Has Anything Actually Changed with Rick Porcello?

Brian Blanco/Getty Images

Red Sox pitcher Rick Porcello is not having nearly the same level of success he did a season ago.

In 2016, Porcello went 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA en route to his first career Cy Young Award. The hardware likely should have gone to the Tigers’ Justin Verlander, the Indians’ Corey Kluber, or (my personal choice) the Orioles’ Zach Britton, but that’s a different subject for a different time. The reason why Porcello won the award was simple: he led the league in wins a season ago and was near the top of the league in most of the major statistical pitching categories. It goes to show you that the win is still very powerful in baseball circles, even when a pitcher getting one is heavily influenced by the run support he gets from his offense (more on that later). But despite the fact that he received an award he probably didn’t deserve, Porcello had an excellent 2016 and would look to build off that for this season.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

This year, the year after he led baseball in wins, Porcello, in an ironic and tragic twist of fate, is leading the league in losses. Even with last night’s victory over the Tampa Bay Rays, he has a 6-14 record with a 4.63 ERA so far in 2017. This is seemingly a far cry from last year’s campaign, and the shift in fortunes has been so dramatic, in fact, that he could become the eighth pitcher in MLB history to lose 20 games in a season after winning 20 the year before. This should go to show you that not all statistics are interesting, useful, or important.

But aside from the obvious depreciation of his production from last year to this one, what has actually changed in Porcello’s performance from 2016 to 2017?

For starters, if you believe in the three true outcomes (walk, strikeout, home run) then Porcello’s numbers provide an interesting look at his recent struggles. For instance, his strikeout rate is the highest it’s been in his entire career (8.25 per nine innings). This is in part because baseball’s hitters are striking out more than they ever have; Porcello’s strikeout rate is also the highest in his career. The troubling thing is that his home run rate per nine innings is also a career high (1.66). He’s allowed at least one home run in a whopping 17 of his 24 starts this season; last year, he allowed at least one home run in 17 of his 33 starts. He’s even already allowed more home runs this season (28) than he did last year (23). And yes, there’s still seven-and-a-half weeks of baseball yet to be played.

As for his walk rate, the change from 2016 to 2017 has been significant, if not necessarily as pronounced. Porcello is walking an average of .49 more batters per nine innings. While that may not seem like a big deal, Porcello is just two walks away from reaching his 2016 total. That’s concerning, as well.

But there’s also another important thing to address in this discussion that has nothing to do with the pitcher: run support.

Last season, Porcello led Major League Baseball in run support per nine innings (7.63). The man who was second in run support last season, the Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ, also won 20 games. If you think these two events are coincidental, you’re fooling yourself. In Porcello’s 33 starts last year, the Boston Red Sox scored 189 runs, or 5.72 per start; no wonder he won 22 games. In the other 139 games the team played in 2016, Boston’s offense averaged 5.34 runs per game. While the Sox had the best offense in baseball a season ago, they were even more fearsome with Porcello on the hill. While those two things have nothing to do with each other, it does help to explain how the owner of a career 4.24 ERA now has both a 22-win season and a Cy Young Award to his name.

Sure enough, Porcello’s run support luck has run dry in 2017 and I’m sure you could’ve seen that coming from miles away. Out of 70 qualified starting pitchers, the Red Sox hurler ranks eighth-to-last in the league in run support, as Boston’s offense has scored all of 3.92 runs per nine innings in each of his starts. In 24 starts this year, the Red Sox have scored a total of 66 runs; that works out to 2.75 per outing. To make matters even weirder than they already are, the Red Sox have scored 5.3 runs per night in the games Porcello hasn’t pitched this season. So on average, Porcello is losing three full runs of support from his offense. And while everyone is shocked over his supposed demise, it turns out that his struggles have at least as much to do with his offense as they do with the man himself.

SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) is a statistic that attempts to measure how well someone is actually pitching over a period of time. It is measured the same way regular ERA is. And, just like most other statistics, SIERA says that Porcello’s 2016 campaign wasn’t quite Cy Young-worthy and his 2017 season isn’t as bad as some are making it seem. As a matter of fact, his 2016 SIERA was 3.78, a full .63 points higher than his actual 2016 ERA. This year, his SIERA is 4.09, .54 points lower than his real ERA. SIERA says that the difference from last year to this one is .31 runs per nine innings. However, his real ERA has increased by 1.48 runs per nine innings. The difference is staggering, and the truth is that Porcello’s real talent is somewhere in the middle between last year and this one.

Of course, this is to say nothing of the fact that Porcello simply isn’t having as good a year as he did last year. His ERA, his FIP (fielding-independent ERA), home run rate, and walk rate are all up from last year. Significantly, though, his run support is dramatically lower and his advanced metrics show that he isn’t faring that much worse than he did last year.

Porcello’s story also goes to show you just how powerful wins and losses still are in modern baseball. Even though a “win” or a “loss” is handed out largely based on how a pitcher’s offense supports him, we still view a pitcher’s record, for some reason, as a major indicator of his success or failure as a player. If you don’t believe me, 32 of the 34 Cy Young Award winners in this millennium won at least 15 games the year they won the award. The two exceptions were the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez in 2010 (13-12) and the 2003 NL winner, Dodgers closer Eric Gagne. While we can dispel of the notion that a pitcher’s record means something (#KillTheWin), wins and losses still hold a rather shocking amount of power in the baseball world.

Wins and losses are the reason we expected Rick Porcello to do better this season. Wins and losses put him on a faux pedestal as one of the best pitchers in baseball, and we shouldn’t be so flabbergasted that he hasn’t lived up to that billing this season. The Cy Young Award recognition probably didn’t help him out in this regard, either.

Many are searching for the answers for why Rick Porcello has disappointed in 2017. But if you look a little deeper, you’ll find that the high expectations for his performance were even more highly unjustified.

Jay Cutler and the Dolphins Make Sense for Each Other

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune

On Sunday, the Miami Dolphins, not long removed from learning that starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill may be done for the year with a knee injury, decided to replace him with former Bears quarterback and recent retiree Jay Cutler. The deal is for one year and $10 million, which allows Miami to get out from under it if Cutler falters. This is good leverage for the Dolphins to have, as they’re dealing with the man who was once benched for none other than Jimmy Clausen. Yes, that really did happen.

Invariably, with Cutler’s signing came the renewed calls for an NFL team to sign former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, as you’ll recall, has not been signed in free agency after spending last season protesting the national anthem in response to his concerns about what he views to be racial inequality and police brutality in the United States. Politics and social issues aside, Kaepernick, who threw for sixteen touchdowns and just four interceptions last season, is objectively one of the 64 best quarterbacks in the league and deserves to be employed. In fact, his supporting cast was so bad last year that his best receiver was once released by the Jets.

