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Buster Olney: What I would bet farm on in 2018 Major League Baseball – Buster Olney Blog

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The original deed to the family farm in central Vermont specifies the property contains 108 acres. It’s a place split by a one-lane dirt road that runs north and south. On the east side of the road, there is a mostly rock-free, 10-acre hayfield and a woodlot of about the same size, lush with ash and maple. On the west side, there is another 10-acre field on which we’ve usually planted corn, the mud bog where the John Deere tractor was once stuck almost to the top of the back wheels and a fenced hillside pasture on which our herd of Jersey cows grazed.

It’s a beautiful and peaceful place, as green as any ballfield. I would never easily submit the place for wager — only when I had the highest confidence in the outcome.

With that in mind, here’s what “I would bet the family farm on” in baseball (tractors not included):

I’d bet the family farm that: The Mets’ Noah Syndergaard will finish No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 in the NL Cy Young Award voting if he’s healthy enough to make at least 30 starts. He has shown again this spring that he has the best pure stuff of any pitcher in baseball.

I’d bet the family farm that: The hitters’ pendulum will begin to swing the other way, with more and more focus on hard contact rather than launch angle.

The effort to consistently lift and drive the ball has worked for a lot of hitters, from Josh Donaldson to Justin Turner, and through an army of aggressive hackers, home run production has skyrocketed. But pitchers and teams began making major adjustments against that strategy last season, attacking the upper half of the strike zone — the kryptonite of the launch angle generation — and the fact is that with so many players hitting home runs, that particular skill doesn’t pay off the way it used to. Chris Carter, the NL home run leader in 2016, was released and struggled to stay in the big leagues last season. Logan Morrison and Mike Moustakas were among the MLB leaders in homers last season, with 38 apiece, and both waited and waited in free agency before signing modest, one-year deals.

Meanwhile, hitters such as Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo and George Springer have worked to reduce strikeouts, and in a sport in which emulation is standard operating procedure, others might follow. Mike Trout, who led the AL in strikeouts four years ago with 182, had fewer than 100 last season and did not strike out in his first 44 plate appearances this spring.

Last year, 117 players had 20 or more homers. Just five players had walk-strikeout ratios of at least 1-1, with Votto leading the way at 1.61.

In a business in which supply and demand means everything, this would be one way to do it — and some folks who know hitting have raised questions about the wisdom of trying to launch the ball. That includes David Ortiz, who said on our podcast that not everybody is meant to be a home run hitter — which makes sense, because not everybody is a good defender or a hard thrower or a fast runner.

I’d bet the family farm that: The Dodgers’ interest in the star free agents next fall will take on a very different form than anticipated.

There has been a broad, social media assumption that because the Dodgers slashed their payroll and got under the luxury-tax threshold, they are preparing to wage financial war for players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But what Andrew Friedman has demonstrated since taking over the Dodgers is that he remains wary of risk — passing on the chance to add to his offer to Zack Greinke after Greinke got a $200 million-plus offer from the Diamondbacks, or making a big push to trade for Giancarlo Stanton. Machado and Harper will both hit the market at young ages, mitigating the risk of a long-term deal, but if they focus on deals of 10-12 years in length, that could affect the Dodgers’ level of interest. There has been talk among executives that it might make more sense for a team — and even a player — to push for a higher annual salary on a shorter-term deal. That’s the sort of philosophy that might be a better fit for the Dodgers, who haven’t doled out a contract of more than four years in Friedman’s tenure running baseball operations.

Additionally, the Dodgers have one big-ticket item already on the horizon, with Clayton Kershaw contractually eligible to opt out of his deal in the fall.

I’d bet the family farm that: Twins hitting coach James Rowson will be interviewed for managerial jobs within the next 4-5 years. The 41-year-old has a comfortable, relatable personality out of the Alex Cora/Aaron Boone mold.

