2019, and the State of Complaining About Baseball on the Internet

ripatt

It’s been quite some time since I got in front of a keyboard and ranted about the Giants, or baseball in general, even. More than two years, in fact. As I scan the back catalog of this long-forgotten and little read blog, I notice that the last time I said anything about the Giants, it was in response to their devastating bullpen meltdown and loss to the Cubs in the 2016 playoffs. In the process of angrily bitching about the horrible end to that season, I also found the time to take a giant verbal dump on the entire Cubs fan base. I regret nothing.

In the weeks that followed, and after I had pretty much blamed Cubs fans for every atrocity in the history of the world, the Cubs won the World Series. I didn’t like that much. Oh, and Donald Trump got elected. I didn’t really like that much, either.

In the two years since I threw my hands up and seemingly closed the book…er, laptop on my baseball writing life, the Giants have sucked out loud. In 2017, the Giants fielded a team that was somehow more terrible than the 2007 team that I remember so vividly. In 2018, the Giants fielded a team that was somehow more boring than the 2006 team that I remember sleeping through so vividly.

If the Paulie of 2006 or 2007 had to witness the atrocities of the 2017 team, or the snoozefest that was the 2018 team, he’d have been online in the flash of a desktop switching on, spewing the kind of invective that only a beer-drunk college age armchair GM in his underwear can. I would have called for blood, demanded playing time be given to quad-A high-OBP types, and almost certainly would have been one of the most vocal supporters of a Bobby Evans firing squad.

But this is 2019, and the primal need to voice my frustrations at bad baseball all over the webs has waned. Perhaps I’m just old, have no energy, and want to be left alone to my TV stories (true). Or maybe I’ve become so wise and intellectually superior to the average baseball fan over the years, that to blog my thoughts would simply lower myself to the level of the unwashed plebs (not true). I don’t think I’m the only one, either. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time anyone told me they’d regularly read, or created, a blog, baseball or otherwise.

The reasons for the blog fading as the Internet whining outlet of choice are twofold. 1) Everybody’s now complaining on the Internet, about everything, all the time. The advent of smartphones and the subsequent easier access to social media platforms has turned bitching online from a geeky niche thing generally frowned upon into a bodily function. The ability to tell the world what sucks and what doesn’t is now just a click of a button away. Why sit down and write a (semi-)nuanced and (semi-)well-written 1500 word piece when I can go on my phone and tell a bunch of people I haven’t talked to in 20 years that last night’s double order of Taco Bell gave me the shits? It’s less time-consuming, that’s for sure. If your team sucks, why take time blogging about it? Just plaster the first vulgar thing that comes to mind, in 140 characters or less.

The even larger element I’d point to for my general writing malaise is 2) Every person in a baseball front office is now smarter than me. I mean, they were before, but the guys running the show now don’t even allow the average fan the perception that he knows more than the GM.

Baseball teams now are smart. Just about every team now has a baseball ops head with Ivy League pedigree, and almost every single team now has a strong analytic focus, with quantitatively-focused departments that are only getting larger. Teams are doing the kind of data crunching that would have made our heads spin back in the angry sabermetric Internet era, circa 2005. Teams are using analytics now to an extent I never would have dreamed of back then. Much of the data they’re producing is unavailable for the public to ingest, whereas it was freely accessible when the BPs of the world were the only ones doing the work.

Therein lies the issue. It’s hard to criticize a front office from the outside when the ideology of said front office basically aligns with yours, and when said front office is already three steps ahead with reams more information. Now expand that ideological alignment industry-wide. Back when baseball ops were run by old school salty types, it was easy to yell about OBP when your team was signing a guy who had a career year boosted by an unsustainable batting average. It’s way, way more difficult to find nits to pick in this day and age.

Take Farhan Zaidi, the new Giants President of Baseball Operations. Zaidi was brought in after Bobby Evans took the blame for two years of some of the worst baseball we’ve seen by the Bay in quite a while. Zaidi’s credentials are impeccable. An MIT grad and a UC Berkeley PhD, Zaidi got his start in the front office of the A’s, who of course were doing all this sabermetric stuff before it was cool. Zaidi then was hired as General Manager of the Dodgers, and saw the team win division titles in each year under his watch (yeah, yeah…eat shit, Dodger fans).

