Results tagged ‘ Mike Trout ’
Albert Pujols should be a first ballot Hall of Famer, even if you only consider his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols posted an 83 WAR (FanGraphs) from 2001 to 2011 in the “Gateway to the West”, winning three MVP awards and earning nine All-Star appearances in those 11 seasons. He parlayed that success into a 10-year, $240 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels prior to the 2012 season.
Since joining the Angels, the Pujols that you grew to love (or hate) has played in just 253 games, compiling a .275/.338/.485 triple-slash with 47 home runs and 169 RBI, while amassing a 4.4 WAR over the last two seasons. “Prince Albert” certainly hasn’t lived up to expectations, but the partial tear of his left plantar fascia played a major role in his sudden decline in 2013, as his 30 home runs and 105 RBI in 2012 can’t truly be considered a failure – unless your own expectations could have been judged in the same way.
Bob Nightengale posted a piece at USA Today which detailed a response that Pujols had to an interesting question:
Are you motivated to put up the same numbers as Mike Trout?
Pujols’ response was intriguing, to say the least:
“Can you imagine someone saying that to me? I felt like saying, ‘Come on, are you serious? Are you really asking me that? Check out my numbers. I know what Mike Trout has done in his first two years is pretty special, but will you look at my numbers. I’ve been doing this for almost 14 years. The only guy in baseball who can match the numbers I’ve put up is Barry Bonds, and someone is actually asking if I can put up numbers like Mike Trout? Are you freaking kidding me?”
We do seem to forget greatness rather quickly in our society, which lives in the now thanks in large part to social media and a non-existent attention span; however, does Pujols have a point?
You could argue that what Pujols has done – nearly 500 home runs and a little over 2,300 hits – will reach numbers that guarantee a legacy and enshrinement into Cooperstown. If he continues to stay clean, which has been an argument from some in the past, that seems to be a lock, but, as we all know, one wrong move, one wrong vitamin, and one wrong trust in a trainer could leave Pujols waiting on steps of the museum with Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, and others.
Let’s just say that Pujols remains the clean producer that he has been. Pujols will still be considered a monster, likely the second player with 3,000 hits and 600 home runs in Major League history (joining Willie Mays). Does he need to prove anything to anyone, considering that he could post 100 hits and 15 home runs per season over the next seven years to reach those milestones? He certainly wouldn’t be worth his average annual value with that type of production, but given the Angels’ television revenue and the gate revenue that comes along with the milestone chase, perhaps the Halos could still break even.
Here is a bigger question: Is it fair for a member of the media to ask if Pujols can put up numbers that Mike Trout has the last two seasons?
No. Pujols never has posted those numbers and he certainly won’t as he continues to age and decline.
You see, for all of his greatness, Pujols will forever lose value in the battle of statistics. With Wins Above Replacement being such a dynamic measuring tool in player values, Albert Pujols has to understand that he has NEVER been as valuable in a single season as Mike Trout has been in his first two full season. Mike Trout has accumulated a massive 20.4 WAR (FanGraphs) in those two seasons, establishing himself as the top player in the game, even though he has not managed to snag the last two American League MVP awards from Detroit Tigers’ first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
For all of the 14 years of production that Pujols can stand on, for the nine All-Star games, for the three MVP awards – baseball has moved on from legacies and histories to projection. By developing statistics that measure player values currently and in the future, like Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system, there is information available to teams and fans to dissect and look towards the future with, while hoping that their teams utilize the seemingly endless media revenue streams to lock-up their young stars, like Trout, to long-term deals. Albert Pujols has very little projection left and it seems unlikely that in today’s market, just two years removed, that Pujols would have received the type of contract that he did in Los Angeles.
As for the history that comes with Albert Pujols, he isn’t the player that the Angels are building their franchise around any longer. Although Mike Trout isn’t under team control as long as Pujols, the franchise is aware of the future success of the club, and it lies in the all-around skills and dominance that comes along with the generational talent that they drafted and developed, not the man that they committed a quarter of a billion dollars to in free agency.
If Mike Trout continues to be Mike Trout and he isn’t crippled by injuries like Grady Sizemore or Tony Conigliaro, Pujols will look back at this question and statement to remember that he was the one that could have used a serving of humble pie. Trout’s overall numbers may not reach the 700 home run plateau, but his WAR value could lead him to becoming the greatest player ever.
Pujols has never had a season as valuable as the last two that Trout has managed to post. If he thinks that he is the more valuable player of the two still today, he has to be kidding all of us, right?
I bought in. I did research. I studied numbers and related them to the players, while developing a deeper understanding of the game. All of the random numbers that took the place of a batting average, home runs, RBI, ERA, and wins in the evaluation in baseball stole my heart. Sabermetrics gave creative, number-crunching baseball fans a means to display defensive values, base running values, and even what a pitcher could do without that guy with stone hands playing shortstop. They even provided a way to determine how Roberto Clemente matches up to Vladimir Guerrero thanks to ballpark adjustments, allowing statistics to see what a player from the past could do today.
All of that is great. Fine. Dandy, as my late grandpa would say. However, for every xFIP, FIP, wRC+, and OPS+, there is WAR – Wins Above Replacement. What is WAR exactly? Well, it’s funny that I ask myself such a question and then provide the answer.
FanGraphs has a nice explanation:
Offensive players – Take wRAA, UBR & wSB, and UZR (which express offensive, base running, and defensive value in runs above average) and add them together. Add in a positional adjustment, since some positions are tougher to play than others, and then convert the numbers so that they’re not based on league average, but on replacement level (which is the value a team would lose if they had to replace that player with a “replacement” player – a minor leaguer or someone from the waiver wire). Convert the run value to wins (10 runs = 1 win) and voila, finished!
Pitchers – Where offensive WAR used wRAA and UZR, pitching WAR uses FIP. Based on how many innings a pitcher threw, FIP is turned into runs form, converted to represent value above replacement level, and is then converted from runs to wins.
Then, Baseball Reference has a deeper explanation – first for position players:
WAR for position players has six components:
- Batting Runs
- Baserunning Runs
- Runs added or lost due to Grounding into Double Plays in DP situations
- Fielding Runs
- Positional Adjustment Runs
- Replacement level Runs (based on playing time)
The first five measurements are all compared against league average, so a value of zero will equate to a league average player. Less than zero means worse than average and greater than zero better than average. These five correspond to the first half of our equation above (Player_runs - AvgPlayer_runs). The sixth factor is the second half of the equation (AvgPlayer_runs - ReplPlayer_runs).
They also have an explanation for pitchers at Baseball Reference, starting with a basic idea:
At its most basic level, our pitching WAR calculation requires only overall Runs Allowed (both earned and unearned) and Innings Pitched. Since we are trying to measure the value of the pitcher’s performance to his team, we start with this runs allowed and then from there adjust that number to put the runs into a more accurate context.
But it doesn’t stop there! Baseball Prospectus has WARP – Wins Above Replacement Player, which they consider:
Wins Above Replacement Player is Prospectus’ attempt at capturing a player’ total value. This means considering playing time, position, batting, baserunning, and defense for batters, and role, innings pitched, and quality of performance for pitchers.
Perhaps no sabermetric theory is more abstract than that of the replacement-level player. Essentially, replacement-level players are of a caliber so low that they are always available in the minor leagues because the players are well below major-league average. Prospectus’ definition of replacement level contends that a team full of such players would win a little over 50 games. This is a notable increase in replacement level from previous editions of Wins Above Replacement Player.
Here is an example of the Wins Above Replacement Player spectrum based on the 2011 season:
With so many different versions of player value calculations, how do you determine which one is most appropriate in truly determining player values?
Even if you have a preference of which WAR or WARP system to use for your ranking or player value thought processing, why are you using it, but most importantly, why would a Major League Baseball team consider using WAR when discussing player contracts – now or in the future?
Teams are getting surplus value out of the pre-arbitration and arbitration years of their team-controlled talent, prior to the players cashing in with the exorbitant figures that seem to be getting thrown around on the free agent or long-term extension markets. Clayton Kershaw‘s seven-year, $210 million deal was likely the stepping stone to several future $30 million or more average annual value (AAV) deals in the near future. Based on Kershaw’s 18.5 WAR (FanGraphs) over the last three seasons, he is the epitome of excellence on the mound – a modern day Sandy Koufax in the familiar Dodgers uniform…without the ice baths and elbow pains. You could assume that no pitcher currently in MLB is worth more than Kershaw due to his prolonged dominance, age, and market value , as the Dodgers seem to have an unlimited budget thanks to their TV deal, which allowed for such a record-breaking deal. With Kershaw locked up, the next generational talent name likely to receive an in-house extension within a major market would be Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout.
