The Time is Now for Michael Brantley

Posted on August 18th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Not all major league players develop at the same pace, if they develop at all. There were high hopes for Michael Brantley of the Cleveland Indians when he broke into the majors at just 22, but he largely struggled for the first few years of his career. He made his debut in the 2009 season, and by the end of the 2012 season he had only 16 career homeruns to his credit. In 2013 he did hit 10 homeruns and drive in 73, but his OPS was just .728.

In many ways, 2014 could be viewed as a make or break season for Brantley, and he is sure making the most of it to this point. He has already surpassed his best ever homerun season by hitting 15, and there are still a couple months of baseball to be played. His OPS is way above his career average, as are almost all of the rest of his numbers. Brantley made his first all-star team in 2014, and seems poised to finally make good on all of that potential and claim his place among some of the best outfielders in the game.

Even better news for the Indians and their fans is that Brantley is already signed to a very team-friendly contract for the next several seasons. He is signed through 2017 at least, with a team option for 2018. He is due to make 5 million in 2015, 6.5 million in 2016, and 7.5 million in 2017. While those are impressive salaries for anyone to take home, they brantleyalso represent a significant discount over his true market value if he is to keep performing at his current all-star level.

Baseball runs in the family for Brantley, who is the son of former major leaguer Mickey Brantley, who played in parts of four seasons for the Seattle Mariners in the mid-80’s. At 6’2’’ with good speed, he has the prototypical build and athleticism for an outfielder. So far in 2014, the Indians are hanging right around .500 and trying to contend for the second wild card position. If the Indians are able to improve their pitching to go along with the offense led by Brantley, they just may be able to hang in the race and grab a playoff spot for the second year in a row.

It has only been four months of excellent play so far in 2014, so Brantley likely has a little further to go before he is commonly thought of as one of the games top players. However, with the impressive skills that he possesses, and the numbers he has put up so far this year, very few will be surprised to see him continue at or near this pace.

Down Years Ahead for Red Sox and Yankees?

Posted on August 11th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

If there is one thing that seems like a constant in baseball, it is that the Red Sox and Yankees are contenders year after year. Even in years where neither team makes it to the World Series, it is rare that a season goes by where both teams are near the bottom of the standings. This season, the Red Sox have followed up their World Championship by returning to last place in the A.L. East, a position they also held in 2012. The Yankees, while still in contention, have hovered around the .500 mark for most of the season.

Looking ahead to the next few years, it has actually become easy to picture a scenario in which neither team is a significant player in the playoff picture. Both teams have aging star players, specifically the soon-to-be-retired Derek Jeter for the Yankees, and David Ortiz for the Red Sox. Even with big budgets to spend on new free agent acquisitions, it jetermight be tough for either team to assemble enough talent to overcome the shortcomings on their roster.

In the case of the Yankees, the offense has really struggled throughout the 2014 season. The loss of Robinson Cano has certainly hurt their productivity, as Jeter is no longer an elite level hitter or defender. Mark Teixeira has struggled with injuries yet again, and starting pitchers Masahiro Tanaka and C.C. Sabathia are both hurt as well. Over the years, the Yankees have thrived by paying aging star players to come to the Bronx, but it seems as though that strategy is backfiring on them currently.

On the Red Sox side of the coin, the offense is also largely to blame for their problems. Jon Lester and John Lackey have been solid in the rotation, although Clay Bucholz has struggled. Other than Ortiz and Mike Napoli, the Red Sox offense has been severely lacking and help doesn’t appear to be close at hand. With Lester’s future in Boston up in the air after this season, the Sox could soon find themselves scrambling for an identity.

So, does baseball need strong seasons from the Yankees and Red Sox in order to stay relevant and keep ratings high? No – it doesn’t. There are strong fan bases all around the league, and a few down years from two of the more prominent organizations in the game won’t have a significant impact on revenues overall. Baseball, like all other sports, goes in cycles, and we just might be heading into a cycle where the vaunted Red Sox and Yankees aren’t the dominant teams that they have been in recent years.

Can the Oakland A’s Win in October?

Posted on August 4th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

The Oakland A’s under Billy Beane have had a very specific – and well-known – strategy for building teams without having a large payroll. The A’s have found players that could fill specific roles on their team who have been cast-off from other places, as well as developing players from within their own system. Rather than having a few star players on their roster, the A’s have focused more on quality depth from 1-25, and it has paid off. Despite spending less than most teams each year, Oakland consistently finds themselves at or near the top of the standings, and often in the playoffs. Since 2000, the A’s have made the playoffs an impressive seven times.

