Ballpark Tours – Bleacher Bums XXXIV – Baseball Heaven (on many levels)

 

ballpark tours

Bleacher Bums XXXIV – Tennessee Three Step

(August 12-21, 2016)

Ten Games – Seven cities – Ten Days

Independent – A- AA- AAA-  & Major League

There is really nothing like a Ballpark Tours trek. It is the perfect way to enjoy the national pastime – good times with good friends (old and new) who share a passion for baseball and adventure.  It’s would not be an exaggeration to say that once you get on a Ballpark Tours bus, every mile is a memory.

Note:  This is an unsolicited BBRT endorsement/recommendation.  I’ve been on 27 Ballpark Tours trips, and on every one I’ve made some great friends, had some great times and seen some great baseball.  I highly recommend the 2016 trek and, later in this post, there is a link that will take you directly to Ballpark Tours site.

This year’s jaunt, leaving out of Saint Paul, Minnesota promises to be a true southern adventure.   August 12-21, trekkers will enjoy ten games in seven cities in ten days.  And, if you’ve ever wanted to compare the quality of play at various levels (as well as culture of the game and the towns and cities in which it is played), this trip is for you. It includes professional baseball at almost every level – from the Independent Leagues through the Major Leagues. You’ll not only see the Minnesota Twins and defending World Champion Kansas City Royals, but some of the top minor league prospects of the Twins, Diamondbacks, Mariners, A’s, Cardinals, Rays and Astros.

BPT Kauff

In addition, you’ll be able to enjoy the culture, cuisine, history and arts of the cities along the way, including two nights each in Memphis, Nashville and Kansas City – talk about the opportunity for Blues, Brews, Barbeque and Baseball, not to mention a little Country and Bluegrass thrown in. As always with Ballpark Tours, you can expect good hotels, well-located – and all the usual high spirits, hi-jinx and BPT hoopla. For a look at some of BPT’s past trips, there are BBRT’s Ballpark Tours Daily Roundups, just click here.  To learn more (like pricing), just click here to go right to Ballpark Tours website.  Really anxious to sign up, here’s a downloadable order form – click here.

BallPark Tour Show Me State Ramble group - and our home on the road.

For those who want more detail – here are the teams featured on this year’s trek.

Independent- Frontier League

Gateway Grizzlies at Southern Illinois (Marion) Miners

Class A – Midwest League

Quad Cities River Bandits at the Peoria Chiefs

Double A – Southern League

Montgomery Biscuits at Chattanooga Lookouts

Triple A Pacific Coast league

Tacoma Raniers at Memphis Redbirds

Reno Aces at Nashville Sounds

Major League – American

Minnesota Twins at Kansas City Royals

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance. 

BBRT 2016 National League Predictions

The Crystal BallSpring Training is approaching and it’s time, once again, for BBRT bring out my sometimes empty, often opaque and only occasionally accurate crystal ball.  In this post, I’ll provide my predictions for the upcoming National League races, as well as for the NL’s key awards (Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, MVP winners).  Following a brief look at these races, I’ll also provide (for baseball “fan-addicts”)  an in-depth look at how each team appears to line up.  (Keep in mind, there are still a few free agents out there, and Spring Training performance and injuries can also alter Opening Day rosters. Plus, of course, the predictions are really just informed speculation.) Read to the double blue line for the “executive summary,” go beyond for the in-depth analysis. (Coming soon, will be the American League prediction post.)

Spoiler alert: Overall, BBRT expects close races in each and every NL Division – with plenty of smiles from the East Coast (New York City) to the Central States (Chicago) to the West Coast (San Francisco). So, let’s get to it. 

Trivia Fans

If you are baseball trivia fan, you may want to try BBRT two 99-question trivia quizzes. Click here for Quiz One or here for Quiz Two.

 

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

A close race, with the Mets edging the Nationals.

Mets logoDivision Title – NY Mets …. A host of quality young arms in the rotation (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Steve Matz), a solid bullpen and the retention of Yoenis Cespedes (for both his bat and the emotional boost) in the Lucas Duda/Curtis Granderson-led lineup will be enough to defend the East title.  Veteran 2B Neil Walker replaces post-season hero Daniel Murphy, and the Mets don’t skip a beat.

 

Second Place – Washington Nationals … Had the Nationals spirited Yeonis Cespedes away from the rival Mets, BBRT might have flip-flopped the NL East prediction.  The Nats have a rotation  (Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark and Joe Ross) that would be the envy of many teams – just not the Mets.  They also have a potentially powerful lineup led by MVP Bryce Harper.  Still, to overtake their New York rivals, Washington needs better health from key members of the offense (Ryan Zimmerman, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth – none of whom played 100 games a year ago).

Third Place – Miami Marlins

Miami’s will offer some interesting baseball – Giancarlo Stanton’s power; Dee Gordon’s speed and defense; Jose Fernandez’ live arm – there’s just not enough depth or experience to compete with the Mets and Nationals.

Fourth Place – Philadelphia Phillies

Still rebuilding, enough said.  The Phillies were outscored by 184 runs last year – another tough campaign ahead.

Fifth Place – Atlanta Braves

Gone are big names like Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel, Shelby Miller, Evan Gattis. Fans may want to track the progress on the new stadium – and its future inhabitants  – like Dansby Swanson, Sean Newcomb and Aaron Blair.

NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL

Cubs and Cardinals fight it out for first place – second place finisher captures a Wild Card Spot. Pirates fall just short of post-season.

'Cubs Win! Cubs Win!' -- 10:41 am CDT April 13, 2012, Wrigley Field Chicago (IL)Division Title – Chicago Cubs

 

The Cubs did not rest on their 2015 (97-win) laurels.  They raided the division-rival Cardinals for CF Jason Heyward and number-three starter John Lackey, and added the steady and versatile Ben Zobrist.   They also return 2015 Cy Young Award-winner Jake Arietta (a 22-game winner), Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant and a host of young talent.   Add in Joe Maddon again at the helm and you have the East Division winner.

Second Place – St. Louis Cardinals – Wild Card

The Cardinals were the only team to win 100 games last year, and still edged out the number-two and three teams in their Division by just three games.  Now they’ve lost two key free agents (CF Jason Heyward and SP John Lackey) to one of those rivals and number-two starter Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery.

Still, the Redbirds have a well-balanced veteran line up, led by Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Johnny Peralta, as well as a solid rotation (particularly with staff ace Adam Wainwright, who missed most of last season, back). The bullpen, led by closer Trevor Rosenthal, is also strong.  What may determine the Cardinals’ ability to repeat as Division leader is how quickly Yadier Molina (a team leader and arguably the best catcher in baseball) returns from a pair of off-season thumb surgeries. BBRT’s see the Cardinals as the Wild Card, but a division title is not out of reach – remember they won 100 games a year ago, when Wainwright started only four games.

Third Place – Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have made the playoff three seasons in a row, but they may fall one starting pitcher and one more potent infield bat short of the playoffs this year.  Their strength remains in the OF – manned by consistent MVP candidate CF Andrew McCutchen, rising star LF Starling Marte and the emerging Gregory Polanco in right. The infield provides less offense – particularly if 3b Jung Ho Kang (broken leg late last season) is not ready for Opening Day. The starting rotation is led by Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60) and 12-game winner Francisco Liriano, but still has some question marks in the back end.  The bullpen, led by closer Mark Melancon should again be a strength.  Look for a winning season, but not a playoff spot.

Fourth Place – Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers are building for the future – and it looks to be more than a season away. The bright spots are RF Ryan Braun’s 2015 performance (.285 -25- 84,with 24 steals); LF Khris Davis’ 25+ homer power; starting pitcher Zach Davies’ potential; and Jonathan Lucroy’s improved health. The situation in Milwaukee may be best reflected in Lucroy’s off-season request to be moved to a contender.   On the mound, the rotation offers no true ace, and the bullpen (since the trade of Francisco Rodriguez) no proven closer (although it does have a number of quality arms).

 Fifth Place – Cincinnati Reds

This off-season, the Reds’ signaled their intentions for 2015, when they traded away Aroldis Chapman’s power arm and Todd Frazier’s power bat. Already gone in mid-season trades were experienced starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake. While the Reds rebuild, All Star 1B Joey Votto (.314-29-80) will still be worth watching.  However, fans may spend a lot of time watching him walk to first base. Last season, Votto drew a league-leading 143 walks.  With less protection in the lineup, he may surpass that total in 2016.

NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST

A tough race headed up by the Giants, with the Dodgers earning a Wild Card spot.  If the Dodgers’  incoming starting pitchers falter, the Diamondbacks could grad the Wild Card bid.

San Francisco GiantsDivision Title – San Francisco Giants

The Giants win the World Series in even-numbered years (see 2010-2012-2014).  Who am I to contradict the baseball Gods.  Actually, BBRT likes the Giants on the basis of: 1) the free-agent signings of starters Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija – complementing staff ace Madison Bumgarner, resurgent Jake Peavy and Chris Heston; 2) a well-balanced under-rated line up (Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik, Hunter Pence and more; 3) the rival Dodgers loss of Zack Greinke; and 4) the Diamondbacks’ lack of offensive depth.

 Second Place – Los Angeles Dodgers – Wild Card

They may have lost Zack Greinke, but the Dodgers still have MLB’s best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. And, you can expect LA to get the most out of the rest of the rotation including two important off-season acquisitions – Scott Kazmir and Japanese star Kenta Maeda. The lineup looks solid, led by run-producing machine 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.275-28-90) and early Rookie of the Year favorite SS Corey Seager.  There are some questions, however, like can OF Joc Pederson retain his power and cut down on his strikeouts and just exactly what role will Yasiel Puig play.  Still, the Dodgers look to have enough to earn a Wild Card spot.

Third Place  – Arizona Diamondbacks

Anytime you can start a roster with Paul Goldscmidt (.321-33-110, with 21 steals) and free-agent signee Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66), you’ve got something going for you.  Add five-tool CF A.J. Pollock (.315-20-76, 38 steals); LF Dave Peralta (.312-17-78, with nine steals); and number-two starter (another free-agent) Shelby Miller – and you can expect to be in the hunt.  The Diamondbacks will be there.  They just don’t seem to have the depth of the Giants or Dodgers, so – unless one of those two falter – third place seems the most realist finish.  However, if the Dodgers’ off-season acquisitions don’t deliver, the Diamondbacks could easily move past the LA squad.

Fourth Place – San Diego Padres

The Padres are rebuilding and the future looks bright – ff fans can be patient.  How focused on the future is San Diego?  In a two-day span this past November, the Padres moved  veterans Joaquin Benoit and Craig Kimbrel in trades that brought them five of their current top twenty prospects.

Fifth Place – Colorado Rockies

Lots of offense, particularly at home – and MLB’s worst earned run average. Until the Rockies can attract pitchers who can adjust to the  Coors Field factor (and actually want to pitch there), they are unlikely to contend. Still, they have foundation in players like Nolan Arenado (with 40-homer power and three Gold Gloves); 2B DJ Le Mahieu (a speedy .300 hitter with a GoldcGlove of his own); and the likes of CF Charlie Blackmon and  RF Carlos Gonzalez.

NATIONAL LEAGUE AWARD WINNERS – TOP CONTENDERS

 MVP

  1. Bryce Harper, Nationals – Big (Miguel Cabrera-like) bat keeps Nationals in the race, earns him a second MVP Award.
  2. Paul Goldschmidt, D-Backs – Arizona’s 1B does it all (average, power, speed) as Diamondback stay close to Giants and Dodgers; perhaps grab a playoff spot.
  3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – Kershaw picks up the Greinke-loss slack, leads LA to Division title.

CY Young Award

  1. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers – Best pitcher in baseball is challenged to up his game after Greinke loss, and he responds.
  2. Jake Arietta, Cubs – Proves 2015 no fluke. Remember: 1st half ERA of 2.66; 2cnd half ERA of 0.75.
  3. Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks – Accepts the pressure of being number-one starter, keeps Arizona in the race.

Rookie of the Year

  1. Corey Seager, Dodgers – SS retained rookie status, while hitting .337-4-17 in 27 2015 games.
  2. Steven Matz, Mets – Still a rookie, Matz started six games for Mets last season, went 4-0, 2.27.
  3. Jose Peraza, Reds – A long shot, but rebuilding Reds may give versatile Peraza (2B, SS, OF) a call up. He hit .293 with 33 steals at Triple A last season, and has a .302 average over five minor league seasons.

________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________

READ ON ONLY IF YOU ARE A “FAN-ADDICT

DETAILED LOOK AT ALL NL TEAMS

NL EAST

New York Mets – First Place

The Mets solidified their bid to repeat as champions of the East when they resigned Yeonis Cespedes (in the process, keeping his bat away from the rival Nationals).  The foundation for their 2016 success, however, is their starting rotation – which may be even better in 2016.

Mets' starter Jacob deGrom.

Mets’ starter Jacob deGrom.

The Mets’ rotation starts with Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey. Twenty-seven-year-old deGrom went 14-8, with a 2.54 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 191 innings, while Harvey (in his first year back from Tommy John surgery) gave the Mets 13 wins versus eight losses, with a 2.71 ERA in 29 starts. Harvey, who will be 27 when the season opens, struck out 188 batters in 189 1/3 innings.  Twenty-three-year-old Noah Syndergaard has long been touted as a top prospect. He started last season at Triple A (3-0, 1.82), making his major league debut in mid-May.  The 6’ 6” hurler lived up to his hype and his height, going 9-7, 3.24 in 24 starts.  Syndergaard whiffed 166 batters in 150 innings. Next up is 24-year-old Steven Matz (BBRT likes low-scoring games and reviewing this Mets’ rotation is like being a kid looking over the offerings in a candy shop).  Last season, Matz went a combined 8-4, 2.05 in 19 games at High A, AA and AAA before a June call up.  For the Mets, the southpaw went 4-0, 2.27 in six starts, striking out 34 batters in 35 2/3 innings.  He threw few enough innings to retain his rookie status, and is an early Rookie of the Year favorite. The fifth starter (at least until Zack Wheeler’s expected mid-season return from Tommy John surgery) brings some truly veteran savvy to the staff.  It’s likely to be Bartolo Colon (who turns 43 in early April). The ageless Colon went 14-13, with a 4.16 ERA for the Mets last season – and had his best year at the plate, with eight hits and four RBI. Chalk one up for us oldsters.  When Wheeler (who sat out the 2015 season) comes back, he’ll be another under-thirty starter (he turns 26 in May). In 2014, Wheeler went 11-11, 3.54 and fanned 187 hitters in 184 1/3 innings. The “Young Guns Plus Bartolo” rotation is backed up by a relief corps with a pretty good arsenal of its own. Closer Jeurys Familia went 2-2, 1.85 with 43 saves in 2015, striking out better than a batter per inning. Set-up man Addison Reed notched a 3.38 ERA in 55 appearances (and could close for many teams) – and there was more support from the likes of Erik Goedell, Hansel Robles and lefty Sean Gilmartin.