Trout has posted back-to-back 10-plus WAR seasons to start his career. After earning $500,000 in 2013, the Halos are about to reach arbitration figures that have never been seen before. ESPN’s Dan Szymborski wrote an interesting piece on Wednesday detailing the possible long-term contract that Trout could earn due to his production:
Assuming Trout receives league-minimum salary for 2014 and arbitration awards of roughly 25 percent, 45 percent and 70 percent of his open market value from 2015-17 (superstars tend not to do as well on a percentage basis in arbitration as typical players do), ZiPS estimates $69 million as a fair offer to get Trout through his arbitration years. Then the fun begins.
Even at 7.7 WAR (his 2018 projection as of now), if the value of one WAR increases at 5 percent from the $5.45 million I estimate that teams are paying for this in 2014, that’s enough to get Trout past the $50 million mark per season. So if we are estimating a 10-year deal, that gives us $69 million for his next four years, plus $312 million for the following six seasons (2018-23), for a total of $381 million over 10 years.
Szymborski detailed how it wouldn’t be wise for the Angels to wait much longer on a potential long-term contract, adding:
If Trout plays up to his elite level this season, the cost of signing him for 2018 through 2023 goes up substantially. While we originally calculated that time period to cost $312 million, it goes up to $335 million if he meets his 2014 projection.
If he hits his new 2015 projection, that goes up again to $362 million before 2016. And if he continues to hit his mean projection for the 2017 season, that goes up to $395 million. In other words, if the Angels continued to go year-to-year with Trout and nothing terrible happens in the interim, the price to sign him just for 2018-2023 pops up by more than $80 million.
The Angels could really use Mike Trout for the next decade, especially after locking up Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton to long-term, lucrative deals, only to see them fail to live up to projections and expectations, but isn’t that the problem with projections?
Teams may have access to unlimited amounts of data, the eyes of scouts, and brilliant baseball minds, but you can’t project injuries; otherwise, Chris Sale‘s left arm would have had a surgery or two on it by now, right? You can’t predict when a player declines a bit too early, as Prince Fielder proved at the age of 29, when he posted an .819 OPS in 2013, the lowest of his professional career, despite Miguel Cabrera‘s continued dominance around him in the Detroit Tigers lineup.
However, teams have long gambled on the skills of players in major sports. It’s why Kwame Brown was employed by seven NBA teams by the age of 30, and why Mark Mulder received a spring training invite after not throwing a pitch in MLB since 2008.
Regardless, sabermetrics continue to influence the front offices across Major League Baseball, as teams continue to use data to develop a better understanding of player values. A lot of times, it seems that those player values, particularly within free agency, are founded upon those educated guesses that I consider gambles. Obviously, the general manager is spending someone else’s money so liberally in these situations, and the incoming revenues lead to a heavy squashing of a lot of the risks involved, but are players truly worth their WAR value?
Lewie Pollis wrote an article at Beyond the Boxscore which detailed the cost of a win via free agency, finding that wins aren’t worth $5 million, as Szymborski stated and what FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron discussed several years ago. Instead, Pollis found data which details a more dramatic cost to improve a club:
So if you’re the owner of an MLB franchise and you want to make your team one win better, you should expect to have to pay $7 million. Planning to bring in a league-average player? That’ll be $14 million. And if you’re willing to splurge to move up 10 games in the standings, you’d better be prepared to open your wallet to the tune of $70 million.
Pollis’ research is much more thorough and includes a lot more information than previous win-value research, but if teams are actually spending $7 million per win from season to season, and that number is only going to increase with the infusion of more money through various media revenue streams, how will “small-market” teams improve or compete in the next few years if they are unable to sign a league-average player for less than $14 million per season?
If projections are essentially educated guesses or hypothesis, then how about this:
Suppose Josh Donaldson was a free agent after the 2013 season. He signs with the Houston Astros, replacing Matt Dominguez (who was worth 1.0 WAR in 2013), which would improve the Astros by approximately six wins, as Donaldson was a 7.7 WAR player in 2013. Based on the cost per win, it would take nearly $42 million per season to sign Donaldson, while improving the Astros from a horrific 51 win team to a horrific 57 win team. Meanwhile, Donaldson, who just turned 28 in December and has all of 996 plate appearances in the majors, becomes the highest paid player in baseball.
Sure, this scenario isn’t playing out this winter because Donaldson isn’t and won’t be a free agent until 2019, but what is the value of win-values when you consider that teams aren’t going to pay players like Donaldson, coming off of a career season after spending five and a half years in the minors, like a superstar? Certainly, clubs bask in the glory of receiving superstar production from their players while they are being underpaid as pre-arbitration or arbitration-eligible major league roster-worthy talent, but is it fair to expect or anticipate clubs spending money based on their value when compared to replacement level talent?
Not everyone in Major League Baseball is replacement level and the fact that WAR is a comparison of an average minor league player with major league talent seems insane. Of course Mike Trout has a 10 WAR when he has had two incredible seasons when compared to your average player – that number should be gigantic when compared to someone who loiters within the minor leagues for several years; however, saying that Josh Donaldson and his 7.7 WAR from 2013, was only worth 2.7 fewer wins than Trout seems kind of insane, as well. Defense and offensive numbers aside, how about a dose of reality?
I love number crunching as much as the next guy, I even spent quite a bit of time trying to create my own value system over the winter, but the idea that WAR is tied to wins and those wins should be tied to free agent contracts, at least in the eyes of sabermetric gurus, seems horribly wrong. While the money may appear endless with all of the new media deals, there will come a point down the road that your mediocre, utility player could be earning $10 million per season – just because the money is there to warrant the contract. Is that good for baseball? Then, when baseball fails because it has become too big for its own britches, what will the gurus crunch for enjoyment?
WAR is great and fun, and it is very creative…but it is flawed. Why else would there be three different theories that provide the same type of data, thanks to Baseball Reference, Baseball Prospectus, and FanGraphs? If the value of a player is based upon a statistic that can be skewed, molded, or shaped based on the philosophy of its creator, is it fair to use that statistic to determine the finances of the game?
I don’t think so. Sabermetrics are great and they allow for a lot of debate, but a lot of that information has become just that…information. Data that can be manipulated like any other form of a statistic.
After an incredible season in 2013 that saw him reach Double-A at the age of 20, Chicago Cubs’ shortstop (or third baseman…or outfielder) prospect Javier Baez seems to have enough helium in the world of prospects to reach the moon. Certainly, ripping 34 doubles and 37 home runs while driving in 111 runs and stealing 20 bases can lead to a lot of hype, and it appears to be warranted.
Prior to the 2013 season, Baez was already a top 20 prospect, earning the No. 16 ranking at both Baseball America and MLB.com, and No. 20 at Baseball Prospectus. So far this winter, that number has climbed significantly, mainly due to his extreme ceiling, while having very little to do with major league graduations. Just a quick look at the rankings that Baez has earned from prospect sites this off-season:
The Baseball Haven: No. 8
Baseball Prospectus: No. 4
MLB.com: No. 7
MinorLeagueBall.com: No. 8 (end of 2013, 9/27/13)
FantasyAssembly.com: No. 5
Prospect361.com: No. 5
TopProspectAlert.com: No. 11
RotoAnalysis.com: No. 2
FantasySquads.com: No. 10
Scout.com: No. 13
DeepLeagues.com: No. 13
There are, obviously, some differences in opinion on his true value, but Baez has quite a few nice things being said about him, as well:
“Baez could end a 40 HR shortstop. That’s his ceiling. That’s actually a possibility. Likely? Not sure. But its possible. How many prospects in baseball can make such a claim? That’s a truly elite ceiling. That’s a generational talent. That’s why he has a case for #1.” – Jason Parks, Baseball Prospectus
“The young infielder has all the ingredients necessary to be an all-star for the Cubs, regardless of where he ends up — shortstop, third base or even the outfield.” – Marc Hulet, FanGraphs
“Otherworldy bat speed and an aggressive approach plus the tools to (maybe) stay at shortstop if he can get the errors down. If not, he’d slot great at third base. There’s some risk here due to contact but I think he can be a Giancarlo Stanton-type hitter. The commonly-used Gary Sheffield comp works in terms of bat speed, but Sheffield had a much more refined approach and I don’t think Baez will hit for a Sheffield-like average. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a star.” – John Sickels, Minor League Ball
“There is no mistaking the bat as a game changing thumper. But what places Baez at #1 (in the Cubs’ system) is the fact that he is going to remain in the infield. A move to 3B is in the cards most likely where the Cubs have a dire need to finally fill the spot. Still on target with a 30 HR type with double digit SB and sticking in the INF. With an IsoP of .200+ the strikeout rate will be digestible and his approach should mature over time. Again, 37 HR over two levels with a total of 75 XBHs with 20 SB. His numbers were outstanding and through it all he actually improved the dismal walk rate from 2012 to 6.2% in High-A and then 8.1% in Double-A. A total IsoP number of nearly .300 on the season is other worldly. But that K rate is still a major issue although not one that will limit his ability to be a Major League regular. He handled SS really well and it looks like the Cubs are giving him every shot and being that Future SS. With the draft selection of Kris Bryant, the Cubs have a lot of flexibility with their future. I see Baez as the 3B answer.” - Thomas Belmont, Baseball Instinct
“The upside that Baez holds from a fantasy perspective is likely second to only Byron Buxton—and the likely gets added in there because Baez may actually have more, given his potential eligibility. The tools are crazy and even though he doesn’t have the strongest run tool, he’s still 46-for-55 in stolen bases during his 215 minor-league games. Even if you can’t put him at shortstop (which is far from a definitive outcome), you’d take 30 homers, 15-plus steals and a .280 average from just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s a no-doubt top-five fantasy prospect in baseball.” – Brett Sayre, Baseball Prospectus
The consensus seems to be an All-Star caliber talent with some flaws, as far as contact, who can become a game changer, in real-life or fantasy baseball, due to his quick hands and raw power. With Baez, Addison Russell, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Xander Bogaerts coming up through various systems, it appears that the game will be taken over by offensive-minded shortstops, as the Alex Rodriguez-Derek Jeter-Nomar Garciaparra-Miguel Tejada Era of Major League Baseball was impacted.
