Friday, September 30, 2016
When I say the phrase "Randy Johnson playoffs" what is the first thought that comes to your mind? It's probably the 2001 playoffs where he was named co-MVP of the World Series that put the finishing touches on a dominant postseason. Johnson needed to have a big October that year. In his three postseasons prior to '01 Johnson was 0-5 with a 4.58 ERA in five starts. The point here is that going into 2001 Johnson was not thought of as a big game pitcher but he was able to change the narrative that October.
That's where we are at with David Price. The narrative is that he is a good to great regular season pitcher that freezes up when the bright lights come on. The problem is that's a lazy narrative. It's used in sports all the time. The high priced player that isn't clutch. We like to break guys down into categories. So much is expected of Price because he signed a $217 million contract, the largest ever for a pitcher, that anything short of dominating every time out is a failure.
This isn't to say Price hasn't been bad in the playoffs. When you look at the numbers they are pretty terrible. In six years he is 2-7 with a 5.12 ERA. Both those wins actually came in relief appearances, which means that when David Price starts a postseason game his team has never won.
It actually started out promising for him. During Tampa Bay's 2008 World Series run Price pitched out of relief in the playoffs, totaling 5.2 innings between the ALCS and WS. He gave up just one run, struck out eight, and notched the save in a 3-1 game seven victory over the defending champion Red Sox.
His first playoff test as a starter came in 2010 against the Texas Rangers. Price pitched games 1 and 5 of the ALDS, losing both while registering a 4.97 ERA in 12.2 innings. In 2011 he pitched against those same Rangers, giving up three runs in 6.2 innings in a losing effort. Against the Red Sox in the 2013 ALDS Price got shelled again, giving up seven runs in seven innings.
In 2014 Price had the best playoff start of his career. Against the Orioles in the ALDS he gave up just two runs in eight innings, striking out six in the process. Unfortunately the good times didn't last long. In last year's four playoff appearances he gave up a total of 16 earned runs in just 23.1 innings.
When you break it all down what jumps out is that the good starts are fine and that the bad starts are really bad. Those really bad ones are inflating the ERA in a small sample. It's not as if he hasn't had success in the playoffs. He has quality starts in four of his eight starts. He got a save in game seven of the 2008 ALCS with everything on the line. He had a dominant eight inning start against the Orioles in 2014. His last start in 2015 was encouraging as well. He gave up just three runs in 6.2 innings with eight strikeouts.
Furthermore 63.1 innings of playoff baseball simply isn't enough of a sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions from. That's a little less than a third of a full season and as I said before the few really bad starts are inflating the numbers. The 5.12 ERA isn't encouraging of course but Price's ratio stats aren't that far enough from his regular season ones. He has a 8.4 K/9 rate in the playoffs compared to 8.6 in the regular season. He actually has a lower walk rate in the playoffs, at just 1.7/9 innings in the postseason compared to 2.6/9 in the regular season.
That means the playoff damage done to Price has come via hits and the long ball. In the postseason Price has given up 8.8 hits per nine compared to 8.0 in the regular season. He has given up 1.6 homers per nine in the playoffs compared to 0.9 in the regular season. This could be due to a number of reasons. Maybe it's fatigue. Maybe it's mental. Or maybe it's just a small sample size and will correct itself as he continues to pitch in October. The point is we don't know. At least not yet.
There are two more points that need to be made. The first is that while the ERA is what it is, Price's win/loss record in the playoffs is misleading. 0-7 in eight starts isn't ideal but we know that wins are a flawed stat. In his eight starts his team has scored run totals of 1, 1, 3, 4, 1, 3, 3, and 3. Maybe if his teams had given him more leads he would have some playoff wins and the narrative on him wouldn't be as overblown as it is.
The final point is that we often view these situations depending on how you start. For example, Price started 2016 poorly and even though he had a dominant midseason run fans only remembered the slow start. If Price had begun his playoff career better and then struggled later, it wouldn't be as noticeable. An example of this is Jon Lester. We all remember how great he was in 2007 and 2013. Yet in his past three playoff starts he has a 5.48 ERA but that goes largely unnoticed.
Very few players are dominant in the playoffs throughout their entire career. One strong postseason can change the entire narrative. Randy Johnson and Jon Lester are examples of this. Most players have mixed results in their postseason career. Compared to his career totals 63.1 innings in the playoffs is nothing. It hasn't been good for Price so far but if his ratio stats regress to his regular season norms he will be just fine going forward.