I’d bet the family farm that: The mound-visits limit will have far less impact than anticipated, and that players will adapt easily. But there will be situations in which catchers or pitchers feel rushed into a decision and will gripe about the mound-visit rule and alleged sign-stealing.

I’d bet the family farm that: Aaron Judge will improve. The other day, Boone was asked which player he has learned the most about that he didn’t know before, and he responded without hesitation: Judge. What Boone has learned, he said, is that beneath Judge’s polite and respectful personality, the slugger is relentlessly competitive. “He wants to tear your heart out,” Boone said. Judge’s understanding of the strike zone is so good that even in a bad year, he could post an on-base percentage of .360 to .375.

I’d bet the family farm that: If the Brewers are in serious contention at midseason, they will be aggressive to deal for what they need (and they might need less than expected, given the wave of young pitching near the top of their farm system). This is owner Mark Attanasio’s way.

I’d bet the family farm that: At the end of Alex Cobb’s four-year, $57 million deal with the Orioles, it will turn out to be a good investment for the club. More than a third of the contract, $20 million, is deferred without interest, so the actual present-day value of the contract is assessed at $47 million over four years. The Orioles are shedding a lot of money next fall, with the certain departure of Machado and Zach Britton and the possible exit of Adam Jones, and to land Cobb at a rate of about $12 million annually is well within range for an AL East-proven pitcher. There are a ton of questions about the Orioles beyond the 2018 season, but at the very least they’ll have Cobb to go along with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman in the rotation.

I’d bet the family farm that: Ronald Acuna will be a superstar, and sooner rather than later. The Braves outfielder will have to wait out service-time purgatory early in the season, but once he arrives, his impact will be immediate. “You can’t take your eyes off him when he plays,” one evaluator said this spring.

News from around the majors

  • Among the hitters Lance Lynn faced in Florida as he waited to sign with another team was Logan Morrison … and both landed with the Twins. Lynn could have pursued a longer, more lucrative deal elsewhere, but he bet on himself while giving himself a chance to win. The Twins are poised to compete for the playoffs again, and next fall, Lynn’s value in the free-agent market will no longer will dragged down by an attachment to draft-pick compensation. There was no dialogue about a possible return of Lynn to the Cardinals.

  • Spring training statistics evaporate once the season begins, but the defending-champion Astros have been getting excellent results — the lowest team ERA by far, the most pitching strikeouts and the best won-loss record.

  • The Blue Jays are in the midst of a transition in which a lot of their position-player group is turning over — Edwin Encarnacion left before Jose Bautista, and Josh Donaldson might be in his last year with Toronto. The club will soon be in the hands of the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, and the folks in the front office have been thrilled by the presence and influence of Curtis Granderson, one of the game’s best professionals, in the way he conducts himself and the way he treats others.

  • With Bryan Shaw and others moving on from the Indians’ bullpen the past couple of years, the Indians need pitchers under their control to step forward to step into bigger roles, and lefty Tyler Olson — who threw well for Cleveland at the end of last season — has become an important option for manager Terry Francona. Olson did not allow any earned runs in 20 innings for the Indians in 2017, and this spring, he has compiled 12 strikeouts and just 1 walk in 11 appearances.

  • Ten of the Giants’ first 28 games are against the Dodgers, and Madison Bumgarner might well have started three of those 10. But now, “somebody else has to put on some big-boy pants,” said one evaluator, speaking of the Giants.

  • Kenta Maeda was a revelation for the Dodgers in the postseason, with his velocity clocking higher. This spring, he has reverted to his old stuff so far; it will be interesting to see if he applies some of that bullpen aggressiveness to his work as a starter.

Baseball Tonight podcast

Friday: Twins second baseman Brian Dozier discusses the development of teammate Byron Buxton, Minnesota’s offseason moves and the value of a team meeting in the midst of last year’s pennant race; Karl Ravech, on the idea of Bryce Harper and/or Aaron Judge hitting leadoff; Logan Morrison, mic’d up in an exhibition game.

