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Five Bold Predictions for MLB's Second Half

by Photo of Sam Cohen

Here are five second half story lines that will stun baseball fans

Five Bold Predictions for MLB's Second Half

The first half of the 2014 MLB season is coming to a close and there have been many fascinating stories. From the rise of the Kansas City Royals to the struggles of the Boston Red Sox to the amazing seasons that rookies Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka have put together, baseball is as exciting as its ever been.

The second half of the season is bound to be a great one. We all know the Dodgers, A's, and Tigers, barring any unforeseen circumstances, will make the playoffs. We also know Giancarlo Stanton will crush some more balls and Clayton Kershaw will continue to make hitters look silly. But there will be some things that some baseball fans could never predict and with that said, let's take a look at some bold predictions of mine that I believe will shock some people.

Billy Hamilton will finish with a higher Wins Above Replacement than Miguel Cabrera

Billy Hamilton is a 23-year-old rookie for the Cincinnati Reds and Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best player in the game, having taken home the last two A.L. MVP awards with the Detroit Tigers. So how could a kid who has half of a season of MLB experience be more valuable to his team than the best hitter in the game is to his?

Before I explain myself, it is important to quickly define Wins Above Replacement, aka WAR. WAR is a sabermetric statistic that puts an exact number on the value of a player's total contributions to his team. The value reflects the number of wins the player has helped his team amass compared to a replacement level player, which could be a bench player or a minor league player. If a player has a 4.0 WAR, his team would not have won four of its games if not for that player.

Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton has had a great rookie season, as he is currently hitting .285 with an amazing 38 steals. The fastest player in the game has also made just one error in center field this season, ranking in the top 25 in defensive WAR according to espn.com. This is also just his second year in the outfield.

Miguel Cabrera has also had a great season in Detroit. The all-star is hitting .312 with 14 home runs, 70 RBI, and a .370 OBP. According to ESPN, he has a WAR of 2.91, while Hamilton sits not far behind at 2.58.

Even though Hamilton had a disappointing start to the season, as he hit just .256 with a .292 OBP and .344 slugging percentage in April, he has since been a force ever since. He improved significantly on those numbers in May before having a torrid June in which he hit .327 with a .348 OBP and a .500 slugging percentage. He has put up very similar numbers in July so far. As he finishes his first full half of a season, I believe Hamilton will continue to get better and finish as the MLB stolen base leader. Not to mention, he will become even better as a fielder as he starts to get more and more experience.

It's definitely risky to say that Hamilton will be more valuable than Cabrera, but the sky is the limit for this kid and he is becoming a five-tool player. While Cabrera may finish with a better offensive WAR, Hamilton's speed and defense will help to give him a better overall WAR by the end of the year.

Barring any trades, the Rays will be serious playoff contenders

Don't look now, but the Tampa Bay Rays are hot. While Tampa Bay was among the worst teams in baseball for most of the first half of this season, the team is 11-4 since June 25th and are nine games behind the Blue Jays for the division lead and just six games behind the Yankees, who are firmly in contention for the playoffs at the halfway point. Nine games is a healthy amount but let's remember that this is an A.L. East that has seen some crazy things in recent years, including the Red Sox losing 12 of 13 to finish the 2012 season.

It is also important to remember that Joe Maddon might be the best manager in the game today and the team has a really talented pitching staff. The Rays' record does not indicate how good they truly are, as this is basically the same Rays team that made the playoffs last year.

It remains to be seen whether the Rays will trade all-star pitcher David Price and the versatile Ben Zobrist. If the team deals either one of those guys, they would essentially be throwing in the towel on this season. But they have been playing so well of late and the three teams ahead of them in the division are within shouting distance, so the team may choose to hold onto Price and Zobrist. If they do, they will continue to play well and have a chance at the playoffs come September.