Zaidi could maybe be characterized, if we’re still going to do that, as a solidly devoted sabermetric guy (though he has voiced a favorable opinion of the mixed stats-scouts approach). He is the type of baseball mind who, if the Giants had signed him when I was blogging back in 2005, would have made me do a back flip. He gets it. OBP is life! Walks forever! The save stat blows!

Okay, so the save stat does still blow, but otherwise it’s safe to say that the sabermetric community has evolved from the time when it was a pack of pale-faced outsiders getting bent out of shape that Graham Koonce couldn’t get major league play. Sabermetrics aren’t just welcomed in baseball; they’re essential, and every franchise has finally realized this. Those 2005-era dreams of a saber-friendly Giants front office have become reality, as the saber movement has fully enveloped (or invaded, depending on who you ask) the game.

All that makes it harder to bitch about stuff that my team does or doesn’t do, and isn’t that what the blogosphere is for, anyway? It doesn’t feel right to smugly suggest that the Giants should focus on building a strong defensive outfield when it should be obvious that Zaidi and company are well aware of the issue and are armed with advanced defensive metrics that would make my brain melt.

So now when I rush toward the keyboard to rant about baseball and how much smarter I am than the pencil pusher running things, I get cock-blocked by the phenomenon known as industry progress. Execs such as Zaidi have turned people like me from smart outsiders to dumb outsiders. Everything I know, they’ve known first. Madison Bumgarner’s velocity has declined and his peripherals have suffered as a result! They know. Dereck Rodriguez can’t possibly sustain that low ERA with a FIP a full run higher! They know. That Evan Longoria trade sucked and we want Matt Duffy back! Sigh, we all know.

The Giants are in a sort of depressing transition phase, as they begin to bridge the gap from the stars of the Championship years (Posey, Bumgarner, Crawford) to the players who will be a part of the next serious playoff team (Joey Bart? Heliot Ramos?). While it’d be nice to think that this core has one last playoff gasp in it, it’s becoming morbidly clear that this is not the core of a contender anymore.

Can the Giants find some smooth way to transition to the new era while still staying somehow competitive? Is 2019 a punt year, as so many fans seem convinced of? Well, Paul Goldschmidt is out of the NL West, the Padres are still bad (and cheap), the Rockies can never sustain success for more than two years, so maybe not? Is Zaidi the kind of heartless executive who would trade a modern Giants legend like Bumgarner for prospects to start the Hinkie-style teardown?

I have mixed feelings about whether or not the Giants can contend in 2019. I have mixed feelings about what they should do with Bumgarner. I have mixed feelings, on a larger scale, about some of the changes to the game that have been brought about by saber-friendly front office types such as Zaidi just in the last three or four years.

What I am confident about though, is that Zaidi is the right guy for the job. His track record speaks for itself and, again, it’s refreshing to have an upfront analytical type in charge. The Giants have been much more analytically versed in the past decade than I think most fans probably realize, but now they have a top guy who wears analytics on his sleeve a little bit more boldly. I think, frankly, that has been a long time coming for this franchise.

The Giants have many more moves to make before the season. They need a left fielder. They need a right fielder. They need a power bat. They need more strikeout guys in their bullpen. Those moves, and more, will be made. Some I’m sure I’ll agree with. Others I’m sure I won’t agree with. In fact, those moves I disagree with might even make me upset. Upset enough to get on here and complain. Maybe not 2005-era upset, but upset.

Quick Stankeye

–The Giants re-signed Derek Holland for a year and a team option for 2020. I didn’t think much of Holland joining the Giants before last season. He was horrid in 2017 with the White Sox and he just looked like a pitcher who is finished. I also didn’t think much of him when he narrowly avoided a PR shitstorm brought on by an unfortunate interview on MLB Network.

Fortunately, Holland turned out pretty darned good, finishing with the highest strikeout rate of his career (possibly brought about by this era of heightened launch angle awareness and home runs). A pitcher who throws 171 innings these days qualifies as an innings eater, and if Holland can do it again that gives the team one less thing to worry about in the back of the starting rotation. He’d have to have a pretty awful spring to not make the starting five.

