by Tom Baird
First, please read a brief explanation of my rankings. These rankings should read like a crappy Fantasy Draft preview. They should not be understood as a straight ranking of players. I know that JD Martinez is better than Carlos Santana. I think that Santana will be underrated in this market, and will thus make a better signing for a team looking for value. Obviously, free agent signings have loads and loads of context that we cannot predict, so these rankings are extremely flawed. Still, I would rather consider cost than not consider it, even if the cost is a huge guess on my part, so here are my flawed rankings. Obviously, when these players get signed for significantly more or less money than I am expecting, the rankings will change.
by Tom Baird
Mike Minor was supposed to be good. Then he faded.
Over the past eight years, there have been several Atlanta Braves' players that were going to be great but weren't. While I understand this is common, it appeared that many players struggled to develop within that system over a brief time period. The team had Jason Heyward, Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Andrelton Simmons, Julio Teheran, Jair Jurrjens, Johnny Venters and more over the past eight years, and they all seemed to stagnate in their development shortly after arriving to the majors. Some of this stagnation can be explained by injuries, but there is a solid argument that Fredi Gonzalez and his staff mismanaged some great players.
We all know what happened with Simmons. The under-appreciated all-world defensive talent was sent to Anaheim in an exchange that brought Atlanta two solid pitching prospects. Simmons initially struggled, and then found his groove. ESPN reports that this happened the week Simmons started hitting:
Unfortunately for Mike Minor, he was never traded to Anaheim, and thus never received divine help. He was forced to figure it out on his own. He did receive some helpful guidance from his pitching coaches in Kansas City, and managed to turn his career around. With the help of Royals' coaching staff, Minor decided to utilize a Fastball-Slider combination to dominate hitters. In fact, The Roundtripper has exclusive transcripts from their conversations:* We can show you, in great detail, how Mike Minor decided to adjust his repertoire.
Coach: Hey Mike, you need to throw one or two innings at a time. It will help your velocity, and it will help save your pathetic broken body.
Mike: Sounds good. I'm a reliever now.
Coach: Once you're regularly throwing 95mph, you can use the fastball about 10% more than you did in 2014, which is the last time you pitched because your body was broken.
Mike: Sounds good.
And it WAS good. This rising fastball showcases his new velocity and high spin rate. In 2017, he struck out 88 batters in about 77 innings. He also had a 4 to 1 K/BB rate.
The conversation continued.
Coach: Also, you know that slider you rarely throw? Can you please throw that twice as much as you did in 2014? It looks JUST LIKE your fastball when it comes out of your hand, and then either disappears or trails off the plate. If a dude does get a piece of it, it'll look like Tom's best hit in Little League.
Mike: Who's Tom?
Coach: Super cool guy, but he's bad at playing baseball.
And then 2017 happened. Mike Minor became Andrew Miller Lite, and now he's living the High Life. Minor's slider/fastball combination was likely the second greatest such combo among relievers in 2017. If you have watched the playoffs at all over the past ten years, you have likely seen a dominant fastball/slider combination from guys named Lidge, Romo, or Miller. When the pitcher is elite, this particular skill set can be close to unhittable. Hitters have to guess when they'll get a fastball, and it's almost impossible to guess that consistently against dominant relievers. If it's a fastball with a spin rate like Minor's, they will have a tough time barreling the ball.
Going forward, Minor will have to maintain his control, keep his newfound velocity, and avoid hanging his slider, but he should continue to be dominant. Brad Lidge and Sergio Romo ultimately declined due to hitters laying off the slider and waiting for a weak fastball. Given Minor's age and skill set, he is an excellent free agent reliever.
I have a confession. I have always insisted that teams should NEVER pay for relievers. I believe, just like Jonah Keri, that "relievers are fickle and unpredictable." In a recent article for Sports Illustrated, Keri states that teams should simply "scoop up as many quality arms as you can, then see which ones stick." I could not agree more, given how unpredictable relievers can be. As the Dodgers saw this year with Brandon Morrow and Kenta Maeda, and as the Royals previously witnessed with Wade Davis, some mediocre starters can be used quite effectively as power relievers. Why pay large amounts in cash or prospects to acquire a reliever when a player like Brandon Morrow can be found on the scrap heap for the league minimum?
With all that said, I think that contending teams can pay for a good reliever. I think that Mike Minor will make any contender a greater threat, both throughout the regular season and during the playoffs. Teams are able to maximize leverage through matchups, and we've seen recent playoff teams like the Royals, Cubs, Indians and Dodgers rely more heavily on their bullpen than on starting pitching in order to maximize leverage. I personally believe this may signal a new movement in baseball, even during the regular season.
