The Mets Have Had a Disastrous 24 Hours


Last night, the New York Mets played a home game against the San Diego Padres.  They came into the night one game back of the division-leading Washington Nationals, and a win coupled with a Washington loss would put the Amazins in a tie for first place (the Nationals won).  However, the game would become so much more, as the result of a Mets trade attempt and its consequences.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post first reported the story, and later gave us the full details of the deal, pending medicals:

Wheeler is a highly touted pitcher who has only tossed the equivalent of a season and a half at the big league level.  You may remember that he was acquired by the Mets in 2011 in a trade that sent Carlos Beltran to the San Francisco Giants.  Flores is in his ninth year in the Mets organization and his third year in the bigs.  This season, he’s started at both shortstop and second base and hit .249 with ten home runs in the process  He was also the starting shortstop in last night’s game.  Both would have been heading to Milwaukee in the trade. Would have.

News of the trade broke around 9:00 Eastern Time last night.  The Met-Padre game was going long, with starter Bartolo Colon getting shelled for six runs and ten hits in just 2.1 innings.  As best I remember, the news must have broke in the fifth or sixth inning. (True story: I was at the game.  It has nothing to do with this post, but it was a truly bizarre event to attend.)  But back to the story.

For whatever reason, Flores was not pulled from the game when the trade became news.  Common practice in a situation like this is to pull the player(s) involved.  This is done to ensure that said player(s) do(es) not get injured, which would lead to a flunked physical and a called-off deal.  In any event, Flores was left in the game and became visibly emotional in the field.  Still, I feel the need to defend Flores here: the Mets have been the only organization he has ever known (he was drafted by them as a 16-year-old) and he’s been with them, and stayed loyal to them, through the ups and downs that being a player in the post-2006 Met organization brings.

However, he would get an at bat in the bottom of the 7th.  Word of the deal had filtered through the ballpark by that point, and the thinned out gathering at Citi Field gave him an elongated standing ovation as he stepped to the dish.

At that point, it appeared as though Flores would be finally removed from the game.  This would not be the case, however, as Wilmer would be sent back out to the field for the final two innings.  He would have had the chance to bat in the bottom of the ninth, but then, and only then, was he taken out of the game.  So far, you can guess that this story has been very weird.  Warning: it’s about to get weirder.

First, we’ll go to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal for an explanation as to why Flores was not pulled earlier:

This would at least partially explain Flores’ staying in the game.  But although he had not been traded, he somehow found out he was about to be.  And in my view, even though he was still officially a New York Met through the entirety of the game, he should have been removed.  There are two reasons for my having this train of thought. The first is that he was risking obvious injury by staying in the contest.  Even though he hadn’t been traded yet, he could’ve sustained an injury in the game, which would have destroyed any hope for the trade.  The other reason is that he could not have served the Mets any good in the emotional state he was in.  While he wasn’t wrong for being emotional, he wasn’t helpful to the Mets, either.

Now the story is about to take another wild turn.  After the game, word got around among reporters that the deal may be off.  Sure enough, General Manager Sandy Alderson spoke with the assembled media after the game and said this:

The general thought at this point was that the calling off of the trade had to do with Wheeler.  He had Tommy John surgery on March 25 and is expected to be out until next July-August, at the earliest. Common sense told those who follow (and cover) the game that Wheeler had an issue with his physical, or that he did not perform well in his medical reports.  This had to be the reason for the trade not happening, right?  Wrong.

An explanation of the failure to complete the trade came from Rosenthal, just after midnight this morning:

So, to recap: the Mets trade for a power bat in the middle of the lineup, give up their shortstop and one of their prized young pitchers, leave said shortstop in the game, and after all that?  The deal falls through.  Yikes.

Now, I don’t think the deal would have been overly beneficial to the Mets in the short or long term, but that was the article I would have written today if the trade was completed.

Here’s another opinion of mine: the reporters did almost nothing wrong.  They reported what was essentially a done deal, and in a business where being the first to report something is critical, they wanted to be prompt with their information, too.  However, the only mistake of theirs was not stressing that the deal still needed the blessing of medicals to be completed.  Other than this, though, the only thing these reporters did was their job.

Rosenthal agrees with me:

Not all reports included a reference to “pending medicals.” Even the ones that did left the impression that the deal was fait accompli. Many followers interpreted the deal as done, if only because such deals almost always get done.

Well, this deal did not get done, and the enduring image of the night was of Flores in tears at shortstop, thinking he had been traded.

The Mets looked heartless for allowing Flores to remain in the game; players involved in pending deals generally are removed to ensure that they avoid injury.

The media, too, looked heartless, at least in the view of some on Twitter; we reported a trade before it technically was completed, and created a mess.

But that was last night, and this was today.

With an early 12:10 start, the team looked to the consistent Jon Niese to right the ship.  And it looked like he had, as they were leading 7-1 after six innings.  However, reliever Bobby Parnell loaded the bases in the 7th, retiring but one batter.  Hansel Robles was brought in to stop the bleeding, but what he did instead was allow a grand slam to Derek Norris.  The score was 7-5, and it would stay that way until the 9th.

Closer Jeurys Familia entered the game to finish the deal and end the disastrous string of events that had befallen the Mets over, at that point, the past 18 hours.  He got the first two outs of the inning, but in the ultimate twist of fate, a downpour came with no balls and one strike on Norris.  When the game resumed, Familia was questionably left in, and allowed hits to Norris and Melvin Upton Jr.  And then the dagger came; a three-run home run surrendered to Melvin’s brother Justin.  The damage was done.

After a second delay pushed the conclusion of the game back to 6:25, the Mets went down 1-2-3 in the final frame.  The nightmare continued, leaving the team looking for answers.

This is easily one of the worst 24 hour periods the franchise has ever endured.  It’s no Midnight Massacre, but it’s still really bad.  The issue?  The schedule is not getting easier.  The team has a crucial three-game set this weekend against the Nationals, who they are now three games behind in the divisional race, thanks to the results of the last two days.

Reports have linked the Mets to potential outfielders like the Tigers’ Yoenis Cespedes and the Reds’ Jay Bruce.  However, neither of these can play center field, which is a need for the team at the moment. Even if they do acquire an outfielder, it will require the capitulation of significant assets, most likely prospects.  These are assets that the Mets simply may not be willing to give up, especially after swinging and missing on the Gomez trade.

The #LOLMETS jokes are back.  The organization, and in particular, manager Terry Collins, is under fire for their handling of the entire situation.  “Meet the Mets” has sounded more like “Meet the Mess” over the past 24 hours.

The team may get Cespedes, Bruce, or other major league talent, but they are going to miss out on Gomez; he’s been traded to the Astros. And no deal can hide away the cold hard truth about the Mets.

The last 24 hours have been brutal for them.

(c) 2015

How Much Can Troy Tulowitzki Really Help the Blue Jays?

Late last night, the Toronto Blue Jays pulled off the blockbuster of the trade season by acquiring Troy Tulowitzki, as first reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:

Later, Rosenthal also reported the full terms of the deal, including who the Rockies would be acquiring in the agreement:

Those three prospects were right-handed pitchers Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, and Jesus Tinoco.

Tulowitzki has had a very solid season for the Rockies, hitting .300 and making the National League All-Star team.  The Rockies had been looking to trade him for the last couple of seasons, but they were unable to find the value they wanted.  They also wanted to trade Tulo to a team he wanted to play for; this explains, at least partially, why he was never traded to a team like the Mets.  However, according to Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan, the Rockies notified Tulowitzki (and his teammates) of the trade in a rather dishonorable fashion:

There was always an agreement between Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort and his star shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, spoken out loud so as to be abundantly clear: If the Rockies were to trade Tulowitzki, they were going to ask for his blessing first. Then came the blockbuster deal that sent him to the Toronto Blue Jays late Monday night, and Tulowitzki, according to sources inside the Rockies’ clubhouse, found out not via a phone call but when teary-eyed manager Walt Weiss yanked him from their game in the ninth inning.

The story of how Tulowitzki was treated, relayed by people aggrieved with his departure and how the Rockies broke their word to the longtime face of their franchise, is actually a fitting end to a multiyear trade-him-or-don’t saga that wound up with Tulowitzki fetching his passport and heading to Canada along with LaTroy Hawkins for shortstop Jose Reyes and a trio of right-handed pitching prospects: Jeff Hoffman, Miguel Castro and Jesus Tinoco.

Fearful Tulowitzki requesting a trade publicly would make the Rockies look weak, the team asked him to play good soldier, which he obliged, according to club sources. The organization’s dysfunction, from the power struggles between former co-GMs Dan O’Dowd and Bill Geivett to a hands-on owner in Monfort whose public comments about players often rubbed them the wrong way, was all too evident, not just to Tulowitzki but the team’s young core of Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, D.J. Lemahieu and Corey Dickerson.

