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  • Top 10's

    Buster Olney has been putting out top 10 lists on his blog all week.

    Top 10 rotations in MLB

    Kyle Lohse still doesn't have a home, and there could be a few more trades of starting pitchers. But there is enough information available to rank the 10 best rotations for 2013.

    1. Detroit Tigers

    The rotation of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello took the Tigers to the World Series, and they could be even better in 2013. Verlander is generally regarded within the industry as the best pitcher on the planet, Fister is coming back from a season in which he was nagged by an oblique injury, and the Tigers will benefit from a full season of Sanchez, who was re-signed to an $80 million deal.

    Detroit is listening to offers for Porcello and if the Tigers find the right deal, they would presumably replace him in the rotation with Drew Smyly. But they always have the option of holding their pitching depth; last season, they struggled constantly to find fixes after Fister got hurt. Rival evaluators believe that the Tigers' pitching will be helped by the defensive cleanup that Detroit has done in its outfield, adding Torii Hunter and removing Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young.

    Linchpin guy: Scherzer. After he dominated the Yankees in the playoffs, some of their hitters raved about Scherzer's pure stuff and development. In the second half of 2012, he was among the most dominant pitchers in the majors. Check out his month-by-month numbers in the table to the right.

    Scherzer is known as somebody who tinkers and sometimes overthinks. If he holds on to what he found last year, he could be the difference between an excellent rotation and something even better.

    April 7.77 24.1 27
    May 4.04 35.2 51
    June 3.86 30.1 36
    July 3.62 32.1 37
    August 2.25 32 44
    September 2.17 29 33

    2. Washington Nationals

    Stephen Strasburg is back and healthy, and if Washington follows the typical industry guidelines for building innings in young starters, he'll be able to throw something in the range of 190 innings. Strasburg will be at the front of a rotation that has Gio Gonzalez, who finished third in the NL Cy Young race last season, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler and Dan Haren.

    Linchpin guy: Zimmermann. He will be three years removed from his Tommy John surgery, and is ready to become, for this staff, what James Shields was to the Rays' rotation -- the reliable front-end guy, the plow horse. Even in a season in which he seemed to tire in the final weeks, he had an excellent year, posting a 2.94 ERA. And the best is yet to come for the 26-year-old.

    3. Los Angeles Dodgers

    Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly/Chris Capuano/Aaron Harang/Hyun-Jin Ryu. For Greinke and Beckett, this is the perfect situation, because they don't have the burden of being The Guy. Kershaw is the National League's best pitcher and he fully embraces all that comes with being the staff leader, from the media responsibilities to those moments when retaliation is needed. Greinke and Beckett can just worry about pitching, which is probably how they prefer it to be. The reason the Dodgers are ranked third -- and not higher -- is that it's not really clear what Don Mattingly is going to get out of Billingsley, Lilly or the starting pitcher who isn't dealt.

    Linchpin guy: Beckett. Like other veteran starters who have moved from the AL to the NL, he should benefit from the shift, and Beckett is smart and savvy enough to be able to take advantage of those weakest spots at the bottom of the lineup. Beckett had a 2.93 ERA in his seven starts with the Dodgers, after being acquired from Boston, and now he gets a full-season reset button. He could be excellent. It's evident from Beckett's FanGraphs data that he relied a lot more on his cutter in his last few starts; it's a small sample size, but his strikeouts-per-9 ratio jumped from 6.64 with the Red Sox to 7.95 with the Dodgers.

    4. Philadelphia Phillies

    Remember two winters ago, when the Phillies were thought to have one of the greatest rotations of all time? There's a been-there, done-that sense about Philadelphia, a group of players who might be in the twilight of their accomplishments together. But Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels still might be the best trio of starters in the majors, and each is fully capable of winning the Cy Young Award. The Phillies led the majors in starting pitcher innings and strikeouts last season despite a miserable year that seemed to fall apart early. John Lannan was signed to help fill out the rotation, along with Kyle Kendrick and Tyler Cloyd.

    Linchpin guy: Halladay. It's a really big year for the right-hander, because he has a $20 million option that can vest if he throws 235 innings, something he's done in five different seasons. Shoulder trouble limited him to 156⅓ innings last year, and at 35, he's reached the age where the performance cliff can be treacherous: He's really good when he pitches, but it wouldn't be a shock to anyone if he's taken down by all the years of accumulated wear and tear. Halladay will enter the season with a career record of 199-100.

    5. Cincinnati Reds

    The Reds finished fifth in the majors in rotation ERA last season, and their group of five was remarkably durable -- Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake started 161 of the team's 162 games. As if that wasn't enough, the Reds intend to shift the overpowering Aroldis Chapman into their rotation in 2013, to give them a needed left-handed presence. Cueto was a Cy Young candidate for most of the season, and Latos made an excellent transition from pitching his home games in massive Petco Park to the confined quarters in Cincinnati. Arroyo, who turns 36 in February, has had seven straight seasons of 199 or more innings. The Cincinnati bullpen should be pretty good, too.

    Linchpin guy: Bailey. He has a reputation for being stubborn and hard-headed, but he seemed to figure out some stuff during the 2012 season, with his ERA dropping from 4.14 in the first half to 3.21 after the All-Star break. Bailey was a first-round pick in 2004 and because of that, it feels like he's been around forever -- but remember, he's 26. If he has, in fact, turned the corner, and Chapman repeats his delivery enough to stay in the rotation, the Reds might have the best rotation by the end of the year.

    6. Tampa Bay Rays

    You start with Cy Young winner David Price, complemented by the underrated Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore and Jeff Niemann. The Rays finished No. 1 in starters' ERA last season, but they traded anchor James Shields, who threw more than 1,300 innings over the past six years.

    Linchpin guy: Moore. He went into the 2012 season as the prohibitive favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year, after his dominating showing at the end of 2011. But Moore struggled for command consistency for the first half of last season, before putting together a very good second half; Moore had a 3.01 ERA after the All-Star break, with 79 strikeouts in 77⅔ innings. If the 23-year-old blossoms this season, this rotation could be great, rather than just pretty good.

    7. Toronto Blue Jays

    The addition of R.A. Dickey gives them a Cy Young winner at the front of a group that could be dynamic, with its combination of left-handers (Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero) and power right-handers (Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow). Only Justin Verlander threw more innings than Dickey last season, and Morrow might be ready for a breakout season, after gaining command consistency and lowering his ERA to 2.96 in 124⅔ innings last year.

    Linchpin guy: Johnson. When healthy, he's been among the most dominant starters in the majors. Last year, his fastball velocity was down, and he had a 3.81 ERA in 31 starts. It's a big year for Johnson, who turns 29 in January and is eligible for free agency next fall.

    8. Atlanta Braves

    Kris Medlen had a sub-1.00 ERA in his last 12 starts, and he could emerge as the front-end guy the Braves need to complement Tim Hudson. The Braves are hopeful that Brandon Beachy will be back at full speed by August and September, meaning that he could be their biggest addition during the course of the season. The Braves will have Paul Maholm all season, along with Mike Minor, and they have depth, with prospects Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran waiting in the wings.

    Linchpin guy: Minor. He figured out in late May how to not beat himself, how to minimize damage in his innings, how to be aggressive with his fastball, and he was much better down the stretch. Minor -- who actually led the Braves in starts, with 30 -- had a 2.16 ERA after the All-Star break. If he picks up that thread in 2013, the Atlanta rotation will be formidable.

    9. San Francisco Giants

    San Francisco finished sixth in starters' ERA and the Giants' rotation helped them win the World Series for the second time in three seasons -- and yet the year ended with a lot of questions for the starters. Rival scouts thought Matt Cain showed signs of wear and tear by the end of the postseason, and wondered if he was pitching through fatigue. Madison Bumgarner completely lost his delivery in parts of the postseason, and Tim Lincecum struggled enough to lose his spot in the rotation in the playoffs. But you figure that between that trio and Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito, the Giants' rotation will be one of the best, again.

    Linchpin guy: Lincecum. He thrived in the relief role in the postseason, and the Giants are hopeful that he can draw confidence out of that success and apply it to his work in the rotation in 2013. He'll be eligible for free agency after this season, so it's an important year for him to re-establish himself as a reliable starter.

    10. Oakland Athletics

    The Athletics finished third in the AL in starters' ERA, and now they'll benefit from a full season of Brett Anderson at the front of a young rotation that includes Jarrod Parker (3.47 ERA in 29 starts), Tommy Milone (3.74), A.J. Griffin (3.06 ERA in 15 starts) and Dan Straily; Bartolo Colon was re-signed for just $3 million, and remember, he was pretty good before being suspended.

    Linchpin guy: Anderson. In his first full season since having elbow reconstruction, it figures that the Athletics will monitor his innings -- although it's unlikely they'll discuss those limits publicly. Oakland is relying on a lot of young starters, which means that when Anderson pitches, the Athletics will need him to be really good, as he was at the end of 2012; in six starts, Anderson went 4-2, with a 2.57 ERA.

    The next best: New York Yankees

    The Yankees have had a rough winter trying to explain their new-found austerity to a fan base accustomed to big, bold (and expensive) moves. But they have managed to hold their pitching together and should have a good and efficient rotation, with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte and Phil Hughes. Michael Pineda is a complete wild card: The talented right-hander is coming back from shoulder surgery, which means that nobody knows what he'll contribute next season -- 100 innings of dominant stuff, or next to nothing, as he recovers. Rival evaluators like David Phelps in a rotation/bullpen swing role.

    Linchpin guy: Hughes had a decent season in 2012, despite pitching in a ballpark for which he is an imperfect fit. On the road last year, Hughes went 11-4, with a 3.76 ERA, and 22 of the 35 homers he allowed were in Yankee Stadium, where he went 5-9, 4.76.

    We'll have some polling data on this later in the week, as we present rank the teams based on other categories.

  • #2

    Top 10 outfields in MLB

    Yesterday, I ranked the top 10 starting rotations in baseball. Today, the rankings for the best outfields in the majors -- as in offense, defense, the whole thing:

    1. Los Angeles Angels

    This group has a chance to be something really special. Mike Trout has one full season in the big leagues, and it was merely one of the greatest single-season performances in the history of baseball. Josh Hamilton, signed for $125 million this winter, is merely one of the most dynamic hitters in baseball. And Peter Bourjos, who is expected to be the third member of the outfield, is merely regarded as one of the best defenders in the sport; he ranked No. 1 in UZR/150 among outfielders with 400 or more defensive innings in 2012.

    For the sake of this discussion, we're going to assume that the bulk of Mark Trumbo's at-bats will be as the designated hitter, but even with that, it would seem possible -- although improbable -- that the Angels' trio could generate 100 steals and 100 homers. Ninety-ninety is probably a more reasonable projection, with 100-100 as the goal.

    Something to remember: Part of the reason why rival evaluators believe Trout will continue to be a great player is that his approach at the plate is so simple, with mechanics that are easily repeated, and the adjustments he makes from at-bat to at-bat are so sound.

    Look at Trout versus opposing starting pitchers (from as the game progresses:

    First PA vs. starting pitcher: .860 OPS
    Second PA vs. SP: 1.042
    Third PA vs. SP: 1.198
    Fourth PA vs. SP: 1.244

    2. Washington Nationals

    With the acquisition of Denard Span, Washington GM Mike Rizzo finally was able to get the pure center fielder he had been looking for, and now Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth can be committed to the corners for the foreseeable future. The trio is good defensively, but even better offensively, with all three capable of getting on base at a good rate (Werth had a .387 on-base percentage last year, ranking 16th in the majors for hitters with at least 300 plate appearances). It's possible that Span, Werth and Harper could eventually hit 1-2-3 in the Washington lineup.

    Something to remember: At age 19, Trout had his struggles early -- before erupting at age 20. Harper had arguably one of the greatest seasons for any 19-year-old, and coming into this year, he will be armed with all the knowledge accumulated last year. He will know that opposing pitchers are going to feed him a steady series of breaking balls. Only two hitters saw a higher percentage last year: Hamilton and Alfonso Soriano.

    He will know the pitchers. It's worth noting, again, the steady incline in his performance in the final months of the season. Harper's OPS by month:

    May .860
    June .779
    July .619
    August .748
    September 1.049

    3. Oakland Athletics

    They have tremendous depth, with the quartet of Josh Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes, Chris Young and Coco Crisp, and excellent defense -- which really fits their spacious home park and aids the pitching. At age 25, Reddick took a big step forward, accumulating 66 extra-base hits, 32 homers among them. The timing of Young's arrival in Oakland seems perfect for him: There won't be a lot of pressure on him after years of being compared to his potential in Arizona, and having known Chili Davis for 15 years, I'd bet that he and Young will work well together; Davis is low-key in his demeanor and methodical, and this will help Young.

    Something to remember: Cespedes immediately impressed his teammates with his toughness, with his ability to shrug off a poor at-bat and adjust in subsequent at-bats. Like Trout, he is just getting to know major league pitchers, and as with Trout, there were signs of in-game alterations during games last season. Check out his OPS progression in each at bat:

    First plate appearance vs. a starter: .867 OPS, 26 strikeouts in 118 at-bats
    Second plate appearance vs. a starter: .999 OPS, 14 strikeouts in 109 at-bats
    Third plate appearance vs. a starter: .987 OPS, 16 strikeouts in 86 at-bats

    4. Los Angeles Dodgers

    It's the outfield with the most star power, for sure: Matt Kemp in center, flanked by Carl Crawford in left field and Andre Ethier in right. Kemp was plagued by injuries and limited to 106 games, and still managed to hit .303 with 23 homers, and Ethier finished the season with 20 homers and 89 RBIs. Crawford missed almost all of last season with elbow trouble before having Tommy John surgery, and he may not be ready for the very beginning of the 2012 season. If each of the three match their best seasons from the past, this group could be the best in the majors, with power, speed and defense. But a significant factor will be how Ethier and Crawford fare against the parade of left-handers they will see, especially in the later innings of games.

    Ethier had an OPS of .606 versus lefties last season, and Crawford had even worse numbers (OPS of .566) against lefties while playing for Boston in 2011. Kemp did a ton of damage against lefties last year, with a 1.105 OPS, and the Dodgers will need him to continue that trend, because he's going to see a ton of lefties while hitting among Crawford, Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez.

    Something to remember: The Dodgers' payroll is going to be far beyond the luxury tax, and the team's management has a distinct win-or-bust, Steinbrenneresque style of operation right now. If Crawford or Ethier struggle against lefties and the Dodgers suffer in the standings, it's hard to imagine the front office waiting patiently for them to figure out their swings. They're more likely to pursue a right-handed-hitting outfielder who can help balance the lineup -- which might explain why they were open to retaining Shane Victorino for 2013.

    5. St. Louis Cardinals

    Left fielder Matt Holliday had a typical season of run production, with 27 homers, 95 runs and 102 RBIs in 157 games, and right fielder Carlos Beltran had 59 extra-base hits, including 32 homers. Center fielder Jon Jay took a big step forward as an offensive player, hitting .305 in 117 games, with a .373 on-base percentage; he progressed from 3.63 pitches per plate appearance in 2011 to 3.85 last season, a sign of an improved approach.

    Something to remember: Beltran played in 151 games last season, his most since 2008, but he will be 36 years old in April. Given his history of knee trouble, he has reached that stage of his career when the Cardinals will presumably have some contingency plans built in. Beltran was a very good player in 2012, but his OPS of .841 was his lowest over a full season since his first year with the Mets, and his 124 strikeouts were his most since 2002.

    6. Cincinnati Reds

    Jay Bruce is one of the best overall outfielders in the majors, Shin-Soo Choo can get on base, steal bases and throw, and Ryan Ludwick is coming off a season in which he clubbed 26 homers in 125 games. The only question about the Reds' outfield is how they will be aligned. Their plan going into spring training is for Choo to play center field, but rival evaluators believe that eventually, Bruce will be shifted to center and Choo will move to right.

    Something to remember: Bruce is 25 and still developing as a hitter, and there may not be a hitter who has been more defined by what happens early in the count. In those plate appearances in which he moved ahead in the count by taking the first pitch out of the zone, he posted a .929 OPS. When he fell behind 0-1, however, he had a .608 OPS. The difference in his results, depending on the count, was much more acute than that for a lot of hitters -- he had a .421 OPS in at-bats that ended when he was behind in the count, 1.009 when the count was even, 1.032 when he was ahead.

    7. Milwaukee Brewers

    Left fielder Ryan Braun is one of the game's best hitters, and Norichika Aoki is one of the game's most underrated hitters. In his first year in the majors, the 30-year-old Aoki hit a solid .288/.355/.788 line with 30 stolen bases, and his production home and away was almost identical -- a .789 OPS in Milwaukee, .785 on the road. Carlos Gomez improved last season -- he had 37 stolen bases and 19 homers -- and with his free agency looming next fall, this will be an important year for him.

    Something to remember: Opposing pitchers talked in spring training about how Braun would see fewer pitches to hit because of the departure of Prince Fielder -- but it made no difference. In Braun's six seasons in the majors, he has 614 runs, 643 RBIs, 202 homers and 126 stolen bases. He has demonstrated time and again a unique ability to square up pitches. Check out his career numbers in hitters' counts, when he can anticipate fastballs:

    2-0 count: 1.329 OPS, 6 homers in 51 plate appearances
    3-1 count: 1.686 OPS, 6 homers in 161 PA
    3-0 count: 2.000 OPS, 3-for-3

    8. Atlanta Braves

    The only reason why they're not higher on this list is that it's unclear how often Martin Prado will be in left field. It could be that the bulk of Prado's playing time will be as Chipper Jones' replacement, and if that's the case, then the Braves will fill left with some kind of platoon of Reed Johnson and some left-handed hitter to be named. B.J. Upton takes over in center field, and Jason Heyward will be in right field.

    Something to remember: Heyward improved dramatically in every way possible last season, from his approach at the plate to his defense, and he's just 23 years old. His next big challenge will be to learn to cope with left-handed pitchers, something that he and Freddie Freeman will see a lot of in the late innings. Last year, Heyward had an OPS of .934 versus right-handers, and .635 versus lefties; 20 of his 27 homers came against lefties. Heyward has demonstrated the ability to take the ball through the middle and to left field -- check out his numbers according to where he hits the ball here -- and that could be crucial in his adjustments against lefties.

    9. Arizona Diamondbacks

    Somebody's going to be traded, but whether that's Jason Kubel or Justin Upton, Arizona should have a deep and diverse outfield, a group that includes left-handed and right-handed hitters, good defenders, speed and power. Cody Ross wrecks left-handed pitchers, Gerardo Parra is one of the sport's better outfielders, and in a small sample of 102 plate appearances in September, Adam Eaton showed an ability to get on base.

    Something worth remembering: If Kubel is dealt and Upton returns, Upton will be in the vortex of a lot of attention -- about his relationship with the team, about the quality of his at-bats, especially on the road. Upton posted a .670 OPS while hitting away from home last season. He is seeing fewer and fewer four-seam fastballs, according to FanGraphs data:

    2009: 50.0 percent of pitches
    2010: 38.7 percent of pitches
    2011: 33.5 percent of pitches
    2012: 30.9 percent of pitches

    10. Baltimore Orioles

    The Orioles have Nick Markakis in right field and Adam Jones in center field, and manager Buck Showalter used an amalgam of players in left, from Nate McLouth to Lew Ford. The Orioles are hopeful that Nolan Reimold will be back and able to play more this season, and when healthy, he's a good offensive player.

    Something to remember: Jones is one of those players who has been talked about for so long that it seems he would be 31 years old. In fact, he's just 27, and figures to continue to grow and learn as a hitter. There has generally been a slow and steady climb in Jones's OPS in his career:

    2008: .711
    2009: .792
    2010: .767
    2011: .785
    2012: .839

    He had 74 extra-base hits in 2012; only seven players in the majors had more. For Jones, the next step as a hitter will be to continue to narrow his strike zone -- as opposed to expanding it, something he did during the Orioles' series against the Yankees in the postseason.

    The best of the rest

    Detroit Tigers: With Austin Jackson in center, Torii Hunter in right and a combination of Andy Dirks and Avisail Garcia in left. Some rival evaluators believe there will be notable regression in Hunter's offensive production this year, after he hit .389 on balls he put in play last year.

    Toronto Blue Jays: They could have one of the best outfields in the majors, depending on three factors:

    1. Does Jose Bautista bounce back from an injury-plagued 2012, in which he hit .241 in 92 games?
    2. Does Colby Rasmus progress, in what seems to be a tipping-point season for him? He had a .689 OPS last year, and at age 26, potential must start to translate.
    3. Is Melky Cabrera for real, or is his performance a product of drugs? He was one of the best players in the NL before getting busted last year, after being viewed as a fourth-outfielder type by the Yankees and Braves and other teams in his career. The fact that Cabrera signed a two-year deal with the Jays -- rather than bet heavily on himself to bounce back on a one-year deal -- could mean that he has his own questions.

    Colorado Rockies: They have a seemingly talented group in Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Michael Cuddyer and Tyler Colvin. But the home/road splits with the Colorado hitters always seem to raise questions about their level of excellence. Look at the home OPS and home runs against the road OPS/home runs:

    Gonzalez: 1.046/13 at home, .706/9 on the road
    Fowler: .984/10 at home, .720/3 on the road
    Cuddyer: .858/9 at home, .744/7 on the road
    Colvin: 1.032/11 at home, .687/7 on the road

    The defensive metrics for the Colorado outfielders are so bad that they've even raised some red flags, for some team analysts, about whether they can even be applied to Rockies players.


    • #3

      Top 10 infields in the majors

      As we continue our series for this week, we present the teams with the best collection of infielders -- first base, second, third and shortstop -- in the majors.

      1. Texas Rangers

      The Rangers' plan is to give Mitch Moreland a chance to establish himself as the first baseman in spring training, but they will also be devoted to the concept of making sure their best players will be in the lineup; if it becomes clear that Jurickson Profar -- who turns 20 next month -- is one of those guys, he'll play. Profar was shut down in winter ball because of an elbow problem, but the Rangers say he's fine now and is ready to go. The left side of the Texas infield is dynamic defensively, with MVP candidate Adrian Beltre at third and the improved Elvis Andrus at shortstop. Andrus is only 24 years old and still developing as an offensive player, and he showed in the first half that he has room to grow.

      The X factor: Ian Kinsler. There was a general regression throughout almost every part of the Rangers' lineup as last season progressed, from Josh Hamilton to Michael Young, but Kinsler's decline may have been the most perplexing. At age 30, his OPS slid by 83 points from 2011 to 2012; his WAR went from 7.1 to 2.0 in the same time frame. The damage he did against fastballs dropped considerably last year. As Profar emerges, Kinsler could be asked to change positions and move to first base, as he has acknowledged, but no matter where he plays, the Rangers will need better production out of him than they got last season; when at his best, Kinsler can be an elite hitter, among infielders.

      2. Detroit Tigers

      Let's get this out of the way: The Tigers' infield defense was the worst in the majors last season because of plays not made, and for a sinker-ball pitcher like Rick Porcello, the lack of range is a problem. But in the end, Detroit reached the World Series largely because of the offensive excellence of Miguel Cabrera, who had the first Triple Crown season in almost half a century, and Prince Fielder, who made a seamless transition in his first season in Detroit. Those two combined for 74 homers and 247 RBIs.

      "They're the best 1-2 punch in the big leagues," an AL general manager said recently. A very underrated part of what Cabrera and Fielder provide is their devotion to playing daily: They answer the bell, every day. Over the last seven seasons, Cabrera and Fielder have missed a total of 40 games. Omar Infante seemingly put a lot of pressure on himself after joining the Tigers in a midseason trade, before settling in and playing better down in the last weeks; he should be better this year.

      The X factor: Their shortstop situation. The Tigers exercised the 2013 option for Jhonny Peralta, who is steady but limited, especially on defense. But they demonstrated during the winter that they're open to a possible upgrade, and it'll be interesting to see if Peralta holds this position throughout the season, or if Detroit aggressively looks for an alternative during the year.

      3. Cincinnati Reds

      If Texas has the best left side in baseball, the Reds probably have the best right side, with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips, who both excel offensively and defensively. Votto will presumably go into this season fully recovered from the multiple rounds of knee surgery he had last year, and with Shin-Soo Choo joining the Reds, Phillips figures to slide into the No. 2 spot in the Cincinnati lineup. Dusty Baker had to work to get Todd Frazier into the lineup at times last season, but with Scott Rolen closer to retirement, Frazier becomes the every-day guy at third, after posting an .829 OPS in 128 games last year. It's worth noting that while the Reds' hitters generally benefit from hitting in a cozy home park, Frazier fared better on the road than at home in 2012, by a good margin -- his OPS away from Cincinnati was 85 points higher, at .871. Shortstop Zack Cozart, 27, has some pop.

      The X factor: For the first time in Votto's time with the Reds, the sum of their parts could really help him to a monster season. In recent years, Cincinnati has sometimes lacked a leadoff hitter who consistently gets on base, or good left-handed/right-handed balance, or depth through the 4-5-6 spots in their lineup. But with the addition of Choo at the top of their lineup, the Reds might have the best group they've ever had around Votto, who finished 2012 with a career-high 1.041 OPS. It could be a really big summer for him.

      4. Tampa Bay Rays

      Sure, nobody knows exactly what they'll get out of first baseman James Loney, who is probably getting his last full-time shot to show that he can be a consistent run producer. And Tampa Bay's Yunel Escobar experiment will be fascinating; just as the Blue Jays did, they're betting that his talent (and the incredible team-friendly contract) will outweigh all his personality quirks and perceived lack of focus. But no matter what they get out of Loney and Escobar, the Rays should have two bedrocks in their infield, health permitting: Third baseman Evan Longoria and second baseman Ben Zobrist. Over Longoria's last 207 games, he has 48 homers and 154 RBIs, while playing in a home ballpark that's not exactly hitter-friendly, and Zobrist is a WAR superstar; he finished 16th in the majors in 2012 (FanGraphs' version) and 11th in 2011.

      The X factor: Escobar. One of the folks in the Toronto organization summed up the shortstop in this way: "Every day, he makes at least one major mistake on defense or running the bases." That's a tendency that runs counter to the Rays' working philosophy, of course; Tampa Bay needs to be efficient. But Escobar is also capable of game-changing at-bats and superlative defense. The question is whether he'll drive the Rays crazy while they wait for those moments -- which is what happened in Atlanta and in Toronto. There's a reason someone who is perceived to be so talented has bounced to four teams (including the Marlins) in four seasons.

      5. New York Yankees

      Robinson Cano is the game's best second baseman, and if the contract-year theory applies in his case -- he's eligible for free agency in the fall -- he could contend for the MVP award, again. Around him, there are stars capable of great things, even as older players: Derek Jeter led the majors in hits last season, at age 38. Mark Teixeira had 52 extra-base hits in 123 games in what was perceived to be a down year for him in 2012. Only two seasons ago, Kevin Youkilis posted a .411 on-base percentage for the Red Sox. And sometime in midseason, the Yankees believe, Alex Rodriguez will be back from his surgery.

      The X factor: The ravages of age; the Yankees are hanging on the physical cliff. Jeter is coming back from a broken leg and, as he has noted himself with some humor, he has reached the age when everybody wonders, year to year, if he can still play. Teixeira turns 33 in April and his OPS has dropped each of the last four seasons:

      2008: .962
      2009: .948
      2010: .846
      2011: .835
      2012: .807

      There was a difference of about 400 OPS points in Youkilis' home/road splits last season, which was a red flag for some teams. Given that Rodriguez is 37 and has now had major surgery on both hips, the Yankees really have no idea whether he can be an effective player anymore.

      6. Atlanta Braves

      It's still not entirely clear how the Braves will replace Chipper Jones at third base; Martin Prado could be the full-time third baseman, or Atlanta could work the powerful Juan Francisco into the mix against some right-handed pitchers and shift Prado to left field on some days. No matter how the Braves decide to go, however, their infield should be one of the best, now that Andrelton Simmons is established as one of the sport's best young shortstops and Freddie Freeman is emerging as a run-producer. Freeman was hampered for weeks by eye trouble -- which has since been fixed -- but still closed the year with 58 extra-base hits after having a strong second half.

      The X factor: The Braves need more peaks than valleys from Dan Uggla, whose slugging percentage has dropped from .503 in 2010 to .453 in 2011 to .384 last year.

      7. Toronto Blue Jays

      It's a group that seems to have excellent potential: Edwin Encarnacion at first base, coming off a season in which he clubbed 42 homers and drove in 110 runs; shortstop Jose Reyes, winner of the NL batting title two years ago; Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis at second base; and the crazily talented Brett Lawrie at third base, where he has quickly adapted defensively. But as with all teams, there are questions: Is Encarnacion just a late bloomer, like Jose Bautista, or a one-year wonder? Can Reyes, who has a long history of leg problems, stay healthy while playing on Toronto's artificial surface? How much will Bonifacio -- who has been successful in 82 of 96 stolen-base attempts over the last three seasons -- contribute as a regular player?

      The X factor: When you listen to rival evaluators talk about Lawrie, they sound like old cowboys talking about a mustang they saw running across the range. Lawrie impresses the heck out of them with his physical tools and his passion, yet they have doubts about whether he can ever be reined in and refined in a way that allows him to become an elite player. "Totally out of control," said one longtime rival coach, noting that at times, it looks like Lawrie will just keep running on the bases until somebody tags him out. Lawrie posted an OPS of .729 last season, and his average of pitches per plate appearance declined significantly, from 4.07 to 3.66. Remember, he's just 22; he turns 23 in a couple of weeks. Clearly, Lawrie could be a great player. Or not.

      8. Washington Nationals

      Within the industry, the expectation is that Washington will eventually re-sign Adam LaRoche -- and if that happens, the Nationals would have a top-five infield, with third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa. Keep in mind, too, that third-base prospect Anthony Rendon, a high-impact hitter taken in the 2011 draft, could advance to the big leagues sometime in 2013, though the presence of Zimmerman makes his future position unclear.

      The X factor: LaRoche. He wants a three-year deal; the Nationals have been offering two years. Because Washington gave him a qualifying offer, he is tied to draft-pick compensation, which has scared off some other teams.

      9. San Francisco Giants

      The fact that Marco Scutaro got a three-year deal was a stunner in other front offices, but hey, all the Giants saw from him, in his three months with the team, was excellence. Scutaro, who turned 37 in October, hit .362 in the regular season for the Giants, before batting .328 in the postseason. Brandon Crawford might be baseball's best defensive shortstop, and he hit a respectable .260 in the second half of the season. Brandon Belt might have finally established himself as a regular for the Giants, after posting a .781 OPS last season.

      The X factor: One of the interesting questions of the Giants' spring training will be the physical condition of Pablo Sandoval, who put on a lot of weight last season -- and helped San Francisco win the World Series, anyway, hitting .325 with six homers in 83 postseason at-bats. Some rival evaluators fretted during October that his success would take him away from good habits through the winter -- and given the structure of their team, the Giants really need him to be an effective player, whatever his weight.

      10. Kansas City Royals

      There could be a year when the Royals could be at the very top of this list, depending on the development of corner infielders Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Some scouts thought Moustakas wore down over his first full season in the big leagues -- his OPS dropped from .817 in the first half to .586 in the second half -- but he had a good year defensively. Hosmer started slowly in 2012, hitting .188 in April, and was never really able to bounce back. But his struggles didn't diminish the perception of him as a player of great potential -- and there may not be a player in the majors whose development is more crucial to his team for the upcoming season than him. Shortstop Alcides Escobar has already made solid improvement at the plate, pushing his OPS upward by 100 points over the last two seasons and becoming one of the most efficient base-stealers in the majors; he had 35 in 40 attempts last season. His defense is well-regarded by rival evaluators, but now that he's 26, the Royals would probably like to see some of his defensive mistakes cleaned up.

      The X factor: Hosmer. If he climbs back onto the trajectory scouts saw him on in 2011, the Royals' lineup will look very different.

      Best of the rest

      Cleveland Indians

      They have hung onto shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera after listening to offers for him, and given the additions of Terry Francona, Nick Swisher, Trevor Bauer and now Brett Myers, it figures Cleveland will at least let the first half of the season play out before considering dealing Cabrera again. He is the anchor to what should be a good infield: Mark Reynolds at first base, where he played well defensively for the Orioles last year; second baseman Jason Kipnis, who had a solid 2012 season of 40 extra-base hits and 31 steals; and Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles at third.

      The X factor: The presence of Francona. The Indians completely collapsed in the second half of last season, a collective disintegration that seemed to take down numbers for a whole bunch of players. Whether you want to attribute that to frustration or a lack of focus, it would seem that the Indians have a better chance of playing all the way through the whole season this year.

      St. Louis Cardinals

      Allen Craig has developed into one of the game's best-hitting first basemen, and now, with Lance Berkman gone, the position belongs to him. Third baseman David Freese probably wasn't as consistent as he would've liked, but in the end he posted a year of an .839 OPS and 20 homers. There are questions for St. Louis at shortstop and second base, which is why the Cards talked to the Indians about Cabrera in the offseason.


      • #4

        Top 10 lineups in the majors

        As part of the ongoing theme of the week, we rank the top 10 lineups today:

        1. Los Angeles Angels

        As the 2013 season opens, there may be more pressure on Angels Manager Mike Scioscia than any other person in the majors. But there will be a day in late February or early March when he sits down to write out his lineup and he'll experience at least a moment of peace, while listing the names … Mike Trout. Albert Pujols. Josh Hamilton. Mark Trumbo. Howie Kendrick. Chris Iannetta.

        The Angels are going to score runs. A whole lot.

        A tangible difference: Trumbo was an American League All-Star and put on an incredible show at the Home Run Derby, but his production fell off dramatically in the last couple of months -- after hitting .306 in the first half of the season, he batted .204 in August and .183 in September, with 67 strikeouts in 179 at-bats over those two ugly months. Is he an All-Star, or is he closer to being what he was in the second half of the season? We'll see. The Angels made the decision to trade Kendrys Morales and essentially free the DH spot for Trumbo.

        2. Milwaukee Brewers

        Ron Roenicke's team led the majors in extra-base hits last year with 541 and led the National League in runs, in spite of an inconsistent year from Rickie Weeks, who hit .199 in the first half. Aramis Ramirez turned out to be one of the best signings of 2012, racking up 80 extra-base hits and 105 RBIs. Ryan Braun has missed only 36 games over the past five seasons and is a production machine: He has led the National League in OPS in each of the past two seasons.

        A tangible difference: Catcher Jonathan Lucroy has quietly become one of the most effective players at his position -- he ranked fifth in OPS among major-league catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, at .873. Lucroy is extremely adept at putting the ball in play, with damage: He had 33 extra-base hits last season, with only 44 strikeouts, and was third in the majors hitting with runners in scoring position at .389.

        3. St. Louis Cardinals

        They have an American League lineup in the National League, from Jon Jay (who hit .303 when leading off last season) to Matt Holliday to emerging star Allen Craig to Carlos Beltran to Yadier Molina. The Cardinals finished fifth in the majors in runs last season, and led the majors in on-base percentage at .338. (If you want to have an idea of how much the sport has changed in the aftermath of what we'll remember as the steroid era, there were 21 teams that posted a higher on-base percentage than .338 in 2000, including the Pirates.

        A tangible difference: Yadier Molina's year-to-year improvement as a hitter has been mind-boggling, like a pyramid drawn up by John Wooden:

        Year-by-year OPS

        2006: .595
        2007: .708
        2008: .741
        2009: .749
        2010: .671
        2011: .814
        2012: .874

        In the eyes of some teammates, that increase of almost 300 points is attributable to Molina's improved ability to take the ball the other way, and because of his anticipation. Some teammates think that Molina's acute understanding of how pitchers and catchers think is an incredible weapon when he hits, because he looks for a particular pitch to hit and is able to square it up.

        4. Texas Rangers

        Holes in their lineup emerged throughout 2012, from Josh Hamilton's midsummer slump to Michael Young's struggle to hit for power. And yet, at season's end, Texas ranked No. 1 in the majors in runs with 808. David Murphy had a nice season, racking up an .859 OPS -- which explains why the Dodgers had interest in him and Derek Holland in a possible Andre Ethier proposal -- and the Rangers got contributions from Craig Gentry and other parts of their roster. Texas lost a huge portion of its power in the offseason -- Hamilton and Mike Napoli had 67 of the Rangers' 200 homers in 2012 -- but history tells us that whether at-bats go to A.J. Pierzynski, Jurickson Profar or some other hitter acquired in the offseason, the Ballpark in Arlington will foster offense. This is a place where hitters go to thrive.

        A tangible difference: Profar is 19 years old and he may be years away from having a major impact in the big leagues, but don't rule out the possibility that he will dent the American League right away. He has always been one of the youngest players at every level he has played in the minors, and yet he has shown plate discipline and power. Over the past two seasons, in Class A and Double-A, he has 104 extra-base hits, 131 walks and 142 strikeouts. Those are Dustin Pedroia-like numbers.

        5. Washington Nationals

        Regardless of whether Adam LaRoche re-signs or if Mike Morse winds up playing a lot of first base, Washington will have a complete lineup, with on-base percentage (Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper), power (Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa), balance (possibly three left-handed hitters and one switch-hitter in the everyday lineup) and speed (Denard Span, Harper, Desmond, Werth).

        A tangible difference: Manager Davey Johnson likes to play a lot of guys and rest his regulars, and that's good, because Washington looks as if it should have an incredibly deep bench. The Nationals have two regular catchers (Kurt Suzuki and Wilson Ramos), the versatile Steve Lombardozzi and Roger Bernadina, possibly Morse, Tyler Moore and Chad Tracy. Oh, and some of the Nationals' pitchers can hit, from Stephen Strasburg (.277 batting average) to Jordan Zimmermann.

        6. Boston Red Sox

        There will be a ton of questions about Boston going into spring training: Can Jon Lester become a front-line starter again? How will John Farrell juggle his array of catchers and first basemen? What will the Red Sox get out of Jacoby Ellsbury, who has been plagued by injury in two of the past three seasons and was merely the best position player in his league in the other? Is there going to be regression in the 37-year-old David Ortiz, given his injury issues last season?

        But this is what we do know about Boston: The Red Sox are going to wreck left-handed pitching. Let's assume that their talks with Mike Napoli conclude with an agreement, and consider the meat-grinder of right-handed hitters that will await CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, David Price, Mark Buehrle, Ricky Romero, et al:

        OPS vs. left-handers in 2012
        Will Middlebrooks: .906
        Dustin Pedroia: .848
        Shane Victorino: .906
        Jonny Gomes: .974
        David Ross: .712
        Mike Napoli: .706

        A tangible difference: The Red Sox have been willing to trade Ellsbury for the right deal, but he's a Scott Boras client who is eligible for free agency in the fall, and Boston has had little chance of getting return equal to what Ellsbury has shown he could be. In 2011, Ellsbury's WAR of 8.0 was the second-best in the majors.

        7. Colorado Rockies

        Their starting pitching is (and always has been) a major concern, but even when they're at their worst, Colorado will pile up runs. Humidor or not, the Rockies were No. 1 in the majors in runs scored at home last year, by a significant margin, and finished sixth overall. Yes, the home/road splits for the Rockies are stark -- Carlos Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario were Supermen at home, and Clark Kents on the road -- but by season's end, Colorado will put up a ton of offense.

        A tangible difference: The Rockies did all that damage last season while getting very little out of Troy Tulowitzki, who hit .287 with eight homers in 47 games before his season ended May 30. He'll be back this year.

        8. Toronto Blue Jays

        The two guys who mash in the middle of the lineup, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, could combine for 80 homers, and the cast around them could be excellent. Jose Reyes, the leadoff man, scored 86 runs last season for a bad Marlins team, and he could be the best leadoff man in the AL. Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus could develop into upper-tier players. Melky Cabrera could be a star. But the difference between the Blue Jays' ceiling and their possible floor -- if Reyes can't stay healthy, if the drugs were difference-making for Cabrera -- appears stark. This is just another reason why Toronto is going to be such an interesting team.

        A tangible difference: Bautista had an OPS of 1.055 in 2011, with a WAR of 7.7. In an injury-plagued 2012, his on-base average plummeted 89 points to .358, and his WAR fell to 3.2. If the Blue Jays are to climb in the way that some forecasters expect, he will need to get back to being the player he was in 2010 (when he had 92 extra-base hits) and 2011.

        9. Cincinnati Reds

        Now that Shin-Soo Choo has been added to hit at the top of the Cincinnati lineup, the Reds seem to have their most well-rounded offense in years, with left-handed/right-handed balance, power, speed, everything -- all built around Joey Votto, who is arguably the sport's best left-handed hitter.

        A tangible difference: In 2011, Ryan Ludwick hit .237 with 13 homers in 139 games for the Padres and Pirates. In 2012, Ludwick clubbed 26 homers in 125 games and was a difference-maker for the Reds. Cincinnati has bet some significant dollars -- $15 million over the next two years  that Ludwick can continue to be a big-time power hitter for them.

        Something else to remember about the Reds: This may well be the year that speedster Billy Hamilton makes his debut in the majors, with his best chance for promotion probably coming through injury. There is some skepticism among scouts about whether Hamilton will hit early in the big leagues, but he has demonstrated that he'll take a walk -- he had 86 in the minors last year -- and there is a difference between being fast and knowing how to steal bases. Hamilton clearly has both.

        10. New York Yankees

        They are still looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder, they probably aren't going to get much offense out of their catchers, and they really have no idea what they'll get out of Alex Rodriguez. But they've got a tremendous anchor in Robinson Cano, and recent history tells us the Yankees will score runs, particularly in the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium, with its short right-field fence. Their year-by-year rankings among all teams in runs in home games:

        2012: 6th
        2011: 2nd
        2010: 2nd
        2009: 3rd
        2008: 8th (the one year since 1994 in which they didn't make the playoffs)
        2007: 1st
        2006: 3rd
        2005: 2nd
        2004: 5th
        2003: 10th

        A tangible difference: The most significant change in this lineup is that Nick Swisher is out, having departed as a free agent, and Brett Gardner is back in, after missing most of last season with elbow trouble. While Gardner doesn't hit for power like Swisher, there is a chance he can replicate and even improve upon Swisher's overall production. In his past two full seasons, 2010-11, Gardner's WAR was 10.7. Over Swisher's past two full seasons, his WAR was 5.0.

        Best of the rest: The Oakland Athletics, who led the majors in runs in the second half of last season, an amazing feat considering that they play in a pitcher-friendly park. The Arizona Diamondbacks, who ranked ninth in runs last season. We still don't know for sure whether the outfielder on the move will be Jason Kubel or Justin Upton. The Detroit Tigers, who will benefit from the return of Victor Martinez; he missed the entire 2012 season after knee surgery. The Tigers have a lot of power, but if they're going to climb into the elite offensive teams, they'll need more production from the complementary parts of their lineup -- from shortstop Jhonny Peralta, catcher Alex Avila and their left fielders.


        • #5
          I think it's insane the rank Detroit as the number 1 starting rotation. Yes, they shut down the Yankees last year over a 4-game series, but that's really all there is to go on. I would take the Nationals' rotation over the Tigers any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
          Last edited by GiambiJuice; 01-04-2013, 10:52 AM.
          My top 10 players:

          1. Babe Ruth
          2. Barry Bonds
          3. Ty Cobb
          4. Ted Williams
          5. Willie Mays
          6. Alex Rodriguez
          7. Hank Aaron
          8. Honus Wagner
          9. Lou Gehrig
          10. Mickey Mantle


          • #6
            Top 10 teams with critique from scouts

            A couple of weeks ago, I posted a column with my first top 10 power rankings of winter. That top 10 stands for today's column, but I asked talent evaluators to critique the list and provide input on where they disagree.

            To repeat: The top 10 rankings are mine; the commentary is from folks who work within the sport, from GMs to assistant GMs to scouts.

            The ranking of one American League team, in particular, drew a lot of scrutiny, and my team at the top was also questioned.

            1. San Francisco Giants

            Longtime evaluator: "To me, the Giants are the best example of what a crapshoot the postseason is. I don't think they're a great team, but they've played well in a couple of Octobers; they were lucky. I don't think they're the best team."

            NL evaluator: "They won World Series, but just about everything went right; I'm not sure if that will happen again."

            2. Washington Nationals

            NL evaluator: "A really good rotation, but there are some questions about bullpen and their left-handed power."

            3. Detroit Tigers

            NL evaluator: "A really good team gets better with full seasons from Anibal Sanchez and Victor Martinez, plus the addition of Torii Hunter."

            4. Cincinnati Reds

            NL evaluator: "I consider them at No. 1; they have it all with Shin-Soo Choo, a brilliant addition."

            AL evaluator: "I don't necessarily drink the Reds Kool-Aid. They are losing the Astros from their schedule." He notes that although the Reds won 97 games, there were seven teams with a better run differential than the Reds last year.

            5. Oakland Athletics

            NL evaluator: "I could be wrong, but I think the A's will regress this year. They haven't done much in the offseason and I think that other clubs will be more ready for them in 2013. It's tough facing young pitchers with little track record, and that was more or less their entire rotation in the second half of the season. They should get all the credit in the world for what they did, but I just don't expect that level of success this year again."

            Longtime AL evaluator: "I don't see Oakland that high. Anaheim and Texas will be ahead of them and both should be in the top 10. For me, Oakland doesn't have a No. 1 starter or a true middle-of-the-order bat. I'd have Detroit at No. 1."

            AL official: "The one that stands out are the A's. I don't love the Rangers and Angels, but I like them as much as Oakland -- and having to play 38 games against those two teams is going to be a major factor for Oakland. A lot went right for the A's in 2012 -- to their credit of course, but [it's difficult to] expect that to continue on that level. The Rangers were considered the best team in the AL last year and they return a lot of the same [players], and the Angels are better as well.

            "I just think we are discounting how good the Rangers and Angels are. That is going to hurt the A's."

            6. Los Angeles Dodgers

            NL evaluator: "A tremendous rotation and outfield (if their health keeps), Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, a good bullpen -- and tons of money."

            7. St. Louis Cardinals

            NL scout: "I'm not sure what they can expect to get out of [Chris] Carpenter, and they are going to miss Kyle Lohse a lot."

            8. Toronto Blue Jays

            NL evaluator: "I have questions about the league transition for R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle (at this stage in his career) and Josh Johnson, but it's a deep team, and much improved."

            9. Atlanta Braves

            NL evaluator: "This is a deep team, and look for a big walk year from Brian McCann."

            10. New York Yankees

            NL evaluator: "They still have Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera. Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson will be in their walk years, so they'll figure it out."

            NL official: "It is pretty amazing to see the Yankees at No. 10 and no Boston, Angels, Philadelphia or Texas. Obviously, many teams outside the top 10 could conceivably win the World Series."

            Best of the rest

            Some of the evaluators believe the Rangers and Angels should be in the top 10. The NL evaluator on the Rangers: "They still have really good pitching, and they're really only one left-handed bat short of a potent offense."

            Wrote a longtime NL evaluator: "I personally struggled with [you] excluding Texas, the Angels and Arizona from the top 10. Texas still has a very deep pitching and the addition of Joakim Soria should at some point make a very good bullpen even better. Both Mike Olt and Jurickson Profar could really impact that lineup.

            "The Angels' offense is explosive 1 through 8 in their lineup, and their bullpen has gotten better, on paper, from a year ago; both starters they lost didn't really perform well at all and they still won 86 games. To me, Arizona is an overlooked club assuming they don't trade [Justin] Upton. With the addition of Brandon McCarthy for the innings and Heath Bell in a true setup role, this is a very dangerous team with the young starters they have coming. In fact the NL West will have three of the better teams in the league this year."

            We'll close the series of top 10 rankings Saturday, with a listing of the top 10 bullpens.

            • After the initial power rankings column was posted, with the Giants at No. 1, I got a lot of feedback from readers wondering why I had San Francisco at No. 1, rather than Washington or Detroit or the Dodgers or Reds. Some readers felt that given the questions about Tim Lincecum and other parts of the team, San Francisco doesn't appear to be as good on paper as some other teams.

            In my opinion: After winning two titles in the past three years, they've earned the credit we should give them -- and it's evident that the Giants have become very adept at playing in close games, from the depth of their bullpen to the ability of manager Bruce Bochy to maneuver. They may not be as dynamic as the 1976 Reds or the 1927 Yankees, but they've been the best team in the National League playing in close games, and this cannot be dismissed as just luck; it's a trait.

            Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Information dug out these numbers:

            In one-run postseason games over the past three years, the Giants are 8-1, which is in keeping with their regular-season success in close games. The Giants are 91-66 in one-run games over the past three regular seasons, which is the second-best mark by win percentage over that span (to Baltimore). It is first, however, in total wins.

            Most Wins in One-Run Games (2010-12)
            Giants 91
            Reds 87
            Twins 84
            Phillies 82
            Orioles 80

            In total, the Giants have a .580 win percentage in one-run games over the past three seasons, while the other 29 teams cumulatively have a .497 win percentage.
            Here is the Power Ranking he mentioned at the beginning of the article(from the 18th of December)....

            Giants top first offseason power rankings

            Michael Bourn is still looking for a job, and so are Kyle Lohse, Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, Adam LaRoche, A.J. Pierzynski and Edwin Jackson. Rick Porcello is going to be traded, and as much as the Detroit Tigers keep telling everybody they're prepared to open the season with a minor league pitcher as their closer, it seems inevitable that they will make a deal for someone to pitch the ninth. The Texas Rangers need to do something with their lineup, and the Baltimore Orioles haven't really fired any bullets yet. The Cleveland Indians and Seattle Mariners have money to spend.

            But with the trade of R.A. Dickey, it appears the heavy lifting of the winter is all but over, and with winter solstice right around the corner, we present our first official offseason power rankings:

            1. San Francisco Giants

            The World Series champ has been king of the mountain two of the past three seasons, and unlike last spring, there are no significant overriding questions. Buster Posey demonstrated he is all the way back. Even without Tim Lincecum pitching at a Cy Young level, the Giants' pitching staff is deep, and they re-signed Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro. Time will tell what kind of condition Pablo Sandoval will be when he arrives in spring training, but the Panda wasn't exactly svelte when the Giants won the World Series two months ago. They've earned this spot.

            2. Washington Nationals

            They added Denard Span to the top of an already deep lineup. If Bryce Harper's numbers in the last month are a sign of what's to come -- the guy had a 1.043 OPS down the stretch -- he could be a monster at age 20 after having the best season of any 19-year-old in history. And Stephen Strasburg's innings count will climb to 190 or so, at the front of an outstanding rotation. They could still sign Adam LaRoche and J.P. Howell, but either way, Washington will go into next season as the favorite to win the NL East.

            3. Detroit Tigers

            The Tigers were good enough to make it to the World Series, and rival evaluators assume they will play better in 2013. The addition of outfielder Torii Hunter will improve their defense, at the very least, and if the Tigers get full seasons out of the very underrated Doug Fister and Anibal Sanchez behind Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in the rotation, they could roll through the AL Central in a way that everybody expected last year. Oh, by the way, they get Victor Martinez back from his knee surgery, to serve as the DH and bat fifth.

            4. Cincinnati Reds

            GM Walt Jocketty filled the only significant hole on the roster, adding a leadoff hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, and while rival evaluators don't believe Choo is good enough defensively to hold down center field, he makes them better. The Reds already have a deep rotation, with Aroldis Chapman joining the group and with Homer Bailey seemingly on the cusp of taking his performance to the next level, and Cincinnati has a really good bullpen.

            5. Oakland Athletics

            The defending AL West champions will have a more experienced Yoenis Cespedes in the middle of their lineup, and Brett Anderson at the front of their rotation all season long. The A's pitching staff finished second in the AL in ERA last season, and over the second half of the season, the offense led the majors in runs scored. Their defense got even better with the addition of CF Chris Young. The Athletics don't have as much money as the Angels or Rangers, but they appear to be the best team in the division.

            6. Los Angeles Dodgers

            You can pick holes in this team, starting with the left side of the infield, and it might not be a good sign that manager Don Mattingly is talking about how the pressure on the team isn't really fair to the players. But you can't get around this: The Dodgers have a whole lot of good players, from Clayton Kershaw to Zack Greinke to Matt Kemp to Adrian Gonzalez. Overall, the Dodgers have 10 players who make $11 million or more.

            7. St. Louis Cardinals

            The Cardinals have seamlessly transitioned from the era of Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa. Allen Craig has become a really good major league hitter, a strong complement to Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran, and Adam Wainwright figures to be better in his second full season removed from elbow surgery. But the bullpen might turn out to be the best part of this team, now that Trevor Rosenthal has seemingly become a major weapon.

            8. Toronto Blue Jays

            As written here yesterday, they are the best on-paper team in the AL East and could take another long stride forward if Jose Bautista stays healthy and Brett Lawrie evolves.

            9. Atlanta Braves

            It's the first year without Chipper Jones, who was still a really good offensive player in 2012. But they have so many talented, young players that the Braves can feel good about their chances for getting better -- from the world's best closer, Craig Kimbrel, to Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman, to Mike Minor. Brandon Beachy figures to be back sometime this season, as well.

            10. New York Yankees

            The Yankees haven't gotten better this offseason, for sure. But remember, they won 95 games last year and should have a pretty good rotation, with CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes and either Ivan Nova or Michael Pineda. The biggest question hovering over this team is the same as last winter: How much of a toll will age take on the Yankees? Alex Rodriguez is having a hip operation and might not give them much at all, and there will be a time when age finally catches up with Derek Jeter; maybe that'll be in 2013, or maybe later. Given the structure of the club's lineup and payroll, this much is certain: They desperately need more production from Mark Teixeira.

            What would your Top 10 be?


            • #7
              Isn't it a bad idea to copy and paste something from ESPN Insider?
              46 wins to match last year's total


              • #8
                I can agree with these pretty accurate
                All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing. -Unknown

                A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination. -Nelson Mandela


                • #9
                  The Tigers have a better rotation than the Nationals? What planet are they living on?


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by SamtheBravesFan View Post
                    Isn't it a bad idea to copy and paste something from ESPN Insider?
                    With what a joke this service has become, I don't feel one bit guilty sharing.

                    For those who might be interested in becoming an Insider, outside of the opinion pieces/blog stuff....everything else can be found via their competitors for free. ESPN runs Insider free weekends all the time. All of their big articles are straight from their Magazine.


                    • #11
                      Fair enough. I just remember what used to happen.
                      46 wins to match last year's total


                      • #12
                        The Whitesox are due for a good pitching year if history has anything to do with it and they have some pretty good arms who are due for a big year.

                        Lamar Hoyt
                        Richard Dotson
                        Floyd bannister
                        Britt Burns
                        Jerry Koosman

                        Jack McDowell
                        Wilson Alveraz
                        Alex Fernandez
                        Jason Bere
                        Tim Belcher

                        Mark Buehrle
                        Freddy Garcia
                        Jose Contreas
                        John Garland
                        Orlando Hernandez

                        Chris Sale
                        Jake Peavy
                        Gavin Floyd
                        Johnny Danks
                        Jose Quintana.....all capable of having a good year.
                        "(Shoeless Joe Jackson's fall from grace is one of the real tragedies of baseball. I always thought he was more sinned against than sinning." -- Connie Mack

                        "I have the ultimate respect for Whitesox fans. They were as miserable as the Cubs and Redsox fans ever were but always had the good decency to keep it to themselves. And when they finally won the World Series, they celebrated without annoying every other fan in the country."--Jim Caple, ESPN (Jan. 12, 2011)


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by GiambiJuice View Post
                          I think it's insane the rank Detroit as the number 1 starting rotation. Yes, they shut down the Yankees last year over a 4-game series, but that's really all there is to go on.
                          Tigers rotation only did well vs New York?

                          Vs the A's in the ALDS: 2.20 ERA

                          In September: 3.10 ERA, 273 innings
                          In August: 3.50 ERA, 243 innings


                          • #14
                            double post
                            Last edited by dominik; 01-04-2013, 02:34 PM.
                            I now have my own non commercial blog about training for batspeed and power using my training experience in baseball and track and field.


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by GiambiJuice View Post
                              I think it's insane the rank Detroit as the number 1 starting rotation. Yes, they shut down the Yankees last year over a 4-game series, but that's really all there is to go on. I would take the Nationals' rotation over the Tigers any day of the week and twice on Sunday.
                              I agree. the back end of detroits rotation is shaky. still a good rotation (and a great lineup with Vmart coming back) but their rotation should not be in the top4. the giants rotation also ranks too low it is easily better then the detroit rotation.

                              but overall those lists are pretty good I think. he probably ranks texas a little too high though. the have a huge hole at first (probably the worst 1B in the majors), lose a good hitting catcher and beltre is not the youngest guy. I'm also not sure if I would rank the rays IF that high. longoria is great but they also severely lack on first and the middle IF position that zobrist is not playing (yeah rays fan I know you don't like to hear that and I do like the rays too so I wish it was better).
                              I now have my own non commercial blog about training for batspeed and power using my training experience in baseball and track and field.


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