Yankees

Top 5 Shortstops

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The following list consists of the top five shortstops currently in the Major Leagues in my opinion.

derek-jeter

  1. Derek Jeter– I hope this pick does not surprise anyone because Mr. Jeter has been nothing short of outstanding for the better part of the last two decades.  Since his first full season in ’96, Jeter’s season-low in games played is 119.  Only five times in seventeen seasons has he hit under .300; four of those times he hit in the .290’s.  A great contact hitter, Jeter keeps his strikeout total low, and is also a very talented base-stealer.  Jeter has recorded 200+ hits in a season eight out of his seventeen seasons, which is nothing short of phenomenal.  He is coming off of a serious ankle injury this season, so keep your eyes open to see whether or not he can be the same player he was a year ago.
  2.  Jose Reyes– Some may not realize how good Jose Reyes is because of his awful situation in Miami, but in reality, Reyes has been very solid for the past few years he has been in the league.  His first full season came in 2005 with the Mets, in which he hit .273.  Reyes, like Jeter, is a fantastic contact hitter who does not hit for much power.  On occasion he can put a ball out of the park, as he did nineteen times in 2006.  The only real problem I have with Reyes’ game is his fielding is sometimes very shaky.  There have been several seasons in which he has made fifteen or more errors.  Fielding aside, Reyes is one of the better base-stealers in the recent years.  In 2007, he totaled a whopping seventy-eight stolen bases!  He has gotten off to a slow start this year in Toronto, but look for Reyes to pick it up now that he is out of Miami.
  3. Troy Tulowitzki– Tulowitzki is personally one of my favorite shortstops in the league, due in large part to his passion for the game day in and day out.  When he broke into the league in 2007, he hit a stellar .291 while playing in 155 games.  The only downside to Tulo is his lack of consistency as an everyday player.  Only twice in six years has he played in over 150 games.  He is not a base-stealer like Reyes or Jeter, but he is still an above average baserunner.  Fielding-wise, Tulowitzki is a stud.  His career high in errors is eleven, and he has a career fielding percentage of .985.  He is off to a good start this season, as are his Rockies who have started the season 3-1.
  4. Hanley Ramirez– Coming in at number four is Hanley Ramirez.  In his early years, Ramirez was known as a big time young player as he broke out with the Florida Marlins.  His missed a little less than half the season in 2009, which led to his worst season in the pros.  He batted over .300 for four straight seasons, 2007-2010, and has a career average of .298.  When he got out of Miami halfway through last season, he admittedly struggled a little bit with his new Dodgers team.  He was also recently injured in the World Baseball Classic so he has not played in a game so far this season.  Ramirez commits a significant amount of errors each season, which is why he dropped toward the bottom of my list, but he is also a fantastic base-stealer like Jose Reyes.
  5. Starlin Castro– Starlin Castro rounds out my top five because I believe he is the best young shortstop, and maybe even player in the game today.  Though Castro hasn’t been playing that long, he has been an all-star two out of his first three years.  He has accumulated a .295 batting average over his first three seasons, and in 2011 he totaled 207 base hits.  He is not a known power hitter but he did put fourteen balls out of the park in 2012, a season in which he played every single game.  On the negative side, Castro is sometimes a very shaky fielder.  When he messes up once, there is a good chance he will get down on himself and mess up again in the near future.  Though still not great, he has progressed his fielding over the last season or two and I believe that with time and effort, he will become an MVP caliber player in the next three to five years.

Other notable shortstops include Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers.

Christian Biondi

Top 10 Pitchers Today

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I have grown up my whole life being a pitcher, so the players that I am about to list are people that I have looked up to and tried to model my game after.  Each man is dominant in his own way, earning himself a spot on my list of the ten best pitchers in the MLB today.  The order is completely my own opinion, but I truly feel that each and every one of these pitchers deserves to be thought of as one of the best.  Anyway, here goes.

