The Warning Track: Preseason Awards Picks

In the second part of The Warning Track’s 2016 predictions this week, we focus on the first installment of our Awards Watch and who will take home hardware at season’s end.

Most Valuable Player

The average age of all MVPs – American and National Leagues – since 2010 is about 27 years old. It’s a number that makes sense; 27 is right around when a player enters their prime, as most debut in the major leagues in their early 20s.

That number also brings hesitancy in predicting that some popular picks for MVP this year will end up reaching that status. In the American League, 21-year-old Carlos Correa – reigning AL Rookie of the Year – is the overwhelming favorite to bring home the hardware.

Despite his minimal experience (432 career PAs), it’s easy to see Correa as the second-best all-around player in the AL by season’s end, behind only Mike Trout.

His dedication certainly isn’t in doubt.

His numbers from 99 games last year translates to about 35 home runs and 115 RBI over the course of a full season. Those are certainly MVP totals, and when you consider his stellar defensive play and maturity, it’s no wonder he’s the favorite.

But again…he’s only 21. If he were to pull it off, he would be the youngest MVP in history. Heck, even Bryce Harper didn’t break out until his age-22 season last year (Not that that’s much older, but he did debut when he was 19). Then again, another perennially popular pick, Mike Trout, was only 23 when he finally won MVP. Perhaps that is motivation for the even younger Correa?

The lineup surrounding individual superstars also play a part in their MVP campaigns, of course. Defending AL MVP Josh Donaldson would not have driven in the most runs in the majors last year if Bautista, Encarnacion, Martin, et al. hadn’t been on base for him bring home.

Houston’s regulars have the potential to help Correa build his MVP case in that regard, but it’s over in the Senior Circuit where the lineup factor makes one superstar stand out: Anthony Rizzo.

Not only does he almost perfectly fit the age criteria – he’ll 27 in August – but Rizzo is set to reside in the heart of potentially one of the most threatening lineups in baseball, one that features young sluggers with more experience and on-base veterans Jason Hayward and Ben Zobrist. The only thing that might hurt Rizzo is the prospect of those batting before him mashing moonshots, thus robbing him of some RBIs. Not that he’s mind. 

Of course, Harper has a greater-than-good chance of repeating as MVP. But it most likely would require numbers greater than his 42 home runs, 99 RBI and 118 runs from 2015, and I’m hesitant to predict that happening with Washington’s lineup.

Still, the prospect of an even bigger year from Harper is an enticing notion. Unless you’re a Mets fan.

The Picks: American League

1. Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 123 RBI, .297/.371/.568

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 117 RBI, .289/.357/.539

 

2. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

2015 stats: 22 home runs, 68 RBI, .279/.345/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 33 home runs, .288/.365/.598

 

3. Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

2015 stats: 41 home runs, 90 RBI, .299/.402/.590

Predicted 2016 stats: 43 home runs, 93 RBI, .309/.406/.583

The Toronto Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball to start the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball at the start of the season, and Donaldson is the heart of it.

 

The Picks: National League

1. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

2015 stats: 31 home runs, 101 RBI, .278/.387/.512

Predicted 2016 stats: 34 home runs, 118 RBI, .298/.401/.545

 

2. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks

2015 stats: 33 home runs, 110 RBI, .321/.435/.570

Predicted 2016 stats: 36 home runs, 109 RBI, .329/.428/.576

 

3. Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

2015 stats: 27 home runs, 67 RBI, .265/.346/.606

Predicted 2016 stats: 54 home runs, 97 RBI, .273/.362/.636

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Rizzo is the unquestionable leader of a Cubs team primed for 100+ wins in 2016.

Cy Young

The age factor for Cy Young-caliber pitchers since 2010 is the same story as it is for MVPs.

The average age is just under 29; however, when removing the outlier of R.A. Dickey – who won as a 37-year-old in 2012 – the age drops down to 27.

Kershaw is the obvious choice here to win his fourth Cy Young since 2011. That would tie him for third on the all time list with Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux. 

