Thursday, March 31, 2016

MLB predictions 2016

Here's the first round of predictions from the Maineiacs for 2016:

It's MLB prediction time for the Maineiacs! Opening day is nearly upon us and so is the excitement of a new season, not just another baseball season, but the season of warm weather, barbecue and the Red Sox on the radio. I for one can't wait, so let's get started!!

AL East

Toronto Blue Jays- Their starting pitching is very suspect, but they have the best lineup and are the most balanced team in the division

Boston Red Sox- John Farrell gets fired by Memorial Day, but Torey Lovullo leads them to the 2nd wild card spot with a hot second half

New York Yankees- Bullpen, bullpen, bullpen. The Yankees are also fairly balanced, but their lineup could be their achilles heal

Baltimore Orioles- If their lineup isn't the best in the division it's the second best, but their starting pitching is so bad that it can't be overcome by good coaching and an above average bullpen

Tampa Bay Rays- They may have the best starting pitching in the division but it's not good enough to keep them out of the basement

AL Central

Minnesota Twins- The Twins overachieved last year and some people expect a regression but they have good young talent and good coaching. Their pitching is underrated

Kansas City Royals- The core of their team returns and they know how to win.

Detroit Tigers- They'll get off to a fast start, but fade down the stretch

Cleveland Indians- Another year out of the playoffs for Tito.

Chicago White Sox- Let the Chris Sale trade rumors heat up!

AL West

Houston Astros- The young core continues to get better despite the starting pitching regressing. But the bullpen should be improved.

Texas Rangers- The Rangers seem to be healthy and they'll be in the hunt all year

Seattle Mariners- Robinson Cano has a bounce back year to prove the critics wrong

LA Angels- Mike Scioscia finally gets canned in LA

Oakland Athletics- They're a year away from being in contention


Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Spring Training Results Don't Matter.....But....

Every baseball fan and people within the game will tell you spring training results do not matter and are no precursor to success or failure in the upcoming season.  Remember in 2015 Mike Napoli going into a free agent season smashed home runs all over the Grapefruit League, and when the bell rang he stopped hit nearly altogether for months.

But that does not mean some observations cannot made.  Spring Training results don't matter, but....

1. Hanley Ramirez can play first base. Ramirez is not going to win the gold glove, and may still not make it all the way through the season as the starting first sacker.  But he is an infielder and he can handle ground balls (even with some diving stops mixed in), and he can catch the throws made to him. Admit it, all winter long you had visions of Hanley standing transfixed in one spot and literally dropping any throw that happened to hit his mitt.  Hanley will be at least adequate at first, but to keep this job he will need to hit like Hanley Ramirez going forward.

2. Jackie Bradley, Jr. "looks" great at the plate.  I am not even talking about numbers here although JBJ has flirted with .400 and hit two or three home runs.  I am talking about the short, quick stroke that is driving the ball in all directions around the field.  I am also taking note of the variance in his attack.  One of his home runs came on the first pitch of the at bat, at other times he is still waiting to hit deeper in the count.  I may be one of the last Red Sox fans who feels JBJ can be a .280-.290 hitter, based on his minor league credentials.  But even if he hits .240-.250, he will be an asset because of his defense.

3. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are ready to become the faces of this franchise.  Betts is being mentioned as an AL MVP candidate and Bogaerts will hopefully get the All-Star nod he deserved in 2015. The pair of 23 year olds have very bright futures and the future is now.

4. If spring training stats for pitchers do not really matter what are we to make of Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly?  Porcello's spring ERA is 9.77 and Kelly entered today's Grapefruit League start with an ERA of 1.35 (and left it at 2.63).  If fans want to throw Porcello off the bus because of his numbers shouldn't the same fans be encouraged by Kelly.  The answer for now is the rotation after David Price will need to prove itself when the games begin for real.

5. David Price and Craig Kimbrel are as advertised.  Nothing that has been done on or off the field this spring has lessened one iota of enthusiasm over this two key acquisitions.  This pitching staff will be much better than 2015 just because of their presence.

6. No AL East team has separated itself from the pack. For that matter no American League club at all, even the defending World Champion Kansas City Royals, look like an force that cannot be dealt with by the Red Sox.

7. Pablo Sandoval looks like a player continuing his decline.  Can looks be deceiving? Sandoval worked hard all winter per various reports, but the man looks fat.  The man also looked fat when he was a key part of three World Championship teams in San Francisco.  Travis Shaw has had a wonderful spring and according to John Farrell they are in competition for the job.  If Sandoval is not starting for Boston, he is nearly useless on the bench. Can they possibly trade his bloated......contract?

8.Injuries matter.  Eduardo Rodriguez is expected to miss April and new bullpen ace Carson Smith may miss one or two months at the start due to flexor muscle issue.  Is this the same staff with Steven Wright starting and Matt Barnes and/or Noe Ramirez in the bullpen?  We are about to find out.

9. Sam Travis is going to be a star.  The Sox have what is considered a big four of prospects: Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benentendi, and 18 year old pitcher Anderson Espinoza.  Travis may make it five.  The Indiana U. teammate of Kyle Schwarber impressed with blazing bat in the Florida games with the big club. MLB reporter Jon Heyman recently quoted a scout from another team as saying Travis would be the next Paul Goldschmidt. The Sox will take that.

10. John Farrell is panicking before the team even breaks camp.  You cannot blame him, the conventional wisdom is if the Red Sox are floundering by Memorial Day, Farrell is likely to be fired. Personally I think his leash is shorter than that.  I would expect a managerial change to be made by the end of April if the team is not heading in right direction.  But as much as I hope Travis Shaw is a big part of this team, a potential benching of one of your veterans, like Pablo Sandoval, on Opening Day would be a panic move.  The announcement today that Brock Holt will platoon in left field to open the season with Chris Young is a double panic move.  Brock Holt's numbers have always gone down the more he plays.  You are misusing an asset, a top notch utility player, by trying to make him basically an everyday player.  You are compounding the error by benching Rusney Castillo now. This winter Dave Dombrowski  said it was time to find out what they had in Castillo.  What has changed?  I am all on board with the Red Sox blazing out of the gate.  But you need a manager looking to lead to a team to victories throughout the entire season, not just winning enough in April to keep his job.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Boston Bullpen

Other than signing free agent starter David Price, new Boston President Dave Dombrowski made his biggest potential improvement to the oft times beleaguered Boston bullpen. Here is a brief synopsis of how the bullpen is likely to begin the season.  There is only one, perhaps temporary change from the 25 man roster prediction made here at RSM as spring training was commencing.

The Big Four.

This group of bullpen aces begins with the new closer, ex-NLer, Craig Kimbrel.  A very good case could be made that Kimbrel has been the best closer in baseball over the last five seasons.  Kimbrel had 39 saves for the Padres last year, and that was his lowest career total, compiling 46,42,50, and 47 in his four seasons as Atlanta closer.  Despite his small stature, Kimbrel throws in the high 90's and in 348 career innings has 563 strikeouts.  Exactly the type of pitcher the Boston pen needed.

The other acquisition from Seattle was Carson Smith.  The 2015 was the first full big league season for the now 26 year old.  Smith is another power arm, and he struck out 92 in 78 innings in 2015.  He also held the Mariners closer's job for a portion of last year, and had 13 saves.  Smith will pitch in the seventh or eighth innings of games and will help lengthen the pen. Smith has the chance to be every bit as important a newcomer as Kimbrel.

The these two power arms coming into the pen will change the roles of the two retuning Japanese stars of the bullpen for the last few years: Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.  Koji has accepted a move from closer to the key eighth inning set up man, a role he excelled at for three AL teams, including the Red Sox before being anointed closer mid way through 2013's world championship run.  Koji will turn 41 on April 3, Opening Day eve, and is returning from a broken right wrist injury from last August.  But if either the age or the injury impact Koji's results, Smith should be capable of handling the eighth and Uehara could move back to seventh inning duty.  Tazawa may have a similar role to 2015, although his eighth inning appearances will likely turn into seventh or even sixth inning duties. Tazawa is entering his free agent season, and will have all the motivation in the world to perform. But the biggest change, hopefully for the good, will be Tazawa should not be called upon so often.  He has made over 200 appearances in the last three seasons (not counting 13 more in the '13 post season).  In each of the last two campaigns, Tazawa has seemingly wilted later in the year.  Fifty strong outings from Tazawa would be one of the results of obtaining Carson Smith hopefully.

The two lefties.

Robbie Ross, Jr. and Tommy Layne are both in line to return to the Boston bullpen. Whether this good news or bad remains to be seen.  Ross began the 2015 shaky at best after being acquired from Texas for Anthony Ranaudo.  Ross pitched much better in the second half and after Uehara's injury and Tazawa's fatigue Ross became the Sox closer for a time and finished with six saves and an ERA of 3.86 in 54 games.  If you count Tazawa's brief dalliance as Sox closer, the Boston bullpen will have five pitchers who acted as closer in 2015.  Ross came to Boston after a shaky 2014 in which Texas tried him as a starter.  But in 2012 and 2013 Ross appeared in 58 and 65 games with ERA's of 2.22 and 3.03.  Ross, Jr. may be a useful relief pitcher in a secondary role, especially when he will not turn 27 until June.  Layne has a so-so 2015, but if the Sox limit Layne's usage to a left handed specialist, he could be an asset.  In 2015 right handed batters hit .322 with an OPS of .950. But lefties only hit .148 versus Layne with an OPS of .418. Bring him in to get a tough lefty and get him out of there, and Layne may still have value.

All of that being said about Ross and Layne, if Dave Dombrowski feels like a late spring training deal, a lefty power arm for the pen, may be a shopping item.

Last spot.

This was expected to be Stephen Wright, who is out of options and cannot be stashed at AAA, but is also considered valuable starting pitching depth.  And that depth is needed right away, as Eduardo Rodriguez will begin 2016 on the DL with a kneecap issue. Wright is battling lefties Henry Owens and Roenis Elias (who was obtained from the Mariners along with Carson Smith) to open the year as the fifth starter and it looks like Wright has the inside track.  This means someone else will be the 12th pitcher on April 4th in Cleveland.  It could be Elias, but if he is not starting in Boston, the Sox likely will want him starting for Pawtucket.

So the 12th spot should go to one of more impressive pitchers in camp: Matt Barnes.  Barnes, who had his MLB debut in 2014, actually made 32 appearances for the 2015 Sox, but with a disappointing 5.44 ERA, allowing nine home runs in 43 innings.  But this spring, rather than bouncing Barnes between starting and relieving, Matt has been strictly in the bullpen and has impressive numbers: five games, seven innings, four hits, a walk and no runs allowed. Barnes has struck out eight.  Now this is spring training, numbers rarely if ever matter.  But they can matter if you are trying to make the team, and if Barnes continues on this spring pace, he will make the team.

Two others.

A couple of interesting names who are both likely to begin at AAA.  Young flame thrower, Pat Light, a former sandwich rounder Sox draftee, who can hit 100 on the guns, has all ready been optioned to AAA.  Command is still an issue, but if Light can harness some of the wildness in Rhode Island, he is very likely to help the Boston bullpen before the year is over.

The notable camp invitee is former Cubs closer, Carlos Marmol. Marmol is not likely to make the team, and may well start 2016 in Pawtucket.  Back in 2010 and 2011 had 72 saves over the two years.  Carlos throws hard, but has control issues galore.  The real reason Marmol, at age 33, is still of interest is due to Brian Bannister.  Now Bannister deserves an entire post of his own, but in short, he is a former big league pitchers who is heavily into analytics.  Boston hired Bannister as a scout of sorts a years ago, and Dombrowski was so impressed by him, he made Bannister coordinator of pitching for the entire organization, a new position.  Bannister feels he can change Marmol's arm slot and revive his career.  This spring Marmol has pitched in three games with 2 1/3 scoreless innings with three K's and one walk.  This could be an interesting experiment, if Marmol accepts an assignment to Pawtucket.

So this concludes our pre-season look around the roster.  Two weeks from tomorrow is Opening Day and many more post worthy topics will emerge.  We here at RSM, like the rest of Red Sox Nation cannot wait.