Wednesday, September 28, 2016
What an absolute joke Mike Trout is. That's some Babe Ruth type shit like when he out homered the entire rest of the league. The thing I repeatedly try to emphasize about Trout is that he is not just the best player in baseball right now. He is a generational type talent that is dominating more than anyone we have seen since Barry Bonds in his prime.
The guy has accumulated more WAR in his career than 48 active Hall of Famers. He has accumulated more WAR through his age 24 season than any player has ever accumulated through an age 24 season. In other words, through the age of 24, he is off to the best statistical start in the history of baseball. Keep this in mind when all these prospects come up and are deemed "the next Mike Trout". There is no next Trout. Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant have been absolutely incredible but are not the next Trout.
Despite the immense production Trout has put up this year there are actually people who believe he should not win AL MVP. When the month of September began it was considered a four man race between Trout, Mookie Betts, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Altuve. Donaldson and Altuve have gone cold this month so that leaves Trout and Betts. The two are neck and neck in batting average, homers, and stolen bases but Trout leads in virtually ever other offensive category including offensive WAR, OBP, slugging, OPS, runs, walks, adjusted OPS, WRC+, and runs created.
Now that we've basically proven Trout is having the better season the anti-Trout voters will say "but he doesn't play for a winning team!" Guess what? Who gives a shit. It's the most valuable player award. We just showed Trout has been more valuable this year than Betts. If you switch what teams they're on the Red Sox would be better off with Trout. It makes zero sense to punish him for this award because the Angels front office can't build a competitor around him.
And if your argument is that Trout should finish second that doesn't make any sense either. If playing for a team under .500 is that much of a factor then Trout should finish fifth, below Betts, Donaldson, Altuve, and Manny Machado. And if Trout finishes fifth in the MVP voting when he has accumulated more WAR than four entire teams this year then what are we doing? Don't over think it. Trout is the AL MVP.
Mike Trout's 10.2 WAR this year is more than the entire rosters of the Braves (9.5 WAR), Athletics (9.1), Padres (8.6), and Phillies (7.4)— High Heat Stats (@HighHeatStats) September 24, 2016
Tuesday, September 27, 2016
It's hard to believe there's less than a week left in the regular season. While the final few playoff spots are still up for grabs the overall postseason picture has rounded into form. Fans of contenders will of course want to see their team in the World Series this Fall but many baseball fans will want to see the best matchup.
Now this isn't the NBA where we seem to get the dream finals matchup year in and year out. If that were the case we would have gotten Red Sox - Cubs back in 2003. 13 years later one could argue that is still the dream matchup, although for different reasons. I polled the good folks over at baseball Reddit to see what two teams fans wanted to see in the World Series this year, and elaborate on their answers below:
5. Blue Jays vs Nationals
This would be billed as America versus Canada and give us a matchup of two of baseball's biggest maniacs in Josh Donaldson and Bryce Harper. This matchup loses a little luster with Stephen Strasburg not expected to return this year though. Another wrinkle is the fact that the Nationals used to be the Montreal Expos and some of Canada may have adopted the Nats as their team. For what it's worth the Expos/Nationals have never appeared in the Fall Classic.
As for the Blue Jays this could be the end of a window for them. After last year's playoff push re-energized the fan base 2016 has taken on added importance with the upcoming free agencies of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacian. Although considered an offensive team the Jays have underrated starting pitching that could match up with the Nationals sans Strasburg. While they don't have anyone as good as Max Scherzer, Toronto can throw out Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and JA Happ to form a formidable top three.
4. Red Sox vs Dodgers
This would have been the preferred matchup for the 2013 World Series since it was just a year after the famous Adrian Gonzalez trade. While Gonzo is still playing for the Dodgers Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford have moved on. Regardless these two franchises will forever be linked by that trade, as it has had significant ripple effects on both of them. The current Dodgers manager, Dave Roberts, made maybe the single most important play in the history of the Red Sox with his stolen base against the Yankees in 2004.
This matchup would also give us two iconic franchises that have never met before in the World Series, the Boston/LA rivalry (although that's more a basketball thing), and a fun east coast/west coast element. It would also give both David Price and Clayton Kershaw a chance to conquer their playoff demons. Kershaw, as the game's best pitcher, would be a major draw to have pitch in the World Series.
3. Orioles vs Nationals
None of baseball's three biggest stars - Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, or Clayton Kershaw - have ever appeared in the World Series. This needs to change as soon as possible. Having Bryce in the Series would be huge for baseball, especially if he were to play well. This matchup would pit him against Manny Machado, perhaps baseball's fourth best player. These two are linked not just as young stars who play for teams in geographical proximity, but are set to become free agents together after 2018. There is speculation that one of, if not both, could become the highest paid player(s) in the history of professional sports. Baseball hasn't seen a geographical rivalry in the World Series since the Angels and Giants met in 2002.
