. Kemp also led the National League in total bases, with 353, and Adjusted OPS + with 171.

These two players had almost identical years. If I had a vote, it would have gone to Kemp. But I don’t think Braun winning is anything to get worked up about.  A strong case could have been made for him, as shown by Braun being the winner of the 2012 NL MVP award.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***

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Projecting MLB Sluggers: The Top 5 in 2012

Tuesday November 22, 2011

Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports):  Accompanied with my projections and analysis, I profile the top-five fantasy baseball sluggers to target for 2012. I encourage your thoughts and feedback!

1. Ryan Braun

2012 Projections: .321 38 HR 119 RBI 108 R 32 SB

Given that he is at the prime of his career having just turned 28 on November 17, Ryan Braun ranks at the top of the list. He is the complete package and enjoyed a 2011 season that had fantasy owners drooling and was named the 2011 NL MVP today! He was a machine in all five of the standard fantasy categories with a .332 average, 33 home runs, 111 RBI’s, 109 runs and 33 SB’s. The exciting thing is that the will only continue to get better. The home run total has the potential to reach 40 and I don’t see reason why Braun won’t steal 30 bases again. Braun is by no means one of the speediest players baseball, but he is truly one of the smartest base runners. He steals at a career success rate of 80% and was only caught 6 times in 2011. Some people wonder about the effect that Prince Fielder’s potential departure will have on Braun, but I am not overly concerned. Braun is truly a special and hall of fame caliber player because he not only possesses all of the physical tools, but also is one of the game’s smartest players. He continually makes adjustments and just has such an impressive knowledge of the game that allows him to better utilize his talents than others.

2. Albert Pujols

2012 Projections: .312 39 HR 120 RBI 117 R 12 SB

Albert Pujols has been the best fantasy player in baseball since he emerged onto scene in 2001. Ten Ruth-like seasons later, the slugger might find himself in a new uniform. Furthermore, his somewhat “down” season in 2011 has caused concern for many fantasy owners.  But before we expect an A-rod-like decline, lets take a closer look at the numbers. Through the Cardinal’s first 54 games, Pujols batted .257 with 8 home runs and 28 RBI. That means in the team final 108 games, which included the time missed with the wrist injury, he batted .322 with 29 home runs and 71 RBI’s. That is the Pujols that we have all been accustomed to over the last decade. I will not go into detail explaining just how good Pujols has been throughout his career because you should already know by now. Last year was the first season he did not put up .300 30 HR and 100 RBI. He missed this feat by one RBI and one point of average, in a season that included an uncharacteristic 50 game stretch (contract issues?).  I expect Pujols to be back in St. Louis next season, and all though he well on the back nine of his career, he is still too good and has a lot left in the tank. Expect the usual numbers, the type that he continued to put up despite his slow start to the season in 2011.

3. Miguel Cabrera

2012 Projections: .336 34 HR 122 RBI 109 R 2 SB

Did you know that Miguel Cabrera is only 28 years old? I sure didn’t. He has been an offensive force for almost a decade. In my mind, he is the game’s best pure hitter and will only continue to get better. He managed to have another elite season in 2011, despite all the controversy and off the field issues he had to deal with.  He continues to improve at the plate and BB right is on the incline while his K rate declines. For these reasons, and his career .317 average, there is no reason to not expect his average to hover around .330. He is an average anchor for your lineup that will also exceed 30 HR and 100 RBI’s and runs. The only thing he does not do is steal bases. However, refer to my article last week, Cabrera is the type of average and power anchor that can allow your team roster a space for the one-trick ponies, i.e. Michael Bourn. Overall, just expect more of the same from Cabrera: which means elite production in four of the five standard fantasy categories, average, runs, home runs, and runs batted in.

4. Matt Kemp

2012 Projections: .296 33 HR 108 RBI 103 R 34 SB

At 27 years of age, Matt Kemp is also just entering his prime. He missed a 40/40 season by just one home run and batted .326 and drove in 126 runs, which led to being the runner-up for the 2011 NL MVP award. However, he is easily the most difficult to predict on the list. If I expected him to improve upon or even just repeat his 2011 season, he would be at the top of the list. We simply cannot expect Kemp to be this fantasy-tastic again in 2012. Matt Kemp’s .380 BABIP lead all of major league baseball, however he does hold a career .352 clip, which is tops in baseball. Therefore, expect regression in his batting average in the .290-.300 range. Kemp also strikes out a lot, not like in 2010, but he still struck out in 23 percent of his at bats in 2011.  When you are not putting the ball in play at a high rate, there is potential for a lot of volatility. Given his skill set, 2011 was essentially a best-case scenario for Kemp.  The other four guys on the list make contact much more consistently and therefore have been more consistent throughout the career and are easier to project forward. Furthermore, I am not encouraged by the line up around built around Kemp. He is still elite, but it is unwise to expect him to repeat 2011. He will come down to earth but still provide across the board value for your team.

