Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mike Trout Has Accumulated More WAR Than 48 Current Hall Of Famers

According to baseball reference, from 2011 until today, Mike Trout has accumulated 46.9 wins above replacement. That's an astonishing total (more on that in a sec) that really puts into perspective how special he is. HOF players he has now passed in career WAR include Lefty Gomez, Dizzy Dean, Phil Rizzuto, Catfish Hunter, and Rollie Fingers. Are any of those guys legends of baseball? Of course not, but they are hall of famers and Trout is fucking 24 years old!

Now back to his 46.9 WAR through his age 24 season. That's the most ever by a MLB player through his age 24 season. It isn't one of the best starts ever to a career. It's THE BEST start ever to a career (through 24 years old):

Look at the names on that list! Those are some of the best players we have ever seen (plus Andruw Jones). Of the 15 other names on that list Trout accomplished the feat in less games than 10 of them. 

This is why it's crazy to me when people refer to a prospect, or even a young star, as the next Trout. There is no next trout. Not even Harper is in Trout's class. They were rookies the same season. Trout has 46.9 WAR. Harper has 22.1 WAR. Machado is at 23.8 WAR. McCutchen 37.8. Stanton 27.4. Donaldson 31.8. All those guys have either been in the league as long or longer than Trout and he blows them all out of the water. 

So sorry. Kris Bryant isn't the next Trout. Carlos Correa isn't the next Trout. This is a once in a generation situation we have going on. He is the unquestioned best player in baseball and on pace to become one of the best of all time. 

Lastly, it's insane that Ted Williams is on this list at all considering he didn't even play his age 24 season due to serving in World War II. He accumulated his WAR in that table in just 586 games while the players below him took between 616 and 904...

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

MLB Announces 2017 World Baseball Classic Schedule And Pools

The first problem with the World Baseball Classic is that people are always going to refer to it as a World Cup for baseball. It's not the World Cup. It's never going to be as popular as the World Cup. But that doesn't mean it can't still  be enjoyable and worth watching.

The second problem with the WBC is a much bigger issue, and that is that the best players don't play. For example, the only true stars on the 2013 team USA roster were Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, and David Wright. There were other good players, such as Joe Mauer, Adam Jones, Jimmy Rollins, and Ben Zobrist, but ultimately the roster paled in comparison to what it could have been. 

The pitching rotation was even worse. R.A. Dickey was the ace coming off his Cy Young season. Craig Kimbrel was the closer. Outside of that the staff and bullpen was assembled of guys such as Ryan Vogelsong, Gio Gonzalez, Heath Bell, and "Mitchell Boggs". Ultimately team USA was eliminated in the second round.

The saving grace for the 2017 tournament would be if Bryce Harper played. He has said he wants to as long as the other star players do. If this were to be the case the potential roster could include names such as Harper, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Clayton Kershaw, and Madison Bumgarner. That, of course, is unlikely but Harper seems to be genuinely interested. Team USA may need him as they got put in a tough opening pool along with Canada, Colombia, and the 2013 champion Dominican Republic.

More information on the tournament can be found here. It will run during spring training from March 7-22.

Your Guide To The New Stat Baseball Fans And Teams Are Obsessing Over: Average Exit Velocity

When Moneyball was published back in 2003 it taught us the true value of a walk. For decades baseball had been played with the idea that a walk was only the fault of a pitcher. Moneyball changed that. We know realize that the ability to draw a walk is a skill. For a while players who appeared otherwise average, but had a high OBP, were a market inefficiency smart teams sued to gain a competitive advantage. The Red Sox, for instance, used Moneyball concepts in their 2004 World Series run.

Once OBP was properly valued teams tried to find the next Moneyball. In recent years this has included teams placing a greater emphasis on contact skills, fielding ability, and acquiring hard throwing relievers to shorten playoff games. The Royals, for instance, used these concepts to win back to back pennants in 2014 and 2015. But the latest, greatest, baseball stat is a new one altogether. It's called average exit velocity.

