Author Archives: OffTheBenchBaseball

The Houston Astros Will Win the World Series

Sports Illustrated said it in 2014 and it might just turn out to be true. The Houston Astros have had 2017 circled on their calendars for a while now and they’ve set themselves up well. Houston enters 2017 with a really good young core of position players supplemented with some strategically placed free agents and trade acquisitions and a pitching staff that certainly has some question marks but has the potential to be excellent.

The Astros seem to following the blueprint of the reigning world champion Chicago Cubs, who built their roster around young hitters like Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, and supplemented things with pitchers from outside the organization like Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and Aroldis Chapman.

It is, obviously, a good strategy if you can do it right, as well as a relatively new one. For the better part of the last decade, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals have tried to build homegrown pitching staffs and cobble together a lineup from high priced free agents. Only truly deep organizations can do what the Cubs have and what the Astros are attempting.

But Houston is off to a great start. Their lineup is beyond deep and led by some genuine superstars. Their rotation, meanwhile is the wild card. It could be great, it could really hold them back, and either way, I’d be shocked if it didn’t include a very big addition before the team plays on August 1st.

Projected Lineup:

Se the projected lineup and read the rest of this post, with a projected rotation too, over at Off the Bench here.

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2017 National League East Preview

The National League East is a mix of the haves and the have-nots, though not to the extreme that was 2016, when 3 of the teams were in the depths of their rebuilds, while two appeared to be blossoming into title contenders. 2017 figures to be a repeat for many of the teams as the biggest offseason deal inched one title contenders closer to the World Series (on paper).

It’s a division that is hallmarked by excellent pitching, though Jose Fernandez‘ flamboyance will be sorely missed. The Mets and Nationals each have a stable of Aces at the major league level, while the Phillies and Marlins have young guys that show serious promise, and the Braves have the most impressive group of pitching prospects that anyone in the game appears to have ever seen. It’s an interesting division that constitutes a cross-section of all that baseball has to offer right now.

The Prediction: 

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Atlanta Braves
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

It’s the Nationals’ division to lose, really….

Read the rest of this post and see our in depth breakdown of the division at Off the Bench here.

2017 American League West Season Preview

The AL West is one of baseball’s most interesting divisions. It features baseball’s best player, its most talented shortstop and top two second basemen, its batting champ, its least enjoyable team to watch, its second most annoying closer, and King Felix.

For the last two seasons, the West has been won by the Texas Rangers, who ran away with things again in 2016 with an AL best 95 wins. Texas is deep, with a strong lineup, a good, young core, and a solid starting staff, but the rest of the division is doing their best to catch up. Well, except for the A’s.

Seattle finished second in 2016 and made 14 trades this offseason, more than any team ever has in one winter. Houston finished third but made a couple big moves and is right in its window for contention. The Angels still have Mike Trout and no pitching. The A’s have….Khris Davis?

This is going to be a fun division to watch all summer because its likely to be very competitive. Three teams have are going in to 2017 with well founded confidence and I think they’ll be jockeying for first right up until the end.

Prediction:

  1. Houston Astros
  2. Texas Rangers
  3. Seattle Mariners
  4. Los Angeles Angels
  5. Oakland A’s

I’m going bold here….

Read the rest of this post, and see our in depth breakdown of the division, at Off the Bench here.

Spotlight on the 2017 Washington Nationals

Off The Bench’s season previews this year are being run a bit differently. We’ll  runa divisional preview for each of baseball’s 6 divisions, and a spotlight on the most interesting team in each division. The spotlight does not necessarily have to be the “most interesting team,” so perhaps a more accurate description is that it is the team that we feel like writing about whenever we sit down to write. It’s our blog, thank you very much.

With that, I will be previewing the Washington Nationals’ 2017 season, not because they are the most interesting team in the NL East (for my money, that’s the Phillies), nor because they’re the easiest for me to write about (this Braves fan could write 4,000 words on Bartolo Colon and the new stadium that could get us ready for 2018). No, I’m writing about the Nationals because they might just be the best team that we never talk about. Sure, Max covered their Presidential tryouts, but the last piece dedicated to the Nats was when we wrote about Trea Turner in November. It just feels like they’re due for a Sean Morash analysis.

So where do the Nats stand? They’re the odds-on favorite to win the NL East, just as they have in 3 of the last 5 years. Unfortunately, they’ve lost in the Division Series each of the three times they’ve made the playoffs since moving to DC. They feel like the Atlanta Braves in the early 2000’s: clearly very good, but definitely not the best team in baseball.

Why though? Well, their superstars Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper haven’t simultaneously carried their halves of the roster. That may sound like tall order, but let’s not forget that these are two of the very most talented players that baseball has seen in the last 20 years. First, let’s look at Harper’s Position Player group.

