The Battle For the AL MVP & How Mike Trout is Trying to Crash the Party

kc1
Credit: Sports Illustrated

When baseball reached the All-Star break, the American League MVP race felt like a two-man battle. Jose Altuve of Houston was once again a top contender while the Yankees Aaron Judge was making baseball writers and analysts go ga-ga as he invoked memories of Ruth and Mantle. The normal leader in MVP conversations, Mike Trout, was sitting on the sideline, finishing up a rehab assignment and hoping to get back on the field after missing close to 40 games. While Trout was the front-runner before his injury, there appeared to be no way he could catch Altuve and Judge in any of the statistics that mattered. But then Trout came back, picking up where he left off, and something happened…Trout slowly climbed up the fWAR leaderboard. Day by day, game by game, Mike Trout was catching up to the two leaders. Just like last year, what appeared to be a two-man race turned into a three-man battle to the end. While it would appear Trout missing those 40 games would deter his case, it’s actually enhancing the argument that he is the 2017 American League MVP.

kc2

Let’s start with the WAR argument, which I referenced above. As of this writing, Altuve sits atop the American League leaderboard, with 6.5 fWAR. Trout follows with 6.2 and Judge sits in third place with 5.7. Just as an aside, this is just speaking for the hitters in the league; Chris Sale leads everyone with 7.5 WAR and Corey Kluber is at 6.0. Both Sale and Kluber can be calculated into your MVP discussion (and trust me, Sale is in that convo), but at least for me, I don’t value pitchers in MVP talk UNLESS they have been so dominant and crucial to their team’s success (and since I know it will be asked, the next closest Red Sox to Sale’s WAR number is Mookie Betts at 3.8). So Altuve and Trout are 1-2 in hitter’s WAR, but that gap was much larger at the All-Star break. At the break, Aaron Judge led the AL with 5.4 fWAR, followed by Altuve at 4.1 and Trout was down in 6th place with 3.4 fWAR. So in this second half of the season, Altuve has accumulated 2.4 WAR, Judge 0.3 and Trout 2.8. Now, the gap between Altuve and Trout wasn’t that big at the break, but Judge’s lead above both was quite a bit more. So while Trout’s push in this second half has been impressive, Altuve’s has been equally impressive in that short amount of time. What has been the most important aspect of this gain is not just how Trout has shortened the gap between the two candidates; the most impressive part of this whole debate is that WAR is a stat that accumulates over time, so the more you play the higher your number should go. Obviously not every player sees that (Alcides Escobar has played every game this year for Kansas City and his fWAR sits at a sickly -0.3 right now) but if you are an elite player, your Wins Above Replacement will rise the more you play. The fact that Trout has almost reached Altuve in over 150 less plate appearances, says a lot about how good Trout’s season has been.

kc3
Credit: The Sporting News

So how is Trout doing with some of the other statistics? Obviously Trout can’t win it on WAR alone, and luckily the numbers prove he won’t. Trout leads the league in weighted Runs Created Plus, weighted On Base Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, walk percentage, Win Probability Added, Walk to Strikeout ratio, On-Base Plus Slugging, 2nd in Isolated Power, and 10th in stolen bases. The most impressive out of all these numbers to me is Trout’s Win Probability Added number. Trout is at 5.74; the next closest batter is Nelson Cruz at 3.67. I mentioned earlier how WAR is a stat that accumulates and so does WPA. For Trout to have an over two point lead in a stat that adds up over time is amazing. No other player in the American League has had a larger effect on his teams outcome than Trout AND IT ISN’T EVEN CLOSE! When I think of the term ‘Most Valuable Player’, I think of someone who is so valuable that you can’t even imagine what that team would look like without that player on the field. Trout missed 40 games (40 games!!) and has had a larger effect on his team than any other player in all of baseball. If that doesn’t speak of value, I can’t imagine what else does.

Brett George 2400.81 NBL

Now, there is one slight issue, which is that Trout is not quite a qualified batter, as he is sitting at 325 at bats for the season and 412 plate appearances. Trout would need to reach 502 plate appearances to be a qualified batter and with 24 games left Trout would have to average 3.75 plate appearances per game, which is doable. So while Trout has a good chance of reaching the bar he needs to get to, there would still be a few writers who might not vote for him because of time missed. Luckily, there are a few precedents that show it can and has been done before. First, go back to 1962 when Mickey Mantle missed 25 games in May and June of that year. Mantle would justbarely squeak in enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for the batting title and win MVP. Mantle also lead in many of the same categories that Trout leads in right now and would garnish a Gold Glove award. George Brett in 1980 missed 25 games with an ankle injury and racked up 515 plate appearances. George flirted with .400 for most of the year and would also lead the league in most of the same categories as Trout. Finally, Barry Bonds missed 32 games in 2003, racked up 550 plate appearances, 10.2 WAR and would win his 6th MVP award. In all three of these cases, a player missed a significant amount of time to injury yet had such potent offensive seasons that the voters could not dismiss their contributions to their team. To me, that reads just like Trout this year and shows that if the numbers are there, it should be an easy vote come the end of the season.

kc5
Credit: Sports Illustrated

So while Mike Trout hasn’t passed Jose Altuve just yet, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where it doesn’t happen before the end of the season. You almost feel sorry for guys like Altuve, Judge, Manny Machado and others; they are playing at the same time as one of the greatest players of not only this time period, but easily one of the best of the last 30-40 years. Mike Trout appears to be on a completely different level and this year the numbers say he is doing it in a slightly shorter amount of time. While a vote for Altuve wouldn’t be a bad vote, it would be ignoring not only what Trout is achieving but also what he is doing to help lead an Angels team to contention. It might feel redundant to say Trout should be MVP each year, but it would also be foolish to vote against him just for the sake of change. Last year in August, I said Trout should be in the conversation for MVP and I was scoffed at. I was told Altuve had it in the bag. Trout ended up winning the award. This year I make a different proclamation: Mike Trout should be MVP again. This time, it might be wise to just admit the arguments against him aren’t as strong as the arguments for. All hail Mike Trout.

Bleeding Royal Blue Radio Episode 5: Salvy’s Back!

kc1

After a lengthy layoff, Bleeding Royal Blue Radio returns with a jam packed episode! Sean Thornton is joined this week by Scott Hayes as they discuss Salvador Perez’s return, the Kelvin Herrera injury, the wild American League Wild Card race, some playoff discussion, Mike Trout’s push for the AL MVP, MLB’s Little League game and much much more. Listen, share and leave any feedback here.

 

Hype, Man

Aaron Judge
Credit: Sports Illustrated

As a “seamhead”, it is in our disposition to love everything that is great about this game we adore, baseball. Whether it be the history of the game, the classic stadiums, the evolution of strategy or the uprising of analytics, I love it all. But with that said, I have a confession to make. This won’t go over well and for some it will be heresy. I would apologize beforehand, but I feel justified in what I am about to confess. It isn’t the popular opinion but here we go: I am not enamored with Aaron Judge. Yeah, I know, he hits the ball high and far and is a statue of a man. I am aware that his numbers say he is a force to be reckoned with and he deserves the praise. The problem is the praise is just too much. Waaaaaay too much. The media are obsessed with a guy who has put up half a season of All-Star numbers and they are ready to anoint him the second coming of every great power hitter. But it is too much, too soon and the baseball analysts and talking heads need to stop.

kc2

Look, the numbers ARE impressive. It’s hard to see a wRC+ of 184 and not be overwhelmed, since it is a stat that is league and park adjusted. That number gives him more validity than any home run number or slugging stat out there. Playing in Yankee Stadium makes those numbers a bit skewed, as it is a park that leans more toward the hitter. Some of the numbers make me think he is going to come down to earth soon; a high BABIP normally means you are getting a bit lucky on balls put in play, so that .398 will probably slope down a bit soon. But it is obvious the power is real and he has become a better hitter, as shown by the 16.6% walk rate or the 24.9% O-Swing percentage, which is pitches he has swung at outside the zone. The improvement shows in his numbers and he should be a player that is talked about. But there is talk, and then there is focusing on one player like they are head and shoulders above every other player. The latter has been going on quite regularly lately, especially on ESPN.

kc3

Last week I tuned into Baseball Tonight the afternoon before the All-Star Game, hoping to get some analysis on the game and a few interviews with players. I knew Judge would be talked about, as he should since he had won the Home Run Derby the night before. Over the next 45 minutes, I witnessed ESPN talk about nothing but Judge…seriously. They had an interview with him. Showed highlights of the derby. Talked to other players about Judge. After 45 minutes, I stopped my recording and deleted it. I couldn’t even make it through the entire hour. There was no talk about the pitching matchup that night, no discussion about the lineups, no conversation about Zack Cozart’s donkey. It was all Judge and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. As much as Baseball Tonight has been my go to since the 1990’s, it has deteriorated over the years and after the bloodshed in Bristol earlier this summer, I should have seen this coming. There is a reason I hardly ever watch ESPN anymore and my default channel on my TV is MLB Network. At least the network tries to cover a wide spectrum of topics around the sport and only slightly hints at their “East Coast Bias”; ESPN has completely embraced their bias.

kc4
Credit: Sports Illustrated

If there was ever a major reason for the over exuberant coverage of Judge, the answer is right there-he plays for the Yankees. New York has long wanted a young slugger to be placed on the pedestal, to follow in the footsteps of Ruth and Mantle. Even more, New York has wanted that one player they can zoom in on ever since Derek Jeter retired. If you remember, the coverage of Jeter that final season was nauseating and I didn’t even hate the guy. But by the end of that season, I didn’t want to hear Jeter’s name for a very, very long time. While New York is the biggest market in the sport, there are 28 other teams with players just as worthy of your attention as the one’s in the ‘Big Apple’. I could list a whole slew of young players to discuss; everyone from Machado to Correa, Bellinger to Betts, Arenado to Goldschmidt. I even heard analysts saying Judge should be the face of the game, which just seems preposterous when Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw are still playing (never mind the fact that you shouldn’t have just “one” face of the game). He is a great young player and worthy of headlines; just not all the headlines.

kc5

One comparison that has not been mentioned for Judge that actually is very comparable is Mark McGwire, or more specifically, their rookie seasons. Let’s size up Judge and McGwire’s rookie campaigns:

Judge- .311/.432/.649, 184 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR

McGwire- .289/.370/.618, 157 wRC+, 5.1 fWAR

So I didn’t go the HR/RBI route since Judge is has only 391 plate appearances with two plus months left of action and McGwire ended up with 641 when it was all said and done. Factoring that extra 250+ PA, average and slugging feel like they are fairly close, while Judge already has McGwire beat with WAR; Judge is a better defender in RF than McGwire was at first base. While the numbers skew toward Judge right now, one has to wonder if the extra couple months will bring Judge back down closer to where McGwire ended up. In all honesty, Judge to me feels like this generation’s McGwire if he can stay healthy. He will hit a bunch of home runs, he’ll get his walks (especially if pitchers start pitching around him) and he’ll produce runs. It’s not a bad thing and McGwire was one of the elite sluggers in the game for a lengthy period of time. It goes to show you that as much as many protest and say they love a well-rounded player, many still dig the long ball.

kc6

At the end of the day, it would be wise for the baseball media on the east coast to remember there are fans all over the country that would prefer a well-rounded analysis of the game, not just what is happening in ‘The Bronx’. Judge is a good player who has the potential to be a mainstay in the spotlight for years to come and making comparisons to baseball legends will only put undue pressure on the kid. Take it down a notch, New York, and let him just go out and play. Even Jesus Christ doesn’t get as much press as a star Yankee gets. The home runs are great, but let’s wait to see how the league adjusts to him and how he handles that. That is the true telltale sign of how good a baseball player really is. Besides, Mike Trout is back from the disabled list; maybe you should remember how consistently great he is before trying to dethrone him with Judge.

From the Bleachers: Walk-Off Thoughts

kc1

It’s never a dull week in Major League Baseball and last week was ready to bring the excitement. With that said, lets start with an exciting finish for the Rockies on Sunday…

kc2

The Walk-Off Cycle

There is nothing quite as exciting in baseball like a walk-off home run, but a walk-off to complete hitting for the cycle does take it up a notch. That is exactly what Nolan Arenado of Colorado did on Sunday, the first Rockie to do that since his teammate Carlos Gonzalez in 2010.

It was a great moment for a Rockies team that currently sits in first place in the National League West and has been one of the bigger surprises so far this year. Even better was how it showcased one of the best players in the game in Arenado. Arenado is having another stellar season, near the top of the league in RBI’s, Slugging Percentage, Win Probability Added and fWAR. Arenado is still only 26 years old and while continuing to get more attention year by year, is still flying under the radar a bit while playing in Colorado. Hopefully this shines a bit of a brighter light on one of the best players in the game. Speaking of flying under the radar…

kc3

Good as Goldy

There might not be a more underrated player in baseball than Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt. Goldschmidt continues to go out, put up MVP type numbers while not getting the media attention that a Rizzo or Harper normally gets. So far in 2017, Goldy is in the top ten of the NL in RBI’s, Walk rate, Slugging Percentage, wOBA, wRC+ while leading the league in On-Base Percentage and fWAR. Oh, and he sits in 11th place in home runs. Goldschmidt is not only a great hitter, but is above-average defensively and holds his own on the base paths as well. In many ways, he reminds me of former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, and we all know how his career turned out. Playing in Arizona seems to keep him out of the limelight but I also feel like his personality does as well. He appears to be very low-key with a workman’s attitude when it comes to taking care of business and doing what needs to get done on the field. The glitz and glamour aren’t there for Paul, but mark my words, barring an injury, he will continue to be in the MVP discussion when September rolls around later this year.

kc4

Elite Company

While I have long been in the camp of #TeamTrout when it comes to the Harper/Trout discussion, it’s hard not to notice what Bryce is doing this year that feels very similar to 2015. In fact, at this pace Harper could be joining some elite company:

Back at the end of 2015, I really broke down how big of a season that Harper had just compiled. Here is an excerpt from my year-end awards column:

The one stat that blows my mind more than any is his OPS+, a staggering 195(remember, 100 is average). His season is the 71st best in baseball history, which seems great but not out of this world stupendous. If you take out all the players in the ‘Dead-Ball Era’, Harper’s season is the 50th best of all-time. I decided to go a step further, going off of seasons since 1950. Taking that into effect, Harper had the 24th best season by a batter in the last 65 years!

The interesting part is that Harper currently doesn’t lead in any of the major offensive categories and teammate Ryan Zimmerman is in the lead when it comes to slugging, wOBA and wRC+ in the NL. There is no doubt that Harper is a legitimate star and a key part of Washington’s team…when he is healthy. There was quite a bit of scuttlebutt that he spent most of last year hurt and if that was the case, it is easy to see why his numbers took such a dive in 2016. I’m interested to see where his numbers are in a couple of months, as the season wears on and the Nationals make a run at another playoff appearance.

kc5

The Weight of it All

I am always on the lookout for a new stat to dive into and figure out how it breaks down a players value. To me, there is never enough learning I can do. Recently, I’ve been enamored with wOBA, or Weighted On-Base Average. Here is a bit lengthy description of its definition:

wOBA is based on a simple concept: Not all hits are created equal. Batting average assumes that they are. On-base percentage does too, but does one better by including other ways of reaching base such as walking or being hit by a pitch. Slugging percentage weights hits, but not accurately (Is a double worth twice as much as a single? In short, no) and again ignores other ways of reaching base. On-base plus slugging (OPS) does attempt to combine the different aspects of hitting into one metric, but it assumes that one percentage point of SLG is the same as that of OBP. In reality, a handy estimate is that OBP is around twice as valuable than SLG (the exact ratio is x1.8). In short, OPS is asking the right question, but we can arrive at a more accurate number quite easily.

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.

Now, for some that is going to feel a bit heavy. But here is the cliff notes version: wOBA entails a hitters entire offensive value. The one thing it does not do is take into the park effects, so a hitter that plays his home games in a hitter friendly park would probably see his wOBA a bit more inflated. Keeping that in mind, here are the top five hitters in baseball according to wOBA:

  1. Aaron Judge-.468
  2. Ryan Zimmerman-.433
  3. Paul Goldschmidt-.430
  4. Bryce Harper-.422
  5. Joey Votto-.420

There is no shock here, as a power hitter like Judge will get a higher number due to the amount of extra base hits he accumulates, plus he hits in a hitters park, Yankee Stadium. I do find it interesting that four of the top five hitters in on-base percentage this year are on this list, with Buster Posey the lone player left off, coming in at number seven. It shows getting on base in general is a plus, no matter which way it happens (hit, walk, hit by pitch, etc.). It does value extra base hits more, which makes sense to me. The more extra base hits, the more runs scored and more to the point, the more opportunities to score runs. A single wouldn’t hold the same weight as a home run, as we as fans don’t even view them the same way. It would only make sense to make a home run worth more than every other hit, with a triple and double following a bit behind. If a team is looking for someone who creates runs, a stat like wOBA is a good place to start. It obviously leans more toward the power hitters, but the overall context of getting on base helps just as much in the long run. I will probably still tend to lean more toward a stat like wRC+ for overall value, but wOBA can be a nice side item. So use it, get acquainted with it and hope your team has a number of guys near the top of the leaderboard. Unfortunately, my Royals don’t have anyone until the 51st spot, as Eric Hosmer has a .357 wOBA. Alas, hitting in Kauffman Stadium will do that to a hitter.

kc6

Putting the Fun Back in the Game

Finally, I was elated with the news last week that Major League Baseball is allowing the players to have a ‘Player’s Weekend’ on August 25-27. What will this entail?

 This season from August 25 to August 27, the MLB will allow players to wear nicknames on the back of their jerseys for the one-of-a-kind Players’ Weekend.

Players will be limited to one nickname on their jerseys, and the names cannot be inappropriate or offensive. The personalized patches — which will feature names of inspirations — are to be used as a tribute to an individual or organization instrumental in each player’s development.

To say I like this idea is an understatement. In truth, I LOVE the idea. One of the big issues I have had with the hierarchy of baseball has been the lack of flavor allowed to be shown on the field. To me, this stifles the individuality of the players and has made the game appear not as fun to fans who are just casual bystanders of the game we love. Allowing guys to not only put a nickname on the back of their jerseys but also personalized patches really will let them have a bit more fun and allow the fans to appreciate these players even more. I have long felt like MLB does NOT market their players well and wish they would allow a bit more flair into the game. You see a lot of it during the World Baseball Classic, but there is more ground that can be covered. How about make this every weekend instead of just one weekend out of the year? Maybe let the players celebrate after doing something exciting, rather than expecting retaliation if another guy feels like they are being ‘showed up’? The sooner the game embraces the fun aspects of the sport, the sooner fewer people say this game is ‘boring’. Now, if we can just get rid of those damn unwritten rules…

 

What Is Wrong With Alex Gordon, Take Two

kc1

2017 was supposed to be a comeback year for Alex Gordon, a year where he could prove all his skeptics wrong and show that last year was an outlier for him. Gordon struggled throughout 2016 and while some attributed it to the hand injury that occurred last May, others felt like his regression had begun. Players in their early to mid 30’s normally see a drop off in their production and it appeared that might just be the case for Alex. But this offseason, Gordon worked out like a fiend, hoping to be the phoenix rising from the ashes. Instead, this year has been one of the most frustrating seasons of his career, as he is hitting .152/.264/.192 through 35 games has yet to hit a home run and only 5 extra base hits (all doubles) to his credit. Last year I looked at some of his issues: little did I know we would have to do the same thing this year. So lets once again ask the question-what is wrong with Alex Gordon?

Alex Gordon

One of the big issues last year with Gordon was an increase in his strike outs and him swinging at more pitches outside the strike zone. So far in 2017, Gordon’s K rate has slid back down to normal levels (20.8% compared to last year’s 29.2%) while his O-Swing % (which is the percentage of pitches swung at outside the strike zone) has fallen to 24.8%, down from 27. 4%. The interesting part is that Alex is making more contact on pitches both inside and outside the zone (53 O-Contact %, 88.1 Z-Contact %), which also means his contact rate has increased as well (78.3%, up from 71.9% in 2016). With his strike outs down, this makes sense and is actually back on par with the previous five seasons before 2016. So a big part of his problem last year has been addressed and fixed; if that is the case, what has negatively changed since last year?

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals

Digging a bit deeper, it doesn’t take long to point at a few problem areas for Alex. One, his soft hit rate is up this year, sitting at 20% (16.1% in 2016) while his hard hit rate is down (28.4%, compared to 36.9% last year). If you have watched the Royals at all this year, it won’t shock you in the least. Line drive and fly ball rates are down (19.1 and 27.7%, respectively), while his ground ball rate is up (53.2%, a big increase from last year’s 37.9%). Once again, not shocking if you have watched him at the dish this year. What did surprise me a bit was that his pull rate was down; I was certain that he had been pulling the ball much more this year in year’s past. Instead, it is down to 41.1% while his opposite field rate is also down to 16.8%. This means he has been hitting the ball more up the middle (up 10% to 42.1%), which is normally a good thing. Unfortunately, quite a bit more shifts have been put on Gordon this year and a number of line drives that he has hit up the middle have been hit directly to a fielder, normally the shortstop who has shifted over to behind the second base bag. It is a bit surprising to see that he has hit the ball to the opposite field less, especially since he is a better hitter when hitting it to left-left center field. One would think if he got a few more hits to the opposite field, it might cause him to get out of this funk and compile a few hits to help his cause.

kc4

Next, we take a look at the variety of pitches that he has seen since 2016. Now, it is still early in the season, but far enough into it that we can see a pattern forming. First, here is the percentage of pitches seen:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (1)

Next, the swing percentage of pitches thrown at him during that span:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

From the numbers, it is evident that Alex is swinging at more hard and off-speed pitches and less at breaking balls. What is different this year, has been that while he has been more patient with breaking balls, he also has a greater chance to swing and miss at those pitches (39% whiff/swing with breaking balls). In fact, his whiffs per swing on breaking balls has picked up tremendously since 2015:

Brooksbaseball-Chart (2)

While these numbers explain part of the story, there is another piece to the puzzle. When Gordon faces left-handed pitchers, he is seeing a breaking ball (most specifically sliders) a vast majority of the time. Against lefties, Gordon sees a slider 21% of the time in all counts, 25% when the batter is ahead and 26% with two strikes. Lefties have been throwing more sliders and curves to Alex and they have been a difficult pitch for him to handle.

kc5

There is also the issue of Gordon and fastballs, which has raised some eyebrows the last two seasons. Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star wrote about this issue earlier today:

From 2011 to 2015, Gordon was the sixth-best hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling 92.4 runs above average, according to data from FanGraphs. To look at the players who were better is to see a list of the best hitters from the era: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Nelson Cruz, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz.

But then came 2016, and Gordon’s numbers against fastballs plummeted. He compiled just 1.1 runs above average against the pitch. This year, he’s been the 24th-worst hitter in the American League against fastballs, compiling -2.3 runs above average. He entered Tuesday batting .190 against four-seam fastballs and .167 against two-seamers, according to MLB Statcast data. For comparison, the league-average batting average against four-seam and two-seam fastballs was .271, according to Baseball Savant.

So the question has to be asked: is Gordon starting to regress and is having difficulty catching up with the fastball?

Alex Gordon

The numbers seem to attest that very well could be a possibility and has to be concerning for Kansas City management. If this is the case and we are seeing the decline of Gordon, one has to wonder how he will react to it. Alex has always come across as a very competitive player, someone who will put in the time necessary to improve his game. If he is slowing down and his reactionary time is fading as well, he might have to change his game plan up, looking for more off-speed pitches while only focusing on the fastball when necessary. Good hitters over time have dealt with this same issue and have found a way to cheat a little while not seeing their numbers completely dropping off the board. This very well might be the course of action Alex has to take moving forward. Gordon still has the capability of being a productive player, but the days of 20 home runs a season might very well be in the rear-view mirror. Gordon is still a plus defender and is still vital to the Kansas City clubhouse and with his contract is probably not movable. Luckily, it is still only about six weeks into the season, time enough to turn things around and salvage this season. Over the last few weeks we have seen Eric Hosmer and Brandon Moss among others awaken and start hitting. Is it now Alex’s turn? We all hope so. This is not the way most Royals fans envisioned Gordon’s last few years in Kansas City evolving. Hopefully the ‘Prodigal Son’ can bounce back and prove his worth. I don’t know about you, but I still believe.

 

 

Mondesi Wins Second Base Job; Soler to the DL?

kc1

The biggest question mark for the Kansas City Royals throughout Spring Training has been ‘who would win the second base job?’, with four players competing for the spot. Christian Colon, Cheslor Cuthbert, Whit Merrifield and Raul Mondesi have all been vying for the job as the second sacker and Monday manager Ned Yost announced who will start the year at the position:

This was a bit of a shock, despite the fact that Mondesi has had a fantastic spring, hitting .375/.388/.625 with 6 extra base hits (3 homers) in 20 games. The shock is in the fact that both Colon and Cuthbert are out of options and most have felt Merrifield would begin the year either as the starter at second or the super utility player. Instead, Colon and Merrifield seem to be fighting over the final bench spot, with the fact that Whit still has options left probably hurting his case. So are the Royals making the best choice by starting Mondesi to start the year?

kc2

It feels like a weird question to ask, but there are some important factors to remember when it comes to Spring Training numbers. For one, especially early on in camp, hitters are facing a variety of minor leaguers, which isn’t always a good barometer of how successful a hitter is. Max Rieper at Royals Review did a great write-up in this regard, charting all the pitchers that Mondesi has gotten hits off of this spring. I had actually wondered the same thing about Mondesi (and Peter O’Brien as well) this spring and now we know. This doesn’t completely discredit his spring (hey, a good spring is a good spring), as hitting has been the main issue with Mondesi throughout his progression in the Royals farm system and it was obvious that whether or not he made the Opening Day roster was going to be largely determined on how he hit this spring. With that being said, while the numbers appear different, the approach feels like more of the same. Mondesi is not a patient hitter and that showed in the numbers as well; only 1 walk this spring and 13 strike outs over 48 at bats. You don’t have to be a math major to realize that isn’t a great ratio and the Royals should at least be mildly concerned that he strikes out as much as he does. While patience is a concern, his athleticism has won Yost over:

Look, I like Mondesi and still feel like it is waaaaaay to early to start giving up on the kid (he is only 21 years old). That being said, he is no Mike Trout. The only way Mondesi could be like Trout is in his dreams, and even there he probably can’t imagine himself as great as Mike Trout. In other words, this is a ridiculous comment…but I think I know what Ned is getting at. It really feels like Yost naming him the winner this early and comments like this are being done to boost up Mondesi’s ego and give him a bit of confidence going into the season. Whether or not he performs as well as Ned imagines is another issue, one that we will find out soon enough. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Raul not play every day at second and shuffle into a few roles, including pinch runner. The Royals lost Jarrod Dyson this offseason and only other player on the Kansas City roster that can rival Mondesi’s speed is Terrance Gore. While Mondesi isn’t going anywhere, I’m not sold that he will remain the every day second baseman all season long.

kc3

Meanwhile, the news on Jorge Soler was not as positive:

It appears there is a good chance that Soler will start the year on the disabled list, mostly as a precaution:

Remember how we mentioned the Royals missing Dyson this year? If Soler does end up disabled, good chance Gore takes his spot on the roster. It’s been an interesting spring for Soler, as he has struggled, hitting .143/.254/.286 with only 3 extra base hits all spring (2 homers). I know there are some down on Soler already, but I feel it important to stress a couple of things here. For one, he has had only one major league season of more than 400 plate appearances and still doesn’t have a full season under his belt. Two, he is moving to a different team and was traded for one of the most dominant relievers over the last 3 years; there is a bit of stress that goes with that and trying to prove ones self. Three, he is also adjusting to a new league on top of all of this. I fully expected him to struggle for the first few months of the season and don’t feel like a knee-jerk reaction really is fair here. Soler has four years to prove his worth and while he will need to do that sooner than year four, I don’t think we will get a good estimation of what he can do until later into the 2018 season. While the injury isn’t great timing, it also might give him an opportunity to slide back into the team early in the season with a little less pressure on him.

kc4

While the makeup of the roster is getting closer to being finalized, it is interesting on how this will shake out. Gore is an interesting add, since he is almost solely on the team as pinch runner which limits his usage. If the final spot goes down to Colon or Merrifield, I have to feel like Whit loses out and possibly only because of option availability. The other factor to remember here is that Yost is not huge on using his bench, so in some ways the structure of said bench isn’t as super important now as it will be come August and September. It also appears as if Peter Moylan is poised to take the final bullpen spot, but that will also mean that the Royals will need to make a corresponding 40 man roster move, as Moylan is currently not on it. I made the comment a few weeks ago that this Royals roster is the deepest it has been in years and it is showing with the roster moves made over the last couple of days.

kc5

Within the next day or two we will know the Opening Day roster, as Yost wants the team to be locked in before they head to Arlington, Texas this weekend for a couple of warm-up games against the Rangers. Earlier in the spring, it was mentioned that the roster always finds a way to work itself out and it is looking like there is a lot of truth in that statement. This team is built for the long haul and is in a good spot to handle a Soler injury or to give a youngster like Mondesi a shot at a starting job. Hope springs eternal and we all hope that the Royals are right about Mondesi and Soler. Luckily, this is a team that can handle a few missteps.

Why the Royals Should Let Hosmer Go

kc1

Everyone who isn’t living underneath a rock knows that 2017 is a make or break year for the Kansas City Royals, as a large chunk of their world championship nucleus will become free agents at the end of the season. As of right now, Alcides Escobar, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas could all be wearing different uniforms at this point next year. The common thought has been that the Royals won’t be able to keep everyone and more than likely 3/4 of these players won’t be re-signed. The belief has also been that Eric Hosmer would be the hardest to bring back, as he and his agent, Scott Boras, would be asking for the moon and more, which for the Royals would be almost impossible. But it now appears as if Hosmer is numero uno on their list, as the two sides are already discussing an extension  while no discussions have begun for either Cain or Moustakas. It appears that Kansas City wants to keep Hosmer a Royal, but honestly, they shouldn’t.

kc2

Let’s start with the positives when it comes to Hosmer. Hosmer is a 3-time Gold Glove winner, All-Star MVP and has driven in 29 runs in the playoffs, most of them big hits to help the Royals as they ascended to back-to-back World Series appearances. Hosmer has posted a career line of .277/.335/.428 in his six-year career, which is respectable but very average. Hosmer saw an uptick in his home run totals in 2016, but his overall slugging took  a bit of a hit. The biggest thing when it comes to Hosmer is the fact that he is entering his age 27 season, as many believe he has yet to reach his peak and more than likely whomever signs him this winter will end up with his best years, conceivably.

kc3

If you noticed, a lot of the positives associated with him center around what he ‘could’ do. It feels a bit weird to me to think a player entering his 7th big league season is still being waited on to reach his potential, or that the numbers tell a different story than what most people feel about Hosmer off of the ‘eye test’. If you listen to the national media, they have some heavy love for Hosmer and in some ways I see it. Here is a guy who is young and charming, has had success on the national stage in both the playoffs and All-Star Game and is a fun interview. For many, this is the Hosmer they know and for many it is why they believe him to be the focal point of Kansas City’s offense. But the truth lies somewhere else and to many of us who follow this team religiously, it is a big reason why we believe the Royals should not even entertain negotiations.

kc4

2016 is probably the perfect example of what kind of player Eric Hosmer can really be. I wrote in great detail about his struggles last summer and will revisit the two sides of a season that could (should) have been a career year for him. First, lets look at the splits of his year, as it is the best personification of 2016. In the first half, Hosmer looked like the MVP caliber player we’ve all thought he could be, racking up a line of .299/.355/.476 with 13 home runs, 49 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 118. Hosmer, without a doubt, earned that starting first base spot in the All-Star Game and even just an average second half would have put him at career best numbers. But his second half could have taken place in a horror movie, as he put up scary bad numbers: .225/.296/.380 with 12 home runs and 55 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 78. It was very obvious that Hosmer was trying to pull the ball much more in the second half and while his home run and RBI totals are on par with the first half, his other numbers took a giant dip. When trying to figure out why his slugging numbers declined, it is easy to see that while his dinger total was up, his doubles took a bit of a dive, as he hit only 6 doubles the entire second half of the season. To be honest, Hosmer’s season started to decline in June, as his numbers that month were down from the first two months of the season: .257/.350/.366 with 2 home runs, 13 RBI’s and an OPS+ of 91.

kc5

When I looked at his struggles last summer, I noticed a change in his approach at the plate, preparing for the pitch. Hosmer went from a toe tap that seemed to steady his body and cause less movement to a high, exaggerated leg kick that caused much more movement as the pitch was delivered. While the leg kick would sometimes help him deliver more power, it also seemed to throw his body out of balance from time to time. The concern with that was a lack of consistency, which has become a staple of Hosmer’s major league career. In looking back last year at his slumps, it became more and more evident that Hosmer is very inconsistent when it comes to his production. In fact, when looking back through his career, almost every year saw him run into a long cold stretch at some point in each season where he produced very little offense. Now, all players go through slumps and it is rare to find a player who can be consistent throughout an entire season. But Hosmer doesn’t just slump; he looks lost for 4-6 weeks at a time. The biggest concern is his ability to adjust, which he never seemed to do in the second half of 2016. Pitchers started throwing him more breaking balls starting in May:

brooksbaseball-chart

It is very obvious that pitchers adjusted to Hosmer and threw less and less fastballs to him while giving him a steady diet of breaking and off-speed pitches through the rest of the year. If the Royals locked Hosmer up to a long-term deal, I would worry that these struggles would continue and it is hard to justify him being in the middle of the Kansas City order when he stumbles into another lull.

kc6

The other concern with Hosmer is his inability to elevate the ball. In 2016, Hosmer led all qualified batters in baseball with a 58.9% groundball rate. In fact, throughout his 6 year career, his lowest rate has been 49.7% in his rookie season. In comparison, Mike Trout’s highest groundball rate is 44% in his rookie season. Now, no one expects Hosmer to be Trout (seriously, there is only one Mike Trout) but it proves the point I am trying to make: for Hosmer to be considered an elite player, he needs to hit the ball in the air more and less on the ground. Hosmer saw a major decrease in his line drive rate last year (23.6% to 16.5%) and a philosophy of more line drives and less ground balls would be a recipe of success for him. Sadly, I don’t know if that is possible, since he has averaged a 53% groundball rate through the first six years. For him to see a change, it is going to have to be a complete mental change-up to what he has been doing up to this point.

kc7

So how serious is Kansas City about getting Hosmer locked up? It appears to be serious:

“We as an organization have a strong desire to extend Eric,” Moore said. “We’re confident in his desire to be here in Kansas City. As with him and all our players, we’ll work as hard as we can to execute a deal.”

The issue could very well be length of contract, as it appears as if Hosmer is asking for a ten-year deal:

Hosmer isn’t nearly as accomplished offensively as either of those players was, but the Royals anticipate that he will seek a 10-year deal, knowing that a number of high-revenue clubs — including the Red Sox, Mets and Phillies — could seek a first baseman next off-season.

I don’t know about you, but a ten-year deal just feels like the recipe for disaster. I firmly believe no player is worth that long of a deal and definitely not Eric Hosmer.

kc8

Years ago, the Royals locked up another first baseman, Mike Sweeney, to what would eventually be a five-year deal that seemed a positive for the team at the time. Sweeney was a year older than Hosmer (he will be entering his age 28 season in 2018) at the time, and by the end of that deal, injuries had turned Sweeney into a shell of his former self. Go look at the Joe Mauer deal, or Prince Fielder, or any other long-term deal for a first baseman; outside of maybe a Joey Votto, most have not panned out. While Hosmer shows the ability to possibly be a major offensive contributor, there is a feeling that what we have seen these last few years is what we would end up with. When adding up the length of the deal as well as the money that would be involved (and there is no way his deal wouldn’t be a pricey one for Kansas City), it would make more sense for the Royals to spend their money elsewhere. Hosmer reminds me of that shiny novelty item you find while you have some spare coin in your pocket. Sure, it looks nice and shiny and you can already imagine what all you could do with it…but…after awhile you wonder why you wasted your money on something you won’t ever use again. So you end up trying to sell it on ebay and hope you can at least salvage 1/3 of what you initially paid for it. While some Royals fans would love to see Hos locked up long-term, I tend to think the deal would be a regret within just a few short years. Call me crazy, but the Royals could do better than keeping Hosmer in the fold. I’ll go a step further-I feel he is overrated. If Kansas City is serious about locking up anyone who could be gone after this season, all they have to do is look across the diamond. There is a third baseman who feels like a perfect fit for this team and has shown improvement over the years. That would be my choice, but I’m not the GM. By the end of Spring Training we should have our answer, as Hosmer has said he will negotiate until the season starts and if nothing happens by then he will take his chances in free agency. I tend to think no news before Opening Day is good news; Hosmer is not the savior Kansas City needs.

Yordano Ventura Remembered

kc2

You often hear that “baseball is a kid’s game”, a phrase that bears a ton of truth. For many fans, they fall in love with the game at a young age and never lose that youthful exuberance when at the ballpark. Players are no different, as many play as if they are still ten years old, kicking dirt on a backfield while playing a pick up game with friends. The realities of life sometimes slip away during the span of a baseball game, as all the daily worries seem to slide into a separate filter, only to be untapped at a later date. Last year, baseball lost a grown up kid in Jose Fernandez, an elite pitcher who’s life was taken all too soon. On Sunday, Kansas City Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura, just 25, fell to the same fate, dying from a traffic crash in the Dominican Republic. Ventura was not wearing a seat belt and was thrown from his vehicle after losing control of it on the highway. Apparently there was some thick fog when the accident happened. For a guy who only pitched three full seasons in the majors, there are a ton of memories for Royals fans to remember him by.

kc3

Ventura first started showing up on most Royals fan’s radar in late 2012, a season where he fanned 130 batters in 109 minor league innings. His ascension in the Royals farm system continued in 2013, where he struck out 155 hitters in just 134 innings and was a September call-up that year, starting three games while throwing just 15 innings and producing an ERA+ of 120. The report back then was pretty simple; lanky righthander with a power arm that would sometimes allow too many baserunners. He was already getting comparisons with Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez, as there were even questions on whether or not his frame could hold up to a full major league season. That would be put to the test in 2014, as Ventura made the team out of Spring Training, throwing 183 innings, posting an ERA+ of 123, a FIP of 3.60 and a strike out to walk ratio of 2.30. Ventura would end up 6th in the Amiercan League Rookie of the Year voting. He was already cementing his spot in the Kansas City rotation and would further that even more in October.

kc4

It’s funny looking back at it now, but Ventura would make his playoff debut in the 2014 Wild Card game against Oakland, in a very controversial outing at the time. Ventura would be brought in from the bullpen after the 6th inning had started, and would face only three batters; one would single,Brandon Moss would hit a home run, and he would get one batter out.

After the homer, the Royals would be down 6-2 at that point and even to this day, it felt like a weird move to make. Why would you bring in a rookie, who had started all but one game all season, in the middle of the inning with a runner on base rather than bring him in during a clean inning? It seemed like a move that could have cost manager Ned Yost his job. Luckily for Yost, the Royals would come back and win the game in extra innings and moving forward we would only see Ventura start in the postseason.

kc5

In fact, it was during that postseason that he would pitch the greatest game of his career. In Game 6 of the 2014 World Series, with the Royals on the edge of elimination, Ventura would pitch in honor of his friend Oscar Tavares (a Cardinals prospect who had five days earlier passed away from a car accident) and throw a gem against the San Francisco Giants, pitching seven shutout innings, striking out 4 while only allowing 3 hits.

It was hard at that point not imagining Ventura being the future of the Royals starting rotation and putting together a string of memorable outings. Over the years, Kansas City had a number of excellent pitchers to hang their hat on: Saberhagen, Busby, Leonard, Cone and Greinke just to name a few. At this point it felt like we would be able to add Ventura to the list. But that wasn’t how things played out.

MLB: World Series-San Francisco Giants at Kansas City Royals

While the Royals were better in 2015, Ventura seemed to fall down a peg. Ventura would throw 20 less innings in 2015, while his ERA+ was right around league average (103) and his bWAR fell (3.2 to 1.9), his strike out to walk ratio and FIP would slightly improve. 2016 wasn’t any better, as his ERA+ fell below league average (98), while his FIP and WHIP both rose to career highs.His strike out to walk ratio also fell, as his strike out total fell while his walk total increased. It was obvious to some at this point that Ventura’s real battle was going to be harnessing his emotions while on the mound.

kc7

The first bout of his emotions getting the better of him occurred in 2015, as early in the season Ventura would get upset at a Mike Trout single that breezed by his head. It was chalked up to just being a heat of the moment type thing, at least until the incident against Oakland later in the month. After some bad feelings on Friday night (thanks to an aggressive Brett Lawrie slide), Ventura would give up a home run to Josh Reddick in what to that point had been a rocky outing for the young flamethrower. Ventura would follow by plunking Lawrie with a 100 mph fastball and the benches would empty. I was at the ballpark for that game (which I was super excited about since it was the first Yordano game I was getting to see in person) and was disappointed with Ventura’s obvious decision to get himself taken out of the game. Ventura would get ejected again in his next start, as Adam Eaton of Chicago would get under his skin and start a melee. A reputation would be earned at this point for Ventura, that of being a hot-head, and other teams would try to take advantage of this by trying to get him riled up and off his game. That reputation would hit an apex in June of last year as he would tussle with Manny Machado of the Orioles, hitting him and causing everyone to question Ventura’s mental stability on the mound.

But was this really who Yordano Ventura was? The answer, like most things, was more complicated than that.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Kansas City Royals

For all the posturing and cockiness, there was a guy with a big heart inside of Ventura. Many of the Royals players, while frustrated with his shenanigans on the mound, considered him their “younger brother”, disappointed with his actions but supporting him all the same, knowing he was still young and finding his way. They saw the kid who would get upset after a tough loss, feeling like he let the team down with his performance on the field and hoping to work better. For every outburst, there were just as many (if not more) days where you could see a smiling Ventura, loving where he was at considering where he came from. While the Royals had become disappointed with his behavior sometimes, they saw the kid who was watching tape, listening to what his coaches were telling him and who was one of the hardest working guys on the team. Ventura was human, like most of us and with that comes the good and the bad.

kc9

As a fan, most of us were equal parts enthralled and impatient with him. For every outing where he struggled to keep his cool, there was one that gave you hope that the ceiling was starting to be reached. For every emotional outburst there was a perfect setup of a batter, luring the batters in with the heat before finishing them off with the nastiest of curveballs. For a team that has struggled producing quality starting pitching, Ventura was that hope that the Royals had finally found their Marichal, their Martinez, their Fernandez. He was the scrawny kid from the Dominican Republic who was signed at 16 years old, throwing in the mid 80’s, hoping he would grow to be something more. He had grown to be something more…but unfortunately we will never find out just how much more.

kc10

No human being should meet their fate at the age of 25, let alone an athlete who hasn’t reached the peak of their career yet. There was so much more life to live, so much more for Ventura to give and I don’t even mean on the mound. What most people will remember from Yordano Ventura won’t be the fastball, or the fights or the swagger. No, most people will remember that smile, a smile that was infectious and was a little kid’s smile in a grown man’s body. Even at 25, Ventura was just a little kid getting to throw a baseball for a living. That will stay with me much longer than individual accomplishments or frustration I had with him as a player. Ventura was that sign of hope that all of us look for in our baseball team’s, that hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day. While today was a dark one for baseball fans, I promise tomorrow will be brighter. As fans, our days were brighter with the hope that Yordano Ventura’s arm and smile brought us.

Winners and Losers: My 2016 Year End Awards

kc1

November is a great month to be a baseball fan; there is the afterglow of the World Series, Hot Stove season gears up and we all get to take a glance back and venture back into just how great this past baseball season has been. This of course means that the award winners are announced by not only the BBWAA, but by a group I am proud to be a member of, the IBWAA. Being a member allows me to vote on the year-end awards and for the third straight year, have done just that. If you want to check out my past ballots, here they are: 2014 and 2015. It is an honor for me to be allowed the opportunity to vote and I take it very seriously. With that said, here are my picks for this past 2016 season.

kc2

American League MVP: Mike Trout

For the second consecutive year, my vote was for the best player in the game, Mike Trout. This actually has been a very heated debate over the last few months, as even back in August I was saying Trout should be given heavy consideration for this award. The sentimental pick is Jose Altuve and the ‘my team made the playoffs’ pick is Mookie Betts. I instead went with the ‘his numbers are ultimately better’ pick in Trout. All Trout did this year was lead the league in runs, walks, on-base percentage, OPS+, bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, runs created, adjusted batting runs, win probability added for an offensive player and RE24. Oh, he also got better this year, in case anyone didn’t notice. Trout walked more, struck out less, stole three times more bases this year than last, and hit for a higher average, while his other stats were on par with last year. The argument against Trout was…well, it was that his team sucked. But that is really not his fault and in fact you can say the Angels might have been way worse if it was not for Trout. His WPA sat at 6.5, which factors in how he helped his team change the outcome of the game. The next closest batter in the American League was Josh Donaldson…who was at 4.3 WPA, over 2 wins less than Trout. At some point, baseball should view Trout for what he is: the game’s best player no matter whether or not his team is losing. Considering the MVP award is an individual award, not a team one, I give the nod to the player who had the best season and that would be Trout…and it’s not really even close.

My Top 3: 1-Trout, 2-Mookie Better, 3-Jose Altuve

IBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

BBWAA Winner: Mike Trout

kc3

National League MVP: Kris Bryant

In this space just last year, Kris Bryant was the easy choice for NL Rookie of the Year. Just one year later, he is my choice for NL MVP in just his second season in the big leagues. Bryant led the league in bWAR, fWAR, oWAR, and runs scored while finishing second in WPA/LI and third in five other categories. While finishing second in home runs and third in runs created is very nice, there was two very big numbers that swayed me to Bryant. For one, Bryant was third in RE24, which factors in runs added in a resulting play by either a batter or baserunner. Considering he was also fourth in both adjusted batting runs and adjusted batting wins, this would tell me that Bryant contributed greatly from both his bat and his baserunning. The other big factor for me was Bryant’s defense, or more precisely the factor of his value all over the field. While Bryant posted a dWAR this year of 0.8, what makes it even more impressive is just how many positions he would play and not hurt his defensive stats. Kris would start games at 3B, 1B, LF, RF in 2016, and would also make appearances for an inning at both CF and SS for a game. So here is a guy who would play all over the diamond this year, producing MVP offensive numbers and above average defensive numbers. While Daniel Murphy, Freddie Freeman and Corey Seager were all worthy candidates, only one player was an all-around choice for this award, and his name is Kris Bryant.

My Top 3: 1-Bryant, 2-Corey Seager, 3-Freddie Freeman

IBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

BBWAA Winner: Kris Bryant

kc4

American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale

This was easily the hardest category to make a decision on and I can honestly say I’m still not 100% comfortable with my pick. To me, there were positives and negatives to almost all of the candidates for this award and after digesting the numbers I felt like Chris Sale was the most deserving pitcher for this award. That being said, no one pitcher stood out of the bunch and that is why you are seeing such discourse when it comes to this award. Let’s start with my choice, Sale. He was tied for first in fWAR, first in complete games, 2nd in strike outs, 3rd in FIP, innings pitched, K/BB ratio, and WHIP and fourth in hits per 9 innings and walks per 9, all while facing the second most batters in the league. This is why this was such a hard pick: Corey Kluber and Justin Verlander also led in a number of categories and were on par with Sale’s performance this year. So what about Rick Porcello? He had a good year, but I had a hard time going with a guy who got the best run support in baseball (6.61) and much of his case was dictated on his win total. Zach Britton? I considered him for the award, but I had a few issues with his case (which we will go into later in this article) and even felt that Andrew Miller had a better season than he did. So I went with Sale, although if you told me that Kluber or Verlander were more deserving, I probably wouldn’t put up much of a fight. This was the year where no clear winner was defined.

My Top 3: 1-Sale, 2- Corey Kluber, 3-Justin Verlander

IBWAA Winner: Corey Kluber

BBWAA Winner: Rick Porcello

Clayton Kershaw

National League Cy Young Award: Clayton Kershaw

Remember how I wrote above how I had considered Zach Britton for the AL Cy Young? A lot of the Britton argument was based on ignoring his innings pitched and focus on how tremendous his numbers were in 2016. So if we are considering Britton,  then shouldn’t we have to look at Clayton Kershaw as a worthy candidate in the National League? I believe so and I will take it a step further by saying that Kershaw’s season was so spectacular that even with only 149 innings tossed, he was my pick for NL Cy Young. Follow me on this one, if you will: despite Kershaw’s low innings total, he was still 2nd in bWAR and first in fWAR, stats that are normally driven up as the season progresses. Read that again; in 33 less innings than Noah Syndergaard of the Mets (the fWAR runner-up), Kershaw accumulated more WAR than any other pitcher in the National League. If he had been qualified, Kershaw would have led the NL in ERA, WHIP, hits per 9, walks per 9, strikeouts to bases on balls ratio, ERA+,  and FIP…and if he had stayed on par with what he had done to that point it wouldn’t have even been close! Kershaw did lead the league in shutouts, WPA/LI, REW, and adjusted pitching wins, 3rd in complete games and win probability added and 2nd in adjusted pitching runs and RE24. All in just 149 innings.To put it another way, Kershaw was on course for an absolutely record-breaking season if it were not for being sidelined for a couple of months over the summer. To me, it was worth enough to win him the Cy Young. This wasn’t a knock on Kyle Hendricks, Max Scherzer, Syndergaard or Jon Lester. It was more that Kershaw was absolutely dominating when healthy…and it wasn’t even close. We really saw an absolutely amazing season from a probable future Hall of Famer in Clayton Kershaw.

My Top 3: 1-Kershaw, 2-Noah Syndergaard, 3-Jose Fernandez

IBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

BBWAA Winner: Max Scherzer

MLB: MAY 21 Rays at Tigers

American League Rookie of the Year: Michael Fulmer

There was a small debate late in the season for this award, as Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez made a late push, but in the end this was Michael Fulmer’s prize to win. Fulmer compiled a great rookie season in Detroit, racking up 159 innings over 26 starts, a 135 ERA+, 3.76 FIP, and a WHIP of 1.119. Fulmer also put together a 33.1 inning scoreless streak early in the season, that was put to bed on June 18 in Kansas City. Fulmer was a great addition to the Detroit rotation but late in the year he did receive some competition from Sanchez, who was able to piece together a 3.0 bWAR season in just 53 games. Fulmer was still able to beat him out with 4.9 bWAR and for the honor of being the best rookie in the American League. All this from a pitcher acquired the year before from the Mets for Yoenis Cespedes, a deal that could be paying off in Detroit for a long time.

My Top 3: 1-Fulmer, 2-Gary Sanchez, 3-Tyler Naquin

IBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

BBWAA Winner: Michael Fulmer

MLB: OCT 09 NLDS - Game 1 - Mets at Dodgers

National League Rookie of the Year: Corey Seager

This was another slam dunk pick and one that many (like myself) predicted before the season began. Seager blew away the rookie competition this year and even forced himself into the NL MVP race this year. Seager led all National League rookies in fWAR, bWAR, RBI’s, runs, and was second in home runs and wRC+. Overall, he was 5th in bWAR and runs scored, 2nd in oWAR, 1oth in slugging percentage and runs created, 4th in total bases, 7th in doubles,  and 8th in RE24. The Dodgers struggled quite a bit offensively in 2016, but Seager was solid the entire year, never posting an on-base percentage below .311 in any month. Seager’s rookie season was almost record-breaking as well, as he had the 6th best rookie campaign according to fWAR this year, sitting at 7.5, and has the second best rookie season in the modern era (1988-today). So while Trea Turner, Trevor Story and Jon Gray had good to great first seasons, none were quite as good as the Dodgers starting shortstop.

My Top 3: 1-Seager, 2-Jon Gray, 3-Trea Turner

IBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

BBWAA Winner: Corey Seager

MLB: OCT 11 ALDS - Game 3 - Blue Jays at Rangers

American League Manager of the Year: Jeff Banister

Banister was last year’s pick in both the IBWAA and the BBWAA, and I had him a close second to Minnesota’s Paul Molitor. But this year, my pick went to Banister. The Texas Rangers dealt with a number of issues this past year,most notably when it came to injuries. The team lost portions of their rotation throughout the year, whether it was Yu Darvish, Derek Holland or Colby Lewis. Shin-Soo Choo was in and out of the lineup most of the year and Josh Hamilton never even got going. Throw in the ineffectiveness and injuries for Carlos Gomez and the career-ending neck injury to Prince Fielder and you have a team that could have been a mess. Instead, Banister led his team to the best record in the American League and found a number of working parts to fill any holes he had. While Terry Francona and Buck Showalter were both excellent choices, to me Jeff Banister overcame a ton of obstacles and did the best managing job in the American League this year.

My Top 3: 1-Banister, 2-Terry Francona, 3-Buck Showalter

IBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

BBWAA Winner: Terry Francona

kc9

National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts

Managing in the big leagues isn’t always an easy job. For a first-time manager, it can be twice as daunting. So while Dave Roberts walked into a solid roster when he inherited the Dodgers as manager, he also had his work cut out for him. Not only was he going to have to juggle a roster that was littered with veterans, but he also fell into a rotation that be dealt a number of injuries and the whole Yasiel Puig situation. There was also an offense that lingered in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories in 2016 but did manage to accumulate the 3rd highest fWAR in the NL. Oh, he also had to deal with losing the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, for about two months of the season. Throw in those struggles of a first year manager that we mentioned earlier and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Los Angeles didn’t even capture a playoff spot. Instead, Roberts steered his team to a division title and took them all the way to Game 6 of the NLCS before being ousted. To me, that wins you NL Manager of the Year.

My Top 3: 1-Roberts, 2-Dusty Baker, 3-Joe Maddon

IBWAA Winner: Joe Maddon

BBWAA Winner: Dave Roberts

kc10

American League Reliever of the Year: Andrew Miller

Someone right now just said “He misspelled Zach Britton”. No, I didn’t. I know this will shock some, but despite Britton’s fantastic 2016, I viewed Andrew Miller’s season in a much brighter light. Let’s go ahead and break down some numbers to get a better view of where I am coming from. First, I won’t squabble over innings pitched. Miller only threw 7 more innings than Britton this year, which means very little. Miller led Britton in K/9 (14.89 to 9.94), BB/9 (1.09 to 2.42), LOB% (95.7 to 89.7), HR/FB ratio (20 to 7.1), FIP (1.68 to 1.94), xFIP (1.18 to 2.09) and possibly most importantly, fWAR (2.9 to 2.5). Yes, Britton had a better HR/9 ratio (0.13 to 0.97) and a much lower ERA (0.54 to 1.45) but to me that wasn’t enough to say Britton was better. Yes, despite Britton’s insane WPA (6.14 to Miller’s 4.79), it still felt to me that Miller was the better reliever this year. One final number tipped me to Miller’s side over Britton. In Britton’s 69 appearances, he pitched only 6 games of more than 1 inning and 11 games where he pitched less than 1 inning. In Miller’s 70 games, he threw 11 games of more than 1 inning and 8 games of less than 1 inning. It’s not a giant gap, but it does show Miller was used in longer stretches in the game than Britton, and it might have been even more if he had been pitching in Cleveland all year. For all the talk about Britton this year, there should have been a lot more talk about Andrew Miller’s 2016. For me, the choice is easy. Miller was the best reliever in the American League this past year.

My top 3: 1-Miller, 2-Zach Britton, 3-Dellin Betances

IBWAA Winner: Zach Britton

AP METS CUBS BASEBALL S BBN USA IL

National League Reliever of the Year: Jeurys Familia

This was another tough battle and while I thought Kenley Jansen had a great year, I felt like Familia’s was just slightly better. Jansen did beat Familia in a number of categories: K/9, BB/9, ERA, FIP, ERA+ and fWAR. All solid categories and I don’t discount any of them. Familia did pitch in about 7 more games, while throwing about 9 more innings. Familia also had a better HR/9 rate and it wasn’t even very close (0.12 to 0.52). Where I liked Familia a bit more was WPA, Win Probability Added. Familia had a WPA of 1.82 to Jansen’s 1.77 while his WPA+ was much higher than Jansen’s, 11.54 to 7.32. These numbers tell me that Familia seemed to pitch in more high leverage situations, which is a bit more valuable. The Clutch stat also leans a bit toward Familia, 0.27 to 0.95. So in the end I voted for Familia, although a vote for Jansen isn’t a bad one either. If I was being 100% honest, looking at everything right now, I might have changed my vote for Jansen if I could do it again. Either way, both had great seasons with Familia getting the very slight edge in this battle.

My Top 3: 1-Jeurys Familia, 2-Kenley Jansen, 3-Tyler Thornburg

IBWAA Winner: Kenley Jansen

kc12

So there you go, my votes for this 2016 season. I’m sure some of you will disagree, but that is part of the fun of these picks. It is a great honor that I get to vote every year like this and I can only hope I do a respectable part to show the value of an organization like the IBWAA. This is a game we all love and while we might squabble here and there on numbers, it really comes down to what you value. I can only hope 2017 brings us just as many highly contested winners. Here’s to baseball being back sooner rather than later.

 

 

Race For The Prize

kc1

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.

kc2

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.

USP MLB: BOSTON RED SOX AT NEW YORK METS S BBA BBN USA NY
(Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY)

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.

kc4

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.

AP ASTROS ANGELS BASEBALL S BBA USA CA
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

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.

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