In it's simplest terms "avg EV" measures how hard a player hits a ball. The thought is that if a player hits the ball hard then he has a better chance of getting a hit. The stat can also be used for regression analysis. For example, if a player has a high batting average but a low avg EV, there is the chance he is getting lucky with softly hit balls falling in for hits. Likewise, if a player has a batting average below his career norm but a high avg EV, he could be due for a breakout.

It should come as no surprise that when taking a look at the avg EV leaders in 2016 some of the best players in baseball show up, such as Giancarlo Stanton, David Ortiz, and Miguel Cabrera. (BBE stands for batted ball events and represents any batted ball that produces an out, hit, or error). What is cool about the avg EV leaderboard is seeing a name like Christian Yelich up there. Many casual fans may not be familiar with him but he is a 24-year-old outfielder for the Marlins setting career highs in every offensive category this year thanks in part to a high avg EV. As you can tell in the graphic above he ranks 10th in all of baseball in avg EV at 93.4, which is up from the 92.0 mark he posted a season ago. Still it's important to keep in mind that avg EV doesn't tell the whole story. It's not a perfect stat, although it's useful.

The Tampa Bay Rays use avg EV instead of batting average to measure all their hitters. But the stat has become more mainstream since MLB's stat cast system, which uses high resolution cameras and radar equipment to track everything that happens on a baseball field, launched in every MLB ballpark in 2015. Teams had been using some of these new stats for player evaluation prior to 2015 but the recordings are now available to the public. They are working their way into broadcast booths and online message boards. Two parks even have EV readings up in their stadiums, similar to how pitch velocity readings are shown. 

More information on statcast and avg EV can be found in this recent SI article. The video below is a great intro on a bunch of stats that MLB Statcast tracks.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

ESPN Is Already Counting Down To Bryce Harper's And Manny Machado's Free Agency

ESPNWith Bryce Harper and Manny Machado scheduled to hit free agency in two years, the 2018 offseason could go down in history as the winter that broke baseball's bank. The question is, which one of them will be the most prized catch?

So this story isn't actually as crazy at it first sounds. Yes, the winter of 2018 is over two years away but it's already shaping up to be baseball's version of the 2010 NBA free agent class, which included Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh among others. As of now, assuming players use their opt out clauses and/or don't sign  an extension the list of players reaching free agency at the same time is staggering.

Currently this list includes Harper, Machado, Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Josh Donaldson, Andrew McCutchen, David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, and Matt Harvey. There is a reason the Yankees did not sign a single free agent this past winter. They are in full rebuild mode with an eye on this class. Baseball isn't like basketball where one free agent signing can swing the entire direction of the league, but adding two of the above names to a group of up and coming stars sure could.

The ESPN article goes on to make the case that Machado should, and will, get paid more than Harper. Both will be 26 years old at the time of their free agency, which is insanely young. Typically guys don't test the open market until they are 28-30. The debate of who will get paid more, and who teams would rather have, is actually a really interesting one. What people forget is that Machado is a natural shortstop who could always go back to the position if he signs with a team that doesn't have a superior defensive option like the Orioles do right now. He just turned 24, is having an MVP type season, and is on track to set career high in virtually every offensive category.

Then there's Harper, who in 2015 became the youngest unanimous MVP ever. His 9.9 wins above replacement, according to baseball reference, were the most baseball had seen since Mike Trout's 10.8 WAR in 2012. He did it at just 22 years old, which made the sky the limit for his offensive potential. He started 2016 just as hot but as of today is hitting just .254 with 22 homers. It was reported a few weeks ago that he has been playing threw a shoulder injury. You have to figure that there is something going on due to an injury but it's no longer ridiculous to say Machado will be the preferred option come 2018.