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However, Max Scherzer’s dominant first season in the National League – in which he very nearly threw the 24th and 25th perfect games in MLB history – gives Kershaw some competition, as does the ascension of 2015 NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

To make things even tougher for Kershaw in his pursuit of a record 8 Cy Youngs, there’s a rotation over in New York with three or four starters that are also in the mix.

And we can’t forget about his former teammate in Arizona charged with the mission of leading a renaissance in the desert.

Meanwhile, in the more offensive-prone AL, if anyone is going to finish the season with a sub-2.00 ERA for the first time since Pedro Martinez in 2000, it could be the rapidly-evolving Sonny Gray, seemingly the only bright spot that Oakland has to look forward to this year.

It could also be Dallas Keuchel, who dominated the league en route to winning the Cy Young last year, or also perennial Opening Day starter Felix Hernandez.

There’s also dark horse candidates in Carlos Carrasco, who at age 29 is due for a breakout, and Jake Odorizzi of Tampa Bay. Actually, anyone on the Rays staff is capable of at least breaking out in a big way in 2016, much like the Mets last year. 

One thing that is for certain: as good as the AL’s young sluggers look, the league’s up and coming arms might be even better before long.

 

The Picks: American League

1. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays

2015 stats: 12-13,  3.23 ERA, 252 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 18-7, 2.86 ERA, 248 K

 

2. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians

2015 stats: 9-16, 3.49 ERA, 245 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 16-10, 2.99 ERA, 240 K

 

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

2015 stats: 18-9, 3.53 ERA, 191 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 17-9, 3.20 ERA, 201 K

The Picks: National League

1. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

2015 stats: 14-12, 2.79 ERA, 276 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-5, 2.12 ERA, 260 K

 

2. Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

2015 stats: 19-8, 2.60 ERA, 202 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-6, 2.46 ERA, 225 K

 

3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

2015 stats: 16-7, 2.13 ERA, 301 K

Predicted 2016 stats: 19-9, 2.42 ERA, 300 K

One year of exposure to Scherzer won't be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

One year of exposure to Scherzer won’t be enough for hitter to get on base against him very often in 2016.

 

Best of the Rest

 

AL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins

The Why: A career .301 hitter in the minors, Buxton is being eagerly awaited by the Twins fanbase as the one who can hopefully push them over the cusp and back into contention. Buxton has shown to be an exceptional multi-tool player, as he put on display with what was easily the best play of Spring Training.

 

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The Contenders: Joey Gallo (TEX), Jose Berrios (MIN)

 

NL Rookie of the Year

The Pick: Steven Matz, SP, New York Mets

The Why: Because an ERA over 3.00 is frowned upon in New York.

The Contenders: Corey Seager (LAD), Trea Turner (WAS)

 

AL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Jeff Banister, Texas Rangers

The Why: Texas is ready to be relevant again after enduring consecutive World Series losses in the early 2010s. A healthy mix of veteran hitting, veteran pitching and an uberprospect in Joey Gallo should thrust them back into contention, and Banister into the spotlight.

The Contenders: Terry Francona (CLE), John Gibbons (TOR)

 

NL Manager of the Year

The Pick: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

The Why:  A veteran manager, returning from retirement and trying to reach his first Fall Classic as a manager after 3,176 games managed (thus far). A team looking to live up to the sky-high expectations of yesteryear.

The narrative is too good to pass up.

The Contenders: Joe Maddon (CHC), Chip Hale (ARZ)

 

Thanks for reading.

 

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a fairly consistent basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as hot button topics like MLB’s expansion mission, which players could be headed to new homes, and the latest clubhouse chemistry conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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The Warning Track: Week 3

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Why ya gotta be so rude?

Early in the week, Cincinnati Reds manager Bryan Price continued a recent trend by sports figures of questioning media methods and the overall importance of sports journalists.

He didn’t exactly take the Marshawn Lynch route, either. Price went on a red-hot (ha) profanity laden rant in which he used “f***” 77 times during a cringeworthy criticism of a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer who was just doing his job, reporting that catcher Devin Mesoraco was unavailable for last Sunday’s game due to injury.