That, however, is where it starts to get complicated. Of those seven series, the A’s have won just one. That one series win, in 2006, was followed by a sweep at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. In their six ALDS series losses over that span, the A’s have made it to a fifth and deciding game each time – and lost them all. That includes four seasons in a row from 2000 – 2003. While there is always some level of random chance involved in playoff baseball, the A’s certainly don’t have a good track record of carrying over there success from the regular season.

As the A’s continue on a path to again qualify for the playoffs in 2014, the obvious question remains – what will be different this time around? Are they going to be able to get out of the first round, or is this October issue one that is here to stay? There are really two schools of thought when it comes to the problems the A’s have had in the playoffs. The first way of thinking is that the A’s have just be the victims of bad luck and poor timing. After all, they made it to a fifth game mossin those six first round losses, so the season basically came down to nine innings. Anything can happen in one game, and it is just coincidence that they keep coming up short.

The other way of thinking believes that the problem lies in the way the A’s construct their roster. By favoring depth over star power, Oakland seems to be perfectly suited to playing well in the regular season. They can withstand injury, and replace players who are underperforming with someone else on their deep roster. However, when October comes around, that depth doesn’t really have a chance to show itself. The series are short, and the games are often won and lost by the star players on either side. For example, the last two seasons have seen Oakland lose out to the Tigers led by Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera – star players who Oakland simply can’t match.

Only time will tell of the A’s are able to break this trend and achieve success in the playoffs. They appear to be a sure thing to have another chance in 2014, although they may have to go through a one-game playoff if they are unable to better the Angels for the American League West crown.

The Miami Marlins are Surprise Contenders

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Teams

Coming into the 2014 season – just like the past couple of seasons – the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals were expected to compete for the N.L. East title. And, so far, that has been the case – Atlanta and Washington are closely linked in the standings, and will probably be battling for most of the summer to decide who comes out ahead.

However, there is a surprise third entrant into that tight East race who stands poised to put a wrinkle in all of the predictions. The Miami Marlins are right there with the Nationals and Braves, despite losing their star pitcher Jose Fernandez to season-ending Tommy John surgery. With a pitching staff that has been solid, and a deep lineup that has been doing enough to win so far, the Marlins seem like a teamstanton that could stick around into September. While they are down one star player, it is the presence of another that gives reason for optimism in Miami.

Stanton is a Star

Giancarlo (formerly Mike) Stanton is a young star outfielder for the Miami Marlins, and one of the strongest hitters in all of baseball. Stanton’s homeruns are frequently highlight reel material, either for their overall distance or the sheer speed at which they leave the park. Currently, he leads the league with 20 homeruns and 57 RBI’s, and has an OPS of .979. Considering that he is just 24 years old this season, the future is bright for Giancarlo and the Marlins.

As a testament to his power, Stanton owns three of the eleven longest homeruns hit so far in 2014, including the longest, measured at 484 feet. He has also registered the homerun with the fastest speed off the bat, with a ridiculous 119.9 MPH. It doesn’t matter which measurements you decide to use, Stanton has power that is unmatched in the game today.

More than Just Strength

Beyond his impressive power, Stanton is a good overall hitter. He has struck out 77 times already this season, but still manages to carry a .394 on base percentage, which is among the league leaders. Not surprising, he also leads the league with 14 intential walks, as teams decide they would rather have other Marlins hitters try to beat them. It has worked out for Miami to this point, as they are a couple games over .500 and right in the middle of a crowded N.L. East race.

Get Your Collectibles Now

Giancarlo Stanton is already a great player, and only seems poised to further establish himself as one of the best in the game. A Hall-of-Fame career is not out of the question for Stanton, which is why now is the time to grab some collectibles from his early years. Most likely, his career will continue on an upward trajectory and the value of his baseball cards and other items will continue to grow along with his status in baseball. Find a few rookie cards to put into your collection and watch as his career develops over the coming seasons.

Kyle Seager – Quiet Star

Posted on July 21st, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

If you look at the offensive statistics among A.L third baseman so far in the 2014 season, you will find some things that aren’t surprising at all. Sorted by OPS, Adrian Beltre and Josh Donaldson are 1-2 in the rankings. No surprise there at all – both are considered to be among the best in the game, and for good reason. Donaldson already has 17 homeruns on the season, while Beltre has been a perennial standout throughout his long career.

