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April 2, 2014
The Lineup Card
10 Headlines for 2014
1. David Price's Next Team
2. Cabrera and Trout
That debate became a flashpoint for the ongoing culture clash betwixt the old and new schools of baseball analysis. With vicious vitriol, commenters on both sides of that divide hurled criticism on the Trout-backers and the Cabrera-champions, all while knowing full well that both players are great. The battle was resurrected in 2013, when, magically, both players improved to even more impressive levels (albeit without any Triple Crowns). Both years ended in Cabrera being named MVP, to the surprise of no one and the bitterness of many.
Now they are linked once again, this time by their contract extensions, agreed upon within days of each other. Trout’s extension is among the best bargains in baseball. Meanwhile, the Tigers achieved the objective of resigning Cabrera, but at a questionable cost. Whereas Trout is young and likely to maintain his performance in the future, Cabrera is exiting his prime and ready for regression. However, with any luck, we will observe epic performances from both players, the relative values of which epic arguments will be made. But their twin contract extensions ensure that the careers of Cabrera and Trout will be compared far into the future, long after the MVP debates are settled and we go back to deciding player value based on RBI and pitcher wins (I kid, of course).
In the long run, Cabrera and Trout’s inadvertent affiliation stems from their respective talents: similarly impressive, but manifesting in different ways. To that point, whatever your views on statistics or contracts, the value of the Triple Crown or the stolen base, we as baseball fans ought to consider ourselves lucky to live in an era in which we get to view two of the game’s best do amazing things, in wholly different ways. —Robert Arthur
3. Bench Heroics
Injuries to stars, however, open up opportunities for bench players. Career reservists, fringy prospects, and over-the-hill veterans in Triple-A are inevitably going to play significant roles for many franchises this year. Many of those performances will be forgettable. However, fans hold a special place in their memories for the fill-ins who, if even for a half-season, plug an important gap in the team’s roster. Yankee fans recall, for instance, the surprising effectiveness of Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon (1.4 WARP combined in 155 innings) on a 2005 team whose starting rotation was battered by injuries to Kevin Brown and Carl Pavano.
It looks like some clubs that thought they’d be contenders will need to reach for some organizational depth this year. Some of the returns could actually be pretty exciting, though. —Dan Rozenson
4. The Year of the Splitter
There are a few other guys whose success will be dependent on the split-finger pitch. Jeff Samardzija is one pitcher who immediately comes to mind, as his splitty is devious. The point is that we're going to be cognizant of the splitter in 2014, and much like the slurve was the "it" pitch in the early aughts, I think the split-finger fastball will be the pitch to replicate in the mid-teens. We go through this cycle every so often. It's just the splitter's turn now. —Mauricio Rubio
5. Rally Squirrel Runs Inefficient Route
6. Bunting to Beat the Shift
More and more teams are getting on the defensive positioning bandwagon. At some point, the batters will strike back, using one of the only anti-shift tactics available. I'll be tracking this throughout the season for any sign that hitters have had enough. —Ben Lindbergh
7. Instant Replay Becomes Just Another Part of the Game
By the end of the year, we will discover that like a lot of things in life, instant replay has some good features (it probably will cut down on those arguments that make for awkward "Daddy, why is he doing that?" conversations with the kids) and bad features (it... will... add... 90 seconds to a three-hour game!), but eventually, people will realize that the thing that it was set up to do, make sure that the umpires got the call right, is actually getting done. There will undoubtedly be a game where a call that turns a game is overturned, and properly. People will start realizing that 90 seconds of dead time is a small price to pay for the integrity of the game. Plus, the replay delays have a little bit of suspense attached to them, so they're even mildly entertaining.
Instant replay won't be perfect, but after a year, people will realize that it wasn't such a big deal after all and it represents actual progress. Then, to get rid of it, you have to start making arguments that begin with, "But I love the human element of the game" which is the same thing as saying "I wish that the umpires would get more calls wrong." And it'll become just a part of the game. —Russell A. Carleton
8. Andrelton Simmons: MVP Candidate
9. Ben Revere Gives it a Ride
However it happens, at some point this year, Ben Revere is going to hit a home run.
PECOTA has him hitting four. I won't go that far. I won't even say three or two. But one? Somehow, some way, it's going to happen. And Tom Oliver's Live Ball Era record of 2,073 plate appearances without a dinger will be safe—at least until the next Revere-like throwback makes his way to The Show. —Daniel Rathman
10. Where Have All the Free Agents Gone?