But Price didn’t see it that way. Apparently he’s stuck in the 60s because he confronts the reporter, C. Trent Rosecrans, as if he were a Cold War spy trying to infiltrate the Reds organization for his own nefarious means.

It made for sensational, if not entertaining, news on Monday; a byproduct no doubt of the Reds’ early season struggles – they were coming off a sweep at the hands of St. Louis at the time of the all-time classic rant. It seemed like it was going to follow a familiar script – Price goes off on a victim unjustly and unjustifiably, it makes the rounds on social media, late-night shows crack jokes about it, and Price apologizes the next morning, saying he didn’t mean a word.

It pretty much went that way on Tuesday, except for one thing.

So even after taking a full day to cool off, Price takes us deep into the inner workings of his mind to reveal that he doesn’t understand the basic duty of journalism and its primary loyalties: the truth and the public.

And yes, Mr. Price, that includes “sniff[ing] out every f***ing thing about the Reds and f***ing put[ting] it out there for every other f***ing guy to hear.” Lesson one: that is essence of a journalist’s job.

You’re right; it may not benefit your team, but you’ve got to understand that you’re not the only ones suffering at the torment and unspeakably evil methods of local journalism. Every other professional sports team goes through the exact same thing, and members of those teams understand – I hope – their relationship with reporters and how it must be conducted.

And no, as a matter of fact, whatever Mr. Rosecrans chooses to write and publish does not have to benefit the Reds as you so passionately believe it should. That is not real journalism, that is censorship.

This is baseball, not warfare (well okay, maybe, of a much different kind). Your argument questioning the media’s decision-making on what and what not to write is like Mr. Rosecrans demanding why the Reds aren’t playing during a rain delay because he’d have no story to write.

 

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

Bryan Price has a couple things to learn when it comes to contributing to local journalism.

I’ll cut you the smallest sliver of slack since this is your first year as a manager and, thus, you are in a fairly unfamiliar role. But I suggest you get used to reporters “f***ing blowing it all over the f***ing place” because, win or loss, Spring Training or World Series, that is precisely what they make a living off of.

So be clear on your role, Mr. Price, and the role of reporters like Mr. Rosecrans. He was doing his job just like he was supposed to. You work in a fairly public industry that yields news on a daily basis. Refusing to contribute to it would be neglecting your job as leader of a major league ballclub.

This isn’t “f***ing b*******”, Mr. Price. This is 2015. Get with it.

 

The Kansas City Brawlers

Something interesting has been happening with the Royals lately.

They’ve shown a keen interest in not only winning games this year – they are RECORD – but also making sure they don’t complete nine innings without confronting the opponent in some ways more physical than the unwritten but universal law of baseball dictates.

After getting through a tense series with the Athletics last weekend that feature a couple of ejections and hit batters, the Royals, “led” by Yordano Ventura, once again set off some fireworks against the White Sox this week, leading to some big name players being booted out.

Maybe the MLB’s newfound fastidiousness is getting to them.

This is every baseball fan’s guilty pleasure. In a sport that has been termed “limited-contact” as opposed to rough-and-tumble games in football and basketball, most fans secretly welcome the chance to see some extracurricular activity out of the diamond. I’ll admit it, I do.

C’mon, when have you ever missed a baseball bout and were sorry that you weren’t there to witness it?

But the Royals are taking that to a whole other level, seemingly taking their frustration over a World Series loss out on other teams. Just two weeks into the season they have a culture surrounding them, like a fight between the Royals and their opponent is something to be expected.

And why shouldn’t they be labeled that way? So what if they get on the league’s bad side for having a fire more brightly lit than some other teams? It never leads to any travesty, apart from some bruises on hitters and a couple of ejections and slaps on the wrist.

