The AL West added a couple of the premier international players over the offseason, and both are already contributing to their new teams.
Two high-profile international free agents came to the American League West this year. The two-time defending AL champion Texas Rangers won negotiating rights (with a $51.7 million bid) to Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish in December 2011 and signed him to a six-year, $56 million deal the following month. Meanwhile, the small-market Oakland A's surprised everyone in February by landing Cuban center fielder/Internet sensationYoenis Cespedes at four years, $36 million.
Darvish was the better-known quantity, having generated buzz well in advance of his U.S. debut, and was expected to contribute right away. Cespedes came with more questions attached, and it wasn't certain that he would break camp with the big club. But he did, and he made an immediate impact, launching a home run in his big-league debut (amusingly enough, played in Japan).
Events that have happened already this season after not happening for all of 2011 help explain why we're still hooked on baseball.
There were 2429 major-league games played last season.* Most of the things that can happen in a baseball game happened in one of those. With a few exceptions, teams and players will do all of the same things in 2012 that they did in 2011—they’ll just do them in a difference sequence and more, or less, frequently than they did before. When and how often they do those nearly identical things will determine which teams win divisions and which players win awards. We’re suckers for those things, so another season of the same, reshuffled, is enough to suck us in. But we're not completely content with repetition. We also watch in hopes of seeing something we didn’t see the season before.
*There would have been 2430, but no one felt like seeing another Dodgers-Nationals game in September. That missed game may have deprived us of history: Matt Kemp finished the season one home run away from 40 home runs, and Dee Gordon finished the season one home run away from one home run. For the alternate-history buffs: the man who would have started that game against the Dodgers, had it been played, was Tom Milone. Milone had the fifth-lowest home run rate among Triple-A starters last season, so that extra game might not have made Matt Kemp baseball’s fifth 40-40 man. Then again, that home run rate might not have meant much, since there weren’t many Matt Kemps in the International League. More on Milone a little later.
Derek may not bet the house on these coming true, but he's sure not betting against them.
Taking a page out of the book of industry friends Pat DiCaprio and Mike Podhorzer, who used to engage in this exercise at the start of the season as far back as their Fantasy Baseball Generals days, today I’m going to make 10 bold predictions for the coming season. These aren’t meant to be most-likely scenarios by any means. These aren’t average expected performances. We’ll define “bold” as Pat and Mike did, which is to say that I believe these things have at least a 20 percent chance of occurring. Feel free to let me know what you think of these predictions and what bold predictions you’re making yourself for the 2012 season!
Clayton Kershaw maintains a BB/9 below 2.75 PECOTA has Kershaw pegged for a 3.4 BB/9 after he posted rates of 4.8, 3.6, and 2.1 from 2009-2011, but PECOTA fails to take into consideration the breaking-ball change Kershaw made last year that contributed heavily to his improvement. In 2011, Kershaw shifted away from a tougher-to-control, big breaking curve and toward a tighter pitch that he can spot more easily in the zone. A 2.1 BB/9 might be nearly impossible to repeat, but expect him to keep most of the gains.
Few players have made their major-league debuts in the cleanup spot, and the A's Yoenis Cespedes wasn't one of them.
Yoenis Cespedes has often batted third or fourth in the Oakland A’s lineup this spring, which isn’t surprising, because the A’s don’t otherwise have anything like a cleanup hitter. Of the other eight players in their starting lineup for Wednesday morning’s opener against the Mariners, only three players have ever started a game batting fourth: Kurt Suzuki (60 times), Seth Smith (nine), and Brandon Allen (once). If Cespedes doesn’t lead the Oakland A’s in home runs this year, something will have gone very wrong or very right. But it was Smith, not Cespedes, who batted fourth against Felix Hernandez in the opener, and this also isn’t surprising, because players making their major-league debuts in the cleanup spot are all but extinct. Since 1980, just nine players have made their debuts in the cleanup spot, and over the past half-dozen years only one player—29-year-old Barbaro Canizares—has. San Jose Mercury News:
If Oakland could develop its own hitters, it wouldn't need to invest in players like Yoenis Cespedes.
Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes was expected to get around $40 million in guaranteed money, most likely from the Marlins, Tigers, Yankees, or Cubs. But the mystery team—this time the A’s—struck again. Yesterday, our own Kevin Goldstein and Yahoo’s Jeff Passan tried to make sense of it all.
Both explained why a small-market team that has spent the bulk of the offseason rebuilding and whittling down its payroll, that already has a glut of outfielders on its roster, and that faces an uncertain future in Oakland with no (public) assurance of a move to San Jose, might choose to dish out $36 million over four years to the 26-year-old Cespedes.
The Cuban sensation is back with his next soon-to-be viral video.
Last month, the YoenisCespedes video took the world by storm, so imagine my excitement when Edgar Mercedes, the producer of the video and president of the Born To Play Academy in the Dominican Republic, e-mailed me this week to let me know that the sequel was finished and would be available soon. To be fair, Mercedes and his group have had a wonderful sense of humor about the video and the fallout, and he relayed some basic information to me in a phone call. The new video is 28 minutes, is more baseball-related, includes video from Cespedes' heavily-attended showcase, as well as some private workouts and “a surprise at the end.”