Phil Jackson vs. Erik Spoelstra: A Complete Comparison

Spoelstra vs Jackson

“This game is now about younger coaches who are technologically skilled, innovative, and bring fresh new ideas. That’s what we feel we are getting with Erik Spoelstra. He’s a man that was born to coach,” said Pat Riley in 2008. From one man that was born to coach to maybe the greatest basketball coaching mind of all time, the similarities are there to see. Erik Spoelstra recently picked up his 300th win (314 career wins at time of this post) so the question arises…How good of a coach is Erik Spoelstra? We’re here to explore that for you and show you how the two compare. This discussion now also further legitamizes as Spoelstra is on the verge of his 3rd straight NBA championship, a feat only Jackson has done, in recent memory.

BACKGROUND

Off the court, the two couldn’t be more different. Phil Jackson was born in Deer Lodge, Montana in 1945; Spoelstra in Evansville, Illinois in 1970 to a Filipino-American family. Spoelstra was born in Illinois, moved to Buffalo at a young age, and eventually spent most of his young life in Portland, Oregon, while Jackson spent his first 22 years in Montana and North Dakota. Spoelstra lived and breathed basketball, while Jackson grew up in a household that encouraged him to become a minister.

spoelstra vs jackson playing days

PLAYING CAREER

Both stayed close to home to play college basketball, with Jackson receiving a scholarship to North Dakota, and Spoelstra at Portland University. Jackson was a multi-sport athlete who received a lot of interest from professional baseball scouts, before accepting his basketball scholarship to North Dakota, where they lost to Walt Frazier’s Southern Illinois team two years in a row in the NCAA Division II Final Four. Spoelstra started at point guard all four years at Portland, where he was named the West Coast Conference freshman of the year in 1989 before going onto see his name at the top of many statistical categories for the Pilots. Spoelstra’s playing career came to an end after a short professional playing career in Germany with Tus Herten, while Jackson’s continued for 15 more years as a part of the New York Knicks and New Jersey Nets. Jackson was named to the NBA all-rookie team in 1968, and won two championships with the Knicks in 1970 and 1973. Jackson’s career stats include 6.7 PPG, 4.3 APG, and just over one rebound per game.

EARLY COACHING

Both men worked internationally before coming back to the NBA and into assistant coaching positions. Jackson retired from playing after the 1980 season and first coached the Albany Patroons of the CBA, guiding them to their first CBA championship in 1984. Jackson went on to accept head coaching positions in Puerto Rico’s national superior basketball league, the BSN, where he coached the Piratas de Quebradillas and the Gallitos de Isabela. Jackson was regularly on the lookout for an NBA opening and eventually got his start with the Chicago Bulls in 1987 under head coach Doug Collins. Phil Jackson came to the Bulls first as an assistant coach and was named head coach just two seasons later in 1989.

Spoelstra started his professional coaching career in 1993 in Germany as a player and assistant coach with Tus Herten. His first head-coaching job came with their youth program, essentially coaching Tus Herten’s U-18 or AAU team. After the conclusion of the 1995 German season, the Miami Heat offered him a position on their staff, while Tus Herten also offered him a 2-year contract to stay. Spoelstra took the Heat’s offer, and as they say, the rest is history. His first order of business was a position as video coordinator for the Heat, where a shake up with the coaching staff did not guarantee him a job, as Pat Riley would have been able to bring in his own video person, but decided to go with Spoelstra. He was promoted to video coordinator/assistant coach in 1998, then to assistant coach/advanced scout in 1999, and later became the Heat’s director of scouting in 2001, along with his assistant coaching duties. Spoelstra is credited with the improvement of Dwyane Wade’s jump shot, and was hand-selected by Pat Riley to replace him after his retirement at the conclusion of the 2007-08 NBA season. Spoelstra was named the head coach in April of 2008, becoming the first Asian-American coach in the four major sports in the United States.

SHORT SUCCESS

            Less than 5 years into each man’s head coaching career, they found themselves with superstar players and a championship or two. In both cases, the men rocketed to NBA Finals appearances, Jackson winning his in the second year (1991-92), Spoelstra in his fourth (2011-12). There are multiple reason’s for their success, between their players and the teams they inherited or brought together, their coaching philosophies and offensive strategies, and a little luck as well. Phil Jackson and his success is fairly unprecedented with his six NBA titles in a 7-year span, while Spoelstra looks for his third-straight, a year after becoming the 8th head coach to lead his team to two in a row, and the first since…Phil Jackson (2008-2010 Lakers).

Here’s the strange fact, both went 16-7 in the playoffs in their two-peat years, Jackson with the Lakers, and Spoelstra most recently with the Heat. Each man also lost in the NBA Finals the year before reeling off their two consecutive championships, going 14-7 in the playoffs up to their elimination. It’s been a career of streaks for both coaches, which is the success in a short period of time, but on multiple occasions. Jackson won 3, 3, 3, & 2 championships in a row on different occasions, while at one point winning 6 titles in a row as a coach; three from 1995-98 with the Bulls and late MJ, and three from 1999-2002 with the Lakers after taking a year off in-between, vowing he would never coach again, but that’s not the point. Spoelstra hopes to equal the success of Jackson and is in the right place to do so.

spoelstra vs jackson superstar

MANAGING SUPERSTARS

Whether it’s LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Dwyane Wade, or Kobe Bryant, each man has had his hands full with celebrity athletes, many times in the prime of their career and in that best-in-the-NBA conversation. For Jackson it was a guy named Michael Jordan in Chicago, then some players names O’Neal and Bryant in Los Angeles, eventually making sure all three got what they needed and played to their full potential. It has been said that Jackson was the Zen master and a calming influence on all players, including the big names. He was never too high or too low and was always in the right state of mind for basketball, and that’s what his players enjoyed. Spoelstra is a little different in managing his superstars, giving them free reign throughout the basketball operation of the team. Spoelstra’s genius comes in the form of getting the two stars to work together, something that Phil never really mastered between Kobe and Shaq. When LeBron joined the Miami Heat after the 2010 season it was still Dwyane Wade’s team, since Wade had been drafted there 7 years earlier and played his entire career with the team. Spoelstra got the two to agree that one of them had to drive the car and one had to be in the passenger seat. Spoelstra had thought it should be Wade and had various meeting after the 2010-11 season with the stars, basically telling them what he needed from them to make the team work. He designed his offense around the best player in the game, LeBron James and that was that, because with the success they have had, the problems seem to go away. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

THE OFFENSES

One has the triangle, one has his own ‘pace and space’ offense, but which is better and how did they come to rely so heavily on something that was just a phase according to some? Phil’s offense was not his own, but designed in the 40’s and later perfected by the Zen master with the Chicago Bulls, while Spoelstra designed his around a do-it-all player with the ability to drive and kick out to shooters placed strategically around the perimeter, with athletes across the floor. The triangle is essentially Miami’s ‘space,’ just without the pace, basing the offense on the same principle once the ball gets into the teeth of the defense down low. The triangle offense was once never seen in the NBA, then the most popular offense in the game, much like what Spoelstra designed and has been tweaked by many teams across the league following the Heat’s Finals loss to the Mavs in 2011.