Thursday: New Sunday Night Baseball play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian talks about his baseball roots, the baseball link with his first cuss word and the Orioles’ signing of Alex Cobb; Sarah Langs and the Numbers Game; and Jessica Mendoza on the Astros’ athleticism and the Twins’ progress.

Wednesday: Boog Sciambi on the spring struggles of Shohei Ohtani and Cobb and the team he views as a breakout candidate; Keith Law on Ronald Acuna’s demotion; Paul Hembekides on the Yankees’ roster depth.

Tuesday: Stephen Strasburg goes rapid-fire; Langs and the Numbers Game; Jerry Crasnick on Acuna’s staggering potential.

Monday: David Ortiz on the Red Sox’s leadership and the question of whether J.D. Martinez‘s hitting style will fit Fenway Park; Tim Kurkjian on Jose Altuve’s new deal; Todd Radom’s latest uniform-and-logo quiz.

And today will be better than yesterday.

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Oakland Athletics sign Jake Lamb to add depth to infield

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The Oakland Athletics have signed former All-Star infielder Jake Lamb, the team announced Monday.

Lamb was designated for assignment last week by the Arizona Diamondbacks after struggling for the majority of three straight seasons.

The 29-year-old Lamb looked like a future star at third base just a few years ago.

He hit 29 homers in 2016 and then made the National League All-Star team in 2017 while setting career-highs with 30 homers and 105 RBIs.

Since then, he’s battled injuries and inconsistency and hit just 12 homers over the past three seasons.

Oakland is looking for some depth with third baseman Matt Chapman and utility man Chad Pinder out with injuries.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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MLB Power Rankings — The biggest 2020 surprise on all 30 teams

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We’re just two weeks from the MLB playoffs and the 2020 version promises to be full of thrills. Not only do we have an expanded 16-team format that should bring a March Madness feel to the best-of-three first round, we’ve got some exciting teams in the mix that we haven’t seen in October in quite some time.

The San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox both feature some of the game’s top young stars and neither has been in the playoffs in more than a decade. Add the Toronto Blue Jays, plus potential surprise playoff teams in the San Francisco Giants and Miami Marlins, and it’s clear the postseason will have a fresh look in more ways than one.

Our new Power Rankings reflect this, as the Padres and White Sox surge into our top five, with the Jays, Giants and Marlins also creeping up.

In keeping with the surprising times, David Schoenfield weighs in with his biggest surprise about each team as part of the rankings.

Previous: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6

Record: 33-14
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 1

They’ve been dominant even though Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Joc Pederson have fallen way off from their 2019 numbers. That does suggest a potential issue about facing lefties in the postseason — except Max Fried is really the only good lefty starter in the NL this year aside from Clayton Kershaw, and Fried is injured right now.

ICYMI: How A.J. and Kate Pollack faced their daughter’s premature birth


Record: 30-17
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 2

First place? Not a surprise. First place with a pitching staff ravaged by injuries and solid-but-not-dominant work from Charlie Morton, Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell? Surprising. No team is better at finding and producing pitching depth than the Rays.

ICYMI: Rays make history with all-lefty lineup


Record: 31-17
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 6

Veterans Eric Hosmer (138 OPS+ after averaging 97 over his first two years in San Diego) and Wil Myers (159 OPS+ after a 95 in 2019) have had huge seasons, but we have to give the nod to Jake Cronenworth, who seems to be the likely NL Rookie of the Year. Not bad for a guy who was the extra body in the Tommy Pham trade.

ICYMI: Francisco Lindor Jr. and MLB’s 100 most entertaining players


Record: 29-17
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 3

It’s not that Oakland’s bullpen was supposed to be bad — it was seventh in the majors in ERA in 2019 — but it has carried the A’s to first place with an MLB-best 2.06 ERA. None of their top seven relievers has an ERA over 3.00 and Jake Diekman has yet to allow a run in 16 innings.