Picture from Sports Illustrated
Picture from Sports Illustrated
  1. Justin Verlander– Most people could see this one coming from a mile away.  I personally believe that Verlander is hands-down the best pitcher in the majors.  He has the perfect balance of velocity, control, off-speed, and stamina.  He can pump a high 90’s fastball in the 9th inning, and still be able to fool you with his deceptive change-up.  He is undoubtedly the leader of the Detroit Tigers, having led them to the World Series twice in the last six seasons.  Both attempts were unsuccessful, however.  Verlander is a workhorse who will get you a lot of strikeouts (200+ in the last four seasons) no matter who he is facing.  Oh, and did I mention he is dating Kate Upton?
  2. R.A. Dickey– There is no doubt that Dickey has become an elite pitcher in the MLB, but some might find my number two ranking a little generous.  Dickey has been in the league for over a decade, but never really broke out onto the scene until the 2012 season.  And boy did he break out.  Dickey compiled a 20-6 record in 33 total starts.  Some might be puzzled as to why it took him so long to break out.  Well, the knuckleball is not an easy pitch to master.  That being said, Dickey has now MASTERED it.  He is often compared to Tim Wakefield, another recent knuckleballer, but I personally think the comparison is almost useless.  Wakefield was a great pitcher in his own respect, but Dickey has taken it to a whole new level.  He throws the knuckleball harder than it has ever been thrown, and he knows exactly where it is going to end up, a combination deadly to almost any hitter.  Coming off a sensational year, he is starting fresh in Toronto with a decent supporting rotation, so it should be interesting to see what kind of year is in store for Dickey.
  3. Matt Cain– Over the past year or two, I believe Matt Cain has developed into a superstar pitcher, and the unquestioned ace of the San Francisco Giants.  With the decline of Tim Lincecum, Cain has stepped up and carried the Giants pitching staff.  He has a career record of 85-78 with a 3.27 ERA.  While these stats are not amazing, he is still developing even at the age of twenty-eight.  In two postseason trips, he has a record of 4-2, and did not even let up an earned run in the 2010 postseason, which led to a World Series title for the Giants.  To top it all off, Cain tossed an incredible perfect game on June 13th, 2012.
  4. Clayton Kershaw– Throughout his short career, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has done nothing but prove himself.  He is preparing to enter his sixth full season, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will be another successful one.  Over his first five years, Kershaw has put together an impressive record of 61-37.  With a career 2.79 ERA, this lanky southpaw has a variety of ways to make batters miss.  The young Kershaw was awarded the 2011 NL Cy Young award, thanks in no small part to his utterly devastating slider.  He, like Verlander, is one of the few pitchers in the league that almost seems to get better as the game goes on.  Mr. Kershaw is my prediction to win the Cy Young award again this year.
  5. David Price– David Price is another young pitcher who has already given himself a name throughout the major leagues.  Behind Justin Verlander, I think Price is arguably the best pitcher in the American League.  If you don’t know who he is, you’re missing out.  This 6 foot 6 Rays ace consistently throws fastballs between 97-99 MPH, an obvious problem for hitters.  In his four full years, Price has already completed a 19 and a 20 win season.  Very few people get on base against him, and even fewer are able to hit the long ball.  His only flaw, however, is sub-par postseason track record.  While he is still inexperienced in the playoffs, he has a 1-3 record while letting up almost four runs per game.  Price was the recipient of the 2012 AL Cy Young award, barely sneaking past defending champion Justin Verlander.  While I don’t see him winning the award again this season, I think he will definitely have another great year, compiling seventeen or eighteen wins.
  6. Jered Weaver– Since his 2006 entrance into the MLB, Jered Weaver has never had a losing season.  In fact, he has never had less than eleven wins.  He has almost twice as many wins as he has losses, (102-52) and he racks up strikeouts like it’s his job.  Well, I guess it is his job.  Anyway, Weaver stands at a towering 6 foot 7, so his heaters jump on hitters even faster than they normally would.  2012 was a career year for Weaver, when he earned twenty wins with a measly five losses.  Posting a sub 3.00 ERA, he earned the $14 million he was paid while finishing third in the Cy Young voting behind David Price and Justin Verlander.
  7. Stephen Strasburg– This pick might come as a surprise to some people, as Strasburg does not have that much experience in Major League Baseball.  The 2012 season marked the first season in which he made at least twenty-five starts.  He compiled fifteen of his twenty-one career wins during the 2012 campaign, while posting a 3.16 ERA.  With a history of arm problems, Strasburg was shut down in the beginning of September, after just 159 innings.  There was a lot of disagreement whether or not the Nationals should have cut his season short, and there is really no way to determine who would have been right.  All we can say for sure is that the Nationals would have been a much different team in the postseason if he were at the top of the rotation.  Look for Strasburg to be an NL Cy Young finalist this year, barring any injuries.
  8. Felix Hernandez– All hail King Felix!  I believe Hernandez is one of the most underrated hurlers in the Major Leagues.  Not because of his talent, but because he plays for the small-market Seattle Mariners.  He doesn’t get the exposure that a Verlander or a Weaver would get.  Over the past seven or eight years, he has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the league.  He constantly pitches 200+ innings, and records an utterly ridiculous amount of strikeouts.  With a 98-76 career record, his win percentage isn’t all that great.  That being said, he often has issues with run support, as the Mariners are one of the worst offensive teams in the leagues.  King Felix just signed a humongous deal, giving him the biggest pitcher’s contract in MLB history.  It will be interesting to see whether he can live up to his expectations, or cracks under pressure of a big contract.
  9. Roy Halladay– Halladay is the oldest pitcher on my list, and he is nothing short of a seasoned vet.  Over the last decade and a half, Halladay has put together nothing short of a magnificent career.  With a 199-100 record, there have been more than 2,000 strikeout victims.  He spent his first twelve years with the Toronto Blue Jays, before joining the Phillies in 2010.  His impact was immediate in Philadelphia.  Between Halladay, Hamels, and Cliff Lee, the Phillies had easily the best rotation in the pros.  Unfortunately, it appears as though Halladay is in the decline of his career, but his numbers are still very impressive.  Look for the Phils to battle the Nats for the top spot in the NL East this season.
  10.  CC Sabathia– Rounding out my top 10 is the hard-to-miss CC Sabathia.  The current Yankees ace has dominated no matter what team he’s been on.  Whether it was Cleveland, Milwaukee, or New York, the numbers are always the same.  Winning records and loads of strikeouts are this big man’s recipe for success.  Much like Jered Weaver, this 6 foot 7 giant puts fastballs on hitters much faster than most other pitchers.  His 2012 numbers declined just a tad from his previous Yankee years, so look for a bounce back year for Sabathia.