Between the years of 1991-2011, the triangle offense was responsible for 11 of the 20 NBA titles, all won by Phil Jackson coached teams in Chicago and LA. The triangle offense is exactly what it says, using three offensive players to form a triangle with their ball movement and spacing. The triangle offense in Chicago featured Hall of Famers Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen running the offense, while the second Chicago three-peat featured Dennis Rodman in the post as well. So, technically, each coach used the offense that allowed their best players to be their best players. It sounds dumb, but not a lot of teams can say this. As the offense flows, the triangle offense flows with it, and if one side of the triangle cannot be completed or is shut down by the defense, the ball can easily be swung to the weak-side and started all over again. The triangle is perhaps the only offensive set any casual NBA fan can identify by name, despite the fact that no one outside of Phil Jackson’s coaching sphere can describe how it works with any clarity. The big deal with the triangle is that the ball goes into the big man in the post, and he can choose to go to work on offense, or kick out to a variety of different players. One option he could kick out to a small forward who can take a three or use his athleticism to get inside, while the other option is to kick to a guard to take a three or set up the triangle again, either on the same or the weak side. Here’s a few diagrams of the offensive set-up and where players start the offense at:

triangle offense 1

triangle offense 2

Simple, right?

Spoelstra’s offense is based on one player using his specific skill set to define how the offense plays. You’ll notice that the Heat rarely ever use this space and pace offense if LeBron is not on the floor, and often go to a pick-an-roll set when he’s on the bench. LeBron has said that the offense has grown and evolved over the last three years, saying, “We’re at a record pace, assists are high, efficiency is high, field goal percentage, 3-point percentage, we’re doing it all.” The thing with Erik Spoelstra’s offense is that every player on the floor, or at least 4 of the 5 when LeBron is on the court, have the ability to take and make a high volume of three-point shots. After all, threes are worth more than twos. The key to the offense is the small-ball that the Miami Heat play. By removing the traditional big man, the interior clears up, and the defense is stretched to its limit trying to defend and close out on as well as help on every player on the floor, if things are running smoothly. Just when you think you have every player accounted for and set up on defense, the Heat can hit you with the pace aspect, running this offense with deadly precision at a quick pace; players cutting and getting to their spots on the floor so when LeBron decides to use his cutting ability, the plays are there to be made for him, all up-tempo. Be sure to credit Erik Spoelstra, the architect who realized where the team’s strengths lie and created a pace-and-space system that maximized everyone’s abilities. Here is a video that killed the Spurs in the finals, with the space and pace of the Miami offense:

 

I won’t say that Spoelstra is the second coming of Phil Jackson, but he isn’t off to a bad start. As the numbers sit right now, there obviously isn’t a real argument, as Phil is undoubtedly better with more titles, over 1,000 wins, and a higher win percentage through four times as many games. But it’s the projections of what Spoelstra can do that really give this idea value. Where will Spoelstra’s career head? Each man had the superstar players, but is he a winner because of Wade and James? Stay tuned.

 

 

@DKnappyBoy

@bsedio

Why the Heat Wanted the 2-seed

I know what you’re thinking, why wouldn’t you want the 1-seed in the NBA playoffs, or why would you rather not have home court advantage in the finals? Well, for the Miami Heat, it may be a better scenario for the first few rounds of the 2014 edition of the NBA playoffs.Nets own the Heat

If you look at the matchups around the Eastern Conference playoff bracket you’ll see bad teams at the bottom, two good teams at the top, and a few ‘giant-killers’ in between. The two teams I’m talking about are none other than the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets, who have looked both tremendous and terrible at different times this season. The problem for the Heat is that the tremendous times for these teams have come against the two-time defending champions.

When the Heat do eventually and inevitably get that 2-seed in the east, the matchup may favor them simply because of the fact that they have to play neither of these teams mentioned above. Heck, even the locked-in 8-seed Atlanta Hawks have given the Heat trouble in the last week, beating them by 13 on Saturday night. Let’s start with those Atlanta Hawks, and their 2-2 record against the Heat this season. Even without Al Horford, who has been out since tearing his ACL in December, the Hawks have been incredibly effective against the Heat (2-2), and Pacers (2-2). The confidence to beat these teams is where it starts, and with the regular season wins, they have just that. So the Pacers may have no walk-in-the-park first round series against the Hawks starting Saturday night, while the Heat will get the Bobcats, who they have beat all 4 times this year. We’ll see which series NBA TV wants to take (hint: It’s the Bobcats). Heat-1, Pacers-0. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get to the mean & potatoes of these Eastern Conference playoffs.

Bulls own the Heat joakim

The 4/5 matchup in the first round might as well be the matchup of two heavyweight fighters that will go 7 games almost no doubt. That’s the one you’ll want to make time for this weekend and into next week. The season series between the two, very different, teams sits at a 2-1 Chicago advantage, and none of the games have been close. 17, 16, & 16 point wins for the teams doesn’t bode well for either defensive unit, but each plays with a kind of reckless abandon that comes up clutch against the top teams, almost a sense of fearlessness in both teams. Regardless of who wins, the Heat won’t have to play them in the second round, that honor will belong to none other than the Indiana Pacers. The Heat have a dismal record of 0-4 against the Nets, while the Pacers sit at 4-0 against that same Brooklyn team. So that may not be a huge challenge for them, but they’re doing the Heat a favor by taking care of business there. Chicago is another story, where the Heat have a 2-2 record against the Bulls, and the Pacers match that 2-2 record against them. The Bulls and Nets are two different teams, but the same fearlessness to take on the big boys. Both are good on defense, allowing less than 100 PPG, with the Bulls tops in the NBA allowing 91.8 PPG to opponents. The Bulls like to rebound and pass, while the Nets do not. The Bulls rank 10th in the NBA in both rebound per and assists per game, while the Nets ranks 29th (in front of Miami) and 25th respectively in those same categories. LeBron dunks on RaptorsMiami, on the other hand, will have to play a Toronto team who they are 4-0 against or a Washington team they are essentially 2-1 against, with one game where the Heat sat all their starters. So if you’re playing along at home, the Pacers will play the winner of Brooklyn/Chicago, while Miami will take on the Toronto/Washington winner. Heat-2, Pacers-0.LeBron vs Hibbert

 

 

 

After this is where it may really get interesting, should the Heat and Pacers both get to this point. You know what I’m talking about, the Eastern Conference Finals that we’ve been waiting for since Derrick Rose got hurt. The Pacers will have the home court, but does that matter at this point? Each team won at least one game on the road last season when the two met in the same spot, and it will be a classic 7-gamer, as it should be. Welcome to the best ‘rivalry’ in the NBA, people. Just sit back and watch now as the Heat (cross your fingers) take care of business; but no, I’m not biased.