–The Giants also signed lefty Drew Pomeranz, who was injured and awful last season, but who has otherwise been mostly good, sometimes great, in his eight-year career. It’s unclear immediately how the Giants intend to use Pomeranz, but I’d guess he ends up in a long reliever/spot starter role. The primary weapon of choice against the Dodgers is left-handed pitchers, so I guess the Giants figure you can’t have too many of them. If he’s healthy, Pomeranz will probably find his way to ten or so starts, especially if the Giants start the 10-day DL shenanigans that the Dodgers employed under Zaidi.

–My favorite Giants move of the offseason so far is the inking of switch-pitcher Pat Venditte. For those who don’t know, Venditte is ambidextrous and can switch hands depending on the handedness of the hitter. It’s one of the coolest things in baseball.

Unfortunately, Venditte’s limited major league production has been less than superlative. Right-handed hitters have hit him pretty well, thus making moot the whole switch-pitcher thing. He’s been terrific against lefties, though, and if he keeps that up he’ll always have a job somewhere in baseball. Here’s hoping he has a good spring and makes the team, because he’s just so fun to watch.

–Hunter Strickland is officially an ex-Giant, having signed with Seattle. Strickland was semi-polarizing and he never really turned out as good as he seemingly should have. He threw hard but straight, and didn’t strike many batters out for a guy who could light up the radar gun. He had stretches where he was unhittable, but then would follow that with a month or two where he coughed up every lead he could find. In four full seasons in the Giants bullpen, I don’t think there was ever a stretch where I really trusted him.

He also had multiple moron moments. He screamed at Omar Infante and Salvador Perez in the 2014 World Series after thinking that the former was milking a home run (roughly the 875th home run Strickland gave up that postseason). He started a brawl by drilling Bryce Harper for hitting a home run off of him three years before. Mike Morse sustained a career-ending concussion as the result of that brawl, by the way.

Strickland ended his Giants tenure with another moron moment, breaking his hand punching a door after blowing a save in mid-summer. When he came back from the injury with a month left in the season, he was awful. I’m not sad that he’s gone.

R.I.P. Peter Magowan. I didn’t really pay much attention to sports back when the Giants were on the brink of moving to Tampa Bay in 1992. The gravity of it really didn’t hit until I read up on all of it as an adult. It’s easy to forget now, with the lovely ballpark and the three championships that didn’t exist back then, exactly how close the Giants came to leaving. It almost happened. Magowan spearheaded the formation of the ownership group that kept the team in San Francisco. A lot of people credit Magowan with saving the Giants, and I wouldn’t tell you that that’s hyperbole.

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A Look Back at My “Amazing” Predictions

tywhite

So I’m going to do something fun here. I’m going to take a look at the preseason predictions I made in April, and see which ones made me look like a genius, and which ones made me look drunker and crazier than Pete Rose on tonight’s postgame show. Before the season, I predicted the standings and the winners of each major award. Here they are, with the actual winners (or, for the awards, the probable winners) and a brief disclaimer after each describing what went horribly wrong.

American League East

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Toronto Blue Jays 1. Boston
2. Tampa Bay Rays 2. Toronto
3. Boston Red Sox 3. Baltimore
4. New York Yankees 4. New York
5. Baltimore Orioles 5. Tampa Bay

My strange fixation on the Rays bit me in the rear. I thought Tampa’s excellent team defense would lead them to the playoffs, but their pitchers suddenly decided to start giving up home runs in bunches, and the best defense in the world won’t help a lick if every fly ball hit is going into the tenth row. That plus the expected lackluster offense torpedoed their season.

I was also way off on the Orioles. They did have all kinds of issues with their starting rotation, as I surmised, but their beer-league softball offense (they hit 253 home runs with just a .317 team OBP) and an amazing season from closer Zach Britton was enough to help them clinch a playoff spot.

I questioned Boston’s pitching staff, but Rick Porcello had a career year, David Price was his usual self after the All-Star Break, and that was enough for their ridiculous offense, which tore a swath through the American League. Toronto couldn’t quite bring the momentum of their red-hot 2015 second half into the regular season this year, but of course as we speak they’re still alive and looking to make their first World Series since 1993. The Yankees faded just like I expected and started the inevitable post-Jeter/Rivera rebuild midway through the season, which exposed the world to Gary Sanchez. He should be one of the most interesting stories of 2017.