CC SABATHIA

Other pitchers that came to mind were Cole Hamels, James Shields, Cliff Lee, and the up and coming Gio Gonzalez.

Christian Biondi

‘Roids Still Raging

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While performance-enhancing drugs have been a part of baseball for decades, violators were never really punished until the 1990’s, when harsher consequences were put in place.  The use of steroids was truly brought to the eye of the public around the 1998 season, during the historic home-run race between the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs.  Both players have been heavily accused over the years, though neither has been marked as a definite steroid user.  Several stars such as McGwire, Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens have had their chances for a spot in Cooperstown dramatically decreased because of their association with performance-enhancing drugs.

To any true baseball fan, speculation about the use of steroids in the MLB is nothing new.  But recently, old news has become relevant once again.  Within the last week or so, yet another report has been released accusing current MLB stars of violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.

Alex-Rodriguez2

The most recent report focuses heavily on Anthony Bosch and his Miami-based anti-aging clinic.  Similar to other accusations in the past few years, this one also focuses on Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez.  Rodriguez, 37, resides in Miami during the offseason, and has allegedly made several illegal purchases from Bosch.  Sources associated with the Miami New Times have released a statement saying that Rodriguez’s name or nicknames pop up at least a dozen times in Bosch’s notes.  Sources close to Bosch have reported a close relationship between the two, but Bosch has done nothing but deny it.  Although he has passed drug tests in recent years, sources say that he may have started using PED’s again before and during the 2012 season.  Rodriguez previously admitted to using steroids in the early 2000’s while playing for the Texas Rangers.  He claims to never have used them since, and the Yankees obviously believed him, giving him a 10 year/$275 million contract prior to the 2009 campaign.  The MLB Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating all evidence related to this recent report, and will make an announcement as soon as a final verdict is reached.

