The entire baseball community has been mourning the sudden death of Miami Marlins All-Star pitcher Jose Fernandez since the news of his passing on Sunday morning. I, like many others, was in a bit of a haze on Sunday, as it was hard to grasp that such a talent with his whole life in front of him was now gone. I’ve tossed around writing about Fernandez the last couple days, but in some ways felt I wouldn’t be able to do him justice nor say anything that hasn’t already been said by many others. Instead, I finally decided on doing something else to honor him; show you his greatness rather than talk about it. Actions speak louder than words, and with that in mind, here are some favorite Jose Fernandez moments to remember him by.
First, there is his first major league home run. Yes, it’s weird I started off with a batting highlight for a great pitcher, but the joy he showed in this personified him to a ‘T’. Also, baseball’s unwritten rules are still stupid. There was zero reason for anyone to get mad at him for watching his first ever home run.
Speaking of firsts, here is Fernandez’s major league debut. At the beginning, glance at his minor league numbers. Twenty Seven total minor league games?? Crazy. It was known very early on that this kid was going to be special and he was.
Instincts. This is Fernandez at 21. I’m not so sure many veteran pitchers would have that kind of “game awareness”. A great play on defense.
Seriously, this speaks for itself. Folks, baseball is a kid’s game and no one understood that more than Jose Fernandez.
For the unaware, Fernandez was a very good pitcher. This highlight from back in July was not only a career-high in strikeouts, but also his 500th career strike out. When healthy, Fernandez was easily one of the best pitchers in the game and a treat to watch.
Cuba vs. Cuba. Fernandez vs. Puig. That smile. Fernandez just loved playing baseball and you could tell.
I feel like I am underselling it when I say he was a great pitcher. He was a great athlete. This, also from July, was Fernandez pinch-hitting in extra innings with a big pinch hit double. In some ways it made perfect sense that Fernandez was playing in the National League, where he could pitch and hit.
Seriously, Fernandez made Barry Bonds smile. That within itself should show how special Jose was. For me, a longtime Bonds fan, this is great to see. Barry and Jose, enjoying the game and having fun.
That reaction. I almost wish I was a Marlins fan. I celebrated after the Royals won the World Series last year…but not like that. Just fantastic.
This was Fernandez’s final start, a week ago against the Nationals. Fernandez threw 8 scoreless innings, striking out 12. In other words, he was making a push to be named the National League Cy Young award winner.
Vin Scully has a way with words. It only made sense to have him talk about Fernandez and relay a great story in the process.
There is a big hole that is now missing in Major League Baseball. Fernandez was not just a once in a lifetime player that the game could use as a spokesman for as to why baseball is so great; Jose was a once in a lifetime person. Fernandez joins a list of players taken too soon from us, guys like Roberto Clemente, Thurman Munson and Darryl Kile. The only difference is that those players were all veterans who had made their footprint in baseball for years; Fernandez was just getting started. As much as Jose will be missed, there will come a time that a new player will come along with great talent and unbelievable joy. There will be a player who just oozes happiness to be part of this grand game. When that happens, I hope it makes us all think about Fernandez. We will all miss watching him perform on the diamond, but I think I will miss that contagious smile more. Rest in Power, Jose.
For the first time in 3 years I have no idea of who to root for when the Major League Baseball playoff’s start in a few weeks. As a Kansas City Royals fan, this is the first year since 2013 that our “Boys in Blue” haven’t been a part of the postseason and during that span I appear to have forgotten how to pick a team to cheer for come October. Since I need to figure out the team I am pulling for, I figured I would break down each team that will probably end up in postseason play and see which one I should be cheering for. Yes, this seems like a perfect scientific approach to this issue…said no one ever. I have no idea where this will lead me, folks; I guess we are going to find out together.
Boston Red Sox
Boston is an interesting start to this experiment. For one, I really appreciate the fact that a big part of this team’s core was built from within, as up and comers like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are homegrown talent. It’s hard to dislike second baseman Dustin Pedroia and I can appreciate this team’s offensive approach. But the team’s pitching could be an issue, although the starters have held their own this year for the most part. The bullpen doesn’t seem as strong and we all know how important the pen is during the postseason. But more than anything, I am tired of the David Ortiz narrative that has been spewed this season. I am officially sick of the adulation and instantly shut my ears down once he is being discussed. With the expectation being that the Ortiz talk will only intensify as the team progresses, I can’t condone cheering for this team. I won’t put myself through that kind of mental hell. So Boston probably won’t be my team.
Chance of Cheering: 25%
The Indians have some big positives going on. For one, the starting pitching has been a force all year for them, although they are now down a Danny Salazar and a Carlos Carrasco, which might not bode well for them(sounds like more Trevor Bauer to me). I have always felt Terry Francona is one of the better managers in the game and knew it was a matter of time till he got this team on the same page. In some ways, this team reminds of those late 90’s Indians teams that were a young bunch of players blossoming at the same time. But…they are in the Royals division and despite the fact I don’t hate them like I hate the White Sox, I just can’t, in good conscious, root for a team in the same division as “my team”. There’s also that whole bad luck thing with Cleveland over the years. So the Indians are a no-go, no matter how many positives there are on this team. I. Just. Can’t.
Chance of Cheering: 15%
The Rangers are the best team in the American League and it is easy to see how they have gotten here. For one, they have an electric offense, built around Adrian Beltre and Ian Desmond and have a great bunch of complimentary players. Hey, they get votes from me just for having Roughned Odor on their roster; anyone who punches Jose Bautista in the face is a friend in my eyes. They have also gotten a good season out of Cole Hamels, but the pitching is a bit worrisome. Starters are in the bottom fifth of the league while their relievers are in the bottom third, with neither posting the greatest of numbers. But I kind of like this team, and they have never won a World Series before, which makes them a bit more intriguing. I’m not completely ready to buy in, but my interest is piqued with Texas.
Chance of Cheering: 55%
Toronto Blue Jays
No. Just no. Look, I have no issue with Blue Jays fans. I love Canada. But…all I can think of is Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista complaining about pitchers throwing inside, while wearing enough body armor that they could be considered part of King Arthur’s ‘Knights of the Round Table’. Or Bautista throwing Ryan Goins under the bus in last year’s playoffs. Or really anything Bautista says. Look, I’m sure there are reasons to root for this team. I just don’t see any of them and instead might be rooting against them. Sorry, Toronto.
Chance of Cheering: 0%
Alright, now we have the first team that I feel like I can really get behind. I’m not the biggest fan of teams known for their propensity for slugging the ball, but watching a player of Manny Machado’s caliber can change a man’s mind. Add in the likes of Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and you have an offense that could rival Boston’s if given the chance. Baltimore’s starting pitching isn’t going to blow anyone away, but their bullpen is a different story. The pen is lead by Zach Britton, who has had a phenomenal season and could get a number of first place votes for the American League Cy Young award. Not many expected the Orioles to be where they are today, and for that I could easily see myself cheering for them.
Chance of Cheering: 75%
Washington is another team I can see myself rooting for. I like their young core of players like Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon and enjoy watching guys like Stephen Strasburg (who hopefully will be healthy soon) and Max Scherzer in their element. This Nationals team seems like a perfect fit to make a deep run in the playoffs this year and should be a serious World Series contender. Will Daniel Murphy put on a playoff tear like he did last year for New York? Will Scherzer dominate like he does in the regular season? Will Jayson Werth cuss in a postgame interview again? The Nationals could be a fun team to follow this October and would be a good choice to cheer on.
Chance of Cheering: 80%
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are an interesting team, as they are a weird hybrid of talent and dysfunction, and I’m not just talking about Yasiel Puig. Is this the year the Dodgers get over the hump and return to the World Series? Is this the year Clayton Kershaw dominates in the postseason? Hey, it could happen to worse teams. I would love to see Kershaw strap the rest of the team on his back as he leads them to the ‘Fall Classic’. This is a very talented team but definitely one that has their flaws. I could see me rooting for them, but a few other teams would have to fall to the waste-side for that to happen.
Chance of Cheering: 50%
San Francisco Giants
We’ve all made the joke; The Giants have won the World Series the last 3 even years, so of course they will be accepting the trophy again this year, right? Hey, I might be inclined to tell you this team is different and could have some big obstacles in front of them if/when they reach October. But the other part of me knows that this is a team that has ‘been there and done that’ and should never be counted out. They still have Buster Posey. They still have Madison Bumgarner. They still have future HOF manager Bruce Bochy. So yeah, the odds might be stacked against this team, but they seem to like it that way. Sound familiar, Royals fans? Add in the quirkiness of Hunter Pence and Johnny Cueto and I can’t say I won’t root for them. They just don’t feel like my first choice, that is all.
Chance of Cheering: 65%
New York Mets
Yep, these guys are back. In many a way, they feel a lot like last year’s team; great pitching, weaker hitting. I am not opposed to watching the Mets young fireballers throw shade in the postseason, in fact that seems like it would be fun. I would LOVE to see Bartolo Colon hit a walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series, because “Big Sexy” is capable of anything. There really isn’t much with this team that I dislike, but there really isn’t a ton that compels me either. In other words, the Mets probably aren’t my ‘October Team’. Plus, I still hold it against Mr. Met for almost knocking me over at Kauffman Stadium at the All-Star Game in 2012. But that is another story for another time…
Chance of Cheering: 55%
St. Louis Cardinals
As a self-respecting Kansas City Royals fan, I can in no way, shape or form, root for the Cardinals. It is against everything I stand for and everything I believe in. Plus, every ounce of my body hates them. Sorry, this ain’t happening!
Chance of Cheering: -1000%
…and we have our winner! Sure, a few of you would assume I am cheering for the Cubs since they are the odds on favorites to win the World Series. Nope, that’s not it. Hey, could it be wanting the team who hasn’t won the whole thing in over 100 years to finally come out on top? Nope, try again. It’s not even because one of my favorite players (Ben Zobrist) plays on this team, or my fondness for Joe Maddon. All these reasons, while solid, aren’t the real reason that I will be rooting for the Cubs this October. No, the real reason is simpler than all of that. As a kid, I loved baseball. By the age of ten, I was fully engulfed in baseball fever. It became the obsession it still is today. Back in those days, we didn’t always get to watch my favorite team, the Royals, as they only aired them maybe once or twice a week, at best. But what team was on almost every single afternoon, and especially when I came home from school? The Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were shown on WGN on a daily basis and in my thirst for baseball I would sit and watch an insane amount of games…or at least watch them until I decided to go outside and actually play baseball! So because of this, I still have a deep affinity for the Cubbies. They are a part of my youth, and I will always hold them in a higher regard than a lot of teams because of it. Yes, I want the curse to be broken and I want all those Cubs fans to have some of the joy that us Royals fans got to wrap ourselves around these last few seasons. They have earned it. Because of this, I’m rooting for the Cubs to break through and get their third world championship. You can think it’s me jumping on a bandwagon, but it’s me acknowledging that this franchise was a big part of my love of baseball over the years. I’m just looking to give some of that back.
Chance of Cheering: 100%
So there you go; I guess I should have seen where this was going but it was still a fun little experiment. It will be weird this October to not see the Royals in the playoffs, but it will be a lot less stressful. Here’s to hoping your team is one of the teams I mentioned and that they have a deep run in the postseason. It’s a month of excitement, great performances and unbelievable results. It is the best reason to love baseball…and it is almost upon us!
Less than surprising news came forth on Sunday: The Oakland A’s released DH/1B Billy Butler. This was not a shock, since Butler has struggled in his two years in Oakland and there was no way he was returning to the A’s in 2017. Butler’s numbers in Oakland were pedestrian at best: .258/.325/.394, OPS+ of 99, -0.8 bWAR with 19 homers and 96 RBI’s in 843 trips to the plate with Oakland. At the time of the signing the belief was that it seemed like a weird pairing, as Butler’s fly ball numbers had been on the decline while his ground ball ratio continued to rise. Much like Kauffman Stadium, this seemed to be a bad fit in Oakland’s large ballpark. But Oakland showed the money, so Butler jumped(which I have no issue with). Now that Butler is free to sign where he wants, the question has been ‘What is next for Billy?’ and there seems to be a variety of ways to answer that question.
Let’s start with question of his regression. The numbers on Butler speak of a player who has been on the decline since his age 28 season in Kansas City back in 2014, where most of his power numbers took a dip; extra base hits, ISO, slugging percentage and wRC+ all were down from his career year in 2012 and even his 2013 season. I mentioned the rise in ground balls which started back in 2013, and it is still very high for a guy like Butler, who has no speed and is better suited to spray the ball to the outfield or hit the ball in the air. In reality, his ground ball ratio this year is actually the lowest of his career(42.3%) but that is also with the least amount of plate appearances as well. There has also been in increase this year in his line drives (29.1%) and his hard hit percentage is back up to previous levels (up to 33.3% compared to 30.4% last year). I want to think that this increase is a sign of Butler coming back to his glory year levels, but I also realize we are dealing with a smaller sample size and he has had irregular playing time so far in 2016.
Butler also has to repair his clubhouse reputation, which took a big blow after his scuffle with teammate Danny Valencia last month. The most interesting aspect of the fight was while Valencia has always been known as a malcontent…
Remember, rumor has it Michael Cuddyer had to "put Valencia in his place" every few months in Minnesota.
“Billy is a great-hearted guy. He’s like a 31-year-old kid that can hit, that wakes up and says I’m going to go out and get two hits today. Sadly, whether we win or lose, it wasn’t at the top of the list for Billy, as far as my experiences with him. But he’s a great-hearted guy, he’s just not a team guy. I felt the same with Danny.”
The general consensus from former teammates and reporters has been that Billy cared more about his numbers than how the team did and could be very annoying in the clubhouse. I’ve never heard anyone say he was a bad guy, but it does sound like his act was harder to take when he was struggling. This does coincide with his behavior at times in Kansas City. For one, he was never a big fan of being a full-time DH and he still complained about it his last season there in 2014. He also was still taking issue with his lack of playing time, which he commented on earlier this season:
“I’ve never been in this position before. I’ve played every day of my life from when I was 7 years old, so this is something new. I don’t even know how to exactly prepare for what I’m supposed to do because I’ve never had to do it, so I just try to treat it like I’ve treated everything else, like I’m a starter. I know I can do it in this game. There’s not a lack of confidence in my abilities.”
Butler never really seemed to grasp why he had become a part-time player and that seemed to affect his performance on the field. The bottom line is that Butler has been in a free-fall for a few years now, which has dictated his playing time. For him to continue in the big leagues, that attitude has to change.
So what does Butler’s future look like? By no means does this release mean the end of his career, especially since Butler will be in his age 31 season in 2017. There is still value in Billy and his bat, but a few things have to change. For one, he needs to just be happy to have a major league job. You want a player who is confident and believes he can be a starter, but Butler is at a point in his career where he has to earn a job moving forward. Butler needs to go into Spring Training with the mentality that he will take whatever he can get, even if he feels like he deserves to start. He also needs to grasp that being a positive force in the clubhouse will get him farther and prolong his career. No team wants a bench player who is also a bad seed; that is a good way to find yourself on the unemployment line. In a few words, Butler needs to reinvent himself and I honestly believe the best place for him to be next year is in the National League. In the NL, he will see more pinch-hitting opportunities while getting the occasional start at first base. He would also possibly start at DH in interleague games and can put forth a mindset of approaching the game from a different angle. It’s hard to tell whether or not he would do this, but there is still value in Billy Butler; he just needs to work on being better, both as a hitter and a teammate. He is at a crossroads of his career where his decision this offseason might be the biggest of his life. He needs to decide how important playing professional baseball is to him. I’m still rooting for him to succeed, but he is going to have to be better or his career could be close to wrapping up.
In 2015, there was no steadier part of the Kansas City Royals rotation than Edinson Volquez. If there was a big game situation, Volquez was the man to turn to. You knew that if Volquez was on the mound, he was going to keep the Royals in the game and give them the best opportunity to win. But baseball can be a funny game and the joys of success one year can turn into the dread of failure in another. Volquez has struggled most of this year, posting a 5.02 ERA over 166 innings, with a 2.10 SO/W ratio, 4.39 FIP, 1.470 WHIP and an ERA+ of 88(20 points below last year’s 118). Volquez’s walk and strike out ratio are on par with last year’s totals, so what has changed for “Sexy Eddie” this year?
My first instinct is to say most of it is based off of pitch location. Let’s first take a look at Volquez’s horizontal pitch location:
Looking at both 2015 and 2016, it appears as if his hard stuff is fairly comparable, but there are some bigger differences between his breaking stuff and the off-speed pitches. The biggest change is in his offspeed stuff, which is leaning a bit more away this year, which might be a sign that he is leaving his offspeed pitches a bit more over the middle of the plate. Now a look at the vertical pitch location:
This tells a bit different story and leans toward location being a big factor. While his breaking pitches appear to be at least moderately comparable to last year, Eddie does show he has kept the ball up a bit more this year, which can be a problem. It also seems he has been keeping his off-speed stuff down, which is a major positive. Volquez has made a consistent effort to keep his hard stuff down in the strike zone, as it has been on a decline since the beginning of the season, with a slight uptick this past month. There is one more locator factor that I wanted to take a look at:
No pitcher wants to groove a pitch, or at least groove one and have the batter take advantage of it. This chart really shows that Volquez has been grooving more pitches this year, especially his hard stuff. Between that and the increase in grooved breaking balls, you can see why Volquez’s hits per 9 and home runs per 9 have both increased this year.
This also lines up with how hard batters are hitting the ball off of Volquez:
The graph shows that Volquez has been above league average quite often when it comes to exit velocity, but it also shows a lot of inconsistency this year. Week by week, Volquez seems to see his numbers drop or rise, with very little consistency showing up in his exit velocity numbers. This is a lot different from his 2015 exit velocity numbers:
There are some big jumps here as well, but for the first four months last year, Volquez was pretty consistent when it came to the exit velocity off of his pitches. I don’t believe this is a change in velocity, as he has been not only really consistent in that regard this year, but very comparable to 2015 as well:
So if it is not velocity, then it goes back to location and use of pitches:
Volquez has been using his four-seam fastball much more this year than last, while also using his change-up less and less. This puzzles me quite a bit, since the changeup is Volquez’s out-pitch and has been a lethal pitch in his arsenal for years now. Batters have been hitting the ball harder off of Volquez in 2016 and just by seeing this chart it would appear that hitters are sitting on his hard stuff and laying off his off-speed pitches.
With those numbers glaring at us, I tend to believe that batters are swinging earlier and more often against Volquez this year. Volquez has a higher contact rate against him this year (80.3% to 77.5%) while also racking up a higher percentage of pitches swung at as well (46.7% to 45.8%). The interesting part is that he has also thrown the same amount of strikes this year (64.0%) as last year while throwing less pitches per plate appearance (3.79 compared to 3.87 in 2015). This backs up my theory that hitters are swinging earlier in the count against Volquez, which seems to be what is happening. Batters are also putting the ball in play more against Eddie this year, 30.7% to 29.2% last year. This would seem to be backed up by the increase in his BAbip, which is risen from .293 to .317 this year. Hitters are not letting Volquez go deep in the count this year and are taking advantage of his early strikes, which are turning into more hits against him.
The Royals have surged back into the playoff race this past month and in that span, Volquez has been the weakest link in the Kansas City rotation. If the Royals make the playoffs, one would really have to contemplate whether or not Volquez should be in the rotation, especially with his performance as of late (6.38 ERA over his last 8 starts). I would tend to think that if he started mixing in his change-up a bit more, he might start seeing better results and not have as many batters sitting on his fastball. Volquez has been a big part of this Royals team these last two seasons and if the team is serious about making it back to the playoffs, they need him to be on the top of his game. Right now, he is struggling just to be an average major league starter.
August 30, 2016 would have been Ted Williams’ 98th birthday and though he passed away in July of 2002, Williams’ legacy lives on all these years later. To some like myself, Williams is the greatest hitter of all time in baseball and the numbers back that up: two MVP awards, five time Major League Player of the Year, six batting titles, 14th all time in bWAR(11th for position players), 6th all time in OWAR, 8th best batting average, 2nd best OPS, best career on-base percentage, 2nd best slugging percentage, 4th most walks, 5th best WPA and 6th most runs created. What’s even more compelling is that ‘Teddy Ballgame’ did all of this while missing three years of his prime (his age 24-26 seasons) while serving in the war. Williams is one of the greats in the game and has always been a man who has piqued my interest once I started delving into the history of the game back in my early years. I think one of the main aspects of Williams (at least to me) was he absolutely loved the art of hitting and studied it like he was a scientist or scholar who wanted to breakdown every section of this art. To celebrate his greatness, I thought today we would look at some great factoids, stories and other interesting notes about the ‘Splendid Splinter’, Ted Williams.
Williams had a great memory. In fact, he could recall specific at bats, sequences, conversations and much more from years before. These stories are still being passed along today:
One time, comedian Billy Crystal met Williams and told him that he had video of Williams striking out against the Yankees’ Bobby Shantz in a specific game 30 years earlier. Williams looked at Crystal and said, “Curveball, low and away. [The catcher] dropped the ball and tagged me, right?” Of course it was, because that was Williams.
Williams was obsessed with hitting, taking batting practice before and after games. Tim Kurkjian once wrote:
“Fear of failure drove Williams. That’s why he never stopped hitting, never stopped striving for perfection.”
He would often tell people that his only goal when he retired was to have people look at him walking down the street and say, “There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.”
Williams was known to be a surly guy, but stories have surfaced over the years about what a good-hearted person he could be. This story in particular makes it hard to dislike the guy. This came from Roger Waynick, owner of Cool Springs Press:
When Roger was in his mid-teens, before he had a drivers license, he went on a trip with his father to Islamorada, Florida to fish for tarpon. The group that included his dad breakfasted one morning and then, for some reason, left Roger behind when they went to the boat.
Ted Williams, a pretty famous tarpon fisherman (one of his major endorsement deals was with Sears for fishing tackle), noticed the young man sitting by himself and asked him what was going on. Roger explained that his dad and his dad’s friends had left him behind. Ted invited him to spend the day with him fishing on his boat.
Waynick has two great memories of the day. One was about the legendary Williams eyesight. (It was claimed that he could read the label on a 45 rpm record while it was spinning on the turntable.) Waynick explained to me that fishing for tarpon is like hunting; you see the target game first and then “cast to it.” As Waynick put it, “he had brilliant eyes and could see the fish long before I could!”
But the other recollection Waynick has nearly 40 years later is about Williams’s strength. “We caught several fish and I was amazed how he could hold his rod almost vertically as these huge fish pulled. For me, I was being pulled around the boat…but not him. He stood still and straight. Splendid.”
Not a fan of defensive shifts that litter the game of baseball nowadays? Well, Williams was the first player to ever have such a shift used against him.It was called the “Ted Williams Shift”and was first used by Cleveland Indians manager Lou Boudreau on July 14, 1946 :
In the opening game of a Fenway doubleheader, Williams, in his first season back from World War II military service (and waist-deep in what would be his first MVP campaign), went 4-for-5 with three homers and eight RBI. For the second tilt, Boudreau, with creativity likely borne of desperation, employed the following defensive alignment when Williams ambled to the plate …
The immediate result? Williams went 1-for-2 with a double and a pair of walks. So that’s … better, at least compared to what he wrought in the first game of the double-header. Note, though, that Williams posted a .750 OBP for the game, and the shift was still deemed a success of sorts. Such were the hitting chops of the Splendid Splinter.
One factoid that I didn’t realize until a few years ago was that Williams was of hispanic descent:
Williams’s Latino pedigree surprises many, but the Splendid Splinter was always private about family. In his 1969 autobiography, My Turn At Bat, Williams acknowledged his heritage as “part Mexican” and recognized the difficulties that might have been his lot. He wrote, “If I had had my mother’s name, there is no doubt I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in southern California.”
Williams mother’s name was May Venzor and it appears that his mother’s side of the family had a big influence on Ted’s love of the game of baseball:
Sarah Diaz (May’s younger sister) recalled of Ted’s visits to Santa Barbara in the early 1930s, when he was a teenager: “Ted played with my brother Saul. We had a big garden, and they’d get out there and throw the ball to each other. Ted learned a lot. When Ted would come, the first thing they would do is get out there in that field and pitch to each other and bat. My mother was left-handed and, boy, she didn’t miss when she threw rocks at us, to get our attention.”
As most know, Williams was the last hitter to hit .400 in a season, .406 back in 1941. Many felt like he should sit out the final game of the season, which was a doubleheader at Shibe Park. Williams’ average was at .39955 and batting average’s are always rounded up to the next decimal. Williams’ could have sat out the game and still accomplished a .400 season. Instead, Williams played both games:
Williams went 6 for 8 in the two games to finish at .406, and no one has since hit .400 or better for a season. No one, in fact, has hit higher than .390, and that was 31 years ago.
Many hitters have tried since then to reach the .400 barrier, only to fall short:
Williams had 456 at-bats in 1941. Brett, who hit .390 in 1980, had 449 at-bats that season. In 1994, Gwynn had 419 at-bats in 110 games and washitting .394 on Aug. 11; then the players went on strike and the rest of the season was canceled.
John Olerud was hitting .400 on Aug. 2, 1993, the second latest that anyone has carried a .400 average in a season since Williams. (Brett was hitting .400 on Sept. 19, 1980.) Olerud raved about Williams’s eye for the strike zone and his plate coverage but wondered whether he had benefited from playing when starters usually pitched complete games.
On this issue, Williams always conceded that some changes, like a bullpen full of specialists, might have made hitting harder since the 1940s, but that other changes might have made it easier, like the major league expansion to 30 teams from 16, which probably diluted the overall pitching talent.
One final story that I found incredibly interesting-Ted Williams once pitched in a major league game. It was August 24, 1940 and all things considered didn’t pitch too badly:
Just 21 at the time, Williams was not an ideal person to take the mound. But the Red Sox’s manager, Joe Cronin, found himself in a tight situation during a blowout loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Needing a fresh arm to get some outs, Cronin called on Williams to throw some pitches.
Despite his inexperience, Williams did fine in two innings, allowing just three hits and one run. The Tigers won by 11, but the Red Sox were able to get through the game without any further embarrassment.
Go ahead and use that little fact to try to stump a friend. I’m pretty sure they won’t know that Williams actually pitched in a game early in his career!
Ted Williams is not only one of the greatest baseball players in history, he is also a man who will be talked about way past any of our lifetimes. Williams was a one of a kind player and many of the stories here will be told for years to come. I love running across new stories I have never heard before about Williams, as I find him to be a fascinating player and person, someone whose reach was far past the game of baseball. Williams lived a full life that many would be proud of, but he also was one who always wanted more. We should want more out of life and never quit wanting to learn and be better. It is a goal that Ted Williams strived for and seemed to succeed at.
On Friday night, the Kansas City Royals bullpen gave up their first run in over 41 innings(41.2 innings to be exact) and unfortunately the man who gave up that run is a veteran who has had a nice season in Kansas City, Peter Moylan (although if you want to pin some of it on catcher Drew Butera, you probably wouldn’t get an argument from me). Moylan, in his age 37 season, has thrown 31 innings for the Royals, striking out 7.76 per 9 innings, posting an ERA of 3.73, a FIP of 3.69 and continuing to induce ground balls at a high rate, 62.2% so far in 2016(61.7% average over his career). Those numbers might not jump out at you, but when you consider what all he has been through in his career, it is a major achievement that he is currently pitching in the big leagues. In fact, Peter Moylan’s story might be one of my favorite baseball stories ever.
Moylan’s baseball journey began back in 1996, when he was signed as a free agent by the Minnesota Twins. Moylan struggled for a few years in Minnesota’s farm system(Low A Ball) before they released him in 1998. Moylan left baseball, returning to Australia and becoming a pharmaceutical salesman. Yes, you read that correctly. Two back surgeries later, he was back in baseball, coaching in Australia and playing the occasional first base. The team eventually was short on pitching and threw Moylan on the mound. Back in the 90’s, Moylan threw the ball over the top. He decided to try something different:
“We were getting short on pitching and I started messing around with a sidearm delivery out in the outfield one day,” Moylan said. “When I threw sidearm, it didn’t hurt my back. Next thing I know, our pitching coach tells me I’m throwing 94 on the gun.”
Moylan was given the chance to pitch on the Australian team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic. He struck out major leaguers Bobby Abreu, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez and Magglio Ordonez. A pitcher throwing sidearm in the mid-90’s caught many a team’s attention:
“Next thing I know, teams are all over me. Three made really good offers: the Braves, the Red Sox and the Royals,” Moylan said. “I signed with the Braves so I could go to Disney World.”
Moylan made the fast track to the majors and was on Atlanta’s 25 man roster by April 11 of that year. He shuttled back and forth between the majors and AAA in his rookie campaign, throwing 14 innings, striking out 8. 40 per 9 and a FIP of 3.15 in the big leagues. Moylan was 27 years old.
Moylan became a big part of the Braves bullpen in 2007, and over the next two seasons would post some great numbers: 1.79 ERA, 244 ERA+, 4.02 FIP and a WHIP of 1.066 in 95 innings. Unfortunately, Moylan would land on the disabled list in May of 2008, and would have the first of two dreaded Tommy John surgeries. He would return in 2009 and re-assert himself into Atlanta’s pen, and would put up some good numbers over the next four seasons: 2.88 ERA, 140 ERA+, striking out 7.5 per 9 over 150 innings. Moylan continued to induce ground balls (his lowest ground ball % was 56.3 in 2012) but also dealt with a number of injuries. 2011 alone saw him deal with more back issues and near the end of the year he was back on the DL with a torn rotator cuff in his pitching shoulder. He would sign with the Dodgers before the 2013 season, but didn’t look like his old self; he would only appear in 14 games for Los Angeles and posted a career low ground ball rate of 28.1%. Moylan would become a free agent at the end of the season and would try to latch on with Houston, before they released him near the end of Spring Training 2014. It appeared that another Tommy John surgery was in Moylan’s future and he would have the procedure done in March of that year. At age 35, Moylan’s career seemed to be on the ropes.
The Braves would come knocking again in March of 2015, only this time with a bit of a twist. The team wanted to bring Moylan back into the fold, but as a player/coach in their minor league system. This appeared to be a great opportunity for Moylan to be back in the game without any pressure:
“If I signed with a team, I’m obviously going to try to prove myself immediately,” Moylan said. “I risk getting hurt again. I risk having horrible numbers. Then all of a sudden, they could say, ‘He’s not doing anything, let’s get rid of him’ and my career might be over. This way, I can take my time. The Braves are going to be patient and I’m going to be patient, which is not my strong point. When it’s right, it will be right.”
The fact it was the Braves made it even better for him:
“The Braves have always been kind of like that ex-girlfriend that you always think about,” Moylan said. “I’d always check the Braves’ results and hope that they were doing well. But I can do it for real now and not have to hide it.”
Moylan would put up good numbers in the Braves Triple A affiliate, Gwinnett, posting a 3.14 ERA in 28 innings, but the best part was that his velocity appeared to be back:
“We’re all pulling for him to get another shot,” pitching coach Marty Reed said. “He’s done everything you could ask of him here. The encouraging thing for me is the last month or so I’ve seen his velocity jump up a little bit. At the beginning of the year he was mostly 88, 89 (mph), sitting right in that area, and he’d pop a 90, 91 here and there on a good night. All of a sudden you go ‘Wow,’ you look at a 91. Now he’s sitting 90, 91 and he’s popping a 93 here and there.”
The hard work paid off and Moylan was back in Atlanta by August. Moylan would only throw 10 innings for the Braves last year, but he had his ground ball rate back up to 69% and in that short span was able to accumulate 0.2 fWAR.
The Royals would sign Moylan to a minor league contract in January of 2016 with an invite to Spring Training. Thanks to former teammate and current Royals Kris Medlen, Moylan was interested in coming to Kansas City:
“A lot of it had to do with reports from Sir Kris Medlen, in regards to the training staff and how they take care of their guys — the strength guys,” the 37-year-old Moylan says. “Another part of it, for me, was I had a history with (Royals general manager) Dayton Moore. He signed me in Atlanta, and when it came time to make my decision, my agent had spoken to everyone from all the interested clubs, and Dayton was the one who was not just saying, ‘We’ll give you a job,’ but ‘We’d really like you to come here.’ It was nice to feel wanted again. I know it’s an uphill battle to make this ‘pen, let’s be honest, but to feel like you’re going to get a chance to come in and prove you can offer something, was huge for me.”
Moylan struggled to find his release point this spring and wasn’t near a big league job yet, so after opting out of his contract, he re-signed with Kansas City and went to Triple A Omaha. Moylan get the call back to the majors on May 12 and really felt like he had found his groove during that first month of the season:
“I found a comfortable release point for those last few outings of spring,” said Moylan. “I knew that I could go into the season and still do the same sort of thing. And I managed to have a bit of success down there. Next thing you know, I’m here.”
Moylan started out as an option out of the pen if the game was out of reach or if the Royals needed to go to the pen early. After the injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar in July, Moylan became a bigger part of the bullpen. Since July 31st, Moylan has appeared in 12 games, posting an ERA of 1.35, allowing only one run in 6.2 innings. Moylan has been one of manager Ned Yost’s first calls in pressure situations and has averted many a tight situation over the last month. At 37, Moylan appears to have found a new home in Kansas City.
Moylan becomes a free agent after the season and will have quite a few options on the market if he decides to leave Kansas City. He might be in his late 30’s, but Moylan is not a pitcher who relies on velocity as much as deception, guile and pitch placement. It’s hard to imagine much of anything stopping him, as he has bounced back from a litany of injuries and keeps coming back. Moylan will never be a star player and won’t get the type of adulation that the top players in the game receive. They can have all the attention in the world; what they won’t have is one of the best damn baseball stories you will ever hear about. Moylan has just that to set his hat on.
Over the last couple months, there has been quite a flurry of discussion about Houston’s Jose Altuve and him being the front-runner for the American League MVP award with the magnificent season he is having. Boston’s Mookie Betts has also moved himself into the conversation, posting amazing numbers in his age 23 season. Both players have been producing at an elite level this year and it could be a battle down to the wire for the MVP award. Only issue is that there should be a third member in this discussion, someone who has been here before and has also posted stellar numbers this year. His name shouldn’t be a shock; it’s Mike Trout.
The numbers for all three are worthy of the American League’s biggest prize. Altuve is hitting .363/.425/.575 with 20 home runs, 83 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 173. Altuve is leading the league in batting average, hits and OPS+. Betts numbers are a bit lower, but comparable: .313/.353/.555 with 28 home runs, 89 RBI’s and an OPS+of 133. Betts leads the league in at bats, runs and total bases. Trout’s numbers? .309/.427/.543 with 23 home runs, 77 RBI’s and OPS+ of 167. Trout is leading the league in walks and on base percentage. Just perusing these numbers it would appear Altuve probably has the best overall statistics, but a case could be made for both Betts and Trout. In fact, Trout’s numbers, while slightly below Altuve’s, match up quite well with Jose’s so far this year. It would only make sense for us to take a deeper look at the numbers to see just how close Trout, Betts and Altuve really compare.
No conversation is fully complete without a deeper, sabermetric slant to it. Looking at fWAR, Trout has a very slight edge over Altuve, 6.9 to 6.8. Betts is fourth in the American League with 5.9, with Toronto third baseman Josh Donaldson sitting in third place at 6.4. Trout has the highest walk % and strike out % of the three, while Betts has the higher ISO(isolated power). Looking at their hard hit rate, Trout is second in the league with 41.2%, Betts at 35.2% and Altuve is sitting at 34.4%. Not a big surprise, considering Altuve is leading the league in singles(119) and those are normally of the softer hit variety. I decided to delve a bit deeper, since I wanted to see just what type of category each of these hitters fit into. Altuve had the highest O-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging outside the strike zone) with 78.3%, 5th best in the league. Trout was at 71.1% and Betts clocked in at 69.2%. When it comes to Z-Contact %(percentage of pitches a batter makes contact with when swinging inside the strike zone), Betts is 2nd in the league with 95.3%, Altuve at 91.4% and Trout at 85.9%. To me, this made total sense; Altuve has long been known as a hitter who likes to swing at pitches outside the strike zone and is infamous for dunking a single to the opposite field by slapping a pitch outside the strike zone away from defenders. Betts has the highest contact rate of the three (86.9%) and is actually fifth in the league when it comes to making contact. His numbers tell me that once he sees a pitch within the strike zone, he is swinging and making contact. He also has the lowest walk % of the three, walking only 6% of the time. It also made sense that Trout would be making the least amount of contact, as he has the highest strike out rate of the three, plus the highest walk rate. That tells me he is the most patient of the three and that can lead to both walks and strike outs. These numbers all tell an interesting story, but there is one more stat that needs special attention.
A statistic that has been making a lot of noise is WPA, or Win Probability Added. The case has been made the last few weeks for Zach Britton of Baltimore, one of the best relievers in the game, to win the Cy Young Award and much of the case hinges on his league leading WPA of 4.29. To get a better idea of what this means, here is the definition given on Fangraphs:
Win Probability Added (WPA) captures the change in Win Expectancy from one plate appearance to the next and credits or debits the player based on how much their action increased their team’s odds of winning. Most sabermetric statistics are context neutral — they do not consider the situation of a particular event or how some plays are more crucial to a win than others.
Alright, so how you feel about this stat depends on how much weight you want to put into a single play, from inning to inning. I lean toward it having stock, but there are so many variables to it and is purely a context driven statistic that it wouldn’t ever be my “end all, be all”. That being said, it does determine importance, so it does help in this argument on the importance of each player in their team’s success. No shock to me, Trout is tops in the American League at 5.03. The Angels have struggled throughout 2016 and any success they do have in many ways can be attributed to the “Best Player in the Game”. Altuve is 5th in the league, with a WPA of 2.91, while Betts is 14th with 2.24. Hey, all three are in the top 15 of the league, so it is quite easy to see their value. But Trout thumps the competition in this category, 2.12 higher than the runner-up Altuve.
So after this, who is your front-runner for AL MVP? Altuve is going to be the popular vote at this point and the numbers show someone who is worthy. Like everyone else, I love watching him play and as a short guy myself, I can’t help but root for him. That being said, I think there is an argument for Mike Trout, and in fact I might lean a bit more toward him. Just because he is playing on a losing team doesn’t mean he is unworthy of being the league’s MVP. In some ways, one has to wonder just where the Angels would be without Trout. There is over a month before votes have to be turned in, and as I learned a couple years ago, making a pick weeks in advance is a silly mistake. This race could go right down to the wire and very well could be a pier six brawl for the MVP trophy. Much like in 2012 when both Trout and Miguel Cabrera were worthy winners, this year looks to be much the same. There might not be a wrong choice, but more than likely there will be a better choice. Right now, it looks to be Mike Trout.
Quality pitching might be the greatest necessity throughout the game of baseball. You could ask 100 baseball executives, scouts or analysts, and I’m sure almost all of them would point to quality starting pitching as a constant need for every team. Point blank, you can never have enough pitching. The Kansas City Royals can be counted as one of those teams, as evident by the way their starting rotation has performed this year. It has been so vital for Kansas City that I wrote about it here and here…and here. If there ever was a season where the Royals fate would be determined by their rotation, this would be the year. In fact, you could almost say that as their starters go, so go the Royals. When they struggle, the Royals struggle. When they are glorious, the team strives. Kansas City is currently riding a hot streak and while you will hear names like Gordon, Hosmer and Orlando linked to this streak, the biggest reason for their success can be attributed to the improvement of the starting pitching.
Lets start by discussing the Royals pitchers and the quality start. For those that don’t know, a quality start is considered any start where the pitcher goes at least 6 innings while allowing 3 runs or less. It’s shouldn’t be a hard standard to meet, but occasionally it is an issue and has been for Kansas City this year. Obviously leading the way is Danny Duffy and his amazing season. Duffy has reeled off six straight quality starts and has 12 overall in his 18 starts this year. Ian Kennedy has spun four straight quality starts and Yordano Ventura has three straight. Even Dillon Gee got into the act on Thursday night, spinning his best start of the season and only his second quality start of the year. The starters seem to be working deeper into the game as of late, allowing the bullpen to not log as many innings as they have been and giving them a chance to be a bit sharper. This is big, because if the Royals pitching holds the other team’s offense, there is a good chance that the bullpen will also hold them in check. The Kansas City offense has a tendency to erupt late in the game, and the starting pitching as of late has given them the opportunity to do just that.
During the month of July, the Royals scuffled and while the offense sputtered, the starting pitching wasn’t much better. For most of the year, the rotation has been near the bottom of most categories in the American League, but that has changed. The Kansas City starters have climbed up from last in innings pitched to 11th, next to last in starters WAR and FIP, and 10th in ERA. The starters have still given up the most home runs in the league and the 3rd highest walk percentage, but you can see some definite progression in the numbers. Teams are only batting .255 against Kansas City’s starters, 4th best in the league and they have the third best LOB(Left on Base) percentage of 74.7%. Their strike out numbers have risen as well, as they have the third best K rate in the league at 20.7%. There are still some flaws with the starters, as expected, but when you see the team has the second best Clutch statistic in the league(Kansas City is at 3.26 this year, with 2.00 considered an excellent number) it makes it appear as if the rotation is moving in the correct direction.
The interesting part is that the Royals have not relied as heavily on their starters the last few years and it has seen them make back to back World Series appearances. The team was actually last in the American League last year in innings pitched, 4th highest ERA and FIP, 2nd lowest starters WAR and the highest walk rate in the league(7.6%). When digesting the 2016 numbers compared to last year, it appears the only big glaring difference would be the home runs allowed by the starters. Last year they allowed 107 home runs for the entire year, 6th lowest in the league. This year they have allowed 121 homers, 14 more in 232 less innings. The long ball has hurt the team this year and can be attributed as the big difference in the rotation this year. Luckily, they have only allowed 13 home runs over the last two weeks in 85 innings, which gives them a HR/9 ratio of 1.38. That is quite a bit better than the 1.60 ratio they have for the entire season. This team is never going to be quite like the Atlanta Braves rotations of the 1990’s but there is notable improvement over the last few weeks and some of the same competitiveness seen by Atlanta back in the day.
With just forty games remaining in this 2016 season, the Royals are sitting at 62-60, 9 games out of the American League Central lead and 5.5 games out of the Wild Card. This latest hot streak has soared them back into the race and the starting pitching should get a lot of the praise for that. If this team wants to play in the postseason for the third consecutive year, they need the rotation to keep doing what they have been doing these last couple weeks. What was considered a lost cause just a few weeks ago now seems a distinct possibility for the team that has ‘been there, done that’. If the rest of the rotation follows Danny Duffy’s lead, there will be a fun comeback story to dwell on when October rolls around.
The first half of the 2016 season was glorious for Eric Hosmer. Hosmer was the steady force of the Kansas City Royals offense, putting up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 124. He was more than deserving for his start in the MLB All-Star game and it really seemed as if he had finally reached his true potential. Even I, who had wavered on Hosmer throughout the years, was finally believing that we were seeing the true Hos and he was past his yearly “summer swoon”. What is the “summer swoon” you ask? Every year, Hosmer would go through a stretch where he would look lost at the plate, his mechanics would be all out of whack and his numbers would start to take a nosedive. If you only follow the Royals on a national level(and by that I mean only follow the team in October) you have no clue about this, because the national media never discusses this. But it’s a real thing, and it has been rearing it’s head over the last six weeks.
We all remember Hosmer’s home run in the All-Star game, a shot that seemed like a precursor to the second half of the season. Only problem was that Eric didn’t get the notice. So far in the second half of the season, Hosmer is hitting .203/.261/.333 with 4 home runs, 20 RBI’s and an sOPS+ of 63. Those numbers might even be generous, since he has hit home runs in back to back games this week, which would raise his slugging and production totals. He has struck out 26 times in just 32 games in the second half, 36% of his first half total of 72. He has been doing it to himself, as he has the highest ground ball percentage in baseball:
Top Hitters in Groundball Rate Hosmer: 61% Kendrick: 60% Freese: 59% Villar: 58% C Hernandez: 57% Yelich: 57%
61% for a guy who is supposed to be a middle of the order bat, someone who should be providing the team with a higher average of extra base hits. In comparison, Mike Trout has a ground ball rate of 39%, Mookie Betts 42%, and Jose Altuve 41.9%. Now I know I used three of the best hitters in the American League, but I wanted to prove a point. Those numbers should be the ones that Hosmer strives for, especially if he wants to be considered a top shelf player. The lowest percentage of ground balls that he has had in his career is 49.7%, and that was all the way back in his rookie season, 2011. Over the last few years this rate has hovered in the lower 50’s until the big increase this season.
During this latest swoon, Hosmer’s exit velocity has taken a dip as well:
As the chart shows, Hosmer’s highest peak was right around the All-Star break and since has struggled to climb back up to his peak levels. This past week has seen a big spike(I’m sure the two homers have helped) and there does seem to be a four-week increase, which is a positive sign. One of the big issues that Hosmer has incurred this year is dealing with the inside pitch. Hosmer has seen an increase of off-speed pitches over the last month or so and justly is swinging at a higher percentage of those pitches:
The interesting part is that he has still posting the second highest hard hit % of his career, but also the second highest soft hit % as well. To me, this reads as someone who is either going for all or nothing at the plate.
What is most interesting with Hosmer is how streaky a hitter he has been over the years. Since 2012 he has had a stretch each season where he struggles; that within itself isn’t too shocking, since most players have stretches of inconsistency. Hosmer’s though are periods of just looking lost at the plate. September 2015: .239/.328/.410. June 2014: .195/.240/.292. March/April 2013: .250/.337/.306. Sept/Oct 2012: .179/.264/.295. Even in his rookie season of 2011, he posted a rough June line of .253/.312/.293. Early in his career these stretches could be chalked up to growing pains; for a younger player it is fairly common, as they deal with major league pitching. The concerning part is that this seems to be consistent each season. During those stretches, it appears that his mechanics are out of whack and there is no consistency with his swing. One subject that has been noted by the Royals broadcast as of late has been what Hosmer does with his legs as he gets ready for the pitch to arrive. Part of the time he is using a toe tap:
The toe tap seems to steady him quite a bit and honestly, he has seen the most success this past month with the toe tap. But other times he likes to employ a leg kick:
The leg kick sometimes works, but it also becomes a timing mechanism and doesn’t appear to be as consistent. Who knows what hitting coach Dale Sveum has told him, but it would seem that the toe tap helps with his timing and is more consistent.
What makes this of greater importance is the fact that Hosmer will be a free agent after the 2017 season and is hoping to garner a huge contract. How huge you ask? Jon Heyman discussed that last month and came away with an interesting answer:
Hosmer’s camp isn’t tipping their hand, but Royals brass, which stepped up with a $70-milllion deal for free agent pitcher Ian Kennedy and $72 million for another core star Alex Gordon, seems to have an idea Hosmer could be seeking $20-million plus per year on a 10-year deal.
It seems hard to fathom that a player with the only accolades on his resume being Gold Glove winner and one All-Star game appearance could get a $200 million dollar contract. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t imagine a world where a player who has only 10.0 bWAR and a slightly above average OPS+ of 107 over six years would get a king’s ransom. But there is also this little nugget-Scott Boras is his agent. So of course, there is a Boras spin on Hosmer:
“The premium associated with 27-year-olds are very different than metrics associated with 32-year-olds, especially when it’s a widely known Gold Glove franchise-type player who also has the ability to perform at extremely high levels in big situations and on big stages. You’d have everything you’d want in a free agent Eric Hosmer.”
I’m not saying Hosmer doesn’t deserve a big contract, but it also feels like there should be a disclaimer note on him before a team decides to purchase him.
It appears Hosmer might be coming out of his funk this week, as he has been 4 for 17 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI’s, including a go-ahead homer on Wednesday night. The Royals are riding a hot streak of late and look to be gearing up for another run at a playoff spot, as they are 8-2 over their last ten, 6.5 games out of a wild card spot. If that is to occur, they need Eric to perform at the level he has the last couple October’s. Hosmer has had sporadic success over the years and every time he rides a hot streak it makes us wonder if he is finally living up to potential. If not, he is still a very good ballplayer who has earned a starting spot on a big league club. But if he really wants to cash in next offseason, he is going to have to show that consistency that teams cherish. Rather than taking two steps forward then taking two steps back, it’s time for Eric Hosmer to take two steps forward and don’t look back.