5. Joey Votto

2012 Projections: .316 32 HR 112 RBI 115 R 11SB

At 28 years of age, Joey Votto is also in the prime of his career. His 2011 season, with heavy expectations after an MVP season, was a down season for Votto. A down season in which he batted .309 29 HR 103 RBI 8 SB. And if this type of season is Votto’s worst-case scenario, you can live with it! However, given his age and peripheral stats, all signs point to an improved season for Votto in 2012. Votto is a pure hitter who continues to gain better command over strike zone, as his walk rate his increased steadily in each of the four last seasons. The average will always be there for Votto, just a notch below Cabrera. The biggest concern for fantasy owners was the drop in power, form 37 to 29 home runs. However, Votto hit the ball in the air more often in the second half of the season and hit 16 post all-star HR’s in 260 at-bats, compared to just 13 in his 339 at-bats before the break. Furthermore, his .222 ISO was well below his 2010 season (.276) and career average of .237. Therefore, expect him to bounce back to the 35 HR territory with elite average. The true wildcard for Votto is what he does on the basepaths. He stole just 8 bases in 2011, but if he puts a greater emphasis on running like he did in 2010, with 16 stolen bases, then he has the potential to provide extreme five-category value to your roster.

Honorable Mention:         

Jacoby Ellsbury: His .230 ISO in 2011 (career .152) explains his surprise 30-home run season. Ellsbury’s peripheral indicate he will be more of a .300 20 HR 80 RBI 40 SB type players, making him a notch below Braun and Kemp.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter (@MLBreports) and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

Interview with Shawon Dunston Jr.: Future Cubs Superstar

Sunday November 6, 2011

 

Jonathan Hacohen:  We are proud to welcome to MLB reports: Shawon Dunston Jr., outfield prospect for the Chicago Cubs.  Shawon was an 11th round pick for the Cubs this past year.  While he was expected to go as high as the 1st round, signability issues centering on his commitment to Vanderbilt allowed him to drop to Chicago.  The Cubs were able to get Dunston Jr. to sign on the dotted line before the signing deadline and just like that, Shawon Dunston Jr. was a Chicago Cub.  Expected to be the team’s center fielder of the future, Chicago is happy to have yet another Dunston in its system. While Dunston Sr. played shortstop for 18 seasons, Dunston Jr. is starting his own career and legacy in professional baseball.  A player with strong tools and reputation in the game, we look forward to watching Shawon Dunston Jr. patrolling the outfield of Wrigley Field in the near future.  

Featured on MLB reports, I proudly present my interview with Cubs prospect and 2nd generation Major League Baseball player, Shawon Dunston Jr.:

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

MLB reports:  Who was your favorite baseball player growing up, that you most idolized and patterned your game after?

Dunston Jr.:  Growing up, I wanted to be just like Ken Griffey Jr. I loved watching him play.  I was also a fan of Barry Bonds

 

MLB reports:  Which current MLB star do you most admire and why?

Dunston Jr.:  I look up to B.J. Upton.  He makes everything look effortless.  I want to be a Jacoby Ellsbury type player.  Dexter Fowler as well has speed and pop at the CF position.

 

MLB reports:  Reflecting on your career to-date, what are your proudest accomplishments on the baseball field?

Dunston Jr.:  Playing in the Aflac All-American Baseball Classic during the summer of my junior year.

 

MLB reports:  Did you fully expect from the start of the draft to sign with the Cubs?  When was the final decision made in the process to sign with Chicago?  Any disappointment with being drafted in the 11th round or did have to do more with your signability status than anything else?

Dunston Jr.:  I was actually surprised they chose me.  I thought three teams were going to get me earlier; I talked to the Cubs’ area guys, but didn’t think they were going to choose me.  I was going to Vanderbilt right up until the last day of the deadline.  It was a tough decision, but my decision came down to the Cubs getting close to my (final dollar) number, getting into the system early and developing now (by playing everyday).  On draft day I was mad and no, I don’t think that I am an 11th round type player.  My bonus I got says it all (got back-end, 1st round money).  My signablity hurt me and also being very committed to Vandy, where I intended to attend.  But that is the past and I am ready to get going.

