Inaugural Post – 2015 MLB Recap

Hello! Thanks for visiting this new blog. If it isn’t clear already, this blog is going to be about baseball. Most likely, I’ll be focusing on the Major Leagues and other affiliated baseball, but occasionally I’ll mix in some stuff about NCAA baseball, independent leagues, NPB and other international leagues, and sometimes even my own experiences in the game (as an NCAA DIII player and as a fan).

As the MLB postseason kicks off and gets into full swing, I’ll try to post things daily, whether that means simple game recaps, highlights, crazy stats, or whatever else may be appealing from the previous night’s or that evening’s game(s). I also may try and sneak in a few analytics-based “reports” in as well. During the offseason, posts may become less frequent, but what does get written will be much more substantial.

Before I get started with my first post here, I must address the name of this blog – Middle Relief Report. This name first came to me a while back when I was conversing with friends about a Rays pitcher named Jake McGee. Jake McGee is, unfortunately, a middle reliever – which means no matter how good his numbers are (and they’ve been good!), people are probably not going to hear much about him. Being a pitcher myself, I sympathize with these types of players, and I said to my friends that someone should start a website strictly dedicated to middle relievers, so they might get at least some recognition for their work. Alas, this blog will NOT solely focus on those pitchers (don’t look so upset) but I took the name anyway. It’s easy to remember, can easily be shortened (all the cool baseball blogs have nicknames – CBBQ. JABO, you get the idea), and it’s unique. Also, like the aforementioned middle relievers of the Major Leagues, this blog will probably be something that most people don’t care about! How upsetting. Anyways, that’s the story, let’s get down to today’s post.

Back before the MLB season started, I made a tweet on my personal account stating what my predictions were for this season, in terms of standings and major award winners. I made these predictions with absolutely no research, as I wanted to see how much I really knew or how close I could really get, based only on “feel”. The photos to follow are those predictions, unchanged from their original state.

pred1 pred2 pred3 pred4

And here is what actually happened in the MLB this season.

alstand nlstand

At first glance, these predictions are an absolute nightmare. Further glances reveal nothing to the contrary – I was really quite a ways off here. Let’s run this down, step-by-step, division-by-division. For the most part, I’ll say a little about what I thought of each team, and highlight anything interesting about my predictions or how things really shook out over the course of the 162-game season.

AL EAST:

I won’t lie, my New England bias may have skewed my view here a bit. I was high on Boston’s offseason acquisitions, especially Rick Porcello and Hanley Ramirez – I thought Porcello was an improving young pitcher with a bright future and I was excited to see Hanley’s power numbers surge with the help of a few extra pounds of muscle on his frame. We all know how those things went. I liked Toronto’s offense, certainly, but was skeptical about their pitching staff without Marcus Stroman. The offense has been spectacular, as advertised. Fortunately for them some pitchers stepped up in the rotation as well as in the bullpen, and they traded for some lefty named David Price, which helped a little. Baltimore was a bit of an unknown to me – they lost Nick Markakis, Chris Davis hit under the Mendoza line in 2014, and they still didn’t have a legitimate ace to rely on. I put my faith in Buck Showalter to lead the team to at least mediocrity, which he did. I also may have been a little biased against New York, but I wasn’t too sure of their older players’ (Sabathia, Rodriguez, Teixeira, Beltran, etc.) ability to perform or some of their injury-prone guys’ (Tanaka, Ellsbury) ability to stay healthy. Most of those guys ended up having pretty good seasons, and the Yanks outperformed by predictions. Lastly, the Rays – I gave them little thought in my predictions, and I’ll give them little thought now – outside of Chris Archer’s dominance and Kevin Kiermaier’s defensive mastery, this was a quite boring season by a boring team.