Javier Baez seems like an athletic freak, producing power from his 6’0″, 195 pound frame. Below is a video of highlights from Baseball Instinct (via YouTube), where you can observe all of the otherwordly power and bat speed that was suggested by prospect insiders:
The term “generational talent” doesn’t get thrown around very often, although the label has been given to the likes of Mark Prior, Stephen Strasburg, Bryce Harper, and Mike Trout over the last decade. Injuries can always be a deterrent for players to reach their full, long-term potential, but the types of seasons that those four players have provided, even if it is just two to four seasons of that production, would be welcomed by any club. Risks aside, Baez is worthy of the high praise, the high rankings, and the sudden discussion of his eventual rise to dominance and stardom in Chicago. With all due respect to Starlin Castro, Baez shouldn’t have to move off of shortstop once he reaches Chicago – his potential dwarfs that of Castro, who has quickly become an afterthought to the hype of the Puerto Rican slugger.
On March 27, 2013, I posted my 2013 Predictions and Useless Guesses, which set forth my expectations for the 2013 season. Needless to say, the latter part of the title was pretty right on, as a high majority of my preseason predictions crashed and burned like nothing the world has ever seen before. For that, I am human; however, I will gloat about the things that I was right about when that time comes.
Division Winners and Wild Cards:
AL East: Toronto Blue Jays – Actual Winner: Boston Red Sox
AL Central: Detroit Tigers – Actual Winner: Detroit Tigers
AL West: Los Angeles Angels – Actual Winner: Oakland A’s
AL Wild Cards: Texas Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays – Actual Winners: Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays
NL East: Washington Nationals – Actual Winner: Atlanta Braves
NL Central: Cincinnati Reds – Actual Winner: St. Louis Cardinals
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers – Actual Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers
NL Wild Cards: St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves – Actual Winners: Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds
Now That We Know
I said “Bryce Harper will be better than he was in 2012 and Stephen Strasburg won’t have an innings limit. Really, this is all that you need to know, but with the addition of a leadoff hitter in Denard Span and another fantastic arm in Rafael Soriano to add to Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen, the Nationals are about as good as it gets in MLB for a lock to go to the playoffs.” Not only did the Nationals finish 10 games out in the NL East, they were four back of Cincinnati for the second Wild Card spot and they didn’t get near the production out of Harper that I was expecting due to injuries. The Angels proved that you can’t win with injured veterans who are underperforming (Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton) while putting together a terrible rotation. And…about those Blue Jays…I bought into the players that they had acquired and thought that having Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista would be enough to be contenders, yet, the club finished 23 games out in the AL East, good for last place. The Dodgers, Braves, Reds, Cardinals, Tigers, and Rays did make the playoffs, while the Rangers weren’t too far behind. The Pirates and Indians contending this season and reaching the playoffs were both surprises, so maybe I get some credit despite my ugly World Series prediction…Nationals over the Angels in six…ugh!!!
Jose Bautista, you failed me. Maybe the wrist still wasn’t 100 percent in 2013 following surgery in 2012, but the .259/.358/.498 line wasn’t what I was expecting with a star-studded lineup around him in 2013. “Joey Bats” didn’t play a game after August 20 due to a bone bruise on his hip, which hurt his final statistics, which weren’t anywhere near the likely AL MVP candidates: Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, and Chris Davis. While the award hasn’t been given out yet, I went with Cabrera with my own version of the 2013 Awards, and I’ll gladly take on your mockery for thinking Bautista was going to be a force in 2013.
AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander wasn’t the same. Maybe a part of him died when Kate Upton left him, but who can really blame him. Making an All-Star team, striking out over 200 batters, reaching 200-plus innings for the 7th straight season, and posting a 3.46 ERA is considered a down season apparently…that’s sad. Certainly, Verlander’s 2013 season wasn’t very Verlander-y, as that title seemed to go to his teammate, Max Scherzer, who went 21-3 with 240 K’s and an AL-leading 0.97 WHIP.
I went with Wil Myers early in the year and I stuck with Myers on my own postseason awards. Again, the official award hasn’t been given out, but in 88 games, Myers had and OPS+ of 132 and an .831 OPS, providing punch to the Rays lineup and helping guide Tampa Bay to another postseason appearance. Myers will continue to improve and become an All-Star level talent in future seasons, and despite losing James Shields in the deal with Kansas City, the team control and cost savings will be worth much more to the Rays, even before adding in Myers potential production.
AL Manager of the Year
I went with Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona prior to the season, while switching my own choice to Joe Girardi after the Yankees had a solid season with more injuries than any manager should ever have to deal with in a single season. However, the Francona choice shouldn’t be viewed negatively, and I had a tough time selecting Girardi over Francona when I was writing up my own awards. Francona shed the “chicken and beer” issues that ended his tenure in Boston, leading a mixed group of talent in Cleveland to a surprising Wild Card position. With the Tribe young enough to take steps forward in 2014, Francona could be a worthy candidate when the Indians likely take over the AL Central from the quickly aging Tigers.
I took the homer way out and selected Joey Votto prior to the 2013 season. While Votto was a tremendous asset for the Reds, he seems to be more valuable to the analytics gurus than some people in the front office and within fantasy leagues, as his patience creates a lot of on-base opportunities but a complete lack of numbers in the RBI column. I gave my postseason award to another NL Central star, Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who had another tremendous all-around season while leading the Bucs to their first winning season and postseason appearance since 1992. Votto had another excellent season, but we’ll see what happens to his perceived value when he is driving in 75 runs with a strong on-base percentage while making $20 million or more from 2016 onward in Cincinnati.
NL Cy Young
It’s easy to pick Clayton Kershaw, so maybe I just wanted to be different when I chose Madison Bumgarner. A 2.77 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP over 201.1 innings is pretty solid, but it isn’t a 1.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP over 236 innings like Kershaw posted. Bumgarner is worthy of some praise, though. He improved his WHIP for the fourth straight season, increased his hits per nine for the fourth straight season, and he reached a new career high in strikeouts (199) in 2013. If the Giants are contending in 2014 and Bumgarner continues his trends, he could battle Kershaw for the title of best left-handed starter in the league.
NL Rookie of the Year
Oscar Taveras battled injuries again in 2013 and never received an at-bat at the major league level. I was counting on a Carlos Beltran injury or an underperforming Jon Jay being benched in favor of Taveras in center field, but it never happened. Instead, the National League was overtaken by a plethora of superstar rookies, highlighted by Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Julio Teheran, Shelby Miller, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Matt Adams. While I chose Fernandez for my NL ROY winner, several of these players are worth of consideration, and if the NL keeps getting talent like this every year, they’ll be seeing a lot of home-field advantage opportunities in upcoming World Series’.
NL Manager of the Year
I went with a laughable Bud Black, thinking that mediocrity and solid contributions from a lot of guys with average skills would be good enough to help the Padres be competitive, at least above .500, which would make Black a viable candidate for the award. After all, the NL West had the Dodgers and not a whole lot else this season. The Friars were 76-86, 16 games back of Los Angeles, and third in the NL West. I ultimately gave my postseason award to Clint Hurdle for helping the Pirates have a winning record, but Mike Matheny and Don Mattingly were also reasonable candidates.
Beyond the Awards: Several Laughs Due to My “Bold Predictions”
Original in italics – reaction in bold
- Bryce Harper will hit over 30 home runs in 2013, while posting an OPS near .940. —-NO. Not even close.
- Mike Trout won’t hit 30 home runs again, but he will steal 50 bases. —- 27 HR and 33 SB. NOPE!
- Jose Reyes will stay healthy, even while playing on turf, and terrorize the AL East while stealing over 50 bases. —93 games, 15 SB…FAIL! NEVER COUNT ON REYES!
- Ike Davis will hit over 40 home runs after hitting 32 in 2012 while hitting just .227. —- just 9 HR while hitting .207. Ouch.
