When the Yankees took Derek Jeter with the sixth pick in the 1992 amateur draft, they had their solution at one of the game’s most essential positions for years to come. The captain would make his debut less than three years later and well…you know the rest. More than 20 years after drafting Jeter, the Yankees have failed to produce a viable major league shortstop capable of taking over the reins. Arguments can be made for guys like Robinson Cano and Alfonso Soriano, but both moved off the position for a reason and it wasn’t just because number two was penciled in there. Without question, the Jeter era is coming to an end (you could argue that it should have already ended, at least from a defensive standpoint) and currently the only other options are Eduardo Nunez and Brendan Ryan.
While there is no surefire major league shortstop ready to take over on Opening Day of 2014, the Bombers have some intriguing depth at the position right now. Let’s take a look at the internal options at shortstop and whether the shortstop of the future might be in the system already.
The Name You Know
One of the consequences of the success the Yankees have had over the last 15-20 years has been consistently picking at the bottom of the first round, where finding impact talent is less of a sure thing. This necessitates some risk taking in order to compensate. One of those risks was Cito Culver. A switch-hitting shortstop out of Rochester, New York, the Yankees took him well ahead of where the consensus had him ranked in the 2010 draft. If you follow the minor leagues at all, you know that the early results were not good.
I’m not here to tell you that we were all wrong and Culver is a season away from being an all-star, but I am convinced that there is at least some reason for optimism. While his defense and arm strength (Culver is a former pitcher who dialed his fastball up to the mid-90’s) have always been considered “plus” attributes, the offense has lagged behind. In his first three seasons, Culver slashed .238/.323/.316 (read: not good). Things didn’t look much better in his second go around with Low-A Charleston either, as he posted 104 games of .232/.312/.344 offense.
Inside of all the struggles was a storyline, however. Culver ditched switch hitting and turned his focus to his right-handed swing. The next part doesn’t tell us much, but it does mean we need to reserve judgment for at least one more year. After earning a surprise promotion to High-A Tampa, Culver got hot and finished his season on a 16-game .355/.394/.484 tear. Another positive was the jump in power this year, as he smacked nine dingers in 2013 after hitting only six total in his previous three years.
The defense and the athleticism are there. The offense is still a long shot, but if Culver flourishes as a righty, you’ll be hearing a lot more of his name in 2014.
The Name(s) You Might Not Know
Avelino came stateside in 2013 after posting a .302/.398/.374 line in the Dominican Summer League a year ago. Splitting time between both Gulf Coast League Yankees teams this summer, the 18-year-old hit .330/.415/.457 in 128 at-bats. He even held his own in a last season call up to Staten Island, paving the way to potentially open the season with Charleston in 2014.
Baseball America ranked Avelino as the 13th best prospect in the Gulf Coast League this season, lauding his baseball smarts and offensive approach. He has been a threat to run thus far in his pro career and tied for the GCL lead in stolen bases with 26. Reports on the defense have generally been positive, but there are concerns about how far his bat will take him. Regardless, Avelino is a guy you should be following closely next season.
Having two teams in the GCL this year allowed the Yankees to give development time to two international shortstops, and Estrada was the second half of this duo. A year younger than Avelino, Estrada came in at number 20 on Baseball America’s top GCL prospects list. They gave him credit for possessing surprising power for his 5’10, 154-pound frame, though he seems to project as having more gap power than home run power.
Estrada sometimes ceded reps at shortstop to the more highly regarded Avelino this year, sliding over to second base when the two shared the diamond. Regardless, Estrada is another high-upside name to watch and it will be interesting to see how the Yankees handle his development in 2014.
The 2013 Draft Picks
The Yankees’ fourth round pick earlier this summer, Wade is a high school draftee out of Southern California. The team issued him an exact slot bonus of $371,00. Wade spent most of his time this summer in the GCL, hitting .291/.412/.349 before making a four-game cameo with Staten Island to end the season.
Like Avelino, Wade will be looking to add some strength and power to his repertoire in the future. Baseball America noted that he had impressed with his defense in their pre-draft evaluations and gave him a decent chance to stick at shortstop. There may be a logjam for playing time at the position next season, but Wade’s 2013 debut and polished offensive approach have put him on the radar.
This is a bit of a wildcard in terms of the position, as Katoh was drafted as a second basemen this summer out of high school. He was very impressive in his first 184 at-bats as a pro, hitting .310/.402/.522 while tying for the GCL lead in home runs (6) and ranking second in slugging (.522). The power was surprising for Katoh after reading that his strength was a concern. We all know that GCL numbers can be tough to interpret (see: Bichette Jr., Dante), but Katoh has caught the eye of many evaluators.