2. Indians vs Cubs
The two longest World Series droughts in baseball. Two mid western teams. Former Red Sox GM versus former Red Sox manager. The possibility of the Cubs ending 107 years worth of frustration. The possibility of Cleveland winning two titles in the same calendar year. There is a real argument to be had that this should be the number one dream matchup. Either city would go absolutely nuts if they won.
The pitching match ups would be incredible. Kluber, Salazar (if he's healthy), Carrasco, and Bauer versus Arrieta, Lester, Hendricks, and Lackey. Andrew Miller versus Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. Joe Maddon versus Terry Francona managing. There would be tons of former playoff heroes including Lester, Lackey, and Mike Napoli.
1. Red Sox vs Cubs
Here it is. All these other match ups are nice and all but this is the one any true baseball fan wants to see. We were robbed of this back in 2003 when it would have been two of the three longest championship droughts in sports going head to head. Since that year the Sox have won three World Series. The Cubs, of course, have not. Who wouldn't want to see Theo Epstein have a chance to go against the team he already broke a curse for?
If the Cubs beat the Red Sox in the World Series Theo will have ended the two most high profile droughts in sports history. He could do it against a team that he pretty much built, since he is the one responsible for signing David Ortiz and Xander Bogaerts while drafting Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr, and Dustin Pedroia for Boston. The Cubs also have a bunch of former Red Sox including Lester, Lackey, Anthony Rizzo, and David Ross.
Imagine the debates over which team has the better young stars. Either the Sox with Betts, Bogaerts, Bradley, Benintendi, and Moncada coming up or the Cubs with Bryant, Rizzo, Schwarber, Russell, and Soler. The two stadiums would be the oldest and most iconic in baseball. Fenway Park was built in 1912. Wrigley Field in 1914. The Sox and Cubs currently have the best record in their respective leagues, which means we would be the seeing the two best the sport has to offer.
Monday, September 26, 2016
The Minnesota Twins are officially on the clock for the 2017 MLB draft. With their 100th loss yesterday the team can only reach a total of 62 victories if they win out. The next lowest, the Atlanta Braves, already have 63 wins. The Twins weren't expected to be very good this year so clinching the number one pick isn't necessarily a surprise, but the franchise still has a long way to go to get back into playoff contention.
The two best things to happen to the Twins season have come in the month of September. Entering 2014 Baseball America ranked outfielder Byron Buxton as the best prospect in the game. He came in at number two entering 2015 and 2016. His season was off to a disastrous start through early August. In 218 plate appearances he was hitting a putrid .193/.247/.315 with just one home run. However, since getting called back up on September 1st he has hit .288/.337/.625 with seven homers in just 87 plate appearances. While the rough start to the year will hurt his season totals Twins fans have reason to believe in their former top prospect moving forward.
The other positive of the season was a career year from second baseman Brian Dozier. The 29-year-old has blown past his career high of 28 homers. With six games left in 2016 he sits at 43, which is good for second in all of baseball behind just Mark Trumbo. The insane part is that 29 of those 43 have come since July 10th. It's been an absolute torrid second half that has gone largely unnoticed because of how bad his team has been.
Outside of these two there was little to cheer about for the Twins this year. While the offense ranks 16th in the majors in runs per game, the pitching staff let the team down by ranking 29th in ERA. 2017 figures to be another rebuilding year in Minnesota but the continued development of Buxton and 22-year-old power hitter Miguel Sano (24 homers) could make it a successful bridge year. After this season former franchise player Joe Mauer has just two years and $46 million left on his contract. For now Twins fans will set their eyes on next year's draft as the rest of the baseball world prepares for the playoffs to come.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Baseball has a complicated history with batting average. During the earliest days of the game it was the single most important stat for a hitter. Players didn't hit for power or walk much so they were defined by whether or not they got a hit. During this time starting pitchers almost never left the game, which made it a lot easier for batters. This is evidenced when we look at the top 15 all time leaders in batting average:
All those guys played forever ago. It's tougher to get a hit in today's game than ever before thanks to bullpen specialists and pitchers routinely throwing in the upper '90s.
Anyways in the early 2000's along came Moneyball, which taught us that batting average was overvalued. The case was that it could be sacrificed if a player hit for power and got on base. Some think that has now gone too far and that batting average has become undervalued. One thing we have learned for sure is that it's fluky. That's where BABIP comes into play.
