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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4th & Inches: Week 17

4th & Inches is a weekly discussion during the NFL regular season, playoffs, and occasionally during the offseason of all things football – the good, the bad, and the Oakland Raiders. Some weeks all games will be discussed. Some games three games will be discussed. Topics will range from quarterback play to the dictatorship structure of the league to trending topics.

As a whole, the purpose of 4th and Inches will be exactly what the name suggests. As a team on the field often is in desperation mode when it decides go for it on fourth down and inches, these blog entries will be a desperate attempt to make sense of what is going on in the National Football League.

If you have any topics you wish to see discussed on 4th & Inches, or any comments at all, you can suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

 

The Greatness of Vinatieri

He was so close. One more made field goal attempt for the Colts in their final game against Tennessee and Adam Vinatierie’s name would be at the top of ESPN’s agenda as only the fifth kicker in NFL history to have a perfect season. Alas, whether it be from a slight gust or the damp conditions or fate, one final 46-yarder, a distance Vinatieri has covered countless times, couldn’t make it between the goalposts.

But final misses be damned.

Vinatieri was one of the most underrated players in 2014, and that’s due in large part to the fact that he is a kicker. Let’s face it, they don’t get much love or attention unless they’re being let go.

On the morning of 2014’s finale against the Titans, Vinatieri was 28-for-28 on field goal attempts, Vinatieri was perfect on PATs, and Vinatieri turned 42. It’s hard to decide which of the stats– concerning football or his age – is more incredible.

Alas, Vinatieri’s season ends 30-for-31 after Sunday’s miss from 46 yards, but that in no way mars the remarkably consistent season Vinatieri has had. Regarded by many as the most clutch kicker in NFL history (See: Super Bowls XXXVI & XXXVIII), Vinatieri became the first player in NFL history to score 900 points for two different franchises. He’ll end his season with a trip to the Pro Bowl along with four other Colts, but that game (exhibition?) will in no way be the end of a Hall of Fame Career.

Vinatieri has said he wants to keep playing after 2014, and why not? Considering how his age has correlated with his performance in recent seasons, Vinatieri is one of the most durable athletes in professional sports today. The oldest player currently in Canton to ever take the football field, George Blanda, hung up the cleats just prior to his 49th birthday. Who knows, maybe Vinatieri has another record in him?

So thank you, Vinatieri, for continuing to be an underappreciated marvel on the field. Congratulations on all your Super Bowl-clinching kicks that will go down in history, your phenomenal 2014, and all your success in the future.

vinatieri

 

Close to the very top of the Things We Never Thought We’d Say At The Beginning Of The Season…

The Dallas Cowboys have the most momentum going into the playoffs. Tony Romo has to be one of the most confident quarterbacks going into the new year and if the names Dez and DeMarco don’t strike a balance of fear and admiration in your heart, you haven’t been watching them enough this season.

The ‘Boys have been an absolute menace on both sides of the ball in December as Romo finally moved past his late-season ghosts (14-21 in December and January prior to 2014). Just look at that sentence and imagine how many of its components would sound comic a year ago. Jerry Jones’ faith in Jason Garrett ( has finally paid off after a couple of underwhelming 8-8 seasons, and he finally gets to see what his talent-infused roster gets to do in January.

Over the last month Dallas has outscored their opponents 165-79 while setting new franchise records in the process. Sure three of those teams aren’t going to be in the playoffs, but when routs become commonplace and expected that’s got to give you some confidence for when you play the big dogs.

Naysayers will say that Tony is setting up Dallas for “The Greatest Romo of All Time”, but that doesn’t have much legitimacy to it when their running attack and defense has been just as formidable a force in December. Heck, they would almost be shoo-ins for the Super Bowl if they resided in the weaker AFC.

Dallas won their finale against the Redskins 44-17 and finished a magnificent 8-0 on the road in 2014. As I’m typing this, if current scored hold, Dallas would have a bye through the first week of the playoffs.

They’re gonna need it to figure out their play at home, where they went just 4-4 this year. When that is your team’s biggest concern heading into the playoffs, you know you’re in a pretty good place.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

Tony Romo led the Cowboys to a 4-0 record in December.

 

The Indianapolis Colts and divisional privilege

After a 17-10 victory over Houston in Week 15, Indianapolis clinched yet another AFC South title. Or, as a decade of singular dominance by Indy and unparalleled atrociousness by Jacksonville, Houston, and Tennessee has suggested it should be called, they won the Weakest Division In Football.

Divisional dominance can be deceiving.

The Colts have now won the South nine times in the division’s 13-year existence, and in 2014 they swept their division opponents. Which really isn’t that astonishing when you look at the combined record of those other three teams, which stands at 14-34 for at the end of 2014. Those teams in their current respective locations have won a grant total of zero Super Bowls, due slightly in part to the fact that they have zero appearances between the three of them.

I mean, let’s be honest, does it really strike fear when wehear the words Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans? The Houston Texans are getting there slowly, and by golly would have won the Worst Division In Football had Indy lost one or two games down the stretch. But in reality when it’s the Houston Texans we’re talking about, it’s usually J.J. Watt.

When examining the division more closely, it might do to place a big fat asterisk next to all the statements about Colts dominance and superiority in the division over the 2000s. They have been one of the most consistent franchises over the last 10+ years in the regular season, but when looking at how they have fared in the postseason – save for one Super Bowl victory in 2006 – does it really correlate with their play in the regular season?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

Luck went 8-0 against the AFC South this season, but how impressive is that really?

To be sure, the Colts are remarkable for emerging the best team of four at the end of 9 out of 13 seasons. That is no small feat, no matter how bad the other teams perform. But when you compare the AFC South to a division like the NFC North, which has five Super Bowl victories between just two teams (the Packers and Bears) and has emerged as a deadly division in recent years, how much of a light is shed on the awkward lopsidedness of the AFC South?

It warrants thinking about, as the Colts win division title after division title while the rest of the division is seemingly stuck in eternal disappointment limbo.

 

Game 256

A playoff-picture-cementing matchup between the Steelers and Bengals earned the dubious distinction of being the final game of the 2014 regular season. The matchup is rightfully in primetime, and we all know what that means in 2014. 

On paper the Steelers should win this game, by about a score of  68-13, but the Bengals have been one of the more perplexing teams of the season. They’ve had a tendency to grind out must-win games against formidable opponents while doing the opposite against more meager teams, and that formula is in place for Game 256.

No matter the outcome of this game, the thing to pay attention to is the stars that have to align for a Steelers trip to Foxborough in the playoffs.

Just image the storylines surrounding that matchup. Two quarterbacks with what might very well be their last real shot at another Super Bowl to cement surefire Hall of Fame careers. Roethlisberger’s Steelers have emerged as the most balanced offensive attack in the league, while Tom Brady has had an MVP-worthy season.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

Brady and Roethlisberger are a combined 28-12 in the playoffs.

With respect to the Broncos, their Super Bowl hopes rest on an early exit of the Patriots from the playoffs. As inconsistently as they have played in the latter half of the regular season, they aren’t the one team from the AFC that can beat Brady on his home turf.

The Steelers can, and I believe that a Brady-Roethlisberger matchup, headlined by two slingers with five Super Bowl rings between them, would result in a game for the ages.

I mean, something has to be there to halt the unstoppable force that is the Patriots in a season where the Giants miss the playoffs…right?

I think the Steelers are the one team that can do it and the team that will do it.

It begins tonight with Game 256, and the end of the regular season.

 

Just another MVP ballot

Last week I gave my take over why J.J. Watt won’t win the MVP – although he is truly deserving – and although finished his season by becoming the first player in NFL history with multiple 20-sack seasons, I stand by that.

That being said, the man had a damn fine season by any position’s standards, so he deserves some place on every ballot, which I present to you now, at the end of a season in which any of the listed players, and a few others, could win the award.

1. Aaron Rodgers,  QB, Green Bay

2. Tom Brady, QB, New England

3. DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas

4. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston

5. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh

And, because they impact their respective teams just as much, I present to you my ballot for Least Valuable Player.

1. Roger Goodell, Commissioner, National Football League

2. Geno Smith, QB, New York Jets

3. Jay Cutler, QB, Chicago

4. Jim Harbaugh, Soon-To-Be-Ex Head Coach, San Francisco

5. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta

 

Final thoughts on the 2014 regular season

  • How miserable a season it must have been for fans of the 49ers. Not only between having to deal with the wildly irrational play at times of Colin Kaepernick, but also with the never-ending speculation of where Jim Harbaugh will be coaching next year. This team is close to contending again, but that final piece might prove elusive.

 

  • As Peyton Manning sets new records in Denver, Andrew Luck surpasses him with smaller ones in Indianapolis. With an absolutely phenomenal 80-yard catch and run by Reggie Wayne on Sunday’s victory over the Titans, Andrew Luck set a new Colts franchise record for passing yards in a single season. Congratulations, Andrew. Now please get the turnover issue fixed for January.

 

  • Odell Beckham, Jr. That is all. Might be the sole reason Eli is still the starter in New York next season.

 

  • Roger Goodell has continued to dig himself a deeper hole, despite staying out of headlines the last few weeks, with how he handled the Rice case. Hard to imagine he’s Commish for much longer.

 

  • Major KUDOS to the NFL’s 32 teams for refusing to pick up Ray Rice.

 

  • My, what a three-year span it’s been for AP.

 

  • The Curious Case of Primetime Games…seriously, nothing about the 2014 season was more perplexing.

 

  • Denver just had an interception to end (finally) a 47-14 thrashing of the Raiders. If they return to the Super Bowl, it will be because of their defense.

 

  • Considering their situation(s), the Rams had to have had one of the most pleasantly surprising teams of 2014. Bradford is a healthy season away from leading them to the playoffs.

 

  • Johnny Manziel, you let us down.

 

  • Overreaction of the season: The Patriots are done for the season after a 41-14 loss to the Chiefs in Week 4.

 

  • Can’t remember the last time the choice MVP of the regular season was this muddled, and that can’t be anything other than good for the league. Parity is paramount.

 

  • Glad that Peyton isn’t seriously considering retirement just yet. The NFL isn’t quite ready for him to leave.

 

 

 

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.