I can already smell the fresh cut grass. Ok, that might be because I’m writing this in LA where I can open my windows and take in 70-degree days instead of the polar vortex. But you get the idea. Baseball season is fast approaching.
On Friday night, MLB Network began their assessment of the upcoming season by airing the first episode in their series “Top 10 Right Now”. For those unfamiliar with the series, it profiles the ten players that they consider to be the best at each position. Brian Kenny, the unapologetic sabermetrican and Twitter addict, hosts each episode alongside a guest host culled from the ranks of MLB Network personalities. John Hart, senior adviser of baseball operations for the Rangers, shows up to analyze each position from the GM’s perspective, and Bill James, one of the godfathers of sabermetrics, stops by to reveal his top ten players at the position in question.
But the real star of the show is “the shredder”, a computer program that dissects each player’s performance over the past few years then projects how they rank going into the 2014 season. According to Kenny, the strength of “the shredder”, other than its sheer analytical power, is its objectivity. There are only statistical outcomes, and no personal biases, involved in its decision. While “the shredder” doesn’t project hard numbers, like ZIPS, its rankings still provide a solid breakdown of each position, which can come in handy on fantasy baseball draft day.
The two episodes of the series that aired this weekend examined center field and shortstop. Two positions of strength for the Brewers last season. So what did “the shredder” think of Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura? Spoilers are below so consider yourself warned.
Let’s start with Carlos Gomez. After failing to make last year’s list, Gomez put together an impressive 2013 campaign. He won his first Gold Glove, lead all National League position players in bWAR, and become only the third MLB player since 2008 to hit 20 plus home runs and steal 40 plus bases in the same season (Mike Trout in 2012 and Matt Kemp in 2011 being the other two). Well, according to “the shredder”, Gomez is the game’s sixth best center fielder going into the 2014 season.
Personally, I thought Gomez would land higher on the list but was reminded just how stacked the center field position will be in 2014. Off-season trades of Peter Bourjos and Dexter Fowler means that both Mike Trout and Carlos Gonzalez will be permanent center fielders next year. Unsurprisingly, Trout ranked first on the list and Gonzalez landed third. Andrew McCutchen, last season’s NL MVP, split the two for second place and the Yankees’ new $153 million dollar man Jacoby Ellsbury landed fourth.
“The shredder” placed injury plagued Matt Kemp fifth, just ahead of Gomez, based on his previous strong seasons and potential to return to dominance. But all humans involved in the show disagreed with that decision. Gomez landed fourth on Brian Kenny’s list, ahead of both Carlos Gonzalez and Matt Kempt, and fifth on the lists of both Bill James and guest host, and former Brewer, Darryl Hamilton. Both James’ and Hamilton’s list ranked Gomez higher then Kemp and Gonzalez but also slide Adam Jones ahead of Gomez. All opinions, both human and machine, believe that Carlos Gomez’s stellar 2013 campaign wasn’t a fluke. There is no longer a debate about whether Gomez will fulfill his potential or not. The new debate is now over how elite of a center fielder he will be.
Meanwhile, Jean Segura’s first full season at the big league level was a smashing success. Though he faded down the stretch, Segura still managed to hit .294 AVG / .752 OPS with 44 steals and double-digit doubles (20), triples (10), and home runs (12). All of this from a guy some weren’t sure was ready for the show. So, how did “the shredder” take to Segura’s first full season of stats and his boatload of potential?
Pretty well, actually. “The shredder” chose Segura as the game’s fifth best shortstop behind, in order from 1 to 4, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes, Hanley Ramirez, and Jhonny Peralta. Among young shortstops, “the shredder” preferred Segura to both Ian Desmond, who has put together back-to-back strong seasons, and Andrelton Simmons, the defensive wizard.
Billy Ripken, the shortstop episode’s guest host, talked about how Segura’s small, stout stature breaks the current mold for shortstops and, in odd twist, compared him of Ray Rice. Ripken ranked Segura sixth on his list. Bill James placed Segura seventh and spent most of his segment talking about his love for the durability of J.J. Hardy, his second favorite shortstop. Finally, Brian Kenny gave Segura the ninth spot on his list. Opinion on Segura’s current standing may vary but the Brewers must be ecstatic that their young shortstop is even a part of this discussion.
The MLB Network will continue to roll out episodes of “Top 10 Right Now” over the next few weeks. I would expect Ryan Braun to find his way onto the right fielder list, Jonathan Lucroy should snag a spot in the top ten behind the dish, and Aramis Ramirez might sneak in at third base, if I recall he landed fifth or sixth last year.
If nothing else, this series should get your juices flowing for the upcoming season. Besides being a good primer for the upcoming fantasy baseball drafts, it’s also a reminder that, whether through the acquisition of Gomez and Segura or the development of Braun and Lucroy, the Brewers have built a club with core of top-tier talent. Even if “everything has to go right” for the Crew to contend in 2014, players like Gomez and Segura will still make the team worth watching.