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) measures how lucky a hitter is. This stat helps explain what has happened to one of the games biggest stars this year in Bryce Harper. In 2015 Harper unanimously won the NL MVP award at just 22 years old by hitting .330/.460/.649 with 42 homers. This season those numbers have dipped to .240/.374/.441 with 24 homers. What the fuck happened?
The answer, like in most instances, is a few things. It was reported over the summer that Harper has been playing through a shoulder injury. Manager Dusty Baker has denied this but it could help explain the loss of power. Now what about that batting average? That's where BABIP comes in.
Harper has a career BABIP of .316. This stats accounts for anytime a ball is hit in play. So basically everything but homers, strikeouts, and walks. Sometimes hitters get lucky and bloop singles will fall in or they will be facing a poor defense that was unable to catch up to a ball. This will cause a player's BABIP (and therefore batting average) to rise. And unlike popular belief that luck doesn't simply "even out" over the course of a season. Perhaps this is what happened to Harper last year as his .369 BABIP was well above his .316 career norm.
So what about this year? How could his average drop 90 points from a season ago, from .330 to .240? Well, basically, as lucky as Harper was a season ago he has been equally unlucky this year. Currently his BABIP stands at .255, which of course is well below his career mark of .316. All those batted balls that were falling in for hits a season ago no longer are. Maybe he is hitting a lot of line drives right at defenders. Then again his average exit velocity is down from 91.4 mph a season ago to 89.5 mph in 2016 so he's not hitting the ball as hard this year.
So what does this all mean? Basically, Harper isn't as good as he performed a year ago when he became the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of America's pastime. But he also isn't as bad as he has been this year (which isn't even that bad it's just "bad" compared to the standard he set). He's somewhere in the middle. This may be due to him getting unlucky in the BABIP department. It may be because of the shoulder injury. It's probably a little bit of both. He's still just 23 years old (!!!) and it shouldn't shock anyone to see him approach 2015's numbers within the next couple of years.
Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Every year baseball writers love to decide who won and lost the offseason at the start of spring training. Most of the time the "winners" are those who signed a big name free agent while the "losers" are the teams that let one go. But there are always under the radar moves that end up being season savers come September. Rarely do we go back and take a look at which moves from the past off season worked and which didn't. Below we rank the best moves from last winter.
6. Yankees Trading For Aroldis Chapman
Following Chapman's domestic violence scandal the Reds basically decided they would trade him no matter the return. While many teams were skeptical of taking the PR hit the Yankees pounced and ended up with one of the steals of the offseason. Combining Chapman with Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances gave the Yankees the three pitchers with the highest strikeout percentages in all of baseball from 2014-15.
During his time with New York Chapman was as advertised. In 31.1 innings (following his 25 game suspension) he pitched to a 2.01 ERA with 44 strikeouts and a career high 5.50 strikeout to walk ratio. The reason this move is a winner from last offseason is the fact that at this year's trade deadline the Yankees were able to flip him for a much better package of prospects than they acquired him for. While the Reds received four low ceiling prospects for a year of Chapman the Yankees sent two months of his services to the Cubs for a MLB reliever in Adam Warren, a midseason top 25 prospect, and a preseason top 100 prospect.
5. Giants Signing Johnny Cueto
It's debatable whether or not Cueto was the best free agent starter entering the offseason. What's not debatable is that he has not only having the best season of the free agent aces, but he has also been the best value. While David Price and Zack Greinke combined to sign for a whopping 13 years and $423.5 million, the Giants inked Cueto to a 5 year, $110 million deal.
Through his first 30 starts this year Cueto is 16-5 with a 2.86 ERA and 181 strikeouts in 207.1 innings pitched. In the National League he ranks fourth in WAR, seventh in ERA, fourth in wins, third in BB/9, third in innings pitched, and first in complete games. He combines with Madison Bumgarner to form arguably the best 1-2 starting pitching duo in all of baseball. Assuming they can hold off their late season swoon and sneak into the playoffs they are as dangerous a team as any, especially in an even year.
4. Rangers Signing Ian Desmond
Two years ago Desmond turned down a seven year, $107 million extension from the Nationals. At the time he was one of the top shortstops in the game but decided he could cash in for more if he had a big contract year in 2015. Things couldn't have gone worse as he posted career lows across the board. Worsening the situation was the fact that after the season he turned down a one year qualifying offer worth $16 million. Free agency did not go as planned and he had to settle for a one year deal with the Texas Rangers worth $8 million.
In the long run it's looking like it was all for the best though. Desmond moved to the outfield for Texas and is having an unbelievable second contract year. It's the type of season that could reasonably get him more than that original $107 million Washington was offering. In 2016 he has hit 22 homers, stolen 20 bases, batted .288/.340/.458 and showed versatility in the field. With the Rangers in first place in the AL West Desmond will have a chance to impress even more with a big postseason.