The twist came in September when Baseball America’s Ben Badler reported that the Yankees were considering giving the lefty swinger some time at short. It’s certainly an interesting possibly, given that Katoh has been pegged as an excellent athlete. While I don’t know the likelihood of him getting the chance (or sticking) at short, it does seem like he offers the most offensive upside of the names on this list. Just know that you’ll want to keep tabs on Katoh next season no matter where he plays.
There are no top 100 prospects on this list right now and certainly no one ready to take over in 2014. However, the current crop of shortstops is the most intriguing group that I can recall in the past five years or so. We all agree that the Yankees need to get more out of their farm system, and turning one of these guys into a legitimate MLB shortstop would be a great start.
Welcome to the first of our weekly mailbags! We’re always up to talk trades, roster decisions and whatever else on Twitter (@Fantasy_NerdsVT), but from time to time, we’ll get a little long-winded on you. This week, I’m expanding on five of the best questions we’ve received over the past week.
Paul Konerko or these FA options ROS. Points league. K’s = -2, Solo HR = 7, RBI = 2. Options: Moreland, Dunn, Er. Chavez, Overbay, Moss, Blanks, Gaby Sanchez, Helton, Howard, Carp
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never played in a points league and I’m not really jumping at the chance to try. However, this question presents a challenge that those of us playing in standard roto scoring leagues don’t have to deal with. In my home league, a 6×6 keeper which uses R, HR, RBI, SB, AVG, and OPS, I can roll with Adam Dunn (and have before) if I’m in need of power. But here, with every strikeout setting you back two points, I’m not going near Dunn, Brandon Moss or Ryan Howard, all of whom have a K-rate that hovers right around 30%.
So that leaves us with choosing to roll with Konerko and his injured back, or take a shot with the remaining free agents. I’m going to take Carp, Chavez, Helton and Overbay out of contention because they all have questions about staying healthy (Chavez, Helton), getting regular AB’s (Carp), or just generally sucking (Overbay). That leaves us with Moreland, Blanks, Sanchez or Konerko.
I like Blanks and Sanchez in deeper formats, but Blanks plays in a tough power environment and Sanchez isn’t in a real run producing role (though I will say I think he could be in for a big second half). Konerko would be my guy if I could guarantee him a healthy second half, but at his age, back problems don’t just disappear. He recently had six (!!!) injections in his back to ease the pain, but for a guy who has seen his home run output decline each of the past two seasons (not surprising at age 37), I’m not terribly keen on him bouncing back.
Moreland is getting regular plate appearances for the first time at age 27 and should exceed 500 PAs for the first time. While he’s not immune to striking out, at a K rate of 22%, he’s less risky in a points league than rostering Dunn/Howard/Moss. I like the BABIP of .303, which is right in line with his career mark of .295, and the jump in ISO up to an excellent .240 mark with a similar batted ball profile to his career numbers. He’s not a star, but in that ballpark as a lefty with regular at-bats, he’s a nice addition to any roster.
Points league waiver. Ervin Santana left on the board, yet thinking of gambling on Michael Pineda. Thoughts?
This is an interesting question and one that many people may be tossing around as Pineda gets closer to contributing to the Yankees’ 2013 rotation. The numbers have been solid so far, as the righty has a 0.63 ERA and an 11:4 K:BB ratio in his three rehab starts (this doesn’t include extending spring training numbers). The reviews have been good as well, with reports of Pineda sitting in the 92-93 range and topping out around 95.
Santana, on the other hand, has been surprisingly good this year. One of the reasons may be an increased use of his slider. Throughout his career, Santana threw that pitch just about 32% of the time, but in 2013 he’s using it nearly 40% of the time. Not coincidentally, in my opinion, his O-Swing% (percentage of pitches out of the strike zone that Santana induces batters to swing at) has hopped up to a career high 32.1%. I don’t know whether this success is sustainable in the second half, but I really like what I’ve seen from him so far.
Pitchers coming back from shoulder surgery are always risky and Pineda may not even join the rotation immediately upon being ready, as the Yankees could regain a year of team control by keeping him at Triple-A for a few weeks. Unless you have a stacked rotation and you’re purely gambling on upside or you’re in keeper league and looking to next year, I’m going Santana here.
His Yoenis Cespedes for my Mark Trumbo?
A nice old-fashioned one-for-one trade proposal. I’ll admit I’m a little torn on this one. Obviously any trade question depends on league format and needs, but I’m going with Trumbo. That’s tough for me, because I’m not a huge fan of his and I was big on Cespedes going into the season. Plus, Trumbo is a .248/.301/.480 hitter in the second half.
However, it’s time to give him some credit for improving his plate approach. For the third straight year, his walk rate has improved, climbing up to 9.7% through 81 games. The power is still there and if Trumbo does in his next 81 games what he did in his first 81, he’ll end up with 34 home runs and 100 RBI. With Cespedes, the K-rate is climbing and the line drive rate is down. Add that to his apparent knack for getting hurt, and I think I’d rather have Trumbo.
Which two out of Chris Archer, Jose Alvarez, Dan Straily, and Tim Lincecum are you taking in a 20-team keeper?
Always love these deep keeper league questions. Let’s get one out of the way right now – Lincecum is an established, if diminished, MLB starter with a track record of dominance. In his age 29 season, he’s not the ace he once was, but he’s shown signs of improvement from a season ago. In a 20-team league, Lincecum still has to be owned and held onto over any of these other options.
Archer is the clear choice for me out of the remaining three names. I’ll take stuff and pedigree in the long term formats over results in a handful of MLB starts. Archer uses a fastball that has averaged 95.1 MPH this year according to Fangraphs and slider that has been described as “knockout” by numerous prospect gurus. He was ranked as the No. 53 prospect in the game by Keith Law coming into the season and he’s absolutely the pitcher with the highest upside (non-Lincecum division) in this question.
Which side do you take in a redraft league? Mo Rivera/Rutledge or Uehara/Segura?
Redraft or keeper, I’m taking the Uehara/Segura side. Koji has put up another awesome season so far and has taken the closer role in Boston after the struggles of Andrew Bailey. Even if Bailey eventually takes the role back or the Red Sox make a trade for a more “proven” closer, Uehara still has value because of his insane 48:7 K:BB ratio. Rivera has as much job security as anyone, but the upside in saves is definitely not worth rostering Rutledge over Segura. If you can get someone to send you Segura for Rutledge and a mild upgrade at RP, you’ve just executed thievery. Well done.
For those that follow the Minor Leagues closely, Wil Myers is a name that has been on the map for quite some time now. Drafted as a catcher in the third round of the 2009 draft by Kansas City, Myers made the full-time switch to the outfield in 2011. He made his name a household one with baseball fans after a ridiculous breakout year in 2012 at both AA and AAA. Myers smashed 37 home runs across the two levels, hitting .314/.387/.600 along the way. What followed was not a promotion to right field in Kansas City, where he probably
belonged, but rather Myers was sent to the Rays as he
headlined what was one of the biggest deals of the offseason.
Myers was a popular pick at the back end of fantasy drafts as owners were banking on a cheap supply of home runs. They knew, however, that there would be a wait before seeing him in the big leagues as the Rays would try to keep his arbitration clock from starting by keeping him at AAA until late May or early June. As owners grew restless, Myers was busy smacking 14 home runs while hitting .286/.356/.520 in 64 games with Durham.
Now that he’s up – and likely for good – what can/should owners expect the rest of the way? While he has shown excellent patience throughout his time in the minors, he strikes out a fair amount (24.6 K% in 2013) and there could be an adjustment period before he begins to hit for a high average. In the meantime, Myers should still be a solid source of power in the outfield. I think it’s fairly reasonable to project double-digit home runs the rest of the way, though anything over 15 may be a stretch.
Myers has stolen double-digit bases just once in a season and that came back in 2010 while he was still a catcher. That being said, in a full-season during his prime he may be a candidate to steal 10 bases, though I wouldn’t bank on much contribution in that department this season.
Buy or Sell?
This totally depends on your league format. If you’re in a standard 10-team mixed league without keepers, Myers may not hold much value the rest of the way. This, in all likelihood, is not Mike Trout, Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. That being said if he’s still available on waivers, I would absolutely recommend picking him up. Prospects, especially top 10 guys like Myers, always have a certain shine to owners who are tired of scanning through the same options in free agency. If nothing else, I’m certain you can get an owner to overpay on the hope that they’re getting a gem in Myers. If you can get a top 25 or 30 outfielder for Myers, I’d do it. And for what it’s worth, Tristian H. Cockcroft ranks Brett Gardner as his No. 30 outfielder in the latest Hit Parade rankings.
If you’re in an AL-only format or a keeper league, this changes things a little bit. Myers is a guy that you should be buying on if you’re thinking about rebuilding this year. He’s also a guy you should be buying on in a deep AL-only league. If you need help in the outfield, find out what Myers’ owner needs and see if you can work out a deal. Also don’t be afraid to wait a week or two and see if Myers struggles out of the gate, because this will only make him cheaper for you to acquire.
I thought it would be an opportune time make my all-star picks with a fantasy perspective in mind. Of course we all know that actual real life all-star voting can get a little wacky (see Markakis, Nick), so this post will take into account only the numbers. Without further ado…
Catcher — Joe Mauer
Would it surprise you if I told you there were only seven catchers who qualify for the batting title in the American League this year? And that two of them are on the Twins? (Of course Ryan Doumit is a “catcher” by name only). That other guy that catches for Minnesota, Joe Mauer, has had a pretty incredible year and he gets my vote. A .327/.415/.482 slash line is probably his best work since 2009, and somehow it still feels like we don’t talk about him as much as we used to. He also does awesome stuff like this.
Carlos Santana of the Indians is obviously in this conversation as well. His .284 batting average is well above his career mark of .253 and while some of that can be contributed to a .331 BABIP, Santana’s infield fly ball percentage is down to 5.4 in 2013 from 12.9 in his four seasons. We all know this is a very good thing.
First Base — Chris Davis
Could this be anyone else? Not only is he leading all of baseball in home runs (23) and slugging percentage (.697!!), he was also somewhat of a steal on draft day. For a guy that went somewhere in the 15th round in 10-team mixed leagues, the return has been absolute gold. Davis is currently third on the Player Rater and is contributing a batting average that no one could have imagined. Though he hit over .300 several times coming up through the Rangers’ system, Davis is a career .268 hitter who struggled mightily from 2009-2011. It’s been pretty awesome to watch him put it all together this year.
Props to Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Trumbo, Prince Fielder and I suppose James Loney here as well.
Second Base — Howie Kendrick
Yeah, I went there. Dustin Pedroia is having an excellent year in spite of a torn UCL in his thumb. Robinson Cano has 16 home runs and is still providing big pop at a spot where there isn’t much. But doesn’t it feel like we somehow expected more from them? Cano went fourth overall on average in ESPN leagues and Pedroia was a top-30 guy. But you know who leads all American League second basemen in batting average? None other than Howie Kendrick, the guy who was supposed to win multiple batting titles in his career. Most owners got him somewhere around the 13th or 14th round (I got him for $9 in my mixed keeper league) and now have a guy that’s No. 2 on the Player Rater for his position. I stand by my pick.
Third Base — Miguel Cabrera
I don’t need to write about this one, do I? I’ll just leave this here for your enjoyment.
2012 (triple crown): .330/.393/.606
Shout out to Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson here.
Shortstop — J.J. Hardy
I was a little torn on this one, mostly because there wasn’t a great choice, but also because Jhonny Peralta has thrown up a solid .333/.388/.487 line thus far. But, home runs are hard to come by in the middle infield and Hardy has 13 bombs so far with a batting average that won’t kill you. If you play in an OBP league, you may feel differently about him and his .307 mark. His ADP of 143.9 in ESPN leagues tells you he’s a good value as well.
Outfield — Mike Trout, Adam Jones, Nelson Cruz
A bit off the map with my third pick, but I’ll explain why. You are all familiar with the idea that fantasy baseball is not real baseball, yes? And in fantasy baseball it doesn’t matter that Nelson Cruz is an awful outfielder. What does matter is that he leads all qualified AL outfielders — keep in mind that I’m not including Chris Davis because I made him a 1B, even though he has OF eligibility — with 16 home runs. Power is still a premium thing in fantasy baseball these days and he is an underrated source. In fact, let’s play “Player A and Player B”:
Player A: 28 R, 16 HR, 44 RBI, 0 SB, .261 AVG
Player B: 43 R, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 5 SB, .265 AVG
Player A is Cruz while Player B is Jose Bautista. I love Joey Bats, but owners got Cruz in the 12th round while Bautista was a top 20 pick. I’ll give him the nod on value here.
Also, Mike Trout is still awesome and Adam Jones is also very good. Though I will say that Jones’ walk rate (or lack there of) scares me. His hacking ways have worked so far, but I do wonder if it could catch up to him.
Designated Hitter — David Ortiz
There are some quality guys here, but I think we all know that David Ortiz is the guy when we’re talking about this position. I honestly thought he was cooked in 2009 and again last year with the achilles issue, but man was I wrong. Since coming off the DL, the big lefty has absolutely raked and has been a premium source of power (14 HR) and RBI (49). He’s hitting .301/.385/.606 for those of you in OBP and SLG leagues and even stole a pair of bags already! Sometimes we all just need to stop and appreciate what Ortiz has done for so long.
If I think back about three or four years, the act of blogging was a little bit different. Twitter came along and made the public forum even bigger. At this point, basically anyone could write, publish and blast their own material out to a seemingly infinite number of people. Like many, I got swept up in this craze, thinking that 1) people cared about my opinion and 2) I could make it big just by posting to a website I created in 30 minutes. Very quickly, the “blogosphere” became crowded with people who had been inflated by their self-made power, proclaiming themselves experts and refusing to be challenged.
I never really took to blogging for a few reasons. One is that I’m kind of lazy. If there’s one thing I’ll give the bloggers (or anyone that is published on a daily basis) it’s that producing copy each and every day is no small task. That’s impressive. The other reason was that I kind of came to the conclusion that I was projecting myself to be an expert, when in reality I’m not even close. I thought because I read the right blogs and knew the fancy stats that I was more qualified to form an opinion about baseball than people who did not.
You start to realize, pretty quickly, that dissent and debate are good things. Like many other aspects of life, baseball wouldn’t be any fun, nor would we really learn anything about the game, without the MVP debates or the constant bickering over the value of pitcher wins. Embrace it, people. There is no right answer and that is what we all love about baseball so much. I’ve also admittedly evolved on a few issues, basically meaning I’m not as staunchly and arrogantly convinced that a sabermetric approach is the best way to view these things.
With that in mind, here’s a post that I love to do every year. Let’s hand out the major awards, American League and National League. Enjoy and please let me know what your opinions are.
Most Valuable Player: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
This was ridiculously tough. Miguel Cabrera won’t win the Triple Crown again in 2013, but make no mistake about it, he was better this year. Actually, 2012 was arguably his worst season of his last four. wOBA and wRC+ both back this up, but I won’t bore you with the details, just go look at his Fangraphs page and drool instead.
Here’s the tough part — Mike Trout was better this year too. Sure his home run and stolen base totals are down a bit from last year. But, he leads the league in walks and has an OBP of .482 in the second half of the season. This includes an even .500 mark in August. I’d like you to really think about what an OBP of .500 means for a few seconds…you good? Mike Trout had 110 plate appearances in August and reached base safely via hit, walk or hit by pitch exactly 50 percent of the time. That is so ridiculous, let alone for a 21-year-old, that I don’t even know how to describe it.
The story is the same from 2012 with regard to this debate. Cabrera is the superior hitter (the most superior hitter alive also) to Trout. But Trout’s baserunning ability and prowess in the outfield even the score. It then comes down to a simple philosophical question — which is more valuable? A poor fielding third basemen who hits .345/.440/.637 (all league leading marks by the way) or a center fielder who steals bases, is a top notch defender and hits .324/.431/.557? I think most people, without taking into account the narrative or the names, would choose the center fielder and fairly easily.
But here’s the thing I’ve come to realize — baseball is not played in a vacuum and value can very well be subjective. I want to support Trout, but I have concerns about our ability to quantify the value of his defense, which is the main reason he usurps Cabrera in WAR. I don’t trust UZR, dWAR or anything else. I see that Trout is a better defender and a better baserunner. But I also see that Cabrera is the best hitter alive and that’s pretty damn valuable. I also saw that he threw up a .380 OBP in September while basically hobbling through an abdominal injury the entire time. I have no problem with either candidate, but this guy is beyond amazing.
Props to … Chris Davis, Josh Donaldson, Robinson Cano
Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
A lot has been made of Scherzer and his 20 wins, some positive and some negative. It’s an astounding feat, especially in today’s game, but we all understand that there is a certain element of luck in earning a win as a pitcher. It depends not just on how well you pitch, but on how many runs your teammates score or how many runs they prevent by making or not making routine plays. But don’t let the Brian Kenney’s of the world tell you that this is some new, groundbreaking theory that they have. People have been talking skeptically about pitchers wins for a long time. Sure, there are some that blindly accept a pitcher’s record as equating to their effectiveness, but that’s all some people want to do. So let them!
Scherzer does have a higher FIP and xFIP than both Felix Hernandez and Anibal Sanchez. But those are essentially projections. Tools to uncover something unknown. To know those stats, you have understand that they try to quantify and eliminate the luck involved in pitching. If you focus on the things a pitcher really, truly controls (walks, strikeouts, home runs), you can get a good idea of how effective they’ve been before you factor in the sometimes fluky batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Only three pitchers have a lower BABIP than Scherzer and I guarantee you that some will try to use this as evidence of a “lucky” season for the right-hander. Perhaps there’s something to that theory, but if you’ve watched him pitch and examined the awkward swings he has the ability to induce, you understand that it might not be all random.
While it’s true that Scherzer’s career BABIP against mark is much higher at .302, I don’t think anyone would argue that Scherzer hasn’t improved his command and consistency greatly. With that has come his ability to limit quality contact. Only four pitchers in the American League do a better job at limiting the percentage of line drives they allow. Three of them (Masterson, Iwakuma and Lackey) are ground ball guys who induce bouncers over 45 percent of the time. The other, Jarrod Parker, is the best pitcher no one really talks about. Limiting line drives is not an easy thing to do. And the fact that opponents were only able to manage a line drive against Scherzer 19 percent of the time is pretty telling. This guy is incredibly tough to hit and deserves the Cy Young.
Props to … Yu Darvish, Anibal Sanchez, Chris Sale, Bartolo Colon
Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays
To no one’s surprise, the Rays have my top two candidates for this award (the other being Chris Archer). Myers had a really, really nice rookie year and it looks like the Rays have a potential 30 HR/100 RBI guy in their outfield for years to come. In his 82 games (conveniently close to exactly half a season), the young righty hit 13 home runs and knocked in 51 of his teammates. More impressive to me was that he hit .292 and if not for a brutal August in which he hit .202, Myers would have easily eclipsed the .300 mark. This is not something I necessarily expected of him, given his strikeout history in the minors. He also flashed the ability to potentially reach double-digit steals in the future, only adding to his already immense value. Archer had a nice season, but I’ll almost always lean towards the hitter here.
Props to … Jose Iglesias, Martin Perez, Dan Straily, Danny Farquhar
Most Valuable Player: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
I’m pretty sure that Cutch meets all the desired pre-requisites for a modern day MVP candidate. Led the league in fWAR (7.9)? Check. Led a tormented team and fan base to its first postseason since 1992? Check. Elite defender? Check. Elite standing in one of the triple crown stats (.318 AVG, good for 4th)? Check. This guy has literally done it all. We haven’t heard much about the MVP race in the NL because quite honestly the only other player who has a case is Clayton Kershaw. I hear those Paul Goldschmidt lovers loud and clear, but this isn’t his year to win MVP. Though I do think we’ll see one in his future. Congrats to Cutch and the city of Pittsburgh.
Props to … Joey Votto, Carlos Gomez, Matt Carpenter
Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
I doubt anyone needs an explanation on this choice, as Kershaw is the best pitcher on the planet right now and it’s not particularly close. One stat that will send your head for a loop? Kershaw is about to lead his league in ERA for the third straight year. The last pitcher to do that? Greg Maddux. The other guys to do it before him? Roger Clemens, Sandy Koufax and Lefty Grove. And that’s it folks. That’s the list.
I think you could make the argument that Kershaw’s 2013 was better than Verlander’s 2011, when he took home Cy Young and MVP honors. But, the top challenger to Verlander in the ’11 MVP race was Jacoby Ellsbury, so the narrative was on his side. Kershaw is going up one of the greatest stories in baseball this season, so I think he’ll have to settle for a second Cy Young in the past three years. Be on the lookout for a positively monstrous contract coming his way in the very near future.
Props to … Matt Harvey, Adam Wainwright, Cliff Lee, Jose Fernandez
Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez, Miami Marlins
I’m sure many folks will want Yasiel Puig here. And I just petitioned for Wil Myers by saying I almost always prefer the bat over the arm for Rookie of the Year. But sometimes you get a special case and boy is Jose Fernandez special. I’ll fully admit my man crush on the 20-year-old Cuban right-hander whose breaking stuff buckles my knees even when I’m sitting down.
Fernandez ranks second in ERA (2.19), K/9 (9.75), third in WHIP (0.98) and is tied for seventh in fWAR (4.2) among pitchers. He’s not just my Rookie of the Year, he’s a legitimate Cy Young candidate. In a year that is absolutely stacked with candidates for this award, Fernandez takes it easily for me. I can remember thinking how crazy the Marlins were for promoting him to the majors so aggressively. If there’s one thing that organization can do well, it’s find and develop pitching. Fernandez is one of my favorite non-Yankee players and I can’t wait to watch him get better (and hopefully avoid injury) over the next few years.
Props to … Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Teheren, Trevor Rosenthal, Nolan Arenado
I hate these awards because, as I’ve said in the past, they really just go to the guy whose team has the best story or exceeded expectations by the most. I realize John Farrell will probably win the award in the American League because the Sox started from the bottom now they here. However, I’m once again exercising my “Joe Girardi is awesome and I don’t care if he manages the Yankees” right. Because Joe Girardi is awesome and I don’t care if he manages the Yankees. The injuries, the A-Rod situation, the fact that they hung around the race, Vernon Wells, Ichiro, Chris Stewart (I’ll stop now). He did a phenomenal job this year and I hope New York signs him on for another five years.
Okay now that I’m off my Girardi soap box, Clint Hurdle will obviously win this award in the National League, because, well, the Pirates have sucked for a really long time. Good for him and good for them.
This time of year is so terribly conflicting for die hard baseball fans. On one hand, the playoffs are right around the corner. If you’re lucky enough to be a fan of a team in contention, this time of year is the absolute best. Baseball, make no mistake about it, is a summer game. But there’s something about watching the leaves change colors and walking around in the crisp autumn air that screams baseball at the top of its lungs. On the other hand, whether your team wins its final game or not, baseball is coming to an end soon. 29 of the 30 teams will end the season with a loss, no matter how well the rest of the year went, and then baseball slips onto the backburner for four miserable months. Even if your team were to win, four months without baseball always seems like an eternity.
Fortunately for us, it really isn’t an eternity. In the blink of an eye, the calender will have turned to March and Spring Training will once again be ramping up. And with it, hopes and expectations of a new year will overshadow most of the memories from the year before. With that in mind, there a some things about the 2012 season that I don’t want to forget. While most of the attention this last week will be on the playoff contenders and the awards races, there are tons of other stories around baseball that are just waiting to get erased from the public memory. Below are just a few things from this season that I wish people would take a second to appreciate.
Chase Headley’s Amazing Year
Let’s be honest, prior to the second half of 2012, hardly anyone who knew who he was. Headley, a victim of his home park, was a solid not spectacular guy playing for a largely irrelevant team on the west coast. Not exactly a recipe for fame. Though he wasn’t a secret to everyone: many fans in the saber community loved Headley for what might be. Imagining what his overall numbers might look like if he didn’t play in such a pitchers haven, paired with his solid defense at third base, many tabbed Headley as a potential breakout guy if he were to get out of Petco. Well, it turns out he didn’t even need to leave San Diego.
After never hitting more than 12 home runs in a season, he’s got 29 with a week to go. His .283/.371/.487 line is too good to be ignored, but it seems like it might go unnoticed anyway. Whether you believe in WAR or not (in this case the Fangraphs version), it is important to note that Headley has been the sixth best hitter in all of baseball. And it’s not like you really need WAR to justify him at least being in the top 10 or 15, as he’s reached many of the “traditional” benchmarks of a stellar season (particularly 100 RBI). Here’s what I’m hoping: that Chase Headley gets that 30th home run so maybe a few more people will pay attention. There’s almost no way he finishes in the top 5 for NL MVP voting, but there’s very few more deserving candidates.
Billy Butler Finally Tapping Into His Power
Another guy that’s constantly underrated, Billy Butler, that of 140 doubles from 2009-2011, has finally broken out of that “gap power” pigeon hole. After his home run tonight, Country Breakfast sits at .314/.372/.506 on the season with 27 home runs and 103 RBI. In fact, if you just look at offense (as defense is completely a non-factor with Butler), his season is every bit as impressive as Headley’s. Butler seems like an all-around good guy and he’s done nothing but hit since he came up to the big leagues in 2007: he’s a dead even .300 lifetime hitter with 162-game averages of 182 hits and 41 doubles. I really hope that people remember how awesome he was in 2012.
Joe Mauer. Yeah, That Guy.
It would seem impossible for a guy with three batting titles and a 184 million dollar contract to fly under the radar, but that’s exactly what Mauer has done this year. He had an undeniably down year in 2011, failing to reach the .300/.400 benchmarks for the first time in three years, but he is back and then some this year. Currently hitting .323/.414/.454, Mauer has exactly matched his lifetime batting average and eclipsed his mark for OBP. What’s keeping him from the MVP discussion (in addition to really any discussion) is his lack of power.
When he hit 28 home runs in 2009, people assumed that he would replicate that type of power output on a yearly basis. When he failed to do so over the proceeding two seasons (9 HR in ’10, 3 in ’11) people were quick to label his contract a bust and dismiss him from the top catcher in the game conversation. I must admit that I too thought he was succumbing to leg troubles at an early age, but this guy is just an absolute machine. When you look at his career numbers, the 28 home runs were just a favorable blip in the radar. He is 10 home run guy who is going to barrel the ball up at an incredible rate. And when he’s doing it as a catcher (albeit not full-time), it’s something we should all step back and appreciate.
Trout vs. Cabrera Has Nothing To Do With Sabermetrics
When awards season comes around and these two inevitably occupy the first and second spots, the rash of irrational analysis on the distinction between the two will pour in. Let’s get one thing out of the way: Mike Trout should absolutely win the MVP. We haven’t seen a season this good since maybe Barry Bonds in his prime. He has been elite on offense, defense and on the base paths. This is not to take anything away from Miguel Cabrera, who has been a bit better on offense. This is about the entire game of baseball. It’s not about the Triple Crown and it’s definitely not about sabermetrics, and it baffles me that people can’t understand that.
Without citing a single metric, I can explain to you how much better Trout has been than Cabrera. We’ll go with the Triple Crown stats to display the point. Trout is hitting .320 with 28 home runs and 78 RBI while Cabrera is currently at .326 with 42 home runs and 133 RBI. While Cabrera clearly has the superior line, there are other immensely important criteria to consider. To start, Trout has stolen 47 bases in 51 attempts. Cabrera, a complete non-threat on the bases — perhaps even a liability — has four steals in five attempts. What about defense? Cabrera has made 13 errors to Trout’s four. And yes, this is an awful comparison given that Cabrera plays third and Trout is mainly a center fielder. However, Cabrera has made the eighth most errors of any third basemen. Given that there are 30 teams, that puts him in the bottom third defensively. Trout meanwhile leads the world in robbed home runs and is undeniably an above-average center fielder.
So someone please explain to me how this became about sabermetrics? The gap between these two on offense is there, sure. But who in their right mind wouldn’t take a gold glove center fielder with 30 home runs, 80 RBI and 50 steals (obviously he may not reach all of these in the final week, but it’s close) over a third basemen goes for 40 home runs, 130 RBI and is a liability in the field and on the bases? Obviously you’d take either guy on your team and that’s not the point. But if you can’t see why Trout has been more valuable, I don’t know how to make it any clearer. You could bring money into the discussion if you want — Trout is earning rookie money while Cabrera is signed to a 150 million dollar contract — but that is maybe a different take on “value”. What it really comes down to is this: do you value the game of baseball as whole, or just offense? Some people may have different MVP philosophies that are contingent on making the playoffs or performing down the stretch, and that’s certainly reasonable even if I don’t agree, but if you’re just looking for the guy who’s provided the most value, it’s really not complicated at all.
Playoff baseball. For me, there is nothing like it. Perhaps that is because I’m lucky enough to watch the Yankees make it to October so frequently. But quite honestly, even when the Yankees are not involved, this time of year is something special. Watching the Giants make their postseason run last fall was as captivating as anything I’ve ever watched. Amazing things will happen and I do not want to miss any of it.
October is the time when heroes are born. Sometimes, they are born without explanation or precedent. I can’t explain to you why Scott Broscious had a 1.294 OPS (!!!) in the 1998 World Series, including one giant 3-run home run off of Trevor Hoffman. Nor can I explain how the 1960 Yankees outscored the Pirates 55 to 27 and still lost the World Series. (FIFTY-FIVE TO TWENTY-SEVEN). But the best thing about the playoffs is that there is no need to explain any of it.
Certainly regular season numbers can be a good predictor of performance in October, but weird things happen in short series. The playoffs are the home of the ultimate Small Sample Size (SSS). At most, a player will play in 19 games. Yet year after year, we insist on assigning infinite value on what is sometimes no more than a fluke. Some people made Cody Ross into a superstar even though his performance last October was so far above his actual skill level it is comical. Other people deemed Alex Rodriguez “unclutch” in his first few seasons with the Yankees.
Really, there’s no point in making these snap judgments. Mainly they are used to fill the sports pages with garbage about how Player X is a choker and Player Y just knows how to win. It’s incredibly shortsighted and just completely unnecessary.
October baseball comes just once a year. Some players will succeed, some will fail, and just one team will be standing when it is all said and done. This is the only thing we know for sure. So rather than wasting our breath trying to figure it all out, for a few weeks, let’s put the numbers aside and just enjoy the ride.