First-third awards – NL MVP

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We’ll use VORP
to come up with a list of candidates and go from there. Position
players only. I think Dan Haren should figure into the mix for the
bottom half of the ballot, but the rest of the top 10 will be hitters.

1. Albert Pujols – 37.2
2. Raul Ibanez – 33.4
3. Carlos Beltran – 30.0
4. Hanley Ramirez – 27.9
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 26.5
6. Chase Utley – 26.1
7. Miguel Tejada – 24.7
8. Ryan Zimmerman – 23.4
9. Justin Upton – 23.1
10. Brad Hawpe – 22.4
11. Orlando Hudson – 21.3
12. Ryan Braun – 21.2
13. David Wright – 20.9

That’s everyone over 20.0.

Moving on to OPS:

1. Albert Pujols – 1168 in 53 G
2. Raul Ibanez – 1091 in 52 G
3. Adrian Gonzalez – 1075 in 53 G
4. Brad Hawpe – 1051 in 46 G
5. Carlos Beltran – 1022 in 47 G
6. Justin Upton – 1000 in 50 G
7. Chase Utley – 998 in 50 G
8. Prince Fielder – 979 in 54 G
9. Ryan Braun – 964 in 52 G
10. Hanley Ramirez – 962 in 51 G

Playing time isn’t as much of an issue here as it was in the AL,
where it was tough to figure out where to put Joe Mauer and Jason
Bartlett. The only player in the NL to perform like an MVP candidate
over 30-40 games is Joey Votto, who had a 1091 OPS in 38 games before
landing on the DL.

Finally, the RBI list, since that’s what the real voters will be mostly concerned about:

1. Raul Ibanez – 53
2. Prince Fielder – 52
3. Albert Pujols – 48
4. Ryan Howard – 46
5. Adrian Gonzalez – 43
6. Adam Dunn – 42
7. Brad Hawpe – 41
8. James Loney – 41
9. Brandon Phillips – 40
10. Dan Uggla – 39

I see five legitimate candidates: Pujols, Ibanez, Beltran, Gonzalez
and Utley. Fielder isn’t hitting any better than the top two first
baseman and he’s a weaker defender. As a subpar shortstop, Hanley is
rather overrated by VORP. Also, he hasn’t been as much of a force on
the basepaths as usual, and even though he’s hitting .400 with RISP, he
has just 25 RBI while batting third. That knocks him down to sixth.

Of the top five, two are quality defenders at key positions, two are
quality defenders at first base and one is a below average defender in
left field. Beltran’s candidacy takes a hit because he’s missed five of
the Mets’ 52 games.

As outstanding as Ibanez has been, I don’t see a reason to go away
from Pujols, last year’s MVP. He has the OPS lead, he’s a positive in
the field and on the basepaths and he’s hitting .341 with RISP. Utley
also contributes in more ways than Ibanez.

What Gonzalez has gone is truly remarkable — he’s on pace for more
than 60 homers while playing half of his games at Petco Park — but he
doesn’t have the same kind of average as the other candidates and his
OBP is being inflated by teams working around him with RISP. It’s not
his fault that the Padres can’t protect him, but it has made him less
valuable. He’s hit just .231 with RISP.

First-third NL MVP

1. Pujols
2. Utley
3. Ibanez
4. Gonzalez
5. Beltran
6. Ramirez
7. Haren
8. Fielder
9. Hudson
10. Mike Cameron

Royals will bring back Yordano Ventura to start Game 4

Yordano Ventura
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Thursday night’s rain delay cut Yordano Ventura‘s start short after just two innings, as the Royals opted to turn to reliever Chris Young instead of bringing the 24-year-old right-hander back out to the mound following the delay.

One benefit to that is what manager Ned Yost has decided to do now, which is use Ventura to start Game 4 on Monday. Had he thrown, say, 102 pitches instead of 42 pitches Ventura likely would have started Game 5, forcing the Royals to go four starters deep in their ALDS rotation.

Ventura struggled before the delay Monday, allowing three runs in two innings. However, he finished the regular season by going 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 68 innings over his final 11 starts, which was enough to convince Yost he was the right pitcher to start Game 1 rather than trade deadline pickup Johnny Cueto.

Playoff Reset: Four games in one day!

Cole Hamels

Oh baby.

There’s baseball from noon to midnight today, with a pair of Game 2s in the American League and a pair of Game 1s in the National League.

Tons of great starting pitchers–including the best in the world and a trio of big-name trade deadline acquisitions–and we’ll find out if a home team can actually win a game after starting the playoffs 0-4.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 12:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
The Upshot: Stroman coming back from what was deemed a season-ending knee injury in spring training to start Game 2 of the ALDS is a helluva story and the Blue Jays need him to come up big after David Price failed to do his part in Game 1. Yovani Gallardo somehow wriggled out of trouble against Toronto’s scary lineup, but as a left-hander Hamels has an even tougher assignment versus the never-ending right-handed power. Assuming it’s all in the lineup, of course. There are big health question marks for both sides, as Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all exited Game 1 with injuries and their respective statuses could swing the balance of power in the series.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 3:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FOX Sports 1
The Starters: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto
The Upshot: Two headline-grabbing trade deadline pickups with a lot to prove, as Kazmir and Cueto both struggled for their new teams. Cueto was bumped back to Game 2 after being acquired to front the Royals’ rotation and there was some speculation that Kazmir might not even have a spot in the ALDS rotation. Kansas City losing Game 1 last night and Houston having Dallas Keuchel waiting in the wings for Game 3 puts a ton of pressure on Cueto’s shoulders. Generally one of the toughest pitchers to homer against, he allowed 10 homers in 13 starts for the Royals and the Astros’ power-packed lineup will put him to the test all afternoon. Can the defending AL champs get off the mat quickly or will they head to Houston in need of a win to keep the season alive?

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 6:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Upshot: Former Red Sox teammates Lester and Lackey square off in Game 1 of the first ever playoff series between two of the biggest rivals in baseball, with the Cubs fresh off their Wild Card game triumph over the Pirates and the Cardinals coming off an MLB-high 100 wins. Yadier Molina‘s ability to play through a thumb injury will be key for the Cardinals and it’ll also be interesting to see how much faith manager Mike Matheny has in Adam Wainwright to get late-inning outs as a reliever after returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
The Upshot: Quite a way to finish an entire day of baseball, as the Mets go looking for their first playoff win since 2006 and Kershaw tries to cement his legacy as an all-time great by dominating in the playoffs like he does in the regular season. And don’t overlook deGrom, because last year’s Rookie of the Year winner has a 2.61 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 331 innings since debuting last May. Among all starters with at least 300 innings during the past two seasons Kershaw ranks first in ERA and deGrom ranks fourth, with Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke in the 2-3 slots. This is a speculator pitching matchup.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.