Offensively, the Cespedes signing was a key. After coming over to the Mets from the Tigers in a mid-2015 trade, Cespedes hit .287, with 17 home runs and 44 RBI in 57 games (on the full season, Cespedes hit .291-35-105). Even with Cespedes’ production, the Mets’ scored the seventh-most runs in the NL and had the second-lowest batting average, so keeping his bat in the fold was critical.  While the pitching staff looks to the under-30 set to lead the way, the offense is not quite as young.  Cespedes is 30 and the Mets are also counting on offense from  34-year-old 3B David Wright (.289-5-17 in 38 games – back issues), 1B Lucas Duda (who will be thirty in February – and who went .244-27-73 last season) and RF Curtis Granderson (35 on Opening Day and .259-26-70, with 98 runs and 11 steals a year ago). At 2B, 30-year-old Neil Walker (.269-16-71 for the Pirates) replaces departed (free agency) post-season hero Daniel Murphy. You can expect to see free-agent signee Asdrubel Cabrera (also 30-years-old) at SS.  Cabrera was .265-15-58 for the Rays last season.  The addition of Cabrera and Walker adds flexibility to the Mets’ lineup, as last year’s starting SS, Wilmer Flores (.263-16-58), should see plenty of playing time at 2B, 3B and SS. Travis d’Arnaud (.268-12-41 in 67 games) should be behind the plate as long as his health holds up.  Last season d’Arnaud suffered through a broken hand (hit by pitch) and elbow injury (home plate collision).  The final lineup spot (LF) likely will be contested by Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Alejandro De Aza, with Conforto BBRT’s expected winner. Any of these three could also be packaged in a trade.

Ultimately, the Mets have more than enough pitching – and, with Cespedes on board, just enough offense to repeat as East Division Champions.

Washington Nationals – Second Place

As the 2015 season opened, the Washington Nationals were the defending AL East Champions (having won the Division by a 17-game margin in 2014), were led by 2014 NL Manager of the Year Matt Williams, had added 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to their staff and were odds-on favorites to repeat.  Then, RF Bryce Harper went on to capture the 2015 NL MVP award, Scherzer threw two no-hitters, the team led the East in runs scored and allowed the second-fewest runs in the Division – and still finished second to the NY Mets, costing Williams his job.  With Washington’s lack of success in the off-season market place  (they missed on Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and Cespedes), it appears another second place finish is in store in 2016. .

Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of talent on this team – if they can stay healthy. The Nationals opened the 2015 season with six players on the Disabled List – and that proved a portent of thing to come. It was a tough year with such key players as 1B Ryan Zimmerman, 3B Anthony Rendon, LF Jayson Werth, now-departed CF Denard Span and number-two starter Stephen Strasburg all spending time on the DL – and the Nationals still finished just seven games behind the Mets.

The Nats are hoping for better health (and results) in 2016. Their opportunity to make up ground on the Mets starts with the pitching staff – and it’s a good one, headed by  Scherzer (14-12, 2.79 with 276 strikeouts in 228 2/3 innings) and Strasburg (11-7, 3.46, with 155 whiffs in 127 1/3 innings, but only 23 starts).  Behind these two, there are southpaw Gio Gonzalez 11-8, 3.79), Tanner Roark (4-7, 4.38, but just one season removed from 15-10, 2.85) and youngster Joe Ross (5-5. 3.64 after an early June MLB debut).  It’s a staff that would be the envy of many teams, just not the Mets. The Nationals clearly will miss Jordan Zimmerman (13-10. 3.66 last season – and 46-24 for Washington over the past three seasons), who signed as a free agent with Detroit.  (Payback for Washington’s free-agent signing of former-Tiger Scherzer?)

The bullpen appears solid, with closer Jonathan Papelbon (2.13 ERA, 24 saves in 26 opportunities) back, supported by (among others) Felipe Rivero (2.79 in 49 games), Blake Treinen (3.86 in 60 games) and free-agent signee Yusmeiro Petit (3.67 in 42 games for the Giants). The real question in the pen may be whether last season’s Papelbon/Harper dust-up has been put behind them.

MVP Bryce Harper

MVP Bryce Harper

On a positive note, it appears things have calmed in the clubhouse. The Nationals indicated confidence in Papelbon with the trade of Drew Storen (29 saves in 2015) to the Blue Jays for CF/lead-off hitter Ben Revere (.306-2-45, with 84 runs and 31 steals).  Of course, the key to the offense is 2015 MVP Bryce Harper – just 23 and entering his fifth MLB season. In 2015, Harper delivered the season the Nationals have been waiting for (.330-42-99). Additional power should be provided by veterans 1B Ryan Zimmerman (.249-16-73 in just 95 games a year ago) and LF Jayson Werth (.221-12-42 in 88 games). Youngster Anthony Rendon (25-years-old), going into just his fourth MLB season, fought through injuries in 2015 and hit .264 with five home runs and 25 RBI in 80 games.  In 2015, he played a full season and went .287-21-83. The Nationals could use that healthy production. Free-agent signee (Mets) Daniel Murphy (.281-14-73 last year) will take over as 2B, while Danny Espinosa (.240-13-37) returns to handle SS (at least until prospect Trea Turner, who hit .322 at Double and Triple A last year, is ready). Wilson Ramos provides bottom of the order pop (.229-15-68) at catcher.

Overall, the Nationals have talent and they’ll again give the Mets a run for their money.  Too many things, however, have to fall into place for them to take the Division title.  Before the Cespedes signing, BBRT saw the NL East as a toss-up. Cespedes give the Mets the edge they need – offensively and, perhaps, psychologically – to hold off the Nationals in a close race.

Miami Marlins – Third Place

In 2015, the Marlins finished 29th among MLB’s 30 teams in runs scored, home runs, RBI and total bases. (Fortunately for them, the team that finished dead last in those categories, Atlanta, plays in the same division.)  Despite the dismal offense and disappointing attendance (28th in MLB and lowest in the NL), there is some interesting baseball to see in Miami.

Giancarlo Stanton

Giancarlo Stanton

RF Giancarlo Stanton is a premier power hitter (his home runs are frequent and far, despite the reputation of Marlins Park for swallowing long balls.)  The former NL HR champion hit 27 home runs in just 74 games last season (broken hand) and is touted as MLB’s next 50-homer player. Dee Gordon is a speed merchant (NL stolen base leader the last two seasons), who captured the 2014 NL batting championship.  Jose Fernandez is a former Rookie of the Year and projects as a future Cy Young Award winner if healthy (he’s already had Tommy John Surgery). Last year, Fernandez went 6-1, 2.92 in 11 starts). Gordon and SS Adeiny Hechavarria provide highlight reel defense up the middle. Gordon earned a Gold Glove last season and Hechavarria was a finalist. Still, the lineup does have holes, particularly in the power department, and the pitching staff appears thin.

The top of the batting order is solid. Leading off is Gordon (who won the NL batting title at .333, led the league in hits with 205 and also topped the NL in steals at 58). Batting second is 3B Martin Prado, a steady MLB hitter (.288-9-63 in 2015), with a 291 career average (10 seasons). There is, however, little protection for Stanton in the middle of the line-up. Surrounding the long-ball specialist are LF Christian Yelich, who hit .300 in 126 games, but only notched seven home runs and 44 RBI) and CF Marcell Ozuna (.259-10-44).  At the bottom of the order, it looks to be 1B Justin Bour (.262-23-73), catcher J.T.  Realmuto (.259-10-47) and SS Hechavarria (a decent bat at .281-5-48).

Moving to the mound, there’s a notable drop off after Fernandez. Among the likely starters are Tom Koehler (11-14, 4.08) and Jarred Cosart (2-5, 4.52 in 13 starts, but a 13-game winner in 2014).  The rotation also may include a couple of young southpaws who made their major league debut with the Marlins this past June: Adam Conley (who was 9-3, 2.52 at Triple A; and then 4-1, 3.76 for the Marlins) and Justin Nicolino (7-7, 3.52 at Triple A; 5-4, 4.01 for the Marlins).  Also in the mix are veterans Edwin Jackson and Brad Hand. The bullpen is led by capable closer A.J. Ramos (2.30 ERA with 32 saves), supported by Carter Capps (1.16 in 30 games), Mike Dunn (4.50 in 72 games) and Bryan Morris (3.14 in 67 appearances).

Baseball in Miami should be interesting – from Jose Fernandez’ live arm to Giancarlo Stanton’s power bat to the speed and defense of Dee Gordon.  There’s just not enough depth to compete with the Mets and Nationals.  BBRT sees another third-place finish for the Marlins.

Philadelphia Phillies – Fourth Place

How times have changed. In 2011, the Phillies went 102-60 and outscored the opposition by 183 runs. In 2015, the Phillies went 63-99 and were outscored by 184 runs.  That pretty much sums up the recent direction of the now-rebuilding Phillies.

Naikel Franco.

Naikel Franco.

A big question for the 2016 Phillies is how many games will Ryan Howard play?  Going back to 2011, Howard hit .253, with 33 home runs and 116 RBI – his sixth straight season of 30+ HR and 100+ RBI.  In 2015, Howard hit .229-23-77 – his fourth straight campaign of less than 25 HRs and less than 100 RBI. At this point speculation is that Howard will share 1B and a spot in the middle of the lineup with Darin Ruf (.235-12-39 in 106 games.). Third base and a spot in the 3-, 4- or 5-hole seems to be reserved for 23-year-old Maikel Franco, who looked solid in 2015 (.280-14-50 in 80 games). Franco, in fact, may be the best hitter on this team. Second base could go to Cesar Hernandez (.272-1-35 with 19 steals), although there has  been talk of converting 23-year-old CF Odubel Herrera (.297-8-41, 16 steals) to the keystone sack.  Herrera, a former Rule 5 pick-up, looks to be part of the future for the rebuilding Phillies wherever he plays. If that should be second base, Hernandez can be a valuable utility man for this team. He made his MLB debut last year, after running up a .294 average in six minor league seasons. Shortstop should be handled by Freddy Galvis (.263-7-50), with Cameron Rupp (.233-9-28) and Carlos Ruiz (.211-2-22 in 86 games) again splitting the catching.  Before the year is out, we may see top prospect J.P Crawford at SS. At this point, the outfield appears unsettled.  If Herrera moves to 2B, the likely OF starters are Peter Bourjos (.200-4-13) in CF; flanked at times by flycatchers drawn from: Aaron Altherr (.241-5-22 in 39 games); Cody Asche (.245-12-39); and, possibly, Rule 5 draftee Tyler Goeddel (.279-12-72, with 28 steals at Double A).Twenty-two-year-old  Nick Williams  could also get a long look (although he may need more seasoning), after going .303-17-55 in two Double A stops last season.

Going to the mound, we see much the same story.  In 2011, the Phillies had the NL’s lowest ERA at 3.02. Last season, they were 14th in the NL at 4.69 (only Colorado was worse at 5.04).  The rotation will be led Jeremy Hellickson (9-12, 4.62 for the D-Backs last season) and Charlie Morton (9-9, 4.81 for the Pirates).  There are also indications some youthful help might be on the way.  Available from the start of the season will be 22-year-old Aaron Nola (6-2, 3.59 in 13 starts after a July debut; 10-4, 2.39 at Double A/Triple A) and 25-year-old Jerad Eickhoff (3-3, 2.65 after an August call up; 12-5, 3.85 at Double A/Triple A). Southpaw Adam Morgan (5-7, 4.48 could grab the fifth spot), with competition from Brent Oberholtzer and Vincent Velasquez (who both came over, in a trade, from the Astros).  With Ken Giles gone, there is no proven closer on board, so we may say plenty of auditions for ninth-inning role, with speculation focusing on David Hernandez (4.28 in 40 games with Arizona), Luis Garcia (3.51 in 72 appearances) and Jeanmar  Gomez (3.01 in 65 games). Once a closer is selected the rest of the bullpen roles should fall into place.

The Phillies are working to stock the prospect pipeline and, as they rebuild, fourth place seems the most realistic outcome.

 Atlanta Braves – Fifth Place

Like the Phillies, the Braves’ are in a rebuilding mode.  This off season, they traded shortstop wizard Andrelton Simmons, OF Cameron Maybin and starting pitcher Shelby Miller. Already gone were such names as Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Craig Kimbrel and Evan Gattis.  Where is Atlanta going?  To a new stadium in 2017 – and to a new, youthful line-up (hopefully, by that same year). In the meantime, wins may be scarce, as the returns from recent trade activity mature in the minors.

Freddie Freeman.

Freddie Freeman.

The offense – which last year finished dead last in MLB in runs, home runs, RBI, and total bases may be improved a bit. At the top of the order, you’ll find 25-year-old CF Ender Inciarte, picked up in the Shelby Miller trade. Inciarte looks like a good long-term investment. He hit .303, with 6 home runs, 45 RBI and 21 steals in 2015.   The primary power source remains 1B Freddie Freeman (.276-18-66 in an injury-dampened season – 118 games).  Freeman’s “protection” in the lineup comes in the form of a pair of players who were 30-year-old rookies last season. First, there is 3B Adonis Garcia (.277-10-26 in 58 games). Adonis, a switch-hitter, made his MLB debut last season and despite only 191 at bats was second on the Braves in home runs). You just have to root for a guy who hangs around to be a 30-year-old rookie – and who is named Adonis.  Then there is September call-up Hector Olivera – who played for six minor league teams (Rookie League, A, AA, AAA) before his late-season MLB debut with the Braves.  For Atlanta, Oliveras – who showed solid power in Cuba – hit .253 with two home runs and 11 RBI in 24 games. It appears the Braves may be intent on converting the former infielder to a corner OF spot.  The other OF position will likely go to veteran returnee Nick Markakis, who hit .296-3-53 a year ago. Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn provide depth. Other likely starters include Erik Aybar (.270-3-44, with 15 steals for the Angels) at SS, Jace Peterson (.239-6-52) at 2B and the steady A.J.  Pierzynski (.300-9-49) behind the plate. It would not be surprising, however, to see some new faces emerge if any of these falter.

The starting rotation is in better shape than the offense.  It will be led by Julio Teheran (11-8, 4.04 last season and a 14-game winner, with a 2.89 ERA, in 2014). Twenty-three-year old Matt Wisler may slot in at number-two after going 8-8, 4.71 in 19 starts.  Newcomer Bud Norris had a tough 2015 (3-11, 6.72 with the Orioles and Padres), but is just one season removed from a 15-win campaign. Others in the mix are Williams Perez (7-6, 4.78), southpaw Manny Banuelos (1-4, 5.13; 6-2, 2.23 at Triple A) and Mike Foltynewicz (4-6, 5.71).  The bullpen will be led by expected closer Arodys Vizcaino (3-1, 1.60 with nine saves in 10 opportunities) and a potential cast of many.

All in all, it looks like a long season for Braves fans. I’d suggest following the progress of such players prospects as SS Dansby Swanson, LHP Sean Newcomb and RHP Aaron Blair.

NL CENTRAL

Chicago Cubs – First Place

It’s been a long time since Cubs’ fans have had it this good. Coming off a 97-win season – fueled a young and powerful line-up, Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta and a solid bullpen led by closer Hector Rondon (along with Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Travis Wood) – the Cubs didn’t sit on their laurels.  In the off season, they improved their lineup and their pitching, while also adding depth and versatility.

Kris Bryant.

Kris Bryant.

Consider the lineup.  In the middle, the Cubbies return 2015 Rookie of the Year, 24-year-old Kris Bryant (.275-26-99, 13 steals) at third base; proven power source, 25-year-old Anthony Rizzo  (.278-31-101; 86 HR’s in the past three seasons) at 1B; and 23-year-old Kyle Schwarber (.246-16-43 after a mid-June call up) in LF.  Setting the table from the one and two spots are a pair of free-agent signees – CF Jason Heyward (Gold Glove defense and .293, with 16 HRs and 23 steals, for the Cardinals a year ago – and a chance to improve in hitter-friendly Wrigley) and Ben Zobrist (.276, with 13 HRs, for Oakland and KC last season) at 2B.  Rounding out the line-up should be returnees Miguel Montero at C, Jorge Soler in RF and Addison Russell at SS. Overall, the Cubs’ lineup could be one of the top two or three in the NL.  And there’s plenty of depth.  Schwarber can catch and play outfield; Zobrist can play 2B, 3B and OF; and the bench has plenty of quality with the likes of Javier Baez (2B-SS), Chris Coghlin (OF) and Tony La Stella (2B-3B). Manager Joe Maddon clearly has plenty of room and resources to maneuver.