Although Minor should land with a contender, I would not be surprised if a team like the Mets, Phillies, Brewers or Angels make a strong offer. Obviously, his market may ultimately be effected by Greg Holland, Wade Davis, and Addison Reed. Considering age, health, and pitch control, I rank Minor as the top reliever available. I predict that he will be sought by half the teams in MLB, but will likely land with Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Boston, or San Francisco, for 40M/4yrs.
*This statement is a lie. I am lying. We have no connections.
We have new pages! Yay! Be excited! We have added further content to assist our readers in being the best baseball fans they can possibly be.
If you are staring at this screen, you are a baseball fan. At the very least, you know that baseball exists. Congrats. You are awesome, and we appreciate your readership. We made this website for you. This site was created by nerdy fans for the casual fan. Yes, we occasionally talk about advanced statistics. We also occasionally talk about bad 1980's television and pro wrestling. If we were forced by the internet to create a mission statement, it would likely be something like this: We want fans to have all the information, but understand they may not want it. We want fans to know where to find it, and how to use it. Furthermore, we want all stadiums to serve more garlic fries and Tom wants his son to play minor league baseball for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies.
We understand that all 7 of our readers come here for their own reasons. You might have a fantasy league opponent that you want to destroy, and your thirst for victory has brought you a lukewarm affinity for baseball. Perhaps you purchased a team cap because the color makes your eyes pop, and you want to defend the hat with some baseball knowledge.
However you got here, we want you to leave us as better fans. When you finally decide to click on a wildly inappropriate internet ad and leave this site, we want you to know just a tiny bit more about player value. So, in an effort to improve our efforts, we are efforting to put forth more effort. We understand that there is great information out there, and we want you to know where to find it. Rather than produce better content, which would take way too much time, we want to direct you to the many sites that already produce it. We begin by presenting you with our favorite team sites. We understand that our own coastal biases might leave you wanting more Twins content, or Royals content, or garlic fries, so we will do our best to point you in the right direction. Enjoy the team sites, and check out our Resource page for more nerdy fun.
The Rangers needed cheap starting pitching depth with upside. They now have cheap starting pitching depth with upside. Also, does anyone else think that he should have been a police officer? FisterCuffs would make a great nickname.
After a terribly underrated five year stretch in which he was (probably) a top 20 MLB starting pitcher, Doug Fister has spent the past three seasons hopping from organization to organization. Fister was incredibly fun to watch during his prime, due to his elite control and general lack of strikeouts. Once his velocity began to fade over two years ago, Fister was no longer able to dominate with control. He has recently emerged with new results, boasting an increased strikeout rate with an equally ballooned walk rate. This intrigues me immensely. If he can keep the ball inside Arlington, he might give them a 4.3 ERA over 100 innings. I would not expect much more from Fister, given the injury history and his inability to strike guys out. However, we have seen the man dominate this league with mediocre stuff, and I will be interested to see if his approach changes in 2018.
But seriously, FisterCuffs.
In what will likely go down as one of the greatest all-time World Series victories, the Houston Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to become the 2017 World Champions. It was special. It was dramatic. It was long. It was difficult to watch. It was amazing.
In 2004, I bet $5 that the Houston Astros would win the World Series. This is true. If I remember correctly, I had been informed by a mysterious old man that the Astros would win the Series after acquiring Carlos Beltran, so I made that bet with confidence. Unfortunately, Beltran and the Astros chose the wrong year to win it all.
Obviously, I should have actually read the book. Or read Sports Illustrated three years ago. The 2004 Astros had indeed acquired Carlos Beltran for the stretch run, much like the 2017 team, but their story did not end as well. Despite having Texas icons like Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman, and Roger Clemens on the playoff roster, along with an MVP level performance from Beltran, they were stopped short by the St Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals then ran into the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox, and that potentially historic Astros playoff team became an easily forgotten footnote. They would return to the playoffs in 2005, sans a healthy Bagwell but with a healthy Andy Pettite, and they actually made it to the World Series!! That team was then destroyed by the Chicago White Sox. Baseball is hard.
Sometimes, great teams earn a window of opportunity but fail to win 11 games in October. The Atlanta Braves were great for ten years. TEN YEARS!!! They only have one championship flag for all that success. That is why the playoffs are special and heartbreaking and awesome and unpredictable and sexy and tense and fun. Did I say sexy? I meant gritty. I always confuse those. You're welcome, David Eckstein and Willie Bloomquist.
My point is this: The Astros truly earned this win, and I hope that Houston fans realize just how special and unlikely it was. The two best teams in baseball made it to the World Series and went at it for seven games. The Astros beat a historically good Dodgers team.
