2017 MLB Projections

-The K Zone-

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Written by Ian Joffe

 April 1st, 2017 (but it’s not an April Fools joke, trust me)

2017 Playoff Picture:

mlb playoff bracket 2017

Well, the most surprising thing here is that there are not many surprises. The Cubs and the Indians are by far the best teams in their respective, and the Cubs barely top Cleveland overall in the world series.

In the AL, the Red Sox seem to be the team to beat in the East. They bulked up on starting pitching, and still have a killer lineup. The team will be successful even if Price pitches 130 innings and with David Ortiz retired.

As noted earlier, the Indians have an incredibly deep, young, strikeout-centered rotation. Their hitting was already pretty good, and the addition of EE makes it a force to be reckoned with. Cleveland also boasts the best bullpen in baseball, highlighted by super-reliever Andrew Miller.

Houston was a difficult pick to win the West, due to the extreme lack of certainty in their rotation. But, I believe Keuchel will greatly improve on 2016, even if he does not return to Cy-Young form (which I do not expect him to), and this may be the year that Lance McCullers stays on the field and produces for a full season. They will likely either recieve great contributions from rising young starters, or trade said starters for stability, like Jose Quintana. My lack of awe for the Rangers played a part in my choosing of Houston over them, as their lineup and starting pitching both lack depth.

Texas still qualifies for a wild card spot. Despite their shortcomings, the team has many advantages, such as strong defense and a good middle-of-the-lineup and 1-2 punch starting pitching punch. Toronto, however, seeds higher than them, after succeeding in 2016 with one of the most underrated rotations. The team lost Encarnacion, but still control such power threats as Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista, who I expect to bounce back.

Starting pitching carries the Red Sox over the Rangers in the ALDS, while Texas emerges victorious in the wild card game, based on their front-of-the-rotation talent (such is the nature of the 1-game playoff). Cleveland, the best team in offense, starting pitching, and bullpen, makes quick work of the Rangers and Red Sox to advance to the World Series.

Like many others, I have predicted great success for the Nationals multiple years in a row now, but they always seem to choke when the pressure is on. Still, I predict them to secure the 2-seed in the National League, beating up on a imporved yet still weak NL East. Not only does the roster begin with two starters capable of Cy Young production, but the lineup features a myriad of MVP candidates from breakout stars Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy (both of whom I expect to have sustained success), to comeback candidate Bryce Harper.

While I respect the rosters of St. Louis and Pittsburg, there is little to no argument that they may match the Cubs. I fully expect them to win another 100 games (did somebody say 107-110???) and their outstanding pitching and hitting should lead them through the season and the playoffs.

The NL west should be an interesting battle to watch overall. I believe four of five teams (sorry San Diego) have a legitimate shot at contention. Yet, the Dodgers will rise above the field, which features the pitching-starved Rockies, injury/poor transaction-plagued Diamondbacks, and lineup-lacking Giants. The Dodgers should expect above average lineup production, and excellent starting pitching, from the obvious Clayton Kershaw, to the incredibly underrated Rich Hill, to the Japanese star Kenta Maeda, to plenty of depth and potential in Urias (expect a mid-May callup), Ryu,  Kazmir, and McCarthy.

The Giants are not flashy, with a consistently great ace and a declining catcher, but with a new closer they should be able to put together a playoff-worthy 2017. I do not expect more than 88 wins, if that, but they have something the rest of the their division lacks: starting pitching consistency and depth. Unlike the low-risk Giants, the high-ceiling Mets could go on to win 98 games and a world series, or every single starter could get Tommy John Surgery over one week, and they could win 78 games. I split the difference here, assuming that some of their incredibly talented starting rotation stays healthy, and some gets hurt. Often overlooked is the Mets SP depth, containing Statcast star Seth Lugo, breakout performer Robert Gsellman, and 20-month-absentee Zack Wheeler. Meanwhile, they should have just enough offense to support their young studs.

The worse team will once again win the Wild Card Game in the NL, when Madison Bumgarner single-highhandedly defeats the Mets. But, they will quickly fall to the the Chicago juggernaut in the NLDS. The 2016 rematch of Nationals vs. Dodgers may be the most exciting series of the NL bracket, with two incredibly evenly matched teams. However, I expect Washington to win this round, with a fully functional Bryce Harper. But, the Nationals will go the way of the Giants, and lose to the Cubs’ superior pitching and hitting, allowing the Cubs to once again advance to the World Series.

Teams that made the playoffs are the most important, but teams that barely miss can be just as fun (I can’t be the only one who takes guilty pleasure in the sad montages the day that they get eliminated). The Arizona Diamondbacks experience a Zach Greinke (and maybe even Shelby Miller) comeback, as well as a return to full health by A.J. Pollock, but the starting pitching is still not quite enough. Seattle also puts together a nice offensive year, but a starting rotation full of unfulfilled promise and a declining King Felix is not enough to reach the Promised Land. The Tigers may miss a wild card by one game. A fully healthy offense could be devastating, and Justin Verlander should have won last year’s Cy Young (and I’m more than happy to start a comment-section argument over it). But, that health has already taken a hit, as J.D. Martinez will likely miss over a month of big-league action. Propelled by healthy starting pitching and 280 K form Chris Archer, the Rays could make a late push for a playoff spot. Unfortunately, the offense is just not there. If Ray Searage continues his legacy, the Pirates may also vie for a wild card (they still won’t compete with the Cubs). The Rays can also be driven to contention through a healthy pitching staff that lives up to their potential. Unfortunately, their offense is unlikely to be strong enough.