In the third position, however, is a name that many would not have expected to find. Kyle Seager, third baseman for the Seattle Mariners, has an .810 OPS for the season – easily good for third among qualified players in the A.L. Evan Longoria, star player for the Tampa Bay Rays, for example, is fifth at .732. In addition to hitting well for Seattle, Seager also plays excellent defense and takes the field almost seagerevery day. He certainly isn’t a superstar, but he is teaming with Robinson Cano to form a formidable punch in the middle of the usually meek Seattle offense.

Not a Surprise

While Seager isn’t well known across the country, his performance shouldn’t be seen as that big of a surprise. He has hit 20 homeruns in both of the last two seasons, and has been improving his on base percentage year after year as well. Seager wasn’t as heralded out of college as other draft picks within the Mariners organization, but he has become possibly the best player they have developed from within since Felix Hernandez – and the best home-grown hitter since well before that.

Contract Talks Soon?

Kyle Seager isn’t due to be a free agent until the 2018 season, but he is arbitration eligible next year. For the Mariners, the time might be right to start talking about a contract extension that locks up Seager for the foreseeable future at a fair rate to both sides. As hard as it has been for the Mariners to develop hitting talent, getting Seager under contract at a controlled rate is something that is likely high on their priority list. With Cano in place for the next decade, locking up Seager could shore up half of the infield spots with quality hitting and defense.

A Potential Collectible Target

Outside of the Seattle-area, there likely aren’t many baseball collectors with Kyle Seager pieces in their collection. However, that could be due to change in short order, so you might want to get ahead of the curve and start picking up a couple items when you get the chance. It is not a stretch to see Seager as a future All-Star third baseman in the American League – especially after Adrian Beltre decides to hang it up. With the ability to hit for power in terms of both doubles and homeruns, and to drive in runs in the middle of the Seattle order, Seager could stack up the kinds of numbers over the next few years that finally get him the recognition he deserves.

Not So Fast for Albert Pujols

Posted on July 14th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

It’s no secret that Albert Pujols has seen a steady decline in his performance since moving west from St. Louis to Anaheim. The slugger is among the best right-handed hitters of all-time, however, his performance over the last couple of seasons has many wondering if the Angels made a huge mistake in committing as much payroll as they did to Pujols. His first year in L.A. was 2012, during which he put up good-but-not-great numbers. Last season, he struggled with injury and had the worst season of his career by far.

Coming in to 2014, the thinking around the Angels was that Albert was fully recovered from his injuries and was ready to return to form. pujolsThrough the first month of the season, that looked to be exactly the case. Pujols had a .927 OPS in April, with nine home runs and 23 RBI’s. The power was back, the production was back, and it looked like the Angels had the player they hoped to get when they signed him a couple years ago.

Not So Fast

Unfortunately for the Angels and their fans, that production has not lasted. In May, Pujols hit only .234 with a .732 OPS and just nine RBI’s. So far in June, his numbers have dipped even further, with just a .689 OPS to his credit in 14 games. For a lumbering first baseman who doesn’t offer anything in terms of speed or other contributions, the Angels need Pujols to hit if he is going to be a valuable contributor to their success. At least at the moment, that isn’t happening.

Could They Have Seen This Coming?

Every player, no matter how great, eventually declines due to age. It is inevitable, and only a matter of when, not if. Pujols is in his age-34 season, and has amassed over 2,000 games in his Major League career. For a big guy who relies on strength and power to get his numbers, this is something the Angels possibly should have been concerned with. Big players don’t often age well, with David Ortiz being something of an exception to the rule. Considering the fact that the Angels owe Pujols $30 million in the 2021 season, it is safe to say they are worried about his sudden decline in production and what it might mean for the rest of his contract.

Still A Hall-of-Famer

As with other players who begin to decline, all of this doesn’t mean that Albert Pujols is suddenly a bad player who doesn’t deserve a place in your baseball collection. He still is, and will remain, one of the best right-handed hitters of all time, no matter how the rest of his career plays out. The numbers he put up for the Cardinals will not be taken away, and Pujols is sure to be headed to Cooperstown when his career comes to an end. Of course, none of that makes the Angels feel much better at the moment. For Angels fans, a return to the hitter that Albert used to be is what they are counting on in order to challenge the A’s at the top of the American League West.

What Happened to Justin Verlander?