To continue reading our Washington Nationals 2017 Season preview, please click on over to Off The Bench Baseball.

Former College Hitting Coach Breaks Down Jason Heyward’s Swing

Jason Heyward is 6’5” 240 Lbs; he’s a plus runner with plus bat speed, a plus arm, a plus defender, and apparently off-the-charts makeup. He’s been a top prospect since he was drafted. He looked like a future super star after his 2012 season that saw him hit 27 HR and 30 doubles. He signed a mega deal with the Cubs after a somewhat resurgent season with the St. Louis Cardinals only to fall to all-time lows in virtually every offensive statistic known to man. He struck nearly twice as many times as he walked, barely broke the .300 OBP mark, and hit a lowly .230 that was devoid of power and production. Thankfully for the Cubs, he is a stalwart defender and still has some worth. Will he ever live up to the contract he signed last off-season? Not likely. But the real question is how to get the ultra-talented 27 year old back on track for the prime years of his career? It’s easier said than done, but where there is a will there is a way. For me it is a 4 step process.

1. Tear it all down.

His swing simply does not work. It’s rigid, it’s long, and the small changes he has tried to make have done nothing to get at the root of his swing problems.

2. Find his athleticism

For such an incredible athlete, his swing lacks any athleticism. This has been evident since he was a high schooler. One of the first rules of coaching hitters should be: DO NOT take away a hitters athleticism. Use it as a way to promote rhythm and timing in their swings. Let him be an athlete again. The rigidity in his swing does not allow him to create timing. The swing unveiled this spring fails him by starting his swing in the front with little connection between upper and lower body. This leaves him continuously out of funk, unable to stay behind the baseball. All of these factors not lining up contributes to his inability to recognize pitches. This is evident in his takes and the excessive amount of bad early count contact (which mask his strikeout totals).

Ton continue reading the roughly 800 more words on Jason Heyward’s new swing, please visit Off The Bench Baseball Blog.

Adam Wainwright Needs His New (Old) Curveball

The St. Louis Cardinals’ Ace Adam Wainwright returned from a brutal Achilles injury in earnest in 2016. With four top 3 Cy Young finishes since 2010, Waino is one of the most talented (and underrated) pitchers in the modern era. His success can largely be traced back to his nasty curveball, and even his Twitter handle (@UncleCharlie50) pays homage to his dominant offering. Wainwright’s 2016 performance did not exactly ring success with the same dominant Uncle Charlie that has earmarked his career.

Wainwright’s 2016 season was somewhere between pedestrian and ugly. He was healthy, starting 33 games, but ran just a 4.62 ERA and led the league in both hits and earned runs allowed. He struck guys out less frequently than his career average and also posted a career worst WHIP. But Waino thinks he figured something out, and it all goes back to his curveball.

MLB.com ran a story that, while watching an MLB Network special featuring himself, Wainwright discovered that he had inadvertently shifted his curveball grip while coming back from that Achilles injury. Following a few tosses with his wife, his optimism heading into 2017 was renewed.

Friend of the blog and mlb.com beat writer David Adler (_@dadler on Twitter and worth the follow) did some digging and found that Wainwright’s 2016 curveball was likely to blame for some of those 2016 struggles:

To continue reading about Adam Wainwright’s 2016 curveball, please visit offthebenchbaseball.com

5 Must Watch Players in Spring Training

Spring Training is finally here! Thank god; I don’t think I, as an individual, nor we, as a nation and a planet, have ever needed baseball more.

But we are not the only ones! Every year, players use Grapefruit and Cactus league games to cement their status as starters, finally earn a trip to the majors, or, in some cases, disrupt the status quo and commute chaos upon fans and front offices.

Of course, Spring Training games are far from predictive of future performance, just look at Jackie Bradley Jr. a few years ago. He tore it up in March and then struggled to hit well enough in his first season in the MLB to justify keeping his stellar glove in the lineup at all. He was eventually sent to the minors and only last year recaptured his starting spot. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t learn an awful lot from some of these early showcases. The pre-season can help us get an early feel for players poised to bounce back from a tough season, or not, and those who need to justify their team’s (semi-inexplicable) faith in them.

Let’s take a look at 5 of the guys whose spring performance can be particularly instructive about what their 2017 seasons might hold.

Shelby Miller, starting pitcher, Arizona Diamondbacks

Talk about a bounce-back candidate.

After an All Star season in Atlanta in 2015 (despite leading the league in losses), Miller was shipped to Arizona in exchange for Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte, and others. Then things took a turn.