The World Series should be exciting, as usual. The rematch aspect will add even more fun. In game one, expect the red-hot Cubs to defeat Cleveland, with Jon Lester dominating over the strong Indians lineup. Game two will also go the way of the Chicago, and will most definitely be higher scoring than the first. But, as the series moves to Progressive Field, the tables will turn, with the Indians narrowly winning Game Three, and then winning Game Four in a blowout. Game Five, a rematch of game one, will be just as close, but Chicago will once again pull away, right before the series returns to Wrigley. Facing elimination, the Indians offense figures out Arrieta in Game 6, and pulls away for a victory. A historic Game Seven will be full of Deja Vu, going into extra innings but eventually falling to the Cubs in the 11th inning, in a rare miscue by the Indians ‘pen. “Go Cubs Go” will once again ring in the ears of every MLB fan, whether that be to their greatest annoyance or greatest pleasure.

2017 Awards:

Most Valuable Player Cy Young Award Rookie of the Year Manager of the Year
National League 3B Kris Bryant (CHC) Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Tyler Glasnow (PIT) Dusty Baker (WSH)
American League CF Mike Trout (LAA) Yu Darvish (TEX) Yoan Moncada (CWS) A.J. Hinch (HOU)

 

I have found many of the awards, like the standings, to be relatively predictable. The young Kris Byrant should continue his power, and improve his batting average. Mike Trout brought speed at hitting back into his toolkit last season, and should continue to do so along with power and a great eye.

Clayton Kershaw is, if not the best player, is the best pitcher of our generation, and may end up as one of the best of all time. Barring injury or some kind of super-breakout from Noah Syndergaard, the now-veteran can expect his fourth award of the type. AL Cy Young was likely the most difficult decision. The league is full of well-qualified candidates to have excellent 3.00 ERA seasons, not many seem to have Cy-Young potential. Considering my lack of trust in Chris Sale, the two main candidates appeared to be Yu Darvish and Chris Archer. Darvish has shown me more in the past, so I’m selecting him.

Both rookie of the year races made for difficult choices as well. In both, I went against the conventional pick. Everything I have heard from scouts about Dansby Swanson tellls me “.280, 20 home runs, 15 steals, great defense.” Such as line is very productive, but does not tell me that he’s a shoe in for the award. My initial pick Alex Reyes having been stolen from me by a torn UCL, I turned to Tyler Glasnow. He, unlike Swanson, is said by scouts to have top of his class potential, and on awards, I tend to go for the potential pick. He didn’t stun is his brief debut last year, but had plenty of encouraging outings. In the AL, I went for Yoan Moncada. Everything about the consensus pick, Andrew Benintendi,  – his .243 September BA, his .412 August BABIP – screams “.230.” I think he has a fantastic future ahead of him, but I’m doubtful that this is his year. Instead, I went for Yoan Moncada. I can’t say that I’m particularly optimistic on his either, after watching him K at what seemed to be every at bat last September. But, most hitters don’t break out in their first September, and I could totally see him pulling off a Trea Turner-esque second half, especially in the steals department.

Manager of the Year was also a little tricky, especially because my bracket looks very similar to last year’s. I went with A.J. Hinch in the AL, simply because his Astros are the only new AL team that I have making the playoffs. I went for Dusty Baker in the NL because, while his team did put together a very good 2016, I though they went largely unnoticed. Rather, I think they will make a huge story in 2017 when everyone stays healthy and produces. If the Cubs don’t reach 100 wins, the Nationals have a decent shot.

Well, those are my projections for the 2017 MLB season, I hope you enjoyed them. I’d love to hear your opinion in the comments, especially if you like a breakout team to steal one of my predictable teams’ spots. Take a look at our Top 10 Series, in which we examine the top 10 players at each position for the coming season, we put a lot of work into that and produced at least what we think are some helpful lists. To see the rest of our work right when it comes out, follow us on Twitter and Instagram. And cheers to what I’m sure will be a fun and unforgettable 2017 season!