The Dodgers will trade an outfielder

There has been talk about the Los Angeles Dodgers trading an outfielder for two years now, but the team has not dealt one yet. The team is set to get Carl Crawford back any day now, while Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Yasiel Puig have been playing every day. Meanwhile, the team has Scott Van Slyke, a very capable outfielder, on their bench and Joc Pederson, one of the top prospects in all of baseball, crushing the ball at Triple-A. That's six outfielders capable of starting in the major leagues on one team.

Puig is one of the best players in the major leagues and will not be dealt. Scott Van Slyke wouldn't bring much return, so it doesn't make much sense for the team to deal him either. Matt Kemp is still a great player, but he has a lot of injury concerns and is in his third year of a whopping 8-year, $160 million deal. Carl Crawford also has injury concerns and hasn't lived up to the 7-year, $142 million contract he signed at the end of 2010. Andre Ethier is also making crazy money, though he is a very average outfielder at this point. That leaves Pederson, who the team has been reluctant to trade given his massive potential.

So a trade seems unlikely, right? Well, the Dodgers organization is very serious about winning and will do nearly anything to win a championship this season. Kemp seems like the most tradable outfielder, though the Dodgers may have to pay for a lot of the remaining money on his contract. Pederson is also a very tradable piece, as he would make sense for non-playoff contenders that can give the Dodgers yet another impact pitcher. Either way, I think that the Dodgers will feel the need to make their team even better and the only real way to do so is by trading one of these outfielders. I think general manager Ned Coletti will finally make a move this year.

The Blue Jays will collapse

Before June, the Toronto Blue Jays looked like they were going to finally put it all together after a couple disappointing seasons, but the team is about to fall apart. Although the Jays were one of the best teams in baseball early in the season, things are looking a little different now and are about to get much worse.

After going 7-15 in June and 4-8 so far in July, the 49-47 Blue Jays are struggling to stay above .500. While all good teams go through ups and downs, the Blue Jays have more holes than a team with playoff aspirations should have. The team doesn't have a reliable second baseman, Dioner Navarro shouldn't be an everyday starter with his .301 on-base percentage, only two of their starters have an ERA below 4.00, and according to ESPN, the team's bullpen has put up a 4.39 ERA, good for 27th in baseball.

Furthermore, the Jays are playing without their all-star first baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who has a strained right quadricep that will sideline him until the end of July or early August. Encarnacion is hitting .277 with 26 home runs and 70 RBI, so that is a huge loss. Brett Lawrie, the team's third baseman, has been out with a fractured right index finger and his return date has not been determined either. First baseman Adam Lind fractured his foot and although he is expected to be back by early August, foot injuries often last a lot longer than expected.

If the Blue Jays don't make some serious moves by the trade deadline, Blue Jays fans should not be too excited about this second half. While making a big trade for a starter and a couple relievers would certainly help the team, I can't see the Blue Jays fairing very well this second half.

Mike Trout will win his first MVP award

This isn't really that bold, but I feel pretty good about this one. At just 22-years-old, Mike Trout has once again shown why he is the best all-around player in baseball. He's hitting .310 with a .400 on-base percentage, .606 slugging percentage, 22 home runs, and 73 RBI for the Los Angeles Angels this season. He hasn't been caught stealing in ten attempts this season and it is safe to say he will steal more bases in the second half than he did in the first half. In any case, those are all unbelievable numbers. While he is among the league leaders in almost every offensive category, he is also playing his usual gold glove caliber defense.

Trout's 5.49 WAR is good for second in the MLB, well ahead of Adam Wainwright's 4.91 WAR, which is third in the MLB. In fact, Josh Donaldson has the second best WAR in the American League and he trails Trout by more than a full win. It is clear that Trout has been much more valuable than almost every other player this season.

Trout is sure to face some stiff competition for the MVP award in the American League, as Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista will certainly not go away. But Trout is having a season for the ages and this will be the year that he takes home his first MVP. It will be his first of many.

Baseball fans have a lot to look forward to in the second half of the season. Things will get interesting very soon with the trade deadline only a couple weeks away and after that, it will be time to start talking about the playoffs.

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