- Mat Latos will become the ace of the Cincinnati Reds, posting better overall numbers than Johnny Cueto and winning 20 games in 2013. —-Latos was 14-7 and Cueto only made 11 starts due to injuries. I think this is a win.
- Mike Minor proves that his second half from 2012 (6-4, 2.16 ERA, 0.87 WHIP over 87.1 IP) wasn’ a fluke, as he becomes the Braves best starting pitcher in 2013. —Win! 3.21 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 204.2 IP and he was the most reliable Braves’ starter over the whole season.
- Jordan Zimmerman has a more impressive 2013 season than Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez and he will no longer be overlooked in a fantastic Washington rotation. —-Zimmerman’s 19 wins were eight more than Gonzalez’s, his ERA and WHIP were second to Strasburg’s in the Nats’ rotation, and he led the club with 213.1 innings. Solid.
- Brandon Belt continues hitting like he has all spring, ripping 25 home runs after having a power outage in the earlier stages of his career (16 in 598 at-bats). —-Belt had just 17 HR but he still seems to be in the doghouse in San Francisco. If anyone ever needed a change of scenery, it’s this guy. He may never hit 30 home runs, but he is a very good player.
- Troy Tulowitzki stays healthy and benefits from Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler having All Star seasons to hit 40 home runs, making all of those fantasy baseball players that took him in the first round feel like the smartest men alive. —-All three players battled injuries, but if All-Star seasons were based on April stats alone, Fowler would have been an All-Star, as well, along with Tulo and CarGo. As it stands, the Rockies are only as good as these three players being on the field at the same time with some solid pitching…something that may never happen.
- Allen Craig becomes an All Star and hits over .300 with 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI. —-Craig was an All-Star and he finished the year injured on September 4 with 97 RBI. The home runs weren’t there, he had only 13, but he was a very productive player for the NL Champions.
- Carlos Santana hits 30+ home runs and will have the kind of hype that Buster Posey has right now during the 2013-2014 offseason. —-Nope. Santana had his best full season in 2013, but hit just 20 HR while posting an .832 OPS. I still think he’ll continue to improve, but this wasn’t the breakout year.
- Jason Heyward finishes 2nd in NL MVP voting to Joey Votto, posting his first 30 HR/30 SB season for Atlanta. —-Nope. Heyward struggled mightily with various injuries and failure to produce, but he’ll still be just 24 in 2014 and isn’t close to being finished.
- Domonic Brown keeps the Phillies left field job all season and posts a .270/.380/.450 line with solid production across the board. Philly fans hit Ruben Amaro, Jr. with batteries for not trusting in him sooner.—-.272/.324/.494 isn’t bad, and neither is Brown, who finally played and hit 27 HR and drove in 83 in just 139 games. The on-base skills weren’t there, but they were in the minors. Amaro is a moron.
- Zack Greinke can’t handle the Los Angeles pressure and spotlight and misses time due to his anxiety disorder. —- Greinke was fine and he went 15-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. He’d be worth some NL Cy Young votes if Kershaw didn’t deserve a unanimous vote.
- Chris Sale pitches 200 innings and proves doubters about his bony frame and drastic innings increase in 2012 wrong. —- Sale was AWESOME in 2013, going 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and a 226:46 K:BB in 214.1 innings. Stop doubting him.
- Drew Stubbs (remember him?) hits 20 home runs and steals 50 bases, revitalizing his career. —-Nope. He’ll never make enough contact to do that and he may be a fourth outfielder going forward after a disappointing .233/.305/.360 season with 10 HR and 17 RBI in 481 plate appearances, striking out 141 times.
- Rick Porcello wins 17 games with a 3.20 ERA while striking out 180 batters…all because he began using his four-seam fastball for the first time in his career. —-Well, Porcello did reach 142 strikeouts with his career high 7.2 K:9 in 2013, but fell well short of a 3.20 ERA while posting a 4.32 ERA and career best 1.28 WHIP. He’ll be 25 next year and the small improvements could be a positive sign for his career, but he’ll never be the ace many expected him to be when he was drafted.
Guys who I thought would “go bonkers in 2013″
Alex Cobb, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Yes, he had a breakout season.
Matt Moore, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays: Yes, I’d say so.
Brett Anderson, LHP, Oakland Athletics: Not even close. Needs to stay on the field.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves: Sick glove and I had no idea the power was coming.
Yoenis Cespedes, OF, Oakland Athletics: Somewhat disappointing due to the injuries and dips in production, but he’s an absolute freak who should rebound in 2014.
Greg Holland, RHP, Kansas City Royals: 47 saves and a 13.8 K:9 made him one of the elite closers in baseball.
Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals: He can hit and he posted career highs in games played, total bases, home runs, and RBI. If the other pieces produce around him, he’ll be an elite-level offensive catcher.
Chris Parmelee, OF, Minnesota Twins: He’s a 4A guy who just can’t translate his minor league numbers into major league production.
Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs: 40 doubles, 23 HR, and 80 RBI at the age of 23. I’ll take it. He’ll improve his slash in coming seasons, likely when the Cubs put someone worth a damn on the field with him.
Dayan Viciedo, OF, Chicago White Sox: Still a lot of power with no pitch recognition skills. He’ll always mash fastballs, but he needs to find some other sort of identity to be a long-term piece for the White Sox.
Dan Straily, RHP, Oakland Athletics (Bartolo Colon won’t last forever): Solid season. Not sure if his absurd minor league strikeout totals will ever be realistic in the majors, but he’s a solid mid-to-back-end starter. And…maybe Colon will last forever.
Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals: This was finally the year.
Michael Saunders, OF, Seattle Mariners: After an excellent World Baseball Classic, Saunders disappointed again. He improved his on-base skills, but saw a dip in his power and speed, which were the tools that made him a trendy sleeper pick.
Prospects to Watch
Jonathan Schoop, INF, Baltimore Orioles: Disappointed due to a stress fracture in his back.
Dorssys Paulino, INF, Cleveland Indians: Big disappointment after a huge professional debut in 2012.
J.R. Graham, RHP, Atlanta Braves: Just ok before shoulder issues ended his season in May.
Yordano Ventura, RHP, Kansas City Royals: Breakout. 155 K’s in 134.2 minor league innings earned him three major league starts to finish the season.
Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays: 23 starts for the Rays – 3.22 ERA over 128.2 innings with a 1.13 WHIP. He’ll be a tremendous arm in Tampa for a number of years.
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals: He needed a good season to get his prospect status back on track, but it didn’t happen. He has the tools with a great power and speed combination. He could take off in High-A in 2014 like Wil Myers did a couple of years ago, but that could be wishful thinking. I just want a Bubba to thrive.
Yasel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers: Nothing needed here. I am brilliant.
Archie Bradley, RHP, Arizona Diamondbacks: Huge steps this season and he could have earned a long look this coming spring. 1.84 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over 152 innings while not turning 21 until August. He could be a legitimate No.1 starter.
Jonathan Singleton, 1B, Houston Astros: Very disappointing season, from a 50-game suspension for a drug abuse to lackluster effort and poor numbers. The Astros need him to click and the skills are there. Does he have the drive to make it happen?
Xander Bogaerts, INF, Boston Red Sox: He helped the Sox win the World Series, but this was an easy pick after his incredible 2012 season. He’ll be an everyday player at short or third going forward, and a potential perennial All-Star within the next couple of seasons.
Austin Hedges, C, San Diego Padres: The power wasn’t there this season, but he was only 20 until August and the catching position is difficult to judge prospects within. He could be a tremendous major league receiver right now, but if the Padres let him develop, he will be a well-rounded superstar.
Joey Gallo, INF, Texas Rangers: Power like a BOSS! Gallo hit 40 bombs this season while striking out 172 times. He is Adam Dunn without the walks. Huge raw power potential. Keep in mind, he turns 20 years old this month…40 HR at 19!!!
It wasn’t always pretty, but I’ll take what I got right here. I’m not in Vegas for a reason, but there were quite a few good calls. We’ll see what next season brings. I’ll be sure to provide some more laughs while looking back to see how things turned out after the season.
Wendy Thurm (@hangingsliders) had a post at Fangraphs discussing the National TV contracts for Major League Baseball and the value that they will provide for each team. Within the article, Thurm had several valuable bits of information:
“ESPN will pay MLB $700 million per year for the right to broadcast games exclusively on Sunday nights, other games (non-exclusively) on Monday and Wednesday nights, extended highlights for Baseball Tonight, the Home Run Derby and other All-Star activities (but not the game) and one Wild Card Game. The deal also includes national and international radio and digital rights.
MLB announced a new national TV contract with Fox and TBS, which also covered the 2014 through 2021 seasons. Under that deal, MLB will receive $800 million per year in combined revenue from the two networks, in exchange for broadcasts rights for the Saturday game of the week on Fox, the Sunday game on TBS and all of the postseason games — save for the one that will be broadcast on ESPN. Fox also retains the rights to the All-Star Game.