 

MLB reports:  When you first found out you were drafted, what were your reactions?  Did those reactions change over time?

Dunston Jr.:  It was more of a relief, like: “Finally- I got drafted!”  I was still upset though that I did not go higher.  Over time my reactions did not change, as looking back I still expected that I should have been drafted higher.  But I use my feelings as a motivator go-forward.

 

MLB reports:  What do you consider your greatest baseball skill(s)?

Dunston Jr.:  My athleticism.  I am very athletic. 

 

MLB reports:  What facets of your game do you most wish to improve upon?

Dunston Jr.:  All part of my game can be improved.  I am just trying to be a better player overall.

 

MLB reports:  How do strikeouts and walks figure into your game?  Do you see any of these items changing over time and to what degree?

Dunston Jr.:  Yes, I am going to need to take a better approach at the plate. I am confident that will happen.  I am young and have time to develop.

 

MLB reports:  Long term what position do you see yourself playing?  How do you see defense as part of your overall game?

Dunston Jr.:  Center field.  That is the position that I am playing now and that will be (the position) I will be playing down the road as well.  I play good defense.

 

MLB reports:  If you had to look into a crystal ball, when do you see your expected time of arrival in the big leagues and what do you think you need to do most to get there?

Dunston Jr.:  I just need to work hard.  Through development and time, I will get there soon.  I just need some time.

 

MLB reports:  What are your offseason plans?  Have the Cubs indicated to you at what level you will likely start 2012 and at which position?

Dunston Jr.:  I plan to get bigger, stronger and faster.  I am excited to be getting ready for spring training and my first professional season!

 

MLB reports:  What do you do for fun when you are not playing baseball?

Dunston Jr.:  I enjoy hanging out with friends and family.

 

MLB reports:  Have you visited Chicago often in your life?  Any impressions?

Dunston Jr.:  I don’t really remember much from it when my dad played there.  The last time I was there was in the 2003 playoffs at the NLDS with my dad.

 

MLB reports:  If you could send out a message to the Cubs fans, what would it be?

Dunston Jr.:  I am glad to be a part of this great organization and cannot wait to be playing in Wrigley Field soon!

 

Thank you again to Shawon Dunston Jr. for taking the time to join us today on MLB reports.  We highly encourage our readers to post at the bottom of the article any questions and/or comments that you may have for Shawon.  As well, please follow Shawon on Twitter (@SDUNSTONJR)

 

Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.


The Hunt for Red Sox October

September 14, 2011

Rob Bland (Baseball Writer – MLB reports): Red Sox Nation is panicking. On September 1, the Boston Red Sox held a 9 game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays.  Today, on September 13, they sit only 3 games ahead.  Since then, the Red Sox have gone 2-9, while Tampa has gone 8-3.  Many people believe that Tampa Bay has the pitching to get the job done.  Led by “Big Game” James Shields and David Price, they have a rotation that has been one of the top in the league all season.  As a team, they have given up the least amount of hits by 80 in the American League.  Their team ERA is also tops in the American League at 3.56.

Boston is limping into the end of the season, with 3 of their 5 opening week starters injured in some fashion in the last month.  Jon Lester has been every bit of the ace the Red Sox need him to be, with a 15-7 record and 3.07 ERA.  However, when the Sox leaned on him on September 11 against Tampa, he lasted only 4 innings, giving up 4 runs on 8 hits and 3 walks.  John Lackey has been awful this year.  I cringe when I look at his stats.  6.30 ERA, 180 hits in 144 innings, and 18 hit batsmen to lead the league.  How has he won 12 games?  Buchholz was solid before going on the disable list, giving up only 76 hits in 82 2/3 innings, but hasn’t pitched since June 16.  It is believed he could be back as soon as next week, but in a limited bullpen role at best, so his impact won’t be felt much.  Josh Beckett has been great this year as well, but rolled his ankle in the 4th inning of his last start. At one point, after throwing a complete game, 1 hit shutout on June 15, his ERA sat at 1.86.  He is currently 12-5 with a 2.49 ERA, and a WHIP of 0.985.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was a bust this year and required Tommy John Surgery in June.  In his place is knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who currently sits at 200 wins on his career.  Wakefield hasn’t made it look pretty this year, but has put in 139 2/3 valuable innings to date.

