Author Archives: Matt Musico

2017 All-Money Team: The Highest-Paid MLB Players at Each Position

While it may not feel like spring is on the way in certain parts of the country, it’s closer than you think. Why? Well, the start of Spring Training is less than three weeks away, and we all know that the mere sight of players on a baseball field gives people the warm and fuzzies — no matter what the thermometer says.

Another year of MLB action means there will be lots of money earned by the league’s best players. But who gets the honor of being the top earner at their position this season? That was a question we wanted to answer with the 2017 All-Money team.

Thanks to Spotrac, it was easy to check out the payroll salaries at each position to see who is bringing home the most bacon over the next few months. Here’s a squad that would be pretty darn good overall, but just a tad bit expensive.

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The Los Angeles Angels Have Had a Great Offseason

Outside of watching Mike Trout dominate on a nightly basis, there wasn’t much else to be happy about in 2016 with regard to the Los Angeles Angels.

They went a disappointing 74-88 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time since 2012, which was Trout’s rookie season. To make things worse, it’s also been hard to feel optimistic about the organization’s future in recent years.

It’s getting better, though.

ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required) no longer views them as baseball’s worst farm system, but coming in 27th out of 30 teams isn’t anything to party about. On the big-league level, big contracts to C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver have come off the books, leaving just one more year of paying Josh Hamilton and another five years (womp womp) of Albert Pujols.

Without the financial means to throw money at a free agent or the farm system to offer a boatload of intriguing prospects in a trade, general manager Billy Eppler had to get creative this winter, which is exactly what he’s done.

Are the Angels now playoff contenders? Probably not, but they look better on paper for 2017 than they did in 2016.

Let’s see how much of a lift the roster could have with a series of moves that haven’t grabbed a ton of headlines over the past few months.

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The Texas Rangers’ Outfield Has a Ton of Questions With 2017 on the Horizon

If the general premise of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve talked about this before.

On the heels of the Texas Rangers returning to the playoffs in 2015, I noticed they had similar roster uncertainties in advance of 2016. All they did once Opening Day rolled around was win the American League West with ease by posting an AL-best 95-67 record.

While they proved to be masters of winning one-run games, having just a +10 run differential made some wonder if they’d be able to hang in the playoffs. And before there was an answer, they were packing up for the winter after getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS.

The 2017 season is fast approaching, and the AL West will be interesting to follow. After all, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto won’t stop making trades and the Houston Astros are doing whatever they can to make Sports Illustrated look like a bunch of geniuses.

The Rangers still have some roster questions to answer ahead of Spring Training — like, is this Mike Napoli reunion happening or not? — but one area that’s set is the outfield.

Texas will go to battle with 21-year-old Nomar Mazara in left, Carlos Gomez in center and Shin-Soo Choo manning right. This looks good on paper, but it’s far from a sure thing judging from each player’s recent history.

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Robinson Cano’s 2016 Season Was a Flashback to His Yankee Days

Handing out a lucrative, multi-year contract to a player is always risky for an MLB organization, no matter how much of a no-brainer it appears to be. That risk factor goes through the roof when it’s a 10-year, $240 million deal, like the one Robinson Cano signed prior to the 2014 season.

Outside of a dip in power, his first season in Seattle was a success. He hit .314/.382/.454 with 14 home runs and 82 RBI, producing a wRC+ of 137 and a 5.2 fWAR – the fifth consecutive year he surpassed 5.0.

It was the first half of 2015 when people likely started to freak out, to a degree.

He limped into the All-Star break with a lackluster triple slash of .251/.290/.370, accompanied by just 6 home runs, 30 RBI and an wRC+ of 86. Providing power as a second baseman had always been one of his best attributes, but a .118 first-half ISO showed that the only thing his power was doing was continuing to deteriorate.

Cano did start to look like himself again following the midsummer classic — he hit .331/.387/.540 with 15 home runs, 40 RBI, a wRC+ of 157, and most importantly, his ISO jumped back up to .209.

That second-half performance ended up being a sign of what was to come.

Were there any similarities between 2016 and his prime years in the Bronx from 2010-12 when Cano’s ISO never dipped below .214 while posting a .311/.370/.539 line with a combined 90 homers and 321 RBI?

Yes, but there are also some interesting differences showing how his game has transformed over the years.

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Who Were the Top-Performing Hitters at Each Lineup Spot During the 2016 MLB Season?

All baseball players – whether they’re amateurs or professionals – are creatures of habit. When you have a game to play every day, routines form (some on purpose, some by accident) and once a player notices those routines, they typically like to keep them as they are.

Advanced statistics have helped organizations and coaching staffs justify tinkering lineups on a daily basis, but one thing is for certain – most hitters like coming to the ballpark knowing exactly where their name will be penciled into the order.

It makes mentally preparing a lot easier, and they don’t have to wonder when they’ll get their first plate appearance of the night.