Top 10 Middle Relievers

K Zone Master Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking
 1) Andrew Miller (CLE)  Andrew Miller (CLE)  Andrew Miller (CLE)  Andrew Miller (CLE)
2) Dellin Betances (NYY)  Dellin Betances (NYY)  Dellin Betances (NYY)  Dellin Betances (NYY)
 3) Addison Reed (NYM)  Brad Brach (BAL)  Addison Reed (NYM)  Dan Otero (CLE)
 4) Brad Brach (BAL)  Nate Jones (CWS)  Brad Brach (BAL)  Addison Reed (NYM)
 5) Dan Otero (CLE)  Kyle Barraclough (MIA)  Dan Otero (CLE)  David Phelps (MIA)
 6) Nate Jones (CWS)  Addison Reed (NYM)  Will Harris (HOU)  Brad Hand (SD)
 7) Kyle Barraclough (MIA)  Joe Blanton (WSH)  Nate Jones (CWS)  Kyle Barraclough (MIA)
 8) Tyler Thornburg (BOS)  Darren O’Day (BAL) Darren O’Day (BAL)  Brad Brach (BAL)
 9) Darren O’Day (BAL)  Tyler Thornburg (BOS)  Tyler Thornburg (BOS)  Tyler Thornburg (BOS)
 10) David Phelps (MIA)  Dan Otero (CLE) Carter Capps (SD)  Joe Blanton (WSH)

 

Some Brief Words of Explanation: Middle Reliever was one of the more difficult lists to make. I found that the primary reason for this was a lack of consistent stars in the field. Other than the clear top two, the rest of the lists are comprised of one-year studs who perhaps had hints of brilliance in the past, and older players attempting to come back. All the new star power is likely new to the the extreme rise of the reliever’s importance. Andrew Miller is the clear #1. He dominated last season with a K:BB ratio of 13 and impressed most recently in an elevated postseason role. He makes a case, along with Clayton Kershaw, as one of the greatest pitchers of this generation. Dellin Betances ruined his ERA with a poor September, but remains an obvious choice as the second best reliever, after compiling 15 K/9 with a 1.75 xFIP. Next comes Mets reliever Addison Reed, who finished 2016 with a sub-two ERA and 7 K:BB. He will serve as closer for 15 games while his bullpen counterpart Jeurys Familia is serving a domestic violence suspension, leading to controversy within The K Zone about his qualifications for this list, but we decided not to count it against him. Breakout Oriole Brad Brach took the reigns former superstar setup man Darren O’Day, who experienced some regression last season (although spoiler alert, he will still make the list), and he ran with it, achieving a 2.05 ERA with 10.48 K/9. Dan Otero led non-Andrew Miller middle relievers in ERA last season, and is the second player to make the chart of the Indians super-bullpen. Nate Jones got a turn at closer last season, but will return to his setup duties in 2017. He had the opportunity deservingly so, as he checked out with double digit K/9 and 1.91 BB/9 in 2016, ranking sixth. Kyle Barraclough (that’s “bear-claw” for all of you nominating him at the auction table) managed to strikeout 14 batters per nine last season. If his walk rate goes down from 5.45 (*shudders*) he can expect to challenge A.J. Ramos for the closer role. Tyler Thornburg has had a bust winter, being traded to Boston from Milwaukee and then getting hurt and blaming John Farrell’s shoulder workout, but despite time lost he ranks eighth and appeared on every writers’ list, after finishing 2016 with 12 K/9 and a 2.15 ERA. Darren O’Day was killed by control last year, or lack thereof. The submariner hopes to return to absolute dominance in 2017. Mojo has carried a second Marlin, David Phelps, into the 10th spot, after the newly converted reliever from swing man notched 114 strike outs. Among those who just missed are Ian’s Will Harris, Mojo’s Brad Hand, and the age-defying Joe Blanton, supported by Mike and Mojo alike.

We’re almost done with our top 10 series, but the fun will continue for a few more days! See it all right here. Find out when the final few lists come out by following us on  Twitter and Instagram.

Top 10 Catchers

K Zone Master Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking
 1)  Buster Posey (SF)  Buster Posey (SF)  Buster Posey (SF)  Buster Posey (SF)
 2) Jonathan Lucroy (TEX)  Yasmani Grandal (LAD)  Jonathan Lucroy (TEX)  Jonathan Lucroy (TEX)
 3) Yasmani Grandal (LAD)  Jonathan Lucroy (TEX)  Gary Sanchez (NYY)  Yadier Molina (STL)
 4) Wilson Ramos (TB)  Salvador Perez (KC)  Yasmani Grandal (LAD)  Wilson Ramos (TB)
 5) Yadier Molina (STL)  Gary Sanchez (NYY)  Wilson Ramos (TB)  J.T. Realmuto (MIA)
 6) Willson Contreras (CHC)  Willson Contreras (CHC)  Yadier Molina (STL)  Willson Contreras (CHC)
 7) Gary Sanchez (NYY)  Russell Martin (TOR)  Willson Contreras (CHC)  Gary Sanchez (NYY)
 8) Russell Martin (TOR)  Wilson Ramos (TB)  J.T. Realmuto (MIA)  Francisco Cervelli (PIT)
 9) Salvador Perez (KC)  Yadier Molina (STL)  Salvador Perez (KC)  Russell Martin (TOR)
 10) J.T. Realmuto (MIA)  Brian McCann (HOU)  Francisco Cervelli (PIT)  Evan Gattis (HOU)