To continue reading about the must watch players this spring training, please click on oveer to Offthebenchbaseball.com

On Royals Pitcher Yordano Ventura Dead at 25

Reports out of the Dominican Republic within the last hour are that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura has died in a car accident. He was 25 years old and he will be missed.

The young pitcher had a terrific delivery, a fastball that could challenge anyone’s in the game in terms of both velocity and precociousness. His future was as bright as the sun. He was fun to watch and I cannot help but think of the recent passing of Jose Fernandez. As I search for words, I am left feeling how Max felt just 6 months ago. This sucks.

I have been especially close to death in the last year. Through various life events, I have been left to ponder the meaning of life and the reasons to keep living. How does one articulate the desire to keep living? I was left to go back to hope of a better future, of a better tomorrow and of the good times ahead. The passing of these young stars is so difficult because of how it shakes that fundamental motivation of life.

To continue reading about the passing of Yordano Ventura, please click over to our mostly baseball blog at offthebenchbaseball.com

Ranking the 2017 National League Managers

It has become an annual tradition around these parts for me to offer up my thoughts on each and every manager in the MLB. First, this started as a ranking and became one of our most popular posts. Since then, the manager reporting has morphed into a grading system on an A-F scale, with A reserved for only the cream of the managerial crop and F standing in for ‘Should be Fired.’

As usual with my mid-winter grades, I won’t offer any score for first time managers, but if a guy has managed elsewhere in the majors he’s fair game, even if this will be his first season with his current team.

Let’s get to it!

National League East

Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals: The first yer of the Dusty Baker era in DC went pretty well all things considered. Dusty did some Dusty things when it came to bullpen management and managing his pitchers’ workload but he handled that Trea Turner situation well. The Nats won 95 games and walked to the AL East crown but the team still couldn’t get over that NLDS hump. Until Baker does that, his job in Washington is incomplete. Grade: B

To continue reading Our ranking of baseball managers, check out offthebenchbaseball.com!

The Chicago Cubs Visit The White House: A Firsthand Account

The official moment for the country to pinch itself came today, as the Chicago Cubs visited the White House.  The Cubs arrived at the personal request of President Obama, the Chicagoan at the end of his presidency. 

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In fact, Obama today said to the team, “It took you long enough.  I mean, I only have four days left. You’re just making it under the wire.”

The Cubs may have waited 108 years to win the World Series, but it was a rush to visit the White House.  Major League Baseball champions typically wait until the subsequent regular season to go to the White House, but this time was unique. 

Unlike Game 7 of the World Series, there was no rain delay in today’s event, as it was held inside the historic East Room.  The chandelier-adorned room was originally designed by George Washington and James Hoban as a “public audience room” and it has been home to historic events such as the signing of the Civil Rights Act.  The tradition of baseball champions visiting the White House can be traced back as far as the 1860s. 

To continue reading about yesterday’s Cubs visit to the White House, please visit our mostly baseball blog at Offthebenchbaseball.com.

Royals Get Great Value in Danny Duffy Extension, Probably

The Kansas City Royals announced a contract extension today with their young left-handed starting pitcher, Danny Duffy, that ensures Duffy will wear the Royal blue for another 5 years. Duffy is coming off of a fantastic campaign, in which he finally displayed the results that matched his talent. He was worth about 4 WAR and solidified his role as a starting pitcher. The Royals signed him for 5 years and $65Million in what should be a decidedly team-friendly deal.

He’s been something of a favorite of mine for the last 12 months. I did a deep dive on his success back in June, but the basic key to success for Duffy, as with most other pitchers, was his ability to locate his fastball and cut down on his walks. He also made an appearance in my Golden Age of the Lefty Fastball piece as guy who averages 95 on his fastball. That deep dive piece published just as I was moving and shaking in my fantasy league, with the goal to pick Duffy off of the waiver wire. A certain OTBB editor saw that piece and pounced on Duffy, leaving my squad a starting pitcher short and all I could do was follow his summertime dominance longingly. The Royals, having likely learned from my fantasy squad, will not be watching Duffy dominate for another squad. They know how good he is.

To continue reading about the Danny Duffy contract extension, please click on over to our mostly baseball blog.

Ranking the 2017 American League Managers

As usual with my mid-winter grades, I won’t offer any score for first time managers, but if a guy has managed elsewhere in the majors he’s fair game, even if this will be the first season with his current team.

Let’s get to it!