Tampa Bay boasts one of the top rotations in baseball, with Opening Day starter David Price pitching very solid, without much run support.  He has a 12-12 record but his ERA is 3.40 and has reached the 200 strikeout plateau for the first time in his young career.  Big Game James doesn’t need much of an introduction, as his 11 complete games and 4 shutouts lead the MLB.  He has already thrown 226 innings, a career high, with 210 strikeouts, also a career high.  Wade Davis has thrown 165 solid innings as a follow-up to being 4th in Rookie of the Year balloting last season.  Jeff Niemann is really blossoming into a dependable middle of the rotation pitcher, going 10-7 with a 3.97 ERA in 129 innings.  He doesn’t strike out a ton of hitters, but doesn’t walk many either, shown by his 3 K/BB ratio.  One of the frontrunners for AL Rookie of the Year is Jeremy Hellickson, who has been pretty much lights out all year.  With a 2.96 ERA and only giving up 135 hits in 170 innings, he will surely garner some votes.  The one wild card that the Rays hold, however, is Matt Moore.  Moore was just called up to fill a role similar to David Price in 2008.  He will be electric out of the bullpen after a minor league season that will rank him in the top 5 of all prospects going into next season.

Boston’s offense is abound with potential MVP’s and great hitters.  1 through 9, the Red Sox boast one of the best lineups I can remember.  Jacoby Ellsbury may win the MVP, but he will have to go through Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez first.  Also, David Ortiz is again proving the naysayers wrong, as he is hitting .313 with 29 home runs and 92 RBI.  When a player of JD Drew’s caliber can go on the disabled list and be replaced with Josh Reddick, who is hitting .298 and slugging .491 in 250 plate appearances, it gives a lot of confidence to a pitching staff.  Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia finally seems like the player who the Atlanta Braves envisioned when they drafted him in the 1st round in 2003.  Jason Varitek is also enjoying a fine season as a backup to Saltalamacchia, hitting 11 home runs in only 234 plate appearances.  This offense is one that no team will want to face in the final weeks of the season or the playoffs if they reach that far.

Tampa Bay may not have the “sexy” offensive players that the Red Sox do, but they have some players having mighty fine seasons.  Ben Zobrist has overlooked his mediocre 2010 season, and has put up numbers closer to his breakout 2009.  Although he probably won’t ever match that season, his 45 doubles lead the American League, and has a very good OPS of .820.  Casey Kotchman is still an on-base machine with little pop from first base.  He has hit at a .313 clip with a .382 on-base percentage, setting the table for the big run producers.  Evan Longoria may be having a down year by his standards, but most teams would be happy with a third baseman hitting 25 home runs and slugging .818.  Through May, Matt Joyce was an early favorite for AL MVP, but really tapered off in June and July, before turning it back up in the last month.  His .843 OPS leads the team, and he also has 12 stolen bases.  BJ Upton continues to be a low average, high power type of hitter, with 20 home runs and 27 stolen bases while hitting just .234.  The worst position in terms of offensive production has been shortstop, where Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez have handled most of the duties.  The Rays’ high-tempo style of offense has wreaked havoc on opposing batteries, as they have stolen 130 bases, good for third in the American League.

Both teams have completely different styles and techniques, but are successful in their own ways.  With the Rays aggressive style, and the Red Sox more reliant on taking pitches and making pitchers work, getting deep into bullpens early, this could be a battle to the bitter end.  The schedules they play the rest of the way will also dictate who is more likely to win the race for the Wild Card.

Boston:
1 vs Toronto
4 vs Tampa Bay
7 vs Baltimore
3 vs New York

Tampa Bay:
1 vs Baltimore
4 vs Boston
7 vs New York
3 vs Toronto

It is quite evident that Boston has a much easier schedule, and should win a fair number of them.  The Red Sox have gone 11-4 against the Yankees this year also.  Tampa has gone 5-6 against the Yankees, whom they see 7 more times.  Boston gets Baltimore 7 more times, and have beaten them 8 out of 11 games so far.  The pivotal series of all will be this weekend when the two teams square off against one another.  The game of the weekend may be on Friday September 16, where James Shields faces off against Josh Beckett.

I believe that Tampa Bay will come within a game or two, but the schedule differences give Boston a HUGE advantage.  The Red Sox 18-6 drubbing of the Blue Jays on Tuesday will be a catalyst for the team over the next two weeks, where they will produce runs and pitch just well enough to get into the postseason.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: MLBreports@gmail.com with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

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