Will Alex Rodriguez join the list of superstars with an asterisk next to their name? Only time will tell. For the time being, fans will just have to accept the fact that there are still players who think they can get away with using PED’s, while other players play fairly without receiving the recognition of putting up huge numbers.  Other names included in the 2013 report include Bartolo Colon, Gio Gonzales, Nelson Cruz, and Melky Cabrera.  Cabrera was suspended 50 games this past season for violating the league’s PED policy.

Christian Biondi

Royals Split Against Yankees

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With a 0-10 record at home, the Royals were in desperate need for a home win. The Royals leaned on Danny Duffy, but Mike Moustakas ended up carrying the load for the Royals at the plate with 3 RBI’s and a home run. Moustakas has been swinging the best bat for the team in this young season. Along with Moose, Eric Hosmer and Jarrod Dyson each had 2 hits. Danny Duffy recorded his second win and ate up 5.1 innings with six hits and two runs. Nathan Adcock gave up one run in his first inning of pitching after Duffy. Jose Mijares and Aaron Crow both accounted for holds giving up zero runs. Jonathan Broxton earned his 5th save. In the ninth inning, Broxton gave a single up to Jeter, then walked Granderson. The initial feel around the ballpark conveyed the message “ here we go again”. The fans had seen this downfall before. This team has invented different ways to lose at home and today was about to be one of them. Next, Teixeira grounded up the middle, where Getz dove fully to field it and then flipped it to Escobar at second to start the double play. After the fantastic play, the overpaid, Alex Rodriguez hit a drizzler to third. Moustakas charged and fielded bare handed which led him to fire the ball to first getting the final out.

Just when the Royals were starting to act more confident with their continued success, New York’s powerful lineup was up and ace CC Sabathia took charge. Bruce Chen recorded his fourth lose at the feet of the Yankees. Chen survived for 6.2 innings. While Chen did make it deep in the game, he gave up 9 hits and 6 runs pushing his ERA to 4.98. Collins, Coleman, and Kansas City native Hottovy finished off the game without giving up another run. The positives for the blue crew were slim, but they did score two early runs against big CC. While Escobar stole his 6th base on the season, he also was penalized with his third error. The Royals had 7 hits while striking out only 8 times.

Felipe Paulino threw a gem on his return from the disabled list. He handled the pressure of the Yankees lineup and gave the Royals exactly what they needed. Paulino threw six shutout innings, allowing just four hits and two walks while striking out six. He retired the first 11 batters he faced before walking Alex Rodriguez with two outs in the fourth inning. The Royals opened the first inning by scoring 2 runs. Jarrod Dyson reached on a rare error by Jeter and after Alex Gordon ripped a single into right field. Both runners scored easily on a double, smoked down the left-field line by Billy Butler. Gordon and Butler were the clear catalysts for the Royals. Gordon went 4-5 with 1 RBI and Butler drove in 3 runs on 2 doubles. Escobar and Getz created havoc on the base paths by each stealing one base. The highlight of the game was a rope thrown from Francoeur in right field to third to get a tagging Curtis Granderson. The bullpen for the Royals had another lights out game. While Mijares did give up a run, the pen had an impressive outing. Kelvin Herrera gave 1.1 innings of work with one strikeout. Aaron Crow ended the game with a scoreless ninth inning.