ICYMI: How Liam Hendriks channeled his inner dragon


Record: 30-16
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 9

OK, Luis Robert came with a lot of hype as one of the top prospects in the majors, but potential MVP? Nobody expected that. Yet if the vote were held today he might finish highest among AL position players (Cleveland starter Shane Bieber is probably the favorite). Teammates Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson — contending for a second straight batting title (now that’s a surprise) — are up there as well.

ICYMI: Where does Luis Robert rank among MLB’s most entertaining players?


Record: 30-18
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 5

Kenta Maeda, who was a solid No. 3-starter type with the Dodgers, has been far better than that with Minnesota, going 5-1 with a 2.43 ERA, a .158 average allowed and 63 K’s in 55⅔ innings. He just threw seven scoreless innings on Friday to outduel Shane Bieber.


Record: 26-21
Playoff probability: 98.8%
Week 6 ranking: 4

Well, Shane Bieber has been completely absurd, averaging 14.2 K’s per nine innings with a 41.3% strikeout rate. But let’s give a shoutout to Zach Plesac, who had a solid rookie year in 2019, although with middling peripheral numbers. He has increased his strikeout rate from 6.8 per nine to 8.6 while lowering his walks from 3.1 to 0.7. It’s just six outings, but maybe Cleveland has another Bieber in the works.


Record: 28-19
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 8

Thanks to their 29-run outburst, the Braves lead the majors in runs per game. They rolled the dice on Marcell Ozuna after two mediocre seasons in St. Louis, but he has put up monster numbers on par with what he did with the Marlins in 2017. Then there’s Adam Duvall, a backup at the start of the season who now ranks among the NL home run leaders thanks to two three-homer games.

ICYMI: The amazing numbers behind the Braves’ 29-run outburst


Record: 26-21
Playoff probability: 99.6%
Week 6 ranking: 7

With 16 home runs, Luke Voit has a chance to top his 2019 total of 21 — in well less than half as many plate appearances. We’ve seen Voit locked in like this before — his 39-game run in 2018 — but he’s changed his approach a bit, swinging more aggressively early in the count, pulling the ball more and swinging and missing less often.

ICYMI: Stanton, Judge could be back in lineup by weekend


Record: 28-20
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 6 ranking: 11

No, it’s not Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez leading the Cubs’ offense, but Ian Happ and Jason Heyward, just like the doctor drew it up. (Seriously, what is wrong with Baez? Somehow he’s striking out more and walking less than ever. Control the zone, friends, control the zone.)

ICYMI: Baez riled by ban on in-game video


Record: 23-24
Playoff probability: 95.7%
Week 6 ranking: 10

We’ve been waiting for Kyle Tucker to finally get an opportunity to play on a regular basis and he got it when Yordan Alvarez missed time with COVID and then went down with an injury. Tucker leads the majors in triples and ranks among AL leaders in RBIs while hitting .383 with runners in scoring position.

ICYMI: Astros-Dodgers about more than just bad blood


Record: 26-20
Playoff probability: 98.2%
Week 6 ranking: 13

Before landing on the IL with a rib injury, Teoscar Hernandez had been one of the top power hitters in the league, hitting .308 with 14 home runs in 39 games. His Statcast numbers support the power numbers: 98th percentile in hard-hit rate and 99th percentile in expected slugging. The whiffs are high, but he hits the ball with authority.

ICYMI: Bo Bichette’s return should give Jays big boost


Record: 23-22
Playoff probability: 84.9%
Week 6 ranking: 12

Nobody really stands out as a surprise, so let’s instead go with this: The Phillies somehow are in second place and hovering above .500 despite an absolutely wretched bullpen — last in the majors with a 7.19 ERA. I’d say it’s impossible to be a playoff team or win a World Series with a bullpen that bad, except we just saw the Nationals win the World Series last year despite the worst bullpen ERA in the majors (5.66).