Lastly there is the discussion on how much these guys are going to get paid. Baseball revenues continue to rise, the Yankees will be major players, and as stated earlier both guys will be just 26 years old. Currently the most guaranteed money every given to a MLB player was the 13 year, $325 million deal the Marlins gave Giancarlo Stanton (which has an opt out after six years). Either Harper, Machado, or both figure to break this number with reports saying it could get as high as $500 million. That would be nearly twice as much as Alex Rodriguez got as a 25-year-old in 2000. Odds are the number will be closer to $400 million but with the amount of star power in this class you never know.

For what it's worth Mike Trout would have been in this free agent class as well had he not signed a six year, $144.5 million deal back in 2014, which compared to what these guys will make is an absolute bargain for the Angels. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Mike Trout Deserves To Win AL MVP Despite Playing For A Last Place Team

First things first Mike Trout is a pretty boring guy. He doesn’t provide entertaining quotes in the media like Bryce Harper does. He doesn’t bat flip like Jose Bautista. He doesn’t even really have many national TV commercials. According to a Sports Illustrated story from a couple of years ago he still called his mom back home after every game. This effort to seem ordinary causes us to forget how truly great Trout is.

When Michael Jordan was at his peak he realistically should’ve won the MVP every year. He didn’t, of course, but took home 5 in an 11 year span. That’s where we are at with Trout today. He is the unquestioned best player in baseball and pretty much has been since coming into the league. In his rookie year in 2012 Trout hit .326 to go along with 30 homers and led the league with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. But that was the season Miguel Cabrera won the first Triple Crown in 45 years. Trout still had a higher WAR than Cabrera, but it was an understandable second place finish.

2013 was the same story. Trout hit .323 with 27 home runs, 33 stolen bases, and a league leading 109 runs but Cabrera put up even better numbers than this Triple Crown season and took home back to back MVP honors. However, in his third full season Trout finally broke through and batted .287 to go along with 36 homers, a league leading 111 RBI, and a league leading 115 runs scored. The difference this time was he did it for the AL West winning Angels. It seemed Trout was destined to win multiple in a row before we ended up right where we began last year, with Trout finishing second to Josh Donaldson. For those keeping track Trout has finished either first or second in the AL MVP voting every year he’s been in the league. That’s fucking incredible.

So with just over a month left in 2016 the Angels are all but out of the playoff race. Currently they are in last place with a record of 54-73. Jose Altuve is the current favorite for MVP honors this year, although he is being pushed recently by Mookie Betts. Both those guys play for winning teams, which is where voters look first for their candidates. But Trout shouldn’t be penalized because the Angels front office isn’t as good as building a winning baseball team than the Astros or Red Sox. Donaldson was out of this world last year but had the support of Bautista and Edwin Encarnacian. Why should Trout get penalized for not having as good of teammates?

So far this year Trout is batting .316 with 24 homers, 21 stolen bases, and 97 runs scored. He leads the league in walks (87), OBP (.432), and OPS+ (172). Altuve is also having a great year. He leads the league with a whopping .361 average and 180 hits. He ranks second in the AL in both doubles (37) and total bases (285) to go along with 20 homers and 26 steals. Yet despite all this he trails Trout in WAR according to  all three of ESPN, fan graphs, and baseball reference (8.0 to 7.3). WAR, which incorporates hitting, fielding, and base running, isn't the be all end all in MVP debates, but in this case it's too big a factor to ignore.

In a perfect world the MVP award would go to a player on a winning team. But the purpose of the award is to go to the player who has contributed most to his team. In other words the player who has been most valuable. As evidenced by his superior WAR this is Trout. It's not his fault the rest of his roster isn't as good as the rest of Altuve's. Let's not penalize him for it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Relief Pitcher Is The Favorite For The AL Cy Young Award

It's been a weird season for starting pitchers in the American League. Chris Sale has been good not great. Felix Hernandez has been hurt and ineffective. David Price hasn't been himself. Neither Sonny Gray nor Chris Archer has taken that leap into the elite pitching category. If anything they have both taken a major step backwards. Danny Salazar and Jose Quintana have been good, but nobody has been better in the American League than Orioles Closer Zach Britton. Two events must occur for a relief pitcher to win the Cy Young award. He must be having a borderline historic season AND there must be no dominant starters to choose from. Britton's 2016 season fits this criteria.