Total Correct Picks: 1 (BAL)

AL CENTRAL:

I was high on Cleveland this offseason for a couple reasons, but mainly because of their pitching. Corey Kluber was the reigning AL Cy Young award winner, Carlos Carrasco was full of potential, and Trevor Bauer had maybe even more. None of these three were particularly bad – in fact, Carrasco was quite good and even came within an out of a no-hitter – but the rest of the pitching staff and the lineup as a whole was underwhelming. Detroit was a team who I thought had the tools to win – a true ace, some depth starters, 4 great power hitters in the middle of their order, and a good manager. Unfortunately, an injury to Miguel Cabrera and trading away David Price and Yoenis Cespedes crippled the Tigers’ season and eventually lead to the firing of GM Dave Dombrowski in the midst of a last-place finish. I had high hopes for the White Sox, with a top of the rotation featuring Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana, but didn’t have the lineup to compete with  Cleveland or Detroit. Part of that was true, but outside of Sale’s continued dominance, the pitching staff (especially Samardzija) was disappointing. Embarrassingly, I had the Royals chosen as my fourth-place team in the central, largely in part due to the departure of veterans James Shields and Nori Aoki, as well as concerns for the groups’ sustained success despite mediocre power numbers. As it would turn out, the Royals surged out to a huge lead in the Central and kept it all season, even adding talent like Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist at the trade deadline, before finishing with the AL’s best record. Minnesota was not spectacular in any sense this season, with the offense ranking no higher than 8th in any major offensive category, and the pitching staff allowed the most runs in the American League. Timely hitting and limiting walks allowed proved to be the savoir for this team (or was it Miguel Sano?) in 2015.

Total Correct Picks: 0

AL WEST:

Los Angeles excited me this offseason because of their exciting young pitchers (Richards, Shoemaker) and a couple proven studs in their lineup in Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Both of those men outperformed even their lofty expectations his season, and so did young rightfielder Kole Calhoun, Unfortunately, the pitching staff disappointed and the Angels just missed making the last AL Wild Card spot in game 162. Seattle’s lineup had a lot of potential with Austin Jackson, Robinson Cano, Kyle Seager, Nelson Cruz, and Mark Trumbo, but it didn’t quite have the pop to prop up their pitching staff. Made weaker by a markedly more vulnerable Felix Hernandez and an atrocious half-season from Fernando Rodney, the poor pitching results held the Mariners to a fourth-place finish. Oakland made a few questionable moves in the offseason, most notably trading  likely 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson to Toronto, but I figured that their success against all odds would continue – and I was wrong. The offense was abysmal and the shaky rotation was crippled with the deadline dealing of southpaw Scott Kazmir, making 2015 a frustrating season for Athletics fans. Houston was the first of a few surprises in the West this season, with players like Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve continuing their strong play and graduated prospects like Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers having great debut seasons. The offense slugged its way to the second-best OPS in the American League and a revamped bullpen full of veterans complemented a strong staff that led the AL in ERA, which gave the Astros a shot at the postseason for the first time as an American League ballclub. Last, but not least, is the Rangers – a putrid 2014 and nearly no notable offseason moves made the Rangers a tough sell in the spring. However, a bounce-back year from Prince Fielder and strong starting pitching from Yovanni Gallardo and deadline acquisition Cole Hamels put Texas in position to make a late-season run to capture the AL West crown.

Total Correct Picks: 0

NL EAST:

I still have no regrets with my top pick in this year’s NL East – any rational person would’ve picked the Nationals to win the division this year, and they were even the Vegas favorites to win the World Series. Their rotation was undeniably the most skilled in the MLB, and the lineup featured great bats such as Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth, Anthony Rendon, and Denard Span. Outside of Harper, who will likely win NL MVP, none of these guys were anywhere near where we expected them to be this season, and the Nationals finished in a disappointing second place. The Marlins were a team that seemed to be on the upswing after a notably improved 2014 campaign, and the return of ace Jose Fernandez was going to be a huge positive for the team in 2015. Unfortunately, Fernandez was again injured after just 11 starts, and the Marlins’ top bat Giancarlo Stanton was lost to a hamate injury midway through what would’ve easily been his first 50-HR season. Atlanta was a team with a few question marks – departures of the Upton brothers, Craig Kimbrel, Jason Heyward, and Jordan Walden weakened the team’s lineup and bullpen. The return for these players was not disappointing, as Cameron Maybin (acquired from SD in Kimbrel/Upton trade) had a resurgent season and Shelby Miller (acquired from STL in Heyward/Walden trade) pitched quite well despite losing 16 straight decisions from 5/28 to 9/27. Whenever a pitcher with a 3.02 ERA loses 17 games, you know that your lineup is bad – and that is the reason the Braves limped to a 4th-place finish in the League’s weakest division. The Mets were a team that I severely underestimated this season, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone. The trio of young flamethrowers Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard led the Mets strong rotation, which was bolstered by reliable vet Jon Niese and the ageless Bartolo Colon. Veteran Curtis Granderson and young bats Lucas Duda and Travis d’Arnaud provided some pop in the lineup, and deadline acquisition Yoesnis Cespedes exploded for 17 homers in his final 57 games to power New York to a division title. Philadelphia was abhorrently bad, as expected. Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon were both traded at the deadline and the offense was lethargic with only 2 regulars (Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera) finishing with an OPS+ above 100.

Total Correct Picks: 1 (PHI)

NL CENTRAL:

Finally, a little luck. St. Louis was spectacular, as expected. Even without ace Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals won baseball’s best division relatively easily and was the only team in baseball to reach 100 wins (100-62). Matt Carpenter showed more pop in 2015 than he had in the past (at the cost of a few BA/OBP points), Jayson Heyward nearly hit .300, Matt Holliday played well before being injured, and young OFs Randal Grichuk and Steven Piscotty gave the offense an unforeseen source of power. 36 year old John Lackey pitched like he was 26 year old John Lackey, posting a sub-3.00 ERA over 33 starts and 218 innings. The rest of the staff was dynamite as well in the absence of Wainwright, and the club led the MLB handily with a miniscule 2.94 team ERA.  Pittsburgh was led by expected stars like Gerrit Cole, Andrew McCutchen and Mark Melancon as well as unexpected names like Starling Marte, Francisco Cervelli, Jung-Ho Kang, Tony Watson, and under-the-radar deadline pickup J.A. Happ. Despite struggling to get on base, Pedro Alvarez led the team with 27 homers and the Pirates were able to win 98 games and secure home-field advantage in the NL Wild Card game. The Cubs were hyped as being a team with tons of young talent, and I believed they were poised to finally capitalize on it. Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Addison Russell were as good as advertised in their inaugural seasons, and younger veterans like Dexter Fowler, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro did not disappoint. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Anthony Rizzo continued to be a stud at bat and in the field at first base. The rotation was bolstered in the offseason by the signing of Jon Lester, who wasn’t bad, but Jake Arrieta proved to be the team’s true ace, posting a sub-1.00 ERA over his last 21 starts and finishing with an MLB-best 22 wins. Cincinnati had little hope of competing in this season’s Central race, but disappointed nonetheless. A poor first half led to the trade of ace Johnny Cueto, and talks of trading electric closer Aroldis Chapman (didn’t happen). Outside of picking up young LHP Brandon Finnegan from KC in the Cueto deal, and a historic second half from 1B Joey Votto, there wasn’t much positive to say about this year’s Reds team. Lastly the Brewers were in the same boat as the Rays and Phillies this season – expected to be bad, played bad, and were totally boring along the way. Outside of Gerardo Parra, nobody in the lineup even sniffed .300 and Adam Lind led the team in RBI with a whopping 87. The pitching staff was led in ERA and FIP by Mike Fiers – who was traded at the deadline with struggling CF Carlos Gomez.