ICYMI: Handicapping the teams bidding for the last NL playoff spot


Record: 20-20
Playoff probability: 77.6%
Week 6 ranking: 14

Adam Wainwright is 38, last posted an adjusted ERA better than league average in 2014 (not counting an injury-shortened 2015) and even contemplated retirement after 2019. He’s 4-1 with a 2.91 ERA and he leads all starters in averaging 6⅔ innings per game. It’s not exactly a comeback, but it’s nice to see him remind us that he was once one of the best in the game.


Record: 23-24
Playoff probability: 57.6%
Week 6 ranking: 19

Mike Yastrzemski, MVP? Donovan Solano, batting champ? Both are possibilities and we haven’t even mentioned Brandon Belt (OPS over 1.000), Alex Dickerson (138 OPS+), Wilmer Flores (138 OPS+) and even better production from old guys Brandon Crawford and Evan Longoria. Giants position players ranked fifth in the majors in FanGraphs WAR heading into Saturday compared to 25th in 2019.


Record: 21-26
Playoff probability: 26.5%
Week 6 ranking: 16

Dominic Smith is the easy answer here thanks to his impressive triple-slash line and big RBI total, but raise your hand if you thought Robinson Cano might have been nearing the end after hitting a lackluster .256 last season. He’s hitting well above .300 and, most impressively, is squaring up the ball much better than last season, with advanced metrics that support his raw numbers.

ICYMI: Can the Mets sneak into the playoff field?


Record: 21-26
Playoff probability: 24.6%
Week 6 ranking: 15

Maybe the surprise here is the rotation has been as good as hoped for — seventh in the majors in ERA, second in strikeout rate, second in home run rate — and yet the Reds are still looking up at the playoff teams. The Reds were supposed to have depth among their position players but it hasn’t played out that way.


Record: 20-24
Playoff probability: 41.0%
Week 6 ranking: 18

Corbin Burnes was a big prospect back in 2018 and debuted in the majors with a 7-0 record and 2.61 ERA in 38 innings out of the bullpen. But he got hammered in 2019 — 8.82 ERA, 17 HRs in 49 innings — and yet he suddenly looks like a top-of-the-rotation starter, with a 1.99 ERA and just 22 hits allowed in 45⅓ innings. He’s added a cutter that has taken his game to a new level and batters are hitting .156 against it.


Record: 23-21
Playoff probability: 70.5%
Week 6 ranking: 21

Yeah, maybe that J.T. Realmuto trade will work out after all. Hard-throwing Sixto Sanchez, possessor of 100 mph heat, is living up to the hype with an impressive first five MLB starts. He has a five-pitch arsenal and has walked just five batters in 32 innings, but his changeup has been a special pitch, helping to stifle left-handed batters.


Record: 21-25
Playoff probability: 16.2%
Week 6 ranking: 17

Daniel Bard may be the biggest surprise of the season. The former Red Sox reliever last pitched in the majors in 2013 and the last time we saw him pitch in the minors in 2017 he walked 24 batters in 9⅓ innings. He retired. Now he’s back, throwing strikes and throwing again in the upper 90s, and he’s the Rockies’ closer.


Record: 17-28
Playoff probability: 1.1%
Week 6 ranking: 20

If we told you Juan Soto and Trea Turner were two of the best hitters in the league, you might think, “OK, so the Nationals have survived the loss of Anthony Rendon and are battling for the division lead.” Umm, nope. The rest of the lineup has struggled, Stephen Strasburg got injured and the back of the rotation has been a mess. There will be no title defense in October.

ICYMI: Juan Soto’s entertainment value hard to match


Record: 20-26
Playoff probability: 0.5%
Week 6 ranking: 25

He’s probably out for the season after straining his oblique, but the O’s had to love what they saw from Anthony Santander in his 37 games. The number that stands out: 25 extra-base hits. That’s a rate of 101 over 150 games! The extra pop also came with improved strikeout and walk rates.