That’s $1.5 billion in national TV revenue per season that will go into MLB’s Central Fund, or $750 million more than under the contracts that just expired. MLB can spend money from the Central Fund in a variety of ways, but it’s been assumed in the reporting that the league will distribute the TV money to the teams. If so, each team will receive $25 million more in national TV revenue in 2014 through 2021 than they did in 2013.
Teams aren’t obligated, of course, to use all or even part of that additional $25 million on player salaries. That money can also be helpful to expanding a team’s national and international scouting operation, or its data analysis department, or marketing, or all three.”
Beyond the television money being received directly from Major League Baseball, each team has their very own local television contract, as well. The dollars being tossed towards clubs has reached absurd levels, as the Los Angeles Dodgers will bring in $340 million per season through 2032 in local television money alone, meaning roughly $390 million including the money coming from MLB. When the Dodgers have that kind of money coming in before averaging 46,216 fans per home game, ranking No.1 in 2013 MLB attendance, you can see the revenue and profitability that comes from these mega deals.
The money is huge, and when you factor in how many teams are being extra cautious with the contracts that they hand out, it makes it seem unreasonable for clubs to cry “small market” any longer. There is no “small market” when a team is streaming revenue of $43 million from television contracts like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Miami Marlins were in 2013, and that number will go up to $68 million with the additional $25 million in 2014. And, while so many were upset with the Marlins and their owner, Jeffrey Loria, for the club’s consistent losing, fire-sales, and sticking Miami with an expensive stadium with a Triple-A worthy roster playing each night, it can’t be as hard as it is for Houston’s fans to watch the Astros pocket $105 million in television deals in 2013, while fielding a team with a payroll of $26 million.
With international signing limits and caps on spending within drafts, it doesn’t seem fair that owners and teams are able to sit on millions of dollars of revenue while doing very little year in and year out to field a competitive team. Certainly, the Astros are utilizing the wizardry of Jeff Luhnow to develop a dynamic farm system, which is ranked in the upper-half of the league after being one of the most vacant systems in all of baseball for nearly a decade. However, if other teams decided to gut their major league rosters to build in the same manner, how could MLB and its commissioner tell fans that they were fielding a solid product?
When the Tampa Bay Rays, Oakland A’s, and Boston Red Sox publicly entrenched their baseball operations within data analysis and the sabermetric way, they also committed to spending wisely and finding value, possibly bargains, by linking players and their abilities to areas that the club needed to improve. By signing their young players to lucrative contracts early in their careers, the Rays were able to manage the long-term salary of their stars by avoiding the arbitration process, while, simultaneously, taking on a huge risk by investing in a player who may battle an injury or be unable to make adjustments when the league caught up with their skills. Evan Longoria, for example, was signed to a six-year, $17.6 million deal (with team options for 2014 through 2016), after just seven days in the majors. The A’s have been very careful with their payroll over the years as Billy Beane has utilized the Moneyball way to build success out of a spacious ballpark and on-base driven offensive players, though that has changed with players like Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick being key members of more recent teams. Boston, on the other hand, seems to have learned their lesson from the failures of mega-contracts that were given out to Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford, shipping the huge deals to the Dodgers and finding payroll relief and success through finding strong character players, which landed them a championship this season behind the leadership of new additions like Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino.
When looking at teams that have created unique ways to be competitive, though, does it show a pattern or a method to success, or can spending money guide a team to a title? The Dodgers, for example, have over $190 million committed to their payroll in 2014 before free agency has even started. Add on the rumors of the club is interested in acquiring David Price via trade with the Rays and being a major player in the posting process and negotiations with Japanese import Masahiro Tanaka, and the Dodgers could have a starting rotation (that’s right, five guys) earning over $100 million in 2014. The New York Yankees tried for several years to build a contender through free agency, but the club was most successful when they were building from within with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, and Andy Pettitte in the mid-to-late 1990′s and early 2000′s…though, they did win a title in 2009.
No team can duplicate the science that one team has perfected, but they can certainly try. As teams like the Twins and Marlins continue to try different techniques in finding success, one thing remains evident: they need to spend money to be successful. The Twins have struck gold with recent international signings and drafts, adding Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to their system, but how will they help Joe Mauer at Target Field with the terrible pitching that they continue to produce? The Marlins tried to buy success when they signed Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle prior to the 2012 season. That experiment lasted all of one season before Miami sold off several pieces to rebuild with prospects that they received from the Blue Jays.
Every team should be active when free agency begins. There is no excuse for the “small market” teams when each team is receiving nearly $50 million dollars from MLB each season from the league’s national TV deals. Add on a minimum of $18 million for local TV deals (which the Marlins and Pirates have, lowest of all teams), and you’re looking at $68 million in revenue before the team takes the field, provides marketing space in the stadium, sells a ticket, or sells a t-shirt this season. Of course, there are operating expenses for a team and their employees, but how much exactly? Why exist if the owner is more focused on the bottom line and profitability of the club than the club’s long-term success? After all, we’re talking about billionaire owners paying millionaire players, and every time an owner complains about how much money they aren’t making, you can look at the figures that were provided above and laugh…as you make five-figures and save for months to pay $200 or more to take your family of four to a game once or twice per season.
Another major question could be: is there too much money in baseball? If a team like the Dodgers is bringing in nearly $400 million in revenue on television deals alone, how can the Pirates and Marlins compete against them? The Dodgers could sign Tanaka, trade for Price, and add Robinson Cano to play second base, and the club would still have nearly $150 million in annual salaries before reaching $400 million, over five-and-a-half times the amount that the Pirates and Marlins have in revenue. If or when Clayton Kershaw reaches free agency, if or when Mike Trout reaches free agency, and if or when Bryce Harper reaches free agency, what are the smaller revenue clubs to do? My answer to that…see the Tampa Bay Rays, who compete in the AL East with much smaller revenue numbers than the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and even the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, by being smarter, more creative, and careful as to how they have built their roster each season.
And if there is still concern about your team and wanting to cry “small market”, remember this:
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
I appreciate sabermetrics and I know that Mike Trout has a lot of value to the Angels, but Cabrera was the best player in baseball, again, in 2013. While he didn’t win the Triple Crown like he did in 2012, he still put up ridiculous numbers and helped to carry the Tigers to the AL Central title while Prince Fielder put up the worst OPS of his career. Even weakened by injuries late in the season, Cabrera put up strong enough counting stats to be considered here, and it isn’t just the home runs and RBI, as shown by his MLB-leading OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+. Cabrera may not have the all-around tools to assist Detroit with his defense and speed, but he does everything else better than everyone else in baseball. Enjoy it while you can, as Cabrera will be on the wrong side of 30 in 2014, and with the lack of performance-enhancing drugs to aid his career totals as he ages, as they did for Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, these types of special seasons could be coming to an end for the legendary career that Cabrera has had to this point.
Honorable Mention: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels; Chris Davis, 1B, Baltimore Orioles;
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Take a team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 1992 that finally had a winning season and look for their best player? Not even close. McCutchen has been a top fantasy baseball talent for several years and this is the year that his abilities actually propelled the Pirates into contention, where they actually remained until running into the Cardinals in the NLDS. McCutchen looks like the National League’s older version of Mike Trout, posting impressive power, on-base, speed, and defensive metric numbers, creating solid, across-the-board numbers that make him one of the most well-rounded players in the entire league. As the Pirates continue to develop and plug-in talented players around him, his numbers will likely continue to take off. He is a tremendous player with a ceiling that he hasn’t even reached yet.
It isn’t about the wins, although, Scherzer did have the league-lead by two games. It’s all about how effective Scherzer was all season. He posted the lowest WHIP in the American League and only Yu Darvish (.194) had a lower batting average allowed in the AL than Scherzer’s .195. Scherzer posted impressive strikeout totals, reached a career-high in innings pitched (214.1), and showcased his ability to lead a rotation while the Tigers watched Justin Verlander have a non-Verlander-like season in 2013. Even though the Tigers rotation was, quite possibly, the deepest of any team in baseball, Detroit wouldn’t have been quite as successful without the dynamic season that Scherzer put together in 2013.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
How could it be anyone else? Someone may want to just rename the award for the Dodgers’ left-hander with the way the last few seasons have gone, although, he didn’t win the award in 2012 thanks to R.A. Dickey and his magic and rainbow season for the New York Mets. Kershaw led the majors in ERA (1.83), WHIP (0.92), and ERA+ (194), while his 232 strikeouts led the NL. Kershaw had four starts (out of 33) in which he failed to go six or more innings and only had six non-quality starts on the season. He is the definition of an ace, a shutdown starter, capable of tossing a complete game shutout every fifth day in an era that seems to make such a statistic impossible due to innings limits and pitch counts. Kershaw has gone from a starter to avoid in fantasy leagues due to his once high walk totals to the must-have starting pitching option. At 25, the sky is the limit, and with Gary Nolan and Tom Seaver at the top of his Baseball Reference similarity scores, you have to hope that Kershaw has the long, successful career of “Tom Terrific” instead of the injury-destroyed career of Nolan.