American League Central

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Cleveland Indians 1. Cleveland
2. Kansas City Royals 2. Detroit
3. Detroit Tigers 3. Kansas City
4. Minnesota Twins 4. Chicago
5 Chicago White Sox 5. Minnesota

The Indians are my best and proudest preseason prediction, and it’ll look even better if they make the World Series. Their starting pitching was just as good as expected and their offense was surprisingly potent. I had a feeling in March that this would be their year and so far, so good.

The Royals never recovered from the early-season loss of Mike Moustakas to injury and faded to .500. I predicted that Justin Verlander would need to bounce back for the Tigers for them to do anything. He was great, but it wasn’t quite enough and they missed the postseason by a hair. The Sox went 17-8 in April, but soon devolved into the same disjointed mess that we’re used to. The Twins’ pitching was (somehow) even worse than expected and they were the worst team in baseball, wasting an MVP-caliber season from Brian Dozier.

American League West

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Houston Astros 1. Texas
2. Seattle Mariners 2.Seattle
3. Texas Rangers 3. Houston
4. Los Angeles Angels 4. Los Angeles
5. Oakland 5. Oakland

I expected the Rangers to finish third and instead they won the division rather easily, but was I really so off? Here are the AL West standings going by Pythagorean record:

  1. Seattle Mariners 87-75
  2. Houston Astros 83-79
  3. Texas Rangers 82-80
  4. Los Angeles Angels 80-82
  5. Oakland A’s 70-92

So going by how these teams probably should have done based on how many runs they scored versus how many they allowed, I was probably kinda right. That’s no knock on the Rangers’ season, but if I’m in their front office, I’m taking a good, long look at that near-.500 Pythagorean record and asking some serious questions about the team in front of me. Upgrading the rotation behind Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish would be a good place to start.

National League East

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Washington Nationals 1. Washington
2. New York Mets 2. New York
3. Miami Marlins 3. Miami
4. Philadelphia Phillies 4. Philadelphia
5. Atlanta Braves 5. Atlanta

Nailed it! Honestly, this division was pretty easy. You knew the Braves and Phillies were going to stink and it was pretty clear the Nationals had the most talent. I guess the only question was whether or not they’d combust with all their conflicting egos and loud personalities. They didn’t, and give Dusty Baker credit for making sure of that.

The Mets somehow made the postseason despite injuries to, like, everybody. The Marlins started strong but faded in the second half and of course had to deal with the emotional stomach punch of Jose Fernandez’s tragic passing at season’s end. The Braves were a joke for five months but actually looked really good in September. They might actually be on to something for 2017.

National League Central

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. Chicago Cubs 1. Chicago
2. Pittsburgh Pirates 2. St. Louis
3. St. Louis Cardinals 3. Pittsburgh
4. Milwaukee Brewers 4. Milwaukee
5. Cincinnati Reds 5. Cincinnati

I figured the Cubs would be good, but maybe not this good. They surpassed my lofty expectations and ran rampant over the league, winning 103 games (and it probably could have been more if they hadn’t clinched early and started resting some of their guys). They’re alive and well and trying to fight off the goat as we speak.

The Pirates were the big disappointment. Injuries, bad pitching, and a down year from Andrew McCutchen totally derailed them. I was spot on with the Cardinals…they missed the playoffs by a game. They’ll be back in the picture next year because they always are. The rebuilding Brewers and Reds went through the motions, and they’ve got their work cut out for them trying to make it back to contention in a division that figures to be dominated by the Cubs for at least the next half-decade.

National League West

Paul’s Projected Standings Actual 2016 Standings
1. San Francisco Giants 1. Los Angeles
2. Los Angeles Dodgers 2. San Francisco
3. Arizona Diamondbacks 3. Colorado
4. San Diego Padres 4. Arizona
5. Colorado Rockies 5. San Diego

Welp, my fanboy Giants prediction looked swell at the All-Star Break. That didn’t work out, and I’m just sitting here watching the Dodgers in the NLCS. The other three teams in the division continued to bumble as per usual, but it’s worth pointing out that the Diamondbacks in particular were a complete disgrace. Famously called out by ESPN’s Keith Law in August (Insider-only), the team finally cleaned out a front office that, among other things, traded the number one pick in the draft for Shelby Miller (who finished 2016 with a 6.15 ERA). They hired a new GM today, so their days of being the laughingstock of baseball may be over.