American League East

John Farrell, Boston Red Sox: First to worst and back again. And again. And again. Farrell’s Boston teams seem to be either really good or really bad, and that doesn’t reflect too well on the manger. Seems to me, a well run team filled with talented veterans should be able to do a better job of consistently competing. 2017 will be a big challenge for Farrell for many reasons. First, he’ll be trying to string together back to back good seasons, but beyond that, the Red Sox are now so loaded with talent that expectations are going to be sky high. As we’ve seen in baseball many times before (e.g. 2012 Miami Marlins) super teams on paper don’t always pan out. Let’s see if Farrell can get all the parts to mesh. Grade: B

To continue reading the definitive rankings of 2017 American League Managers, click on over to our mostly baseball blog at Off The Bench.

The Clay Buchholz Head-Scratcher: Didn’t the Phillies Have Better Options?

The Philadelphia Phillies just traded for the right to pay Clay Buchholz $13.5 Million in 2017. The deal is a bit of a head stratcher as it was unclear why the Boston Red Sox decided to pick up that salary in the first place when they had the option not to. You see, Buchholz is no longer the pitcher he once was. He’s battled injuries pretty much his entire career, and hasn’t been the most effective guy out there even when healthy. I’m frankly very surprised that two organizations went through the processes associated with guaranteeing Buchholz $13.5 Million for what is sure to be a sub-200 IP 2017.

Anyway, the Phillies have Buchholz now and the Red Sox, for their troubles, picked up Josh Tobias, a 24-year old second baseman with two first names who just crushed high-A minor league ball.

In the process of breaking this down, I couldn’t help but feel like the Phillies must have had other options. What was their motivation to make this move? Sure I recently advocated that they be aggressive in adding pieces to their roster because they aren’t too far from contention, but this is not what I had in mind.

To continue reading about the Philadelphia Phillies puzzling trade for Clay Buchholz, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com.

Brian Dozier for Jose de Leon Makes Sense for both the Dodgers and Twins

A new rumor on the Twitter has the Minnesota Twins and Los Angeles Dodgers as possible trade partners in a deal that would send Brian Dozier to LA in exchange for Jose De Leon. The swap would see LA deal its #4 prospect, a huge upside starting pitcher with limited MLB time but dominating AAA numbers, and Minnesota part ways with a slugging second basemen who has been the defacto face of the franchise for nigh on three years.

I love it. This is a trade that makes sense for both teams.

First, let’s look at it from the Twins side since that’s a little simpler. Minnesota is not a very good team. They lost 103 games in 2016 and finished in last place in AL Central. However, as I wrote back in October, Minnesota has a really good young core of position players led by Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler that should provide good reason for hope in the Twin Cities.

However, the they lack pitching, particularly starting pitching. From my previous Twins post:

Jose Berrios is supposed to be a starter of the future, and still may very well be, but an ERA above 8.00 in 13 starts certainly doesn’t instill confidence… Phil Hughes is bad; that’s not changing…”

To continue reading about the potential Dodgers and Twins trade, check out offthebenchbaseball.com!

DJ LeMahieu is How the Rockies Will Upgrade Their Pitching

In August, I wrote a piece titled The Rockies Future Hinges on DJ LeMahieu in which I argued that LeMahieu was an enigma whose trade value wouldn’t be fully formed until July of 2017. In that piece, I argued that Trevor Story and recent third overall pick Brendan Rodgers would form the future of the Rockies middle infield, thus forcing LeMahieu off the roster. I argued that LeMahieu’s play would dictate his trade value with a possible return somewhere between what his 2016 WAR suggests he’s worth (Jake Arrieta) and what his pre-2016 performance suggests (Jon Niese).

Well, fast forward 4 months and not much has changed, except that LeMahieu’s fit with the Rockies is even worse now.

The Rockies recently signed Ian Desmond in a deal that didn’t make sense on its own. Ian Desmond is a former shortstop turned utility man, penciled in to play first base, where his athletism will be wasted. He only further complicates the Rockies middle infield conundrum as the Rockies are similarly crowded in the outfield. The signing just makes a DJ LeMahieu deal all the more likely.

To continue reading about the Rockies trade scenarios, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com

The True Value of Dexter Fowler to the St. Louis Cardinals

On Friday afternoon, the St. Louis Cardinals finalized a 5-year, $82.5 million with former Cubs center-fielder Dexter Fowler. As has been explained in the media, the Fowler addition was meant to add more athleticism both on defense and atop the Cardinals’ lineup. At face value, this seems to make sense; Fowler’s skills are indicative of a lead-off hitting center fielder. In theory, inserting Fowler in center in place of incumbent Randal Grichuk should improve the outfield defense. In researching this theory; however, I have found that the ‘Fowler Effect’, while certainly providing plus-value, is not as straightforward as it may seem.