Posted on July 7th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Baseball Cards

For almost a decade, Justin Verlander has been among the very best starting pitchers in all of baseball. The powerful right-hander has spent his entire career in Detroit, and has racked up incredible strikeout totals along with low ERA’s and a Cy Young Award. Recently, the Tigers awarded him with a big contract, and for good reason – it appeared to be a sure thing that Verlander, barring injury, would remain an excellent starting pitcher for years to come.

However, so far in 2014, that has not been the case. Verlander is enduring one of the toughest stretches of his career, and it is starting to verlandercause concern about whether or not he will be able to regain his dominant form. The numbers, for the most part, tell the story. Through 15 starts, Verlander has a 6-7 record with a 4.98 ERA that is among the highest in the league for qualified starting pitchers. Perhaps even more concerning is the fact that he has only struck out 69 batters in 97.2 innings, while walking 41. To be sure, this is not the Justin Verlander that we are all used to seeing.

What has gone wrong?

It is hard to pinpoint exactly what has caused Verlander’s struggles so far this year. His velocity is down from where it has been in previous seasons, so that could certainly be playing a part in the results. Without the overpowering fastball to set up his impressive breaking ball, Verlander might just be a little less worrisome to opposing hitters. Not having to fear the heater blowing right past them, batters are more able to adjust to off speed pitches.

Is He Hurt?

Of course, when a great pitcher starts to struggle, the conversation will quickly turn to whether or not he is hurt and just pitching through the pain. That is always a possibility, but doesn’t seem to be the case with Verlander. Other than the dip in velocity, he hasn’t shown obvious signs of injury, and certainly isn’t letting on to anything being wrong in his arm. Only time will tell if there is an underlying injury that can be pointed to as an explanation for his struggles, or if he is just dealing with a dip in performance.

Justin Verlander Baseball Cards and Memorabilia

Just because he is going through a rough stretch right now doesn’t mean you should cross Verlander’s name off your list of collectibles to pursue. With a long track record of excellent performance, there is a good chance that Verlander will get things figured out and go back to being a productive starting pitcher in the near future. Even if he doesn’t reach his once lofty levels of performance, he could still return to being well above-average and a quality contributor to the Tigers rotation. Detroit has currently been passed in the standings by the Kansas City Royals, so getting Verlander to return to form could be crucial in getting the Tiger’s season back on track.

The Loss of a Legend Tony Gwynn

Posted on June 30th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Tony Gwynn, one of the best hitter of all-time, recently passed away at the age of 54. Gwynn played 20 incredible seasons for the San Diego Padres, and became the face of that franchise – and in many ways, the city as a whole. In addition to starring for the Padres, Gwynn also played basketball for San Diego State University and still holds many school records in that sport, as well. Gwynn was as much respected for his personality and attitude as his baseball ability, and his passing has been hard on the baseball community as a whole.

A Legitimately Great Hitter

Sometimes, baseball fans are too quick to pass around the word ‘great’ when referring to a specific player. In Gwynn’s case, however, it gwynncertainly applies. His hitting ability was part natural born talent, part hard work and dedication. He started hitting as soon as he reached the big leagues, and didn’t stop for two decades. He also was a quality defensive outfield and amassed plenty of stolen bases – but his bat is what will always be remembered, and what took him all the way to the Hall of Fame.

When you look over the statistics that represent Tony Gwynn’s Major League career, it is hard to decide which numbers stand out most. Of course, a .338 career batting average is hard to ignore. He had a .847 career OPS, which is incredible for someone that was known more for contact hitting than power ability. Also, he hit 135 homeruns and stole 319 bases for the Padres. By any measure, Tony Gwynn is among the best to ever pick up a bat.

Strikeout Totals Not to Be Believed

If there is one line on Tony Gwynn’s stat sheet that stands apart from the rest, it has to be his strikeout numbers. To a baseball fan who is familiar with ‘average’ numbers for hitters in terms of walks and strikeouts, they simply don’t seem like they could be correct. Over a 20 year Major League career, Tony Gwynn struck out a total of 434 times. That averages out to just 29 K’s per 162 games! In today’s game, it isn’t uncommon to see a player strike out 29 times in a single month. In 1995, while winning the batting title with a .368 average, Gwynn struck out a grand total of 15 times. He faced Greg Maddox more than 100 times in his career, and never struck out. The list could go on and on.

A Must for Collectors

If you are a baseball memorabilia collector and don’t have Tony Gwynn represented in your collection, now is the time to change that. This isn’t a financially-motivated move – but rather, one that will help your collection better represent modern baseball history. Gwynn is a legendary player, and a collection without him in it just wouldn’t be complete. Take the time to hunt down some great pieces of memorabilia related to ‘Mr. Padre’, and your overall collection will be better for it.