On the mound, Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77) will again lead the way. The number-two spot appears in good hands with southpaw Jon Lester (11-12, 3.34 – only one season removed from a 16-11, 2.46 campaign). The Cubs raided the division-rival Cardinals for their number-three starter, free-agent signee John Lackey (13-10. 2.77 for the Redbirds).  The end of the rotation – 10-game winner Jason Hammel and eight-game winner Kyle Hendriks should hold its own.  If any of these should falter, Adam Warren (acquired from the Yankees for Starlin Castro) is ready to step in. If not, Warren joins a strong bullpen (fourth-lowest NL bullpen ERA last season), headed by closer Hector Rondon (6-4, 1.67 with 30 saves). 

Saint Louis Cardinals – Second Place (Wild Card)

The Cardinals were the only MLB team to win 100 games a year ago – and still ended the season with the Cubs and Pirates both within three games.  Then they saw the 97-victory Cubs sign away Cardinals’ free-agents Jason Heyward and John Lackey and also lost number-two starter Lance Lynn to Tommy John surgery.   Still, Saint Louis has a capable lineup, a solid rotation and a “plus” bullpen.  They will be in the hunt.  BBRT just doesn’t think they have enough to hold off the Cubs.

The power for the Cardinals starts at the top, with veteran lead-off hitter and 3B Matt Carpenter, who hit .272-28-84 last season (while also scoring 101 runs).  While it’s Carpenter’s first season of more than 11 round trippers, he also led the NL with 44 doubles, so 20 home runs seems sustainable.  The number-two spot will likely go to RF Steve Piscotty (who was hitting .272 with 11 HRs at Triple A when called up in June). Piscotty delivered a .305-7-39 line in 63 games for the Cardinals. In the middle of the order are CF Randy Grichuk, LF Matt Holliday and SS Jhonny Peralta.  Grichuk showed power potential in the minors (hitting 25 HRs in 108 games at Triple A in 2014). Last season, Grichuk went .276-17-47 in 103 games for Saint Louis. Cleanup hitter Holliday managed only 73 games a year ago (quadriceps) and went .279-4-35. A healthy Holliday should be a dependable (15-20 HR) power source.  Last season was the first time since 2005 that he has failed to reach 20 home runs and the first time since 2004 that he has driven in less than 75.  Peralta (.275-17-71 a year ago) provides a steady glove and bat in the middle of the diamond.  The lineup is rounded out by 2B Kolten Wong (.262-11-61, 15 steals) and the likely platoon of Brandon Moss and Matt Adams at 1B (both have shown decent power in the past).  Catcher may prove a trouble spot, since seven-time All Star and eight-time Gold Glover Yadier Molina had a pair of off-season thumb surgeries. A healthy Molina provides MLB’s best defense behind the plate, a solid bat (.283 career average) and on-field leadership.  It looks like, at least early in the season, backup backstop free-agent signee Bryan Pena (Reds) will see plenty of playing time.  Pena hit .273-0-18 in 108 games last season. While they weren’t especially active in the off season, the Cardinals did pick up free-agent utility player Jedd Gyorko (.247-16-57 for the Padres), who can play anywhere in the infield.

Adam Wainwright.

Adam Wainwright.

Despite the loss of Lance Lynn (Tommy John surgery) and John Lackey (free agent), the pitching looks solid.  Number-one starter Adam Wainwright (who missed most of 2015 – Achilles tendon) appears healthy. In 2013-14, Wainwright went 39-18, 2.67) – and, remember, the Cardinals won 100 games last season, when Wainwright won just two (2-1, 1.61 in a handful of late-season appearances). Returning to the rotation are lefty Jaime Garcia (10-6, 2.43), Carlos Martinez (14-7, 3.01) and Michael Wacha (17-7, 3.38). Replacing Lance Lynn (12-11, 3.03 last season) is free-agent signee Mike Leake (11-10, 3.70 for the Reds and Giants). The bullpen had a 2.83 ERA last year (contributing to the Cardinals’ MLB-lowest 2.94 overall ERA) and will be strong again. Closer Trevor Rosenthal (2-4, 2.10, with 48 saves in 51 opportunities, will be supported by the likes of southpaw Kevin Siegrist, Seth Maness and Jonathan Broxton.  The Cards may have bolstered the pen with the signing of Korean star Seung Hwan Oh, who had a 1.81 ERA over 11 seasons in Korea and Japan.

It looks to BBRT like the Cardinals will have the pitching to compete and the offense to make the playoffs (as a Wild Card) – they just don’t seem to have the depth or versatility to hold off the Cubs for the Division title.

Pittsburgh Pirates – Third Place

The Pirates won 98 games a year ago – and still finished second to the Cardinals. And while the Pirates will field a strong squad again in 2015 – they’ve made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons – BBRT expects the Bucco’s to fall just short (short by one quality starter and a bit more offense from the infield) of the playoffs this season).

Andrew McCutchen.

Andrew McCutchen.

The strength of the Pirates resides in the outfield – manned by Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte (gotta love that name) and the still improving Gregory Polanco.  The key to the Pirates’ success is CF McCutchen – a five-time All Star and 2013 NL MVP.  In an injury-dampened “off” season in 2015, McCutchen provided “plus” defense, a .293 average, 23 HR, 96 RBI and 11 steals. The Pirates expect even more in 2016.  LF Marte  will likely bat fourth (and provide protection for McCutchen).  Last season, Marte went .287-19-81, with 30 steals – this follows a 2014 line of .291-13-56, with 30 steals. Clearly, Marte will continue as an offensive force.  2015 was 24-year-old RF Polanco’s first full MLB season and he wasn’t overmatched (.256-16-85, with 27 steals). Polanco should lead off and likely improve on his 2014 numbers. Around the infield, the potential is not as strong.  First base looks like a platoon between Michael Morse (.231-5-19 in 98 games) and free-agent signee John Jaso (.286-5-22 in 70 games for Tampa Bay). At second base, Josh Harrison replaces the popular Neil Walker (traded to the Mets). Harrison hit .287 in 114 games a year ago (just four home runs, however, as compared to Walker’s 16). Third base could be a power source – depending on how well Jung Ho Kang rebounds from a leg injury suffered late last season.  At the time, the 28-year-old rookie (Korean All Star) was hitting .287, with 15 home runs. Returning at the final two sports are SS Jody Mercer (.244-3-34) and catcher Francisco Cervelli (.295-7-43).  The Pirates do have some depth, backup outfield Sean Rodriguez (.246-4-17) can also play 2B and 3B, Jaso can handle a corner outfield spot and Harrison could slide over to 3B.

The pitching staff is led by Gerrit Cole (19-8, 2.60) and southpaw Francisco Liriano (12-7, 3.38), but has some question marks at the back end of the rotation. Left-hander Jeff Locke (8-11, 4.49) returns, but Pittsburgh lost J.A. Happ (free agency), who went 7-2, 1.61 for the Pirates after being acquired last July.  The Pirates worked to fill in their rotation gaps with the Walker trade (for lefty Jon Neise, 9-10. 4.13, with the Mets) and the signing of free-agent Ryan Vogelsong (9-11, 4.67 with the Giants). While there are question marks in the rotation, the bullpen – which boasted the NL’s lowest ERA (2.67) last season – should again be a strength.   Mark Melancon (3-2, 2.23, with 51 saves) will close . He’ll be supported by the likes of left-hander Tony Watson (1.91 ERA in 77 games) and Jared Hughes (2.28 in 76 games).

The Pirates should put a winning record on the board again this season, but they play in a tough division and third place looks like an appropriate expectation. 

Milwaukee Brewers – Fourth Place

Jonathon Lucroy.

Jonathon Lucroy.

2015 was a tough season for Brewer fans – and 2015 doesn’t look to be much better.  The Brewers are rebuilding and the future is probably more than a season or two away. Among the bright spots for the Brewers are RF Ryan Braun’s .285-25-84 production (with 24 stolen bases), C Jonathan  Lucroy’s improved health, underrated LF Khris Davis’ power (.247-27-66 in 121 games) and Zach Davies’ performance after his September call-up (3-2, 3.61 in six starts). But there is another side to the coin even for those highlights.  Braun had back surgery after the season (although it appears he will be ready for Opening Day) and Lucroy has indicated a desire to move on to a contender.  So, what can fans expect from the Brew Crew – besides a fourth-place finish?

The middle of the lineup should include Braun, plus Davis and free-agent signee 1B Chris Carter (.199-24-64). Setting the table for this group are likely to be returning 2B Scooter Gennett (.264-6-29) at the lead-off spot and, perhaps, Lucroy at number-two. CF Domingo Santana showed a bit of pop last season –  .238-8-26 in 50 games.  The bottom of the order is likely to include returning SS Jean Segura (.257-6-50, 25 SB) and new 3B Jonathan Villar (.284-2-22, 7 steals in 53 games for the Astros).  Brewers’ fans may see SS prospect Orlando Arcia sometime during the season – Arcia went .307-8-69, with 25 SB, at AA in 2015.

On the mound, there may be some promise.  An all right-handed rotation should include Davies (who could build off that successful late season call up), as well as Taylor Jungmann, who made his MLB debut last June and went 9-8, 3.77.  Also in the mix are Wily Peralta (5-10, 4.72), Jimmy Nelson (11-13, 4.11) and veteran Matt Garza (6-15, 5.62).  In the wings are Jorge Lopez (who went 12-5, 2.26 at AA last season, but gave up 14 hits and five walks in ten September innings for the Brewers) and Ariel Pena (2-1, 4.28 in a late-season call up).  The bullpen, which will likely get plenty of work, has some capable arms in southpaw Will Smith (2.70 ERA in 76 appearances), Jeremy Jeffress (2.65 in 72 games), Michael Blazek (2.43 in 45 games) and Corey Knebel (3.22 in 48 games).  A closer needs to emerge (the Brewers traded closer Francisco Rodriguez to the Tigers), and the most likely candidates appear to be Smith and Jeffress.

Cincinnati Reds – Fifth Place

The Reds, like the Brewers, are rebuilding, which is why fans at the Great American Ballpark won’t be seeing Aroldis Chapman’s power arm or Todd Frazier’s powerful bat (both traded away) this coming season. It’s also why the Reds are likely to find themselves fighting with the Brewers for fourth place in the NL Central.

Joey Votto.

Joey Votto.

Still, there will be some highlights.  Expect another strong season from 1B Joey Votto – a four-time All Star and 2010 MVP.  Last season, Votto put up his standard .314-29-80 stat line, and added 11 stolen bases.  This is all without much protection in the line-up, as evidenced by Votto’s NL-leading 143 walks.  Votto, in fact, has led the NL in walks in four of the past five seasons.  With Frazier’s 30-HR power gone, Votto may draw even more free passes.  The middle of the Reds’ lineup is also likely to include RF Jay Bruce (.226-26-87) and C Devin Morasco, who came into his own in 2014, hitting .273, with 25 home runs and 80 RBI, but missed nearly all of last season with a sore hip that eventually required surgery.  There is a veteran presence at the top of the line-up in lead-off hitter SS Zack Cozart, coming back from a torn tendon and ligaments (.258-9-28 in 53 games) and 2B Brandon Phillips (.294-12-70). Phillips could also slot into the lead-off role.  CF belongs to Billy Hamilton , who brings defense and speed (57 steals), but hit only .226 (.274 on base percentage) a year ago. Eugenio Suarez is likely to hold down Frazier’s 3B spot. Suarez hit .280, with 13 home runs, in 97 games a year ago.  We could see competition for the final outfield spot in Spring Training among Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winkler. Also in the mix for an infield or utility spot is prospect Jose Peraza.  Peraza and Schebler both came over in Frazier trade – and both have considerable upside.

If resources look at little thin at the plate, the rotation may be thinner – particularly when you weigh experience.  The Reds, in fact, went with an all-rookie rotation over the last couple month of the 2015 season. (Experienced starters Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were traded mid-season, while Homer Bailey succumbed to Tommy John surgery.) Bailey isn’t expected to be ready on Opening Day, so the starting staff is likely to be Anthony DeSclafani (9-13, 4.05); Raisell Iglesias (3-7, 4.15); lefty John Lamb (1-5, 5.80); Jon Moscot (1-1, 4.63); southpaw Brandon Finnegan (5-2, 3.56).  These five have a total of 69 career MLB starts among them. Look for a tough learning curve, particularly in the hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark.  With the Chapman trade, bullpen roles will need to be adjusted.  The new closer may be J.J. Hoover (8-2, 2.94 in 67 games), although BBRT is rooting for 6’4”, 280-pound Jumbo Diaz (2-1, 4.18 in 61 games, but with 70 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings). Also likely in the pen are Carlos Contreras (0-0, 4.82 in 22 appearances), lefty Tony Cingrani (0-3, 5.67 in 35 games) and Mike Lorenzen (4-9, 5.40 in 27 games, 21 starts).

Ultimately, it’s too early in the rebuilding process to expect much – and (given the state of the pitching staff) the Reds seem likely to lose the fourth-place battle to the Brewers.

NL WEST

San Francisco Giants – First Place

Tough call – should be a close race among the Giants, Dodgers and Diamondbacks. The Giants, however, were World Series Champs in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and who am I to anger the baseball Gods or defy even-year irony. Actually, I like the Giants to take the Division based on: 1) their free-agent signings (Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija); 2) a balanced and largely underrated lineup; 3) the Dodgers’ loss of 2014 Cy Young winner Zack Grienke; and 4) the Diamondback’s lack of offensive depth.

Madison Bumgarner.

Madison Bumgarner.

Let’s start with the pitching staff. The Giants lost three members of their starting rotation – Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong to free agency and Tim Hudson to retirement. Those three went 24-24, and pitched a combined 335 innings to a 4.46 ERA. In response, the Giants signed free agents Johnny Cueto (Royals) and Jeff Samardzija (White Sox) – who last season went a combined 22-26, with an ERA of 4.20 in 426 innings.  (Cueto also is just one season removed from his 2014 twenty-win campaign.)  Both pitchers should benefit from a more pitcher-friendly park and a better lineup (Cueto started with the Reds last season). Notably, neither  Cueto nor Samardzija will be expected to lead the staff.  The number-one rotation spot goes to lefty Madison Bumgarner, a true “ace” who went 18-9, 2.93 with 234 strikeouts in 218 1/3 innings (numbers almost identical to his 2014 stats of 18-10, 2.98). Cueto will be slotted in at number-two.  And, there is plenty of talent to choose from for the three-through-five slots, including: Samardzija; Jake Peavy, who went 8-6, 3.58 in 19; Chris Heston (12-11, 3.95); and Matt Cain, injury plagued the past couple of seasons, but a three-time All Star.  The bullpen should also be a strength, thanks to manager Bruce Bochy’s acknowledged ability to put relievers in situations where they can succeed. Santiago Casilla (4-2, 2.79 with 38 saves) will lead the pen, with support from the likes of Sergio Romo (2.98 in 70 appearances), Javier Lopez (1.60 in 77 games), George Kontos (2.33 in 73 games) and Hunter Strickland (2.45 in 55 games).