With the Dolphins bringing in a walking, talking meme as their starting quarterback, many are using this opportunity to bash the league for not being inclusive of Kaepernick’s social activism. Here is what Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman had to say on the matter:

That brings us to the other, unavoidable part of this story: Colin Kaepernick.

I’ve tried to not make every football conversation about Kaepernick, but damn if the NFL makes that impossible.

And now the Cutler signing, once and for all, exploded any and all myths about why Kaepernick isn’t signed.

The number of excuses made by pro-NFL forces, both in the league and the media, has been extensive and ridiculous.

Freeman is right that teams have seemingly looked for reasons not to sign Kaepernick this offseason; after all, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Geno Smith, Brock Osweiler, and Jay Cutler are all currently employed while Kaepernick still isn’t. The anger and discontent around his NFL shunning are both so great that we have now reached the Spike Lee support rally portion of the Kaepernick proceedings.

And while it’s absolutely true that Kaepernick should have a job right now, this is the one situation in which a team bypassing his services looks to have made the right decision. Let me explain.

The head coach of the Dolphins is Adam Gase, who was once the offensive coordinator of the Broncos and Bears. Gase’s one year in Chicago (2015) was spent with Jay Cutler as his starting quarterback. These were the numbers Cutler put up in fifteen games with Gase calling plays for the Bears:

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
64.4 21 11 3659 65.9

The 2015 season was the best of Cutler’s career and he threw a career-low eleven interceptions that year. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, consider that before Gase’s arrival in Chicago, Cutler twice led the league in interceptions. In seasons in which he played at least fifteen games before 2015, Cutler averaged nearly eighteen picks per year. Gase undoubtedly led Cutler to the best season of his career and that logic assuredly played into the Dolphins’ decision to sign him.

Let’s assume that Miami will get something similar to the production Cutler gave the Bears two years ago. And let’s assume that the team will lose something along the lines of Tannehill’s average production over his first five NFL seasons. What is an average Ryan Tannehill season, exactly? Well, based on his first five years in the league, it would look something like this:

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
62.3 21 13 3691 54.7

If this is to be believed, then the Dolphins may have just gotten better. Of course, there are other factors at play here.

The first of these facets is that Cutler was retired until 48 hours ago. He was slated to be a color commentator for FOX’s NFL coverage this year and was reported to have had reservations about leaving that gig for the Dolphins. While he has insisted that he is in good enough shape to still be an NFL quarterback (even without having the slightest conception of what that means), he still needs to ensure that he is in shape, learn the Dolphins’ playbook, and get to know his teammates and in particular his wide receivers. All of those things could take significant amounts of time, and the Dolphins’ regular season begins in just 33 days.

The second component of this is rather simple: we’re dealing with Jay Cutler, the man who once cursed out a ball boy, refused to talk to his offensive coordinator, and treated NFL officials like children. Another true story: while it has nothing to do with his football exploits, Cutler proposed to his wife, reality star Kristin Cavallari, by sending her a wedding ring through the mailHe literally mailed it in! When you think about it, though, Jay Cutler mailing in something incredibly important makes perfect and complete sense. And the fact that there is proof he did all of these things should give Dolphins fans at least some pause when it comes to his arrival.

And yet, after all of that, I’m still inclined to think that his signing was a good move for both he and the Dolphins. Cutler had the best season of his career with his current head coach calling the plays two years ago, and his return to Adam Gase’s offense should signal something of a return to form provided that he can develop chemistry with his wide receivers.

And as for that pesky Kaepernick question? If this were literally any other team and any other organization, signing Colin Kaepernick would have made far more sense. This, though, is the one time and place where a team made the right decision by signing someone else. While Kaepernick would have helped Miami, he doesn’t have the familiarity that Cutler does with Gase’s offense. That’s not his fault (Kaepernick never played under Gase) but it is the reality of the situation.

One more thing to consider: even if Ryan Tannehill was healthy, the team likely would have been relegated to being the AFC East’s second fiddle behind the gargantuan monolith that is the New England Patriots. The Dolphins’ main goal this year should be getting one of the AFC’s two wild card spots and reaching the playoffs.

The Dolphins suffered a significant blow to their team with Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury. In response, they’ve formed a union with Jay Cutler, an old friend from head coach Adam Gase’s celebrated offensive past.

It’s an arranged marriage that could work out for both sides.

The Most Underrated Player in Baseball

David Kohl/USA Today

Baseball is a uniquely individualistic and yet intrinsically team sport.

Teams must build a complete roster around multiple star-caliber players to win and contend for championships. The pitcher who starts the game is rarely the same one who finishes it. Lineups centered on just one batter often fail because that hitter does not have to be pitched to.

Baseball is, among other things, a team sport. And the performance of one player isn’t necessarily enough to carry a team to success. As a player, though, you can be superhuman even if your team isn’t.

Such is the case with Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto.

Votto, who turns 34 next month, is still somehow the best-kept secret in the sport to many casual observers. Part of the problem is that he plays in Cincinnati for a team that, since his first full season in 2008, has averaged just under 80 wins a year. In his career, Votto has played in all of nine postseason games. Even with this lack of organizational success, though, Votto won the 2010 National League MVP with 37 home runs and a hitting line of .324/.424/.600 (AVG/OBP/SLG). Votto has played at or near that level on a consistent basis since then with the exception of his 2014 season, one in which he was limited to 62 games because of a left quadriceps injury.

Since that year, however, he’s truly been one of the best hitters in baseball. Let’s take a look at the top five hitters in OPS (on-base plus slugging) since the 2015 season started. You’ll probably recognize all of these names:

  1. Mike Trout (1.020)
  2. Joey Votto (.997)
  3. Bryce Harper (.984)
  4. Paul Goldschmidt (.971)
  5. David Ortiz (.967)

Quick side note: 2015 and 2016 were Ortiz’s age-39 and age-40 seasons. He was a raging machine long after he was supposed to be in decline. I digress.

One of the things Votto has been known for in his career is his ability to get on base. Impressively, he’s first in the league over the past two-and-a-half seasons in on-base percentage, but what’s even more impressive is his ability to draw walks without striking out. Since 2015, there are only three hitters in baseball with more walks than strikeouts (Votto, Ben Zobrist, Buster Posey). But in the category of wRC+ (weighted runs created plus), this is how these three hitters stack up:

  1. Joey Votto (163)
  2. Buster Posey (129)
  3. Ben Zobrist (115)

So Votto walks a lot and is also insanely productive to boot. Votto walks so much, in fact, that he leads baseball in total walks since and including the year 2006. That is notable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that his big-league career didn’t begin in earnest until 2008.

Let’s look at win probability added, a numerical figure given to a player’s ability to impact the game both positively and negatively. Over the same time span, these are the top five players in baseball:

  1. Mike Trout (15.94)
  2. Anthony Rizzo (14.99)
  3. Bryce Harper (13.73)
  4. Clayton Kershaw (13.24)
  5. Joey Votto (13.18)

Wow. You hear about the first four players on that list rather often, and rightfully so. But Votto is right up there with them as one of the very best players in the entire league.

And what makes this story all the more amazing is how bad the Cincinnati Reds have been during this run of Votto’s excellence. Because while Votto has been over 13 wins better than average over the Reds’ past 432 games, the Reds have won under 41% of those contests. If the team holds its current pace for the rest of this season, they’ll win just 66 games. If the team performs as such, the Reds will have averaged 66 wins per season over the past three years. As bad as they’ve been with Votto on their team, it’s horrifying to imagine just how dreadful they would have been had Votto not been on the roster.

Interestingly enough, the Reds have Votto under team control until 2024. The good news about this deal is that to this point, he has been worth every penny and more of his $22.5 million average yearly salary. The bad news is that if he continues playing until the last year of the deal, Votto will end his contract at the age of 41. It’s the type of contract that just about never ends well. While Votto has been insanely productive over the first four years of his contract, what he does over the last six or seven years of his deal will determine its ultimate value. Meanwhile, the Reds front office has married itself to the dreadful contracts of disappointing players such as Homer Bailey (6 years/$105 million) and Devin Mesoraco (4 years/$28 million). For a team that already has the seventh-lowest payroll in baseball, spending foolishly on contracts that don’t match player production could be a backbreaking proposition for a franchise that hasn’t been to the World Series since 1990.

Another part of the problem is that Votto is not getting any younger. While his absurd production has been sustained over the course of his ten-year career, he is about to be a 34-year-old baseball player. Usually, player production, particularly for hitters, falls off a proverbial cliff by the time a player reaches the age of 35. While that hasn’t happened to Votto just yet, the prospect of his decline looms large for the Reds.

Right now, though, he is showing no signs of slowing down. He’s played in every single game for the Reds this season and is on pace to have 120 walks and just 81 strikeouts; those figures would give him a 1.48 walk to strikeout ratio. That would be best BB/K ratio in the majors since Victor Martinez’s 1.67 BB/K rate in 2014 and it would also be the second-best walk-to-strikeout ratio in a single season since 2010.

The sad part about all of this, though, is that Votto plays on a struggling team in the United States’ 34th-largest media market. Cincinnati is the 24th-ranked media market for baseball teams in the U.S. and would be 25th if Toronto was included in the rankings. Therefore, the only ways Votto would get major national attention would be if he reached the playoffs or were traded to a larger market such as Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York.

But neither of those possibilities look like they are going to materialize anytime soon. And until people start to take notice of his excellence, Joey Votto will continue to fly under the radar as one of baseball’s very best players on one of the sport’s very worst teams.

Part II: There You Go Again, NCAA

Leslie Plaza Johnson/Associated Press

Over six weeks ago, I told you the story of Central Florida kicker Donald De La Haye.

The story was about how the NCAA was trying to force him to shut down the profitability of his popular YouTube channel. I wrote that this power struggle between the kicker and the NCAA, some friends of mine who currently do the same thing De La Haye did, and how the organization was wrong to make him choose between creating popular videos and playing football. The story was a way bigger hit than I thought it would be partially because the De La Haye fiasco was, at the time, one of the biggest stories in sports.

Now, the scandal has reached what would appear to be an unceremonious end.

Yesterday, De La Haye revealed via (you guessed it) a YouTube video that he has been ruled ineligible to play for UCF because he refused to stop making money off his videos. Because the NCAA viewed him to be capitalizing on his status as a Division I football player to make a profit, which always has been a huge no-no in college athletics, De La Haye was ruled ineligible and lost his scholarship. NCAA president Mark Emmert will happily tell you that college athletes are not employees; instead, he will tell you that they are students. Inconveniently for him, though, regular students are allowed to make whatever they want through any business whatsoever; that includes, if they so desire, YouTube videos. College athletes cannot do this.

And the collective outrage about this happening? Today, it’s nowhere to be found. On ESPN’s website, De La Haye’s ineligibility did not make their “Top Headlines” banner at the top of the page. Stories that did make the site were Red Sox GM Dave Dombrowski’s bumbling comparison of the Yankees to the Warriors and this story, which I can’t even properly explain without sharing part of it:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive lineman Caleb Benenoch and Detroit Lions defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson are being sued over a $9,332 nightclub bill from March.

According to court documents filed in Los Angeles, the two players were guests of Richard James Harrington at the Hyde nightclub in Hollywood. Harrington said that when it came time to pay the tab, both players’ credit cards were declined.

Harrington agreed to pay the bill, under the condition that both players would reimburse him. Harrington said they reimbursed him $4,000 via the Venmo app and cash, but says they still owe $5,332 and are now refusing to pay.

That’s right: they’re being sued for $5,332. The lawsuit came just $332 away from being eligible to be featured on Judge JudyAnd somehow, that’s still more important than this. Currently, the top story on ESPN.com concerns a public dispute between UFC president Dana White and fighter Tyron Woodley. That’s also more significant, apparently.

Of course, ESPN isn’t the only outlet completely ignoring the conclusion to this story. Most sports outlets have recently paid more attention to stories like the MLB trade deadline, the NFL’s CTE crisis, or Lonzo Ball’s father, who is essentially the sports equivalent of a white Ford Bronco traveling down Interstate 405; you really don’t want to watch but you also can’t turn away.

But this is part of why the end of this story is so anticlimactic: you could see it coming from a mile away. On June 18, De La Haye posted a video announcing that he would keep making videos and refuse to demonetize his channel. Once that shoe dropped, you absolutely had to know that the NCAA would not approve of his actions. That doesn’t necessarily make his actions wrong, but with the course of action he took, there was never a chance for him to get out of this with his scholarship and football career still in tact.

That being said, there is something noble about what De La Haye did here. Remember that one of the driving forces behind his videos was to make money to send back to his financially-strapped family, one that moved from Costa Rica to Florida when De La Haye was younger. While De La Haye cited the ability to create and bring happiness to his followers as his main reason for continuing to make videos, the plight of his family likely played a role in that decision as well. While he lost his scholarship, he’ll still have the ability to make money off his channel and, in turn, try to support his family. I don’t see where the issue is there.

And remember all those times Emmert famously said that college athletes are students and not employees? Well, regular students are allowed to make YouTube videos and profit off them. Those students are also allowed to do this without the time constraints of an athlete’s everyday schedule. When Emmert says that athletes are employees and not students, he’s wrong. College athletes are not your regular students because the demands and restrictions placed on them are so irregular that they would never be able to function like a “normal student”.

This, of course, takes us back to the argument of whether or not college athletes should be paid. Many who are against paying college athletes say that those who are in favor of compensating players are not necessarily looking out for the young men and women themselves. This is what Fordham University’s Athletic Director, David Roach, said last year about paying college athletes:

I think it’s ridiculous. All this talk is being driven by the Power Five conferences.  It’s not about the student-athlete not being able to afford the cost of living, it’s about all the money being made and where it is and isn’t going.

(Full disclosure: I will be attending Fordham University in the fall.)

Roach makes an interesting point here, and I’m not just saying that because he’s the athletic director at my college. In Central Florida’s case, though, it’s very easy to dispel of this notion because UCF’s head coach, Scott Frost, is making $1.7 million per year until 2020 and the school is currently receiving $3 million per year as part of the American Athletic Conference’s television contract with ESPN. Funny how that happens. And remember, UCF isn’t in a Power 5 conference. And yet, they’re still making boatloads of money even while the football team scratched and clawed its way to a 6-7 finish last season, one that ended with a 31-13 loss to Arkansas State in something called the AutoNation Cure Bowl.

The matter at hand, though, is that Donald De La Haye was forced to choose between his two passions: creativity and football. His viral videos were a vessel for his imagination as well as a way to repay his family for supporting him throughout his young life. The fact that the NCAA shut down his YouTube business is as hypocritical as it is wrong.

Mark Emmert will tell you that college athletes are students and not employees. His organization’s decision-making, however, would suggest that college athletes aren’t even on the level of the average student.

Odell Beckham, Jr. Deserves the Huge Raise He’s Been Asking For

Al Bello/Getty Images

In case you haven’t heard, Odell Beckham, Jr. is requesting a massive raise in his next contract.

The fourth-year wide receiver will be making just over $3 million this season and $8.46 million in 2018. Based on his production over his first three NFL seasons, he would be more than deserving of becoming one of the highest-paid wide receivers in the NFL. That’s not all he wants in his next deal, though.

In fact, not only does the Giants standout want to be the highest-paid wide receiver in the league but he also wants to be the highest-paid player in the NFL. For next season, the highest-paid player in football will be Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who will be making exactly $25 million. A more realistic bar for Beckham to clear would be that of Antonio Brown, who is currently the NFL’s highest-paid wide receiver and will earn nearly $20 million in 2017. And while such an investment may be a taxing endeavor for the Giants, Beckham could be that rare player who is actually worth the astronomical sum of money he’s about to receive.

Here’s something to consider: this is the complete list of players who have had at least 1300 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns in each of the last three seasons:

  1. Odell Beckham, Jr.

That’s right: Beckham is the only player in the entire league to amass that many receiving yards and touchdowns in every year since he came into the league. Keep in mind that he missed the first four games of the Giants’ 2014 season before averaging a truly bonkers 108.8 receiving yards per game for the rest of that year to finish with 1305 yards. Beckham also pulled off that 1300-yard feat in the next two seasons. Only one other player (Antonio Brown) has done this twice, and only eight other players were able to do it just once.

Of course, Beckham hasn’t necessarily been the most prolific receiver in the NFL since his arrival. Let’s look at the full list of players with more receiving yards than OBJ since 2014:

  1. Julio Jones (4873 yards)
  2. Antonio Brown (4816 yards)
  3. Odell Beckham, Jr. (4122 yards)

Additionally, Brown tied with Beckham for the most touchdowns (35) of any pass catcher in the league during this period. Beckham may not have been the most statistically eye-popping wide receiver over his first three seasons (even if he was the most visually impressive) but, in some ways, he’s been the most consistently productive.

Most will agree that the three best wide receivers in the NFL over the past three years have been, in some order, Beckham, the Steelers’ Brown, and the Falcons’ Jones. The quarterback play complementing each receiver, though, should be taken into consideration when looking at the performance of each player. Let’s take a look at that, shall we? These are the average statistics over the past three seasons of each player’s primary quarterback. See if you can detect which one of these is not like the others:

Matt Ryan (Falcons)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
67.3 29 12 4743 73.6

Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
66.5 27 13 4236 71.2

Eli Manning (Giants)

COMP% TD INT YARDS QBR
62.9 30 15 4291 59.6

Two notes here:

  1. QBR is shorthand for Total Quarterback Rating and was created by ESPN in 2011 to measure a quarterback’s performance. 50 is considered average.
  2. Roethlisberger has missed six games over the past two seasons.

Matt Ryan is the defending NFL MVP and Ben Roethlisberger has won two-thirds of his starts in his NFL career. In case you haven’t figured it out, Beckham has been saddled with Eli Manning, the worst quarterback out of the three, for the vast majority of his young NFL career. Last season, in the category of QBR, Manning ranked 27th among qualified quarterbacks; this put him behind accomplished players such as Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Carson Wentz. Among all qualified signal-callers, Manning’s 2016 QBR was higher than those of just three quarterbacks: Blake Bortles, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Case Keenum. You probably didn’t think about it this way, but Manning was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL last year.

And yet, these are the numbers Beckham produced with Manning at the controls:

TARGETS CATCHES YARDS TD YARDS/CATCH
169 101 1367 10 13.5

That’s absurd. Just imagine if Beckham had an even more talented passer to complement his ridiculous receiving abilities. Even with Manning at the helm, Beckham had the third-most catches in football last season despite having the lowest catch percentage of any of the top five players in receptions. Not to disrespect Manning, but on many occasions, Beckham has been insanely good in spite of his quarterback.

And as for that massive contract he has been angling for? If I were in the Giants’ position, I’d just give it to him. While giving one player north of $25 million per year will handicap the front office’s ability to fill the rest of the roster under a $167 million salary cap, the ability to lock up a potentially generational talent should not be met with apathy. In fact, I’d go as far to give Beckham a metaphorical blank check and let him and his representatives decide how much he wants to make. He’s really been that good and, in some respects, he has been the best wide receiver in football over the past three years.

Fortunately, the Giants seem to understand Beckham’s worth. Yesterday, Giants co-owner John Mara said that the team will extend Beckham’s contract and made it seem like a matter of when, instead of if, a deal will get done. The Giants are one of the best-run organizations in professional football and it doesn’t look like they’re going to let their best player slip away because of a contract dispute.

Odell Beckham, Jr. wants to be paid like the best player in the NFL. While he may not necessarily be that, he deserves to get all the money he possibly can.

His performance has clearly demonstrated that he’s earned the right to an enormous payday.

The Cowboys Picked the Wrong Time to Draw a Line in the Sand

Michael Owen Baker/Associated Press

Nowadays, we hear about fake news rather often. In today’s world, nary a day goes by without someone using the phrase, whether it’s used to describe the American or foreign media. Over the last couple of days, though, fake news has dipped its toes into the waters of sports, and the results have been ugly.

Wide receiver Lucky Whitehead, now formerly of the Dallas Cowboys, was arrested on a shoplifting charge in Woodbridge, Virginia on June 22. He then supposedly compounded matters by not appearing at his arraignment hearing on July 6, which resulted in another charge. This led to the Cowboys releasing Whitehead on Monday and adopting a hard-line stance against the pass-catcher. From the beginning of the story, though, Whitehead and his agent denied any wrongdoing on the player’s part and accused the Prince William County Police of mistaking Whitehead’s identity for another offender. You could say that Whitehead was using the Wawa robbery equivalent of the Shaggy Defense here, but it was noteworthy that Whitehead was so quick to deny any wrongdoing on the basis of mistaken identity.

As it turns out, Whitehead was right to defend himself.

Yesterday, the Prince William County Police confirmed that they were pursuing the wrong guy in the June 22 Wawa theft. The police department apologized to Whitehead and his family; of course, they didn’t offer him his job back, but that’s another story. The Cowboys cited a pattern of behavior when deciding to release Whitehead, and from that point of view, they could be justified. Last year, Whitehead was kept away from the team’s Week 14 game against the Giants for skipping the walkthrough the day before the game. He has also never scored a touchdown in the NFL and his somewhat lackluster performances could, in a vacuum, justify his release.

For most organizations, this would be a one-off mistake that we could move on from in a swift manner. After all, though, these are the Dallas Cowboys.

And the Dallas Cowboys are having a rough offseason. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott may miss the first two games of the season on an accusation of domestic violence. To be fair to Elliott, he was not charged with a crime for the incident (which occurred in 2015) and the NFL has taken its dear sweet time investigating the matter. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the same man who released Whitehead for a crime he didn’t commit, has defended Elliott by saying there was “nothing” having to do with domestic violence in his situation. This may be true, but there was also no evidence of Whitehead’s crime other than what the Prince William County Police Department told us. Just saying.

Elliott’s possible suspension isn’t the only disciplinary cloud currently hanging over the Cowboys organization. Defensive end Randy Gregory was suspended for the 2017 season on January 5 for repeated violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gregory failed another drug test in February for his absurd-if-it-wasn’t-true seventh flunked test in, at the time, the span of just under 22 months. That, my friends, is a troubling pattern of behavior.

So what did Jones say at the time of Gregory’s sixth failed drug test? Let’s see for ourselves:

He’s genuine in his rehab process. I do have reason to be encouraged about his future. I hope and expect Randy Gregory to be back on the field.

What? Before you say that Gregory’s performance warrants this impassioned defense, remember that he has all of one sack in fourteen NFL games. Even when he has played, he hasn’t been productive. Most of the time, however, he’s been nothing but dead space on the team’s roster.

The most concerning thing about this fiasco, though, is what happens when you put it side-by-side with the team’s handling of former defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was convicted of two counts of domestic violence in 2014; he later had the charges dropped after his accuser failed to appear in court. Hardy was accused of, among other things, throwing his victim, Nicole Holder, on a couch laden with guns. The Cowboys reacted by signing Hardy, who had previously played for the Carolina Panthers, to a one-year contract, even as he was suspended for four games by the NFL (the league initially suspended him for ten games but an arbiter later reduced the ban to four games). Hardy was later interviewed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and wasn’t exactly remorseful for his transgressions. Hardy had pulled the rare triple play of committing a crime, not apologizing for it, and being employed by the Cowboys. Impressive.

By now, you’ve seen that the Cowboys aren’t exactly the no-tolerance organization they want us to think they are. They’ve consistently put up with repeated offenses from their players in exchange for their prolific performances; in some instances, like that of Randy Gregory, they haven’t even gotten serious production for their troubles. (Side note: this is the same organization whose players may or may not have taken horse meds in the 1990s. The Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the decade. Since 1996, though, they haven’t been back to the big game.)

Yesterday, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett gave a press conference in which he tried to defend the organization’s decision to release Lucky Whitehead. In it, he said the decision was “in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys” on ten different occasions. Garrett essentially morphed into Marshawn Lynch when trying to defend his team’s rash and possibly inappropriate decision.

Lucky Whitehead may have been released later in training camp due to his struggles in his first two NFL seasons. That would have been completely understandable; every team will be parting with much of its current 90-man roster by the time the regular season starts. Instead, the Cowboys released him in the name of a crime he never committed. In some ways, it’s what the team deserves for taking a tough stance on a fringe player it may have later cut anyway.

The Cowboys decided to draw a line in the sand with Lucky Whitehead’s “misconduct”. All the while, the team has turned a blind eye to other, more serious, legitimate offenses. The organization tried to appear tough in dealing with a player who didn’t actually do anything wrong and treated him far more harshly than other players who have committed actual crimes.

Treating those players the same way they treated Lucky Whitehead would truly be in the best interests of the Dallas Cowboys going forward.

The 100-Game MLB Awards

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The Major League Baseball season is 162 games long and lasts for six months; what happens in the last three months is far more important than what happens in the first three. However, the first 100 games of the season can give us a snapshot of what’s to come and which players are the best in both leagues. In this article, we’ll take a look at the award winners for both leagues over the course of the season’s first 100 games of the season. It’s been a fun year, one that has already broken records and captivated fans.

In this post, we’ll look at numbers both traditional and advanced to pick out the very best in both leagues. I’ll explain some of the more advanced statistics when we get to them; basically, I’m trying to weed out fairly useless stats such as RBI and pitcher wins in order to get to the bottom of who the best players in baseball really are.

So here we go. These are, through about 100 games of the season, the award winners in both the American and the National League. We’ll start in the AL.

American League

Most Valuable Player: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

Stats (AL Rank)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.310 (10) .434 (1) .649 (1) .1083 (1) 32 (1) 41.54 (1) 182 (1) 5.4 (1)

All rise!

The production of Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge speaks for itself. He is first in baseball in wRC+ (weighted runs created plus) to this point of the season, first in OPS, first in slugging percentage, first in home runs, first in RE24 (run expectancy for the 24 base-out states), and first in walk percentage. Judge has been the most productive player in the American League this season, which means that you’d probably be surprised to hear that I kind of struggled with this one.

Consider this: in the category of Win Probability Added, a statistic that is exactly what it sounds like, Judge is sixth in the American League. He also strikes out in 30.1% of his plate appearances, the sixth-highest rate among qualified hitters in the AL. Ultimately, I looked past those numbers because Judge has been so dominant in just about every other mainstream and sabermetric offensive category. However, this isn’t the runaway that everyone thinks it is, with players like Jose Altuve, Chris Sale (more on him shortly), and George Springer nipping at his heels.

Honorable Mentions: George Springer (Astros), Jose Altuve (Astros), Chris Sale (Red Sox), Khris Davis (Athletics)

Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox

Stats (AL Rank)

IP ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 RA9-WAR
141.1 (1) 2.48 (1) 0.89 (1) 12.74 (1) 1.97 (1) 2.52 (1) 30.30 (1) 5.6 (1)

I’m going to get in trouble for using some of these stats if I don’t explain them, so here goes.

SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA) is an attempt to answer just what makes a certain pitcher successful. It rates ground balls as more valuable than fly balls and getting strikeouts as the most valuable skill of all. FIP (fielding-independent pitching) takes the defense behind the pitcher out of the equation and rates his performance independent of that. RA9-WAR is the pitching equivalent of Wins Above Replacement except that it uses runs allowed per nine innings as its barometer of success. RE24 is the same for pitchers as it is for hitters, and a higher number means that a certain pitcher is negatively affecting the other team’s run expectancy over the course of a game.

Got all those stats down? Good, because Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale is the American League’s best starter in every one of those categories. He’s also first in ERA and strikeout rate; in fact, in his last start, Sale became the fastest pitcher to reach 200 strikeouts in a season in MLB history. Sale is on pace for over 300 strikeouts on the season and has been the American League’s most dominant pitcher so far this season. This is a no-brainer if I’ve ever seen one.

Honorable Mentions: Corey Kluber (Indians), Marcus Stroman (Blue Jays), Luis Severino (Yankees)

Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, RF/New York Yankees

See American League MVP above.

Honorable Mentions: Trey Mancini (Orioles), Jordan Montgomery (Yankees), Ben Gamel (Mariners), Jacob Faria (Rays)

Manager of the Year: A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros

The Houston Astros are having the best season in the American League and are on pace for 107 wins. Hinch, the one-time Stanford psych major, has undoubtedly been part of the Astros’ success so far this season. He has managed through injuries to ace Dallas Keuchel and shortstop Carlos Correa and, all the while, has led Houston to a whopping 17-game lead in the AL West. You could go with someone like the Twins’ Paul Molitor in this spot, but I’m going to take the manager of the best team in the American League, and that man happens A.J. Hinch.

Honorable Mentions: Paul Molitor (Twins), Joe Girardi (Yankees), Kevin Cash (Rays)


National League

Most Valuable Player: Bryce Harper, RF/Washington Nationals

Stats (NL Rank)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.336 (3) .441  (2) .634 (1) .1075 (1) 25 (T-4) 46.67 (1) 172 (2) 4.8 (2)

Bryce Harper is second on his own team in Wins Above Replacement to Washington’s third baseman, Anthony Rendon. That said, he’s still the MVP of the National League to this point in the year.

Harper ranks first in the National League in RE24, Win Probability Added, and slugging percentage. He’s also second in wRC+ and on-base percentage. Harper is in the top five of just about every significant offensive category. His all-around greatness shouldn’t be taken lightly, and it’s become clear that he’s the best player in the National League right now. Through 100 games, he’s been the most valuable player in the National League, even if he (technically) isn’t the Most Valuable Player on his own team.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rendon (Nationals), Joey Votto (Reds), Justin Turner (Dodgers)

Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank)

IP ERA WHIP K/9 FIP SIERA RE24 RA9-WAR
141.1 (1) 2.04 (1) 0.88 (2) 10.70 (3) 2.94 (2) 2.91 (2) 31.10 (1) 5.9 (1)

To be honest, my initial inclination was to give this award to Max Scherzer. However, in the interest of statistical research and analytical thinking, I decided to go with Kershaw by a very slim margin. Here’s why.

Kershaw pulls in ahead of Scherzer in RA9-WAR, RE24, and ERA. RA9-WAR is the important one here, as it is an exact quantification of a pitcher’s value to his team to this point in the season. ERA is also extremely important, as Kershaw is allowing fewer runs than Scherzer per nine innings. It is easy to give this one to Scherzer and you could justify doing that here. Instead, I’m going to take Kershaw, even though he’s about to go to the disabled list with a recurrence of back stiffness.

Honorable Mentions: Max Scherzer (Nationals), Gio Gonzalez (Nationals), Kenley Jansen (Dodgers)

Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, OF/1B/Los Angeles Dodgers

Stats (NL Rank Among Rookies)

AVG OBP SLG OPS HR RE24 wRC+ WAR
.269 (13) .352 (6) .617 (1) .969 (1) 27 (1) 26.34 (1) 146 (2) 2.6 (1)

If this seems like it’s too easy for you, guess what: it is.

Bellinger is first among NL rookies in OPS, home runs, RE24, WAR, and slugging percentage. He actually gets something of a surprise run in some of these categories from his own teammate, catcher Austin Barnes. Don’t kid yourself, though: to this point, Bellinger has been the National League’s best rookie and his heroics have helped the Dodgers to one of the best 99-game starts in MLB history. Even in the most stacked lineup in Major League Baseball, the rookie first baseman has stood out.

Honorable Mentions: Austin Barnes (Dodgers), Kyle Freeland (Rockies), Josh Bell (Pirates)

Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers

Is this a boring choice? Probably. Is it the right choice? Yes.

Roberts has anchored the Dodgers as they’ve won nearly 69% of their games to this point in the season. The team is currently on pace for a staggering 111 wins, and Roberts has played no small part in their early-season success. Roberts won the award last year, and while voters may be fatigued of voting for the same person they did a season ago, Roberts is clearly the best choice for Manager of the Year.

Honorable Mentions: Bud Black (Rockies), Torey Lovullo (Diamondbacks), Craig Counsell (Brewers)

The Potential Effects of a Kyrie Irving Trade

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Yesterday, NBA Twitter collapsed on itself with the report from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving is asking for a trade out of Cleveland. Irving has been the second-most important player on a Cavaliers squad that has reached the NBA Finals in three consecutive seasons, and the news of his trade request comes as a complete shock to both the Cavs and the rest of the league. Irving’s reasoning for doing this is to get out of the shadow of LeBron James, who is somehow still the best player on the planet at age 32. The Cavaliers are reportedly none too pleased with the demands becoming public because the news lessens Irving’s trade value. Needless to say, there’s a lot going on here.

Irving has stated that he prefers four potential destinations: San Antonio, Minnesota, Miami, or the Knicks. Let’s just say that he would make any of those four teams better, with the degree of improvement being dependent on how much each team is willing to fork over in a deal. We’ll leave this space to what a possible trade would do to the Cleveland Cavaliers as they are currently constituted.

The present-day Cavalier offense is built around isolation sets for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. While the Cavs averaged 110.3 points per game last season, James and Irving, on average, scored 51.6 of those points; combined, the two accounted for nearly 47% of their team’s points in every game they played. Kyrie averaged career highs in points and shots taken per game a season ago, and a 32-year-old James appears to have been ready to cede more of the offense to the team’s star point guard. In fact, Irving’s regular season usage rate was higher than LeBron’s a season ago.

Of course, Irving is not a true point guard in every sense. He has never averaged more than 6.1 assists in a season and has drawn comparisons to Allen Iverson both for his slick ball-handling and his isolation tendencies. This doesn’t mean that he’s a selfish player; he wasn’t even the primary ball-handler in Cleveland’s offense when he and James were on the floor together. But it would be a stretch to see him putting up numbers akin to the league’s best assist men (John Wall, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, etc.) anytime soon.

That being said, the impact of his impending departure from Cleveland cannot be overstated. Many of the problems Cleveland had last season, particularly against the Warriors, came because of the overuse of James and Irving. If you think LeBron James is currently overworked (which he is), you won’t want to see the Cavaliers without a legitimate second option to give him relief. There are numbers to back this up.

For example, in last year’s NBA Finals, James and Irving both pulled usage rates of over 30 percent. Translated: when both players were on the floor, they accounted for over 60% of the Cavaliers’ offense. Cleveland wasn’t playing two-on-five, but at times, it felt like they were. Irving’s usage rate increased when James went to the bench while James’ increased without Irving. The two players averaged a ridiculous 41.4 (!) minutes per game in this past Finals but without the defensive attention devoted to Irving, the Cavaliers offense simply does not operate as efficiently.

Together, James and Irving chipped in 77 points in Game 3 of the 2017 Finals. The Cavaliers won that game by…. that’s right, they lost. One of the best performances by two teammates in an NBA Finals game still wasn’t enough to topple the mighty Golden State Warriors. Even with Irving, the Cavaliers, as currently constituted, are not nearly good enough to win a championship. Without him, they’re still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference (having the best player on Earth will do that to you), but they are not the unassailable force out East that they are right now.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that Irving is traded to the Knicks for Carmelo Anthony. Let’s also assume that the Knicks’ star power forward, Kristaps Porzingis, is not involved in any potential deal. Irving’s PER (player efficiency rating) last season was 23.0 while Anthony’s was 17.9 (league average in 15). Anthony’s VORP (value over replacement player) was 0.7 while Irving’s was 2.9. Irving ranked in the top 15 of all players last season in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, while Anthony barely scratched the top 50. Most interestingly, Anthony’s Box Plus/Minus last year was -2.2, a rating similar to players such as Derrick Rose, Arron Afflalo, Jamal Crawford…. and Kyrie Irving. The Cavs would essentially be trading away one of the best offensive players in the game for an aging player whose career trajectory is quickly hurtling toward a serious decline at age 33.  The Cavs would also not improve at all on defense, which was easily their weakest point last year. This trade would make perfect sense for the Knicks, which obviously means that there’s no way it’ll ever come to fruition.

The Cavaliers, though, are likely left with no better options. The team and new GM Koby Altman are faced with no good alternatives after Irving’s trade demands became public knowledge yesterday. Altman is taking over for the jettisoned David Griffin, who was fired on June 30, much to the dismay of the Cavs’ best player. The Cavaliers are also the biggest soap opera in the NBA today; their superstars are disgruntled, their owner is meddling in the team’s success, and their roster could be gutted by this time next year. In the short term, though, a potential Irving trade may put the Celtics ahead of the Cavs in the Eastern Conference next season. With all indications pointing to James potentially leaving Cleveland after next season, his second stint with the Cavs may end like the first one did: with a playoff loss to the Celtics. I’m not ready to say that for sure just yet, but Irving’s loss would be catastrophic to Cleveland’s championship hopes.

Kyrie Irving shocked the basketball world yesterday by asking for a trade out of Cleveland. Because Irving made the request, the trade is likely to happen sooner rather than later, and it will be interesting to see where he goes and what the Cavaliers can get in return for his services.

His demands truly put the Cavaliers in a peculiar place, but Cleveland has itself to blame for his wanting out.

The Diamondbacks Just Robbed the Tigers in Plain Sight

Rick Osentoski/USA Today

Last night, the Yankees and White Sox pulled off the biggest blockbuster trade of this calendar year. Chicago will be sending third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to the Bronx in exchange for prospects Blake Rutherford, Tito Polo, and Ian Clarkin, as well as embattled relief pitcher Tyler Clippard. The trade is easily the headline-making deal of the day, and one that promises to affect both organizations going forward.

I’d like to talk today, though, about another trade that went down yesterday that will actually have a far bigger impact on the rest of baseball.

Yesterday, the Detroit Tigers pulled the plug on their hopelessly mediocre season by trading outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for minor-league infielders Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King. Martinez is a free agent after the season and has indicated that he may possibly go back to Detroit in the offseason. If he does, it’s obvious that the Tigers will have taken advantage of the last 69 regular season games of Martinez’s current contract by getting at least something for him. For now, however, let’s look at what Martinez will give the Diamondbacks for the rest of this season.

Despite the fact that Martinez may only stay in Arizona for the rest of this season, a large sample size exists to demonstrate that he is entirely worth the team’s investment. In the statistic of Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which is an attempt to take the outcomes of a player’s at-bats into account while also accounting for the differences in each major league ballpark, Martinez is near the top of the league. Just how good is he? Since 2014, this is the list of the top eight hitters in wRC+ (100 is league average):

  1. Mike Trout (173)
  2. Joey Votto (159)
  3. Bryce Harper (151)
  4. Paul Goldschmidt (151)
  5. Miguel Cabrera (148)
  6. Freddie Freeman (147)
  7. Nelson Cruz (146)
  8. J.D. Martinez (146)

Okay. This is not to say that Martinez has been one of the eight best hitters in baseball over a nearly four-year span. We should definitely look at something more mainstream and commonly-used in the baseball community. Let’s look at something like Offense Plus Slugging (OPS). These are some of the top hitters in baseball in that category, over the same time span:

  1. Mike Trout (.992)
  2. Joey Votto (.974)
  3. Paul Goldschmidt (.960)
  4. Bryce Harper (.946)
  5. David Ortiz (.937)
  6. Miguel Cabrera (.917)
  7. Freddie Freeman (.915)
  8. Giancarlo Stanton (.915)
  9. J.D. Martinez (.912)

To be fair, OPS has its warts: it devalues on-base percentage and hitters who hit a lot of home runs and extra base hits are at a clear advantage. However, it’s clear that Martinez has consistently been one of the best hitters in baseball over a long period of time. This is not a three-month stretch we’re talking about; rather, we’re discussing a three-year stretch. If the MLB season ended today, just two of the teams that made the 2014 postseason (the Dodgers and Nationals) would make this year’s playoffs. Some hitters are great over the stretch of 300 or even 600 plate appearances. Martinez has been consistently great over his last 1886 plate appearances. The sample size should be enough to convince you that even two and a half months of him in the lineup is worth it for the Diamondbacks.

Martinez can play either corner outfield spot, and one would figure that he’ll be playing left field for Arizona for the rest of the season. That position has been something of a trouble spot for Arizona this season and Martinez can immediately fortify that position for a team looking to make a run in October. Where he fits in the lineup is up to the team and manager Torey Lovullo, but a hitter of his caliber should be able to fit just about anywhere with one of baseball’s better offenses.

Of course, there is something to be said to Martinez’s adjustment to playing in Arizona. After all, he was already discussing returning to Detroit just moments after he was traded to the Diamondbacks. That doesn’t mean he won’t produce in Arizona, but his acclimation to his new surroundings is something to keep an eye on.

Something he won’t have to worry about is the new ballpark he’ll be playing in. Martinez used to play in Comerica Park, a fairly neutral park for hitters and pitchers. He’ll be moving to Chase Field, the extremely hitter-friendly domain that is second only to Yankee Stadium in home runs hit per game this season. For context, the Diamondbacks rank fourteenth in baseball in home runs this season. It’s not about them; it’s about the home field they play in.

As for the return the Tigers got for Martinez? Many baseball scouts and reporters were less than impressed. The Diamondbacks did not surrender any of their top prospects from a farm system that has consistently been ranked near the bottom of baseball; it has never been last in the league, of course, because the Los Angeles Angels exist. Still, the return for one of the best hitters in the league seems very light. It’s possible that all of the players in the deal could be successful, but for right now, it looks like the Diamondbacks got an extraordinary talent without having to part with extraordinary value in return. Not bad for an organization that just a year and a half ago traded top prospect Dansby Swanson and now-star outfielder Ender Inciarte to the Atlanta Braves for 24 (mostly terrible) starts from Shelby Miller. I digress.

Let me say this, just so we’re absolutely clear: the acquisition of J.D. Martinez is absolutely not enough for the Diamondbacks to close their 10.5-game deficit on the Los Angeles Dodgers for the NL West crown. The Dodgers are literally the best team I’ve ever seen and Arizona better bring much more than J.D. Martinez to the table if they want to win the division.

Today, most baseball observers are buzzing about the Yankees’ acquisition of Todd Frazier and David Robertson. It’s obvious, though, that the Diamondbacks have pulled off the heist of the MLB trading season.

The Dodgers And Astros Are Having Historic Seasons

Kevin Sousa/USA Today

The Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros are currently the two best teams in their respective leagues.

Both teams are on fire right now. The Dodgers have won nine in a row and 29 of their last 33 games. The Astros have won 16 of their last 22 games, demonstrating that their blazing 42-16 start was no fluke. At their current pace, Houston would win 109 games while the Dodgers would win a staggering 111. If both teams were to finish the season like they’ve started it, they would rank among the winningest regular season teams in baseball history. Of course, only one team can win the World Series, and this isn’t to say that Houston or Los Angeles necessarily will.

To this point, though, both teams have been far and away ahead of the rest of baseball’s pack.

Think about this, for example: do you know who the third-best team in baseball is? By record, it’s the NL East-leading Washington Nationals, who are on pace for a not-so-insignificant 98 wins. Because of the Dodgers’ dominance over the rest of the National League, though, much of the narrative around Washington’s season has revolved around their league-worst bullpen, a  hodgepodge of arms that possesses the worst bullpen ERA in the game. But the Nationals beat the Dodgers in two out of three games in June and play Houston near the end of August. In most years, the Nationals would be the best team in baseball. Instead, most are busy identifying all of the different ways Washington will succumb to the rest of baseball in October.

Let’s look in the American League, shall we? The Boston Red Sox are the AL’s second-best team at 52-41. They are currently on pace for 91 wins, which is a full 18 victories behind Houston’s current pace. Boston does have the one thing the Astros don’t, which just so happens to be the best pitcher in baseball, Chris Sale. Of course, Sale can only pitch a maximum of three games in a seven-game series and has never previously pitched in the postseason. Other teams that could challenge Houston include the reigning AL champion Cleveland Indians, the New York Yankees, and Tampa Bay Rays. Cleveland is the most likely playoff threat because of their playoff experience, but they are currently just 1.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins in the mediocre AL Central.

Many would think that the performance of both teams in the first half of the season is nothing more than an unsustainable and anomalous blip. Let’s examine that assumption a little more closely.

Pythagorean W-L is a statistic that attempts to quantify what a team’s record should be based on its run differential. Basically, it is an attempt to remove luck from a team’s performance. Currently, the Astros’ Pythagorean record is 61-31, just one win off their actual record. At this rate, the team will score a wholly absurd 958 runs this season and concede just 664. (Note: no team scored more than 878 runs last season.) If those figures hold true, Houston will win 109 games, exactly what their current pace is in real life. Amazing. Now, let’s go back to the Dodgers.

As we sit right now, the Dodgers’ Pythagorean W-L is 64-29, the same as their actual record. At their current pace, L.A. is going to score 834 runs and allow all of 535. (No team allowed fewer than 556 runs in 2016.) If those numbers are sustained, the Dodgers would have, and you may want to be sitting down for this, a 115-47 record for the season. That would put them one win ahead of the 1998 New York Yankees and one game behind the 2001 Seattle Mariners for the best 162-game record ever.

Baseball fans shouldn’t overthink what’s going on here: we’re watching two of the best teams in the history of the game. Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight uses what it calls “ELO Rating”, a numerical figure given to a team throughout the season, to calculate the best teams of all time. In this all-encompassing measure of greatness, both the Dodgers and the Astros ranked in the top 20 teams ever at the All-Star break, with both teams coming within four points of the 1927 Yankees and light years ahead of last year’s World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs. There are reasonable questions as to whether or not this can be sustained, but over 90 games is a very healthy sample size for the prospects of both teams’ continued success.

About that: it’s entirely possible that both teams start to fall off their scorching pace in the second half of the season. The Astros, however, will soon be getting reinforcements: ace Dallas Keuchel is making the first start of his rehab assignment in Corpus Christi, Texas tonight. The 2015 Cy Young winner hasn’t pitched since June 2 because of a pinched nerve in his neck. For as ridiculously good as the Astros have been this year, they might get even better. Let that thought sit with you for just a moment.

As for the Dodgers, there are likely no more reinforcements coming. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez may return before the end of the season after herniating multiple disks in his back. He was replaced by none other than Cody Bellinger, who is expected to run away with the National League Rookie of the Year Award barring unforeseen circumstances. If Gonzalez were to return, he could provide a spark off the bench; he won’t get his first base job back, as Bellinger is playing too well to go back to the bench. Also, Clayton Kershaw is, by his standards, having a down year. That’s another thing you should probably take into consideration.

In Major League Baseball this season, we are seeing something that rarely occurs: two teams that are re-writing the record books in the exact same season. While it remains to be seen whether or not the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros can cash in their regular season success with a championship, one thing is clear:

They have rampaged through baseball in 2017, leaving 28 Major League franchises in their wake. They’re also leaving much of baseball’s history in the rear view mirror, re-writing records on their way to historic campaigns.