Some Brief Words of Explanation: Catcher was likely the most difficult position to rank, for a multitude of reasons. First is the lack of players with a significant sum of games played, and the lack of offensive depth among those players. Between injuries and split time at other positions, a mere eight players “qualify.” Out of the 43 “catchers” with 200 at bats, only 14 are above average offensive players, and only Gary Sanchez and his small sample size surpass the 30% above average mark. But, as everyone knows, there is far more to catching than offense, which makes another difficulty of finding good defensive statistics for catchers. Our ability to get past this obstacle is much in thanks to statcorner.com. But, once we got our act together, the fascinating ranking of the catchers became one of the most fun parts of this series. Former MVP Buster Posey tops the chart. Despite weaker-than-usual offensive numbers, he remains a well-above-average hitter and a defensive juggernaut. While Posey experienced offensive regression, number 2 catcher Jonathan Lucroy experienced defensive regression, although he remains very valuable on both sides of the plate. Yasmani Grandal showed off stellar defense last season and hit 27 home runs, despite barely reaching 450 at bats, placing him at #3. Wilson Ramos enjoyed a breakout 2016, hitting .307 and owning the best wRC+ among qualified catchers, but the recent Tampa Bay signee will miss much of this season’s first half with a knee injury, and is ranked fourth. Yadier Molina went through some defensive regression, but keeps a solid #5 rank due to a batting average north of .300 and is expected to bounce back, at least to some extent. Cubs prospect Wilson Contreras ranks sixth, as he impressed in a limited debut last season. Despite stellar arm ratings and a historic display of power in 2016, speculation of extreme offensive regression, backed by a less-than-terrific last month, has limited Gary Sanchez to the seventh spot on the list. Former all-star Russel Martin made the list as the seventh best catcher in baseball after hitting 20 home runs with good defense and leadership skills. Salvador Perez’s incredible arm and durability got him the #9 position. He caught a greater percentage of runners attempting a steal than any other catcher in baseball. J.T. Realmuto rounds out the list. His limited yet present speed provides an interesting contribution from his position, and unlike the horrendous defensive number that kept him at the bottom of the list, a .303 batting average can’t hurt.

Here are our rankings for every other position in baseball, please check them out! If you followed us on  Twitter and Instagram, not only would that make you truly awesome, but you would get updates whenever we post something new.

Top 10 Shortstops

K Zone Master Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking
 1) Corey Seager (LAD)  Corey Seager (LAD) Corey Seager (LAD)  Corey Seager (LAD)
 2) Francisco Lindor (CLE)  Carlos Correa (HOU) Trea Turner (WSH)  Francisco Lindor (CLE)
 3) Carlos Correa (HOU)  Francisco Lindor (CLE) Francisco Lindor (CLE)  Trea Turner (WSH)
 4) Trea Turner (WSH)  Trevor Story (COL) Carlos Correa (HOU)  Jonathan Villar (MIL)
 5) Xander Bogaerts (BOS)  Troy Tulowitzki (TOR) Xander Bogaerts (BOS)  Xander Bogaerts (BOS)
 6) Jonathan Villar (MIL)  Brandon Crawford (SF) Jonathan Villar (MIL)  Carlos Correa (HOU)
 7) Brandon Crawford (SS)  Addison Russel (CHC) Brandon Crawford (SF)  Jean Segura (SEA)
 8) Trevor Story (COL)  Xander Bogaerts (BOS) Addison Russell (CHC)  Asdrubal Cabrera (NYM)
 9) Addison Russell (CHC)  Trea Turner (WSH) Trevor Story (COL)  Brandon Crawford (SF)
 10) Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)  Didi Gregorius Jean Segura (SEA)  Troy Tulowitzki (TOR)

Some Brief Words of Explanation: Through the rise of a myriad of young stars, shortstop has gone from one of the weakest positions on the diamond to one of the strongest, over just the past couple years. Rookie of the Year and MVP Candidate Corey Seager was unanimously chosen as the top shortstop by all three writers, while Francisco Lindor combined excellent defense with a top tier hit tool and plus speed to make the 2-spot. Carlos Correa had an arguably disappointing year despite his 20 home runs, 13 steal, and 3rd ranking with likely improvement in 2017. Trea turner broke out last year in the outfield of the nation’s capital, batting .342/.370/.567 with 33 steals in less than half a season. He would have won the Rookie of the Year most other years, and has earned the 4th spot on the list. Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts rounds out the top half of the list, having just begun to show his true potential, hitting well over .300 for most of the season. Jonathan Villar broke out with the Brewers last year at 25 years old, leading baseball with 62 stolen bases, and placing himself in the 6-spot of the list. Brandon Crawford won his second Gold Glove in a row while putting up well above average offensive numbers, and taking a solid position as the #7 shortstop in the Bigs. Trevor Story had an outstanding power-filled April and continued to hit well throughout the year, despite being plagued by the strikeout and missing a huge chunk of the season due to injury. He ranks 8th overall. Addison Russell combined power and defense in 2016 to put together a nice year, and is expected to add to his tool in 2017. He earned the ninth spot on the chart. Finally, Toronto shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has fallen from grace as the far-and-away top shortstop in baseball after being traded away from Coors Field and falling victim to many injuries. However, decent power and good defense has kept him just barely in the top 10 overall. That is unlike Jean Segura, whose outstanding April, .319 batting average, and 20/30 year was not quite enough to stamp out fears of regression and get him ranked on the list.

Keep your eyes open for more Top 10 Rankings, and check out the ones we have already completed: Top 10 First Basemen and Top 10 Second Basemen. We would really appreciate it if you followed us on  Twitter and Instagram so that we could keep you updated on more great content. Enjoy!

Top 10 Third Basemen

K Zone Master Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking
 1) Kris Bryant (CHC)  Nolan Arenado (COL) Kris Bryant (CHC)  Kris Bryant (CHC)
 2) Nolan Arenado (COL)  Kris Bryant (CHC) Josh Donaldson (TOR)  Nolan Arenado (COL)
 3) Josh Donaldson (TOR)  Manny Machado (BAL) Nolan Arenado (COL)  Josh Donaldson (TOR)
 4) Manny Machado (BAL)  Kyle Seager (SEA) Manny Machado (BAL)  Manny Machado (BAL)
 5) Adrian Beltre (TEX)  Evan Longoria (TB) Adrian Beltre (TEX)  Adrian Beltre (TEX)
 6) Kyle Seager (SEA)  Josh Donaldson (TOR) Kyle Seager (SEA)  Justin Turner (LAD)
 7) Evan Longoria (TB)  Adrian Beltre (TEX) Evan Longoria (TB)  Evan Longoria (TB)
 8) Justin Turner (LAD)  Todd Frazier (CWS) Justin Turner (LAD)  Kyle Seager (SEA)
 9) Todd Frazier (CWS)  Justin Turner (LAD) Todd Frazier (CWS)  Jose Ramirez (CLE)
 10) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Jake Lamb (ARI) Jose Ramirez (CLE)  Anthony Rendon (WSH)

 

Some Brief Words of Explaination: Third Base is an interestingly top-heavy position. As serial mock-drafters like myself know, there’s a relatively large top tier, Adrian Beltre, a Middle tier, and a Bottom tier. This list goes through the top tier and gets into the middle tier. Last year’s MVP Kris Bryant top the list by nearing 40 home runs. Nolan Arenado, who had a strikingly similar season and put on an absolute show defensively, is ranked second. Josh Donaldon’s power and OBP north of .400 made him a close third. Manny Machado, like his predecessors, displayed 40-home run power, but did not show the same on-base skills. He may challenge for the top spot once again if his base-stealing returns. Adrian Beltre’s built on his Hall of Fame case, hitting .300 with 30 home runs, and earning himself the 5th spot. The extension Kyle Seager signed a year ago seems to be going well, as he continues to display excellent power and is ranked. Many thought Evan Longoria’s career was in decline, but he proved them wrong in 2016, hitting 36 homers and coming in at a solid seventh in the Majors. Justin Turner broke out a couple years ago with Dodgers, and shows no sign of slowing down, having increased his power and stayed steady in the on-base department, and ranking eight. #9 on the list is White Sox commodity Todd Frazier, who belted a miraculous 40 bombs last season and stealing 15 bases, despite only hitting .225. Breakout third baseman Jose Ramirez just barely sneaks on to the top 10 after he hit .312 in over 150 games. He beat out power-hitting Phillie Maikel Franco and Anthony Rendon, who is a five tool player on the rare occasion he is healthy, for the 10th spot. It is also worthy of note that Alex Bregman, the newest crop of the Astros’ farm, who looks to have very strong potential, barely missed each list.

We’re in the middle of our top 10 series, and are coming out with a brand new list for a brand new position every day! Click here to get to our top-10 series home page, and see the top 10 players at any position you want. Or, stay in the loop with our Twitter and Instagram, we will use them to announce exactly when each new list comes out. Enjoy!

We The Fans

-The K Zone-

February 24, 2017

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We the Fans, by Ian Joffe

“Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under direction of a manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires.”

The above is rule 1.01 of Baseball, the first rule in the official rule book. It is what parents turn to to teach their 4-year-old and what umpires turn to on the first day of school. Rules have, of course, always been essential to baseball, as they are to our society as a whole. But, it has come to my attention, and the attention of the baseball community, that now 3-year Commissioner Rob Manfred intends to impose, or at least try to impose, a set of new rules to speed up the game, many of which are, in my estimation, are highly unpopular. Slightly less controversial is that starting in 2017, the intentional walk will be a sign from the dugout, rather than four pitches. Still, far more drastic changes seem to be in the works. Manfred wants to, perhaps as soon as 2018, institute rules such as a 20-second pitch clock and the placing of two runner on base at the start of each extra-inning frame.

To question the rules of Rob Manfred, one must first look at the purpose of a rule in the first place. While the philosophy is likely lengthy yet interestingly debatable, one can generally say that rules exist for the net benefit of those who follow them. As children, we were taught not to cut in line, because the line helps everyone get what they are waiting for. We were taught to raise our hands, because only then will everyone’s question get answered. Rules in the game of Baseball work similarly, but its business aspect makes it slightly more complex. Like how a normal business must keep its shareholders happy, Major League Baseball must keep its fans happy. So, rules in Baseball exist to help everyone: the participants (owners and players alike) and the fans.