You’ll find bigger names in some NL line-ups, but the Giants have plenty of players who will give you quality at bats.  2012 MVP (catcher) Buster Posey is at the heart of the attack and is coming off a typical Posey season (.318-19-95). Joining Posey in the middle of the line are a couple of underrated hitters (at least in BBRT’s opinion), 1B Brandon Belt (.280-18-68, with nine steals) and RF Hunter Pence (.275-9-40 in 52 games – fractured forearm and wrist tendonitis). Pence will be joined in the outfield by a combination drawn from Denard Span (.301-5-22 , with 11 steals in 61 games for the Nationals), Angel Pagan (.262-3-37, 12 steals) and George Blanco (.291-5-26, 13 steals). In the infield, Belt’s steady power is complemented by 2B Joe Panik (.312, with eight home runs), SS Brandon Crawford (.256-21-84) and 3B Matt Duffy, who – in his first full MLB season – hit .295, with 12 home runs, 77 RBI and 12 steals in 12 attempts.

A solid, well-balanced line up, quality rotation and well-managed bullpen should bring the Giants home in first place.

Dodgers – Second Place

Ouch! You lose half of perhaps MLB’s best one-two pitching punch – and to a division rival. For a team that has always been known for its pitching, that can make for a long season. Still the Dodgers do have arguably the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw, and they managed to sign Scott Kazmir to help fill the Greinke hole. They also have a solid closer in Kenley Jansen, a Rookie of the Year favorite in SS Corey Seager and a consistent run producer in 1B Adrian Gonzalez.  BBRT see that as enough to hold off the surging Diamondbacks, but not enough to take down the Giants.

Clayton Kershaw.Let’s start with the rotation – right at the top is every pre-season’s Cy Young favorite, lefty Clayton Kershaw. Last season, in what some might call a “down” year, Kershaw went 16-7, 2.13 – with 301 strikeouts in 232 2/3 innings. Sorry, MLB batsmen, but Kershaw will be back for his 30+ starts.  In the number-two slot is free-agent signee lefty Scott Kazmir (7-11, but with a solid 3.10 ERA for the A’s and Astros last season). The remainder of the rotation looks to come from among southpaw Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69), lefty Alex Wood (12-12, 3.84 with the Braves and Dodgers), recently signed  Kenta Maeda (97-67, 2.39 in eight seasons in Japan) and lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu (who missed last season due to shoulder surgery, but went 14-7,3.38 for the Dodgers in 2014). In short, even without Grienke, this is a quality rotation.  Behind closer Kenley Jansen (2-1, 2.41, with 30 saves and 80 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings) and J.P. Howell (6-1, 1.43 in 65 games) in the pen are Chris Hatcher (3.69 ERA in 49 games), Luis Avilan (4.05 in 73 games), Pedro Baez (3.35 in 52 games), and Carlos Frias (4.06 in 17 games/13 starts).

Moving to the line-up, 1B Adrian Gonzalez is the big bat (.275-28-90) in the middle of an order that produced the most home runs in the NL last season (187) – but also only the eighth-highest runs total.  Still, the Dodger outscored the opposition  667-595. With Greinke gone, however, they may need a little more production. That may come from a group of youngsters including: 21-year-old SS Corey Seager, who hit .337-4-17 in 27 games after a late season call-up and is the early Rookie of the Year Favorite; 23-year-old CF Joc Pederson, who hit 26 home runs a year ago, but needs to cut down on his strikeouts (he hit just .210 and whiffed 170 times in 151 games); and 25-year-old Yasiel Puig (.255-11-38, recurring hamstring issue), who has a .294 average with 46 home runs in 331 major league games.  Joining Puig and Pederson in the OF mix are 34-year-old Carl Crawford (.265-4-16 in 69 games) and 33-year-old Andre Either (.294-14-53). Filling out the order are 31-year-old 3B Justin Turner (.294-16-60, coming off knee surgery), 2B 37-year-old Chase Utley  (.212-8-39) and C Yasmil Grandal (.234-16-47).

Diamondbacks – Third Place

Okay, the D-backs have some ground to make up – 13 games behind the Dodgers and five behind the Giants in 2015.  They got a good start on closing those gaps when they signed free-agent starter Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 for the Division-rival Dodgers last season). They also added Shelby Miller in a trade with the Braves.  Miller was 6-17 with the Braves, who lost 95 games a year ago, but his 3.02 ERA and 205 innings pitched say more about his ability. (In 2013-14, he went 25-18 for the Cardinals with a 3.41 ERA.) With these two, the rotation is off to a good start. Couple that with an offense centered around MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt (.321-33-110, with 21 stolen bases) – and things should be interesting in Arizona.

What might surprise you most about the D-Backs is the-line up.  A.J. Pollock is likely to lead off – bringing power and speed (.315-20-76, with 39 steals). The D-Backs get a similar combination from LF David Peralta (.312-17-78, with nine steals). The D-Backs also expect good things from Yasmany Tomas.  Last year, his rookie season, Tomas hit .273, with nine homers, 48 RBI and five steals in 118 games – shuttling primarily between RF and 3B. This season right field should be his.  Third base likely goes to Jake Lamb (.263 with six homers in 107 games);  2B to Chris Owings (.227 with four homers in 147 games; and SS to Nick Ahmed (.226, with nine home runs in 134 games). Arizona could use a bit more offense out of that trio. Catcher Wellington Castillo appears to have found a home in Arizona, his third team last season.  In 80 games for the D-Backs, Castillo hit .255 with 17 long balls.

Zack Grenke leads the Diamonbacks' rotation now.

Zack Grenke leads the Diamonbacks’ rotation now.

On the mound, Greinke and Miller will lead the rotation.  They will likely be followed by Rubby De La Rosa (14-9, 4.67) and Patrick Corbin (who had Tommy John surgery and missed the 2014 season before going 6-5, 3.60 in sixteen 2015 starts). Corbin was 14-8, 3.41 in 2013. Top candidates for the final rotation spot include lefty Robbie Ray (5-12, 3.52) and right-hander Chase Anderson (6-6. 4.30).

The bullpen will be led by 36-year-old Brad Zeigler (1.85 ERA, with 30 saves).  Zeigler is not your typical closer – notching only 36 strikeouts in 68 innings – but he has a 2.47 ERA over eight MLB seasons. Setting up Ziegler will be: Daniel Hudson (3.86 in 54 games); John Collmenter (3.79 in 44 games); Matt Reynolds (4.61 in 18 games); and Randall Delgado (3.25 in 64 games).

Overall, the Diamondbacks are putting a quality team on the field.  However, they may be a little short on depth and have little margin for error or injury.  Still, I wouldn’t bet against them to make the post-season.

San Diego Padres – Fourth Place

Going into the 2016 season, Padres’ fans need patience and a prospect list, as the team has intensified its focus on building from ground (youth) up. For example, in a two-day span in November, the Padres shipped quality reliever Joaquin Benoit to Seattle for prospects RHP Enyel De Los Santsos and IF Nelson Ward, and then moved elite closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for OF Manuel Margot, SS Javier Guerra, 2B/3B Carlos Asuaje and LHP Logan Allen. Five of those six are now ranked among the Padres’ farm systems’ top-20: Margot (1); Guerra (3); De Los Santos (15); Allen (19); and Asuaje (20).  2018 looks like a very good year in San Diego.  2016, not as good.

Derek Norris.The heart of the 2015 lineup should be comprised of RF Matt Kemp (.265-23-100, 12 steals), 3B Yangveris Solarte (.270-14-63) and catcher Derek Norris (.250-14-62).  The rest of the line-up is a less settled. At the top, we will most likely see a pair of hitters recovering from wrist issues: 1B Wil Myers (.253-8-29, with five steals in 60 games) and LF Jon Jay (.210-1-19 in 79 games for the Cardinals).  Myers, the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, has played in only 147 games over the past two seasons. If healthy, he does have the potential for double-digit home runs and a respectable average. Jay, who will be 30 when the season opens may have the most immediate upside of the pair.  In six MLB seasons, he has a .287 average and is known as a solid defender.  Candidates for the lower end of the lineup include: 2B Cory Spangenberg (.271-4-21, nine steals), free-agent signee SS Alexei Ramirez (.249-10-62 for the White Sox) and CF Melvin Upton (.259-9-17).  There is also a good chance that Padre’s number-two prospect, OF Hunter Renfroe, could make his major league debut in 2016. Renfroe hit .272, with 20 home runs and 78 RBI at Double A and Triple A in 2015.

On the mound, the starting rotation seems less more settled than the lineup.  The number-one spot goes to proven veteran James Shields (13-7, 3.91, with 216 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings for the Padres last year), with nine consecutive seasons of double-digit wins under his belt. Tyson Ross put up decent numbers (10-12, 3.26) and will hold down the number-two slot – a pitch-to-contact hurler, he could use a little better defense behind him (not to mention more offensive support). The number-three spot goes to Andrew Cashner (6-16, 4.34). Competing for the final two spots are: lefty Robbie Erlin (1-2, 4.76; after 7-6, 5.60 at Triple A); Colin Rea (2-2, 4.26; 5-4, 1.95 at Double A and Triple A); and Drew Pomeranz (5-9, 3.99, primarily out of the bullpen).  There is no established closer or setup man – the Padres traded away their closer (Kimbrel) and a key setup man (Benoit) –  but auditioning candidates could include: Pomeranz; Brandon Mauer (3.00 in 53 games); Kevin Quakenbush (4.01 in 57 games); and Jon Edwards (4.32 in 22 games for Texas and San Diego). I’m rooting for Quackenbush – I like the name.

 

Colorado Rockies – Fifth Place

You’re not going to win many games with a 5.04 team ERA  (worst in MLB) – not even when you score the fifth most runs.  The fact is, the Rockies haven’t had a winning season since 2010, and they are not likely to break the streak in 2016.

Nolan Arenado.

Nolan Arenado.

Not that they don’t have some talent, particularly on offense.  But to really evaluate where the Rockies stand, you have to consider the impact of Coors Field.  Last season, for example, the Rockies hit .302 with 102 HR and 449 runs scored at home. Away from what is truly the “friendly confines” (my apologies Cubs’ fans), the Rockies hit .228, with 84 home runs and 288 runs scored. With that in mind, let’s look at the Rockies lineup.  Right at its heart – and sure to stay there for a while – is the talented, 24-year-old 3B Nolan Arenado, who not only turned in a .287-42-130 season, but picked up his third Gold Glove.  This is a pretty good player to build on.  Note: While Arenado hit .316 to .258 home and away, he actually hit more home runs on the road (22) than at home (20). If Arenado looks to his left, past shortstop Jose Reyes (.274-7-53, with 24 steals), he will see another of the Rockies’ building blocks – 2B DJ Le Mahieu (.301-6-61, with 23 steals and a Gold Glove of his own). Then there is the OF: CF Charlie Blackmon (.287-17-58, with 43 steals leading off); LF Carlos Gonzalez in the three-spot, contributing a .271 average, 40 home runs and 97 RBI; and Corey Dickerson (.304-10-31 in 65 games) in LF , batting fifth.  Note:  This trio hit .325 at home and .243 on the road.  The power numbers were closer – 36 round trippers at Coors, 31 on the road.    1B may end up a platoon involving the right-handed hitting Mark Reynolds (.230-13-48 for St. Louis) and left-handed batter Ben Paulsen (.277-11-48). Catching belongs to Nick Hundley (.301-10-43).

Now to the mound.  You’ve seen the hitters’ splits, would you want to pitch in Coors? Last season, the mound staff ran up a 5.69 ERA at home and 4.37 on the road.  The telling point?  Even had the Rockies matched their 4.37 road ERA at home, they would have had the third-worst overall ERA in the NL.  Clearly, the Rockies have to develop – or acquire – some pitching that can handle the rigors of Coors.  And, given Coors’ reputation that might not be easy.  For 2016, the rotation starts with Jorge De La Rosa (9-7, 4.17) – who clearly is not intimidated by Coors Field (in eight season with Colorado, his ERA is 4.17 at Coors and 4.22 on the road.)  Chad Bettis showed promise last season, going 8-6, 4.23 in 20 starts. From there, the Rockies can choose from among Jordan Lyles (2-5, 5.14); fastballer Jon Gray (0-2, 5.53 last season; after going 6-6, 4.33 at Triple A); Tyler Chatwood (returning from Tommy John surgery, who went 8-5, 3.15 for the Rockies in 2013); and southpaw Chris Rusin (6-10, 5.33).   Looking to the bullpen, ideally, the Rockies would like Adam Ottavino to complete his comeback from Tommy John surgery and take charge of the closer’s role. In 2014, pre-surgey, he put up a 3.60 ERA in 75 games, striking out 70 batters in 65 innings. He got in ten games late last season, striking out ten in 10 1/3 innings, giving up just three hits, two walks and no runs. The Rockies brought in a couple of free agents to bolster the bullpen competition: Jason Motte (3.91 in 57 games with the Cubs) and Chad Qualls (4.38 in 60 games with the Astros). A few others in the mix could be Christian Freidich, Christian Bergman, and lefty Boone Logan.

Ultimately, Colorado will again put up considerable offense – but it won’t be enough to reach the .500 mark.

So there’s BBRT’s pre-season NL predictions.  Hope you enjoyed them – kinda hope a few of you made it this far.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

photos by: & , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

BBRT “Second 99” Baseball Trivia Kwiz

Play Ball!One of the earliest Baseball Roundtable posts drew upon more than two decades of serving as the St. Paul, Minnesota-based Ballpark Tours “Kwizmaster.” That post featured BBRT’s 99 favorite trivia “kwuestions” – all fan-tested by Ballpark Tours participants over numerous bus rides, beverages and baseball games. Over the years, the annual K-Kwizzes have featured more than 2,500 major and minor league questions (not to mention special Kwizzes on baseball movies and literature). In this post, BBRT is going to the bench for its “Second 99” – another round of trivia to help fans survive the off-season.  Note: For BBRT’s “First 99” baseball trivia Kwiz, click here.  (BBRT suggests taking the first Kwiz first – kind makes sense.)

As in the “First 99,” the questions in the new Kwiz represent important milestones or events that committed baseball fans should be aware of; insights into some of baseball biggest stars and most unusual characters; or unique (iconic or ironic) facts that BBRT feels need to be shared.  And, as with the first 99, the answers often contain additional tidbits about the players or events which BBRT found of interest.  Just a few examples from this second quiz – a look at players who have collected three hits in a single inning, stole a base in four different decades,  pitched 300 innings in a season without giving up a home run, made their first major league appearance in the World Series, thrown five shutouts in their first seven starts, hit two home runs in a game in which they also pitched a no-hitter, homered in eight straight games, played in a major league outfield alongside their Dad (not just the Griffeys), hit for the home run cycle (a solo, two-run, three-run and Grand Slam in the same game) and been knocked off the mound by lightening, but stayed on to complete the game.

To got to the the “Second 99” Trivia Quiz, click here. There is a link to the answers at the end of the quiz, or if you want to go directly to the answers, click here.   Enjoy.

I tweet baseball at @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

photo by:

A Different Look at Griffey and Piazza

Ken Griffey, Jr. - top Hall of Fame vote-getter ever (%).

Ken Griffey, Jr. – top Hall of Fame vote-getter ever (%) – with a 630-HR swing.

Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza this week were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame  – and much was made of their respective places at the far ends of the MLB draft spectrum. Griffey is the earliest draft pick – the first “first overall”  pick (1987) elected to the Hall – while Piazza is the latest draft pick ever elected (62nd round of the 1988 draft, the 1,390th player picked).  In this post, BBRT will look at some other Griffey and Piazza firsts and lasts, as well as a few similarities between the two.  For example, both doubled to center in their first MLB at bats, both were replaced by pinch runners in their final MLB games, both made their first All Star teams in their second seasons, both had (arguably) their best seasons in 1997, and both can look back on one-run games book-ending their MLB careers (Piazza a pair of one-run victories, Griffey two one-run losses.) Note: For a look at BBRT’s comments on the All Star ballot (November post), click here.

  • Griffey played his first major league game on April 3, 1989 – and it was a one-run affair, as Griffey’s Mariners lost to the A’s in Oakland by a score of 3-2. The 19-year-old started in CF (batting second) and went one-for-three with a walk. In his first at bat (and first plate appearance), Griffey doubled to center on an 0-1 pitch from Oakland’s Dave Stewart. He later scored his first major league run, after walking (off Steward) in the sixth. Griffey stayed with the Mariners for the entire season, playing in 127 games and going .264-16-61, with 16 steals. He finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting.
  • Piazza played his first major league game on September 1, 1992 – and it was a one-run contest, as Piazza’s Dodgers beat the Cubs 5-4 (13 innings) in Chicago. Like Griffey, the 23-year-old Piazza doubled to center (left-center by some accounts) in his first official MLB at bat (on the first pitch from Cubs’ starter Mike Harkey in the fourth). It was not, however, Piazza’a first plate appearance. Starting at catcher and batting sixth, Piazza’s first plate appearance was a five-pitch walk off Harkey in the top of the second. For the game, Piazza went three-for-three (plus the walk), but neither scored nor drove in a run. Piazza got into only 21 games after his call-up (.232-1-7), preserving his rookie status. In 1993, he went .318-35-112 and was the NL Rookie of the Year.
  • Griffey played his final MLB game on May 31, 2010 – another one-run affair, with Griffey’s Mariners losing to the Twins 5-4 in Seattle. In his last MLB at bat, Griffey (then 40) pinch hit for Mariners’ catcher Rob Johnson in the bottom of the ninth with the Mariners trailing 5-4 and Seattle shortstop Josh Wilson on first base. Griffey grounded to shortstop (on an 0-1 pitch from Twins’ reliever Jon Rauch) and reached first on a fielder’s choice (the Twins forcing Wilson at second). In his last MLB appearance, Griffey was replaced by a pinch runner (Michael Saunders).
  • Piazza’s final at bat came on September 30, 2007 – and, yes, it was a one-run game, with Piazza’s Athletics topping the Angels 3-2 in Oakland. Piazza (then 39) started the game at DH batting fifth. He went 1-for-4, getting a single to right on a 1-0 pitch from Angels’ reliever Chris Bootcheck leading off the ninth inning of a 2-2 game. It was Piazza’s final major league at bat and, like Griffey, in that final appearance, he was lifted for a pinch runner (Shannon Stewart, who scored the game-winning run).
  • Both Griffey and Piazza made their first All Star team in their second major league season – Griffey in 1990, Piazza in 1993.
  • Both Griffey and Piazza were All Star Game MVPs – Griffey in 1992, Piazza in 1996.
  • Griffey and Piazza each had six post-season home runs –Griffey in 18 games, Piazza in 32.

By the numbers:

Home runs:  Griffey – 630, sixth-most all time, with four league HR titles;  Piazza 427, 396 as a catcher (most for the position).

All Star Selections: Griffey – 13; Piazza – 12.

Silver Slugger Awards: Griffey – 7; Piazza – 10.

Gold Gloves: Griffey – 10.

MLB Seasons:  Griffey – 22; Piazza – 16.

Career Batting Average: Griffey – .284; Piazza – .308.

RBI: Griffey – 1,836; Piazza – 1,335.

On Base and Slugging Percentage:  Griffey –  .370, .538; Piazza  .377, .545.

Griffey’s Best Season: 1997 Mariners, 157 games, .304, 56 home runs, 147 RBI, 15 steals.

Piazza’s Best Season: 1997 Dodgers, 152 games, .362, 40 home runs, 124 RBI, 5 steals.

 I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

 

 

photo by:

Finding the Middle Ground – MLBers Known by Their Middle Names

In my last post, I took a look at some of baseball’s best and worse nicknames. (Click here to see that post.) A baseball name search can be both interesting and addictive.  For example, while researching nicknames, I found that Ken “The Kid” Griffey, Jr. and Tom “Tom Terrific” Seaver shared the given name “George,” but were known in baseball circles by their middle names.  I also reaffirmed that Lou “Iron Man” or “Bisuit Pants” Gehrig, who made both the best and worse nickname lineups, was actually named Henry Luis Gehrig.  So, in this post, I’d like to examine players who are known to fans not by their given names, but rather by their middle name.

I made the middle-namers’ lineup a little tougher to fill, selecting only players I have seen play for the starting nine. The additional players listed were selected because I expect most BBRT readers will be familiar with their names and accomplishments.

 

By GEORGE - those Griffey's could play! Photo: Jody Cloutier Photography

By GEORGE – those Griffey’s could play!
Photo: Jody Cloutier Photography

Pitcher: Tom Seaver … George Thomas Seaver

Seaver, a Hall of Famer, spent 20 seasons on the major league mound (1967-1986: Mets, Reds, White Sox, Red Sox). He was a 12-time All Star and three-time Cy Young Award winner.  Seaver, who won 311 games, was a 20-game winner five times and led his league in wins three times, ERA three times, strikeouts five times, and shutouts twice.

A few other middle-name pitchers: Lew Burdette (Selva Lewis Burdette); Bert Blyleven (Rik Aalbert Blyleven); Dean Chance (Wilmer Dean Chance); Roger Clemens (William Roger Clemens); Nolan Ryan (Lynn Nolan Ryan).

Catcher  – Tim  McCarver … James Timothy McCarver

McCarver had a 21-season MLB career (1959-80: Cardinals, Phillies, Expos, Red Sox,) – hitting .271, with 97 home runs and 645 RBI.  The two-time All Star has gone on to a successful career as a baseball broadcaster, earning three Emmy Awards.

Additional middle-name backstops:  Rick Dempsey (John Rikard Dempsey); Randy Hundley (Cecil Randolph Hundley); Sherm Lollar (John Sherman Lollar).

First Base – Wes Parker … Maurice Wesley Parker III

Parker had a nine-year MLB career (1964-72, all with the Dodgers).  An excellent fielder, Parker won six consecutive Gold Gloves.  At the plate, he had a career .267 average, with 64 home runs and 470 RBI.

Additional middle-name first basemen:  Chris Chambliss (Carroll Christopher Chambliss); Dale Long (Richard Dale Long).

Second Base – Nellie Fox … Jacob Nelson Fox

Jacob ... err, Nelie ... Fox.

Jacob … err, Nelie … Fox.

Fox, The a Hall of Famer had a 19-season MLB career (1947-65: Athletics, White Sox, Astros). He was an All Star in 12 seasons, won three Gold Gloves and was the 1959 AL MVP. He retired with a .288 career average, 35 home runs, 790 RBI and 1,279 runs scored.

Additional middle-name keystone sackers: Julian Javier (Manuel Julian Javier); Chuck Knoblauch (Edward Charles Knoblauch).

Third Base – Bob Horner … James Robert Horner

Horner had a ten-year MLB career (1978-88: Braves, Cardinals). He was the 1978 Rookie of the Year, hitting .266 with 23 home runs in 89 games for the Braves.  His career average was .277, with 218 home runs and 685 RBI; and he topped 25 home runs in a season four times. He was an All Star in 1982.

Additional middle-name third basemen: Max Alvis (Roy Maxwell Alvis); Ray Knight (Charles Ray Knight); Mike Shannon (Thomas Michael Shannon).

Shortstop – Travis Fryman … David Travis Fryman

Frynan had a 13-year MLB career (1990-2002: Tigers, Indians) at shortstop and third base.  He was a five-time All Star and one-time Gold Glove winner. His career stat line was .274-223-1,022.

Other middle-name shortstops: Wayne Causey (James Wayne Causey); Dal Maxvill (Charles Dallan Maxvill).

Left Field – Ken Griffey, Sr. …George Kenneth Griffey, Sr.

Griffey, Sr. had a 19-season MLB career (1973-91:  Reds, Yankees, Braves, Mariners) – during which the three-time All Star hit .296, with 152 home runs, 859 RBI, 1,129 runs scored and 200 stolen bases.

Center Field – Ken Griffey, Jr. … George Kenneth Griffey, Jr.

Griffey Jr. played in the major leagues from 1989 through 2010, earning 13 All Star selections, ten Gold Gloves and the 1997 AL MVP Award. He led his league in home runs four times (reaching a high of 56 twice), runs scored once and RBI once.  His career line was .284-630-1,836, with 184 stolen bases.

Right Field – Tommy Davis … Herman Tommy Davis

Tommy_Davis_1963Davis had an 18-season MLB career (1959-76: Dodgers, Mets, White Sox, Pilots, Astros, Athletics, Cubs, Orioles, Angels, Royals). He was a two-time All Star and two-time batting champion (1962 and 1963 with the Dodgers). He had a career batting average of .294, with 153 home runs and 1,052 RBI.

Additional middle-name outfielders: Dante Bichette (Alphonse Dante Bichette); Reggie Smith (Carl Reginald Smith); Gorman Thomas (James Gorman Thomas).

 

 

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

From “Biscuit Pants” to “Death to Flying Things” – MLB Nicknames Tell a Story

From "Iron Man" to "Biscuit Pants," Lou Gherig was on of the kings of baseball nicknames.

From “Iron Man” to “Biscuit Pants,” Lou Gherig was one of the kings of baseball nicknames.

Nicknames have always been a part of our national pastime – some complimentary (Joe “The Yankee Clipper” DiMaggio); some less so (Fred “Bootnose” Hoffman). In this post, BBRT will present two purely subjective nickname-based lineups – one focused on baseball’s best nicknames, the other on some of the national pastime’s worst. Lou Gehrig, by the way, is the only player to make both line-ups – by virtue of a pair of nicknames that followed him during his career: Iron Man and Biscuit Pants.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let get to the lists, leading off with some of MLB’s worst nicknames – often cruel, but always descriptive and almost always interesting.

P – Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy … Ouch! Mulcahy “enjoyed” a nine-season major league career (1935-47, minus five WWII years), during which he earned his nickname. He ran up a career record of 45-89, with a 4.49 ERA (all with the Phillies), leading the NL in losses twice, hits allowed once, earned runs allowed twice, walks allowed once, hit batsmen twice and wild pitches once. Notably, he made one MLB All Star squad; in 1944, when he led the NL with 22 losses (versus 13 wins), despite a respectable 3.60 ERA.

C – Gabby “Old Tomato Face” Hartnett … The Hall of Fame catcher reportedly picked up his nickname as he gained weight and developed a ruddy complexion. Notably, even “Gabby” was a nickname (real name Charles Leo Hartnett) – reflecting Hartnett’s career-long shyness and reluctance to speak to anyone, particularly reporters. Harnett played 20 MLB seasons (1922-41, all but the last season with the Cubs), hitting .297, with 236 home runs and 1,179 RBI. He was a six-time All Star and the 1935 NL MVP.

1B – Lou “Biscuit Pants” Gehrig  Great player with multiple nicknames –ranging from Biscuit Pants on the low end to Buster in the middle to Iron Man on the high side.  The Biscuit Pants monitor acknowledged Gehrig’s baggy uniform pants, thick legs and sturdy derriere. A Hall of Famer, Gehrig played 17 seasons with the Yankees (1923-39), producing a .340 career average, with 493 home runs, 1,995 RBI and 1,888 runs scored. He was a seven-time All Star, two-time AL MVP, won one batting, title, led the AL in home runs three times, RBI five times, runs scored four times, doubles three times and triples once.

2B – Charlie “Piano Legs” Hickman …  At 5’9” and 215-pounds, it’s easy to imagine the source of Hickman’s nickname. Hickman played 1B, 2B and OF during his 12-year MLB career (1897-1908), delivering a .295 career average, with 50 home runs and 614 RBI. Hickman led the AL in hits and total bases in 1902, when he split time between Boston and Cleveland.

3B – Gary “The Rat” Gaetti … Despite a nickname reportedly driven by his facial features, Gary Gaetti was anything but a rat on the field. Also known as G-Man, Gaetti had a 20-season MLB career (1981-2000 with the Twins, Angels, Royals, Cardinals, Cubs and Red Sox). He was a career .255 hitter, with 360 home runs and 1,341 RBI.  Gaetti was a two-time All Star, four-time Gold Glover at third base and the 1987 American League Championship Series MVP.

SS – Bill “Wagon Tongue” Keister … Unlike Gabby Hartnett (see the catcher on this list), Bill Keister just wouldn’t shut up.  In a seven-season MLB career (1896-1903), Keister played for Brooklyn, Boston, Saint Louis, and Philadelphia in the NL and Baltimore and Washington in the AL.  He hit .312, with 18 home runs, 400 RBI and 131 stolen bases – spending time at shortstop, third base and second base.   In the field, Wagon Tongue did not put his money where his mouth was.  In 1901, he set the all-time MLB low for fielding average by a shortstop (.851) – making 97 errors in 112 games (650 total chances).

LF – Johnny “Ugly” Dickshot … Not the best looking of men, it’s reported that Dickshot granted himself the title of the ugliest man in baseball.  Clearly, the combination of his nickname and actual name earns  Dickshot a spot on this list of worst baseball nicknames.  In six major league seasons (spread over 1936-45), he played in 322 games (Pirates, Giants, White Sox), hitting .276, with seven home runs and 116 RBI. More than half his career offensive production came in his final season (1945, White Sox), when he hit .302, with seven home runs and 58 RBI.

CF – Hunter “Captain Underpants” Pence … I hadn’t heard this one before, but as I searched for nicknames from a variety of sources, this came up for Pence. The story has it that, during a minor league game, an aggressive heckler thought that (on the minor league PA system) “Hunter Pence” sounded a lot like “Under Pants” and proceeded to taunt him with the Underpants chant, which  apparently had more staying power when teammates promoted Mr. Underpants to “Captain .”  In nine MLB seasons (2007-15; Astros, Phillies, Giants), the still-active Pence has put up a .284-194-729 line, with 136 steals.  He is a three-time All Star – and has also hit .265, with two home runs and 16 RBI in 38 post-season games.  Primarily a right fielder, Pence has started 95 games in the center of the garden.

RF – “Bucketfoot” Al Simmons … Another Hall of Famer on this list, Simmons’ nickname (which he disliked) was drawn from his batting stance.  The bucketfoot stance seemed to work for him. In 20 MLB seasons (1924-1944; Athletics, White Sox, Tigers, Senators, Braves, Reds, Red Sox), Simmons hit .334, with 307 home runs and 1,828 RBI. He led his league in batting average, hits and total bases twice each and RBI once.

So, there is BBRT’s worst nickname lineup. If I had a bench, it would be manned by such notables as: Fred “Bootnose” Hoffman; Walt “No Neck” Williams; Jeff “Penitentiary Face” Leonard; Bill “Dummy” Hoy; Ernie “Schnozz” Lombardi; Harry “Stinky”Davis; Don “The Gerbil” Zimmer;  Mike “The Human Rain Delay” Hargrove; Dick “Dr. Strangeglove” Stuart, and Bris “The Human Eyeball” Lord.