I will start with what we know. Offensively, Fowler is a bona-fide leadoff hitter as far as present day terms are concerned. While fans can get bogged down in batting averages (Fowler put up just a .276 mark in 2016), he did finish the year with a .393 OBP and was a table-setter for the first Chicago Cubs World Series victory in over 100 years. In fact, since he became a full-time MLBer in 2009, Fowler has ranked very highly when it comes to getting on base. Take a look at the following chart and see just how well he stacks up.

To continue reading about how Dexter Fowler improves the Cardinals, check out offthebenchbaseball.com.

The Baseball Player Political Cabinet

Hey! Idea: baseball player political cabinet. Which players would be best for each cabinet position. My first nominee: Ozzie Smith for Secretary of Defense because, well, you get it.

Sean Morash:

Ha! Brilliant! Trump needs some help

Max Frankel:

Glad you’re on board. Who’s your choice for education?

Sean Morash:

It’s funny. That’s immediately where my head went as well. I want Pedro Martinez or Greg Maddux. Both are brilliant and insightful. They definitely need to be in our cabinet, but I’m not sure if Education is the best place for either. My mom, a liberal school teacher, kinda hates the Dept of Education. Can we give this to someone with the best intentions but who we really don’t care if they mess it up too bad because it might actually be hopeless? Tell me that’s not A-Rod. I dare you.

Also- do we have any rules? We know Trump’s one rule is: “Are they worth $1,000,000?” If so, they’re in. Do we need our cabinet representatives to be retired ballplayers? Do they need to be alive? What about American Citizens?

To find out who made our made-up baseball player political cabinet, click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com.  Seriously, you won’t want to miss our picks for Secretary of Agriculture and Energy and Homeland Defense.

Danny Espinosa a Good Fit For The Los Angeles Angels

Danny Espinosa isn’t a very good major league baseball player. But he is good at one big, important thing: tricking people into thinking he is at least an adequate major league baseball player.

Espinosa typically does this by hitting home runs– specifically, hitting them in bursts, that last long enough to coincide with some big situations, and in overall quantities that make people say: ‘”Woah, Danny Espinosa has that many home runs? No way!”

Danny is so good at this trickery that he somehow convinced the Washington Nationals to keep Trea Turner, the heir-apparent at short stop, in the minor leagues until Turner very nearly forced his way onto the roster. And even then, in Espinosa’s greatest feat of hornswagglery to that point, despite being the far inferior defender, he maneuvered the Nats into converting Turner to center field rather than pushing him (utility infielder Danny) off shortstop.

Now, however, Espinosa’s magical abilities seem to have waned just a bit. Washington brass has seen through his smoke and mirrors act, and shipped him to the Los Angeles Angels for two low-end prospects.

It may not sound like we like Danny Espinosa, but we really do! Check out why Danny Espinosa is a good fit in LA on offthebenchbaseball.com.

How Will The Toronto Blue Jays React To The Dexter Fowler Signing?

At this point, it’s safe to say that the Blue Jays’ offseason has been a failure thus far. GM Ross Atkins can speak as glowingly as he’d like about the additions of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, but their acquisition is heavily offset by the potential losses of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders, and Brett Cecil.

Still, there was always the possibility that the Jays would sign Dexter Fowler. The NL All-Star and World Series champion would look great hitting in front of Josh Donaldson and playing right field in the Rogers Centre. But his deal with the Cardinals is now official, a 5-year/$82.5 million agreement. Fowler successfully gambled on himself last season, turning down Baltimore’s 3-year/$33 million offer to take a 1-year/$13 million in Chicago.

With their primary target gone, where do the Jays go from here?

It’s obvious that the Jays wanted an athletic outfielder, and preferably one that could hit leadoff, to add to their lineup. Fowler, with a .393 on-base-percentage in 2016 would have been the perfect fit, if only the Jays were willing to spend the money.

To continue reading about the Blue Jays outfield plans, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com

Ian Desmond Signing Could Start Colorado Rockies Domino Effect

Ian Desmond is headed to the Colorado Rockies for 5 years and $70 million and according to various reports, he’s expected to start at first base. This in itself is puzzling; first base will be Desmond’s third position in three years following stints at shortstop and center field for the Nationals and Rangers respectively. Following an offensive collapse in 2015 that saw the then 29-year old slash .233/.290/.384, Desmond bounced back last season to hit .285/.335/.446. He went from a below average wRC+ of 83 to an above average figure of 106. He then used his 2016 numbers to gamble on himself, rejecting the Rangers’ qualifying offer and forcing the Rockies to cough up the 11th overall pick in the 2017 draft to sign him.

Committing $70 million and a draft pick to a player that will be learning a new position for the second time in two years is odd, but not unprecedented (see Hanley Ramirez and the Boston Red Sox). About a month ago, FanGraphs posted an article arguing that the Rockies could be on the verge of contention.