3. Blue Jays Signing JA Happ
The Blue Jays had Happ in their rotation from 2012-14 so there was familiarity with him when they gave him a three year, $33 million contract this offseason. They could not have been expecting much from a 33-year-old with a career ERA over 4.00 but there was sneaky upside to be had. Following a mid season trade to the Pirates last year Happ quietly went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 63.1 innings for them down the stretch. The Jays must have been paying attention because he has turned out to be one of the best offseason bargains from last year.
In 2016 Happ has combined with Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez to give Toronto a formidable threesome at the top of their rotation, which is depth they were missing in last year's playoff push. Happ received some mid season Cy Young buzz this year but while that has cooled down his season numbers are still strong. He is currently 19-4 with a 3.27 ERA. In the American League he ranks second in wins, ninth in ERA, ninth in WHIP, and sixth in hits per nine. Not bad for an after thought of a signing at the time.
2. Indians Signing Mike Napoli
The impact of guys like Napoli can often be tough to quantify because so much of their value is tied to the effect they have on the clubhouse. Napoli himself has been no stranger to winning teams, reaching the World Series with the Rangers in 2011 and winning it all with the Red Sox in 2013. He is once again assisting to a winning culture with the Indians in 2016. Currently they sit at 86-63, which is the second best record in the AL and the fourth best in all of baseball.
In addition to his effect on the clubhouse Napoli is also having one of his best on field performances of his career. The 34-year-old has already reached career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (98) to go along with a .342 on base percentage. What makes him the second best addition of the offseason is that he was signed to just a one year deal worth $7 million.
1. Nationals Signing Daniel Murphy
There was not an offseason move that affected this years division races more than the Nationals signing of Murphy to a 3 year, $37.5 million deal. All he has done for the division leading Nationals is hit at an MVP caliber level. Currently Murphy leads the NL in doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. In addition he has 25 homers, 104 RBI and is batting .348 with a .391 OBP.
What's more insane is the actual damage Murphy has done to his former team this year. In 19 games against the Mets in 2016 he has gone 31-75 (.413) with seven homers, 21 RBI, five walks, and 13 runs scored. The Nationals, who currently have an eight game lead on the defending NL champions, have won 12 of those 19 games thanks in large part to him switching division rivals.
Monday, September 12, 2016
Anybody that follows baseball will tell you Mike Trout is the game's best player. At just 24 years old the guy has accumulated more WAR than 48 Hall of Famers. He has finished either first or second in the AL MVP voting every year he has been in the league and is having another fantastic season. So he should be MVP right? Depends who you ask.
Trout does not play for a playoff contender. In fact the Angels are in fourth place in the AL West at 63-79. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, and Josh Donaldson all play for contenders. So does the award have to go to one of them? Again, depends who you ask. One school of thought is that if a player on a last place team is that much better than everybody else he should win the award. Let's find out how much better, if at all, Trout has been than Betts.
The above graphic compares the two players. The number in parentheses is where they rank in the AL and the yellow highlight denotes which player ranks higher. The two are very close in batting average, homers, stolen bases, runs, and slugging. The first major difference is in OBP, where Trout is beating out Betts by over 80 points.
The next disparity is in WAR (according to baseball reference). Although Betts is second to Trout in the AL it is by a significant margin. WAR includes defense so let's take a look at just offensive WAR. If we do that Trout has him beat 8.7 to 5.4. He also crushes him in weighted runs created. This number shows how much better he has been offensively. Trout ranks first but Betts is just 12th in the AL.
So what has Betts done better? The answer is defense. Mookie currently has a defensive WAR of 2.2 compared to Trout's 0.9. Betts ranks first in all of baseball with 26 defensive runs saved and is second in out of zone plays.
So what does this all mean? Basically if you believe the MVP should go to the player having the best season, regardless of whether or not he plays for playoff team, then Trout is your guy. His wRC+ and offensive WAR prove he has been better than Betts offensively by a significant margin. If you believe that defense matters a lot and that the MVP has to come from a playoff contender then Betts is your guy. Let the debates begin.
Friday, September 9, 2016
The golden age of shortstops came in the late 1990s, when Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada all arrived within just a couple years of each other. These guys changed the position by showing everyone shortstops don't have to be light hitting defenders.