Awards

Paul’s 2016 Preseason Award Picks Probable 2016 Winner
NL MVP: Bryce Harper Kris Bryant
AL MVP: Carlos Correa Mookie Betts, maybe Trout or Altuve
NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole Max Scherzer
AL Cy Young: Chris Archer Zach Britton, maybe Kluber or Porcello
NL ROTY: Corey Seager Seager
AL ROTY: Tyler White Michael Fulmer

Harper seemed like a safe bet before the season, but he didn’t come close to matching his epic 2015 season. Correa had a season that would be great for any 21-year-old shortstop, but with the way he burst on the scene last year, I think he was seen by many as somewhat of a disappointment. Not that I think that is fair.

Cole probably has a Cy in his future, but he missed half of this season with injuries. The field in both leagues is open for the Cy Young. Kershaw would have won it again, but he missed time to injury, opening it up for Scherzer, who looks like the odds-on favorite to win his second of these awards (his first in the NL). In the American League, it’s also anyone’s guess. Kluber was probably the AL’s best pitcher, but Britton had one of the best reliever seasons ever, and the writers love them some good narrative like that, so I’d bet he wins it.

It definitely won’t be Archer, who lost 19 games. Archer wasn’t awful, but he, like most of his Rays rotation-mates, started giving up home runs in bushels suddenly. He settled down and was much better in the season’s second half, and I still expect him to have a Cy Young year before all is said and done.

Hey, with Seager I got one right! Seager will run away with the NL award and he even has an outside shot at the MVP. So I guess I’ll pat myself on the back for that one, though it was really kinda obvious. And that brings us to…

Tyler White. Yeah, no. White hit five home runs in the season’s first week, then slumped badly and the Astros gave up on him. White has always kinda projected as a poor man’s Billy Butler, so with A.J. Reed breathing down his neck, he had to hit and keep hitting to stick around. He didn’t and he was jettisoned to AAA in June. This prediction was all part of this strange Tyler White fetish I held all season (I picked him up in a fantasy league, too) and let’s just forget this all ever happened.

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A Giants Fan’s Immediate, Drunken Reaction to a Horrific Playoff Loss

sadhunter

 

Bruce Bochy has been more or less flawless in the postseason since becoming the Giants manager in 2007. In 2010, 2012, and 2014, every button he pushed just seemed to be the correct one. Every reliever matchup went his way, every risk he took panned out. He managed circles around the likes of Mike Matheny, Bobby Cox, and Matt Williams, making them look like grade schoolers crying into their Strato-matics.

Make no mistake, though, he screwed up tonight’s ninth inning six ways to Sunday.

It’s all right though. I ain’t even mad. It happens. Even the best stumble once in a while. Without going into the gory details, let’s just chalk it up as one of Bochy’s not-so-hot moments as a manager and move on with our lives. Until next season.

Should Derek Law have started the ninth inning? No. Should the ever-erratic Javy Lopez have followed Law by facing Anthony Rizzo? God no. Should Bochy have started the inning with Will Smith, who has been nails for a month, to face Kris Bryant, with the lefty and switch-hitter coming up after him? Abso-fucking-lutely. Should he have given up on Romo after the one batter? Probably not. Should Hunter Strickland have thrown an 0-2 fastball right down the middle to Javier Baez? Won’t dignify that with a response. Did any decision Bochy made in that ninth inning make a lick of sense? Of course not.

Let’s get one thing straight. That loss royally sucked. We’re going to go into work or get on Twitter and flaunt the three rings and make the jerk-off motion and say “hey, no problem, Cody Ross, bitches!” but in reality that was one of the worst losses in the history of the franchise, and we’ll be stewing over it all offseason. And rightfully so. That loss was so…so…2016 San Francisco Giants. Adam Jones says hello.

Perhaps we had this coming. I mean, it’s kinda been a while. The last sucky playoff loss like this was way back in 2003. It’s like, after Cody Ross and Brooks Conrad and Barry Zito and Madison Bumgarner’s 2014, baseball Jehovah finally just had enough and put His foot down. Every great franchise has to be humbled. The Yankees had Luis Gonzalez. The Lakers had Chancey Billups. The Patriots had David Tyree. The Giants had their own miserable bullpen. Lick the wounds, repair left field and the bullpen, reevaluate third base, and come back stronger next season.