Let's look at that first criteria. Is Britton having a historic year? In short, yes. Currently he is leading all MLB relievers in ERA (0.54), opponents batting average (.154), and WAR (2.9). That 0.54 ERA would be the lowest single season ERA of all time, breaking Fernando Rodney's 0.60 record set in 2012. Britton is also on pace to break the record, which he currently holds, for the highest ground ball percentage in a single season. When the ball is hit on the ground it cannot leave the park and rarely goes for extra bases, which is why teams aggressively target pitchers with ground ball tendencies. His sinker is so good that on plate appearances ending with one thrown he has a strikeout rate of 31%. No other pitcher has a rate above 18%. Lastly he is a perfect 37 for 37 in save opportunities, and hasn't given up a run since April 30th. April 30th! That's a major league record for consecutive appearances  (41) without giving a run. 

Now the second piece of criteria, which is a lack of dominant starters to choose from. All you need to know about the AL Cy Young race this year is that Rick Porcello is going to be considered and get votes. Among the top 12 MLB leaders in ERA right now just two are from the American League. But neither of them, Michael Fulmer or Danny Duffy, have had enough of a dominant campaign to be considered anything close to a favorite for the award. A reliever hasn't won the Cy Young since Eric Gagne in 2003. Many voters are under the impression that closers should never win the award. But if there ever was a season for it to happen it would be Britton this year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

It Has Been Four Years Since The Last Perfect Game Was Thrown

In the roughly 150 years of baseball history just 23 perfect games have ever been thrown at the major league level. Last night, August 15th, marked the four year anniversary of Felix Hernandez's, which was the last we have seen. Over the four year span from 2009-12 there were an astonishing six perfect games. The decline in hitting led many to believe this was going to be commonplace in the game moving forward. Yet there has not been one since.

The above chart shows every pitcher that has thrown a perfect game as well as how many days between each one. In the three year stretch from 2010-2012 there was a perfect game thrown every 224 days. It has now been over 1,400 days since King Felix's, which means that stretch was likely just an insane statistical anomaly. If we matched the time between Randy Johnson's and Mark Buehrle's PGs we will not see another until 2018.

Some other facts:

--The Rays have been the victims during three of the past seven perfect games.

--Don Larsen threw his in the World Series and it was the first in 34 years.

--Since the last perfect game there has been 17 no-hitters, which includes five pitchers involved in multiple no-hitters.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Remembering The Trade That Nearly Sent A-Rod To The Red Sox

The 2003 and 2004 baseball seasons were two of the best years in recent memory to be a fan of the game. The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was as hot as it's ever been and the bad blood carried over to the offseason. Following an excruciating game 7 loss to the Yankees in the ALCS the Sox were more determined than ever to get over the hump. In late November they traded for Curt Schilling, whom the Yankees were also trying to acquire. Next they set their sights on the best player in the game, who at 28 years old was on pace to become the greatest shortstop of all time. Their efforts to acquire him, and brief success in acquiring him, will go down as one of the greatest "what if"s in baseball history.

The story is that A-Rod was watching the 2003 ALCS and when Aaron Boone hit his infamous 11th inning homer, A-Rod jumped off his couch and told his wife he wanted to be a part of the rivalry. Although he wasn't a free agent Alex was likely to be traded that winter, due to the Texas Rangers' inability to build a team around his record setting 10 year, $252 million contract signed in December of 2000. The deal was exactly twice as much as Kevin Garnett's $126 million contract, which at the time was the largest in professional sports. He had been with the Rangers for three losing seasons now and they were looking for a rebuild.