One of the coolest story lines of 2016 is that we are seeing the next wave of star shortstops come through and there's real debate on who is the best of the bunch. Carlos Correa was likely the answer coming into the season. Xander Bogaerts and his .350 mid season batting average was next. Now it's probably Corey Seager but by next year it could be Francisco Lindor. Here is the case for each of them:
Carlos Correa, Astros, Age: 21
All these guys are young but none are as young as Correa, who doesn't turn 22 until the end of September. The reigning American League Rookie of the Year is having a tremendous seasons for a 21-year-old. That doesn't mean there hasn't been some growing pains, though. In 2015 Correa hit 22 homers in just 99 games. This season he has 19 homers in 134 games. His slugging is down from .512 to .460. He has two fewer stolen bases in 35 more games.
Growing pains should have been expected for such a young player as the next guy on this list can attest to. And it's not as if Correa has been bad. Most guys aren't even in the majors until age 23 or 24. The most encouraging Correa stat this season is that he has increased his BB% from 9.3% to 11.4%. Understanding the strike zone is a crucial skill for young players to develop. While he isn't having the best season of the bunch Correa's potential gives him a convincing case for being the best long term bet of this group.
Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox, Age: 23
Boagerts is proof why you don't worry too much about elite prospects not putting it all together right away. His 2014 season was much worse than what Correa is doing this year. That season Bogaerts hit .240/.297/.362 with 12 homers as a 21-year-old. He rebounded in 2015 and hit .320/.355/.421 this time with just 7 long balls. The lack of power worried some but he made another adjustment this season and is up to 17 homers with a .300/.360/.462 triple slash line.
The development has gone as well as the Red Sox could have reasonably expected. Bogaerts has increased both his BB% and his XBH% every year he's been in the bigs. In June Bogaerts was as hot as a hitter can possibly be, hitting north of .350 with a 26 game hit streak. He has cooled considerably since and in his last 336 plate appearances is batting just .249. That's almost half a season worth of a sample size, which is somewhat concerning. However, the power development has been a huge positive and Bogaerts has shown the ability to make adjustments before. He will be just fine in the years to come.
Corey Seager, Dodgers, Age: 22
Ladies and gentlemen your 2016 National League Rookie of the Year! Corey Seager, at 22 years old, has 24 home runs in 2016. The only other shortstops to hit 24 homers aged 22 or younger.....Alex Rodriguez and Cal Ripken Jr. He has the most home runs EVER by a Dodgers shortstop, regardless of age. But the most astonishing stat is that he has the highest OPS and OPS+ of any rookie shortstop since 1901.
According to Baseball-Reference Seager has accumulated 5.9 WAR this season, which is the second most amongst National League position player. With the Dodgers leading the NL West that puts him right in the thick of the MVP discussion. Currently Seager has 24 homers with a .318/.378/.536 triple slash line. His numbers are better than Fred Lynn's the year he won ROY and MVP. It may take a scorching finish to beat out Kris Bryant for NL MVP, but the fact that Seager is in the discussion at all is astonishing.
Francisco Lindor, Indians, Age: 22
Lindor is officially the most underrated player in baseball. When people think of sports in Cleveland they think about Lebron or the Browns. When they think about the Indians they think about the pitching staff. Yet Lindor is quietly ninth in the American League in WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. He is first amongst shortstops. After finishing second the Rookie of the Year race last season Lindor became a first time all star in 2016.
Lindor's 162 game average would give him a season of 18 homers, 20 stolen bases, and a .318/.362/.469 triple slash. Not bad for a guy who many view as a defensive stud who can't hit. That's not to say he isn't a phenomenal defender. His 2.3 defensive WAR ranks first in the AL and second in all of baseball among all position players. He may not have the power of the other guys on this list but is arguably the most well rounded and deserves more recognition.
So those are the four leading contenders. As of now. Keep in mind if we were counting Manny Machado as a shortstop he would be the pick. Also keep in mind that Addison Russell is very close to being in the discussion as well. He has 19 homers this year and the same defensive WAR as Lindor. He just needs to work on that .243 batting average. Regardless of who you consider the best of the bunch it is clear the shortstop position is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
Baseball fans need to brace for a hell of an awards season this fall. In the American League a reliever could win the Cy Young while the favorite for MVP is playing for a last place team. National League MVP voters will have to decide which Cub, if either, should win the award. Yet no award is more up for debate than the NL Cy Young. There are legitimately four or five guys you can argue for, regardless of whether you're an old school baseball mind or are into advanced analytics. There's no clarity when the numbers get broken down. Keep in mind that any of the names below could finish strong and win themselves the Cy.
The Favorite: Max Scherzer, Nationals
Awards debates these days typically involve arguments over the value of analytics compared to more traditional baseball statistics. The case for Scherzer as the favorite is that you can make the case for him using either. He leads the NL in wins, strikeouts, innings pitched, and WHIP, and is sixth in ERA for the traditionalists. He also ranks second in K/9, second in opponents batting average, third in soft contact induced, sixth in FIP, and eighth in BB/9 for the analytical minds.
Scherzer is sort of the jack of all trades in this race since he ranks top 3 in a lot of categories and top 6 in most all of them. The biggest blemish on his season resume is ranking sixth in ERA, which has been caused by allowing a pedestrian 26 homers. He has done well to limit the damage though, as evidenced by rankings first in WHIP and strikeouts. Ranking so high in so many different categories may push voters to give him their vote, but he is far from a lock as you will see.
The Underdog: Kyle Hendricks
Does everyone realize that Kyle Hendricks has a 2.07 ERA in the middle of September? The 26-year-old has been serviceable for the Cubs each of the past two years but it is hard to say that anyone saw this coming. His ERA is 0.41 points lower than the next best in all of baseball. In addition to leading the ERA race Hendricks ranks 10th in innings pitched, third in batting average against, second in OBP, third in slugging, and second in OPS. The idea that he is leading in ERA but not doing much else is false.
Yet people are still hesitant to call Hendricks a Cy Young contender. This is because he is grossly outperforming his 3.37 FIP, which only factors in walks, strikeouts, and homers allowed. His FIP could just be a result of not striking out many batters, as he has whiffed just 145 in 165 innings this year. Then there's the thought that he is outperforming his FIP because the Cubs have such a great defense. There is a legitimate argument to be made for this since all the Cubs starters have great ERA's compared to their FIPs. None have an ERA as low as Hendricks, however, and if that number dips below 2 by the end of the season it may be too much to ignore.
The Question Mark: Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw could have made this easy on everyone if he had not gotten hurt. He was running away with the award in midseason, which would have been his fourth in six seasons. In just 16 starts in 2016 Kershaw went 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA and 145 strikeouts in just 121 innings pitched. He had a K/BB ratio of 16.11, which would have shattered the all time single season record of 11.63. In other words he was on his way to a historic season.
Now Kershaw would need to pitch 162 innings to qualify for the ERA title, which could be a factor in voters' minds. Even though he is coming back to pitch tomorrow night it seems unlikely he reaches this threshold. But according to Baseball Reference in Kershaw's 121 innings pitched he accumulated 4.7 WAR, which is the SECOND MOST in the NL. Does it matter if he has a low innings total if he is still amongst the league leaders in WAR? That would just mean his innings were of such high quality that they make up for the lower quantity. It's admittedly somewhat insane to include a guy in the conversation who has been hurt for two months, but that's good he was before going down. If he pitches the way he was for the rest of the season he's absolutely in the discussion.
The Field: Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto
Scherzer, Hendricks, and Kershaw aren't the only pitchers worth discussing. Let's start with Syndergaard. He leads Scherzer in ERA by 0.32, FIP by 0.86, xFIP by 0.67, and SIERA by .06. Didn't we already establish him as the favorite? Should he be if another guy has these advantages over him? Then there's Bumgarner who ranks fifth in wins, third in strikeouts, and third in ERA. But if strikeouts are so important shouldn't Scherzer win? And if ERA is so important shouldn't Hendricks win? Lastly there's Arrieta and Cueto, who in any other year would be leading candidates. The whole race is a mess. With literally all of these guys pitching for postseason implications it'll be a race worth monitoring down the stretch.
Tuesday, September 6, 2016
For whatever reason records in baseball seem to matter more than in other sports. While the steroid era changed that somewhat players of today will always be compared to those who came before them, whether it be 10 years ago or 100 years ago. There are several other unbreakable baseball records, such as Nolan Ryan's career strikeouts, Ty Cobb's career batting average, and Cal Ripken's consecutive games played, but here are the top five I would bet the house nobody ever breaks:
5. Hitting Safely in 56 Straight Games
Earlier this season, before Jackie Bradley Jr. was even halfway to Joe DiMaggio’s record of 56 straight games with a hit, his at bat’s became must watch television across the country. This is the first reason nobody will ever hit safely in 57 straight games. There would be too much pressure from the media coverage of any streak that reaches 30. There are other reasons too. DiMaggio accomplished the feat in 1941, before baseball had expanded west. He logged a lot less travel miles and crossed a lot fewer time zones that players today do.