Now, here’s the BBRT lineup based on a very subjective judgment of the  best baseball nicknames.  As you will note, solid performance often results in a solid (and memorable) nickname.

P – “Sudden” Same McDowell … Yes, there are some Hall of Fame Pitchers with great nicknames. “Walter “Big Train” Johnson, “Rapid Robert” Feller are  just two. However, that  “Sudden” nickname is my favorite.  McDowell – whose blazing heater could be past you with amazing suddenness – was a six-time All Star and five-time league strikeout leader. In a 15-year MLB career (1961-75 with the Indians, Giants, Yankees and Pirates), McDowell went 141-134, 3.17 and fanned 2,453 hitters in 2, 492 1/3 innings.

C – Johnny “Little General” Bench … Catchers are supposed to take charge on the field and this nickname fits Hall of Famer Johnny Bench both behind and at the plate. Bench was a leader for the Reds for 17 seasons (1967-83). He was a 14-time All Star, ten-time Gold Glover, two-time league HR leader, two-time league MVP, 1968 Rookie of the Year and 1976 World Series MVP

1B – Lou “Iron Man” Gehrig … Hall of Fame slugger Lou Gehrig (see his career achievements in the worst nickname lineup under Biscuit Pants) earned this nickname for his combination of power and durability (until it was broken by Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1995, Gehrig held the record for consecutive games played at 2,130).

2B – Felix “The Cat” Millan … Tbe Cat earned his nickname for his slick fielding around the keystone sack.  In 12 MLB seasons (1966-77, with the Brave s and Mets), Millan was a three-time All Star and two-time Gold Glover. He put up respectable offensive numbers with a career line of .279-22-403, with 699 runs scored.

3B – Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose … BBRT could have put the ultimate hustler in at nearly any place on the diamond, but I like his aggressive play at the hot corner – where Rose started 627 games in his career. MLB’s all-time hits leader (4,256), Rose played 24 seasons in the majors (1963-86) – with the Reds (19), Phillies and Expos. Known for his hustle and aggressive play, Rose was a 17-time All Star, three-time batting champion and two-time Gold Glover, as well as the 1963 NL Rookie of the Year and 1973 NL MVP. He led the NL in games played five times, hits seven times, double five times, and runs scored four times.

SS – Ozzie “The Wizard of Oz” Smith … In his 19 MLB seasons (1978-96) Padres, Cardinals), Hall of Famer Smith’s defensive wizardry earned him 13 Gold Gloves. The 15-time All Star had a career average of .262, with 28 home runs, 793 RBI, and 1,257 runs scored.

Ted Williams collected nicknames like he collected base hit - The Splendid Splinter, The Kid and Teddy Ballgame among them.

Ted Williams collected nicknames like he collected base hit – The Splendid Splinter, The Kid and Teddy Ballgame among them.

LF – Ted “The Splendid Splinter” Williams Williams’ nickname – the Splendid Splinter – reflects his lanky, splinter-like build and his splendid skills.  Notably, Williams’ play earned him a team’s worth of nicknames – The Kid, Teddy Ballgame and The Thumper also among them.  Williams’ career on base percentage of .482 is the best in baseball history.  Think about it – reaching base, basically, one of every two trips to the plate. Williams was a 19-time All Star, two-time MVP and two-time Triple Crown winner.  In 19 seasons with the Red Sox (1939-60, time lost for service in WWII and the Korean Conflict), Williams won six batting titles, and lead the AL in runs six times, RBI four times, home runs four times, doubles twice, walks eight times and total bases six times. He retired with a .344-521-1,839 stat line – and is the last MLBer to hit .400 for a season (.406 in 1941).

CF – Franklin “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez … Now a lot of people probably expected to see Joe “The Yankee Clipper” DiMaggio or Ty “The Georgia Peach” Cobb in this spot.  However, based on the quality of the nickname, far-ranging outfielder Frank “Death to Flying Things” Gutierrez belongs here. In ten big league seasons (2005-15, Indians and Mariners), Gutierrez has one Gold Glove to his credit, a .258-82-314 stat line and one awesome nickname.  Note: two players from the 1800s – Jack Chapman and Bob Ferguson also  were honored with this nickname.

RF – Stan “The Man” Musial … Hall of Famer Musial (who started more than 1,800 of his 3,026 game played in the outfield) was indeed “The Man” – and not just in Saint Louis (where he played from 1941-63).  He was respected for his bat and his attitude around baseball.  Musial was a seven-time batting champ and three-time MVP, who also led the NL in hits six times, runs scored five-times, doubles eight times, triples five times, and RBI twice. He retired with a .331 average, 3,630 hits 1,946 runs scored and 1,951 RBI.

If I had a bench for this squad, you might find such players as: Joe “The Yankee Clipper” DiMaggio;  “Rapid Robert” Feller; Babe “The Sultan of Swat” Ruth; Jimmy “The Beast” Foxx;  Don “Donnie Baseball” Mattingly; Roger “The Rocket” Clemens, Reggie “Mr. October” Jackson; Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky; Frank “The Big Hurt” Thomas; and Dwight “Dr. K” Gooden.

Again, all these choices are subjective.  BBRT would love to hear from readers on some of your favorite MLB nicknames.

By the way, this nickname search can be addictive.  Coming soon, a lineup of players better known by their middle names than their first names. A teaser, my outfield includes a noteworthy father/son combo – George Kenneth Griffey (Senior and Junior) in center and right.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

MLB Rule Five Draft – 2015, 2014, All Time

Suitcase Simpson – The Legend … Joey Bats – The Reality

Suitcase Simpson - his nickname was more about shoes than suitcases.

Suitcase Simpson – his nickname was more about shoes than suitcases.

Harry “Suitcase” Simpson began his professional baseball career with the Philadelphia Stars of the Negro National League in 1946 – and by 1951 was playing in the outfield for the Cleveland Indians. Legend has it that Simpson earned his nickname because he played for so many teams, he never really unpacked his suitcase.  Legend, however, does not mirror reality. Simpson actually picked up the “Suitcase” moniker during his time the Philadelphia Stars based on his size-13 feet – which reminded a sportswriter of a cartoon character (from the comic strip Toonerville Folks) named Suitcase Simpson and known for feet the size of suitcases. Harry Simpson actually played for only ten teams in his 14-year professional career (Negro Leagues, Major Leagues, minor leagues, Mexican League). In the major leagues, the one-time All Star (1956 Kansas City Athletics) played for just five teams in eight seasons. BBRT Note:  Over his MLB career, Simpson hit .266, with 73 home runs and 381 RBI. He did lead the AL in triples twice – and his best year was 1956, when he hit .293, with 22 doubles, a league-leading eleven triples, 21 home runs and 105 RBI.

Jose Bautista - Rule Five Draftee Joey Bats lived up to the "Suitcase" Simspon legend in 2004.

Jose Bautista – Rule Five Draftee Joey Bats lived up to the “Suitcase” Simspon legend in 2004.

Why is BBRT looking back on the Suitcase Simpson “legend.” Because for Blue Jays’ All Star Jose Bautista, reality does mirror legend. In his  first season in the major leagues, Bautista was on the roster of as many major league teams as Simpson was in his entire career – and this all ties back ot the ultimate topic of this post:  MLB’s Rule Five Draft. Here’s “Joey Bats” (yes, that’s Bautista’s nickname) story. In 2000, a 19-year-old Jose Baustista was drafted by the Pirates in the 20th round of the 2000 MLB draft. He  played in the Pirate’s minor league system until 2003. In those three seasons,  he played in 349 games, hitting .287, with 24 home runs and 100 RBI – never rising above High A ball. The Pirates left Bautista unprotected in the 2003 Rule Five Draft  – and thus began perhaps the Rule Five Draft’s strangest odyssey. Drafted by the Orioles, Bautista started the season on the Baltimore roster, but seldom left the bench. In fact, by early June, he had only 11 at bats – and the Orioles placed him on waivers.  Bautista was claimed by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays on June 3, but got only 12 at bats between then and June 28, when his contract was purchased by the Kansas City Royals. Within a month (and 25 at bats), the Royals traded Bautista to the Mets, who put him on their major league roster and then (on the same day) included him in a trade with the Pirates (Remember them – Bautista’s original team).  The Pirates kept him on the major league roster for the remainder of the season (40 more at bats) – making Bautista the first (and still only) player to be on five different Major League rosters in one season. How did Joey Bats do in his post Rule Five Draft season – five major league rosters, four major league teams played for, 64 games, 88 at bats, a .205 average, zero home runs and two RBI.  From that highly traveled start, this Rule Five draftee grew up to be a Blue Jay and one of the AL’s most feared power hitters.  It didn’t happen overnight, but since 2010, Bautista has made six All Star teams and led the AL in home runs twice (hitting 54 long balls in 2010). In the  past six seasons, he has hit .268, with 227 (of his career 286) home runs and driven in 582 (of his career 793) runs.  That earns Jose Bautista BBRT’s rating as the third most successful (career-wise) Rule Five draftee ever. (The top five are listed later in this post.)  Now, here’s the segue – MLB’s Rule Five Draft is what this post is all about. Read on if you are interested past and present Rule Five Draft results.

 

The MLB Rule Five Draft

On December 10, Major League Baseball held its annual Rule Five Draft.  BBRT will take a look at the specific rules for the draft later in this post, but basically the Rule Five Draft is designed to open the door to advancement to minor leaguer players/prospects who might otherwise find their opportunity to reach the major leagues delayed by logjams within their current organizations.  This post will focus the results of the Rule Five Draft in a five-by-five format. BBRT will look briefly at:

  • The top (first) five players taken in the 2015 Rule 5 Draft – who range from: a third baseman turned outfielder who reached career highs in average, home runs and RBI at AA in 2015 to a left-handed pitcher, with a hard to spell name, who walked 21 and struck out 82 in 61 2/3 innings this past season.
  • The five most successful players taken in the 2014 Rule Five Draft (based on 2015 major league performance) – including, right at the top, a pair of middle infielders converted to middle outfielders.
  • The five most successful (career-wise) players ever taken in the Rule Five Draft – including a member of the 3,000-hit club (who won four batting titles); and a two-time Cy Young Award winner (who was an ERA leader in both the AL and NL).

Let’s start with a look at the first five players (in the order picked) taken in this December’s Rule Five Draft.

  1. Tyler Goeddel, outfield – taken by the Phillies (from the Rays)

Goeddel was originally drafted in the first round of the 2011 draft by the Rays. The 6’4”, 186-pound, right-handed hitter spent 2012-14 as a third baseman, but was converted to a corner outfielder for 2015. He spent last season with the Southern League (Double A) Montgomery Biscuits, where he showed a combination of power and speed (as well as a strong outfield arm).  At Montgomery, Goeddel reached career highs in games (123); average (.279); hits (132); home runs (12); RBI (72); and Runs (68); while also stealing 28 bases. In four minor league seasons, he has put up a .262-31-244 line, with 108 steals. The Phillies, who led the majors with 99 losses last season, are in rebuilding mode. Couple that with the 23-year-old Goeddel’s solid 2015 season and the success of Philllies’ 2014 Rule Five pick Odubel Herrera and my money is on Goedell sticking with Philadelphia. Goeddel is the younger brother of Mets’ reliever Erik Goeddel.

  1. Jake Cave, outfield – taken by the Reds (from the Yankees)

The now 23-year-old Cave taken originally was taken by the Yankees in the sixth round of the 2011 Major League Draft.  Cave’s career was set back when he suffered a fractured knee cap in his first minor league game.  He ended up missing the 2011 and 2012 seasons, but came back to perform well at A, High A and Double A in 2013-14.   In 2015, Cave split time between the Double A Trenton Thunder (Eastern League) and Triple A Scranton Wilkes-Barre Raiders (International League). He had a solid year, showing good speed, but little power (.279-2-35, with 17 steals in 132 games). Cave has a .285 average over four minor league seasons. Does a lot of small things well, and has a chance to stick as a fourth outfielder.  At 6’, 200-pounds, the Reds likely are hoping Cave begins to show at least modest power.

  1. Evan Rutckyj , pitcher – taken by the Braves (from the Yankees)

The 6’5”, 213-lb. Rutckyj (pronounced RUT-ski) was taken in the 16th round of the 2010 draft.  Since that time, he has shown potential as a power pitcher. In 2015 – playing for the High A Tampa Yankees and Double A Trenton Thunder – Rutckyj went 3-2, 2.63, with one save in 36 relief appearances. In 61 2/3 innings, Rutckyj fanned 82 batters, walking just 21. Rutckyj began his professional career primarily as a starter and, for four seasons in that role, put up a 4.53 ERA, with 7.62 strikeouts per nine innings. In two seasons as a reliever, the 23-year-old southpaw has recorded a 3.15 ERA with 11.31 whiffs per nine innings.  With Atlanta’s bullpen needs and the rarity of power lefties, BBRT figures major league announcers will spend the full 2015 season mispronouncing Rutckyj’s name. 

  1. Luis Perdermo, pitcher – taken by the Rockies (from the Cardinals)

Perdomo was taken in the Rule Five Draft by the Rockies (not a positive prospect for any hurler), but was quickly traded to the Padres (who offer a more pitcher-friendly ballpark). The 22-year-old, 6’2”, 160-pound Dominican was originally selected by the Cardinals as an International Free Agent in 2010. In 2015, Perdomo pitched for the Class A Peoria Chiefs (Midwest League) and High A Palm Beach Cardinals (Florida League) – going a combined 6-12, 3.98 in 22 starts, fanning 118 and walking 37 in 126 2/3 innings. He’s shown good stuff in five minor league seasons, including a mid-90s fastball and tight slider.  Still, he’s never pitched above High A, so a jump to a full season at the major league level does not seem likely. If the Padres do keep the righty, they’ll be betting on the future and likely start him out in the bullpen (see Johan Santana in the section on the best Rule Five picks ever) – a full season at the major league level seems a bit of a stretch.

  1. Colin Walsh, outfield/second base/ third base – taken by the Brewers (from the A’s)

The now 26-year-old Walsh was signed by the Cardinals (out of Stanford University) as a 13th round pick in the 2010 major league draft.  After four seasons in the Cardinals’ organization (Rookie League through AA and Fall League), he was released and signed with the A’s for 2014.  While in the Cardinals’ organization, Walsh hit .267, with 31 home runs, 172 RBI and 31 steals – while playing six different positions. Walsh upped his game after signing with the A’s.  In 2014 – at High A, Double A and Triple A – he hit a combined .290, with four home runs and 32 RBI.  Last season, at Double A Midland (Texas League), the switch-hitting Walsh hit .302-13-49 with seven steals. Versatility may be Walsh’s ticket to a 2016 stay with the Brewers – a switch hitter who plays multiple positions can be a handy asset on the bench. It will all depend on how well he hits this coming spring.

A few other Rule Five draftees BBRT thinks have a decent chance to stick in the major leagues this coming year:

Josh Martin, right-handed pitcher – taken by the Padres (from the Indians)

At 6’5”, 230-pounds, Martin is an imposing presence on the hill – and the past couple of season he has lived upped to that presence. At Double A Akron last season, Martin (in 44 games) went 8-1, 2.27, fanning 80 and walking just 19 in 67 1/3 innings.  The Padres need bullpen help and a good spring could earn Martin a spot in the pen.