With that in mind, I was curious as to which hitters performed the best in 2016 at each particular lineup spot. The only criteria was sample size – 1-5 hitters needed at least 400 plate appearances to qualify, but it dropped to 250-plus for the six-hole and 200-plus for the bottom-third to generate players to choose from.

Here are your most dominant hitters at each lineup spot from 2016, ranked by wRC+.

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Carlos Correa Is the Most Important Part of the Houston Astros Offense in 2017

After ending their excruciating rebuilding process a year earlier than many expected with a playoff appearance in 2015, the Houston Astros were supposed to take another step forward in 2016, but it didn’t happen.

Jose Altuve put together an MVP-caliber performance, but Houston experienced regression from some of its young core and ultimately couldn’t overcome a 7-17 start. Their 4-15 record against the Texas Rangers didn’t help, either.

One of those young players who experienced a bumpy year was shortstop Carlos Correa.

Now, it’s tough to say a player who posted a 122 wRC+ and a 4.9 fWAR had a bad year, and Correa didn’t have a bad year – it just wasn’t what the organization was likely hoping for.

After an active offseason (which still may not be finished), expectations are high for the Astros to return to October. There are plenty of important offensive contributors on the roster, but Correa just may be the most important of all.

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MLB’s Best Hitters in Each Inning During the 2016 Season

According to Earl Wilson, the game of baseball is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings. Regardless of the team you root for, just about every fan can relate to that in some way.

While it takes a full nine innings – or, nine nervous breakdowns – for a game to be complete without suboptimal weather sabotaging it, there are countless moments within each inning that can alter the eventual outcome, whether it’s in the top of the first or bottom of the ninth.

With that in mind, I was interested in finding out which hitters mashed the most in each inning throughout the course of 2016. Thanks to FanGraphs’ Splits Leaderboard, it was pretty easy to do.

Using the very arbitrary benchmark of 80-plus plate appearances for the first through sixth innings, 50-plus plate appearances for the seventh through ninth innings and 20-plus plate appearances for extras, below are the top three hitters from every inning in 2016, based off wRC+.

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It Shouldn’t Be Surprising That J.D. Martinez Is Still on the Detroit Tigers

Talking a big game and actually backing it up with action are two very different things. Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has certainly learned that lesson throughout this offseason.

Almost immediately following the conclusion of Detroit’s regular season schedule, Avila was clear that “changes are coming” in the way the organization conducts its business. Also, since they have been working “way above” their financial means for a while, the goal was to start getting younger.

Obviously, that meant being open to potential trades for just about anybody to clear some payroll. The selling started by shipping Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels, and then… things halted.

Detroit’s biggest stars – Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlandersaw their names briefly pop up in the rumor mill, but they died down quickly. One available player who seemed all but traded was J.D. Martinez, and it wasn’t hard to see why.

But here were are, with the holidays over and 2017 officially upon us, and he’s still a member of the Tigers. It doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon, either.

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New York Mets, Cleveland Indians Traveling Similar Paths in Search of a World Series Title

Like most professional sports, Major League Baseball is a copycat league.

When the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals displayed how crucial a dominant bullpen can be en route to winning championships, other teams tried to duplicate their strategy in hopes of finding similar success.

Now, after seeing what it took for the Chicago Cubs to end their excruciating 108-year title drought, even their most bitter rivals are taking notes for the future.

Although they haven’t yet won a World Series, the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets have rebuilt their respective rosters in such a way that many opponents are likely jealous of. There aren’t many organizations around baseball with the type of top-flight and mostly homegrown starting pitching these two have.

That’s not where the similarities end, either.

In fact, Cleveland recently signing Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal on the eve of Christmas further strengthens the similarities between these two teams, and it’s much more than just reaching the Fall Classic one year apart.

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Todd Frazier, Chris Carter and the Most “Average” 40-Homer Seasons Since 2002

An MLB hitter posting a season with at least 40 home runs is never not impressive, but is there a time when it’s not as impressive as it should be?

The answer to that question is yes.

Upon seeing players at the top of home run leaderboards for any given year, there could be a tendency to automatically think they’re some of baseball’s best. With regard to 2016, only eight sluggers surpassed 40 homers, but there are four that stand out: Mark Trumbo, Khris Davis, Chris Carter and Todd Frazier.

Despite mashing taters with the best of them this past season, their overall numbers – we’re talking about fWAR, in particular – don’t follow suit. Davis’ 2.5 fWAR is the highest, which just barely squeaks into the top-75 in 2016.

Obviously, this metric brings defense into the equation, but it intrigued me enough to investigate how their homer-rich performances rank against others in recent memory.

Using FanGraphs’ new splits leaderboard, I went all the way back to 2002 to see how the 40-homer seasons from these four stacked up, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture for a couple of sluggers.

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