Whatever motivates the Royals, even if that means the bullpens come rushing in as umpires try to break up a scuffle, I say go for it. Because I’ll be damned if these Kansas City Brawlers and their methods of conducting themselves on the field don’t intimidate future opponents at least a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong. Baseball as a sport shouldn’t become more prone or tolerant of fights occurring regularly. That would ruin the nature of the sport itself.

But i’ll be damned if I don’t respect the Royals a little more than I did two weeks ago. They’ve got the best record in the American League. Why change that culture?

I mean, unless this kind of stuff happens as a result.

 

 

 

Slow Starts or Scarred Seasons?

It’s still the beginning of the season, which means pitcher’s arms are fresh and they’re dominating the competition.

At least, some pitchers are.

Some hurlers that have started out 2015 as expected – Max Scherzer, Johnny Cueto, Sonny Gray and virtually the entire St. Louis Cardinals staff – are tearing up the league, a somewhat traditional way to kick off the baseball calendar. They’re on a level all their own.

Then there’s a middle tier of pitchers who have uncharacteristically been jumped on by opposing batters in major ways, digging holes for their clubs early in games.

That group includes the likes of CC Sabathia, Madison Bumgarner, and reigning Best Player On The Face Of The Planet Clayton Kershaw, who has been almost anything but this season. Their ERAs – between 4.00 and teetering on 6.00 – aren’t quite inflated to disaster but they are scary statistics nonetheless.

Those three players in particular raise different levels of concern.

Sabathia, who actually dropped his ERA by more than a full run with a good last outing against the hot-hitting Tigers, has been prone to struggle recently. He hasn’t been a consistent ace since 2011, when he was a Cy Young candidate, and most of his starts are an extreme hit or miss. So maybe his 14 years in the bigs have finally caught up to him, and his age – 34 – is a telling sign that he may be done.

Note: As i’m editing The Warning Track, Girardi is taking out Sabathia after giving up six runs and nine hits (three homers) against the Mets. Ouch. 

Bumgarner’s a different story – the guy’s ten years younger for starters. He’s pitching to the tune of a 4.63 ERA thus far, way below what we’ve come to expect after consecutive season of sub-3.00, and even more so when you take into account his worst season ERA is an average 3.37 from 2012.

bumgarner sads

However, Bumgarner’s slow start may be more cause for concern than with other pitchers. His struggles thus far are coming at the cost of the Giant’s World Series run last October, in which Bumgarner reached legendary status, due to his pitching an astronomical 52.2 innings, the most in any single postseason in history. There were concerns in the offseason about if his usage in October amounted to overusage, resulting in a down year this season. Thus far, it looks like that may just be the case.

Kershaw presents the most puzzling circumstance of all. He’s young, he barely pitched in October when St. Louis knocked out the Dodgers, and, most importantly, he’s Clayton f***ing Kershaw, to use Brian Price’s language.

Maybe it’s tough for Kershaw to keep improving after having sub-2.00 ERAs each of the last two seasons, but Kershaw simply has not resembled the person immortal deity who has won three of the last four National League Cy Youngs.

He’s failed to get through 7 innings in each of his starts this year, and though his strikeout numbers are there – 9, 5, 12, and 9 through four starts – he also has yet to not allow an earned run. As picky as that is, we know Kershaw is capable of it.

But the most telling stat from Kershaw’s early-season sluggishness? In an April 12th game against the Diamondbacks, he gave up ten hits. He never gave up ten hits at any point last season.

Now we get to the bottom tier, the established veterans and supposed aces who have resembled anything but in the early going. This group includes the likes of Jon Lester and Kyle Lohse, off to some of the most disappointing starts of any player in baseball.

Lester, signed by the Cubs in the offseason to be their ace as they began their long-awaited crusade to October, boasts sports an inflated 6.23 ERA through four starts, giving up at least three runs in each start. He has his moss Lester-esque game in his last start against the Reds on Friday, in which he set a season high in strikeouts (10) and looking fairly comfortable for the first time this season.

Plus, who can argue with how awesome this was?