Joey Rickard, outfield  – taken by the Orioles (from the Rays)

The Orioles are looking for outfield help and Rickard has solid credentials.  In 2015, he hit .321, with 23 steals at High A, Double A and Triple A.  Lacking in power, just two home runs last season, he still brings plenty to the table as a spare outfielder.

Dan Stumpf, left-handed pitcher – taken by the Phillies (from the Royals)

In four minor league seasons, Stumpf  has gone 20-23, with a solid 3.21 ERA and 306 strikeouts in 311 1/3 innings.  As noted earlier, the Phillies are rebuilding and the 24-year-old Stumpf could be a fit.

How the Rule 5 Draft Works

The rules have changed over the years, but the current format gives good idea of how the draft works to open major league doors to players who might otherwise have been stuck in the minors.

Which players eligible to be drafted?  Players not on their parent team’s 40-man major league roster who were: signed when they were 19 or older and have played professionally for four years; or signed at 18, who have played for five years. (Players placed on a team’s 40-man major league roster are protected from the draft.)

Which teams can draft players?  Any team with an opening on their 40-man major league roster can draft a player or players. Teams draft in the reverse order of their place in the standings the previous season.

What does it cost? The team that selects a player in the Rule Five Draft pays $50,000 to the team from which he was selected.

What happens to the player? The drafted the player must remain on his new team’s 25-man major league roster for the entire next season, and must be “active” (not on the disabled list) for at least 90 days. If these conditions are not met the player must be offered back to the team from which he was drafted for $25,000.

Can a drafted player be traded?  Yes.  However, the new team must still abide by the Draft terms (kept on major league roster, active at least 90 days).

Now, how about a look at the 2014 Rule Five Draft’s top five 2015 “success” stories – based on their 2015 seasons. 

Keep in mind, the Rule Five Draft consists of players whose parent franchises chose not to protect on their 40-man rosters. Baseball America reports that about one-in-four Rule Five picks stay with their new team for the season immediately following their pick. Given those odds, just staying in the majors for the full year has the potential to put a player on this top five list (fourteen players were chosen in the 2014 Rule Five draft). Here are the top five 2014 Draftees – again, not in draft order, but in terms of 2015 performance.

  1. Odubel Herrera, outfield – taken with the eighth pick by the Phillies (from the Rangers)

Herrera was a middle infielder (2B-SS) for his six minor league seasons – starting just 11 games in the outfield (405 at second base/132 at shortstop). He showed a solid bat (.297 minor league average) and speed (128 steals). In 2014, at High A and Double A, he hit a combined .315 with 21 steals.  The Phillies liked that speed, picking up Herrera in the 2014 Rule Five Draft and converting him to a full-time centerfielder. He responded by playing 147 games, defending capably and putting up a .297 average, unexpected power (eight home runs) and expected speed (16 steals). Herrera’s 2015 performance makes him the real deal and the real steal of the 2014 Rule Five Draft.

  1. Delino DeShields, Jr., outfield – taken with the third pick by the Rangers (from the Astros)

DeShields, son of 13-year major leaguer Delino DeShields, was a first-round pick (number eight overall) of the Astros in the 2010 MLB draft. In six minor league seasons, he hit .268 with 37 home runs and 241 steals. He played about 75 percent of his minor league games at second base, but the Rangers converted him to a full-time outfielder.  In 2015, he started 85 games in center field and 25 in left field for Texas.  He hit .261 with two home runs, 37 RBI and 25 steals.

  1. Mark Canha, first base/outfield taken with the second pick by the Rockies (from the Marlins) and traded to the A’s

Mark Canha was drafted by the Marlins (out of the University of California Berkeley) in the seventh round of the 2010 MLB draft. He showed offensive potential in five minor league seasons – hitting .285, with 68 home runs and 303 RBI in 496 games. With the A’s in 2015, Canha played 124 games and hit .254 with 16 home runs and 70 RBI. Any time you can get 70 RBI out of a Rule Five pick, you can expect to see his name on this list. Oh, and Canha even tossed in seven steals (equaling his minor league high) in nine attempts.

  1. Sean Gilmartin, left-handed pitcher – taken with tenth pick by the Mets (from the Twins)

Gilmartin was drafted by the Braves (out of Florida State University, where he was an All American) in the first round (28th overall) of the 2011 MLB Draft. In three minor league seasons (Rookie to Triple A and Fall League) for the Braves, Gilmartin went 14-21, with a 4.24 ERA  in 314 1/3 innings (with 249 strikeouts and 82 walks). After the 2013 season, Gilmartin was traded to the Minnesota Twins. In 2014, he went 9-7, 3.71 in 26 starts at Double A and Triple A – posting a 3.71 ERA.  Gilmartin pitched even better as a reliever for the Mets. In 2015, the 25-year-old appeared in 50 games, going 3-2, with a 2.67 ERA, walking just 18 and striking out 54 in 57 1/3 innings.

  1. J.R. Graham – taken with fifth pick by the Twins (from the Braves)

Graham was drafted in the fourth round of the 2011 MLB draft (out of Santa Clara University) by the Atlanta Braves. He pitched three seasons in the Braves’ minor League system – moving from Rookie League to AA, compiling a 19-12 record and 3.37 ERA, striking out 240 and walking 83 in 312 1/3 innings. For the Twins, in 2015, he went 1-5, with a 5.58 ERA in 27 games (19 starts).

Okay, so we’ve seen that you don’t have to be a star to be counted among the Rule Five success stories.

Now let’s look at some players who were left unprotected – and became not only Rule Five draftees, but also went on to career greatness. 

As you will see, their success was not necessarily immediate.  Finding (and developing) true “gems” through the Rule Five Draft demands perspective (the ability to recognize potential), perseverance and patience. (A little blind luck probably helps as well.) So, here are  BBRT’s top five players all time who went unprotected – and changed teams – in the Rule Five Draft.

Number One – Roberto Clemente, outfield

clementeIdentifying the most successful Rule Five draftee ever was easy – the Baseball Hall of Fame did it form me back in 1973. Roberto Clemente was picked up by the Pirates (from the Dodgers) in the 1954 Rule Five Draft. Clemente was 20 at the time, coming off a .257-2-13 season (in 87 games) at Triple A Montreal (International League). In his first season with the Pirates, Clemente had modest success – .255-5-47 over 124 games. Long-term, he proved a pretty good bargain. Clemente was an All Star in 12 of 18 seasons, all with the Pirates. He compiled a .317 average, 3,000 hits, 240 home runs, 1,305 RBIs – as well as four batting titles, 12 Gold Gloves, the 1966 NL MVP Award and the 1971 World Series MVP Award.

 

Number Two – Johan Santana, left-handed pitcher

Johan SantanaJohan Santana takes the second spot on this list. Signed as a free agent by the Astros in 1995, Santana spent three seasons in the Astros’ minor league system (Rookie League to A level).  As an Astros’ farmhand, Santana, still a teenager, went 15-18 with a 5.05 ERA. Left unprotected in the 1999 Rule Five Draft, Santana was picked up by the Minnesota Twins – in a deal that still seems a bit mystifying.  The Twins had the first pick that year and drafted pitcher Jared Camp, while the Marlins (with the second pick) took Santana.  Then, per an earlier agreement, the Twins sent Camp to the Marlins in return for Santana and $50,000 cash (which covered the cost of the Santana pick). In his first season with the Twins, Santana (working primarily in relief) suffered through a 2-3 record, with a 6.49 ERA – walking 54 and striking out 64 in 86 innings. Santana, in fact, didn’t transition to full-time starter until well into the 2003 season.  He ended 2003 with a 12-3 record (3.07 ERA) and his career rising fast (he was the AL 2004 Cy Young Award winner).  In Santana’s 12-year MLB career he has been an All Star four times, won two Cy Young Awards, and led his league in ERA and strikeouts three times each. Santana, who has not pitched in the major leagues since 2012 due to injuries, has indicted he will attempt a comeback (he is currently in the Blue Jays’ system) in 2016.

Number Three – Jose Bautista, outfield/third base

See the Bautista story at the top of this post.

Number Four – Darrell Evans, third base

Evans signed with the Kansas City Athletics in 1967 and showed promise in the minor leagues until a shoulder injury hindered both his hitting and throwing. The Athletics, grooming Sal Bando for third base, left Evans unprotected  in the 1968 Rule Five Draft and he was claimed by the Braves (who have proven pretty adept at putting quality players at the hot corner … Eddie Mathews, Chipper Jones, Clete Boyer, Terry Pendleton).  That first season with the Braves, Evans played in only 19 games – hitting just .231 with no home runs and one RBI. Evans, in fact, didn’t became an everyday player for the Braves until 1972 (Remember – perspective, perseverance, patience).  In a 21-season career (Braves, Giants, Tigers), Evans went on to hit .248 with 414 home runs (49th all time) and 1,354 RBI. He also drew 1,605 career walks, twelfth-most  all time. A few other notable facts about Evans:  In 1973, Evans hit 41 home runs – joining Braves’ teammates Hank Aaron (40 HRs) and Dave Johnson (43 HRs) as the first trio of teammates to top 40 long balls; in 1985 (as a Tiger), Evans led the AL in home runs (40) at age 38; Evans’ MLB career lasted from 1969-1989 and he was an All Star in each year that ended in a three (1973, 1983 – his only two All Star appearances).

Number Five – Bobby Bonilla, outfield

The final spot on this list of the five most successful Rule Five draftees of all time was a tough (and admittedly very debatable) decision – among the contenders (in alphabetical order) were George Bell, Paul Blair,  Bobby Bonilla, Josh Hamilton and Shane Victorino. A close call, but BBRT gives the final spot to Bonilla. Bonilla signed out of high school (as an amateur free agent) with the Pirates. The year was 1981 and Bonilla stayed in the Pirates’ system until the 1985 Rule Five Draft (he had suffered a broken leg in an on-field collision in Spring Training that year). The White Sox drafted Bonilla and he hit .269-2-26 in 75 games for the Sox in 1986.  In mid-season, the Sox traded Bonilla back to Pittsburgh  – and he finished the season  at .256-3-43.  He went on to a 16-year-career that included six All Star selections, a .279 average, 287 home runs and 1,173 RBI.

So, there is a look at the Rule Five Draft by the “fives” – five  from this year, five from last year  and five all-time.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

photos by: &

HOFer Richie Ashburn Leads Expansion Mets – Yellow Tango, Indeed!

 “To be voted the most valuable player on the worst team in the history of major league baseball is a dubious honor for sure.  But I was awarded a 24-boat with a galley and sleeping facilities for six. After the season ended, I docked the boat in Ocean City, New Jersey, and it sank.

            Richie Ashburn – 1962 NY Mets (40 wins-120 losses) MVP

On this date (December 8) in 1961, the expansion New York Mets acquired future Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn from the Chicago Cubs. The 34-year-old outfielder was nearing the end of his MLB career (in fact, his 1962 season with the Mets would be his last in the major leagues), but he brought significant credentials – the slick fielding centerfielder was a four-time All Star, two-time batting champion and had led the NL in walks four times, on-base-percentage four times, hits three times, triples twice and stolen bases once. BBRT note:  Ashburn was noted for his speed, rather than his power. In his fifteen-year MLB career (12 with the Philllies), he achieved a .308 average and collected 2,574 hits (2,119 singles), but only 29 home runs. On the speed side, he stole 234 bases (topping 25 in three seasons) and legged out 109 triples.

For the Mets, Ashburn proved a valuable pick-up – literally, since after the season, Ashburn was chosen as the MVP of the 40-120 Mets (who finished tenth, 60 1/2 games behind the Giants).   In his final season, Ashburn was also the Mets’ only All Star team selection. He finished the year with a .306 average in 135 games, collected 119 hits (102 singles) and 81 walks (for a .424 on base percentage) and surprised a lot of people with a career-high seven home runs. The 1962 season was, in fact, the only year in which Ashburn didn’t hit more triples than round trippers.

But all of that (not to mention Ashburn’s 3 ½ decades as a Phillies’ broadcaster), is not why BBRT is featuring him in this column.  Rather, it’s because Ashburn’s career is “rich” in unique baseball stories.   Here are just a few Ashburn stories and statistics that BBRT found of interest.

  • Ashburn began his minor league career (at the age of 18) as a catcher with the Utica Blue Sox of the Class A Eastern League. Ashburn’s father had groomed the youngster as a backstop, figuring that position offered the fastest path to the major leagues. Only Ashburn was too “fast” for that path. The story has it that on one groundball hit to the right side, Ashburn tossed off his mask, came out from behind the plate and didn’t just back up the play at first base, but beat the runner there and took the throw for the putout. It wasn’t long thereafter that Ashburn was the team’s centerfielder.
  • Ashburn made it to the Phillies as a 21-year-old in 1948 and was the only rookie on the NL All Star team. Ashburn hit lead-off, collected two hits (singles, of course), stole a base and scored a run in the NL’s 5-2 loss.  Ashburn hit .333 in 117 games his rookie campaign (a broken finger cut into his playing time), collected 154 hits (131 singles), played outstanding outfield defense  and led the NL with 32 stolen bases.
  • On August 17, 1957, as the Phillies took on the Giants in Philadelphia, Ashburn lined a foul ball into the Press Box behind third base – hitting Alice Roth (wife of the Philadelphia Bulletin’s sports editor Earl Roth) in the face, breaking her nose. The game was stopped momentarily as Mrs. Roth was attended to – and eventually taken from her seat on a stretcher. Play resumed and on the very next pitch, Ashburn hit another foul ball – which again hit the now prone, stretcher-bound Alice Roth in the leg.
  • Between 1949 and 1958, Ashburn led the NL in outfield put outs nine-times (tying the Pirates’ Max Carey for the most times leading the league in that category).
  • Ashburn collected more hits (1,875) in the decade of the 1950’s than any other player.

Yellow Tango, Indeed

In his final MLB season (as a Met), Ashburn found himself playing in center field, often behind second baseman/shortstop Elio Chacon, who did not speak English. Both were aggressive fielders and despite Ashburn’s calls of “I got it.  I got it.”, there were times when Chacon would range into center field, precipitating a collision.  Finally, Ashburn picked up the phrase “Yo la tengo.” – the Spanish equivalent of “I got it.”  The problem appeared solved – that is until a game in which a fly ball was headed for the no-man’s land in short left-center.  Ashburn rushed in, pounded his glove and confidently declared, “Yo la tengo.” As expected, Chacon pulled up. Unfortunately, left fielder Frank Thomas continued charging in, colliding with Ashburn, while the ball fell in between them. As they got to their feet, the story goes, the non-Spanish-speaking Thomas asked “What the *** is Yellow Tango?”, while Mets’ manager Casey Stengel just shook his head in the dugout.  BBRT note:  The story is credited as being the inspiration for the name of the alternative rock band Yo La Tengo – originally established by long-time Mets’ fan Ira Kaplan and Georgia Hubley.

 

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member:  Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Cleveland Indians’ Duster Mails – He Promised … He Delivered

Duster_MailsJohn Walter “Duster” Mails did not have what one might call a distinguished major league career.  In seven seasons, between 1915 and 1926, he went 32-25 with a 4.10 earned run average.  However, late in the 1920 season, Mails was one of the best pitchers in baseball – literally unbeatable as he helped the Cleveland Indians to the AL pennant and the franchise’s first World Series championship.