–The major positive from tonight’s game is that Matt Moore was just awesome, and that portends good things for the team starting some odd year BS. If it weren’t for an (uncharacteristic) error by Brandon Crawford, he would have given up just one run in eight innings. He struck out ten and had the best offense in the National League eating out of his hand. Talk about something to look forward to next season.

Moore was acquired for the immensely popular (for good reason) Matt Duffy in July. He was dominant at times, awful at others in his two months, but in the last few weeks he gave us glimpses of exactly what sort of weapon he could be in 2017. Moore is under team control for the grand total of $26 million for the next three years. In 21st century baseballese, that’s a bargain. Moore is still only 27 and there’s a reason he was once seen as one of the best pitching prospects in all of baseball. If Duffy hits .230 for the Rays next year and Moore wins 17 games, no one is going to give a crap anymore about Duffy’s gargantuan (albeit awesome) cat.

–I have to close with this, and it pains me to the core to write what I’m about to write. Trust me, as a lifelong Giants fan, I don’t type these next few sentences lightly.

I don’t write these next hundred-odd words as a bitter fan whose team just suffered a brutal playoff loss. I really don’t. I’ve watched the Giants lose before, often in ghastly ways. I’ve watched them lose hard-fought, bitter postseason series where I’ve wanted to punch players on the opposing team (I’m looking at you, Agbayani). I’ve never, though, used that as a reason to automatically root against the team that beat them. I rooted for the Marlins in 1997 and in 2003, and I rooted for the Mets after they beat the Giants in the 2000 NLDS. I’ve rooted many, many times for NL West rivals (most avidly the 2006 Padres or the 2009 Rockies) that bested the Giants in close division races. I’m not a sore loser. I worship at the church of tip your cap and move on. Gracious in victory, humble in defeat, and so on.

I despise the Dodgers. I despise the concept of the Dodgers. They’re a franchise long-affiliated with unabashed evil. However- and it pains me to say this to no end, just shreds my soul to pieces- if the Dodgers win tomorrow, I will be rooting for them to beat the Cubs in the NLCS (and then, of course, to lose in the World Series). The Dodgers are terrible, a franchise so reprehensible that I break out in boils every time I turn on one of their broadcasts. So why would I take this drastic step and root for them? Because the Cubs, and specifically their fans, are worse.

Cubs fans are the most vile, scum-sucking bunch of misbegotten ingrates to disgrace the game of baseball. They’ll beg you every year to look upon their franchise as a sort of lovable, hapless, 1962 Mets bunch of scamps who just can’t catch a break. Woe is them. In reality they’re just another soulless big market team with an asshole of an owner throwing wads of money at their problems, and their fans project their drunken frustrations on any scapegoat they can find, no matter how silly, whenever their team inevitably fails. And they also project beer, and lots of it, on said scapegoat. Why are Cubs fans awful, and why should every decent human being root against their team? This is a good start.

Before you send me an angry e-mail disputing any of this why don’t you redirect that email to Steve Bartman and ask his opinion on the matter? Ask if he thinks the Cubs and their fans just need a break from the universe and if we should feel sorry for them. Common decency begs for the Cubs to lose this next series and every other postseason matchup for the rest of their franchise’s miserable, slime-ridden existence. The Dodgers may suck, but their fans aren’t responsible for ruining the life of some poor guy who just tried to catch a foul ball.

 

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Paul’s Amazing and Sure-To-Be-Perfect 2016 MLB Predictions

pencephan

The amount of research that went into these predictions would be laughably insufficient if it even existed. This would be back-of-napkin, but I don’t have a napkin around and I’m too lazy to get up to get one. This is more like scribbling on the underside of a plastic red cup that was once filled with Emergen-C. With that being said, I’m sure they will be 100% accurate at season’s end and we’ll all be able to come back and marvel at how my baseball intellect is on such a higher plane than all of you luddites.