………And we haven’t even mentioned the NBA Finals………

 

 

@DKnappyBoy

2014 MLB Season Predictions

If you’ve been following along, which we’re sure you have, then you’ve gotten a good dose of each MLB team and a preview of what the 2014 season should entail for them. Needless to say, the NBSR staff has become well informed over the 30 day trek. So why not throw out some predictions for award winners and division winners….everybody else is doing it right?

ALW

ALC

ALE

ALWC

AL

WC

NLW

NLC

NLE

NL

WC

NL

WC

Cham-ps

AL/NL

CY

MVP

Brett

Tex

Det

Bal

TB

Oak

LA

St.L

Nats

Atl

Arz

Tigers

Darvis,

Kersh

Trout, Braun

Bryce

Oak

Det

Nyy

Sea

Cle

LAD

StL

Atl

Ari

Was

Braves

Felix, Fernandez

Donaldson,

Stanton

Dan

OAK

DET

TB

LA

NY

LAD

MIL

ATL

STL

SF

LAD

Price,

Kershaw

Trout,

Posey

Jordan

Oak

Cle

Bos

Det

TB

LAD

Cin

Wash

Pitt

Arz

LAD

YU

Fernandez

Trout

Tulowitzki

OK so let’s explain ourselves eh?

DAN:

National League- Let me get the Dodgers, Brewers, & Braves for division champs. The Dodgers may very well be the best team in baseball, but they have to be careful and get some others to step up without Kershaw, for however long that is. Everyone and their grandma is picking the Dodgers in the West, and for good reason. I’m taking the Brewers because I’m a homer and their pitching looks to be solid enough to compete, that’s why they get the benefit of the doubt in the central, which won’t be as good as it was as a whole last season. The Braves could be hurting without some of their pitching at the moment, but that doesn’t take the talent away from their lineup. In the wild card game, I had to get the Cardinals into the playoffs somehow, because that’s just what they do. They’ll take care of the Giants, who will get help from MVP Buster Posey to get that 2nd wild card spot; been there, done that, right? I’ll take the sexy pick & favorites in Vegas to win the NL in the Dodgers, who will take out the Cards in the NLCS….Unless the Brewers have something to say about it (they probably won’t, that was more of a optimistic fan pick).

American League- There seemed to be a lot more parity in our picks in the AL, agreeing on zero division winners, mostly because that yahoo took the Indians in the AL Central. I’ll take the A’s, Tigers, and Rays in the divisions. The A’s because of their pitching and ability to win close games. The Tigers because they’re really good, and the Rays because of their pitching, all while playing in the toughest division. The Rays know (I think) that they are going to need David Price for a full season if they want to compete, even with the shiny new deal they gave Chris Archer, so I’ll say Price wins the Cy Young…as a member of the Rays. I actually like the Rays to go all the way in the AL because they play such great defense and pitch so well. Eventually they’ll have to score some runs, but until then they’ve got a lot going for them. Give me the Angels, after their FA signing finally show up to play, in the wild card. They’ll ultimately end up getting beat by the Yankees in the WC game, while the Yankees fight off the age bug to compete all year. It’s about time Trout wins the MVP, because if they can’t give it to LeBron 3 years in a row, then Miggy can’t have it 3 years in a row either.

ALCS- Rays over A’s……NLCS- Dodgers over Cardinals……WS- Dodgers over Rays 

 

Bryce:

I saw things a lot clearer in the NL than the AL. The Reds lost a lot and will add very little…might as well sprinkle some early season injuries to the rotation on top. The Pirates got to the playoffs on over-performance, plain and simple. This leaves the timeless wonder that are the St Louis Cardinals to keep the top of the division.  With that said Milwaukee and Chicago won’t be contenders this year leaving my wild cards to an East and West team. The Nationals are one of the most complete teams in baseball, but I think the Braves are just a touch better. I see both with 93+ win seasons. The Dodgers are the no brainer pick (note our unanimous agreement) and I believe the D-Backs will be able to ward off, what could be, a very closely contested NL West. The Giants and Rockies should lurk all season long, with the Padres as my dark horse, simply because they will be good soon.  This idea has a wide time frame though with the winning ways either starting this July or March 2017.  My best record goes to the Braves who will beat the Cardinals in the NLCS. A series that will go seven games because these two will be so closely contested. The Braves lost Medlen for the year but picked up Ervin Santana, and I’m flat out convinced that outfield will just be better as a whole. The Cardinals have talent but highly volatile talent. Michael Wacha is coming off his first 200 inning season of his life. Count a closer (Trevor Rosenthal) and first baseman (Matt Adams) who played great in the playoffs; but how does that translate to 162 games? A flash in the pan perhaps? Who knows. These guys are good, but again, it’s a long season. Before that I see Washington winning the wild card game but neither them or the Dodgers with enough gusto to go challenge Atlanta or St. Louis in a series.

The AL is filled with top and low end talent; a similar economic structure you may see in, say, Brazil. Starting in the west I think Oakland is the best out there, by far. I’m yet to be convinced that the Rangers or Angel’s will serve as competition with both relying on just a few players to carry their teams. The Rangers could actually put something together though, the Angels are just a mess.  Enter the Mariners: a team who slumped and underperformed last year added some nice pieces and a new attitude for 2014. My bold pick is that they not only win the wild card game against the Indians but reach the ALCS too. [Editor's Note: The Mariners swept the Angels in the opening series, outscoring them 18-2].

Yes I think Detroit, Cleveland, and Kansas City will not only finish in that order but in scarily the same fashion as last year. The only change I could see is the Tigers bumping down to wild card and the Indians up to division winner solely because the season series shouldn’t be so one sided this year (just banking on the probability of that one) and the Tigers have gotten worse. Prince Fielder is a hard guy to replace and Ian Kinsler won’t see an offensive spike at Comerica of all places. Granted, the Tigers had a wealth of talent so maybe losing Infante too proves inconsequential.  

The East will have a similar three horse race but the Orioles wouldn’t want to be forgotten either, so let’s make it four. I’m taking the Yankees because of the veteranship and that they can buy their way there half way through the season. I don’t expect any team coming out of the division to make any noise however; picture the Big Ten conference in last year’s basketball season where they beat up on each other during the year and the illusion that they were all good was debunked when they exited quietly in the tournament. That leaves a Mariners, A’s ALCS and the A’s come out on top. Honestly I could see Toronto making some noise somewhere even though everyone has counted them out. It’s a complete roll of the dice. As it stands today, I don’t think I will be surprised at who comes out of this division.

My Cy Young go to King Felix after a 23 win season due to finally getting run support. The Marlins young ace, Jose Fernandez will also take the award thanks be to a new arm that hitters haven’t been able to figure out yet (oh and dynamite stuff, sure). MVP’s go to Josh Donaldson of the A’s, who made an admirable effort last season, and Mike Stanton of the Marlins after he hits 58 homers. Honestly the NL MVP award is the biggest toss up decision I’ve had since the last time I had to pick out only one pint of Ben and Jerry’s.

ALCS- A’s over M’s…...NLCS- Braves over Cardinals……WS-Braves over A’s 

Brett: 

American League

The West is going to be a division to follow. There are three teams who could easily win it, and even the Mariners are dangerous with Cano and Hernandez. Seattle and two of the other contending teams, the Angels and Rangers, have spent a butt-load of money in recent off-seasons,  yet the meek Athletics have topped the division the last two years. Is this the year that changes? I say yes, and I say the Rangers are going to be the team to do it. I liked the Athletics off-season, but I’m not sure their young rotation will be able to get them a third straight division crown. The Angels rotation just won’t be good enough for me. And while the injury issues for the Rangers in that department aren’t promising, they should still have Darvish for the majority of the year. With a lineup that boasts Andrus, Beltre, Fielder, Rios, and Choo I think it will be enough.

This could be the division most at risk for a coup d’état. While the Tigers have won the division for the last three years, the Indians and Royals made big strides last season. For me the Tigers will win it once again. They had a lot of roster turnover, but it should give them a better balance on offense and finally a lefty in the rotation (also Fister started the year on the DL… did Dombrowski know something?). The Royals are creeping ever so closer to a playoff berth, but it will have to wait one more year. The biggest threat to the Tigers will be the Indians. Cleveland has talent, but the strength of the team is the manager who put his guys in a position to succeed last year. In my opinion the Indians will finish well out of first place. Cleveland faithful will point to down years for Bourn and Swisher and hope for bounce back ones. But Bourn’s game is predicated on speed and he is now 31 and may have lost a step for good. I believe Swisher to be a .250 hitter now after hitting .246 last year. His BABIP wasn’t terribly low (.288) and his line drive percentage (23.1%) was the best he has had in his career so he was swinging the bat well his bat speed may have slowed a tad though. Ryan Raburn also will regress as his HR to FB rate was a whooping ten points higher than his career rate (23.9/12.4). The staff will be interesting to watch, and gone is the inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez, but he pitched them to post-season last year with a fantastic second half (1.09 ERA in September). Overall I think it is still the Tiger’s division.

The East is easily the toughest division to call in baseball. Any one of four teams could win this in my opinion, the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, or Orioles. The Blue Jays are talented and might have a fighting chance in other divisions, but not this one. The year after Boston wins the Series, New York goes and spends a bunch of money surprise surprise. The question is will it be enough? For me Tanaka is closer to a Darvish than a Matsuzaka  (in terms of production not stuff). McCann’s lefty swing as well is built for the short porch in right. For me though the real battle will be between the Rays and the O’s. The Orioles have a loaded lineup that can swing with any in the division, and the staff is improved. They struggled in close games last year, but I expect them to win enough of those this year to contend for the division. The Rays will just keep being fantastic. The young staff is exciting and loaded and maybe a full season from Longoria will take them to the top. In my write up I said the Orioles will contend for a WC, but I think I just convinced myself to take them in the East.

National League

Many had already given the Dodgers this division before a game was played. I tend to agree with them, but there could possibly be a mix up. The D-backs are definitely in win now mode, and I think they have a strong lineup. The rotation also has guys who have been successful in the past, but they all need to put it together to win it this year. The Padres have some young guns and could be dangerous, but probably not for a few more years. The Giants too are a big question mark, but I don’t think anyone believes they are as bad as their record showed in 2013. All in all barring lengthy injuries from Kershaw and other stars, the Dodgers will win the division by the largest margin of any in 2014.

Three teams in the Central with ninety wins last year, but for some reason I’m having an easy time with this one…the Cardinals. The Reds had a fantastic year and may actually do better if they can get a full season from Cueto. There were stinging losses including Arroyo and Choo, but they may have an upgrade over Arroyo in Cingrani. I hope the Pirates enjoyed postseason baseball in 2013, because it isn’t happening this year. St. Louis is stacked all over the place. The lineup can outhit anyone and the staff can outpitch anyone. The scary thought is they have a fantastic farm system to back it up. One of the best run organizations in sports will be winning the Central again this season. Plenty of wins to be had for everyone though with 19 games against the Cubs, so WC is possible even for Milwaukee.

Although I think the Marlins are going to be dangerous very shortly, now isn’t the time. It is time for a two team race in the East. That would be the Nationals and the Braves. The Nationals ended up with a respectable record that season despite a horrible first half. The rotation looks to be one of the best in baseball and the lineup will bounce back from an average season last year led by a big break out year for Harper (break out as in one of the top years in the league). I had pegged the Braves to win the division, but a slew of rotation injuries in spring have me questioning that. Still the lineup is strong, and there has never been a truer sense of the words “lights out” in the bullpen. Teams better score in the first six innings and the starting staff is strong enough to be a major threat. In the end though, I see the Nationals getting ahold of the division for the first time.

MVP’s —– AL – Mike Trout. The man can just do so much good on the baseball field. I don’t need WAR to tell me how good the man is. I also see him about as vulnerable to injury as Achilles as well so no chance of losing it to that.  NL – Ryan Braun. Risky pick. Voters may be turned away by the PED suspension he took, but the chip on his shoulder is bigger than the hotdogs they are selling in Arizona.

ALCS- Tigers over Rangers……NLCS- Cardinals over Nationals……WS- Tigers over Cardinal : As useless as World Series picks are in April I’m going to do it anyway. Mike Ilitch finally gets the baseball championship he has tried so hard to bring to Motown. Detroit Tigers over the St. Louis Cardinals. (will be their 4th WS matchup)

 

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 30, The Defending Champion, Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

 2013- 97-65 1st AL East World Series Champions

In various shapes, thicknesses and colors, the beard was widely revered by the Sox, and feared by their opponents

Last Season-  “Worst to First”, “Fear the Beard” , and “ Boston Strong”. Those were some of the sayings created for the team through out the season. In 2012 the Red Sox faced many injuries and a troubled club house but 2013 was a different story. John Farrell took over the club and everything turned around. The city of Boston went through rough times in the beginning of the season when there was a bomb attack during the Boston Marathon. But the Bostonians rallied around the team and the team supported the community during this rough time. That is where “Boston Strong” came from which created a lot of support for the team throughout the whole season.  Then the team started to grow their beards. If you go to a Red Sox game you are destined to see dudes with large beards in the stands, women with fake beards or many fans with a t-shirt of the many different beard styles the players had. Boston made into the playoffs with ease and actually went through the playoffs with ease as well.  They never faced an elimination game through out the whole post season.  The only controversial thing that happened in the run was the Will Middlebrooks obstruction call in the World Series game in St. Louis.  The team had many outstanding players who stepped up in big time situations but as usual Big Papi was the post-season hero. Hitting a grand slam in the ALCS versus the Tigers in game 2 which most baseball fans remember the iconic image of the Boston Cop celebrating the home run in the Bullpen as Tori Hunter crashes over the wall.  If you could write a book on the season of dreams this would be it with the story book ending winning the World Series at home in Boston.

Sizemore looks battle Jackie Bradley Jr all year long for the rights to Center Field duties; now that Jacoby Ellsbury plays for the enemy

  • Off Season- Added  Edward Mujica, Aj Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore and Jonathan Herrera

  • Leaving- Jacoby Ellsbury (Yankees), Jarrod Saltalamacchia( Marlins), Stephen Drew( FA)

This Season-  Despite a quite offseason its tough to say this team still isn’t locked and loaded for the upcoming season. The AL East will be a tough competition between all the teams (Yankee’s, Sox, Ray’s, Blue Jays, Orioles). The team added Grady Sizemore to the team this offseason and it caused some head scratching through out the league due to how often he got injured when playing for the Indians. But Grady has played well enough this spring to win the starting Center field position, if he can stay healthy which is a big IF this will go down as a great signing by the team.  The lineup has changed some due players leaving but the Sox have enough power in their farm system to create solid competition. 

Prediction- The Red Sox are going to be good again. It will be tough for them to win the division again due to the high amount of competition throughout the east but I feel they will win the East again and be a tough team to beat in the playoffs.

 

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 29, the St. Louis Cardinals

St. Louis Cardinals

2013: 97-65, 1st in NL Central, Lost in World Series

 STL cards win

Last season saw the Cardinals do what the Cardinals usually do, win a ton of games and make the playoffs. They had the best record in the National League, and the 2nd best in baseball (Boston). Going into 2013, the Cardinals had the best farm system in the MLB, which helped because they dipped into it fairly often because of injuries on the field. Those injuries included pitchers Chris Carpenter, Jason Motte, and Jamie Garcia, as well as infielder Rafael Furcal. To take those spots, St. Louis called upon guys like Joe Kelly, Shelby Miller and Michael Wacha later in the season. Those three combined for a 29-15 record with a 2.84 ERA in 362 innings. The Cardinals were good at the plate as well, hitting .269 (4th), and scoring 783 runs (3rd), good for a +187 run differential. The Cardinals took down the Pirates in the NLDS and the Dodgers in the NLCS before dropping the World Series to the Red Sox.

The off-season was slow for the Cardinals, but for good reason. Many of the pieces that they had to replace either during or after their 2013 regular season were already in their system in the minor leagues. Guys like Matt Adams, Carlos Martinez, Trevor Rosenthal, Michael Wacha and Kolten Wong will see significant playing time in 2014. The departed include Carlos Beltran, who signed with the Yankees, John Axford with the ISTL jhonny peraltandians, David Freese was traded to the Angels, and Fernando Salas and Jake Westbrook were both free agents as well. Chris Carpenter announced his retirement after 15 major league seasons, all with the Cardinals. They signed Mark Ellis, Peter Bourjos, and Jhonny Peralta.

NL Central Champs selfies

NL Central Champs selfies

This year looks to be another successful season in St. Louis for the defending National League champs, as much of their young pitching is back and they got better offensively at some positions, and defensively at others. The outfield will look to be Matt Holliday in left, Bourjos in center, and Allen Craig in right, with Jon Jay off the bench giving them a valuable lefty bat to use. Matt Carpenter will make another position switch after a great 2013 playing a new position at 2nd base. This season he moves to third with the trade of Freese and will look to have another solid year. Jhonny Peralta was brought in to take over the SS duties after Pete Kozma had a so-so year. Kolten Wong looks to start and 2B and lead off for the Cards, while Matt Adams will be penciled in the 1B. The Cardinals have maybe the best bench in baseball with Mark Ellis, Jon Jay, and Daniel Descalso available not only to hit, but as very good defensive subs in late game situations. Descalso can play anywhere and Ellis is a good veteran presence, while Jay will contribute in the OF, as I would assume he’ll see a lot of action in RF with Craig being the DH in American League cities. Adam Waiwright, Wacha, Lance Lynn, Jamie Garcia, and Shelby Miller make for a tough starting 5, while the bullpen with guys like Randy Choate, youngster Carlos Martinez, Jason Motte, and closer Trevor Rosenthal won’t be bad either.

Prediction: I like the Cardinals to finish at the top of the NL central, but with some stiff competition. Their pitching and lineup is just too deep for a lot of teams to compete with. You’ll have to watch out for a sophomore slump from some of their younger guys, but they have the bench if need be. Yadier Molina was a dark horse MVP candidate in 2013, and Wainwright could be a Cy Young guy in 2014.

FUN FACT: Over the last 5 seasons, the Cardinals have used more position players to pitch than any other team.

FUN FACT: Over the last 5 seasons, the Cardinals have used more position players to pitch than any other team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

@DKnappyBoy

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 28, the Detroit Tigers

Detroit Tigers

2013 Record and Finish —– 93-69, 1st in AL Central, Lost in ALCS

Last Season: The Detroit Tigers are coming into 2014 after winning three straight division titles for the first time in over a century believe it or not. The Motor City club has established itself as the envy of the junior circuit advancing to the ALCS three straight years during that time, although never winning a World Series. The Tigers had the third best run differential in the league last season due to the second best offense in the MLB and a top ten pitching staff. Credit the pitching success to the rotation (3.44 ERA) and not the relievers (4.01). Credit Miguel Cabrera and his back to back MVP seasons for the hitting success. All and all the Tigers won 93 games mostly by outclassing their own division with a 47-29 record against the Central. It was a close race though, in fairness to the Cleveland Indians as they only finished one game out, but in fairness to the Tigers they had the division wrapped up with four games to go. Owner Mike Ilitch was forced to wait at least one more season for the elusive world title as a Big Papi, a Torii Hunter, and a police officer will be the lasting image of 2013.

DET boston cop

A day that will live in infamy.

 

Departures: Darin Downs LHP, Matt Tuiasosopo OF, Jose Veras RHP, Prince Fielder 1B, Doug Fister RHP, Omar Infante 2B, Octavio Dotel RHP, Joaquin Benoit RHP, Jeremy Bonderman RHP, Ramon Santiago 2B, Jhonny Peralta SS, Steve Lombardozzi 2B

Acquisitions: Ian Kinsler 2B, Joe Nathan RHP, Robbie Ray LHP, Steve Lombardozzi 2B, Ian Krol LHP, Joba Chamberlain RHP, Rajai Davis OF, *Iglesias SS, Andrew Romine SS, Alex Gonzalez SS

*Acquired Late in 2013

Outlook: There aren’t many off-seasons where hungry owner Mike Ilitch and aggressive general manager Dave Dombrowski stand pat. Despite the success of the team there were issues to deal with. The Bengals may have scored 796 runs, but they were shutout ten times in the regular season, and twice in the playoffs. The offseason was committed to piecing together a more consistent if not dangerous lineup. With that said there will be a new skipper setting the lineup. Detroit will have to say goodbye to a manager they owe a lot to in Jim Leyland. There are lots of bad things people say about Leyland, but he knows how to manage stars (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9DHA2dJ7uQ) and that’s what a team like the Tigers need. Brad Ausmus will step in and fortunately will have a tool to use that the Tigers haven’t had since Cecil Fielder, speed. Just joking with the Cecil comment, the man one time did not score from second on a two-out double. By trading his son Prince fleet-of-foot Fielder, and acquiring Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis, the Tigers went from 2 steals over the past two years to 127. No doubt the loss of Fielder’s bat will hurt, but he was not living up to his mountain of a contract. I generally do not like spreading rumors and hearsay, but there also may be a secret reason for the trade and this is too juicy to not pass along http://hallofverygood.com/2013-articles/wait-that-s-why-they-traded-prince-fielder.html . The trade of Fielder also gave the Tigers a chance to upgrade another weakness. Defense. Some will point to Detroit’s top seven .987 fielding percentage and call it a strength. That number is misleading. Despite the team being relatively sure handed they ranked 25th in total chances, because there was no range in the infield. The Tigs were proactive last season picking up flashy shortstop Jose Iglesias. He performed admirably last season, but unfortunately will be out for much of 2014 due to shin fractures. This had Detroit scrambling the last couple weeks, and put Steve Lombardozzi on both the acquisition and departure list as he was traded for both Doug Fister and Alex Gonzalez. Cabrera can now hop across the diamond to first and rookie Greek phenom Nick Castellanos can step in at third. No one is more relieved than the pitching staff and Rick Porcello, a groundball pitcher who has had a BABIP above well above .300 the last two seasons. That staff is the other reason for the lack of chances by the fielders as they set a new regular season record with 1428 K’s. They will be without a consistent performer, however, as DD dealt Fister to the Nationals in a questionable trade. “In Dombrowski We Trust” is written on season tickets though so the Tiger faithful will wait and see how this one plays out. The other rollercoaster Detroit fans will have to ride is, once again, the bullpen. Obviously an issue last year, the Tigers will hope Ian Krol, Joba Chamberlain, and Joe Nathan can provide an upgrade. Huge injury that came up in spring training is the Tommy John surgery of fireballer Bruce Rondon.

DET miguel tongue

The immovable object in the field and the unstoppable force at the plate.

 

Prediction: The Tigers are favorites in the eyes of many to pick up their fourth straight division title and possibly win the World Series. In light of recent injuries the latter is looking graver, but I share the former opinion. The starting rotation is still one of the best in the MLB, and the lineup is loaded as well. Two studs in Cabrera and Justin Verlander are coming off surgery, but if they can hold up a division title should not be an issue. Top of the AL Central. Cabrera MVP candidate, Verlander Cy Young candidate.

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 27, The Atlanta Braves

Atlanta Braves, 96-66 First in NL East (Lost to LAD in NLDS)

The Braves’ spring training camp is at Disney’s Wide World of Sports. They hope of some of Disney’s magic will rub off in their drive to the World Series.

LAST SEASON: After big splash moves and obtaining an outfield with guys named Upton and Heyward, the Braves were held to some high expectation. Contrarily, the outfield was not the reason the Braves won the division. BJ Upton dropped the ball the most (figuratively), finishing the year with a .184 average and nine homers in over 120 games played. Brother Justin wasn’t spectacular either, but clearly a better year than BJ with 26 homers and an average north of .250. Heyward only participated in 104 games and managed a meager .254 average with 16 homers. The lineup was truly carried by Freddie Freeman (23/109/.319) who anchored first base all year. Guys you know like Dan Uggla and Brian McCann stayed true to form, adding power without average, yet still a threat in every at bat to do some kind of damage.

Andrelton Simmons (born in Curacao) makes a marvelous grab in the 2013 WBC in front of centerfielder Roger Bernadina. NBSR speculates Bernadina was positioned in the center field stands or was napping on the warning track as the ball was hit..

Guys you didn’t know like Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson both played over 140 games on the left side of the infield, with Simmons adding excellent defense, a little power (17 homers) and a fair average (.692 OPS) to the mix. Chris Johnson didn’t have a flashy year (in my opinion), but was highest on the team in average (.321) and second highest in OBP (.358). Evan Gattis and Jordan Schaeffer proved their worth as much needed backups that saw ample playing time (199 games combined). First in home runs in the NL and strikeouts as well lead to middle-of-the-road team numbers as far as OBP and OPS was concerned. The Braves stayed true to National League tradition, and despite leading the league in long balls, relied on their pitching staff to pave the way. Best in the league in runs allowed (and naturally earned runs and ERA) and second in allowing free passes better explains why the lineup that was consistently shaky was able to pull out 96 wins.

3B Chris Johnson and his forearms

Mike Minor, Kris Medlan, and Julio Teheran headed up the rotation while they’re all under the age of 27. Tim Hudson, Freddy Garcia, Paul Maholm and spot starter Alex Wood provided both depth and ample support, with each of them either barely above or below the .500 W-L mark. Minor threw the only complete game for the staff and with setup man Jordan Walden and closer Craig Kimbrel you then understand why. As Kimbrel continues to define the term “lights out” the rest of the bullpen consisted of 2 middle relievers with under 2 ERAs and a combined 28-13 record, i.e. they don’t blow the leads their starters give them.

The Braves’ season ended in the NLDS to the hands of the Dodgers

OFF SEASON: After losing to the Dodgers in the NLDS the Braves got to work on changing things up. A couple relievers, starters Hudson and Maholm, backup infielder Paul Janish and Brian McCann all said goodbye to Atlanta this offseason. Much fewer additions came into place: catcher Ryan Doumit, pitchers Gavin Floyd, Luis Vasquez and Zach Stewart all signed new contracts. And let’s not forget the latest of the signings, starter Ervin Santana, who looks to be just what the doctor ordered to help a young staff mature and fill the holes Hudson and Maholm will leave.

New Starter Ervin Santana

This Season: The lineup should look similar except for Evan Gattis becoming the every day catcher with McCann now donning the pinstripes. Gattis looks like a very capable replacement, putting up almost identical numbers as McCann while playing in three more games (McCann will be 30 years old this season, Gattis 27). Between Jose Constanza (OF) and Tyler Pastornicky (IF) the Braves continue to show off their young talent that they have waiting to get some innings and show what they can do.

Despite all the moves, the rotation doesn’t look terribly different either. Medlen hurt his elbow in spring ball and within the last ten days of writing this, underwent his second Tommy John surgery. Luckily the Braves have a good stockpile of young arms. Look for Alex Wood and David Hale to pick up some big innings this year. Starter Ervin Santana won’t be ready for opening day. As a very late signing, he doesn’t have his pitch count up to where the Braves would like it. At the same time, don’t expect him to be far away from getting there (target is at, or less than two weeks).  Aaron Harang gets to benefit from this as he was named an opening day roster member. Kimbrel and Walden will continue to provide the best ability to close games in baseball, so no worries in the bullpen.

Closer Craig Kimbrell


Predictions:
 Up and down the Braves have what ever other team in Major League Baseball wants; talent and youth. The lineup had the ability to cold at times last year just as quickly as they got hot. The pitching staff as a whole was strong but losing a couple role player veterans and Kris Medlen for the year could prove unfortunate. Honestly, if the Braves would have signed Robinson Cano and not had Medlen get hurt, I’d be picking them as the NL representative in the World Series. But while you’d believe that outfield has to do better this year, the only guy you can seemingly rely on for consistency in the lineup is Freddie Freeman. Medlen is staff-ace quality and would be detrimental to any team that lost him.  Still I like the Braves to repeat as division champs and give the Dodgers a run for their money in the NLCS. I think the pitching will suffer a bit, but the lineup should get better, fairing well for the choppers of the tomahawk in the end.

@bsedio

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 26, the Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay Rays

2013: 92-71, 2nd in AL East, Lost to Red Sox in ALDS

 TB yunel escobar

Last season saw the Rays finish with 90 wins, but still finish 5 ½ games behind the Red Sox, who won the AL East in 2013. That being said, the Rays made the playoffs in the form of one of the two wild cards (after a game 163 win over Texas), after which they went onto win the wild card game in Cleveland and eventually lose to their division rivals, the Red Sox, three games to one in the ALDS. Pitching and defense once again were the bread and butter of this team, although not doing either as well as in years past. The staff finished with an ERA of 3.74, good for 12th in the MLB, while they scored 700 runs on the dot (11th), and hit .257 on the year (12th), while getting on base an impressive .329, good for 4th in the majors. I think at this point, we have learned not to doubt the Tampa Bay Rays, and their 2013 season was no different.

This off-season didn’t bring huge additions or subtractions in many areas for the Rays; That is, in many areas except for the bullpen. They lost Fernando Rodney, but added Heath Bell and Grant Balfour to take the spots of the departed in their pen. Other meaningful losses include OF Sam Fuld, Kelly Johnson, Luke Scott, and maybe most importantly, Delmon Young. Additions included Bell & Balfour, as well as Ryan Hanigan and Logan Forsythe.

Spring training, infield in, Rays shift...Because why not?

Spring training, infield in, Rays shift…Because why not?

This season: The Rays will be a lot like the Rays of old, no surprise there. Still working with a small payroll and a very creative manager in a tough division makes things interesting for the Rays. Let’s start with pitching, shall we? The projected current rotation of David Price, Alex Cobb, Matt Moore, Chris Archer and Jake Odorizzi is, on average, 25 years old. Sub in injured Jeremy Hellickson for Odorizzi and it’s 26 years old. That’s a lot younger than the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays, each of whom average at least 30, while the Orioles average 28. Not only are these guys good, they aren’t bad either. If Price makes it through the entire season in Tampa Bay, that will be something to see, as he is in the last year of his contract. Manager Joe Maddon has already gone out and said “that’s how we do things here,” when asked about the summer shopping of David Price, so we’ll have to wait and see about that one. The lineup should be right on par with what they did last year, running out zero guys who hit over .300 last season but getting the job done because they get on base so well. David DeJesus, Desmond Jennings, and 2013 ROY Wil Myers will round out the outfield. Evan Longoria, who should be better than his .269 BA, Yunel Escobar, Ben Zobrist, and James Loney will play in the infield, with Sean Rodriguez and Matt Joyce filling in literally wherever they need a sub at the drop of a hat. With the youth all over the diamond, the catchers really missed the memo, running out Ryan Hanigan on a nightly basis and Jose Molina backing him up, an average age of…..36 years old. Pitching and defense will once again be the calling card in Tampa, and nobody does it better than they do.

TB the rays way

Prediction: The Rays will be the Rays. Boston won’t be as good. New York, who knows? Baltimore could be tough, and Toronto, again who knows. All that adds up to an AL East title for the Rays. They’ll finish at the top of the division and cause some problems in the playoffs for whoever they matchup against. Thanks, pitching & defense.

 

@DKnappyBoy

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 25, The Pittsburgh Pirates

94-68 in 2013, 2nd in NL Central, #1 Wild Card

Raise the Jolly Roger!

Last Season was many things for the Pirates. September 2013 was the best month to be a Pirates fan since 1992. On the 9th they captured win number 82, signifying their first winning season since ’92. Then a couple weeks later on the 23rd they clinched a spot in the postseason. 94 wins was 3 behind division leader St. Louis and 4 ahead of the #2 Wild Card winner, Cincinnati. The tough NL Central was a three team race from game 1, but the question was whether or not both wildcards would come from the division. In deed it did, and the Bucs went five games in the NLDS before succumbing to St. Louis.

Their strength in pitching was a pleasant surprise. Lead by AJ Burnett and the former greatness of Francisco Liriano showing through, the Pirate staff had 0, that’s zero, pitchers with ERA’s over 4 that threw at least 30 innings. The staff was third in ERA and strikeouts and second in hits allowed. Ample offense was headlined by none other than MVP, Andrew McCutchen, the only starter to hit over .300. Ninth in runs and eighth in OPS, the lineup showed power but not overall and even run production. An example of how the pitching staff was their crutch that got them off the losing wagon.

Off Season moves began with Marlon Byrd and AJ Burnett leaving. Backup catcher John Buck and Justin Morneau also have headed onto greener pastures. Edinson Volquez was picked up through free agency and is back in the NL Central after his stint out west. One year deals with Gaby Sanchez and Neil Walker should prove as important pieces they needed to hold on to. It was a pretty quiet off season on the whole for the Pirates. The only other move worth noting was picking up catcher Chris Stewart from the Yankees to replace John Buck leaving. He’s not expected to provide anything incredible than a solid defensive replacement.

‘Cutch splintering his Marucci

Outlook: As mentioned, the team relied on McCutchen and their pitching staff for most of the year. Count Burnett and Byrd leaving as considerable losses but replacements are in place. Starters Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole will be able to provide even more if they stay healthy in 2014. Add that with Volquez and the rotation looks set.

#POSTSEASON?

Third in homers last year and that looks to stay the same. Pedro Alvarez knocked 36 out and is primed to top 40 this year. Four other players hit 15 or more homers, including the flexible Garrett Jones. The Pirates are littered with young talent on the field and even more trying to get there.

Prediction: The biggest strength and weakness of the Bucs will continue to be their ability to prevent runs then their ability to create runs. Personally I’d rather build a team like that than the other way around. I also want to say the Pirates are one offensive piece away from being “there.” Starling Marte, McCutchen, Jordy Mercer and Jose Tabata were the only members to have a BABIP over .297 (the league average) which means the team as a whole should be on the upswing. If they do indeed increase run production as stats suggest, I can see the Pirates as a wild card for the second year in a row. The Reds are primed to be worse this year so chalk the Pirates and the Cardinals to be must-watch baseball all year long.

Around the MLB in 30 Days: Day 24, the Oakland Athletics

Oakland A’s

2013 Record and Finish —- 96-66, 1st in AL West, Lost in ALDS

OAK fans

Last Season: It was another season on top of the AL West for the Oakland A’s last year. Despite having nearly half the payroll as the Rangers and the Angels, Oakland turned in another fantastic regular season performance of 96 wins. They were led by a top five offense and a top ten pitching staff. The staff is loaded with young guns like Sonny Gray, Jarrod Parker, AJ Griffin and Dan Strailey. Once again however GM Billy Beane’s sabermetric approach failed to get the A’s to the World Series. The Elephants were bounced out of the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers, who have knocked them out in their last three appearances. Oakland is hoping this year they finally break through and finish the year with a win.

Departures: Pat Neshek RHP, Seth Smith LF, Jemile Weeks 2B, Kurt Suzuki C, Chris Young OF, Jerry Blevins RHP, Grant Balfour RHP, Bartolo Colon RHP, Scott Sizemore 2B, Brett Anderson LHP

Acquisitions: Nick Punto SS, Jim Johnson RHP, Luke Gregerson RHP, Scott Kazmir LHP, Drew Pomeranz LHP, Sam Fuld LF, Craig Gentry OF

American League batter Yoenis Cespedes, of the Oakland A's, watches his home run during the Major League Baseball All-Star Game Home Run Derby in New York

32 home runs in 1 night, 26 home runs in 135 games.

 

Outlook: The A’s are a tough team to project. Beane always puts together a team that has seemed to over-achieve the last couple years. It is hard to say what the goal was coming into the offseason, because who knows what they are up to. In honor of how the Athletics’ front office approaches the game, the only stats given here will be advanced sabers. It is safe to say that the young starters and solid bullpen are the strength of the team. Gray, Parker, Griffin, and Strailey are saying goodbye to oft-injured Brett Anderson, but welcome southpaw Scott Kazmir. It all adds up to young staff with an average age of 26. This is much younger than last year, mostly due to the departure of big Bartolo Colon. Colon’s departure will hurt, but a full season from Gray will more than make up for it (2.70 FIP in 10 starts) http://www.fangraphs.com/library/pitching/fip/. The bullpen is also a big area of strength for Oakland. Holdovers of Sean Doolittle and Ryan Cook are already imposing, but new acquisitions of Gregerson and Johnson will make scoring runs late in games a scary thought for opposing teams. The lineup scored the third most runs in league last year without a lot of stars. Nearly the entire lineup is back besides a couple of bench and utility players from last year. Leading the team is dark horse MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. Donaldson was second in the AL last year with a WAR of 8.0 http://www.fangraphs.com/library/misc/war/. He may have been bolstered by a BABIP of .333 last year so some regression from him is possible http://www.fangraphs.com/library/offense/babip/. The heart of the order is strong if inconsistent in Jed Lowrie SS and Yoenis Cespedes OF. Offense will be key for the Athletics in 2014. The rotation and bullpen will be great, but can the offense put up enough runs? Update: The rotation is now facing some serious questions with season ending surgery for Jarrod Parker expected and AJ Griffin out for several weeks. It looks as though Jesse Chavez and Tommy Milone will be filling their roles, but to what degree of success it is hard to say. Milone has a career ERA under 4.00 but Chavez’s is over 5.00, so expect some mixed results from the roster plugs.

OAK sabermetrics

Prediction: No doubt the A’s are often underestimated heading into the season. Despite a strong offseason following a 96 win year I am going to be one of the naysayers. The rotation is strong, but I’m not sure the lineup will do enough THIS season to win the West. Middle of the AL West with a very strong chance at the Wild Card.

 

@B1ders