Also, DiMaggio’s streak took place before the color barrier was broken. Nowadays MLB is composed of the best players in the world with athletes coming from Japan, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and more. The competition is greater. Lastly, it’s a different game being played. DiMaggio would often see a pitcher for the fourth of fifth time that day since starters consistently went deeper into games. In 2016 bullpens are built with specialists and multiple guys throwing over 95. This would make it a lot tougher to get a hit in the late innings. The longest streak of the past decade was Jimmy Rollins hitting in 38 straight split between the 2005 and 2006 seasons.
4. Winning Five Consecutive World Series
This is another where the rules of baseball make it impossible to do. In the 18-year stretch from 1936 to 1953 the Yankees won a whopping 12 championships. As recently as the late ‘ 90’s New York won four out of five from 1996-2000. Small market teams simply could not compete so baseball did two things. First, they added a wild card team in 1995 to keep more teams in contention longer in the season. Second, they instituted a revenue sharing system to allow for more competitive play.
MLB will never have a salary cap so the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers will likely always have higher payrolls than most, but overall the revenue sharing system has seemingly worked. In the 15 years since 2001 baseball has seen 10 different teams win it all. The craziest part? We haven’t seen a repeat champ since the 99-00 Yankees, who won three in a row dating back to ’98. Also, the growth of free agency has made it harder to keep winning teams together.
This has forced us to change the meaning of the term dynasty. Dynasties, for the most part, are dead unless you consider the Giants’ even year streak a mini-dynasty. With the addition of the second wild card in 2012 we may not see a repeat champ for a while, let alone anybody winning five in a row.
3. Batting .406 In A Single Season
Similar to the reasons for DiMaggio's hit streak, Ted Williams' .406 1941 season will never be matched. The media would be in a frenzy, the bullpens are better, players are traveling more, MLB has expanded, etc. Yet the biggest reason ma bye that we simply look at batting average differently today than we did in 1941. Back then batting average was arguably the most important stat for a hitter. Players weren't looking to walk as much since the value of OBP wasn't fully realized and accepted until earlier this decade.
We also know that batting average can be a little fluky. Some teams, such as the Rays, don't even use average in their player analysis and opt for average exit velocity. The only way anybody would come close to .400 these days is with an insanely high batting average on ball in play, where a hitter would need extreme luck on batted balls finding holes in the field. The closest any player has come recently would be Tony Gwynn's .394 mark set in 1994. Others include Larry Walker's .379 in 1999 and Ichiro (2004) , Nomar (2000), and Todd Helton (2000) all hitting .372.
2. Hitting 762 Career Home Runs
One of the biggest shames of the way the steroid era played out is that we will never celebrate Barry Bonds' home run record the way we celebrated Hank Aaron's. The all time home run record used to be the most important record in sports. Now it's an afterthought. Right now there are still many who view Bonds as a cheater. But over time there will be less and less. Eventually a new generation of baseball writers will be voting for the Hall of Fame. They won't care about steroids and will realize players used an insane amount of amphetamines for decades to gain a competitive advantage. They will realize that what Bonds did in using steroids is not as much of a character flaw as Ty Cobb's racism and tendency to legit fight fans. They will remember 1998 and how that summer brought baseball back from the strike. It will take time, but it will happen.
As far as the record goes the obvious reason it won't be broken is that the steroid era is over. Of the 27 players in the 500 home run club, an astonishing 12 played their primes during the steroid era. Seven of the top 12 players on the all time home run lists were a part of this era. So much went right for A-Rod in terms of how dominant his prime was and how long he played yet he finished 66 homers shy of Bonds' total. The only legitimate threat right now is Albert Pujols, who is sitting at 589. While he has an outside shot at 700, those additional 62 will be impossible to come by. After him and possibly Miguel Cabrera it could be over a decade until another player even reaches 600.
1. 511 Wins
For a pitcher to ever win more games than Cy Young he would have to average nearly 20 wins per season for 26 years. This, of course, is impossible considering there is usually only one or two pitchers who reached 20 wins a season. Cy Young accomplished that 10 times. He won 30 games five times and played until the age of 44.
There are real reasons to believe we will never even see another 300 game winner, yet alone 500. This is because pitchers just cannot avoid injuries, specifically Tommy John surgery that sidelines them for 12-18 months. Similar to batting average, we also no longer value the win the way we once did since we've realized factors such as your team's offense, defense, and bullpen play too big of a factor.
Lastly, pitchers are pulled well before they have the chance to even get the win these days. In 2015 Chris Sale led MLB with five complete games. To put that in perspective Cy Young threw complete games in 700 of the 815 he started. He was able to accumulate wins just by pitching deep into games. It is not only the most unbreakable baseball record, but perhaps the most unbreakable record in all of sports.