American League East

  1. Toronto Blue Jays
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (Wild Card)
  3. Boston Red Sox
  4. New York Yankees
  5. Baltimore Orioles

The Blue Jays’ loaded offense should carry them to a second straight division title despite some iffy starting pitching. The Rays have a charming lineup full of guys you’ve never heard of but their pitching and defense is so strong that I think they’re going to sneak their way into the playoff conversation. Despite the potential star power of Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox still look like a mess to me and their starting pitching behind David Price…blech. The Yankees get a lot of hype for having the best bullpen in baseball, but having the best bullpen in April has never won anybody any division titles, and their lineup is old and susceptible to collapse at any moment. Baltimore’s lineup could just as easily blast 250 homers as it could devolve into an unwatchable parade of high-strikeout .220 hitters, and their chronic inability to develop any pitching will likely bite them in the butt once again.

American League Central

  1. Cleveland Indians
  2. Kansas City Royals (Wild Card)
  3. Detroit Tigers
  4. Minnesota Twins
  5. Chicago White Sox

I absolutely love Cleveland’s starting pitching and I think this is the first time in nearly a decade that they make serious waves in the playoffs. The Royals barely had any turnover in their lineup from their championship year and they should be just as strong as ever, easily clearing 90 wins. The Tigers could challenge the Blue Jays for best offense in the AL, but their season hinges on whether Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez can stay healthy and effective, because their bullpen and back end starters look nightmarish. Despite the arrival of Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, the Twins look primed to fall victim to the Plexiglass Principle and regress, mostly because they continue to refuse to develop strikeout pitchers as if it were still 1974. The White Sox made moves in the offseason but did nothing to address an absolutely terrible defensive unit and they apparently abandoned a coherent team-building philosophy circa 2009.

American League West

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

The Astros’ all-or-nothing offense can be ugly to watch at times, but full season contributions from budding superstar Carlos Correa and an improved bullpen should let them coast to the division title. I’m perennially bullish on the Mariners, for some reason, but now that they’re out of the Jack Zduriencik era, they may be able to finally develop some of their hitters. The Rangers caught fire in the last couple months of last season and strike me as a regression candidate with a high potential to disappoint. The Angels are going to waste another Mike Trout MVP-type year because their pitching is mostly crap. No one knows what in the hell the A’s are doing these days, but it’s at least blatantly clear that they’re going to be terrible.

National League East

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

Don’t underestimate the ability of Dusty Baker to get the most out of a roster oozing talent. Baker gets flak for not being sabermetrically-inclined (to put it mildly) and he always wears out his welcome eventually, but I loved this signing. He’s historically been a great players’ manager and that’s exactly what the Nationals need after last year’s disaster. The Mets have insane pitching, but I think they’ll miss the playoffs by a hair because I just don’t think they’re as good as the Wild Card contending Pirates, Cardinals, or Dodgers. The Marlins are a dark horse playoff team if everything shakes out right, but it’s impossible to root for any franchise run by Jeffrey Loria, so screw them. The Phillies are in full tear-down mode and will be a whipping boy for at least another two years. The Braves made a lot of great moves this offseason to strengthen their farm system, but the major league product is an abomination.

National League Central

  1. Chicago Cubs
  2. Pittsburgh Pirates (Wild Card)
  3. St. Louis Cardinals
  4. Milwaukee Brewers
  5. Cincinnati Reds

The Cubs have so much talent in their lineup that it’s unfair. Even with Kyle Schwarber out for the season, they should sleepwalk to 95 wins, at the least. The Pirates’ front office is maybe the smartest in the game, and their ability to turn retreads into contributors is unmatched in the game today. They also have a star-studded outfield and an ace in Gerrit Cole. In a world where the Cubs didn’t exist, they’d dominate this division. The Cardinals are a factory of young talent and will be in it right to the end, but I think this is the year they finally fall short of the playoffs with the loss of Jason Heyward. The Brewers stink but watch out for my guy Domingo Santana, who has star potential if he can cut his whiffs down (granted, it’s a big “if”). The Reds are in teardown mode and I challenge you to name more than three players on their roster without looking.

National League West

  1. San Francisco Giants
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers (Wild Card)
  3. Arizona Diamondbacks
  4. San Diego Padres
  5. Colorado Rockies

With bias proudly on display, I will predict that this Giants team will turn out to be the best of the 2010s thus far. I love the offense and the signings of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija will bolster the rotation enough to make them one of the NL’s best teams. The loss of Zack Greinke will hurt the Dodgers more than people think, but not enough so that they won’t nab a Wild Card spot. The Diamondbacks made a lot of commotion in the offseason but they still appear to be a rudderless ship, and the loss of A.J. Pollock is potentially season-immolating. The Padres aren’t as bad as they looked in the first three games of the season against the Dodgers, but they’re still going to be sunk by a horrific outfield defense. The Rockies will continue to be utterly incapable of developing quality pitchers and their team ERA will once again be unsightly.