The stunned silence of players early Tuesday morning, when word of the trade came down, spoke to the disappointment of losing Tulowitzki. As the Rockies stashed him in Weiss’ office to keep him from addressing a deal that early Tuesday remained unconfirmed by either team, the truth of Tulowitzki’s exit filtered into the clubhouse and left the players even more gobsmacked, according to sources.

So what can Tulowitzki do for the Blue Jays that Jose Reyes couldn’t?  Let’s find out.

Invariably, the first aspect of this trade that arises given the players involved is health.  Interestingly enough, in each player’s full seasons, Reyes has averaged more games played (121) than Tulowitzki (114). Also, Tulo hasn’t played the last three seasons on artificial turf, like Reyes has in Toronto.  Moreover, Tulowitzki has had multiple lower-body related injuries in the past, such as a torn quadriceps tendon in 2008 and a left hip injury in 2014.  The artificial turf north of the border won’t help matters.

However, Tulowitzki adds yet another home run hitting presence to the already stacked Blue Jays lineup.  I’ve put together a projected lineup for the Blue Jays, with the addition of Tulowitzki and the subtraction of Reyes.  Here it is:

  1. Kevin Pillar- 7 HR
  2. Josh Donaldson- 24 HR
  3. Troy Tulowitzki- 12 HR
  4. Jose Bautista- 21 HR
  5. Edwin Encarnacion- 19 HR
  6. Justin Smoak- 9 HR
  7. Russell Martin- 14 HR
  8. Ezequiel Carrera- 3 HR
  9. Devon Travis- 7 HR

So, except for the 8-hole, there is at least a decent home run threat at every spot in the lineup.  And the Blue Jays even have the option of taking Carrera, their starting left fielder, out and putting Chris Colabello into that spot; Colabello has hit nine home runs this season. While Tulowitzki has spent his career in the ultimate home run hitter’s ballpark (Coors Field), Rogers Centre should not be much, if any, of a deterrent; only six less home runs have been hit there than at Coors.

However, they will lose the stolen base threat of Reyes.  Other than Kevin Pillar, Jose was the only threat the Blue Jays had to swipe a bag. The Blue Jays will miss this, but losing him does not mean the team will stop scoring runs; the opposite is the case.  As of July 28, Toronto led all of baseball with 528 runs scored, a whole 72 more than the second place team, the Yankees.  They will most likely expand upon this margin with Tulowitzki, provided he stays healthy and in the lineup.

I still don’t think this was a great move.  Why?  The Blue Jays simply do not need hitting.  They need pitching, as their staff ERA is the eighth highest in baseball.  NBC HardballTalk’s Matthew Pouliot agrees with me:

And if the Blue Jays did go get a bat, it figured to be an outfielder. Preferably one who hits left-handed. 111 of the Jays’ 130 homers this year have come from right-handed hitters, and while they’ve gotten solid production from every spot, the positions on the team with the lowest OPSs to date are left field and center field.

Then there are the Rockies. The Rockies always need pitching. Their most effective starter this year has been 28-year-old Chris Rusin, a Cubs castoff with a 3-4 record and a 4.13 ERA in 65 1/3 innings. Overall, their starters have a 5.12 ERA, which ranks 29th in MLB ahead of only the Phillies. They’re dead last with a 1.52 WHIP and a 1.8 K:BB ratio.

The other thing the Rockies always seem to need to do is to get cheaper. They don’t really like spending money. They’re not very good at it when they do.

None of this would seem to be a likely recipe for a Troy Tulowitzki-for-Jose Reyes trade. To say this one came out of nowhere would be an understatement. No one would have guessed the Blue Jays were in the market for a shortstop. And no one would have imagined that when the Rockies finally traded Tulo, it would be for a player who has a higher annual salary.

While I completely agree with this viewpoint, we must be fair to the other players in the deal.  While the Blue Jays gave up three pitching prospects, they did get Rockies’ reliever LaTroy Hawkins in the deal. Hawkins has had experience closing out games, as he did in stints with the 2013 Mets and last year’s Colorado team.  And he will probably be the closer, as the Blue Jays have had many this season (one of their closers this year was Miguel Castro; he plays for the Rockies now).  Roberto Osuna has been the 9th inning man of late and has performed capably, but Hawkins has been effective over a longer period of time. He should get the nod to finish games.

So what does this all mean?  We won’t know until the Blue Jays are done dealing.  The Tulo move probably means that they will also look to get a starting pitcher, as they have already fortified their bullpen and lineup.  Trading for the best hitting shortstop in the game makes an already-stacked starting lineup that much more difficult to face. It’s a “rich get richer” type of move, and it’s one that will probably lead to other moves as well.

Finally, let’s not forget another, more far-fetched possibility: the Blue Jays trading Tulowitzki.  It’s not completely out of the question, and while it’s unlikely, it isn’t impossible.  The Rockies are thinking of flipping him to get other assets (probably minor leaguers), and the Blue Jays could do the same with Tulo.  But if they don’t, they get one of the best hitters in the game, in his prime, in a home run hitting ball park.

If he can stay healthy, that is.



How To Fix the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Voting Problem

It’s that time of year; the time where we pay homage to baseball’s best all-time players with a Hall of Fame ceremony.  Sunday will mark the 80th Hall of Fame class in the establishment’s history, and the second year in a row in which there were at least three player inductees. This season, the honorees will include all-time greats Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Craig Biggio, and John Smoltz.  Each year, the BBWAA’s (Baseball Writers Association of America) 549 voting members vote on the ballot, and while they get it right more often than they don’t, that doesn’t mean that the voting process is necessarily effective.

For those who are unaware, here are some of the rules for Baseball Hall of Fame voting.  The 549 members of the BBWAA are allowed to vote for 10 former players per year for the Hall of Fame, and those players need to have played in Major League Baseball for at least 10 years and been retired for at least five years.  If a former player has been deceased for at least six months, he can also be eligible for induction.  Players need 75% of the BBWAA vote for induction, and those who receive less than 5% of the vote are eliminated from induction.

If a player is not disqualified but does not receive the 75% necessary for enshrinement after ten years on the ballot, he can be considered by something that was called the Veterans Committee every third year.  Notable former players inducted by the Veterans Committee include Ron Santo (2012), Orlando Cepeda (1999) and Jim Bunning (1996).  The Veterans Committee can also elect managers, umpires and executives, as it did with Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, and Bobby Cox last year.  However, this committee was broken into three committees in 2010: the pre-Integration Era Committee (1876-1946), the Golden Era Committee (1947-1972) and the Expansion Era Committee (1973-present).

But this process doesn’t work.  You may have heard the stories about how a sizable portion of the voters simply do not follow the game, and have not followed the game for a long period of time.  Here’s an example I found: ESPN’s Dan Graziano.  Graziano reached his 10-year requirement by covering the then-Florida Marlins from 1996-1999 for The Palm Beach Post and the Yankees from 2000-2008 for The Star-Ledger.  After that, he spent two years as an NFL writer for AOL Fan House and, since 2011, has been’s NFC East Blogger.

He hasn’t covered the game in seven years.

In light of this story, here are some proposals to fix the issues with the Hall of Fame voting in baseball.

1. Let the Writers Do What They Want with Their Ballots

I thought of this in light of something that happened last year.  ESPN’s Dan Le Batard, who had a Hall of Fame vote in 2014, did not decide to use it himself.  Instead, he gave it to Deadspin, a site that has had many a tussle with ESPN over the years.  Deadspin then let its readers vote yes or no for a player to be in the Hall of Fame, with the top 10 vote-getters being submitted on Le Batard’s, and Deadspin’s, ballot.

The BBWAA responded by suspending him for one year and forever revoking his Hall of Fame voting privileges.  But Le Batard should be able to do what he wants to do with his ballot.  The sanctity of the voting process is incredibly overblown, and there is no better example than last year’s voting. As’s Cliff Corcoran wrote, one voter decided not to vote for Greg Maddux for an incredibly dumb reason:

No player has ever been elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame and four-time Cy Young winner Greg Maddux, the most obvious of the many deserving candidates on this year’s ballot, won’t be the first. We now know that for sure thanks to’s commendable tradition of posting its writers’ ballots the day before the results are announced. There are 17 writers who have been members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for 10 or more years and thus are eligible to vote for the Hall of Fame. Sixteen of them voted for Maddux. Dodgers beat reporter Ken Gurnick did not.

Why not? Gurnick wrote that he won’t vote for any player who “played during the period of PED use.” Not one. So who was on his ballot? Just Jack Morris. That’s the exact same ballot, and the same explanation, almost verbatim, that Gurnick submitted last year. Before you credit Gurnick for consistency, he had Lee Smith on his ballot in 2012 and dropped him last year without explanation, and in 2011 he did not vote for Morris.

Those irregularities merely reveal the internal hypocrisy of Gurnick’s votes. His reasoning is far more problematic, and not simply because he has decided to eliminate an entire generation of ballplayers from his ballot. One need not even wade into those waters to point out that Gurnick’s definition of “the period of PED use” is woefully lacking. Assuming one even could establish a starting point for such a period, it would have come comfortably within the playing days of Morris, Smith and Bert Blyleven, whom Gurnick also voted for in 2011.

That’s ridiculous.  How is a writer simply deciding against voting for Maddux because he played in a certain era not worse than Le Batard letting the readers of a website vote on his ballot?  Worst of all, this is the ballot that the Deadspin readers came up with.  Tell me with a straight face this isn’t better than Gurnick’s ballot.:

  1. Greg Maddux
  2. Frank Thomas
  3. Tom Glavine
  4. Mike Piazza
  5. Craig Biggio
  6. Edgar Martinez
  7. Jeff Bagwell
  8. Roger Clemens
  9. Barry Bonds
  10. Curt Schilling

Deadspin’s readers did not do badly at all.  You could make a case for any of the 10 they voted for to make the Hall.  While I disagree with allowing players who were suspected of taking steroids to be enshrined, the reasoning behind voting for those players (Bonds and Clemens) is certainly understandable.

2. Change Up the Type of People Who Vote

The fact that all of the people who vote belong to the BBWAA is ridiculous.  There are very few differing perspectives on the legacies of former players and that is simply because of the nature of the voting process.  Changing the people who vote, however, could change that.  Since there were 549 ballots cast this year, we’ll make the 550 the number of voters, as 550 is a round number.  So here is my proposal to change Hall of Fame voting:

  1. 200 BBWAA writers (must be currently covering a beat or the game)
  2. 200 Broadcasters (Play-by-play, color analysts, studio analysts, with a 10-year requirement of covering the game)
  3. All 30 MLB Managers
  4. All 30 MLB GMs
  5. All 30 Team Presidents
  6. 10 Scouts chosen based on tenure and service to the game
  7. 50 sabermetricians

I feel that this is a fair way to conduct the voting process.  While no proposal to fix the voting process is perfect, this is most likely the best way to change things up in Cooperstown.  I still feel that writers and broadcasters are the most qualified people to vote on the Hall of Fame.  After that, allowing the current GMs, managers, and team presidents voting privileges gives more currency and perspective to the ballot; however, only allowing these people to vote for 10 may allow for bias in voting (we’ll get back to this later).  Allowing the ten longest tenured scouts to vote gives more reasoning to the voting committee because their tenure in the game shows that they are pretty darn good at evaluating talent, which is crucial in voting for the Hall.

And finally, I’m letting 50 sabermetricians into the voting process because of the role advanced stats plays in the modern game’s decision making.  If you don’t think advanced stats is an important part of the game, you probably haven’t been following the game, kind of like some of the BBWAA writers.

3. Don’t Limit the Hall of Fame Ballots to Just 10 Names

Allowing our new voters to vote for more than 10 players will allow voters to vote for as many qualified players as they want.  Related to this, I don’t feel that it is necessary to change the 5% rule or the 10 years on the ballot rule.  However, some of the current front office members and scouts may have an inherent bias toward certain players because of experience and working with certain teams. Allowing the voters to put more than just ten on their ballots can neutralize some of this bias.

4. Keep the 75% Rule, But 3 Players Must Get In Every Year

This is what we need to do; make the Hall of Fame more inclusive. Because the word “museum” in in the official name of the Hall, we must allow more former players to get in, and this is how we do it.  If there are less than three players enshrined in our new system, the three aforementioned committees must automatically make up the difference and add the necessary number of players to get to the magic number of three.  Because these committees vote on different eras, they can combine their votes.  The player that gets the most combined votes gets enshrined.  These committees can still elect umpires, managers, and executives, but this is where they are most critical.  Allowing three players in each year will ensure continuity and avoid a disaster like 2013, where no players got in.

This is not a perfect way to fix the Hall of Fame’s issues.  No proposal will be perfect, but this one is fair in my view.  The important people in the game get a say on who gets in, three players get in every year, and the voters have the freedom to do what they want with their ballot.  It’s not perfect.  No proposal is.

But it’s a huge improvement from what we have now.

Why Aces Aren’t Worth the Assets: A History Lesson and an Explanation

As you’ve heard, the trading market for pitchers, especially of the starting variety, is going to be very active at this year’s trading deadline.  The most frequently mentioned names (among others) have been Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, David Price, and Jeff Samardzija.  Contending teams such as the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Astros, all of which are in need of starting pitching, will certainly take long, hard looks at all of the pitchers listed above.  However, there are a multitude of starting pitchers who, even though they aren’t aces, could really help teams, especially in October.

To be clear, I believe that the problem with trading in baseball is that teams look at certain players as must-have commodities.  Look at what the Oakland A’s surrendered to acquire Jon Lester on deadline day last season.  They gave the Red Sox Yoenis Cespedes and a draft pick in the 2015 Draft’s Competitive Balance Round B.  The Red Sox then capitulated that pick to the Dodgers when they signed Hanley Ramirez this past season.  The A’s got Lester and Jonny Gomes, a power-hitting left fielder with a career .242 batting average.  While Lester performed admirably in the last two months of the season, he went to the Cubs in the winter.  Gomes fled for Atlanta.  Both are out of Oakland after a fleeting two months with the organization.

While Cespedes was dealt by the Red Sox to the Tigers in December, the trade freed up the Bo-Sox enough to get Ramirez.  The Red Sox are the team that got the better of the deal, even if neither team kept any of their assets.

My point is, front offices shouldn’t make deals because they think they absolutely have to get somebody.  This feeling of necessity burned the A’s because they didn’t need pitching; they needed offense.  So the way they tried to fix the problem was to deal Cespedes, their best offensive player.  They didn’t need the pitching because in addition to already having solid starting pitching in the form of Sonny Gray, Scott Kazmir, and Jesse Chavez, they had traded for former Cubs Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija on July 5.

About that trade: the A’s gave up much more in that deal than in the Lester trade.  The main piece the Cubs acquired in that trade was second baseman Addison Russell, who, even though he is hitting only .231 in his first season in the majors, is an amazing defensive infielder.  He is also a starter on a Cubs team that is currently in the second Wild Card spot in the National League.  Russell just so happens to be 21 years old with a lot of room to improve.

Oakland also gave up Dan Straily in that trade.  Straily, a starting pitcher, was sent to AAA by the Cubs.  In January, he was traded to the Astros for Dexter Fowler, who is now the Cubbies’ starting center fielder.  Billy McKinney, a AA outfielder, was also in the deal.  Now, take a guess: where is Samardzija now?  On the South Side of Chicago, pitching for the White Sox.  And Hammel?  Back with the Cubs, and having the best year of his career in the process.

Another outcome of the carnage resulting from the deals: someone had to be sent down to AAA.  That someone was Tommy Milone, and he was traded to the Twins for Sam Fuld on July 31.  Fuld is still with the A’s, but has hit .210 and .207 the last two seasons, respectively. Milone is also having the best season of his career, helping the Twins into position to potentially make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

Did I mention that Oakland was 54-33, the best record in baseball, when they traded for Samardzija and Hammel?  And that on July 31, they were 66-41 which, at that time, was… the best record in baseball? Finally, did I forget to bring up the fact that, after July 31, the Oakland Athletics went 22-33, finishing the season 88-74 and locked up in the Wild Card game in Kansas City against the Royals?

In that game, Oakland was up 7-3 going to the bottom of the eighth, and, in a cruel twist of irony, Lester ran out of gas, a la Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS.  The lead was down to 7-6 with one innings to play.  In the bottom of the ninth, closer Sean Doolittle gave up the one-run lead on a Nori Aoki sacrifice fly.  The game went to 12 innings, and, with the A’s up (again) 8-7, Dan Otero was brought on to close it out.

In more irony, with one out and no one on base, Eric Hosmer hit a line drive that got past Gomes.  A single became a triple, and Hosmer scored the tying run on a Christian Colon single.  Otero would be replaced by Abad, and after getting Alex Gordon to pop out, was relieved by Hammel.  Colon stole second, and, with the winning run 180 feet away, Salvador Perez hit a ground ball down the third base line that got past Josh Donaldson and stayed fair.  The A’s were gone.

So, to recap: they traded their future shortstop (Russell) for two pitchers (Samardzija and Hammel, neither of whom are on the team anymore), dealt their best hitter (Cespedes) for a pitcher and utility outfielder (Lester and Gomes), and dealt the odd-man-out starter who is turning out to be a real weapon for a postseason-contending team (Milone) for a mendoza-line hitting defensive outfielder (Fuld).  This is the cautionary tale, and certain teams in the history of baseball have had the deadline down pat (See: late 90s Yankees).  But this is what happens when front office executives sharpen their focus on one, two, or even three players; they move heaven and earth to get those guys and once they do, the acquired players don’t stay with the team.  And, to boot, the A’s helped lay the groundwork for the very successful 2015 Cubs’ season.