To read about the ramifications of the Ian Desmond Signing on the Rockies plans, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com

Behind the Scenes at the Winter Meetings…. AKA Baseball Heaven

First things first, the MLB Winter Meetings are nirvana for baseball nerds like myself…..

Oh, hey legendary sportswriter Peter Gammons, how are you? What’s that Boston Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski? Sorry I couldn’t hear you because I was too busy saying hi to your manager John Farrell. Hey LA Times Dodgers’ beat writer Andy McCullough, have you seen NBC Sports’ Craig Calcaterra? I need to follow up on our conversation earlier and I got sidetracked by the New York Posts’ Joel Sherman. Oh, by the way, cool new glasses Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle.

You couldn’t turn around without being starstruck by people who would only be stars to readers of this blog. It was fantastic.

wintermeetings11

It wasn’t just shaking hands and pleasantries, though. I was able to have some really good conversations. For instance, while waiting for the guys on the MLB TV set to announce baseball’s two newest hall of famers, John Schuerholz and Bud Selig (whom I have some thoughts on), I had a really interesting semi-debate with MLB.com’s Mark Bowman about the independence and objectivity of an MLB-owned news organization and the conflicts faced by writers of even nominally independent outlets like ESPN.

To continue reading about Max Frankel’s trip to the Winter Meetings, please click on over to our mostly baseball blog, Off The Bench.

Atlanta Braves Deal for Jaime Garcia Puzzling

The Atlanta Braves completed a swap for St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Jaime Garcia last night, sending a package of 3 fringe Major League prospects to Missouri. The deal is an interesting one, but not the type of franchise-altering swap of which Braves fans have become accustomed. If you’re a casual fan, you probably aren’t entirely sure who this Garcia guy is and that is the most puzzling part of the deal for me. The Braves just clogged up their rotation with another #4 starter.

Off the Bench once ribbed the Red Sox for fielding a rotation full of #2 starters. There is likely not verb strong enough to adequately condemn a rotation full of #4 starters, but here we are. Atlanta just added their third veteran starter of the offseason, planning to pay these old guys $36 million in 2017. For a rebuilding team still treading water and waiting on the full calvary of prospect talent to arrive, this is the type of deal that can disrupt the years-long plan.

But let’s get into this deal for a moment before I talk Braves fans back off the cliff.

Just one year ago, Garcia posted a 2.43 ERA across 130 innings but he’s always been injury prone, a result of a delivery that stresses his arm more than one might like.

To continue reading about the Atlanta Braves Puzzling Deal for Jaime Garcia, please click on over to Off The Bench.

Why The Philadelphia Phillies Should Be Aggressive This Offseason (Their Infield Is Good)

The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off of a year in which they went 71-91. They performed better than most pundits thought they would, but they are still a few pieces away from truly competing. Those pieces are likely in the outfield where the team managed a 0.6 WAR all told. They could use help at all three outfield positions, even as Odubel Herrera does his best 3-hitter impression. I expect the Phillies to make a push for a big time bat (Andrew McCutchen, anyone?) and a complimentary bat to add to a young roster that could suddenly look pretty good. Why am I so optimistic about the Phillies 2017 chances? Well, it starts with a surprisingly strong infield that is ready to be among the game’s best in short order.

Consider:

Second Base

Cesar Hernandez posted a 4.4 fWAR in 2016 that was buoyed by an all-around game that was nearly unmatched in baseball last year. The advanced stats simply loved this guy. According to fangraphs, he earned the Phillies a run on the basepaths, 7.1 at the plate, and 16.1 in the field. Those totals seem pretty good, but are definitely abstract. For context,the only players to match those numbers last year were Corey Seager, my boy Adam Eaton, Francisco Lindor, and Brandon Crawford.

To continue reading about why @OTBB_Sean thinks the Phillies offseason plan should be aggressive, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com.

Curious Case of Jake Arrieta’s 2016 Pitching Mechanics

Jake Arrieta of the Chicago Cubs went through some rough patches in 2016. A loss of command to batters in the middle of pitching sequences led to a noticeable uptick in walks.  This issue compounded itself and lead to a potential shift in confidence that correlated with overcompensation. Let’s dive into the numbers over his career to see if 2016 was a return to prior form, leaving 2014 and 2015 as the best we will ever see of Jake Arrieta.

This is a guest post from friend of the blog Ricky Mears, who writes over at Innings Pitched. Their website will be launching in January 2017.  Follow @InningsPitched on Twitter to stay up to date before the launch and sign up for the Newsletter. Tickets to a MLB or MiILB will be given away to a follower once they reach the 200 threshold.