Through this definition, Manfred’s rules get sketchy. It may sound weird coming from someone who is currently writing a blog post, but the truth is that my sole opinion barely matters. What matters is the opinions of those who the rules affect: the participants of baseball and their fans. The rules must exist to help those people. From a fan’s perspective, the questions are relatively binary: will this rule make me like Baseball more, or less? Will it make me watch Baseball more or less? To me, Manfred’s rule makes me like the game less, and therefore makes we watch it less. But, as I just said, the opinion of the majority matters more than just what I think, and the vast majority of people I have talked to agree with me. In fact, very few people I have spoken to like the pitch clock, and literally nobody I have spoken to, including online commenters (whose opinions matter too, believe it or not), supports putting runners on base at the dawn of extra innings. Additionally, the Player’s Union has come out strongly against these changes. Based on my experience, it is crystal clear that the potential new rules are disliked by most people, despite the fact that the very purpose of the Baseball rules are to make people like the game more. These rules do not serve their purpose, in fact they do the opposite of their purpose, so why should they exist?

But, like my own opinion, my own experience does not matter much either. In other posts, I rant about the importance of sample size. What Commissioner Manfred needs is to get out and talk to people (or at least pay people to do that for him). Run some polls! Post some surveys! Figure out what we, the fans really truly want. This is not a blog post about specific potential rule changes that could affect us two years from now (well, it sort of is, but that’s not the point). This is a post about how the Commissioner of Major League Baseball needs to learn what his fans really want. As a 16-year-old teenager, I am tired of having people assume my opinion (and I’m sure many other groups can relate). People think us teens are impatient and irrational. But, the truth is, we just love Baseball. I hear on TV that MLB needs to speed up the game to “attract young fans.” The problem is, the majority of us young fans do not want the commissioner to speed up the game at all. And, the only way New York will know for sure is by getting out and polling us. Manfred must not assume what we want, rather he must see what we actually want. If it turns out I’m wrong and the fans want a faster game, so be it. As of now though, that appears to be the opposite case. Mr. Manfred: keep the game slow, keep the fans happy. Or at least figure out what will actually keep the polled majority of fans happy, instead of what you think will make the fans happy.

For more useless rants, follow us  on Twitter and Instagram. Check out some more great content too. We have plenty for the stathead (like myself), such as a piece on the ultimate lineup order or breakout star Daniel Murphy. If you like interviews, here’s one with the Angel’s #2 propect.  If you like a little bit of the facts and a little bit of those opinions, here’s a far outdated but still interesting debate. Thanks!

Sources:

mlbtraderumors.com

Images Attributed To:

mlb.com

si.com

From League Average Second Baseman to Babe Ruth

-The K Zone-

February 10, 2017

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From League Average Second Baseman to Babe Ruth, by Mojo Hill

Daniel Murphy played for the New York Mets for about six and a half years, playing mostly second base, although he occasionally spent time in the outfield, first base, or third base. Over this time he accumulated 13.6 WAR while hitting slightly above league average with a .288/.331/.424 line and a 109 OPS+ (where 100 is league average). He did this while playing less than stellar defense, making him about an average player. He was an All-Star backup once in 2015. He was a valuable piece and one of the most consistent hitters on a mediocre Mets team, but was never seen as much more than just a slap-hitting second baseman with mediocre on-base skills and not much power who played mediocre defense.

But in 2015, after six straight sub-.500 seasons, the Mets overcame some difficulties while utilizing their young pitching and trading for some clutch hitters en route to a 90-win season. The Mets were headed to the postseason. Their first obstacle was the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had two of the best pitchers in baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

Murphy came to the plate against the best pitcher on the planet, Kershaw, in his second at-bat after striking out in his first one. Murphy was a left-handed hitter who didn’t hit many home runs, especially not against lefties. Kershaw was a superstar pitcher who didn’t give up many home runs, especially not to lefties.

So, naturally, Murphy took him deep and the Mets won 3-1.

Murphy collected a hit in the next two games, at which point the Mets led the series 2-1. They had to face Kershaw again, and this time with the young lefty Steven Matz taking the mound. The Mets lost 3-1, but the one run came on, you guessed it, a home run, by Daniel Murphy, off of the best pitcher in the game.

So it came down to game five, with All-Star Jacob deGrom facing the ERA leader Zack Greinke. The Mets squeaked out the win, 3-2, as Murphy hit another home run, this time off of Greinke. Murphy was possibly the deciding factor in this nail-biting  series, hitting three home runs off of arguably the best two pitchers in baseball that year.

But Murphy would not stop there. He continued his success into the NLCS against the Cubs. In his first at-bat, against another one of the best lefties in baseball, Jon Lester, he hit yet another home run in a 4-2 Mets win. He hit a home run in the next three games as the Mets swept the championship-hungry Cubs.

Murphy came back to Earth in the World Series as the Mets lost to the Royals 4-1. He made a costly error in the final game of that series, but none of this took away any of what he did prior to the World Series, when he suddenly became a slugging second baseman.

Due to the uncharacteristic and short-lived nature of Murphy’s surge, most people assumed that it was a fluke and that in 2016 Murphy would go back to being Murphy. He was a free agent after the 2015 season, and was eventually picked up the Mets’ rival team, the Washington Nationals.