Total Correct Picks: 3 (STL, PIT, CHC)

NL WEST:

The NL West this season was pretty underwhelming, as a whole. The Dodgers’ top 2 starters dazzled, with Zack Greinke posting an MLB-best 1.66 ERA and Clayton Kershaw becoming the first pitcher to strike out 300 batters for the first time this decade. Veteran Brett Anderson quietly posted a sub-3.70 ERA in 31 starts to support the dynamic combo at the top of the rotation. No position player (besides first-half Joc Pedersen) was particularly notable, but the Dodgers as a unit led the NL in OBP and HR and coasted to the NL West title. San Diego was a team I had high hopes for after their explosive offseason (has that term ever been used before?) but was disappointing from pretty much day one. Justin Upton posted an OPS+ of 121 and Matt Kemp drove in 100 runs, but none of their other new offensive acquisitions made much of an impact. James Shields was pretty good, but not spectacular, and Andrew Cashner was quite disappointing coming off a successful 2014. The lone bright spots on the staff were SP Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel who posted great strikeout and FIP numbers. San Francisco outperformed expectations, for me, thanks largely in part to contribution from young players like Joe Panik, Matt Duffy, and Kelby Tomlinson. Reliable vets Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford all had good seasons and are all still 28 years old or younger. Madison Bumgarner was stellar on the mound (as expected) and also at the plate (less, but still somewhat, expected) but the rest of the rotation was underwhelming. Rookie Chris Heston tossed a no-hitter on his was to a 3.95 ERA over 31 starts, but no other starter finished with ERA below 4.00. The Giants still managed to place second in the west this year, but were nowhere near the caliber of a team needed to contend for the Wild Card – but that’s not a surprise, because it’s an odd year. Colorado was an interesting group – Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez posted insane numbers (42HR/130RBI and 40HR/97RBI respectively) but no other player topped 17 homers. A mid-season trade of Troy Tulowitzki to Toronto for Jose Reyes had some in Colorado scratching their heads, but the real disappointment in Colorado this year was the pitching staff. No pitcher topped 149 innings, and no pitcher with more than 35 innings had an ERA below 4.00. While Coors Field is obviously a tough place to pitch, these numbers are awful under any circumstances. Lastly, the Arizona Diamondbacks were another team I severely underestimated this season. Great hitting from proven stud Paul Goldschmidt and a trio of young outfielders in A.J. Pollock, David Peralta and Ender Inciarte gave Arizona some offensive firepower. The starting wasn’t bad, with Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin finishing with ERA/FIPs below 4.00, and the bullpen was quite solid, led by closer Brad Ziegler. Quietly, the Diamondbacks were able to challenge San Francisco a bit and finish third in the West in 2015.

Total Correct Picks: 1 (LAD)

OVERALL CORRECT PICKS: 6/30

As you can see, my “feel” as a fan was not great. As the end-of-season awards haven’t been announced yet, I’ll save those predictions for a future post. I will leave you with one thing, a stab at redemption of some sort. Without further ado, here is my prediction for the upcoming Wild Card games tonight and tomorrow:

AL WILD CARD: HOU @ NYY, 10/6: Houston – Dallas Keuchel has dominated the Yankees this season, and the Astros have the pop to hopefully put a few balls over the fence at Yankee Stadium and neutralize Masahiro Tanaka.

NL WILD CARD: CHC @ PIT, 10/7: Chicago – Picking against Gerrit Cole this year is pretty silly, but picking against Jake Arrieta would be far sillier. I expect Arrieta to shine in his first postseason game and the Cubs’ young offense to find a way to get him a run or two.

There it is – that’s all. Thanks for sticking around and reading this extremely long post, I promise they won’t all be this long. Look for another post tonight or tomorrow regarding the AL Wild Card game tonight – but most importantly, enjoy the game!

Stats and standings thanks to the fine folks at Baseball Reference! My work wouldn’t be possible without them.

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