Duster, in fact, was so  “hot” in 1920 that, when told he would start Game Six of the World Series versus the Brooklyn club (Mail’s original major league team), he announced “Brooklyn will be lucky to get a foul tip off me today. If Spoke (the Indians’ star outfielder and manager Tris Speaker) and the boys will give me one run, Cleveland will win.”  Did Duster deliver?  More on that in a bit.  First, let’s take a look at how Duster Mails got into the spotlight on MLB’s biggest stage.

Mails signed with the Class B Northwestern League’s (NWL) Seattle Giants in 1914 (out of Saint Mary’s College, where he played both baseball and basketball). The 19-year-old southpaw split four decisions in his first NWL season, but in his second campaign for Seattle, Mails blossomed – going 24-18 before earning a late-September major league look from the NL’s Brooklyn Robins.  Mails pitched just five innings for Brooklyn – going 0-1 with a 3.60 ERA.  In those five innings, he gave up six hits (two home runs) and five walks, while fanning three.  The following season, again with the Robins, Mails went 0-1, 3.63 (all in relief) – giving up 15 hits and nine walks in just 17 1/3 innings (although he did fan 13 batters). After the season, the Robins designated Mails for assignment and he was claimed by the Pirates. He never took the mound for Pittsburgh, but spent the 1917 with the Pacific Coast League (Double A) Portland Beavers.

After taking off the 1918 season, Mails came back to the Pacific Coast League (pitching for the Seattle Rainiers and Sacramento Senators).  He seemed to have found his control – going a combined 19-17, 2.14 – with only 99 walks in 301 innings.  He continued this positive performance with Sacramento the following season – when he was 18-17, with a 3.23 ERA in 292 2/3 innings before the Indians purchased his contract on August 21st.  (At the time the Indians were 72-43, in second place, just 1 ½ games behind the White Sox.)

Mails made his first start for the Indians on September 1, and the rest is history. Between September 1 and October 1 – in the heat of the pennant race – Mails pitched in nine games (eight starts). He went 7-0, with a 1.85 ERA, six complete games and two shutouts – as the Indians edged the White Sox (two games back) and Yankees (three games out) for the pennant. Needless to say, but I’ll still say it, “They couldn’t have done it without him.”

Then came the World Series, against the team that had given up on Mails – the Brooklyn Robins.  The two teams split the first two games and Mails did not make an appearance.  He was called upon in relief in Game Three, as Indians’ starter Ray Caldwell gave up two runs, while recording only one out in the first inning.  Mails continued his regular season form, blanking the Robins for 6 2/3 innings. Brooklyn won Game Three 2-1 despite Mails’ performance.  Cleveland then took Games Four and Five – which brings us to Mails’ start (and that shutout he so brashly promised) in Game Six. Did he deliver? Indeed. He asked for one run – and that’s all his Indians game him.  Mails got the win 1-0, going the distance with a three-hitter.  (The Indians would go on to win Game Seven – and take the best-of-nine World Series five games to two.)

Now, I’d like to say that the 25-year-old Duster Mails went on to a long and brilliant major league career.  That, however, was not to be.  In 1921, he went 14-8, 3.94 with Cleveland, but found himself back in the bullpen. In 1922, he slipped to 4-7, 5.28. In 1923, Mails was back in the Pacific Coast League, where he would spend most of the next 14 seasons. (Mails pitched a total of 18 minor league seasons, winning 226 games, versus 210 losses). He did resurface in the major leagues in 1925, going 7-7, 4.60 for the Cardinals and again in 1926, pitching in one game for those same Cardinals.

So, there we have the MLB playing career of Duster Mails, who – for just over a month in 1920 – was one of the best pitchers ever to take the mound.  And, who had the audacity to promise a shutout in the World Series – and delivered.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research; The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

Harry Stovey Leads BBRT Pre-Integration ERA Baseball HOF Choices

Baseball Hall of Fame should make room for Harry Stovey in 2016. .

Baseball Hall of Fame should make room for Harry Stovey – and early offensive leader –  in 2016.

In BBRT’s post of November 24, I reviewed the traditional Baseball Hall of Fame ballot, which will see the qualifying members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) voting on HOF induction for 32 players (17 ballot holdovers and 15 first-timers). That post also included BBRT’s preferences and predictions for 2016 HOF induction. To view that post, click here.

In this post, we’ll take a look at the special Pre-Integration Hall of Fame ballot.  The 10 Pre-Integration Era nominees included on the ballot were selected by the BBWAA-appointed Historical Overview Committee. The candidates are drawn from managers, umpires, executives and players who had a significant impact on baseball from its earliest days through 1946. Eligible candidates included: players who played in at least 10 major league seasons, have been retired for at least 21 years and are not on MLB’s ineligible list; and managers, umpires and executives with 10 or more years in baseball. The final nominees included six former players, three executives and one of the game’s earliest organizers. A 16-member Committee will vote on the nominees on December 7, and any nominee receiving at least 75 percent support will be inducted into the HOF during this coming year’s (July 24, 2016) ceremonies. (Voting results  will be announced on January 6, 2016).

As with BBRT’s review of the regular Hall of Fame ballot, I’ll share my predictions and preferences.  We’ll start with predictions on whom the Committee will elect, move on to a detailed look at the players BBRT would vote for and close with a briefer review of the remainder of the ballot.

Who Will the Committee Send to Cooperstown?

BBRT projects the Pre-Integration Committee will provide the necessary 12 votes to:

  • Harry Stovey …  A stellar offensive performer, who – at various times – led his league in home runs, doubles, triples, runs scored, runs  batted in, slugging percentage, total bases and stolen bases.
  • Doc Adams … For his work in defining, refining and standardizing baseball rules, as well as the development of (and his play at) the shortstop position.

BBRT also sees a pair of dark horse candidates, who could join the above pair for 2016 induction:

  • Chris Van der Ahe … An early baseball “maverick” credited with bringing us – among other things – Sunday baseball and beer at the ballpark.
  • Bucky Walters – With six All Star selections, three years leading his league in wins and a 1939 MVP Award – plus, he was he was a two-time ERA champion, three-time leader in complete games, one-time leader in shutouts, three-time leader in innings pitched and one-time leader in strikeouts.   

 

Now, let’s take a look at the nominees that BBRT would support, in order of preference:

 

  1. HARRY STOVEY – Power and Speed in MLB’s Early Days
Harry Stovey - BBRT's number-one choice from the Pre-Integration Era Hall of Fame candidates.

Harry Stovey – BBRT’s number-one choice from the Pre-Integration Era Hall of Fame candidates.

Had they selected All Star teams in the 1880s and 1890s, Harry Stovey would have been on plenty of them.  Stovey’s 14-year career included stints in the National League (1880-82 and 1891-93) – as well as the American Association (1883-1889) and Players League (1890), considered major leagues at the time. The fleet outfielder-first baseman was a true offensive threat, leading his league in home runs five times, triples four times, runs scored four times, slugging percentage three times, total bases three times, stolen bases two times and doubles and RBI once each. Stovey was the first player to reach 100 career home runs and when he retired in 1893, he held the career home run record at 122. He remained among the top five in career round trippers until 1924. In 1889, playing for the Philadelphia Athletics  of the American Association, Stovey hit .308 – and led the league in runs scored (152), home runs (19), RBI (119), slugging percentage (.525) and total bases (292), tossing  in 63 steals. Stovey is also credited as the first player to wear sliding pads and the first to perfect the feet-first slide.  Stovey finished his career with a .289 average, 122 home runs, 906 RBI, 1,492 runs scored, 174 triples and 509 stolen bases.  He played for the Worcester Ruby Legs, Philadelphia Athletics, Boston Reds, Boston Beaneaters, Baltimore Orioles and Brooklyn Grooms.

All those finishes atop key offensive categories make Stovey a worthy Hall of Famer.

  1. DANIEL “DOC” ADAMS – We Still Play by His Rules

“Doc” Adams came by his nickname fairly – he graduated from Yale University in 1835 and acquired a medical degree from Harvard in 1938 (eventually practicing medicine in Mount Vernon, Boston and New York City).  In addition to his medical and educational pursuits, Adams was an exceptional athlete with a strong interest in baseball.  In 1840, he joined the New York Baseball Club and, five years later, became one of the earliest members of the influential New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club – joining in 1845 and being elected its president in 1846. In 1856, he headed a convention of representatives of a dozen baseball teams focused on defining, refining and standardizing the rules of the game.  Among the “firsts” attributed to Adams – the first to play (and establish) the shortstop position and the first umpire to call non-swinging strikes.  He is also considered one of the earliest advocates of (and driving forces behind) a game of nine innings, the 90-foot distance between bases and the establishment of nine players to a side.

For helping shape the game, Adams would get BBRT’s Vote

  1. SAM BREADON – Building Saint Louis’ Baseball Tradition

Sam Breadon – a successful businessman who owned a group of Pierce Arrow automobile dealerships – purchased a minority interest in the struggling St. Louis Cardinals in 1917.  By 1920, he was the club’s majority owner and president – a position he held until 1947. Breadon placed Branch Rickey in the position of General Manager and the pair created what turned out to be the model for MLB’s farm system – with minor league clubs feeding players to their parent organizations. That move turned the Saint Louis organization around.  In the five years prior to Breadon taking majority ownership, the team had a record of 346-405 – finishing seventh twice, eighth once, sixth once  and third once. Under Breadon (from 1920 to 1947), the team had only four sub-.500 seasons, produced nine pennant winners and six World Series championships, and put up a .574 overall winning percentage (2,470-1,830).

Helping turn Saint Louis into a long-term baseball hotbed should earn Breadon the Hall of Fame nod.

  1. CHRIS VON DER AHE – Nothing Like a Cold Beer and a Sunday Doubleheader

Chris Van der Ahe was the owner of the Saint Louis Browns from 1881-1988 – and brought home the American Association championship in four consecutive years (1985-1988). It was, however, Von der Ahe’s, reputation as an innovator and promoter that earned him a spot on the Pre-Integration ballot. (Imagine an earlier, and perhaps even more “maverick,” version of Hall of Fame owner Bill Veeck.)

In the late 1870s and early 1880s, “base ball” (it was two words back then) was facing significant challenges – impacted by the depression of the 1870s, the influence of gambling interests, elitist (read often stodgy) ownership and a reputation for less than gentlemanly (and sometimes even corrupt) players.  Despite all of this, Van der Ahe – who immigrated to the United States in 1867 and knew very little about baseball, but a lot about beer – saw potential in the sport. Van der Ahe, who had settled in St. Louis (then the nation’s sixth-largest city), started as a grocery clerk, but had acquired ownership in a grocery store, a saloon and boarding house.  At the same time as Van der Ahe’s fortunes were rising, Saint Louis baseball was on the decline.  In 1878, in fact, Saint Louis had lost its National League franchise – and fans’ had to make do with the semi-pro St. Louis Brown Stockings. Van der Ahe saw this situation as an opportunity.  He sank his life savings into the Brown Stockings in the hopes of returning the team to the National League (and making a solid return on his investment) – a move that the leaders of the NL rejected.  Turned away by the National League, Van der Ahe’s Brown Stockings initially played as an independent – offering a new kind of “base ball” – accessible to the average wage earner (admission prices only half of the NL’s 50-cents); played on Sunday (the NL banned Sunday ball); with alcoholic beverages (also banned by the NL) available at the ballpark; and offering a range of promotional activities and entertainment.  The Saint Louis team’s rising popularity and financial success is credited with the 1881 formation of the major league American Association (Saint Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Louisville and Pittsburgh).  This success did lead to Van der Ahe’s achieving his goal of returning Saint Louis to the NL.  Prior to the 1893 season, the American Association merged with the National League, with St. Louis a prize catch for the new league.

Now, I happen to love spending a sunny, Sunday afternoon at the ballpark – cold beer and scorecard in hand.  That is enough for me to give a Hall of Fame thumbs up to Chris Van der Ahe. For more on Van der Ahe and the American Association, read The Summer of Beer and Whiskey, reviewed here.

______________________________________________________

Now, here are the remaining candidates on the Pre-Integration Ballot, in alphabetical order.

BILL DAHLEN

Bill Dahlen was primarily a shortstop during his 21-year National League career (1891-1911). Considered an excellent fielder and an accomplished hitter, Dahlen compiled a .272 batting average (2,461 hits) with 84 home runs, 1,234 RBI, 1,590 runs scored and 548 stolen bases. He scored 100 or more runs six times, stole 30+ bases nine times and exceeded 100 RBI once. Playing for the Cubs in 1894, Dahlen put up a .359 average, with 15 home runs, 108 RBI and 43 steals.

AUGUST “GARRY” HERRMANN

August Hermann was president of the Cincinnati Reds from 1902 to 1927 and chairman of MLB’s ruling body – the National Commission – from 1903 to 1920. His contributions to the game earned him the title “Father of the World Series” – as he played a key role in negotiating the “National Agreement” that brought peace between the bickering National and American Leagues in 1903 – an agreement which led to the establishment of the World Series.

MARTY MARION

Considered one of (if not the) top fielding shortstops of his era and a natural leader on the field, Marty Marion was a seven-time All Star and the 1944 NL MVP (despite hitting just .267 with just six home runs, 50 runs scored, 63 RBI and one stolen base) as he led the Cardinals to the NL pennant and World Series crown. In 13 MLB seasons, Marion hit .263 (1,448 hits) with 36 home runs and 624 RBI.  During his career, he helped lead the Cardinals to four pennants (1942-43-44-46) and three World Championships (1942-44-46).

FRANK MCCORMICK

First baseman Frank McCormick was an eight-time All-Star (in 13 MLB seasons), who earned a reputation for a solid bat and glove. He was named the 1940 NL MVP – after a season in which he led the Reds to a World Series title and led the NL in at bats (618), hits (191) and doubles (44), while hitting .309, with 19 home runs, 127 RBI and 91 runs scored. McCormick led the NL in hits three times, doubles once and RBI once. He hit .299 for his career, with 128 home runs and 954 BI.

BUCKY WALTERS

Bucky Walters started his career as a third baseman (1931-34) before switching to the  mound full-time in 1935 (and becoming a six-time All Star as a pitcher). In his 16 seasons on the hill, Walters won 198 games (160 losses) and put up a 3.30 ERA with 1,107 strikeouts in 3,104 innings. He won 20+ games in three seasons (1939, 1940, 1944), leading the league in victories each time.  He won the 1939 NL MVP Award, posting a 27-11 record, with a 2.29 ERA. That season, he led the NL in wins, ERA, strikeouts (137), games started (36), complete games (31) and innings pitched (319).  In his career, he was a three-time league leader in wins, two-time ERA champion, three-time leader in complete games, one-time leader in shutouts, three-time leader in innings pitched and one-time leader in strikeouts.  He was 2-2, with a 2.79 ERA for the Reds in four World Series appearances (1939-40), which included three complete games and one shutout. Walters played for the Phillies, Reds and Braves.

WES FERRELL

Wes Ferrell took the mound in 15 MLB seasons (1927-41) – for the Indians, Red Sox, Senators, Yankees, Dodgers and Braves.  He put up a 193-128 record, with a 4.04 career ERA and 985 strikeouts in 2,623 innings.  He was a six-time 20-game winner, with a league-leading high of 25 for the Red Sox in 1935. Ferrell also lead his league in complete games four times and innings pitched three times.  Ferrell is acknowledged as the best-hitting pitcher of all time, with a .280 career average and 38 home runs (the record for pitchers). He also holds the single season home run record for pitchers at nine.

I tweet baseball @DavidBBRT

Member: Society for American Baseball Research (SABR); The Baseball Reliquary; Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

photo by: