We Need To Talk About the Milwaukee Brewers

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Coming into this season, the Chicago Cubs were heavily favored to win the NL Central while the Milwaukee Brewers were expected to finish third in the division (at best). I’ll give you three guesses who’s in first place at the All-Star Break.

The Milwaukee Brewers are currently 50-41 and 5.5 games ahead of both the Cubs and Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. The division is absolutely one of the weaker ones in baseball (the Cincinnati Reds, at 39-49, are within shouting distance of first at 9.5 games back) but the Brewers’ success has put just about all of baseball on notice. While many expected the team to continue its ongoing rebuilding efforts, the organization, led by General Manager and Harvard political science major David Stearns, is competing for a playoff berth. While Milwaukee’s first-half triumphs may not have been in the organization’s plans, the Brewers are in full command of first place with just 71 games left in the season. Their dominion over their division is getting more and more serious with each passing day. Even though many have tried to punt on having this conversation, we must force ourselves to face this inexorable fact:

The Milwaukee Brewers are for real.

How they have gotten to this point is most certainly a matter of intrigue. In terms of Wins Above Replacement, the team’s leading hitter is third baseman Travis Shaw. Shaw and two other prospects were sent to Milwaukee from the Red Sox in exchange for reliever Tyler Thornburg after last season. This year, Shaw is batting .299 with a .570 slugging percentage; the latter figure ranks fourteenth in all of baseball, ahead of noted big boppers such as Logan Morrison, Mike Moustakas, and Miguel Sanó. Thornburg, on the other hand, will not pitch for the Red Sox after undergoing season-ending surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome last month. Whoops.

The next most fascinating Brewer story is that of first baseman Eric Thames. In stints with the Mariners and Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012, Thames hit a competent but unspectacular .250 with 21 home runs. After being demoted late in the 2012 season and bouncing around the minors with three different clubs in 2013, Thames was signed by the NC Dinos of South Korea’s KBO League. Thames suddenly turned into South Korea’s answer to Miguel Cabrera, hitting 124 home runs in just three seasons. Additionally, he hit .349 and was the KBO’s Most Valuable Player in 2015.

And, as you probably figured, he’s now producing serious results for the Milwaukee Brewers. Thames leads the team in home runs (23) and runs scored (58). While his batting average has fallen to .248 after a scorching start to the season, he still has a .374 on-base percentage and has walked in 15.5% of his plate appearances.

There have been other contributors to the Brewers’ success, too. Players such as Domingo Santana, Manny Piña, Orlando Arcia, Jesus Aguilar, and even Eric Sogard have all contributed at least one win this season. If the last name I mentioned sounds familiar, it is; Sogard, while playing for the Oakland A’s in 2014, very nearly became the “Face of MLB” after an inside joke that went way, way too far. Sogard eventually lost the contest to Mets third baseman David Wright; just three years later, Wright’s career is likely over after a prolonged and continuing bout with spinal stenosis in his back. The contest was proof positive that you should never, ever decide things on Twitter. After all, the site’s most popular tweet comes from a man named Carter Wilkinson. The subject matter? Wilkinson was asking Wendy’s for a year’s supply of chicken nuggets. So there you go.

Anyway, where the Brewers’ story becomes truly impressive is with their pitching staff. Both Chase Anderson and Jimmy Nelson have turned in outstanding first halves, with Anderson pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA. While he has not pitched since leaving his June 28 start against the Reds with an oblique injury, Anderson is expected to return after the All-Star break. Nelson, though, has been the true ace of the starting rotation, having tossed 109 innings in 18 starts and pitching to a 3.30 ERA. Nelson is becoming the Brewers’ ace, as he’s been the team’s best (and most consistent) starter to this point in the season. In fact, Nelson’s WAR ranks in the top ten among all starting pitchers in baseball. Nelson is easily having the best year of his career, and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll be able to keep it up. But his sudden dominance is part of the Brewers’ early-season success.

The other prominent hurler for the Brew Crew is closer Corey Knebel. Knebel is also having the best season of his career and has become one of the best closers in baseball in 2017. Knebel has been so good, in fact, that his K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings) rate is third among all relief pitchers, behind only the Red Sox’ Craig Kimbrel and the Yankees’ Dellin Betances. It’s entirely possible that Knebel falls off in the second half of the season, but he too has been vital to Milwaukee’s ascendancy to the top of the NL Central.

Of course, this story would be incomplete without addressing the Chicago Cubs and, more broadly, the collective mediocrity of the rest of the NL Central. While Chicago likely still has the most talent of any team in the division (FanGraphs still projects them to win the NL Central), the Brewers have separated from the pack as a result of their World Series hangover. And even as the Cubs’ season has slowly morphed into the title defense from hell, no one in the division, aside from Milwaukee, has taken advantage of their struggles.

The Milwaukee Brewers are no joke. They’ve been in first place outright since June 7 and while many have panicked about the state of the Cubs, the Brewers have started to pull away in a somewhat stunning development. They’ve gotten excellent pitching and timely hitting from unlikely sources and their run differential says that they should have performed exactly as well as they did in the first half of the season.

And whether they have gotten their most important pieces from the minor leagues, the Red Sox, or South Korea, the Milwaukee Brewers will try to finish what they started and lock up the National League Central in the second half of the season.

Paul Goldschmidt Is Having the Best Season You’ve Never Heard Of

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We are at about the halfway point of the Major League Baseball season and it’s been a year of fascinating storylines. Some of those include the dominance of rookies Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, the emergence of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers as the two best teams in baseball, and the underwhelming performance of the defending champion Chicago Cubs. It has been, to this point, an exciting exhibition of both team and individual performances, one that is sure to pave the way for a fascinating second half of the season.

One of the best performaces of this young season, though, has gone completely under the radar.

It’s not exactly a secret that I really like Paul Goldschmidt; in fact, I’ve actually commissioned myself as the president of the Society of Paul Goldschmidt Admirers. He is easily the most underrated superstar in today’s game and the consistency of his performance on a daily basis almost always goes unnoticed. Part of the problem is that he plays on the Arizona Diamondbacks in one of baseball’s more anonymous markets; most of Arizona’s home games don’t begin until 9:30 on the east coast, meaning that many baseball fans aren’t able to stay up late to see just how good Goldschmidt really is. The other issue is that because Goldschmidt is such a well-rounded player there isn’t really one thing to zero in on in terms of his abilities on an everyday basis. It’s hard to think of him as just a power hitter, speedster, or elite defender.

If you want a measure of just how talented Goldschmidt really is, consider this: he ranks first among major league first basemen in both runs scored and stolen bases while also coming in third in home runs. At a position where most players simply don’t run well, Goldschmidt is on pace for around 25 steals this year. For a more all-encompassing look at Goldschmidt’s base running abilities, we turn to BsR, the base running component of wins above replacement. In that category, he is also tops among all first basemen, but that’s not all: among all position players, Goldschmidt is tied for third in all of baseball. The two players he’s tied with, the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson and the Marlins’ Dee Gordon, are two of the fastest players in the game today. However, both players only get on base roughly 33% of the time. Goldschmidt, on the other hand, reaches base in nearly 44% of his plate appearances. So not only is he reaching base at an extremely high rate (second among all position players) but he is also a true asset to his team when he gets there.

Next, we move to the all-important power category. While most players who run well are not able to hit for power, Goldschmidt is the rare exception. He ranks seventh in the league in slugging percentage, a measure of a player’s total bases divided by the number of at-bats he has. A deeper dive into this, though, shows that his performance in this category is even more impressive than advertised. Out of the top 35 players in the league in slugging, Goldschmidt is the only player with double-digit stolen bases. Eight of those 35 players have zero steals on the season, and 22 of the 35 have negative BsR ratings. Goldschmidt really is the exception instead of the rule, and his all-around prowess of the offensive game is truly something to behold.

If his performance this season were a surprise, chances are it would be covered more vigorously on a national level. This year’s showing, however, is a continuation of a trend that started back in 2012. With the exception of his 2014 season, one that ended when he broke his hand on August 1 of that year, Goldschmidt has had at least 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases every single year. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he’s going to do that again this year. His exploits have guided the Diamondbacks and their horrendous uniforms to a 52-31 start; Arizona has the third-best record in baseball and is just 2.5 games behind the Dodgers for first place in the NL West.

Even with all that, Goldschmidt still isn’t earning the recognition he deserves. His jersey is not in the top 20 of all jerseys sold on MLBShop.com since last year’s World Series. He has ceded much of the attention at his own position to players such as Anthony Rizzo and Ryan Zimmerman. Even with the success of the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt still hasn’t earned the respect or praise he has truly earned. Many around the team and the league speak of Goldschmidt as a quiet individual who doesn’t necessarily seek out the media spotlight. However, he deserves to be shouted out here, even if he isn’t going to be the one doing the talking.

There is also this last note to consider: among all players in Major League Baseball, Goldschmidt ranks fourth in wins above replacement. Only Aaron Judge, Chris Sale, and Max Scherzer are ahead of him in that category. While I don’t consider myself a blind slave to WAR, the figure provides a starting point for evaluating players based on their production to this particular point in the season. And through three months of baseball, WAR says that Goldschmidt is the fourth-best player in the league. It also says that he’s the second-best position player in baseball, and the guy he’s behind in that category has his own cheering section in Yankee Stadium. Paul Goldschmidt, for nearly as productive a season, has some hardcore fans and, well, this blog post. The difference between the two may not be that disparate, but it’s pretty close.

It’s very unlikely that many people will come to appreciate the greatness of Paul Goldschmidt anytime soon. The fact of the matter is, though, that he has been one of baseball’s brightest stars over the past couple of seasons. This year, the Diamondbacks find themselves in contention for a playoff spot and (potentially) a run into October. if Arizona can maintain its first-half success, much of America may finally realize just how good the Diamondbacks’ first baseman really is when the playoffs roll around.

But until then, he’ll continue to put together an MVP-caliber season, regardless of whether or not anyone outside Arizona notices or cares.

A Few Forgotten Men: Reassigning Credit for the Dodgers’ Success

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Let’s go back to 1984. Before I tell you this story, let me assure you that I know where I’m going with this.

The music legend and founder of the Motown record label, Berry Gordy, has a 20-year-old son looking to break into the music industry. He has changed his name, with the help of his father’s company, to create his own image outside of his father’s shadow. The younger Gordy has a song that he believes can be a hit, but while he liked the tune, he wanted to bring in a more established singer to perform the song’s hook.

When that person came along, the song became internationally-renowned and reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was Rockwell’s “Somebody’s Watching Me”, and the man singing the chorus was none other than Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Keep in mind that Jackson released his “Thriller” album over 13 months before and was truly at the peak of his powers as a musician and performer. The chorus (“I always feel like, somebody’s watchin’ meeeeeeeeeee”) is easily the most memorable part of the song, and Jackson’s role in the hit single is what allowed it to be released in the first place.

At the time, many simply assumed that “Somebody’s Watching Me” was Jackson’s song. And while MJ’s are some of the most famous backing vocals ever, he was not actually credited on the song itself. While his contribution to the song is minimal in time, it is what many remember about it, even if Rockwell performed most of the song. It would be Rockwell’s biggest and, for all intents and purposes, only hit. “Somebody’s Watching Me” has now been the anthem of everyday paranoia for over 33 years, but it likely never reaches the light of day without Jackson’s help.

So what’s the point of me telling you all this? Well, it looks like a similar situation is brewing with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Dodgers lead the NL West by 2.5 games and are currently on a 10-game winning streak. Much of the hype surrounding the team’s hot start has revolved around star rookie outfielder Cody Bellinger, who leads the National League with 24 home runs despite having played just 57 of Los Angeles’ 77 games this season. Of course, a lot of the recent attention Bellinger has received concerns his oblivion towards the existence of Jerry Seinfeld, but we’ll let that go for now.

Many will presume that Bellinger has been the Dodgers’ best (and most important) player to this point in the season. After all, he has hit twelve home runs in his team’s last fifteen games, and the Dodgers are 14-1 in that span. A closer look at the numbers, though, shows that he has been far from the only key to the Dodgers’ success.

Consider this: for as good as Bellinger has been to this point in the season, he has only hit .282. In some ways, that makes his home run binge even more impressive, as the longball has accounted for over 40% of his hits this season. It is fair to ask yourself, however, if he can continue at his torrid pace for the rest of the season; while he leads the league in isolated power, a measure of a batter’s raw power, major league pitchers may be able to somewhat figure him out sooner or later. While they may not be able to stop him completely, they could attack him more intelligently as they get a feel for his strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s something else to think about: is Bellinger’s success a result of the hitters in front of him in the lineup?

Since third baseman Justin Turner returned from the disabled list on June 9, the Dodgers and manager Dave Roberts have employed a lineup with shortstop Corey Seager hitting second, Turner hitting third, and Bellinger cleaning up. Roberts had tried this lineup earlier in the season and has gone back to it since Turner’s return. In this version of the Dodgers’ lineup, the three hitters have formed something of a Mortal Kombat combination; in the sixteen games the three players have hit 2-3-4 in the starting lineup, the Dodgers are 13-3 and are averaging nearly seven runs per game.

Bellinger plays a role in that success, but so do Turner and Seager; the two infielders lead the team in WAR (wins above replacement). In fact, Turner has been so successful that he is hitting .393 on June 26. While it’s very unlikely that he hits .400 for the season, he’s been the Dodgers’ best hitter when he’s been in the lineup this season. Seager has also been outstanding this year, as he has an on-base percentage over .400. More importantly, Seager has only missed four games so far this year; while he’s listed as day-to-day with a hamstring injury, he is not expected to miss significant time. As both players lead the league at their positions in WAR, it’s become clear that the Dodgers easily have the best left side of the infield in baseball.

Another thing to address when looking at the Dodgers’ success is their pitching staff and, in particular, their starting rotation. While ace Clayton Kershaw has been outstanding as usual, the team has gotten pleasantly surprising performances this season from starters Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy. Wood has been so spectacular, in fact, that he is second in the league in ERA among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched this season. While the offense has gotten all of the headlines, LA’s pitching staff has quietly held down the fort en route to the league’s lowest staff ERA.

The Dodgers are 51-26 and just one game behind the Houston Astros for the best record in baseball. While Bellinger has been amazing and will rightfully get most of the credit for the team’s success, other players, such as Turner and Seager, also deserve praise for the critical roles they’ve played in pushing the Dodgers to the front of the best division in baseball. The team does not appear to be showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon, and it appears as if their success in the first half of the season is no fluke.

The Los Angeles Dodgers may very well continue their first-half success on their way to bigger and better things. Their starting rotation could continue to perform like they have in the team’s first 77 games, and their offense may continue to perform, albeit probably not at their current pace.

And Cody Bellinger will continue to play a leading role, even if he was only asked to sing backing vocals for baseball’s best offense.

Max Scherzer Hasn’t Yet Eclipsed Clayton Kershaw As Baseball’s Best Pitcher

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Recently, one of the main debates in the baseball landscape has been whether or not the Nationals’ Max Scherzer has overtaken the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in the game. The two hurlers are likely the two best pitchers in baseball, but as usual, we must debate which one is better because we can’t appreciate a good thing when we see one. Anyway…

The trigger point for this discussion was an article printed in the Washington Post on Monday in which Neil Greenberg argued that Scherzer has overtaken Kershaw as the game’s best pitcher:

Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer has a long list of accolades. He’s the sixth pitcher in Major League Baseball history to win the Cy Young Award in both the American and National leagues. The 32-year-old father-to-be required the third fewest innings of any pitcher in history to record his 2,000th career strikeout. And he has two no-hitters plus a 20-strikeout game to his credit.

Now he can add one more superlative to his resume as the most likely to unseat Clayton Kershaw as the best pitcher in the baseball.

Later in the article, Greenberg argues that Scherzer is already the best pitcher in the sport. Greenberg’s opinion is no longer an uncommon one, either, but is Scherzer really the best pitcher in the game right now? Let’s take a closer look, and instead of solely looking at this year’s performance, we’ll compare the two pitchers over the first ten years of their careers.

To answer this question, I went to FanGraphs, quite possibly the best sports information website on the internet today. Instead of getting into advanced stats right away, I decided to compare the two pitchers based on more common statistics. The most accepted statistic to gauge a pitcher’s success is earned run average, and while Scherzer’s ERA is lower than Kershaw’s this season, their bodies of work show that this is a rare occurrence:

Source: FanGraphsClayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer

Much of the hype around Scherzer’s dominance has come in the wake of his last five starts. In those outings, Scherzer has pitched to a 0.89 ERA with at least ten strikeouts and seven innings pitched in every game. In his last five starts, Clayton Kershaw has pitched to a 3.98 ERA and has not gone deeper than seven innings into any of those outings. Before this five-start stretch, Kershaw’s ERA was 2.01 while Scherzer’s was 3.02. It’s entirely possible that this three-week period has been an aberration for both pitchers.

Now, let’s take a look at the all-important WHIP (walks and hits per inning) statistic. This stat is an indicator of how many baserunners a pitcher allows in each of his innings of work, and it usually is the best indicator of long-term success. With Kershaw and Scherzer, it tells a very similar story to their ERA comparison:

Source: FanGraphsClayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer

Let’s take this one step further. FIP is a pitching stat that aims to take defense out of the equation of a pitcher’s success (it literally stands for fielding independent pitching). This figure shows that Scherzer is currently having the better season. But, just like the other previously-displayed statistics, it also shows that this year could be an anomaly:

Source: FanGraphsClayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer

Now, it is impossible to believe that Kershaw is having the better season this year. However, you may ask yourself whether or not I would still take him as the best pitcher in baseball. The answer is that I would, and here’s why.

Both pitchers reached the big leagues in the same year (2008), making it very easy to directly compare their careers. Since they both arrived in the majors, there is a large sample size (ten years, to be exact) suggesting that Kershaw has been the better pitcher. If you go back and look at the graphs, the only time Scherzer has outperformed Kershaw before this year is their rookie season, when Scherzer was called up by the Arizona Diamondbacks. Kershaw was also called up that season and he made 21 starts. Want to know how many starts Scherzer had that season? Seven.

And even if you want to consider 2008 a full “season” for both pitchers and end the 2017 season today (more power to you if you do), the fact of the matter is this: Max Scherzer, to this point in his career, is two for ten in terms of having a better overall season than Clayton Kershaw. And if you’re like me and you consider 2008 and this season to be incomplete bodies of work, you’ll see that Scherzer has never been more effective than Kershaw for a full year.

And that leads me to think that Kershaw is still a better pitcher. While many are infatuated with a five-start stretch, Kershaw has still been consistently better and the month of June may have been a blip on the radar. Take this into account, too: Kershaw is just 29 years old. Scherzer is 32. While it seems like both have been around for a very long time, Kershaw is still on the south side of 30.

And make no mistake: this is not meant to discredit the job Max Scherzer has done so far this season. He has quite possibly been the game’s best hurler this year, and he should be applauded for that.

And if you’re going to crown him the best pitcher in the game because of a five-start stretch, that’s your prerogative. When you do that, though, just know that I won’t be joining in on your fun.

NOTE: Today, Scherzer threw an eight-inning complete game in a 2-1 loss to the Miami Marlins today. He had 11 strikeouts and did not allow an earned run in defeat. The information in the above graphs does not take Scherzer’s most recent start into consideration.

MLB’s Pace of Play Problem

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It’s nice to see Major League Baseball attempting to fix its serious problems with the length and pace of their games. The operative word in that sentence: attempting.

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who ascended to the office in 2014, has made pace of play his top issue as the ruler of the sport. Before his first full season as commissioner, he instituted stricter rules regarding breaks between innings and players wasting time over the course of a game. The measures worked to an extent; games were an average of about six minutes shorter than the season before and while that seems like a small progression, the average length of games went back under three hours, a major accomplishment for a sport that has recently struggled with getting younger fans to pay attention to their product. At the time, it seemed like baseball had taken the first step toward solving its burgeoning pace-of-play issue.

Unfortunately, the sport soon relapsed and has undone much of the progress it made just two years ago.

Last year, the average length of an MLB game jumped back to exactly three hours, a four-minute regression from the year before. Instead of improving or leveling off, the problem has gotten worse in 2017; as of April 17, the average game length has jumped to three hours and five minutes. This comes in spite of the sport’s attempts to continue pace-of-play efforts; the most pronounced change this season has been the no-pitch intentional walk and a 30-second limit on managers trying to decide whether or not to challenge a play. Clearly, these measures are not working, as games are actually longer than they were before they were enacted.

Baseball’s problem with pace of play is not borne from a lack of trying. However, not all of the ideas for improving the pace of baseball games are good. Among Manfred’s more terrible ideas is for teams to start each extra inning with a runner on second base. There are countless problems with this idea, but the main one is that it does nothing to stop MLB’s problem with nine-inning games. It also brings numerous issues including statistics, strategy, bullpen usage, etc., but those aren’t necessarily important for right now.

The frustrating thing for baseball fans is that the rules put in place before the 2015 season actually did work. The games were shorter, commercial breaks were tighter, and there was less dead time in between pitches. And then, on May 1 of that year, the league office made a massive mistake and reduced or even eliminated fines for offenders of the league’s new pace-of-play rules. (Back then, players were fined $500 for stepping out of the batter’s box or otherwise violating pacing regulations.) Granted, fining David Ortiz nearly half a million dollars in the span of six months might not have been the best look for the sport, but don’t you have to do something about a problem before it gets even worse?

Here’s another point that has to be made: it’s unrealistic to expect a baseball game to finish in less time than, say, a basketball game. It’s also unrealistic to expect baseball games to be as quick as they were just thirty years ago; teams are taking more pitches per game and there is no way to control that. In fact, it’s been proven to be an intelligent strategy.

However, there is something baseball can do to solve some of their pace-of-play issues. You may need to be sitting down for this one. Here it is:

Major League Baseball can (likely) shave about ten minutes off their current average game time if they simply enforced the rules they have in place right now. They could go back to fining players for taking a foot out of the batter’s box; after all, it happens all of the time now. They could make sure that their “2:25 commercial break” is actually a 2:25 commercial break and nothing more. That required far less thought than putting a runner on second base in the tenth inning, removing pitches for an intentional walk, or radically changing the strike zone.

There is one thing MLB absolutely needs to do beyond its current rules, and that is to institute a 20-second pitch clock as soon as possible. It works exactly as it would sound, and since its introduction in the minor leagues two years ago, it has subtracted about 12 minutes per game on average.

A reasonable goal for Major League Baseball would be to cut the average length of a game down to two hours and 45 minutes. Between the pitch clocks and accurate, consistent rule enforcement, I believe I just found 22 minutes that could be slashed from every single baseball game. If you subtract those 22 minutes from the current length of games, you would have an average of two hours and 43 minutes per contest. Those are two completely non-gimmick, no-nonsense, common sense solutions to what is actually a very uncomplicated problem.

Major League Baseball needs to cut down the length of their games. It actually isn’t as big of a problem for the sport as, for example, properly marketing their stars, but it needs to be addressed. Rob Manfred and the Players’ Association can solve this problem with common sense solutions that should make both sides happy.

MLB’s pace-of-play conundrum is a very simple problem. The sport’s power brokers, however, must not overthink the current state of affairs when trying to find solutions.

Agree With Him or Not, Dave Roberts Has a Point

Photo Credit: Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts is currently in the running for National League Manager of the Year. Part of his success this season (his team leads the NL West by three games over the Giants) is because of his complete willingness to buck baseball’s common sense and conventional wisdom. He’s done it again, and his most recent unorthodox decision has drawn controversy and skepticism.

Here’s the lowdown: newly-acquired pitcher Rich Hill was tossing a no-hitter through seven frames against the Miami Marlins on Saturday. Hill was coming back after suffering from complications from a blister on the middle finger of his throwing (left) hand. Interestingly enough, this is the second occurrence of the blister, as Hill was forced to miss over a month with the injury after being traded from the A’s at the trade deadline and then a start at the end of August, as well. So it’s not exactly like Hill’s blister wasn’t a concern going into Saturday night’s game. But even with that pretext, Hill reached the end of the seventh inning without allowing a baserunner and having thrown just 89 pitches. So what would Roberts do?

He would decide to remove Hill from the game, making what may very well be the most difficult decision a manager can possibly make.

For one thing, Roberts has demonstrated a willingness to pull the plug on his starting pitchers, even as they have flirted with once-in-a-lifetime feats. In April, Roberts yanked Ross Stripling from his Major League debut after 7.1 no-hit innings. Stripling also happened to be two years removed from Tommy John Surgery. The Dodgers ultimately lost the game in ten innings and Roberts was second-guessed by just about anyone you can imagine. Want to guess who was among those not questioning the manager’s decision? The father of none other than Thomas Ross Stripling.

It’s true: according to reports, Hayes Stripling tearfully thanked Roberts after removing his son from the game. According to that same report, Stripling often eclipsed 120 pitches per start in college, which may have been a factor in his receiving Tommy John Surgery in 2014. So pulling him at that point in the game, disappointing as it may have been, was absolutely the right decision for the young pitcher.

It was also the only decision. The same thing can be said about the Rich Hill ordeal, if only for slightly different reasons.

Hill’s injured blister does not compare to the long-term effects of Tommy John Surgery in any way. However, the injury is one that must be handled delicately, just like Stripling’s elbow was in the early stages of the season. So it would make sense that the Dodgers would want to tread lightly with one of their best pitchers, even though Hill was making his second start since the re-occurrence of the injury.

Let’s think about this, as well: why do we want to see no-hitters and perfect games? We mostly enjoy witnessing them for the raw emotion, the pitcher launching his glove in the air when the game ends, and the players congratulating the pitcher on his achievement. But, other from that, how much do we actually think about the long-term health of the pitcher? In the moment, it’s not something we really consider (unless it’s really obvious, as it was with Johan Santana in 2012). We’re happy when the pitcher finishes off his accomplishment and then we move on. We don’t often consider the long-term effects on pitchers such as Santana and Tim Lincecum, who, three years after throwing 148 pitches in a no-hitter against the Padres, is likely out of baseball for good.

Another thing to consider here is that the Dodgers need Hill down the stretch and potentially into October, as well. As nice as it would have been for Hill to throw a perfect game over the weekend, it’s more important for the Dodgers to prioritize his long-term health and availability over two innings at the end of a game in September (when Hill was removed, the Dodgers led 5-0 and won the game by the same score). Yes, reliever Joe Blanton came in and gave up a hit to end the perfect bid, but the question of “What if Rich Hill stayed in?” contains far worse hypothetical possibilities than that.

For example, what if Hill hadn’t left the game and the blister on his middle finger popped open again? If Roberts employed the tact used by many managers in that position and left his pitcher in, he very easily could have aggravated the injury even further. Granted, there’s every possibility that Hill could have remained on the mound and not suffered an injury, but the possibility of the worst is what likely led Roberts to pull the trigger. If Hill had indeed gotten injured, we would be scrutinizing Roberts for not protecting an important asset to his team.

And that’s exactly what Hill is. With the Dodgers just three games up on the San Francisco Giants for the NL West lead, the team cannot afford to have more injuries to its starting rotation. Both Hill and ace Clayton Kershaw have both missed significant time this season with injuries, and losing either for any more time would be a serious blow to the Dodgers’ chances of making the playoffs and/or playing well into October. When you think about that dire possibility, is it really all that important that Rich Hill finishes his perfect game?

There are many reasons why Dave Roberts was right to pull Rich Hill from his start last Saturday. There are many points of view from which to examine this debate, but the one that matters the most is that of Rich Hill. If he had hurt himself while trying to complete his perfect game, would it have really been worth the trouble to keep him in the game? I would venture to say so, and it’s apparent that Dave Roberts agrees. More importantly, would it have been fair to Rich Hill to risk his long-term health? I’d say the answer to that is no.

Roberts is certainly not your average manager. He makes unconventional decisions, the most notable of which involve his starting pitchers. But he has done the best he can in protecting them, and the curious case of Rich Hill is no different.

Which is why he deserves credit, not blame, for how he handled this situation.

The End-of-August MLB Award Winners

While we still have a month to go in the Major League Baseball season, it’s never too early to dissect the individual award races in the sport. Many standouts have made their mark on the season in positive ways, and this post is dedicated to those who have distinguished themselves this season. We’ll take a look at each individual award race (with the exception of Most Valuable Player) and pick a winner in each league.   We’ll start with rookie of the year.

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

I know, I know, you probably wanted me to pick Yankees phenom Gary Sanchez here. The young catcher is hitting nearly .400 with 11 home runs in 23 games to start his career and is even drawing comparisons to Babe Ruth, for some reason.

But I’ll go with the far more conventional choice of Michael Fulmer.

Fulmer has not only been one of the best rookie pitchers in the game this season but also one of the best hurlers in all of baseball. His 2.69 ERA ranks sixth in the game and it’s very fair to wonder where the Tigers would be without him. While Sanchez is definitely the sexy pick here, Fulmer has contributed to the Tigers’ success unlike any other rookie has for his team in the American League. That’s why I have him as my AL Rookie of the Year, but this award is at least debatable. The NL Rookie of the Year award, on the other hand, is absolutely not up for discussion.

NL Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

This one is obvious. Seager leads all rookies in WAR (6.9); the next closest hitter in this category is Rockies’ shortstop Trevor Story at 2.6. Story, however, could miss the rest of the season with a torn ligament in his thumb. Quite frankly, even if Story was healthy, Seager would probably beat him out for Rookie of the Year. The Dodgers’ shortstop has hit 23 home runs and driven in 62 runs this season. He’s also fifth in baseball with a .321 batting average. While the AL race is still to be determined, the NL race has already been decided. The winner is Corey Seager, and it’s not even close.

AL Cy Young Award: Cole Hamels, Texas Rangers

The races for the Cy Young Award in both leagues are very tightly contested. In the American League, there are a bevy of contenders to take home the crown. However, I’ll take Cole Hamels of the Texas Rangers as my AL Cy Young winner. Hamels has pitched to a 2.67 ERA this season, tops in the American League, and he is also going deep into starts, averaging around 6.2 innings per outing. That will be very important to a Ranger bullpen that has been decimated in recent days by the actions of closer Jeremy Jeffress, who was arrested last week on a DWI charge.

In the meantime, though, Hamels is my pick for the AL Cy Young.

NL Cy Young Award: Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

This race, like that of the American League, is wide open. In the National League, though, there are far more bona fide contenders who have a legitimate chance at winning the award. Among them are Madison Bumgarner, Jake Arrieta, Johnny Cueto, and even Jon Lester. My pick, though, is Bumgarner, the pitcher as well-known for his hitting as he is for his pitching. Unbelievably, Bumgarner is two long starts away from reaching 200 innings, and while the Giants have gone in the tank since the All-Star Break, Bumgarner has been the most important player on the team this season. As the team’s ace, he’s carried the pitching staff to a 3.73 ERA, which is good for fourth in baseball.

It’s close, but I’ll give the NL Cy Young Award to Madison Bumgarner.

AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians have been one of the biggest surprises of this MLB season. While much of that has to do with the emergence of young stars such as Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, and others, we should give credit where it’s due. And credit should be given to manager Terry Francona, who has been one of the best managers in baseball since taking over the Red Sox managerial gig in 2004. Francona has welded this team into one of the best in baseball and even into a serious World Series contender this season. He deserves major credit for doing that, and by that measure, he also deserves AL Manager of the Year.

NL Manager of the Year: Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals

While the obvious choice here would be the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, I’m giving NL Manager of the Year to the Nationals’ Dusty Baker. Baker arrived in Washington after last season to what appeared to be a fractured locker room after the team’s disappointing 2015 campaign. We can all agree that Matt Williams wasn’t exactly the best manager for a team that has had championship talent for the past three seasons.

And that’s where Baker comes in. All he has done this season is lead the Nationals to first place in the NL East; the team is on pace for 93 wins, which would mark a 10-win improvement over last season. Granted, there are other factors at play (Daniel Murphy’s emergence as one of the best hitters in baseball, a mostly healthy Stephen Strasburg), but you can’t say that Baker hasn’t managed the team to its full potential.

And that’s good enough for me.

I would make calls on the MVP race here but both leagues are extremely crowded and the last month of the season will go a long way to deciding these award winners in both leagues. Until then, let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

The Angels Are Wasting the Prime of Mike Trout’s Career

Photo Credit: Rick Scuteri/USA Today Sports

At just 25 years old, Mike Trout is arguably the best player in baseball, a once-in-a-generation talent, and a five-tool superstar. The Los Angeles Angels are lucky enough to have him on their team, and you would think that the organization would find a way to use his absurd skill set to their advantage.

It hasn’t happened that way. In fact, the Angels have done quite the opposite; they’ve somehow, some way wasted his other-worldly talent.

In Mike Trout’s five years in Major League’s baseball, he’s averaged 34 home runs, 99 RBI and 28 steals per 162 games. Additionally, he’s hit over .300 and made some amazing outfield catches over his first five seasons. Trout’s versatility and multitude of talents make him one of the best, if not the best player in all of baseball. He’s also stayed extraordinarily healthy throughout his career; in four full seasons in the majors, Trout has missed a grand total of 14 games, almost all of which can be chalked up to routine off days. Trout made his debut on July 8, 2011 but didn’t reach the show for good until April 28, 2012. If you don’t follow baseball, try to take a guess what the Angels’ record has been since that date. I’ll give you some time.

Okay, you have your guesses ready? Awesome. Prepare to be amazed. The Angels’ record since April 28, 2012 is:


Yes, since the best player on the planet has joined their team, the Los Angeles Angels have won 52.5% of their games. Many teams would kill to have a generational talent such as Trout, and most of those teams would find some way to have sustained success with Trout on the roster and playing every day. But no, these Angels are not one of those teams.

Instead, the Angels’ organization has completely botched the composition of almost the entirety of the rest of the roster. Through trades, flawed free agent acquisitions, and front office shakeups, the Los Angeles Angels have somehow become the most inefficiently-run organization in all of baseball, which isn’t exactly something to be proud of. To understand why they’re blowing it with Trout, we need to understand the scope of some of those moves and how they have hamstrung the organization for years to come.

The team’s first ill-fated free agency maneuver was signing Albert Pujols, then the best hitter in baseball, in the winter of 2011. The Angels inked Pujols to a ten-year, $300 million deal; at the time, Pujols was going into his age-32 season, which is around the time hitters’ skills begin to decline. Sure enough, that’s what has happened with the first baseman. While he has still averaged nearly 30 home runs per season in Los Angeles, his batting average in five years with the Angels his dipped to .263 (as opposed to a .328 figure with the Cardinals in the first 11 years of his career). That’s hardly worth a $300 million price tag. What’s worse is that Pujols no longer plays first base, which means that the Angels are paying someone $30 million per year to be a designated hitter. That’s not a worthwhile investment, to say the least.

But Pujols is hardly the only bad decision the Angels’ front office has made over the past five years. In that same offseason, newly-minted General Manager Jerry Dipoto signed pitcher C.J. Wilson to a five-year, $77.5 million deal. The problem is that Wilson was never that great a pitcher to begin with, as he only really had two great seasons before heading to L.A. That didn’t warrant the team giving him that much money at that point in time, but that’s the decision Dipoto and the front office made. Worst of all, the deal was heavily backloaded; Wilson is making a cool $20 million this year. Want to know how many starts he’s made this season? Zero. He underwent season-ending, reconstructive shoulder surgery in July. The Angels are paying him $20 million this season to rehab from injury, try to make a comeback in baseball, but most significantly of all, not pitch.

And then we come to Josh Hamilton.

Hamilton was one of the best players in all of baseball when the Angles plucked him from the Texas Rangers before the 2013 season. However, he had been known for a history of drug problems and alcohol abuse that caused several teams to stay away from him. Those problems were somewhat taken care of with the Rangers, where his support system of advisors and mentors helped him stay (mostly) clean. Unfortunately, that support system didn’t quite follow Hamilton to the West Coast. And the Angels organization didn’t exactly support him, either.

As you probably remember, Hamilton self-reported a third relapse, consisting of cocaine and alcohol abuse, to Major League Baseball in February of last year. While it’s terrible that Hamilton suffered yet another relapse, it was honorable that Hamilton was honest about his infraction. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for the Angels and owner Arte Moreno. After an arbitrator ruled that Hamilton would not be suspended by MLB for his conduct, Moreno took to the press to publicly denounce his star player and say that the team was looking to take action against him because of his lack of “accountability”. Okay, Arte, here’s some advice: if you don’t want to deal with his potential issues, which are a sensitive subject, don’t sign Josh Hamilton in the first place. Avoidance would have been a very easy way to deal with Hamilton’s problems, and instead of avoiding him, Moreno and Dipoto thought it would be a good idea to sign him. They know this could become a problem and pretended to be shocked when it did. That’s their fault. Hopefully, Hamilton can keep his problems in check and live happily, sober, and clean for the rest of his life. But the Angels messed up badly with Josh Hamilton, and there’s no escaping that fact.

And finally, there was the ultimate front office shakeup last season. A clash of wills between Dipoto and manager Mike Scioscia led to Dipoto’s resignation as the team’s GM in early July. While we’ve established that Dipoto was (and still is) a pretty terrible General Manager, Scioscia is not blameless in this situation, either. Under his tutelage, the Halos haven’t won a postseason series, much less a playoff game, since 2009. Since that year, the team has made the playoffs just once and has had four seasons between 80 and 89 wins. With the exception of this season, one that has Los Angeles on pace for just 67 wins, the Angels have been one of the most perennially mediocre teams in the game.

And it shows in the team’s farm system, too. Actually, calling the Angels’ conglomerate of minor league affiliates and players a farm system is disrespectful to the other 29 legitimate farm systems in baseball. I kid you not, these are real words from Keith Law, ESPN’s resident prospect expert, on the Angels’ minor league system. From January:

I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen. They traded their top two prospects in the Andrelton Simmons deal and had no one remotely close to top-100 status. They need a big draft this year to start to restock the system or we’re going to start talking about whether it’s time to trade Mike Trout.

And Law isn’t just saying that: the Angels legitimately have no good prospects in their system. One would’ve thought that the team would have tried to seriously restock their farm system at the deadline, a la the New York Yankees, but, as Law smartly points out, that would have entailed trading Trout. So the Angels have no good prospects and no trade chips they could use to go out and get solid prospects. The team and new GM Billy Eppler stayed quiet at the deadline, making no trades. I would criticize Eppler for this, but there was legitimately nothing he could’ve done besides dealing Trout, who is a once-in-a-generation talent. There’s really no use in getting rid of him. I actually feel bad for Eppler; it’s like he took over for someone in the middle of a Monopoly game and was given no properties and no money to work with. He’s bankrupt.

This is what Mike Trout has to look forward to. The team he plays for has no future and no present. He’s the best player in the game, and no one is caring to watch him or his team play. That’s sad, especially when you consider that the Angels have him under contract until 2020.

And if Trout isn’t traded before then, he’ll be languishing in the wallows of Anaheim, as the team that employs him wastes the best years of his career.

This Time, It’s for Real: The Last Days of A-Rod

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The headline above is a reference to a Sports Illustrated column of the same name that was published almost exactly three years ago. The article, written by S.L. Price, detailed how Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez went from heralded prospect to superstar to steroid abuser to pathological liar. The line that stuck with me and many others in the first paragraph of that column: “But the end? The end is pain, and pain is ugly.”

Three years after “The Last Days of A-Rod” ran in SI, Alex Rodriguez has finally reached his painful end. It hasn’t been pretty.

In reality, the entire 2016 season has felt like one singular, massive dead end for Rodriguez; this dead end of his career has no cul-de-sac to turn around from, either. A career .295 hitter, A-Rod is hitting just .204 this year, tied for the lowest figure of his career. That career dates back to 1994, when he came up with the Mariners as an 18-year old wunderkind. The date of his debut, July 8, 1994, came just over a month before the MLB Players Association went on strike and effectively ended the ’94 season. That’s right, A-Rod’s emergence onto the baseball scene predated the most consequential sports work stoppage in recent memory. Now, he’s the only player left from that bygone era.

That changes this Friday. The team and Rodriguez called a sudden news conference at 11:00 AM on Sunday to make an announcement. No one knew what the announcement would be about, but many guessed it had to do with the next chapter of A-Rod’s career. Sure enough, that’s exactly what it was about: the team announced an agreement that would allow Rodriguez to play his final game on August 12 and remain with the team in an advisory role for the rest of this season and next year, as well. The somewhat shocking, abrupt end for A-Rod seems like an unjust conclusion to a career that saw him hit 696 home runs, rack up 3,114 hits, and drive in 2,084 runs.

But it isn’t an unjust end when you think about who we’re dealing with: an avowed and well-known steroid user who lied about his PED use on multiple occasions over the course of many years.

In 2007, Rodriguez was interviewed on 60 Minutes by then-CBS News anchor Katie Couric; she pressed him on his use of steroids and performance-enhancing drugs. Rodriguez flatly denied using PEDs and even went as far as saying that he “never felt overmatched on the baseball field”. In 2009, Sports Illustrated reported that Rodriguez had tested positive for several banned substances; however, there was, at that time, no punishment for a positive drug test. Because 5% of all players tested positive at some point in 2003, though, Major League Baseball undertook a new disciplinary system that enforced mandatory suspensions for positive drug tests. This system took effect in time for the 2004 season. Rodriguez was in the clear. Or so it seemed.

After the Sports Illustrated report, Rodriguez finally came clean about his steroid use. Calling himself “young, stupid, and naive,” Rodriguez admitted to ESPN that he had indeed been using steroids from 2001-2003, when he played for the Texas Rangers. He also cited pressure to perform under a 10-year, $252 million contract, one that was then the largest contract in the history of professional sports. As repulsive as Rodriguez’s cheating was, it was at least somewhat understandable as to why he would do such a thing. Think about it: player signs massive contract, feels pressure to live up to it, crumbles under that pressure, caves to using steroids. Okay, fair enough. Even with the denials and the lying and the naiveté, fair enough. It would surely be a mistake that Rodriguez would learn from and not make again in the future.

Except that wasn’t the case at all. Rodriguez failed us, the Yankees, and himself four years later. Again.

In early 2013, documents obtained by the Miami New Times linked Rodriguez and several other players (Nelson Cruz, Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon, others) to a clinic in South Florida known as Biogenesis. MLB’s investigation into the matter spawned several 50-game suspensions, a 65-game suspension for Braun, and worst of all, a 211-game suspension for Rodriguez. In this situation, Rodriguez could have admitted guilt, cut his already enormous losses, and moved on with his prolonged exile with whatever reputation he had left. Instead, he did what he’s been doing for the past ten years: denied any wrongdoing even against a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

It went that way until shortly into 2014. On February 7 of that year, Rodriguez announced that he would be (mercifully) dropping all of his lawsuits against Major League Baseball in the Biogenesis matter. The concession of defeat in the case seemed to signify that A-Rod had finally run of legal options and could no longer pursue any more rulings in the court of law. He would serve his suspension for the 2014 season because he had finally reached checkmate.

In reality, February 7, 2014 marked a line of demarcation in Rodriguez’s career and, more importantly, his life. From then on, he changed, or at least he seemed to.

From that date forward, he seemed more humble, more contrite, and more giving of his time. He said in an interview with Tom Verducci that he was “happy and relaxed”, seemingly a far cry from feeling “enormous pressure to perform” in Texas. A-Rod was A-Rod as we’ve never seen him before, or at least not recently. He was happy again, having fun playing the game, and even making us forget about the years of steroid use, denial, and lies that predated his renaissance.

He was just different. He even went on TV for FOX during the MLB playoffs last season and he was…. good. Really good. His opinions on hitting and the game in general opened many viewers’ eyes to his baseball IQ, an aspect of his game that was overshadowed by his talent and, later, his fall from grace. He was even likable, consistently cracking self-deprecating jokes about his career and life in baseball. He even gave fellow disgraced legend Pete Rose this sage advice in the middle of a rain delay during Game 6 of the NLCS:

And, like I said earlier, he was really smart. He said before Game 1 of the World Series that if the Mets “catch the ball”, they would win the series. Sure enough, in the bottom of the first inning, this happened. Prescient analysis, indeed.

And that’s why his new role with the Yankees, as an adviser and special assistant, is just perfect for him. Very few people know the game quite like A-Rod does, and his ability to impart that knowledge to the Yankees’ young players could be critical in their development. It has been said multiple times that the Yankee players, and particularly the Latin players, adore Rodriguez, and there’s a reason why: the 40-year-old has become something of a father figure to them, giving them tips and advice that he’s learned over the course of 23 years in professional baseball.

This role for A-Rod is starkly different than the role he played in baseball for so many years. That role evolved over time. He started as a prodigy and then became a superstar, multi-millionaire, pariah, liar, pariah again, liar again, mentor, father figure, and, finally, legend. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, he has no chance of getting in; unlike Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and others, Rodriguez actually failed multiple drug tests. The aforementioned names aren’t getting in the Hall anytime soon, and Rodriguez probably won’t ever get in. He has himself to blame for that omission, especially considering that he was headed for Hall of Fame numbers in the first seven years of his career with the Mariners. It is uncertain whether or not he would have kept up his production without PED assistance, but we’ll never know if he would have. That’s the shame of this.

Alex Rodriguez is many things to many people. He is one of the most polarizing athletes in sports, but he seems to have changed quite a bit since the early days of his career. Some changes have been for the better and others have been for the worse. He’s far from perfect and his reputation will never be saved with those who are unforgiving to steroid users.

But it’s hard not to acknowledge this: statistically, he’s one of the best hitters in the history of baseball. Consider this: for each 162-game season, Rodriguez has averaged 41 home runs, 121 RBI, 19 stolen bases, 78 walks, and 181 hits. Not bad at all.

That hitter, disgraced as he is, will soon leave us. We’ll never get the chance to watch him again after this Friday and his impact on the game, positive and negative, will live on for years to come.

Let’s cherish him, as his last days really are upon us and his departure from the game is imminent.

The Blue Jays Made the Wrong Decision with Aaron Sanchez

Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Aaron Sanchez is one of the best young pitchers in baseball. In his first full season in the league, Sanchez sits at 11-1 and atop the American League in ERA (2.71). At just 24 years old, Sanchez could be one of the best pitchers in the game for many years to come. But, like many other things in baseball, there’s one catch:

Aaron Sanchez has never pitched this many innings in a season in his professional career.

His previous career high in innings pitched was 2014, a season that saw Sanchez toss 133.1 innings between AA New Hampshire, AAA Buffalo, and Toronto. This season, he’s already up to 139.1 innings, all of which came in starts. Sanchez had previously been shuffled back and forth between the starting rotation and this helped him limit his innings in the past couple of seasons. 2016, however, is his first full season as a starting pitcher, and even though he has performed extraordinarily well, many observers assumed that Sanchez would, at some point, either: 1) move to the bullpen or 2) be shut down by the organization completely. While Sanchez does not have a set “innings limit”, the Blue Jays and manager John Gibbons frequently discussed moving him to the bullpen at some point later in the season.

But that’s not the decision the Blue Jays decided to make. Instead of shutting down Sanchez completely or moving him to the bullpen to conserve his innings, the team announced Thursday that Sanchez would remain in the starting rotation through the rest of the season. While the Jays will go with a six-man rotation and closely monitor Sanchez for signs of fatigue, the decision marks a clear change of course for a franchise that seemed to want to protect Sanchez’s young arm even if the team had a chance to go to the playoffs. So, here comes the big question: is this the right decision for Sanchez and the Blue Jays?

First, to explain Toronto’s logic in making this decision, we need to examine the infamous “Strasburg Shutdown” of 2012. In that situation, Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who was fresh off Tommy John Surgery that forced him to miss the 2011 season, was approaching his team-imposed limit of 160 innings. Sure enough, Strasburg reached 159.1 innings with his start on September 5th of that season. After that start, the team informed Strasburg that he would not pitch again for the rest of the year, even as the team closed in on the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1981; the team was known as the Montreal Expos back then.

The Nationals took the NL East crown, and after winning 98 games, the team was widely considered a World Series favorite even without Strasburg’s services. However, Washington would get all it could handle against the St. Louis Cardinals in a series that went the distance. In Game 5, St. Louis rallied from a 6-0 deficit to win 9-7 and advance to the NLCS. Because Strasburg was not available for that series, the Nats were forced to start Edwin Jackson in a pivotal Game 3. Jackson struggled, allowing four runs in five innings; the Cardinals would win that game and take a 2-1 series lead. While nothing would have been assured if Strasburg had started the game, it is natural and fair to wonder if the Nationals would have won the series if Strasburg was available. He wasn’t, and the Nationals possibly blew their chance at a World Series because of their high-wire act centered around protecting their young star.

That’s the mistake the Blue Jays are trying to avoid. The problem is that overworking Sanchez is probably a mistake, as well. Just ask the New York Mets.

The Mets had the incredible, almost too-good-to-be-true luck of having four superstar pitchers (Steven Matz, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey) in the same rotation at the same time a year ago. The team was in a very similar position as the Nationals were in 2012, closing in on a playoff berth while trying to protect its star pitcher(s). Near the end of last season, the Mets were primarily concerned with protecting Harvey, who, just like Strasburg, was coming off Tommy John Surgery the year before.

Instead of going the way of the Nationals, the Mets decided to keep Harvey and the other young guns in a six-man rotation for the month of September. Harvey agreed to continue pitching, even after a protracted fight with the front office waged through the media. Unlike the Nationals, the Mets reached the World Series, eventually losing to the Kansas City Royals in five games. The wear and tear of the postseason took its toll on the Mets’ pitchers, though; Harvey, Syndergaard, and deGrom all threw well over 200 innings for the season (Syndergaard started the year in AAA). Matz avoided this distinction because of a lat injury he suffered in early July that cost him two months of the season.

The effects of being stretched out unexpectedly last season have made their presence felt on the Mets’ starters this season. Matz and Syndergaard have both pitched the second half of the season with bone spurs in their elbows while Harvey is out for the year after undergoing surgery for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, an injury that has claimed the likes of Chris Carpenter, Chris Young, and Jaime Garcia. The Mets probably knew that the right decision would have been to limit the innings of their star pitchers, but with the team performing so well and the opportunity to win a championship firmly in their grasp, it was hard for the Mets to pull that trigger. But the team has a history of knowing what the right decision is and yet still making the wrong one; anyone remember Game 5 of the World Series?

This is the same position the Blue Jays find themselves in, but they only have one young pitcher to manage instead of four. The organization obviously thinks that going to a six-man rotation will help Sanchez and the rest of the rotation stay fresh for a potential playoff run. But as we saw with the Mets last season and now into this one, a six-man rotation is not a be-all, end-all cure for a young pitcher.

That’s why this decision is a mistake; while the Jays sit in a tie for first place in the AL East, the future of the franchise is much more important than just this season. It would be much better for the Jays to have a healthy and effective Aaron Sanchez for the next ten years instead of burning him out this year and having him never be the same again. It’s a difficult decision to make because the minds of many in the organization are clouded by the opportunity to win a championship this year. The decision becomes even more muddled when you consider that Sanchez is not coming off Tommy John Surgery or any other major operation (he’s never had Tommy John). But would the Blue Jays be willing to go down that road if wear and tear catch up to Sanchez at the end of this season?

There are a multitude of reasons why this could be considered both the right and the wrong decision. The one I keep coming back to is the fact that it’s just more important to have Sanchez healthy for the rest of his career rather than to burn him out going for a championship this year. Remember Stephen Strasburg? He’s one of the best pitchers in the league this year, sporting a 15-1 record and a 2.63 ERA. The Nationals are right back where they were four years ago, but this time there will be no limitations on Strasburg’s usage. The Nationals can go for a championship this season without the cloud of innings limits or the threat of major injury hanging over their heads.

That’s what could have awaited the Blue Jays if they made the smart decision with Sanchez. Unfortunately, it looks like they went in a very different direction, for better or worse.