AL Manager of the Year: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees, 85-77 AL East (4th place)
Why would you give an award to a manager who led his team to a fourth place finish? Because that manager had his starting shortstop (Derek Jeter), starting first baseman (Mark Teixeira), starting center fielder (Curtis Granderson), and starting third baseman (Alex Rodriguez) for a combined 137 games this season, meaning those four missed a combined 511 games in 2013. While plugging in Eduardo Nunez, Kevin Youkilis, Vernon Wells, Zoilo Almonte, Lyle Overbay, and Jayson Nix, while maintaining credibility and competing within the toughest division in MLB. Girardi also had to juggle a disappointing pitching staff, as he got next to nothing out of C.C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes, and David Phelps, at times, in the rotation. He certainly deserved his recent extension and proved that he is much more than a guy that fills out an All-Star lineup card every night with the Yankees star-studded roster and large payrolls over the years.
NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates, 94-68 NL Central (2nd place, NL Wild Card)
I’m not a huge believer in Clint Hurdle and I really don’t think that he deserves the award due to some questionable moves that he has made over the years, as well as this season; However, he guided a group of miscreants and castoffs (along with Pedro Alvarez, Starling Marte, McCutchen, and Neil Walker) to the Pirates’ first winning season since 1992, let alone a playoff appearance. With several veteran additions (Russell Martin, Justin Morneau, and Marlon Byrd) and the arrival of the club’s future No.1 starter, Gerrit Cole, Hurdle was able to outlast Cincinnati and have a successful season. Maybe it was the bootcamp workouts in the offseason, who knows, but the man in charge, Hurdle, will likely benefit with the award, so I’ll give it to him.
Honorable Mention: Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals; Don Mattingley, Los Angeles Dodgers;
AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, OF, Tampa Bay Rays
The only thing more impressive than Myers’ strikeouts and home run power are his bat flips. The kid came up and was an immediately upgrade for the Rays, hitting 4th in 25 of his 88 games, the most of any spot in the order, while providing a little punch and protection for Evan Longoria and the crew. Myers production is just the tip of the iceberg, as he is quite capable of hitting 30-35 home runs annually while striking out in bunches, just as he did in 2013. The major piece in the haul that the Rays acquired from Kansas City in the James Shields deal, Myers will be a nuisance to opposing clubs for years to come.
NL Rookie of the Year: Jose Fernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins
Fernandez had quite a few people fighting him for the award this season, but he was just a bit more dominant than the competition. While he didn’t lead the lowly Marlins to the playoffs, like some of the other rookie of the year worthy players, Fernandez oozed confidence and had a feel for pitching that hasn’t been seen from many 20 or 21 year-old players in baseball history. He was nearly as unhittable as Clayton Kershaw, actually besting him (and everyone else) with a 5.8 hits per nine innings, best in MLB. While his character came into question by the Braves and Brian McCann after his extreme home run watching episode in September, it proved very little about how fantastic he is on the mound. While it is fair to question the future of the Miami Marlins due to their horrific owner, Jeffrey Loria, Jose Fernandez is a gem, who should continue to post awe-worthy numbers as long as his 6’2″, 240 pound frame will allow him to do so.
Honorable Mention: Julio Teheran, RHP, Atlanta Braves; Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals; Hyun-Jin Ryu, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers; Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers; Matt Adams, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals; Khris Davis, OF, Milwaukee Brewers;
MLB Comeback Player of the Year: Mariano Rivera, RHP, New York Yankees
After tearing his ACL while shagging fly balls and being limited to just nine appearances in 2012, Rivera came back and picked up right where he left off in his storied career, finishing the 2013 with over 40 saves for the ninth time in his career. The 2013 season was his final season and it was full of terrible gifts that he received during his farewell tour, but it didn’t stop Rivera from maintaining the status quo, pitching stoically and professionally while shutting the door on the opposition with his dynamic cutter. The game will miss Rivera not because of the No. 42 officially going away forever, but because he was one of the classiest people to ever put on a uniform. His willingness to come back from his injury to leave on his terms showed his character as he now goes off to a happy retirement.
The Atlanta Braves hate fun. At least, that statement appears to be case, as the club has been a part of some of the most intense bench-clearing altercations of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. Those altercations began with a home run, a bat flip, standing too long in the batter’s box, or jawing with someone on the field. Here are exhibits A, B, and C:
Exhibit A – Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez from Wednesday night:
Exhibit B – Miami Marlins soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez from September 11:
and, finally, Exhibit C – Washington Nationals’ star Bryce Harper on August 6:
In all three cases, the Braves took exception with the antics of the opposition and to make them understand that their antics weren’t appreciated, someone took action. The club’s star catcher, Brian McCann, seems to have taken the Roger Goodell approach…you know, the commissioner of the NFL who has basically made it impossible for players to dance, celebrate, or enjoy any of their lives by turning the National Football League into the No Fun League. McCann didn’t even let Carlos Gomez cross home plate after his home run and colorful antagonizing on Wednesday night, while he was sure to stop Jose Fernandez prior to his leaving the dish to make sure he understood “how the game works.”
The Atlanta Braves are policing MLB but no one else seems to mind.
The ol’ book likely says that bat flipping and admiration of your hit is disrespectful to the opposition, but could the game use these types of colorful personalities?
It wouldn’t be a terrible thing for baseball to have a face of the game that would have passion and enthusiasm for the game, one that would allow the youth of America and around the world to actually WANT to mock while actually playing baseball with friends instead of soccer and video games.
Considering a recent piece (and poll) by ESPN’s Jayson Stark, which detailed that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, the same guy who is suspended for 211 games for doping and was having his future livelihood threatened by MLB just over two months ago, is the current face of baseball, receiving 22-percent of the vote, followed by teammate Derek Jeter, who has played all of 17 games this season, who had 12-percent of the vote, the game needs to have SOMEONE OR SOME THING that can be considered marketable. While it is arguable as to whether cockiness and showmanship is that thing, those traits are certainly something that shouldn’t be so heavily governed…at least not by one team.
Which brings me back to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves have had a remarkable run of success. While the Pittsburgh Pirates were finishing with losing records from 1993 through 2012, the Atlanta Braves had winning seasons in all but two years since 1990 (2006 and 2008). While the front office, the manager, and the players have changed, it appears that the club is still influenced by the knowledge which was passed down from the John Schuerholz-Bobby Cox-Chipper Jones Era.
Is living and modeling “by the book” good for the game, though?
For me, the Brian McCann plate block was more embarrassing than the jawing done by Carlos Gomez. Even if Gomez was acting foolishly, why is it the right of the catcher to stop him before he could touch home plate and tell him how wrong he was? To make it even worse, Gomez was tossed from the game and McCann, who actually started the melee by halting the home run trot (and was also responsible for the benches clearing against Miami), was not, just as he wasn’t in Miami!
While the NFL has taken firm control of the American 18 to barely breathing man in America, baseball has been passed by as America’s pastime, and, similarly, as the NFL has taken a firm stance on protecting its image and brand with large fines and suspensions, MLB has done very little to enforce the protection of its players on the field, instead, focusing on fighting off-the-field legal battles with former players over performance-enhancing drug use and trying to maintain the integrity of the game that seemed to disappear after the 1994 player’s strike.
At this point, the league needs to combat pitchers throwing baseballs 90-plus miles per hour at the knees of Bryce Harper because he hit the ball too far. They need to make sure that players aren’t being attacked in bench-clearing brawls because of their colorful personalities. MLB needs to realize that colorful personalities will be valuable assets in regaining a solid public image, developing strong marketing campaigns built around the dynamic gifts of Mike Trout, the flamboyant nature of Yasiel Puig, and the fire and passion that Harper brings to the field, and, while doing so, the league needs to begin to penalize those who are willing to stop the fun in their tracks, as McCann did to Gomez.
What McCann and the Atlanta Braves are doing with their educational situations is NOT what baseball needs.
Remember when you gambled on Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez in your starting rotation earlier this spring? Well, congratulations to you and your number one seed in the fantasy baseball playoffs, and I hope you enjoyed your first round exit against the lowest seeded team in the playoffs.
It seems like every year that the top teams are taken out by the lower seeds, just like catching the yearly No.12 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament taking out the No.5 seed. Even teams that were riding another near-Triple Crown season out of Miguel Cabrera are now probably thinking about who they are going to be keeping this winter after the Detroit Tigers’ slugger has battled an abdominal strain while missing 11 games since late July, costing his owners victories and a title.
Whether you play in a one-year league, a dynasty league, a points league, or a standard roto-league, you’ve probably been the recipient of the late season luck or the suffering owner of another 2011-Boston Red Sox-esque collapse for your fake team.
It truly isn’t an avoidable situation.
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It doesn’t stop there, however.
Allen Craig‘s injuries have limited him to a .738 OPS in the second half when he has been on the field, while Brandon Belt (.922) and Brandon Moss (.989) have not only outproduced Craig, but they’ve bettered Chris Davis (.871), Prince Fielder (.840), and Joey Votto (.908) since the All-Star break.