Jose Abreu’s Amazing Start

Posted on June 23rd, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

Baseball is not caught off-guard when a player makes his way from Cuba and has impressive success early on. There have been a great number of players come from Cuba to make a mark in the Major Leagues. Most recently, the arrival of Yasiel Puig to the Los Angeles Dodgers has dominated the headlines as his play and off the field behavior have both been headline grabbers. With less fanfare, but no less success, comes Jose Abreu abreuto the Chicago White Sox.

Abreu is older than some of the other players who have made their way to the states, debuting in his age 27 season as a Major League rookie. That doesn’t mean, however, that his work has been any less impressive. Through the first 44 games of his career, Abreu has already hit 15 home runs and has an OPS of more than .900. No matter what the White Sox expected from the slugger when they initially signed him, his performance on the field has certainly surpassed their hopes. For the first six weeks of the season, he has been nothing but one of the very best hitters in the league.

Are there holes in his game?

Those looking to criticize the ability of Abreu to keep up his great performance with the White Sox will point to his questionable strikeout and walk numbers as a sign of possible trouble ahead. He has already struck out 50 times, and walked just 10. That isn’t usually a great sign for a hitter, as pitchers continue to try and exploit the holes in their swing and rack up more and more strikeouts along the way. To be sure, Abreu will need to address this issue if he wants to maintain his power-hitting ways.

However, that doesn’t mean that he is destined to be a guy that strikes out too much in pursuit of his homers. Remember, this is only the first 44 games of his career against the best competition in the world. Many rookies struggle with plate discipline before they settle in and learn how to command the strike zone with a more discerning eye. All it will take is for Abreu to start laying off a few more pitches outside the zone and he could quickly become one of the most-feared hitters in all of baseball.

The other issue that might pop up is his ability to stay on the field healthy for a full season. He has already landed on the disabled list with an ankle problem, and the calendar hasn’t even hit June yet. That doesn’t mean that he will be injury prone throughout his career, but it is something worth keeping an eye on. Great players are only valuable when they are on the field producing runs for their team.

It is great to have exciting new players in Major League Baseball, and Jose Abreu fits the bill perfectly. If you are able to pick up one of his rookie cards before his name is known by baseball fans across the country, you might just have a great find and addition to your collection.

Nelson Cruz-ing

Posted on June 16th, 2014 by Matt | Posted in Players

The qualifying offer in Major League Baseball has become one of the most-controversial elements of the collective bargaining agreement due to its effects on many prominent free agents. When a player turns down a qualifying offer from his previous team and becomes an unrestricted free agent, there is compensation attached to him if he were to sign with another team. That team would have to forfeit a high draft pick to the previous team if they are to sign the player to a free agent contract. Among the more-prominent players that have been affected by the qualifying offer recently include Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew, and Nelson Cruz.

Despite being one of the more-productive power hitters in baseball over recent years, Nelson Cruz found his free agent market less than robust when he started shopping his services over the winter. Cruz initially had cruzlofty expectations for his contact, but those hopes were dashed as the market started to take shape and it became clear that there weren’t as many suitors as Cruz and his agent had hoped. Without a doubt, the qualifying offer and associated draft pick had done some measure of damage to the kind of contract that Cruz could receive.

However, that was not the only issue. Cruz had a suspension for performance enhancing drugs in his past, and doesn’t offer much in the way of defense to go along with his power at the plate. Those elements, when added together, made for a small market and fewer dollars than many expected. In the end, Cruz would take a one year contract from the Baltimore Orioles for just $8 million. His hope was that he could use the one year deal to build his value and make a larger splash next off-season. So far, that plan is working out beautifully.

Impressive Start

Through the first six or seven weeks of the 2014 season, Nelson Cruz has been powering the Orioles offense with an OPS north of .900 and a league leading home run total. As far as $8 million contacts go, Nelson Cruz is giving the Orioles about as much value as possibly could be expected. At the moment, he is playing more like an All-Star than a one year contract recipient.

Of course, that begs the question – can this kind of performance continue? The answer to that question likely has everything to do with health. If Cruz can stay healthy, he has a long track record of solid performance at the plate which would lead one to believe that he can remain highly productive all season long. At age 33 however, there is always the possibility that Cruz will break down at some point over the summer and have to miss part of the schedule. The Orioles, and Cruz himself, obviously hope that won’t happen.