The Yankees were actually called first but told Texas they weren't interested. Why would they be? Derek Jeter wasn't going anywhere and it wasn't yet a thought that A-Rod, who again was on pace to become the greatest shortstop ever, would be willing to change positions. So the Sox were called next. They were interested. A-Rod was interested. Nomar had just one year left on his deal, so Boston could deal him and keep A-Rod at short. It was beginning to look like a perfect match.

At this time A-Rod had seven years and $179 million left on his current contract. The Sox were a financial superpower but couldn't afford to take on the entirety of that deal. They had to offset the money by sending Manny Ramirez back to the Rangers. Following the 2003 season Manny was beginning to wear out his welcome in Boston, which made him expendable. After weeks of negotiations Boston had two deals in place. One would send Manny and pitching prospect Jon Lester to the Rangers for A-Rod. The other would send Nomar to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez and pitching prospect Brandon McCarthy. This is what their lineup would have looked liked entering 2004:

CF Johnny Damon
3B Bill Mueller
SS Alex Rodriguez
LF Magglio Ordonez
DH David Ortiz
1B Kevin Millar
RF Trot Nixon
C Jason Varitek
2B Mark Bellhorn

SP Pedro Martinez
SP Curt Schilling
CP Keith Foulke

But there was one problem. Even with shedding Manny's contract the Sox could not afford to take on A-Rod. So they did the unthinkable and asked him to take less money, which is something athletes (especially in baseball) virtually never do. And he said yes! In return he would receive the rights to his likeness and opt out flexibility. To this day it is insane that he never gets credit for this, for willingly taking less money to join a contender. But the players union said no. Their argument was a fair one. Taking less money would set a precedent of reduced player salaries, which is something they had been fighting for decades to increase. The way the union viewed it was Alex taking less money would impact the financial futures of players to come. 

So that was it really. The deal was dead. Rangers owner Tom Hicks sent a letter to season ticket holders saying A-Rod would be the team's shortstop for 2004. But then Aaron Boone hurt his knee playing basketball. And then Yankees GM Brian Cashman found out Alex would be willing to play third base (which again is something he never gets credit for). And then the Rangers were willing to trade for Alfonso Soriano. And all of a sudden A-Rod was about to become a Yankee. New York agreed to pay $112 million of the $179 million remaining. The Rangers also received a prospect from a list of five to six players, who turned out to be Joaquin Arias. Luckily for New York they didn't pick Robinson Cano, who was also on that list. On February 12, 2004 the deal was official.

In his initial Yankee press conference A-Rod said he felt he had one foot in a Red Sox uniform. With everything that has happened since it's weird to look back and think how close that was to actually happening. So much of baseball history would be different. A-Rod would have stayed at shortstop, where his 208 home runs from 2004-2008 would have been more valuable than they were at third base. There would be no 2004 ALCS comeback from down 3-0. No Manny being Manny. Maybe he wins more than the two MVP awards he won for New York in '05 and '07. Maybe he wins less.

The PED allegations about him still would have come out. But the Sox would never have had Lester, who was a key factor in the 2007 and 2013 championships. Either A-Rod would have broken the curse of the Bambino for Boston, or they would still be as tortured of a fan base as the Cubs. So much would have changed. Most Yankee fans would probably say they would do the trade over again, for his performance in the 2009 World Series run alone. But as entertaining as it would have been, virtually all Red Sox fans agree that the trade getting vetoed was a good thing. Sometimes the best trades are the ones you never make....

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Top 3 Reasons Steroid Users Should Be In The Hall Of Fame

Hall of Fame voting discussions aren't very fun anymore. Instead of us having lively debates over the candidacy of great players we have turned the process into retroactively judging the characters of past players and trying to guess who did and did not use performance enhancing drugs. The problem is we will never 100 percent know who was using. Odds are there are PED users already in the Hall. Odds are there will be PED users, who never got caught cheating, who get voted in. We like to think that now that the steroid era is over that we have the definitive list of who was using. But we don't. 