Khris Davis, the 25-year-old rookie outfielder for the Brewers who took the spot of Ryan Braun after his suspension, is just as likely to be carrying a team running towards a championship as Pirates’ superstar, and possible NL MVP, Andrew McCutchen. Will Venable has outproduced Jose Bautista, Kole Calhoun and Junior Lake have provided more punch than Jacoby Ellsbury and Alex Rios, and Billy Hamilton may be stealing a title right now while Brandon Phillips takes a face to the sphincter and a slump to the playoffs (a .421 OPS over the last two weeks).
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Fantasy baseball is a long season, just like the real thing. One can never truly prepare for the out-of-nowhere injuries, but if you thought that Harvey, Fernandez, or any other innings-limit candidate pitchers were going to help you, Bill Engvall has a sign for you on his redneck comedy tour.
What can you do to overcome these situations next season?
Assume that the solid young arm won’t help you in September and sell him off early?
Rely on veterans who have been through 162-game seasons before, who may be less likely to break down after August.
Have enough depth to cope with injuries and slumps – don’t deal it for spare parts near the trade deadline to get you over the proverbial “hump”.
Know that no matter what you do…it’s probably wrong. Luck plays a huge role in the No.8 seed knocking off the No.1 seed, and even if it isn’t every season that the upset occurs, it is just as likely to happen than not. If your league doesn’t give point values to the No.1 seed as a “home-field advantage” concept, they start off with the same likelihood of winning in the first round as the team that just snuck in.
Fair or not, you’re probably screwed. Just move on to fantasy football and figure out that Dolphins’ running back Lamar Miller and Bengals’ running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably be defeating your Adrian Peterson and Tom Brady-stacked lineup next weekend. You’re living a fantasy. Deal with it.
Another free agency period is ahead with another Major League Baseball offseason. With so many superstars being signed to lucrative contracts with their existing clubs, players who reach free agency can make exorbitant amounts of money due to fewer players being available and television contracts that teams are using as revenue generating machines. With that being said, is a big-time contract a smart investment for a needy team this winter?
The Yankees as a Model
With Robinson Cano heading towards free agency after the 2013 season, the New York Yankees will be faced with a decision that could alter their original plan of getting under Major League Baseball’s $189 million luxury tax threshold. With $92.4 million due to six players (Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Alfonso Soriano (the Cubs are covering $13 of the $18 million owed to him), Mark Teixiera, Vernon Wells (the Angels are covering $18.6 of the $21 million owed to him), Ichiro Suzuki, and Derek Jeter (who has an $8 million player option), the Yankees, on the surface, appear to have some wiggle room in an offer to their superstar second baseman; however, the players mentioned above are the only players with guaranteed contracts next season.
Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Eduardo Nunez are all pre-arbitration, so they can have their contracts renewed at the league minimum, but the club will have to deal with David Huff, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Michael Pineda, Ivan Nova, Jayson Nix, Shawn Kelley, Brett Gardner, and David Robertson within arbitration, and determine whether Cano, Hiroki Kuroda, Kevin Youkilis, Andy Pettitte, Phil Hughes, Mark Reynolds, Boone Logan, Travis Hafner, Joba Chamberlain, and/or Lyle Overbay are worthy of being tendered a qualifying offer prior to reaching free agency. With up to 19 spots available for next season, the remaining $96.6 million doesn’t appear to be going very far.
While relief could be on the way with a possible 2014 suspension for Alex Rodriguez, from which his $25 million contract would be forfeited, the long-term contracts that the Yankees have handed out like candy are now causing financial issues as the club’s attendance continues to decline (43,733 in 2012 vs. 40,002 in 2013) along with the talent of the aging players.
Alex Rodriguez is 37 years old and is owed $86 million over the next four years.
C.C. Sabathia is 32 years old and is owed $76 million over the next three seasons (including his 2017 buyout).
Mark Teixiera is 33 years old and is owed $67.5 million over the next three seasons.
The three have been worth a combined WAR (Fangraphs) of 2.6 in 2013 while costing the Yankees $73.5 million in salaries. For comparisons sake, San Diego third baseman Chase Headley, Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson, San Diego outfielder Chris Denorfia, Baltimore outfielder Nate McLouth, and San Francisco shortstop Brandon Crawford have each posted a 2.6 WAR in 2013…individually. If the Yankees had all five players this season, they would have spent just under $16 million, about $6.5 million less than they spent on Teixiera alone in 2013!
Why These Contracts Don’t Make Sense
By investing large sums of money into veterans when they reach free agency in the post-steroid era, teams are taking immeasurable risks.
1) They are assuming that a high-performing player will be capable of producing into their mid-30′s, and…
2) They are assuming that the high-performing player will stay healthy enough to be worth the investment.
When a player reaches free agency, they have at least six years of major league experience. The player likely had three seasons of pre-arbitration followed by three years of arbitration prior to reaching free agency. Considering that most players make their debuts between the ages of 21 and 24, a free agent is typically between the ages of 27 and 30. The magic prime age in baseball is apparently going to happen in a player’s age-27 season, lasting roughly three to five seasons. A player has reached their physical peak at this point, which allows the player to utilize their various tools to take advantage of the opposition through the use of their experience and mental approaches gained through those experiences. When a multi-year contract is given to a player at the age of 30, say a five-year contract, and that player is then declining for nearly three-fifths of the contract, what is the value to the club? Without performance-enhancers, normal aging processes, such as shoulder fatigue for aging pitchers and chronic knee soreness for a veteran position player, become normal once again. Can teams count on a 39-year-old shortstop to play in 162 games? Ask Derek Jeter how his season went.
Unfortunate Recent Examples
Albert Pujols signed his ten-year, $240 million deal with the Angels following his age-31 season in St. Louis. To make the deal more affordable and to allow the Angels some financial flexibility, Pujols’ contract was heavily back-loaded, meaning he will be making the most money at the end of his contract when he is approaching or passing the age of 40. In fact, in Pujols’ tenth season with the Angels, he is scheduled to make $30 million, the highest annual salary within his contract. After making a combined $28 million in 2012 and 2013, Pujols’ contract will jump to $23 million in 2014 and climb $1 million each season before reaching $30 million in 2021.
However, Pujols hasn’t really lived up to the contract based on his production over the first 11 seasons in the majors, as he has posted the lowest WAR of his career in consecutive seasons (3.7 in 2012 and 0.7 in 2013). He was shutdown on August 19 due to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia and he should be ready to go next season; however, since he isn’t undergoing surgery, how well will this injury heal? Although the tear supposedly did what the surgery would have, one has to wonder if it can be aggravated, torn further (since it is still a partial tear), and debilitating enough to plague Pujols throughout the remainder of his massive contract.
And what about the contract that the “small-market” Cincinnati Reds gave to Joey Votto? The Reds handed Votto a ten-year, $225 million extension in April of 2012. The contract hasn’t even started yet, as the first year of the extension will be the 2014 season, Votto’s age-30 season. For ten years, the Reds will hope that Votto will produce numbers similar to his 2010 MVP season, something that he hasn’t seemed capable of reproducing over the last three seasons, despite leading the National League in on-base percentage the last three seasons, four including 2010. When you consider that the Reds are winning in 2013 and they still average just 31,479 in attendance (16th in MLB), how will the team be able to contend when Votto is making $25 million per season beginning in 2018, when he is 34 years old?
Even worse, the contract that the Philadelphia Phillies gave to first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard received his extension in April of 2010 and it didn’t go into effect until the 2012 season, a five-year, $125 million deal that would begin in Howard’s age-32 season. Since the start of the 2012 season, Howard has played in 151 games while posting a .244/.307/.445 line with 31 doubles, 25 home runs, 99 RBI, and a whopping 194 strikeouts in 609 plate appearances. The previous seven seasons, Howard had a .275/.368/.560 line with an average of 26 doubles, 41 home runs, and 123 RBI per season, and that was including his declining 2010 and 2011 seasons, in which Howard posted the lowest OPS of his career (.859 in 2010 and .835 in 2011)…that was, of course, until his dreadful 2012 season (.718 OPS).
The Problem With TV Deals
I was able to get a response from Baseball Prospectus’ Ben Lindbergh when I asked him via Twitter, “Do you think MLB teams are going to shy away from mega contract due to the Pujols/Howard/Hamilton deals in post steroid era?” His response:
— Ben Lindbergh (@ben_lindbergh) September 6, 2013
The TV money, which was mentioned previously, is an interesting enhancement to the revenue stream for major league teams. With the Los Angeles Dodgers getting over $6 billion over 25 years from Time Warner in their TV deal, which will give the club nearly $240 million per year in revenue, the already crazy expenditures of the boys in blue could become even more egregious this winter. The club seems capable of locking up left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a contract worth $30 million per season or more this winter, AND signing Robinson Cano to take over second base from Mark Ellis, who has a $5.75 million option for 2014 or a $1 million buyout. By taking on those types of contracts on top of the Carl Crawford ($20.25 million in 2014), Matt Kemp ($21 million in 2014), Adrian Gonzalez ($21 million in 2014), Zack Greinke ($26 million in 2014), and Andre Ethier ($15.5 million in 2014) deals, the Dodgers will be willingly entering the luxury tax threshold in an effort to win the World Series.