So that was our history lesson.  Now, let’s bring it back to this season.

Yesterday, Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs wrote a very interesting article about teams that traded for aces.  It prompted me to write this one, and you can read all of it here, but this is the most interesting excerpt from it:

Through this method, I found 22 trades that were made by 21 teams. If that’s a little confusing, it’s because last year’s Oakland Athletics added front-line starters in two separate deals — adding Jeff Samardzija and then Jon Lester. I don’t want to bias by double-counting. Of the 21 teams that added good starters, 17 advanced beyond the end of the regular season. Two were eliminated in single-game eliminations. Nine were eliminated in the division series. Four were eliminated in the championship series. Two lost the World Series. Which means that none of the teams actually won the World Series.

It’s not that World Series-winning teams haven’t added starting pitchers. Last year’s Giants swung a midseason trade for Jake Peavy. But Peavy wound up with a below-average FIP and an average ERA. When championship teams have added starters, they’ve been of the second- and third-tier varieties. The teams adding the big guys have made some noise, but of late they haven’t hoisted a trophy.

When you’re selling a front-line starter, you’re selling the idea that said starter could carry a team through October. Look at what Madison Bumgarner just did. It’s an appealing thought, and it’s founded in truth. But you can look at last season for counter-evidence. Neither Samardzija nor Lester could save the A’s, which lost a one-game playoff in which Lester got the ball. After the Tigers added David Price, they went on to get swept in the first round. Go back further: The Angels missed the playoffs entirely despite picking up Zack Greinke. Two years in a row, Cliff Lee joined a series-bound team and lost. Maybe the ultimate addition was Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros, in 1998. Houston lost the NLDS, 3-1.

Okay, so if trading for aces is historically a move that doesn’t work, why do teams always fall into this trap?  Again, it goes back to teams thinking that they have to get a certain player; they don’t.  They just delude themselves into thinking that they do.

This season, there will be at least one team that overpays for Hamels, Cueto, or Price.  Every village has its idiot, and baseball is no different.  However, some of the other available pitchers on the market could really help teams, maybe even more than the so-called “aces”.

Some of these less heralded pitchers are Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Yovani Gallardo, and Tyson Ross, just to name a few.  Let’s start with Latos.

Even though he is 4-6 with a 4.48 ERA this season, some of the other numbers tell a different story with Mat Latos.  His FIP (fielding-independent pitching) is 3.32, which is more than a point lower than his ERA.  He’s pitched for the Marlins for the first half of this season, and that surely has not helped.  The defense played behind him could not have helped his ERA, either.  However, according to at least one insider, he may not be worth the trouble:

So even though Latos may be a headache in the clubhouse, he is definitely worth it on the field.  A change of scenery may be something that helps his pitching, as the Marlins have been a losing team all season.  Going to a winner may change the game for him, and if history is any indication, he can get it done.  In back to back years (2012 and 2013), he hurled over 200 innings for the Reds, and in both of those years, they made the playoffs.  If he goes to a contender, he could muster a similar performance.

The next, somewhat underrated pitcher who will probably be moved this late July is Dan Haren.  He’s on his fifth team in as many years, and he’s most likely about to be on his sixth.  While he has never been an ace, he’s a pitcher that can give a team a chance to win every time he steps on the mound.  While his FIP (4.31) is noticeably higher than his ERA (3.46) this season, he can be a stabilizing force for a starting rotation in need of consistency, like the Astros or Blue Jays.

Tyson Ross of the Padres is another pitcher on a losing team that can help a winner get over the edge.  This report came across from ESPN’s Buster Olney yesterday:

Even if Ross doesn’t go to a winning team, he can still provide great value at the front of a starting rotation.  While it may not appear that he’s having as good a year as he did in his breakout campaign last year, the numbers beg to differ.  While his BB/9 is up along with is ERA, his FIP, K/9, and HR/9 are all improved from last year.  His BABIP against him is .332, up 31 points from last season.  While it may not look like he is having as good of a season as he did in 2014, he is. Luck just hasn’t been on his side, at all.

Finally, the non-ace pitcher who may be most tantalizing for teams is the Rangers’ Yovani Gallardo.  He is having the best season of his career, and while luck has been on his side (his FIP is 78 points higher than his ERA), he will still be very valuable for teams looking for a front-line starter.  Unlike the other, underrated pitchers, a team overpaying for Gallardo based on this year alone is likely.  However, that doesn’t mean he won’t do really well in a new environment.

All told, the only ace on the trade market worth mortgaging the future for is the Tigers’ David Price.  Cueto may be worth it, but his FIP has been higher than his ERA in every year of his MLB career.  Hamels’ career numbers are remarkably similar to those of Latos, and yet he will be valued more by desperate teams looking for an ace. Samrdzija’s numbers are not very good this season (ERA over 4), but he’ll be coveted on the market, even though I’d value him about the same as I would value Haren.

Even though the “aces” aren’t much better than their less heralded counterparts, desperate teams will give up their future prospects and other talent just for one pitcher.  However, none of the teams that do this will win the World Series.  Why?

Because aces just aren’t worth the assets.

Making Sense of Zack Greinke


Zack Greinke made his first start coming out of the All-Star break on Sunday against the Nationals.  Coming into his most recent start, he had not allowed a run in 35 2/3 innings, drawing comparisons to the scoreless streaks of Dodger greats Don Drysdale and Orel Hershiser. However, Greinke would be facing the toughest test of his run, as the Nationals rank the highest in baseball in runs scored out of the teams he has faced during the streak.  So how would Greinke respond?

By tossing eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits, and not letting a runner get into scoring position all day.

With the results of Sunday’s start, Greinke’s scoreless spell stretched to 43 2/3 innings.  And while he has to pitch another 15 1/3 scoreless innings to tie the record set by Hershiser in 1988, he has already made history, via ESPN Stats and Info:

So, thinking this way, I did some comparisons between Greinke and Hershiser.  I didn’t compare Greinke to Don Drysdale for one simple reason: Drysdale pitched his scoreless streak in 1968 on the 15-foot high pitcher’s mound, while Greinke has pitched his on one that is only 10 feet off the ground.

This is (I think) the most interesting tidbit I found about Hershiser’s 1988: he gave up 73 walks.  This means that in 34 starts, Hershiser allowed over two walks per game.  During the streak, Hershiser walked eleven batters over the course of his 59 innings, as opposed to his walking 73 over the course of a whopping 267 innings that season. Here is a table I made of Hershiser’s stats during the streak (Note: the August 30 game vs the Expos is the last four innings of his start.  He allowed two runs in the first five innings of that game.)

Date/Opponent IP H BB K
August 30, 1988 vs Expos 4 1 2 4
September 5, 1988 vs Braves 9 4 1 8
September 10, 1988 vs Reds 9 7 3 8
September 14, 1988 vs Braves 9 6 2 8
September 19, 1988 vs Astros 9 4 0 5
September 23, 1988 vs Giants 9 5 2 2
September 28, 1988 vs Padres 10 4 1 3
TOTAL 59 31 11 38

Now, here is a look at Greinke’s streak on a start-by-start basis:

Date/Opponent IP  H BB K
June 18, 2015 vs Rangers 7 4 0 8
June 23, 2015 vs Cubs 6 3 2 5
June 28, 2015 vs Marlins 7.2 4 1 6
July 4, 2015 vs Mets 7 4 0 4
July 9, 2015 vs Phillies 8 1 0 8
July 20, 2015 vs Nationals 8 3 1 11
TOTAL 43.2 19 4 42

On the surface, it looks like Greinke’s numbers are more impressive than Orel’s.  However, there are a couple of things to pay attention to when comparing the two.

The first thing I noticed when comparing the two is the distance that both pitchers went in their respective games during their streaks. While Greinke has not thrown any complete games over his last six scoreless starts, Hershiser went nine (or more) in every start during his streak.  Sure, the game has changed quite a lot since 1988, but Hershiser never needed the help of his bullpen to finish games; he completed them himself.

Here’s another thing: Greinke’s numbers may appear more impressive than Hershiser’s, but this is not necessarily the case.  The “Zack Attack” is on pace to allow less hits and walks than the Bulldog did, and Greinke has already passed Hershiser’s strikeout total. However, Hershiser is still more impressive in this regard because he had more baserunners, and subsequently jams, to navigate his way out of.  While Orel’s streak reaching 59 innings may have been partially a figure of luck, Greinke allowing so few baserunners over the last 43 2/3 innings has to be because of luck, too.

Greinke has had lots and lots of luck during his run.  Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs wrote about this yesterday:

Sorry, but, duh. It’s always there. Zack Greinke’s true talent isn’t a 0.00 ERA. It is a very low ERA, but it is not the lowest possible ERA. Consider that Greinke has allowed just 19 hits, facing 152 batters. Not a single fly ball has left the yard. When there have been runners in scoring position, hits have been further suppressed. Luck doesn’t always look like a line drive being snared at full extension — sometimes luck is just a batter taking a worse swing than usual at a hittable pitch. Luck is always present, in all forms. Greinke’s been the recipient of more good than bad.

One particular manifestation: the opponents. Greinke just shut down the Nationals, who’ve been hurt pretty bad by injuries. The start before that, he faced the Phillies, and the start before that, he faced the Mets. Going back still, there were the Marlins, without Giancarlo Stanton. And there were the Cubs, and it all started against the Rangers, but against the Rangers in a National League ballpark, so they didn’t play Prince Fielder. They didn’t have Adrian Beltre or Josh Hamilton. It’s been a kind slate. This isn’t to take anything away from the achievement — it’s just, the stars have been aligned, so to speak.

The stars have been aligned.  While Greinke’s run has been incredible and we haven’t seen anything like it in a long time, it couldn’t have happened without luck playing a big role.  Between the schedule, the stadiums he’s pitched in, and the lineups he’s faced, a scoreless streak was there for the taking, if Greinke was up to it.  And he has been.

Everything being said, I’m not trying to take away from what Greinke has done.  He’s been absolutely dominant over his last six starts, and there’s no question who the best pitcher in baseball is this season. But until he reaches 59 scoreless innings, there will always be one streak eclipsing Greinke’s in dominance.  That streak belongs to Orel Hershiser.

Take that, Zack.

Don’t Stop Believing: The San Francisco Giants Have a Chance

The year is 2015; you probably are keenly aware to this fact, unless you either have been living under a rock or are Andre Dawson.

Anyway, 2015 has been a pretty big year in our country to date. Marriage equality was legalized nationwide, American Pharoah won the Horse Racing Triple Crown, Brian Williams made up some things, and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup.  You want to know what else 2015 has been, and still is?  An odd-numbered year.

And odd-numbered years typically spell doom for the San Francisco Giants.

Here are the results for the Giants from the last three odd-numbered seasons.  The 2011 and 2013 seasons are those in which the Giants were coming off of World Series victories:

  1. 2009: 88-74, 2nd place NL West, missed Playoffs
  2. 2011: 86-76, 2nd place NL West, missed Playoffs
  3. 2013: 76-86, T-3rd place NL West, missed Playoffs

And here are the results from the last three even numbered years:

  1. 2010: 92-70, won NL West, won World Series
  2. 2012: 94-68, won NL West, won World Series
  3. 2014: 88-74, won NL Wild Card, won World Series

The Giants have become what is easily the most bizarre dynasty in sports.  They have been an October dynasty in even-numbered years and a middle-of-the-road team in odd-numbered years.

So how have the Giants done this year?  Not too badly, actually. They’re 47-43 after defeating the Diamondbacks 6-5 in 12 innings last night.  This, along with a Cubs loss to the Braves, leaves San Fran just one game back of the second and final Wild Card spot in the National League.  Statistically, they are not faring too badly, especially compared to last year.

They rank 11th in baseball in runs scored this season; interestingly enough, they only ranked 12th in the league in that category last year. As you are aware, I like to use a stat called BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) as a barometer of future hitting success.  The Giants’ BABIP this season is .319, which is third in baseball.  This may very well go down, as their BABIP last season was .304, which was 10th in baseball.  However, out of the nine teams ahead of them in this category, exactly zero of them got to their respective League Championship Series.

The Giants were not an overly impressive home run hitting team a year ago, hitting just 132 of them, short of the league average of 140. This season, they’ve hit 72 through 90 games, and they’re on pace for just 130 this time around.  Is being a below average home run hitting team a hindrance in October?  Not really.  Last season, the Orioles ranked first in the league in home runs, and made it to the ALCS doing so.  However, the Cardinals and Royals were 29th and last in the league, respectively, and they were both one of the last four teams standing, too.  It’s not a huge deal.

How they do win at the plate is with a high batting average.  They hit .255 as a team last season, and this is significant because all of the last four teams standing at the end of last season were above the league average of .253.  They’re hitting .272 this season, which is tied for second in the game.  Statistically, they stack up as a team that can make some noise in October… if they make it there.

Now, let’s take a look at their lineup on an individual basis.  While Buster Posey and Joe Panik have been the most consistent hitters on the team, the best offseason addition for the team has assuredly been outfielder Nori Aoki.  He’s hitting .317 with a .383 on-base percentage and a .333 BABIP.  He also has a 5.8% strikeout percentage, which is the lowest K% in baseball.  While Aoki has been valuable, he has also been out of the lineup since June 20 with an injury to his right fibula. Getting him back soon will be crucial to the Giants postseason hopes, and according to, he’s coming back in two weeks.

However, the obvious MVP of this team and one of the best players in the game today is Buster Posey.  He leads the team in all the major statistical categories and can be considered a National League MVP candidate.  He’s even been compared to Johnny Bench, writes Matt Kawahara of the Sacramento Bee:

At age 21

Bench: Batted .293 with 26 home runs and 90 RBIs for the Reds, finishing 13th in the N.L. MVP race and making his second All-Star team.

Posey: Won the Johnny Bench Award, given to college baseball’s top catcher, in his junior year at Florida State.

They catch and pitch

Bench: Longtime spokesman for Krylon paint: “No runs, no drips, no errors.”

Posey: Appears in recent Esurance commercial in full catcher’s gear, ready to help a woman deliver her baby: “I’m sort of your doctor. We both wear gloves, and we both deliver in the clutch.”

Bench comparisons aside, Posey is exactly what you think he is: the best catcher in baseball and the best player on the team.

But the part of the Giants lineup, and particularly their defense, that may very well be most important to their playoff aspirations is the middle infield.  With over .300 hitter Joe Panik at second and defensive ace Brandon Crawford at short, the combination has benefited both the team’s defense as well as its hitting.  They might be the most important players on the team, writes David Schoenfield of ESPN:

The middle infield pair made the All-Star team and deservedly so. Both have added power — Crawford ranks 11th in the NL in extra-base hits, while Panik has more than Troy Tulowitzki,Buster Posey or Justin Upton — to go with their excellent defense. The Giants’homegrown infield has been huge because the rotation has been a weakness.Matt Cain and Jake Peavy have returned from the DL, but you don’t know what to expect from them. The offense will have to lead the Giants back to the postseason.

The Giants are doing it differently this year, but with Crawford, Panik, Posey and a healthy Aoki, they could be back in the Postseason.

As for the rotation?  It hasn’t been quite as good as it was last season. Tim Lincecum had been pitching slightly better than he did last season, but he got hit on the arm with a line drive on June 27 and it is unclear when he will return to the team.  Madison Bumgarner’s numbers have been somewhat worse this season (his ERA has jumped from 2.98 to 3.33), but he’s still been very valuable to the team, and if his October performance from last season is any indication, he can really turn it on come playoff time.

Another solid pitcher in the rotation this season has been 27-year old rookie Chris Heston.  Heston was supposed to be simply a fill-in for injured starter Matt Cain, but he has performed more than well enough to stay in the rotation full-time.  His numbers are remarkably similar to MadBum’s this season, and he has really been the Giants’ 1-A pitcher in the rotation.  However, his emergence has caused issues in the rotation with the returns of Cain, Jake Peavy, and Tim Hudson.

As Andrew Baggarly of Giants Extra documents, Bruce Bochy has apparently made his decision in terms of who to take out of the rotation:

With Tim Hudson set to be activated to start Monday at San Diego and Chris Heston retaining his place in the rotation on Tuesday, Bochy said he intends to use Ryan Vogelsong in a long relief role.

That didn’t go so well for Vogelsong in April, when he allowed five runs and a whopping 19 baserunners in 5 2/3 innings over two relief outings.

“More than anything, he’s got to be patient,” Bochy said. “Learn from this last experience. Get that out of his head and be ready to go at any time.”

Vogelsong has been better than Hudson as a starter this season, with a better ERA, WAR, and K/9.  This is probably not the right decision even with Hudson in his last season, but who am I to doubt a manager who has won three out of the last five World Series?  He knows what he’s doing.  Most (future) Hall of Fame managers do.

The bullpen has been generally good and Santiago Casilla has performed well in the closer’s role.  If baseball history has taught us anything, it’s that closing out games is pretty darn important.

However, at the end of each World Series clincher the Giants have won, there has been a different pitcher on the mound to close it out (2010: Brian Wilson, 2012: Sergio Romo, 2014: Bumgarner).  But their bullpen is good enough to survive, and it will do so if it gets to October.