By The Numbers

Jake Arrieta was lauded as having pinpoint control in 2014 and 2015.  His 2.08 walks per nine innings placed him as number 24 out of 84 qualifying starting pitchers over the two year stretch.  In 2014, Arrieta had 8.2% walk rate against lefties and a 5.4% walk rate against righties.  Similarly, in 2015 he had a 6.6% walk rate against lefties versus a 4.6% versus righties.

To continue reading the original post on Jake Arrieta’s 2016 pitching mechanics, please visit Off The Bench Baseball

Ten Baseball Things We’re Thankful For This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is upon us, a time of family and friends and turkey and stuffing and fall leaves and one of America’s vastly inferior sports, football. Baseball season, sadly, is on its annual winter hiatus but even still, there are things baseball fans should be thankful for.

Here at OTBB, we’ve compiled our list of the Ten Baseball Things We’re Thankful For This Thanksgiving:

1. Vin Scully

Earlier this week, Scully was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contributions to the very fabric of the game. He was baseball for a great number of Dodger’s fans and his send off this year was beautiful in every aspect. We’ve written about Scully many times here on Off The Bench, but this from Max before the year was the most poignant:

88 year old Vin Scully has been calling Dodger games since 1950, 67 years. For context, when Scully first started working play by play for the Dodgers in Brooklyn, Dwight Eisenhower had just taken office as President of the United States, Bill Clinton was 4 years old, John Kennedy was two years from becoming a US Senator, and Barack Obama wouldn’t be born for 11 years. But its certainly not his remarkable longevity that makes Scully a legend. It is the fact that he is, objectively and unequivocally, the best sports announcer there has been and the best there will ever be. He is the only man to still work games alone, carrying the entire weight of both TV and radio broadcasts simultaneously while telling stories of the players that only he could possibly know. How, after nearly 70 seasons and thousands and thousands of players he can still remember the details of individual players lives and weave them so effortlessly into a broadcast is amazing.

There is no one like Vin Scully. If baseball is the soundtrack of summer, Scully is the soundtrack of baseball. 2016 will be his final season in the booth before a well deserved retirement. Soak up as much as you can.

2. David Ortiz

Similarly, David Ortiz announced his retirement before the year started.

To continue reading about baseball things to be thankful for, please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com.

Free Agent Michael Saunders Is the Best Value Fit for Giants, Phillies

Michael Saunders isn’t one of the flashier names in this year’s free agent class, but that doesn’t mean that he will not be an important contributor to a competitive team in 2017.

Saunders is coming off of the best year of his career. The 29 year old outfielder cooled off a bit in the second half, but he socked 24 home runs and hit .253 en route to his first All Star game as a member of the Blue Jays.

Saunders, a former Mariners 11th round pick, can handle both corner outfield spots and did a lot to dispel the notion that he struggles mightily against left handed pitching over the last 8 months: in 2016 he put up a .927 OPS and 8 homers against lefties.

That said, he’s a .235 lifetime hitter, who has never had more that 57 RBIs in a season and had never hit more than 19 homers before 2016. He is no longer a stolen base threat (he stole 21 in 2012), and has never produced more than 2.4 WAR in a season. He also missed most of 2014 and nearly all of 2015 with injuries.

So what are you getting if you sign Michael Saunders this winter? Well, you’re getting  a chance – a chance at some serious outfield power numbers (via both homers and doubles), a halfway decent OBP,  and a pretty consistent everyday player for the lower half of your lineup at likely a pretty decent price.

To continue reading about Michael Saunders’ fit with the Phillies and Giants, please click on over to Off The Bench Baseball.

The Final Word on 2016: Boston Red Sox

It has only been a couple short weeks since the Cubs clinched game 7 in Cleveland on the 2nd November and ended their 108-year curse. Yet the ruthlessness of Major League Baseball is evident in the fact that Theo Epstein, just named Executive of the Year in the biggest understatement of the 2016 season, is already back to work.

The Cubs, clearly the best team in baseball, are once-again looking forward to next year, so think how the other 29 GMs must be feeling. As soon as Michael Martinez grounded one to Kris Bryant at third and the ball reached the mitt of a jubilant Anthony Rizzo waiting at first, the off-season began. But to move forward you must first reflect.