Record: 20-26
Playoff probability: 0.9%
Week 6 ranking: 22

Jeimer Candelario did not have a good 2019 in his second season in the majors, hitting .203/.306/.377. It didn’t really make sense to move a weak-hitting third baseman to first base, but that’s what the Tigers did, and Candelario is hitting above .300 with 25-homer pop over a full season.


Record: 20-28
Playoff probability: 2.3%
Week 6 ranking: 24

It has been another disappointing season for the Angels — even though Dylan Bundy (5-2, 2.48 ERA, 2.66 FIP) and Andrew Heaney (3-3, 4.04 ERA, 2.95 FIP) have been very good. But the back of the rotation? No wins. A big fat zero from three-fifths of your starters, with an ERA over 6.00. Joe Maddon must be wondering what he got himself into.

ICYMI: What it was like to face Mike Trout in high school


Record: 17-31
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 6 ranking: 23

Zac Gallen is really good, so there’s that. But he showed signs of this as a rookie last year, so he shouldn’t be viewed as a big surprise. Otherwise? Not really much to say. It’s been bad in the desert. Skeptics worried about Madison Bumgarner‘s road ERA the previous two seasons and he’s 0-4 with a 7.52 ERA and 11 home runs in 26⅓ innings. Which … makes us sad. Pitch better, MadBum.


Record: 20-28
Playoff probability: 0.2%
Week 6 ranking: 26

The biggest surprise was probably reliever Trevor Rosenthal — and the Royals smartly turned his 13 decent innings into a solid prospect in outfielder Edward Olivares, who had a nice first week with the Royals after being dealt by the Padres. There’s probably no star potential, but for now he’s their best bet to play center field in 2021.


Record: 21-25
Playoff probability: 3.6%
Week 6 ranking: 29

Kyle Lewis was a first-round pick, but battled injuries in the minors and his numbers at Double-A in 2019 weren’t impressive. He had a good September call-up last year, albeit it with a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio, so there were questions he had to answer. He has dramatically improved his walk rate, has nine home runs and has played a solid center field (although right field probably is his long-term position when Jarred Kelenic arrives next year).


Record: 17-31
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 6 ranking: 28

Can we do a bad surprise? Against the rules? OK, Mitch Moreland. We’ll mention that he was hitting .328/.430/.746 before he was traded to San Diego. That’s the best cameo for the Red Sox since Ted Williams hit .407/.509/.901 in 37 games in 1953.


Record: 17-30
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 6 ranking: 27

Lance Lynn has followed up his impressive 2019 season with another terrific campaign and you really have to consider him a top-10 starter in the game, don’t you?


Record: 14-30
Playoff probability: 0.0%
Week 6 ranking: 30

What do you say here? The Pirates are building around Josh Bell, Bryan Reynolds and Kevin Newman. Bell’s OPS is about 300 points lower than it was last year. Reynolds hit .314 as a rookie and is now under .200. Newman hit .308 as a rookie and is now hitting under .250 and has been getting more reps at second base than shortstop. So, umm … man, Roberto Clemente was something else.

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Tampa Bay Rays’ Ji-Man Choi expected to miss at least 2-3 weeks with hamstring injury

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Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Ji-Man Choi is expected to be out at least two to three weeks with a strained left hamstring, with manager Kevin Cash saying it would take a “miraculous recovery” for him to be ready for the playoffs.

Choi, who suffered the Grade 1 hamstring injury while scoring Saturday night, is hitting .230 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 42 games this season.

“Ji-Man brings a lot of energy,” Cash told reporters before Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox. “He’s a good teammate, a great teammate. We all felt like he was starting to have some better at-bats and get going. So he’ll be missed for sure.”

The Rays (30-17) lead the American League East by 3½ games over the Toronto Blue Jays.

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