Here is the thing with the Giants: they probably still have a chance to win the division.  They’re only four games back of the first-place Dodgers, and while they only have three games left against Los Angeles, there is still a lot of baseball left to be played.  But, let’s say they are left to contending for the last Wild Card spot with the Cubs and Mets.  To be honest, I don’t think either team has enough to make the playoffs, especially in the superior National League.

So, if the Giants get the final spot, they will be locked in the Wild Card game with either the Pirates or Cardinals.  It’s fairly apparent that both of those teams are better than the Giants, but one of them will be stuck hosting the one-game playoff.  And, in a single game, to decide two teams’ playoff fates, with Bumgarner on the hill?  Anything can happen in that scenario.

The Giants have a chance, even in this, an odd-numbered year.  They may very well make the playoffs this year, and even if they don’t, we may be able to put the curse of the odd numbers to bed.

But hold on to that feeling, Giants fans: your team has a chance.

Jose Iglesias Is the Best Shortstop in Baseball

Detroit Tigers Shortstop Jose Iglesias was elected to the first All-Star game of his career in 2015, and rightfully so.  After missing all of 2014 after sustaining stress fractures to both of his shins, Iglesias is having the best season of his career, hitting .314.  He is also on pace for the best figures of his career in hits and RBI, and he has already set career highs in stolen bases and walks.  While this year is the first full year of his career, he may be the best all-around shortstop in the game already.

One of the reasons why I think so highly of Iglesias is his defense. While he may not be the best defensive shortstop in the game (he ranks eighth in the defense statistic on FanGraphs), he is certainly one of the top three.  While Andrelton Simmons, Adieny Hechavarria and others could be considered better defensive shortstops, Iglesias deserves to be in the same conversation every bit as much as they do.

To demonstrate my point, Iglesias made a phenomenal play in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game that is eerily similar to a play you would’ve expected a recently retired shortstop that wore #2 to make (Spoiler Alert: it’s Derek Jeter). Anyway, here is the play, in which he guns down Yasmani Grandal of the Dodgers in plenty of time for the out:

Plays like that are why Iglesias is so good.  The scary part for the rest of the league is that he makes them on a regular basis.  Check out these highlights of his defensive wizardry from just the first half of this year:

These plays and others clearly show that Iglesias is at least the best defensive shortstop in the American League, and one of the best in baseball.  Now, however, it’s time to delve into the dreaded statistical argument behind Iglesias’ claim to the Major League Baseball Shortstop throne.

Here is a not-so-obvious reason why I say that Iglesias is the best shortstop in the game: it’s the weakest defensive position in baseball. The leader in WAR (wins above replacement) at the position is the Giants’ Brandon Crawford (2.9), and he is only tied for 24th among hitters.  In fact, among all the leaders in WAR at their positions, with the exception of DH, Crawford’s figure is lowest among them.  That means that if you take all of the leaders in WAR at every fielding position and put them at their respective posts, the shortstop position would be the weakest, at least in terms of the good old WAR statistic.

Some may not put any value to defense at the position; as Billy Beane said in the 2011 movie “Moneyball”, “His fielding does not matter.” (Italics mine).  However, this surely does not apply to the shortstop position.  This is what an anonymous Senior Bleacher Report analyst wrote about the difficulty of the position back in 2008:

The question is whether shortstop is more difficult than third.

Both see a good amount of action. Both see grass-cutters on a regular basis. Both are expected to cover a serious amount of ground to be elite. Both have complicated rotational duties on specialty plays. Both must have cannons hanging from the right shoulder. Both must have velvety hands and nimble footwork.
It comes down to a matter of degree.

The shortstop sees a little more action. Third probably sees a higher number of vicious “chances” and the most dangerous ones. But short must cover more ground, rotate to cover both second and third routinely, have a better arm, have better hands, and have better feet. The difference is not extreme in any instance, but there is a difference.

And it can be seen, not in the best players at the positions, but in the average ones.

Your average shortstop could move to third. Your average third-sacker could certainly NOT move to short. They would either be too slow or to awkward or too, uh, mentally limited.

That is why most pro infielders (with the exception of the huge first basemen) were shortstops at some point in their careers. They started off as the best athlete and were put at SS. At a certain level, their defense became average for the spot, so they were moved to another position.

Check it out, even some catchers and pitchers used to be shortstops.

This is really very true.  Defense is very important in baseball, but it is never as important as it is at the action-filled shortstop position. That’s what makes Iglesias so great, especially when you consider his hitting numbers; he plays all-world defense and is one of the best hitting players at his position, too.  Not easy.

So how about his hitting, then?  While you can make fun of his singles-hitting propensity (his ISO (Isolated Power) is .059, which is, err, low), his aforementioned batting average and on-base percentage (.364) are both tops at the position just to the left of second base. While he may not hit for power (he has one home run), he hits for average and gets on base, which are two things that have become increasingly difficult in the new golden age of pitching in professional baseball.

Here is another important thing: Jose Iglesias just does not strike out. His K% is 9.5%, and the only shortstop with a better K% is Andrelton Simmons.  However, Simmons is but a .254 hitter, and his BB% (walk percentage) is lower than that of Mr. Iglesias.  Also, Jose has a very solid BABIP of .343, third at his position.  However, the two players ahead of him (Xander Bogaerts and Troy Tulowitzki) have K%s of 14.9% and 20.9%, respectively.  If they struck out less, their BABIPs would be lower because they’d be putting the ball in play more often.

Another reason why the best shortstop in baseball debate has become a thing?  It’s simple: we probably haven’t thought about it since 1996. Those who follow the game (and those who don’t) simply considered Derek Jeter the best all-around shortstop in baseball, and that was that.  Even when Jeter neared the end of his career, broke his ankle, and slowed down as age took its toll on his body, we still gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his track record.  There is no de facto #1 shortstop in baseball anymore; we have to find him ourselves.

That person is Iglesias.  The combination of fielding and hitting is one that is rarely seen in the game of baseball, and it is especially difficult to pull off at the hardest position to play in the field, shortstop.  There is only one person in the game that can say he does it better than anyone else at the spot, and his name is Jose Iglesias.

Jose Iglesias may not be the best hitting shortstop in baseball.

Jose Iglesias may not be the best defensive shortstop in baseball.

But Jose Iglesias is definitely the best all-around shortstop in baseball.

Corey Kluber Is the Unluckiest Pitcher in Baseball

There are two pitchers on the same team, in the same starting rotation.  Pitcher A is second in baseball in innings pitched and third in the league in strikeouts.  Pitcher B has a 4.07 ERA and 35 less strikeouts than Pitcher A.  Pitcher B has only thrown 108.1 innings, a whole 25 innings short of Pitcher A’s innings total.  However, here is the twist: Pitcher A is 4-10.  Pitcher B is 10-7.

Pitcher B is the Cleveland Indians’ Carlos Carrasco.  Pitcher A is Indians’ ace and defending Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber.

Kluber pitched eight innings against the A’s on Sunday, giving up only two runs on just four hits.  However, he was the hard-luck loser (again) as the Tribe were shut out on two hits.  This has become a trend in Kluber’s starts, according to ESPN Stats and Info:

Yowzers.  The Indians offense has not been great this season (t-21st in runs scored, 20th in batting average) but the lack of run support it has given Kluber is startling.

Kluber’s numbers, as well as his season to date, should be an exposé to a simple fact: win-loss record is not important.  To demonstrate my point, I’ll give you a list of pitchers with better records than Kluber but far worse Earned Run Averages:

  1. Jeremy Guthrie, KC (7-5, 5.36 ERA)
  2. Drew Hutchison, TOR (8-2, 5.33 ERA)
  3. Colby Lewis, TEX (8-4, 4.77 ERA)
  4. Nathan Eovaldi, NYY (9-2, 4.50 ERA)

So how do they stack up with other pitchers with better ERAs and less impressive win-loss records?  Well…

  1. Shelby Miller, ATL (5-5, 2.38 ERA)
  2. Yovani Gallardo, TEX (7-8, 2.68 ERA)
  3. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL (4-5, 2.78 ERA)
  4. Francisco Liriano, PIT (5-6, 2.98 ERA)
  5. Corey Kluber, CLE (4-10, 3.38 ERA)

However, Kluber is not going to get the national attention he deserves; while he is still having a great season, win-loss record will be the only thing that matters when it comes to Kluber’s Cy Young Award chances.  Here are the last ten Cy Young winners from Kluber’s league, the American League.

  1. 2005: Bartolo Colon, LAA (21-8, 3.48 ERA)
  2. 2006: Johan Santana, MIN (19-6, 2.77 ERA)
  3. 2007: CC Sabathia, CLE (19-7, 3.21 ERA)
  4. 2008: Cliff Lee, CLE (22-3, 2.54 ERA)
  5. 2009: Zack Grienke, KC (16-8, 2.16 ERA)
  6. 2010: Felix Hernandez, SEA (13-12, 2.27 ERA)
  7. 2011: Justin Verlander, DET (24-5, 2.40 ERA)
  8. 2012: David Price, TB (20-5, 2.56 ERA)
  9. 2013: Max Scherzer, DET (21-3, 2.90 ERA)
  10. 2014: Corey Kluber, CLE (18-9, 2.44 ERA)

All of those pitchers have a positive W-L record.  Not that Kluber is going to or should win the award this year; Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, Dallas Keuchel and others are far, far more deserving.  But Kluber was assuredly deserving of making the All-Star team, and it’s a shame that one of the best pitchers in baseball was denied a spot in the game because of his record. Indians reporter Jordan Bastian wrote about this last week:

In 11 of Kluber’s 17 starts, Cleveland’s offense has scored two or fewer runs. The four runs he received while the pitcher of record Thursday were the most he’s had to work with since the lineup spotted him five runs May 28. Entering his start against Tampa Bay, Kluber’s 2.28 run support average was the worst rate in the Majors among qualified starting pitchers.
That has played a large role in Kluber’s win-loss record.

When it comes to peripheral statistics, it could be argued that Kluber has performed as one of the top five starting pitchers in the Majors. With his performance against the Rays, Kluber moved into a tie with White Sox ace Chris Sale for the most strikeouts (141) in baseball. The righty also ranked second in baseball in innings (118 2/3), third in WAR (3.5, per, fourth in strikeouts per nine innings (10.69) and sixth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.88).

Kluber is one of the top five pitchers in baseball.  Some other stats also support this statement.

In a statistic called FIP (fielding-independent pitching), Kluber ranks fourth in the Bigs at 2.51; this is in sharp contrast to his real ERA, 3.38.  This stat is used to isolate defense and luck from the player’s actual pitching.  It shows that were it not for bad luck and some shoddy defense, Kluber would be seen by everyone as one of the best pitchers in the game, which he obviously is.

Another stat that is very similar to FIP is xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching).  It is basically what we would expect a player’s fielding independent ERA to be over the course of a season.  Kluber’s xFIP is almost as spectacular as his FIP; it’s 2.66, which is fifth in baseball.  His xFIP is not much different than his FIP, which means that his excellence is sustainable.  He is clearly one of the best pitchers in the game.

Finally, the most simple stat that demonstrates how stealthily good Kluber has been is WAR.  WAR stands for “wins above replacement” and it is a figure of how replacing Kluber with someone else in the starting rotation would go.  Kluber’s WAR is 3.9, good for third among pitchers in the game.  The first and second best pitchers by WAR are Max Scherzer and Chris Sale, my choices for the Cy Young Award from each league.

By now, you probably get my drift; Corey Kluber is the most underrated (and least fortunate) pitcher in baseball. He is probably one of the top ten pitchers in the game, and even though his record does not give him the credit he deserves, all of his other statistics do.  He had better luck last year in his Cy Young campaign, and even though he isn’t having the same luck he did last year, that shouldn’t take away from the job he has done this season.

The only thing is, he’s the unluckiest pitcher in baseball.

A Summary of the Dallas Mavericks’ Offseason

The Dallas Mavericks were one of the teams that had very high hopes going into this year’s free agency.  They had chances at getting stars like LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan, and others.  They lost out on Aldridge when he signed with the Spurs on July 4, but they cushioned the blow with the signing of DeAndre Jordan the day before.  However, Jordan began having second thoughts soon after, and on July 8, the day before players could start signing contracts, the race was on to sign him:

Jordan eventually re-signed with the Clippers after they stayed at his Houston home until midnight that evening, not letting anyone get in, per Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski:

The sudden loss of Jordan threw the Mavericks into panic mode. They had already signed shooting guard Wesley Matthews from the Trail Blazers, and he is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the last 22 games of last season.  Matthews’s original contract was supposed to be $57 million over deandrejordan1four years with Jordan also under contract.  However, without Jordan, the Mavericks have decided to push Matthews’ contract to $70 million over four years instead of using the extra money for other acquisitions.

Having already lost last year’s starting center, Tyson Chandler, to the Suns, Dallas did not have any starting centers on the roster and therefore needed to sign one.  They promptly traded a second-round pick to the Bucks for Zaza Pachulia, the 31-year old center who is the only active NBA player to hail from the country of Georgia. While it doesn’t seem like Pachulia is a step up from Chandler, last season’s on/off numbers of both players suggest otherwise.

These tables from Basketball-Reference show Pachulia’s on/off numbers last season, with the first row being “on court”, the second row being “off court”, and the third column being the difference:

Now here are Chandler’s on/off numbers from last year.  The same rules apply:

As you can see, even though Chandler is a slightly better per game rebounder, the Mavericks did better without him on the floor than the Bucks did without Zaza.  There is a direct correlation between their rebound% and their per 36 minutes numbers: Pachulia is better in both.

Turner Sports’ David Aldridge summed up the pick-up in this tweet:

While losing Chandler hurt, and losing Jordan hurt more, Pachulia can at least fill the void left by Chandler.  I actually think he may very well be better.

Next, we will revisit the signing of Wesley Matthews.  Matthews was having what was possibly the best season of his career last season for the Trail Blazers.  While he set a career high for rebounds per game, eFG%, and field goal attempts, his on/off numbers are not as drastic as Pachulia’s:

Obviously, Matthews’ eFG% is higher than the others because of his three-point shooting. However, it is interesting that he only adds 6.8 points per game for his team per 100 possessions, as exemplified by his offensive rating. However, he is a jack-of-all-trades, master of none type of basketball player, a slight positive for his team in all areas of the game. Even though he is coming off a great season with a playoff team, he is also coming off of this.  (Warning: Video/Vine may be extremely disturbing for some.)

Now, we will take a look at Monta Ellis’ on/off statistics from last year; Ellis left Dallas to sign of four-year, $44 million deal with the Pacers this offseason.  Matthews is replacing him, essentially.

As you can see, while Ellis is more of a positive in eFG% and Turnover%, he is a negative or only a slight positive in all of the other areas.  Matthews, theoretically, should be better for the Mavericks than Ellis was.  However, history has not been kind to those with Achilles ruptures.  See: Elton Brand.

Brand had stayed fairly healthy for the majority of his career, from his being drafted #1 overall in 1999 by the Bulls to the 2006-07 season with the Clippers.  However, he ruptured his Achilles tendon in a workout in August 2007, and missed all but eight games in the ’07-’08 season.  His averages dropped across the board for the rest of his career.  Luckily, he is still playing, but he is in a bench role now for the Atlanta Hawks and is well past the prime of his career.

The point?  Brand was 28 on August 3, 2007, when the injury happened.  Matthews’ age at the time of his injury, on March 5, 2015? 27.  He is only a year younger than Brand was, but the history is simply eerie.  The risk of paying him $17.5 million per year, coming off the most dangerous injury a guard could possibly sustain, is enormous.  The best ability is availability, and the Mavericks lost it by letting Ellis go.

But rest assured, I have saved the most interesting signing for last: Deron Williams.

Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post wrote about Williams’ departure today:

He leaves his empty tenure as the franchise face of the Nets as perhaps the single-most forgettable would-be superstar in the history of New York sports.

That isn’t to say he was the least successful, or the most underachieving, or the most disappointing. You can vote him for any of those categories too, if you like, but those are whole separate issues.

Jason Bay was terrible as a Met. But believe me, Bay has not been forgotten, and his tenure in New York still gives Mets fans the bends. Carmelo Anthony might not have delivered on his promise to make the Knicks matter in a way that they mattered in the ’70s and in the ’90s, but you had better believe he is on the tip of every Knicks fan’s tongue, always, and at the forefront of their thoughts.
Williams is different. From the start, it was pretty clear he didn’t want to be here, whether “here” was in New Jersey or Brooklyn. Even when the Nets re-signed him to a $98 million max extension, he came across, instantly, as he if he were doing someone a favor pocketing all that cash.
The Nets moved heaven and earth — actually, worse, they moved an uncountable amount of assets — to surround Williams with the kinds of players he believed were of his status and to his liking, and were rewarded with one playoff series victory and hundreds of nights when Williams’ scowl and his brutal body language hinted he was being held in an unheated hut somewhere near Park Slope against his will.

Williams needs a change of scenery; it’s that simple.  Here’s to hoping that he plays better with the Mavericks.  With Brooklyn, he was *maybe* half the player that he was with the Jazz in his prime.  We don’t need stats to back up this fact: he didn’t care.  Will he in a Mavericks uniform?  It’s difficult to say, but Williams can’t possibly be worse than Rajon Rondo was with the Mavs last year.

So this has been the Mavericks’ offseason.  They went from being a back-end/fringe playoff team last year to, well… a fringe playoff team this year.  I think this because it is my best guess: I actually have no clue how they’ll do this year. Matthews will play well when he’s healthy, but history is not on his side with his injury.  Pachulia was a great addition and, in my view, a clear upgrade over Tyson Chandler. And Deron Williams is… Deron Williams.  I have no idea how he will play or how he will be used, but it will be fun to see how the experiment plays out.

There is a wide, wide range of possibilities for the Mavericks this season.  If all goes well and healthy, they could be a four or five seed. But that is so unlikely to happen, and, crazy as it sounds, Pachulia is the surest thing they got this offseason.  If I were to guess, I would leave Dallas out of the Playoffs next year.

Why?  Just ask Mark Cuban, and substitute “basketball” for “music” in the video.

The National League MVP Debate is Not a Clown Question, Bro

With baseball entering the second half of the season this week, I’m going to take a look at the debate over who should be the MVP in the senior circuit.  The debate has mainly become about two players: Nationals OF Bryce Harper and Diamondbacks 1B Paul Goldschmidt. Harper is a slightly better power hitter than Goldschmidt, but Goldschmidt is a better base-stealer and hitter for average. The debate over this topic has been a very interesting one, but everyone, and I mean everyone has Harper winning the award by a wide margin.  Among them is Grantland baseball writer Jonah Keri:

When we checked in on Harper at the season’s quarter-way mark, he was both the runaway winner for NL MVP and in the midst of a historic season unmatched by any 22-year-old not named Ted Williams.

His second quarter has been punctuated by a couple of health scares. The first was downright terrifying, as Harper’s knee buckled when he tried to make a throw during a June 18 game against the Rays. That injury proved to be nothing more than a left hamstring strain, and Harper returned to the lineup two days later. Then, a week after that, Harper sat out three straight games — this time with a right hamstring strain — and returned on June 28.

Despite the two hamstring-induced starts and stops, the prognosis on Harper’s health remains positive, and he’s been an absolute monster when he’s been in the lineup. In the 56 plate appearances since that initial strain, he’s hit three homers and six doubles and posted a .340/.446/.660 line. With apologies to Paul Goldschmidt, Todd Frazier, and everyone else, this one isn’t particularly close: Harper has been the clear first-half NL MVP, and it’s his award to lose as we move forward.

I’ll tell you how I got to thinking about this debate.  I was talking to a friend of mine about it, and he said that Harper was the unquestioned MVP.  (His name is Danny Blomster, he’s a sabermetric genius, and you can check out his blog here.)  Anyhow, I championed the argument for Goldschmidt, beings that he is on a worse team and, while he hits in a better lineup than Harper, hits for a starting rotation whose best pitcher this season has been Robbie Ray.  My friend pulled out some sabermetric stats that supported the case for Harper, like his slugging percentage, OPS, and others.  So I looked at Goldschmidt and Harper, side-by-side, sabermetrically.  Here’s what I found.

Harper has a slightly higher on-base percentage (.471) than Goldschmidt (.466). If you take into account a stat called wOBA (weighted on-base average), Harper really begins to separate himself, as his wOBA is .490 to Goldy’s .452.  However, wOBA does not take into account intentional walks and stolen bases, and this is important. Goldschmidt has nineteen intentional walks to The Chosen One’s eight; the former’s total is tops in baseball.  Pitchers do not want to pitch to him, and that is why he has been intentionally walked so much.  Goldschmidt also has sixteen stolen bases to The Phenom’s four; he is trying to create runs for his team.

Many are voting for Harper based on his all around game.  That and the fact that he, you know, murders baseballs:

For most baseball fans, watching Bryce Harper play baseball is more aesthetically pleasing than watching Paul Goldschmidt play.  Fair enough; you get more home runs, and therefore more entertainment, out of watching Harper play.

However, another crucial advantage Goldschmidt has over Harper is in BABIP (Batting average on Balls in Play).  Goldschmidt’s .402 easily eclipses Harper’s .377.  For context, the average BABIP in the majors is .297, which means that the MVP candidates are really, really good. What does this mean?  It means Goldschmidt is a better pure hitter than Harper.  Luck does not play a role here, as Goldschmidt’s BABIP has been higher than Harper’s every year since 2012, Harper’s first in the league.  The sample size is plenty large enough.

Another interesting area of the debate is the K% (strikeout rate) and BB% (walk rate) of each player.  Goldschimdt wins here, but only slightly.  His K% is 19%, which is fractionally better than Harper’s 19.9 K%.  Both of those are actually around the league average of 20.1%, so both players are middle-of-the-road is this statistic.  Harper wins in BB% (19% to Goldschmidt’s 18.2%), but neither stat distinguishes one player as being better than the other.

Then there is the area of the game that can’t (or can) be quantified: coming up clutch.  As former Miami and NFL wide receiver Santana Moss once eloquently stated, “Big time players make big time plays in big time games.”

It’s no different in baseball.  With the presence of advanced stats in all sports, many have begun debunking the notion of “clutch”. However, whether you like it or not, it exists, as Russell Carleton of Fox’s “Just a Bit Outside” wrote last August:

Let’€™s clear a few things up. Clutch is not a result of having superior moral character, notwithstanding the plot of every sports movie. It is also not a guarantee that a hitter will always come through. My contention is a much more reserved one. Clutch is likely some combination of ability to deal with pressure combined with some particular change in approach, whether conscious or unconscious, that results in slight variations from what we might otherwise expect. For some, that change makes a hitter better and in some it makes him worse.

These analyses may not completely prove that clutch ability exists, but they do lay what I hope is a foundation for how we might continue the search. “€œClutch”€ is a way of saying that the situation matters because players are human. What we have here is an indicator that has reasonable (if not great) consistency across years, and it explains differences between players in how leverage affects them. More searching might find something with more consistency. Even then, year-to-year consistency is not the only way to establish that a measure is reflective of a player’€™s true talent level. Using a more tracking-based approach might help. Players can and do change, even within a season. There’€™s no reason clutch needs to be an enduring trait, rather than a state we can detect with some reliability. The rest is simply showing that the factor, whatever it is, can explain some of the differences between players’€™ performances in different leverage situations.

Clutch is actually a stat.  It is not one that can be sutained over time or predicted in the future, but it does well to describe a player’s past performance.  According to the version of the stat, Goldschmidt’s clutch rating in 2015 is 0.7, which, according to the site, is “above average”.  Meanwhile, Harper’s clutch rating is -1.41, and that is considered “poor”.  These numbers are not presented in the spirit that they will not change, but they have been telling through the first half of the season.  For context, the top two clutch hitters of all time, according to Fangraphs, are Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose; one of these players is in the Hall of Fame, and the other should be.  The third most statistically clutch hitter ever?  Scott Fletcher, a .262 career hitting middle infielder who played for six different teams over a 16-year career.  Clutch is not perfect, but it could be that stat that thinks that Jhonny Peralta is a better defensive shortstop than Andrelton Simmons.

Goldschmidt can also be considered a clutch player without statistical assistance, as SBNation Diamondbacks blog AZ Snake Pit writes:

It seems like every time the Diamondbacks need a little something extra, or a clutch hit, he’s there to deliver. The list of pitchers he’s traumatized is too long for this article, but even Tim Lincecum in his prime was no match.

And that ultimately is why Paul Goldschmidt is so weird: most of the time he’s not doing anything, maybe just hitting into a routine out or just hanging out at first base, but then he turns it on when it matters and BAM. Diamondbacks win. There is literally not comp for this type of player, because there is literally no other player that has ever done this, especially in baseball.

Isn’t it weird that a player would have a lot of mundane moments punctuated by moments of pure exhilaration? I’ve literally never seen that, have you???

Goldschmidt wins this category.  By a lot.  While clutch can be a volatile statistic, it does well to describe his performance this season, especially in comparison to Harper.  While clutch has its ups and downs, it does well here: it describes Goldschmidt as more of a clutch hitter than Harper.

Okay, so we’re now finished with the sabermatics sabermetrics of this debate.

Anyway, this discussion, as you can already tell, is extremely complicated.  Harper’s team has done better this season, record-wise (three games up on the Mets in the woeful NL East) , but it’s hard to argue that the Diamondbacks would be where they are right now (42-42) without Goldschmidt.  While Harper’s slugging percentage, OPS, and on-base percentage are better than Goldschmidt’s, I’m giving Goldschmidt the advantage.  The advantage for all of the above listed reasons, as well as a very simple one: the acronym MVP stands for “Most Valuable Player”.  If the award was for “Most Outstanding Player”, Harper would be the clear-cut winner.  But Goldschmidt has been more valuable for his team this season, and the stats demonstrate that.

Goldschmidt has the edge here.

All stats courtesy of