That’s the purpose of this series of posts, highlighting the highs and lows, strengths and flaws of each franchise in turn during 2016. From this we can begin to evaluate what each club’s offseason might look like, which gaps will be addressed first and who might upset the apple-cart in 2017. This week we’re starting with the AL East:

Boston Red Sox:

2016 recap: As a Red Sox fan myself it is challenging to know what to conclude about 2016. A resurgence was expected after the signing of David Price to headline the rotation, but a division title nevertheless proved a satisfying result for Red Sox nation. But the languid, tepid even, performances against the Indians confirmed a worrying trend of inconsistency during 2016. When the bats were hot this Red Sox squad was unbeatable, frequently putting double figures on teams throughout the year, but when the bats were cold… yikes. This might seem a harsh criticism of a young team on an incredibly strong bounce back year from being basement dwellers in 2015. But the postseason proved that this team is still some way from where it wants to be, even before losing David Ortiz.

Please click on over to offthebenchbaseball.com to continue reading about the Red Sox offseason agenda. 

The Final Word on 2016: Baltimore Orioles

It has only been a couple short weeks since the Cubs clinched game 7 in Cleveland on the 2nd November and ended their 108-year curse. Yet the ruthlessness of Major League Baseball is evident in the fact that Theo Epstein, just named Executive of the Year in the biggest understatement of the 2016 season, is already back to work.

The Cubs, clearly the best team in baseball, are once-again looking forward to next year, so think how the other 29 GMs must be feeling. As soon as Michael Martinez grounded one to Kris Bryant at third and the ball reached the mitt of a jubilant Anthony Rizzo waiting at first, the off-season began. But to move forward you must first reflect.

That’s the purpose of this series of posts, highlighting the highs and lows, strengths and flaws of each franchise in turn during 2016. From this we can begin to evaluate what each club’s offseason might look like, which gaps will be addressed first and who might upset the apple-cart in 2017. This week we’re starting with the AL East:

Baltimore Orioles:

2016 recap: A decision not to use star reliever Zach Britton in the AL wild-card has rightly left some Orioles fans wondering what might have been – and that’s a significant dampener on what was a successful 2016 for the Orioles. Securing third place in a super-competitive AL East and losing the lottery that is the wild-card game must not be considered a failure given the payroll situation in Baltimore, annually competing with the free-spending Red Sox and Yankees.

Please click on over to Off The Bench to check out the Baltimore Orioles’ offseason agenda.

On Bullpen Management in the 2016 Playoffs

The fall of 2016 has been a season of extremes. In the very first game of the postseason, we saw the Baltimore Orioles lose the most important game of their season with their best pitcher, Zach Britton, who happened to be the best reliever anywhere in baseball this year, sitting on the bench.

The fallout was swift and severe. Columnists, bloggers, and fans rightly derided manager Buck Showalter, typically something of a sabermetric darling, for being the latest in a long line of playoff managers to manage to position his team for a future game they would never get to play. (See Fredi Gonzalez as a recent, obvious example)

Possibly in response to the Orioles’ debacle – not to give bloggers too much credit, Showalter made a transparent baseball mistake- managers in the rest of the postseason have been notably aggressive.

Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts deployed his closer Kenley Jansen in the 8th inning 3 times in the NLDS and CS, and once in the 7th in game 5 of the DS against the Nationals. Jansen even pitched in the 6th inning in the team’s final game of the year; Jansen is usually used for just 3 outs, but went for 3 innings to keep NLCS Game 6 close.

Indians’ manager Terry Francona is perhaps the most talked about guy this October. He and his bullpen Ace Andrew Miller have been blowing the existing bullpen paradigm out of the water.

 

To continue reading, please visit Offthebenchbaseball.com.

How the Cubs and Indians Overcame Injuries to Kyle Schwarber and Michael Brantley

The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will meet tomorrow in a World Series matchup that nobody thought possible. If it weren’t actually happening, I would have thought it unthinkable. The Cubs and Indians are both tortured franchises upon whom the baseball gods have picked for nigh on a century.

However, one is in for redemption in 2016, and for whichever one it is, that redemption will be all the sweeter having overcome a mountain of injuries, most notably the loss of an All-Star left fielder… The Indians and Cubs both lost their left fielders in April. Every team deals with injuries, but both these guys were absolute mainstay studs. Overcoming those losses to reach the World Series was extremely impressive.

For Cleveland, Michael Brantley received MVP votes in each of the last two years and was worth something like 10 WAR over that same timeframe. He was a top 10 outfielder in all of baseball, but played just 11 games for the Indians this season while battling shoulder problems. Meanwhile, the Cubs lost Kyle Schwarber to an “multiple-CL” injury just two games into the 2016 season. Last year, as a 22 year old, Schwarber looked every bit the part of a young Prince Fielder. He combined a solid regular season with an other-worldly postseason (5 HRs in 9 games) to lay the foundation for a solid career.

So how did they do it? How did both teams lose one of their best players and then bowl through the playoffs to reach the World Series?

To continue reading about how the Cubs and Indians overcame adversity to reach the World Series, please visit Off the Bench.

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