To end the series the Royals sent out Luke Hochevar. He struggled in the third inning immensely. Hochevar gave up 7 runs on 7 hits. The Royals fans went berserk on Twitter asking for Hochevar to be cut after tonight. This is extremely unlikely but I would not be opposed to it. 4 of the 7 runs came at the feet of Robinson Cano’s grand slam. Louis Mendoza came in as a long relief and did very well in his 4.2 innings of work. Mendoza did struggle with his command while giving up 5 walks. The walks were the main reason for the two runs he gave up. The hometown kid Hottovy gave up one run in 2.0 innings. Offensively the Royals were highlighted by the debut of Irving Falu. Falu started in his first ever major league game. His first at-bat was a triple to right field. He finished 2-4. Humberto Quintero bombed a homerun into the fountains. The series with two wins and two losses. Next up for the blue crew is the Boston Red Sox.

Spencer Montgomery

AL West and AL East Look in

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Spring is officially here.  Hot dogs are sizzling on a smoky ballpark grill, catcher’s mitts are popping with every crisp fastball, the Cubs are 3.5 games back in the NL Central when only five games have been played, and all is right with the world.

The 2012 baseball season’s debut week has already been ripe with action in both leagues – the AL West and AL East in particular.

AL West

Cuban-defect turned Oakland center fielder, Yoenis Cespedes, signed a massive contract over the offseason to improve upon an Athletics’ offense that was 24th in the league in average, hits, and home runs last year.  So far in 2012, Cespedes has not improved upon the average, but leads the league in strikeouts (11) and ties for the league lead in home runs (three).

Time will tell if the strikeouts are growing pains; Cespedes has been called a five-tool player, and Oakland will need all five of them to compete with the Rangers and the Angels.

The Rangers and the Angels have two big contract signings themselves: 25 year old Japanese starter Yu Darvish for Texas, and Albert Pujols for Los Angeles.

Darvish went five and two-thirds innings in his first start and gave up five earned, but he also settled in after a forty-plus pitch first inning.  If Darvish struggles from inconsistency like so many Rangers starters in the past, Texas will not be able to fill the void in their rotation left by now-Angel C.J. Wilson.

I’m inclined to think Yu’s resiliency is a good sign, but the Ballpark in Arlington is also a hitter’s park. If Yu can’t keep his pitches out of the bleachers, he will be relying on his powerful Texas offense more often than not.

Pujols was the big story over the offseason, but his stat line (.222/1 R/2 RBI) is nowhere close to where the Angels want it.  Keep in mind that his whole month of April in 2011 was also weak, but he still ended up hitting .299 with 37 home runs.  This is a temporary slump; Los Angeles is far too stacked for Albert not to succeed.

AL East

As an objective journalist, I cannot pick favorites or grudges against any team; however, I won’t pretend that seeing the Yankees at the bottom of their division, even in the first week of the season, makes me smile a little bit.

New York’s pitching staff is 25th in the majors in batting average against (.271), so it is no wonder that they haven’t done very well so far.  Yankee Stadium seems as shallow as a Little League park so rotational problems are likely to persist, but a streaking Derek Jeter (.370) and an unseasonably consistent Brett Gardner (.353) at the plate complement the rest of their deep lineup.  Sorry, Boston – the Yankees are still talented.

But Boston does not have much hope to contend with New York regardless.  They’re dead last in earned run average as a team (6.40) and they have given up the second-most hits; Red Sox nation might be in trouble this year with Jonathan Papelbon off to the Phillies, Daniel Bard giving up five runs in five innings, and Clay Buchholz giving up seven earned in four innings.  Neither of these two starters had a good spring training either, so this looks to be a recurring issue.

As for Boston’s disabled list?   Reliever Andrew Bailey, a big offseason pickup, is due back around the All-Star break.  Starter Chris Carpenter is on the 60-day DL.  Outfielder Carl Crawford is gone until late April.  Starter John Lackey is not back until next year from Tommy John surgery.  Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka returns during June at earliest from elbow surgery.  Reliever Bobby Jenks had back surgery and will not resume playing until July.

The Red Sox have too many holes; they had better pray for some good prospects to come through.

Highlight of next week:

The Marlins are without skipper Ozzie Guillen for three more games due to comments about Fidel Castro, missing a series with the Astros.  Time to see if the team can stand up to scrutiny without their manager by winning a series against a team they should beat.

Chris Fielder