As for the Dodgers, they get to start over in February like everyone else. Nothing is promised. Teams will often come close and never win it. The playoffs are unpredictable. Front offices have little control over the playoffs, so they do their best to create a nice window for success. This Phillies had theirs ten years ago, and got a win. The Rangers had theirs six years ago, and never pulled it off. The 2004 and 2005 Astros are still without a championship flag. The Braves were incredible throughout my childhood, with only one championship flag hanging in Atlanta. The Cubs and Dodgers appear to be right in the middle of their respective windows, along with the Indians and Astros and Red Sox and Yankees. Nothing is promised.
Get ready for an exciting offseason, as front offices throughout the league look to open windows and create opportunity. As you root for your favorite teams to make the big trade or signing, keep all of this in mind. It's all about giving your team a small chance in October.
The rest is up to fate, and the time traveling folks at Sports Illustrated.
The following rankings are based on Tom's observations, his interpretation of advanced stats, his conflicted feelings toward Aaron Judge, and his discussions with the ghost of George Sisler. These rankings are not meant to reflect merely the performance of all 30 teams over the final two months of the season, but instead to reflect likelihood of a playoff berth and subsequent success. Therefore, the great Tom Baird will only be providing a top ten ranking. Here goes...
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: They have now won 43 of their past 50 games and are projected to win 115 games. While they won't reach that number, I do think that they will top 110 wins in 2017. Come October, the team will likely be sending out Kershaw, Darvish, Hill, and Wood, with an outside shot of using Ryu or Maeda as well. This is called depth. It is super nice. Their acquisitions of Watson and Cingrani will likely help very little in October, although I believe Cingrani can be a star reliever in the future. This team is so stacked that they have a backup catcher likely worth 2 WAR, with a 900 OPS.
2. Houston Astros: The past three years have been a roller coaster for the Astros. Jose Altuve is not tall enough to ride roller coasters. This is called irony. Also, this joke has probably been used before and I just don't care.
3. Washington Nationals: This team is so complete, and yet very few people consider them to be as strong a threat as the Dodgers. While I do not believe they are as good as Los Angeles, I think that they could sweep a playoff series against the Dodgers, because they have fantastic front line pitching, a complete roster, and also the playoffs are not real life. They are better than real life. They are amazing.
4. Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks would be ranked above the Nationals if they were not in the West, and if Robbie Ray did not have headaches. They top the Nationals in run differential, and have looked like the stronger team for much of the season. Also, JD Martinez, whose real name is Just Dingers Martinez, actually hits home runs every 10 plate appearances. That is a good thing to do when you hit baseballs for a living.
5. Cubs: You may be starting to see a trend. I do not think the American League is nearly as strong as the NL this year. It feels weird to write or say those words, because the opposite has been etched in stone for the past twenty years. I honestly like the Rockies more than the Yankees, and I would rank them higher if they were not the third best team in their division. Back to the Cubs... they are still very very good. Yes, the Cubs have been inconsistent. Yes, their pitching has not been as strong as last year. Yes, I have a goat sitting in my backyard and its name is Olivia, and I may use it to curse the Cubs in October. Nonetheless, the Cubs remain a huge threat to repeat. The NL is stacked this year, and anybody can win in the playoffs with well-rounded rosters like these.
6. Yankees: This team actually ranks third in run differential according to Fangraphs, behind the Dodgers and Astros. They have the best bullpen we have seen in a while, rivaling the Royals from 2014 and 2015. They are a very good team with fun, young bats, and have a very real shot at competing in October. The bullpen is the only piece that puts them over the Sox in my rankings, and I likely will change my mind by the time I reach the team at #9.
7. Red Sox: If Price was right, they would be ranked higher. I still think that their starting pitching options are better than the Yankees starters, even without Price, but the Yankees bullpen is so so strong. Sox might move up before September
8: Indians: Kluber is king. If Carrasco gets hot, this team can run through the playoffs. The team ranks sixth in run differential and has the pitching to pull off a strong playoff run. They still have a lot of holes and question marks, but those two starters, along with that bullpen, could lead them right back to the World Series.
9. Rockies: Because the lineup is great, the pitching is improving, and I think the Brewers have no shot. The team sits between the Red Sox and Cubs in run differential rankings, and they have a surprisingly balanced team. If you want to bet on unknown players that could become big names in October, bet on young Colorado pitchers German Marquez, Jon Gray, and Jeff Hoffman. Also, don't bet on things like that because its stupid.
10. Royals: Hey look, they still have a shot at making the World Series for a third time in four years! Wow. Think about that. Incredible right? Now stop thinking about it. Stop it. They likely have no chance in hell. If they get there, they will need some miracles from their pitching staff. But they are better than two thirds of the league, so congrats Royals!
Carlos Baerga's mustache. That was why anybody did anything in the 1990's. It was our reason for living.
Bring back great baseball cards. Bring them back now.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.