And maybe the tides really are changing for the new Cubbie. Lester’s Spring Training was cut short due to his experiencing some dead arm, so perhaps his first couple starts were just an extension of getting fully ready for the the rest of the season. One thing’s for sure: If the Cubs want any chance of reaching the postseason in 2015, they’re going to need Lester to be at his best.

Journeyman Kyle Lohse has had a similar script through his first four games. After three straight starts of giving up at least four runs in a less-than-mediocre start to 2015, he finally broke through on Thursday, allowing only two earned runs in seven innings of work to bring his ERA under 10.00 and snap a prolonged losing streak for the Brew Crew. Only time will tell if the consistent Lohse is here to stay.

In an era of pitching dominance, it’s unusual to see so many superstar hurlers struggle against offenses, especially in the National League. Seeing when they break out of their slumps – if they break out of their slumps – will be an interesting storyline to examine over the next few weeks.

 

 

Reunited, but will it feel so good?

In the latest chapter of one of the more fascinating off-field stories of 2015 – albeit for all the wrong reasons – the Angels and Rangers, two teams trending in opposite directions, have agreed on a deal that would send troubled outfielder Josh Hamilton back to Texas, his home from 2008 to 2012.

Getting back with your ex is rarely a great idea, especially when the breakup wasn’t so smooth.

But once in a while, you realize that your life has become so dull that you need to inject yourself with some excitement that has the potential to turn into a better relationship than you had before.

And that’s what the Rangers are betting on. They’re in some bumpy waters for the second straight year, due in no small part to being seemingly cursed with endless injuries. There really isn’t very much team chemistry or momentum that Hamilton, whose past ghosts came back to haunt him in the form of a drug relapse in the offseason, could distort.

Even better for Texas: of the five-year, $125 million that the Angels singed him for in 2012, the Rangers will only be expected to pay around $7 million. Not bad for a former MVP who averages 32 homers a season. It’s virtually a steal for the Rangers, should Hamilton get his life back on track, and his former teammates have said they will do all they can to help him do so. 

This deal is about as win-win as deals go. The Angels, who had a productive but relatively average season from Hamilton in 2013 (he missed half of 2014 with injury), are gunning for the World Series, and they can’t have Hamilton, a walking distraction, taking their mind off of October for one second.

They wouldn’t have made the move if they weren’t content with his replacements, and they already have a couple of in-house options for left field. Matt Joyce, acquired in the offseason, is no doubt a dropoff from what Hamilton provided – his career year in 2011 yielded 19 longballs and 75 RBI to go along with a .277 average – but they also have Grant Green, a career .309 hitter in the minor leagues, waiting in the wings.

As far as what Hamilton brings (back) to the Rangers, he is an astronomical upgrade over Jake Smolinski and Carlos Peguero, who have combined for one home run and four RBI. And once the team gets healthy – because they have to, eventually – and a couple of their stars like Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre get things rolling and playing like the stars that all of major league baseball knows they are, the Rangers might just find that Hamilton is, ironically, the piece they’ve been missing since he left.

As far as reconciling with your ex? Well, we’ll just have to see the kind of reception the fans give him.

 

Other thoughts from the week

  • A pretty cool thing happened this week
  • https://twitter.com/ESPNStatsInfo/status/590995607315226627
  • The Cardinals rotation, so far, is everything the Nationals were supposed to be, and might still be at some point. But between St. Louis staff and bullpen, they’re on a historic pace.
  • The NL West is already contentious, with the Dodgers, Padres and Rockies all at ten wins. With a potentially surprising club in the Diamondbacks looming at 8-8, that division might just be the most exciting in baseball.
  • The Cubs are hanging in there early in the season, 9-7 and in second place in the NL Central. How long can they keep it up?
  • And WHEN will Kris Bryant hit his first home run??
  • Dusty Baker, last with the Reds, is reportedly yearning to manage again. The Miami Marlins’ Mike Redmond is reportedly on the hot seat. Good timing?
  • Snow in a regular season baseball game? Climate change is real, people.

Have a great week, baseball fans. Let’s see if A-Rod can hit two more.

 

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico.