Players that Contenders Should Pursue this Offseason

Over the past several years, many teams have been striving to find a team that is cheap, but able to compete for a championship. If you look at the previous champions, (2015 Royals, 2014, 2012 Giants, 2013 Red Sox, and 2011 Cardinals) it is evident that teams should search for a top flight bullpen and a high batting average.

Although it is not surprising to note that teams with better hitting wins championships, it is interesting observe that of the last five champions none had a batting average that was worse than 10th in MLB during the regular season and 4 of the teams ranked inside the top 5 in batting average. The team that finished 10th was the 2014 Giants and they could be considered an outlier because Madison Bumgarner put forth the best postseason pitching performances in the last 50 years. Another interesting development to analyze is that winning teams do not necessarily have high on base percentages or great home run hitting ability. In terms of on base percentages, only two teams ranked inside the top 5 in MLB, Red Sox and Cardinals, and two teams ranked outside 10th in the league in on base percentage, Royals and 2014 Giants. The number of home runs by World Series winning teams is even more startling. Over the past 5 champions, only one ranked inside the top 10 in home runs and three even ranked in the bottom half of the league in home runs. In theory, this goes against Billy Beans’ model, but makes sense because the best pitchers are unlikely to walk opposing hitters or allow home runs. As the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals displayed during their championship run, it is necessary to put the ball in play and put pressure on defenders to make a play.

Another common aspect of championship teams is successful postseason relief pitching. Over the past several years, the game has altered and team’s bullpens have become nearly impossible to hit. The ability for managers to shorten the game with 3 great bullpen arms adds confidence and allows for starters to face a lineup only twice. Among the previous five champions, only one team, 2011 Cardinals, had a bullpen ERA over 2.35 and no team had a Batting Average Against of over .215. This means that the bullpens of the championship teams were totally dominant and nearly unhittable. In addition, the notion that great starting pitching wins World Series is incorrect. Over the past five years, only the San Francisco’s starters in 2012 had an ERA in the top ten in the league during the regular season. Although they ranked top ten, their ERA was 3.74, which would be an average ERA in most years.

Hitters That Teams Should Target:

Jason Heyward: Although Jason Heyward does not have the power numbers of a typical $200 million player, he will likely net a contract near that number this offseason. Heyward is a very good player because he hits for average, .293, plays extraordinary defense, and stills has the potential to turn into a 20 home run player. Unlike the other top outfielders on the market, Heyward is not a boom or bust player who will strikeout over 200 times per season and hit 40 home runs. Heyward may not be the team’s best player, but he will be a cornerstone player for a championship team.

Howie Kendrick: Since Kendrick has entered the league, he has shown a propensity to hit at a high level. Last season in Los Angeles, Kendrick batted .295 with 9 home runs. Although Kendrick will not transcend a team, he has the potential to extend a lineup. Even though Kendrick will not hit home runs, he can help maintain a rally and collect important hits.

Alex Gordon: Over the past two seasons with the Royals, Gordon displayed his talent and clutch factor. For teams that want a player like Heyward, but cannot afford to pay for his services, Gordon would be a great alternate. Although Gordon dealt with injuries this season, he still hit over .270 while playing great defense, and clubbing 13 home runs. Unlike Heyward, Gordon has World Series experience and success, which should attract many contenders this offseason.


Pitchers That Teams Should Target:

Darren O’Day: Although O’Day’s delivery is awkward, his success on the field cannot be denied. Over his career, he has totaled an ERA un 2.30 in 6 of his past 7 seasons. Even though O’Day is not a closer, he would be a great addition because he can lock down the 6th – 8th inning of a game. Unlike top flight starters who could command 9 fighures, O’Day will only cost between $25-35 million for three or four years.

Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel: During the trade deadline, Kimbrel and Chapman were two of the biggest names, but neither was dealt. However, this offseason, it appears Chapman will definitely be dealt and it is likely that Kimbrel will change teams. Chapman and Kimbrel are probably the best two closers in the league so they could have a dramatic effect on a team’s bullpen, although they will demand high compensation.


Story Lines for Week 7

1) Can Jets’ number 1 defense stop the Patriots’ number 1 offense?

The most interesting matchup of the season will take place in Foxborough. During the preseason, very few believed that the Jets had enough talent on offense to make this a highly anticipated game. However, they have proved doubters wrong due to their number one ranking scoring defense and number seven scoring offense. The Jets defense has held opponents to 15 points per game, best in league, 15 turnovers, third best in league, 82.6 rushing yards per game, second best in league, and 186.6 passing yards per game, second best in league. The Jets have stars all over the defense, Revis, Cromartie, Wilkerson, Richardson, Williams, and Harris. However, the biggest surprise has been the offensive attack due to their great offensive line. Their offensive line has paved the way for the number one rushing attack in the league and has allowed only two sacks. While the Jets have been impressive, no team has been better than the defending champions, New England Patriots. Although they do not have a great running game, nearly 100 yards per game, Tom Brady has led the Pats to 325 passing yards per game, second best. Although they do not have a great down field threat, the combination of Amendola, Edelman, and Gronk has made the Pats’ mid range passing attack nearly impossible to defend.

2) Will the Seahawks’ defense return to their former dominance?

During each of the past three years, the Hawks have led the league in scoring defense. However, this season, they have taken a dramatic step back and have fallen all the way to 11th in the league while allowing over 20 points per game. Although the Seahawks ranked number 5 in yards allow per game, they have not been able to stop opponents during the most important moments of the game. As seen in the game against the Rams and Panthers, the Legion of Boom was unable to stop a game winning drive.

3) If Landry Jones starts for the Steelers, can he lead them to another win?

Since Ben Roethlisberger went down with a knee injury against the St. Louis Rams, the Steelers have remarkably won 2 out of the 3 games, including one against the heavily favored Arizona Cardinals. During their first two games, the Steelers were able to win in spite of Mike Vick because the defense played great and Le’Veon Bell showed why he was one of the best running backs in the league. Week 6 looked to be a similar struggle (Vick had one passing yard at the half), until Jones took over in the second half. During the second half, Jones led the Steelers on two touchdown drives and threw for over 150 yards without a pick. If Jones needs to lead the Steelers again this week against the Chiefs, the Steelers should feel confident because of how comfortable Jones looked in the pocket and the amount of weapons he has at his disposal.

Story Lines from First Weekend of MLB Postseason

American League Playoffs

1) Acquiring David Price cannot be deemed a success

The Blue Jays entered the postseason as one of the hottest teams in baseball due to their impeccable offensive firepower and Cy Young candidate David Price as their ace. Although the offense has not been the same as the regular season, averaging two runs per game less, the biggest reason why the Jays are facing elimination is David Price. During the trading deadline, Price was the biggest fish in the sea and the Jays traded valuable prospects for the former Cy Young winner. Even though he was by far the Jays best pitcher in the second half, 9-1 2.30 ERA, he could not meet expectations by allowing five runs over 7 innings and recording the loss. The Jays hoped that Price could resemble Madison Bumgarner from last season and lead their iffy rotation to a championship. If the Rangers are able to end the series in game 3, the Jays would have traded too much of their future for only 1 lackluster postseason start.

2. Texas Rangers are legitimate, underrated championship contenders

During spring training, many believed that the Rangers were destined to finish last in the AL West, especially after ace Yu Darvish went down for the season. Due to injuries from the previous season, the entire rotation was in shambles and lacked front end starting pitching. However, Jeff Banister did an incredible job with the team and they now believe that they can win a World Series. The Rangers are extraordinarily dangerous because they can win in many different ways. After acquiring Cole Hamels, the Rangers have a deep veteran staff that has pitched in the postseason, Gallardo and Lewis. On offense, they have been the team that has received contributions from all over the lineup, like third base replacement Hanser Alberto.

3) Kansas City Royals lack the starting pitching to win

The acquisition of Johnny Cueto at the deadline was suppose to end the Royals search for a front end and add depth to the weakest part of their team. However, the pitching has worsened and Cueto has been a disaster in the royal blue. Through the first two games, nothing has changed as Cueto and Verdano Ventura has allowed 7 runs over 8 innings of work. Although the offense is dangerous with very good hitters throughout the lineup, they will not be able to make up for their starting pitching. In addition, the Royals bullpen will be unable to remain effective if they are required to pitching more than 3 innings each game.

4) Colby Rasmus is channeling his best Carlos Beltran impersonation

During the regular season, Rasmus had a quality season with a .240 average with 25 home runs and 61 RBIs. Through the first three games, Rasmus has been the MVP of the playoffs with 3 home runs, 5 RBI, .444 average, and 14 total bases. The Astros have not seen this performance in the playoffs since Carlos Beltran lead them to the NLCS with 8 home runs and 14 RBI. Although the Stros have many capable offensive weapons, they will need Rasmus to maintain his hot streak to outscore the equally talented Royals.

National League Playoffs

1) John Lackey maintains his dominance in the postseason

Even though Lackey is nearly 40 years old and has dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, he has always been a great postseason pitcher, which has netted him 2 World Series rings. During Game 1, Lackey was able to shut down one of the best offenses in baseball. Since Jaime Garcia left early in Game 2, Lackey could pitch on short rest in Game 4, but nobody should question his desire for the ball or ability to produce.  Due to the youth and relative inexperience of the Cardinals’ staff, it will be necessary for Lackey to assume the role as ace if he is going to add another ring.

2) Jake Arrieta could be this season’s Madison Bumgarner

After pitching one of the best games in MLB postseason history against the Pirates, like Bumgarner, he will be starting the biggest game of his career in Wrigley during Game 3. However, we have no reason to believe why Arrieta will not put together another masterpiece on Monday. Arrieta is statistically having the most dominant second half in the history of MLB with an ERA under 0.75. Since August 15th, Arrieta has allowed accumulated more shutouts than earned runs. Even though the Cardinals are an elite hitting team, he has allowed 2 runs or fewer while pitching 6 2/3 innings in 3 of his 4 starts this season against the club. Arrieta has the potential to be like Bumgarner because he is one of the best strikeout artists and has the trust from his manager to complete games.

3) Mets’ starting staff has been as good as advertised

During the first two games of the series, Jacob DeGrom and Noah Syndagaard have totaled 13.1 innings pitched, 22 strikeouts, and only 3 earned runs. Although the Dodgers were suppose to have the advantage at home with Kershaw and Greinke, the Mets’ started equalled their counterparts and kept the series tied at 1 going into Flushing. While the Dodgers’ starting rotation will experience a massive drop off to number three starter Brett Anderson, the Mets will improve by starting the Dark Knight, Matt Harvey, in game three. Although Harvey has been involved in controversy over his innings limit, he is one of the best starters in baseball and has the temperament to start the first postseason game in Citi Field and the first home game for the Mets in 9 years.

4) Clayton Kershaw may only be a 6 inning postseason pitcher

Like last season’s performance against the Cardinals, Kershaw pitched a great game until the seventh inning. In the seventh inning last season, Kershaw allowed a home run to Matt Adams. This season, Kershaw again unraveled in the 7th inning as he allowed two runs. Although they may seem small,  the Dodgers were not going to score three runs against Jacob DeGrom. If Kershaw could have kept the game at 1-0, they would likely have tied the game in the 8th against the Mets’ bullpen. This will be a major problem for the Dodgers in the future because they need to win everyone of Kershaw and Greinke’s start to win the World Series due to their lack of rotation depth. In addition, they need the two starters to give them length since their middle relief does not scare opposing offenses.

The NJ Sports Guys