Now in a different part of the NL East, Murphy set out to prove that his surge was no fluke. His bat was magma hot through the first stretch of the season. On June 1, he led the Majors with a .397 AVG and 77 hits and was in second in SLG (.634), and third in OBP (.428).

These were absurd numbers, especially for a league-average second baseman on the wrong side of 30. His stats up until this point compared with hitters like Mike Trout and David Ortiz.

As the season went on, Murphy came back to Earth a little bit, as could be expected. But his overall numbers at the end of the season were still tremendous. His .347 AVG came in second in the batting title race to Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu’s .348, mostly due to a late-season surge by LeMahieu. While Murphy’s numbers did fall from absurdity, he remained remarkably consistent throughout the year. He finished the season with a superb .347/.390/.595 batting line and tied with Joey Votto for the third best OPS in baseball (.985) behind only Ortiz (1.021) and Trout (.991). He also annihilated his former team, batting .413/.444/.773 against them, collecting a hit in all nineteen games against them. He also hit 25 home runs, shattering his career high of 14.

Obviously, Murphy shattered the expectations that anyone had for him. On the surface of it, it looks he had to have completely changed his approach to one like that of legendary Yankees slugger Babe Ruth, for instance. When Babe Ruth came to the plate, he wasn’t looking to bloop a single into right and jog to first. He was looking to hit the ball hard and far. Through Murphy’s career, he had always been a contact-first hitter, which helped him hit for average in light of his lack of power.

Here’s a graph of Murphy’s K% throughout his career relative to league average.

img_0928

You can see here that he didn’t make all these improvements to the expense of putting the ball in play. Unlike Ruth, he has a contact-first approach. His goal when at the plate is to make solid contact with the ball, put in play and see what happens. While a lot of times these types of huge surges are a result of a change in approach, Murphy kept the same mentality into the 2016 season.

Now, here’s a graph of Murphy’s ISO (SLG-AVG) throughout his career, again relative to league average.

img_0929

Before 2016, his overall power had been well below league average, but he started putting the ball in play with more authority and posted an ISO ahead of sluggers such as Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis. The Nationals’ 2016 home run leader was not 2015 NL MVP Bryce Harper or Ryan Zimmerman; it was Daniel Murphy.

 

It would be amazing if you followed us on Twitter and Instagram, or check out some more great content like Mike’s passionate argument about rookie salaries or Ian’s stats-first look at batting lineups

 

Sources:

fangraphs.com

Images attributed to:

newsday.com

wikipedia.com

Dissecting WAR

-The K Zone-

December 25th, 2016

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Dissecting WAR, by Ian Joffe

For year now, there has been a war going on over WAR. Wins Above Replacement (WAR, for short), a statistic engineered to encompass a player’s full, true contribution to a team, has drawn “radicals” both for and against it, as well as a bunch of people who have no idea what is going on, or want to know more. This article is for those people, who seek want to know all they can about the statistic, and then decide whether or not it should be followed. First, there are a few things that need to be cleared up. There is not one WAR, in fact, there are three major sites that provide their own statistic: Fangraphs has fWAR, Baseball Reference has bWAR, and Baseball Prospectus has WARP. I will begin by explaining fWAR, and then discuss its similarities and differences to the other calculations. Furthermore, the is WAR for both hitters and pitchers. However, batter WAR is considered more refined, and is much more widely used, therefore I will stick to batter WAR in this article. Indented statistics make up the nearest less-indented statistics above them.

WAR (Wins Above Replacement): This is the big stat we are trying to break down. It attempts to measure a player’s value above replacement level, in the form of wins. Replacement level refers to what would happen if the player suddenly disappeared, and had to be “replaced” by the average minor league or bench option. The three WAR models each calculate how many wins a replacement level player is worth, and use it to calculate how many “Wins Above Replacement” someone else is worth. Additionally, WAR is park-adjusted and league-adjusted, meaning it uses league averages and park averages to put all players on an equal playing field. One hitter will not score a higher WAR because their opponents has easier pitchers or they player in a hitter-friendly ballpark.

Hitting Runs: wRAA (Weighted Runs Above Average): wRAA is a statistic that compares a player to the average major league hitter, and says how much better or worse they are. wRAA only measures hitting ability, and ignores areas of the game like speed and defense. A player with a positive wRAA is above average, and player with a negative wRAA is below average. This is a little different from WAR, which compares a player to replacement value, not average value. It will manipulated a little in order to adjust for league and park, and then make it fit with replacement value.

wOBA (Weighted On Base Average): wOBA is like slugging percentage on steroids. It is the primary component of wRAA. While SLG simply makes a single one point, a double two points, etc., wOBA works to provide the true values of each of those four outcomes. It turns out a double is only worth about 1.4 times as much as a single, and a home run is worth only about 2.4 times as much as a single. Walks are also included in wOBA (worth slightly less than a single), unlike SLG. The so-called weights (how valuable each play is) is calculated using the run expectancy matrix (the decimal is the odds of scoring a run in that inning):