Speaking of the era that's the best way to look at it. It was an era. There have been many other eras of baseball. Games used to used to be played with just one game ball, African Americans weren't allowed to play, the mound was higher. It's a constantly changing game. The best way to measure whether a player, steroid user or not, is a Hall of Fame player is to judge how they compared to the rest of their era. Did steroids help Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens become better? Sure, but there are countless names we have never heard of that steroids too and didn't become as good as those guys. 

That's because PEDs aren't some magical pill that gives you Superman-esque abilities. They help keep your body fresh late in the season and act as a supplement to your workouts. Anybody who thinks Bonds and Clemens weren't Hall of Fame players before using steroids must wonder why every other user didn't become an all time legend. Bonds and Clemens dominated their era in a way few have ever before. If that's not enough of a reason to vote them in here are three more:

1. Baseball Did Nothing To Stop The Steroid Era

Put yourself in the shoes of a Major League Baseball Player in the 1990s. What if you found out that taking PEDs would improve your personal statistics, help your team win, grow your celebrity, and make you more money? And what if you found out that it wasn't even against the rules? MLB didn't drug test until 2004 and it didn't get serious about that testing for a couple more years. That's because everyone associated with the game was too busy making money of steroid users.

Following the 1994 strike that cancelled the World Series interest in baseball was on the decline. Fans were pissed and there were just two events that brought the game back. One was Cal Ripken Jr.'s consecutive games played streak. The other was the 1998 home run race. Anyone who was around during the summer of '98 can tell you how much fun it was to be a baseball fan at that time. Some of these steroid users had a direct role in bringing baseball back at a time when revenues were growing at an all time pace. So why are these players being the only ones punished now?

Teams aren't forfeiting championships that were won with steroid users on the team. Owners aren't giving back the money these players helped them make. Sportswriters aren't either. There's a reason no baseball commissioner has banned steroid users from Hall of Fame voting the way Pete Rose is banned. Up until 2004 there was no penalty for using steroids in Major League Baseball. Why then are we penalizing guys for using?

2. The Amphetamine Era

Why does nobody ever talk about the Amphetamine era? Until they were officially banned from MLB in 2006 amphetamines were as common in clubhouses as sunflower seeds. Mike Schmidt said in his autobiography they were easily available in every clubhouse. Tony Gwynn guessed that during his playing days 50% of players were popping greenies. The Amphetamine era produced just as many statistical anomalies as the steroid era that never get talked about. 

Per Joe Sheehan since 1901 there have been 23 seasons where somebody stole 80 bases. 18 of those came from 1962 through 1988. It could be argued that amphetamine usage helped players steal bases during this era. In the 30 year span from 1931-1960 there were 40 instances where a pitcher threw 300 innings. In the 10 year span from 1971-1980 there were 37 alone and has not been one since. Of course the game of baseball was different back then but it's ignorant to think amphetamines didn't affect player statistics the way steroids did. Amphetamine users are in the Hall of Fame, so why is it so wrong to exclude other types of PED users?

3. Ty Cobb Is In The Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame voters love to throw out the term "character" as a reason for not voting for steroid users. Their theory is that steroid users are bad people who did a bad thing even thought taking PEDs was not against the rules until 2004 and that players took other PEDs, such as amphetamines, for decades without punishment. Bonds and Clemens may not have been the kindest players of their era but the unfortunate truth is that there are much worse people already in Cooperstown.

Former Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey actively worked to keep baseball segregated. Mickey Mantle was a drunk womanizer. Gaylord Perry doctored the ball while on the mound. However, none were as bad as Cobb, who was a flaming racist with stories ranging from sharpening his cleats to injure opposing players to jumping into the stands mid game to fight fans. The fact that any sportswriter would not vote for Bonds and Clemens and cites "character issues" yet is fine with Cobb being in the Hall is a joke.