AL Playoffs

Wild Card: Royals over Rays

ALDS: Royals over Astros, Blue Jays over Indians

ALCS: Blue Jays over Royals

NL Playoffs

Wild Card: Pirates over Dodgers

ALDS: Giants over Nationals, Pirates over Cubs

ALCS: Giants over Pirates

World Series: Giants over Blue Jays because even year.

Awards:

AL MVP: Carlos Correa

NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: Chris Archer

NL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole

AL Rookie of the Year: Tyler White

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

Number of times yours truly has a horribly unproductive Sunday because his MLBTV subscription renewed: Infinity.

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Giants Holiday Spending Spree, Part 3: Denard Span

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During the 2014-2015 offseason, the Giants had a hole in left field. Mike Morse was not returning, Travis Ishikawa was no one’s idea of a long-term solution, and the team didn’t trust Gregor Blanco to man the position again as a regular. I proposed in an article (I’d link, but the web site it was posted on is unfortunately down for the time being) that the Giants should focus their attention on acquiring a center fielder, and shift the oft-injured Angel Pagan to left field. I argued that a move to left would help keep Pagan’s achy back in one piece and if the team was going to spend money or trade farm talent, why not pick up a better player at a premium position?

Shockingly, the Giants didn’t follow my advice. They kept Pagan in center and signed Nori Aoki to man left, which…well, fair enough. Aoki was awesome. Frankly, I’m sad he was only a Giant for one year. He was such an awesomely weird player, looking at times like he had never put on a glove or held a bat but still managing to be a very valuable player. But that’s a love-in for another day…

Pagan stayed mostly healthy but he didn’t hit a lick until September. This offseason the Giants decided to listen to my sage words and signed a better center fielder as a free agent, thus moving Pagan over to left field. So I was right, just a year premature. What was it Branch Rickey said about being early? Does that apply here?

The third major free agent signing by the Giants was, of course, Denard Span. A speedy runner and extreme contact hitter, Span will take over not only as the new center fielder but also as the Giants’ leadoff hitter. Span was signed to a very reasonable three year, $31 million contract. Perhaps it’s a lot of faith to place in a player who missed more than half of last season with injuries, but in a world where Nick Markakis gets four years and $44 million…

Span fits the mold of what I call the “new Moneyball” players. In a league top-heavy with players who swing big and miss a lot, Span goes against the grain by never striking out. He relies on a high-contact approach and his legs to pump up his batting average and set the table for his teammates. The Royals succeeded with a lineup full of these guys the past two years, while most other teams were filling their lineups with walks and taters guys. Span will fight in nicely with Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Buster Posey in a Giants lineup balanced nicely with hitters who avoid whiffs at a high rate, so it’s not hard to see why they went after him (Span struck out in only 9.7% of his at-bats the past two seasons; the league average is closer to 20%).

Since he puts the ball in play all the time, Span is naturally a bit of a slave to BABIP. In the years where it’s been below .300, he hasn’t been very good. When it’s .330 or above, like in 2014, he’s awesome. With the ability to steal 30 bags a year, he’s extremely valuable to the Giants if he can maintain his .350 career OBP for the course of this deal.

Denard Span has all the indicators of your typical Giants player of recent vintage. He puts the ball in play, he’s fast, he plays good defense, he has a reputation as a good clubhouse guy. His recent injury problems are a worry and he doesn’t have any power (so of course he hit a three-run bomb on Opening Day), but if he stays healthy his strengths make him an asset to a playoff team, the star on the Christmas tree of the Giants’ winter spending spree. As the final piece of a championship-caliber puzzle, he does quite nicely.

This is a signing that I probably would have had nothing but invective for circa 2007. In these post-“Jack Cust-is-life-” times, though, I’m a fan. A three year deal for a good outfielder is a pretty small price to pay to get Angel Pagan out of center field and away from the top of the lineup.

Posted in Baseball, San Francisco Giants | Tagged , , | 1 Comment