Runners 0 Outs 1 Out 2 Outs
Empty 0.461 0.243 0.095
1 _ _ 0.831 0.489 0.214
_ 2 _ 1.068 0.644 0.305
1 2 _ 1.373 0.908 0.343
_ _ 3 1.426 0.865 0.413
1 _ 3 1.798 1.140 0.471
_ 2 3 1.920 1.352 0.570
1 2 3 2.282 1.520 0.736

Source: http://www.fangraphs.com/library/misc/re24/

Singles, Doubles, Triples, Home Runs, HBP, BB: I hope these are self-explanatory

Baserunning Runs: Baserunning Runs looks the different occurrences on the basse paths, and assigns each a run value. It then turns the number into WAR format.

wSB (Weighted Stolen Bases): wSB uses steals itself to make a more accurate measure of how much a player’s steals are worth. It not only looks at the sheer number of bases taken, but how often a player chose to run, and how often the runner got caught.

SB (Stolen Bases)

UBR (Ultimate Baserunning): UBR tries to provide for almost every baserunning event that occurs when the ball is hit, such as fielder’s choice, tagging up, and advancing two bases on a single or three on a double. It uses video tracking systems to come up with its raw statistics.

7 Possible Situations: I am not going to list them here, but you can check the list out on fangraphs here.

wGDP (Weighted Groundballs into Double Plays): wGDP (NOT Gross Domestic Product, I hate it when people make that joke) looks at how often a player has an oppurtunity to ground into a double play, and how often it happens. This stat is only a minor addition to the WAR puzzle.

DP (Double Plays), DP Opportunities

Fielding Runs: UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating): UZR uses video tracking technology  to watch each ball hit at a fielder. It looks at such information as hang time and distance from the fielder, and then takes a binary input: did the fielder catch the ball or not. This works well for data like range and how often a player makes an error, and is generally a good representation on how well a player fields. NOTE: there is no UZR for catchers, so WAR uses alternate statistics.

Such Raw Statistics as flyball/groundball/liner/”fliener,” and hard/medium/soft contact

Positional Adjustment: WAR adjusts a player’s score based on their position. If a player is at a position with very poor other players, they are considered to be worth more, and vise versa. Currently, catcher is considered the weakest position, with shortstop as a close second. DH is considered the strongest position, followed by first base and corner outfield. If a player spends split time between positions, they will receive split adjustments based on how many games they played at each.

Well, those are the basics for the fWAR calculation. bWAR is very similar for the most part, but has a few minor differences. For example, they use DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) instead of UZR for defense, but those two stats are very similar. bWAR also has different positional adjustments and a different replacement level. WARP is, unfortunately, less transparent. We do not know exactly how it is calculated, but we do know that it is a far more complex version of VORP, a statistic that attempted to be similar to WAR, about 15 years ago. For these transparency reasons, I generally use WARP less than the other two models, but despite those issues, it is often hailed as the most accurate of the three. Anyways, the measurements almost always come out to be extremely close no made which model you use.

For context, a player with a WAR of about 2.0 is considered average, a player with a WAR of 4.0 is considered all-star level, and a player with a WAR greater than 6.0 is considered a legitimate MVP candidate. In 1923, Babe Ruth racked up 14.1 bWAR, the most all time in one season. He also holds the second and third place records. Ruth also owns a miraculous 183.6 lifetime bWAR, by far the most in history. Out of modern era players who did not take PEDs, Bill Ripken leads the charge 1991 11.5 bWAR (Barry Bonds accumulated 11.8 bWAR in 2001). Mike Trout led 2016 in bWAR, posting a 10.6 mark, follwed by Mookie Betts (9.6) and Kris Bryant (7.7). Every year, a many regulars finish with a negative, WAR, meaning a replacement player would have done a better job. Not to start a roast, but last year Alexi Ramierez had the worst fWAR in baseball, at -2.4. Better luck next year, Alexi!

So, the final question is, how good is WAR of a stat, really? Wins Above Replacement drew a lot of criticism in 2012, when many people argued AL WAR leader Mike Trout should have won the MVP rather than Triple-Crown winner Miguel Cabrera, who held a far worse WAR in any model. By sabermetric standards, the triple crown, consisting of hits, home runs, and RBIs, is a very outdated model, not even close to what WAR has reached today. And, I personally tend to agree with them them. WAR is a terrific stat, one of the best we have, and it should be strongly considered when discussing a player’s worth. Also, team WAR has shown to have a large correlation with team win/loss record, which is a good sign that it means something, But WAR is not everything. While it may appear to be an “everything stat,” it hardly is that. The truth is that while WAR is some of the best information we have, it is still highly imperfect. However, when taken with a grain of salt, WAR can be a highly useful statistic to front office and fan alike.

 

Go ahead and check out some of my other work on The K Zone News, such as my piece about the future of baseball, as well as some of Mike’s great interviews, like his talk with Eric Filia!

 

Sources:

fangraphs.com

bbref.com

baseballprospectus.com

beyondtheboxscore.com

sportingcharts.com

 

Images attributed to:

hittingperfomrancelab.com

johnpaciorek.com

pinterest.com