Major League Baseball Preview 2014
Major League Baseball 2014
Spring is in the Air!
It is that time of year again, when every fan-base in major league baseball has optimism going into a new season. The offseason is over, rosters are reloaded and everyone is excited to see what the new baseball season will bring. The veteran teams go about their business, and the young upstart teams look to keep surprising. For every team there is a long season ahead, and over a long season, good teams find something to lean on, in order to keep grinding out the wins that it takes to reach the postseason.
Last season, there were only six teams in the National League to finish with a winning record. These six teams were the St. Louis Cardinals (97-65), the Atlanta Braves (96-66), the Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68), the Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70), the Cincinnati Reds (90-72), and the Washington Nationals (86-76). All six of these teams, at times leaned on their starting pitching for wins during significant stretches of good baseball that they put together during the season. The Philadelphia Phillies showed us how important starting pitching is to them, when they spent 16 million dollars on a one year contract for their third starting pitcher, AJ Burnett. Ahead of Burnett, they have Cliff Lee under contract at an average annual salary of 25 million and Cole Hamels under contract at an average annual salary of 24 million. Contracts like these, show how important it is to have quality starting pitching in baseball, and especially in the National League. Over the past few seasons, starters who have posted bad seasons in the American League, have opted to try to limit the market for their services to National League teams. Some pitchers find better results when they do not have to pitch in hitter friendly ballparks as often, and do not have to face lineups that include a designated hitter. This results in American League play being controlled by offensive firepower, but some of the top teams in the American League, still possess the pitching talent that it takes to keep scoring down. The Boston Red Sox, the Detroit Tigers, the Texas Rangers, the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics all have starting pitching that ranked well above the league average last season. These teams expect more of the same this season, as they report to camp with everyone healthy this spring. In both leagues, typically the most successful starting pitchers are the ones who get the most pitches put in play on the ground, and strike batters out. Pitchers with swing and miss stuff, tend to allow fewer runners on base, and the groundball pitchers tend to get a lot of double plays turned behind them. Recently teams have also been focusing on defensive shifts, and the additions of athletic defenders, so that their best pitchers can keep their Walks plus hits per inning pitched, around or below 1. The Major League postseason used to be dominated by clutch hitting, but now pitching is the key to getting to the postseason and having success there.
Middle relief around baseball, typically is not top quality pitching, and as a result, a lot of runs get scored in the middle innings. The better teams in each league, either have good middle relief pitching, or starters who go deep into ballgames. This allows them to hand the lead over to the better pitchers on the back end of the bullpen. Most notably last season, the Braves and Pirates posted the top relief pitching numbers in baseball, and not coincidentally, they were both in the 2013 postseason. Holding the lead is important in both home and road games, but especially on the road where a tie ballgame favors the team with the last at bat. Last season in the American League, the Athletics, Red Sox, Rays, Rangers and Royals, all did a great job of holding the lead in the late innings, and they all ended up with a winning record as a result. This offseason, the Mariners, Athletics and Orioles have all made moves to bolster their bullpens, among American League teams. In the National League, the Braves extended their all-star closer, and figure to once again have one of the best group of relievers in baseball.
Some teams find it hard to balance both of these philosophies, as a lot players tend to excel at the plate and not in the field, or vice versa. The five tool talent in baseball has been able to change the way some teams play the game, with greater overall contributions from individual players. Some noteworthy names from both leagues, that fit the five tool mold, are Mike Trout, Carlos Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adam Jones, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Troy Tulowitzki, Ian Desmond, Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth, Starling Marte, Josh Hamilton, Brandon Phillips, Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, Justin Upton, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Gordon, Shin Soo-Choo and Austin Jackson. All of these players expect to make similar impacts this season, to what they have done in recent years. With this in mind, we can expect to see successful seasons from the teams that have one or more of this type of player. While not all the great offensive players are great defenders, teams really see the benefits from the defensive side, when a star player has a well rounded game. Paul Goldschmidt, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Chris Davis have their places on winning teams as well, but first base limits the impact that they can have on ballgames defensively. This does not diminish their importance to their teams however, because they play key roles as middle of the order hitters. Ultimately, the five tool players, with a strong offensive/defensive combination, have the best chance to add wins to their teams.
1. American League East
Four teams in this division figure to be in the mix for the postseason chase, much like last year. Both the Orioles and Yankees put together solid off-seasons, with their free agent signings, but the Red Sox as the defending World Champs and Division Champs, can't be counted out. The Rays could once again have the best pitching in the division, since it appears they will be starting the season with former Cy Young award winner David Price, still on their team.
2. National League East
This division figures to be a three team race, with the Braves and Nationals have an advantage on paper, over the Phillies to start the season. With the addition of Doug Fister, the Nationals have one of the deepest starting rotations in all of baseball, which should result in them winning the NL East.
3. American League Central
While the defending Division Champion Detroit Tigers, remain the favorite, they face some competition from both the Royals and the Indians. Kansas City starts the season with a rotation that is filled out by veterans, but by midseason, young pitching talent could take over for them. While Cleveland lost both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir from last year's team, they still have their Ace in Justin Masterson, followed by young phenom Danny Salazar, with breakout candidate Trevor Bauer rounding out the back end of their rotation. Cleveland still has the offensive firepower that carried them last year, and they figure to challenge for the division crown or a wildcard berth.
4. National League Central
The St. Louis Cardinals figure to once again be the favorites to win the National League Central, with their closest competition for the division crown, coming from both the Pirates and the Reds. The Brewers could make it a four team race for the division title, at some point this summer, but their lack of an elite level starting pitcher will make it tough for them to hang around with the top three contenders for this division.
5. American League West
On paper the Texas Rangers appear to have an advantage over the defending division champion Oakland Athletics, but the A's always find a way to get gritty wins. Both the Angels and Mariners could push the top two teams in the division from a season ago, but as of right now they have question marks on their rosters that place them a step behind the Rangers and A's at the start of the season.
6. National League West
The Dodgers are the favorites to repeat as National League West Division Champs, but after a strong offseason, the Diamondbacks will look to challenge them for the crown. San Francisco has a winning pedigree from recent years, and figure to challenge the Dodgers as well, but unless Tim Lincecum can regain some of his form, and play the role of number 3 starter, the Giants will have a tough time keeping pace. The San Diego Padres are the most logical choice for the team that could surprise baseball, by making a run at playoff spot in 2014.
AL East Champion: Boston Red Sox
AL Central Champion: Detroit Tiger
AL West Champion: Texas Rangers
AL Wildcard 1: Tampa Bay Rays
AL Wildcard 2: New York Yankees
Just Out: Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians, Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles.
NL East Champion: Washington Nationals
NL Central Champion: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West Champions: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wildcard 1: Atlanta Braves
NL Wildcard 2: Pittsburgh Pirates
Just Out: Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants, Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies
World Series Prediction: Texas Rangers over Washington Nationals in 7 games.
The Texas Rangers once again have one of the most dynamic offenses in baseball, and now they have the pitching to back it up. Led by Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish, the Rangers will look to get back to the World Series for the third time in 5 seasons, in 2014. The Washington Nationals have multiple five tool players on their roster, and some very good role players to complement them. A closer look at the Nationals starting rotation, shows some similarities to the 2012 Detroit rotation that led the Tigers to a World Series appearance. The addition of Doug Fister in the 4th spot in the Nationals rotation, will prove to be the difference for them, once the postseason rolls around.