But what happens when money can’t buy titles? The New York Yankees seemed to always have the highest payroll in baseball and they haven’t won the title every season. Spending doesn’t quantify wins, it is, as Lindbergh referenced, the winner’s curse. This concept is outlined in Colin Wyers 2009 Baseball Prospectus piece titled The Real Curse, which Wyers states:
The market for baseball players seems to more closely resemble a sealed-bid auction than it does a market. Since the person who wins that sort of auction is typically the person with the largest bid, it stands to reason that the person who “wins” is in fact the person who overbids…
The curse is then being the winning bid on a contract that was probably more than what another team was willing to bid. By evaluating players and making smart investments, teams that break the curse are able to get production out of what they spend, while teams that suffer from the curse are those that fail to get production out of their investment, as in the suffering that the Cubs went through with Alfonso Soriano, the joint suffering of the Blue Jays and Angels over the Vernon Wells contract, and the Giants’ suffering through the Barry Zito contract.
When spending goes wrong, it can financially cripple a franchise, who is then responsible for allocating funds to an under-performing player while still trying to field a competitive team around that player. Teams seem more likely to take those types of risks, though. Due to the incoming revenue from the TV deals, teams like the Cleveland Indians, who celebrated the sale of the franchise owned SportsTime Ohio to Fox Sports this winter by signing Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher, are more capable of making these potentially fatal bids.
Will the money continue to be there for clubs to take on these large, risky contracts?
Pete Kotz had an amazing story about the leagues finances, and while discussing television deals, he says:
With no one saying no, the networks see sports as a no-lose racket, with ESPN as its piper. The sports channel charges cable companies $5 a month per customer, by far the highest monthly fee in national television. While that may seem a pittance, it’s big money when spread over the 100 million U.S. households with pay TV. And it’s made the other big boys envious.
NBC and CBS have launched their own sports channels. Another from Fox is on the way. Even regional sports channels are starting to broach that $5 mark. Their bet is that viewers will always be willing to pay more. And more. And more.
…Today, the average TV bill rests at $86 per month, about half of which pays for sports programming. That’s more than double a decade ago. So it’s no coincidence that the cable and satellite industries have been jettisoning customers for nine years straight.
”I can’t tell you what will be the trigger,” says Matthew Polka, president of the American Cable Association. “But I am certain that at some point in the very near future, that balloon will burst.”
As cable and satellite customers are forced to pay more and they continue to leave those companies in an effort to save money, the money will eventually not be coming in. The cable and satellite companies will likely battle with the club’s networks to get lower rates, and there could be something drastic, like CBS being taken away from major markets. Eventually, the boom in finances and long-term contracts will go away and the inevitable crash will make it harder for clubs to make large financial commitments to star players. Imagine if the housing market was responsible for financing people’s salaries and when the market for home sales crashed how disastrous that could have been…but it did and it was miserable for the entire economy.
Major League Baseball is exempt from some things due to anti-trust laws, but nothing is too big to fail.
Who Is Worth a Mega-Contract?
It may seem easy to say that locking up players within their pre-arbitration or arbitration years to lucrative, long-term contracts seems more intelligent than waiting until free agency, as the annual salaries can slowly increase rather than starting and sitting at $25 million per year for eight straight seasons. A few examples of players who could be worth a long-term investment in this scenario:
- Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout is earning $510,000 in 2013 and he is pre-arbitration in 2014 before being eligible for arbitration in 2015, 2016, and 2017. If Trout continues his torrid pace for the next four seasons and reaches free agency in 2018 at the age of 26, what types of maniacal offers will he be receiving at that point?
- Nationals’ outfielder Bryce Harper signed a major league contract and will be arbitration eligible in 2016, 2017, and 2018 before reaching free agency at the age of 25 in 2019. Like Trout, he has posted absurd numbers, given his age, and, with Scott Boras as his current agent, could own half of a franchise based on what he will be offered in free agency.
- Orioles third baseman Manny Machado, Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Marlins’ right-hander Jose Fernandez, Marlins’ right-fielder Giancarlo Stanton, and Mets’ right-hander Matt Harvey (upon his return in 2015 from elbow surgery…if he is just as productive and dominant) are additional players who fit this mold.
Why are these types of players worth a long-term investment? Because they are young, producing prior to their prime years, and are more likely to continue producing towards the end of a 10 to 15 year extension than a player who turns 40 or 41 in year ten of their long-term contracts, like Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.
These are the types of mega-contracts that seem more reasonable and realistic for franchises, while being less likely to provide a curse on the investing bidder. Because the player is within the grasp of the franchise already, the team has all kinds of data available to analyze, they have coaches and front office personnel who have strong relationships with the player, and the fan-base, media, and community surrounding the player are already familiar, so it could be assumed that there are fewer outside influences that could impact player performance.
Regardless of the potential that these younger players possess, any long-term contract remains a risk for the franchise. If the clubs suddenly refuse to offer these types of contracts, however, the league and its owners would likely be accused of collusion. The mega-contract isn’t going away anytime soon. Despite future reluctance to meet the demands of players and agents to attain these large salaries, there will likely be enough money, or a few teams with large enough revenue streams, for at least one of these deals to be made each offseason. As fewer and fewer star players seem to reach free agency due to long-term commitments with their existing franchise (like Votto, Troy Tulowitzki, and Carlos Gonzalez), the stars that do reach free agency will likely continue to get the lucrative deals.
- It doesn’t matter that the Lerners are the wealthiest owners in baseball (halfstreetheartattack.com)
- Pujols’ contract rising, production declining (espn.go.com)
- Votto’s value extends way beyond plating runs (mlb.mlb.com)
- About that 12 year contract for Harper (halfstreetheartattack.com)
There were seven no-hitters in Major League Baseball in 2012, a number that won’t be touched in 2013 due to only two occurring to this point, barring a complete hitting meltdown. However, pitching has dominated MLB since the big-headed monsters of the steroid era have begun to disappear from the game. Since 2000, pitching has taken over the game:
The numbers show a pretty dramatic increase in strikeouts since 2000 with a drop in walks, batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. While it could be blamed on the lack of juicers in the game, there are still position players posting absurd offensive numbers, like Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Mike Trout. But what is it that has changed the game?
Pitchers, for their part, have seen increase almost across the board in their production:
Strikeouts per nine are up, walks are down, left on base percentage is up, and ERA is down. All of this could coincide with the fact that fastball velocity is up (since Pitch/FX stats have become available), but there could be other reasons for such dramatic increases in pitching skills, like fielding:
For those of you unfamiliar with RZR and OOZ, FanGraphs defines them this way:
RZR: via The Hardball Times: “Revised Zone Rating is the proportion of balls hit into a fielder’s zone that he successfully converted into an out. Zone Rating was invented by John Dewan when he was CEO of Stats Inc. John is now the owner of Baseball Info Solutions, where he has revised the original Zone Rating calculation so that it now lists balls handled out of the zone (OOZ) separately (and doesn’t include them in the ZR calculation) and doesn’t give players extra credit for double plays (Stats had already made that change). We believe both changes improve Zone Ratings substantially. To get a full picture of a player’s range, you should evaluate both his Revised Zone Rating and his plays made out of zone (OOZ).”
OOZ: Plays made out of zone.
It appears that with fewer errors, a slight increase in fielding percentage, and more plays made outside of the fielder’s zone, tied in with more strikeouts and more runners left on base (likely due to fewer errors and more plays being made), could also be a reason behind pitcher dominance.
Velocity and defense go a long way in stopping the opposition, and with more teams accepting the value of defense (like Arizona dealing Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius and Texas giving a huge contract to Elvis Andrus), offensive production could continue to decline. When the likes of Gregorius (.705 OPS), Andrus (.632 OPS), and Andrelton Simmons (.659 OPS) are playing defense and not hitting at league average levels, that also helps the opposition pitching in a way. Is it worth giving up offense for defensive gain when the strong fielder is such a weak hitter? Getting an out and giving an out is equal to zero, right?
Considering that the top 10 starting pitchers in ERA (Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey (R.I.P.), Jose Fernandez, Adam Wainwright, Anibal Sanchez, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Hiroki Kuroda, Max Scherzer, and Patrick Corbin) have an average age of 27.5, and that’s including the outliers (Kuroda at 38 and Wainwright at 31), there will likely be more years of pitching dominance on the horizon. Regardless of the video game-like numbers that a select few offensive players will produce, if or when top starting pitching prospects, like Dylan Bundy, Archie Bradley, Taijuan Walker, and Robert Stephenson finally reach the Majors and reach their potential (hopefully), we could feel additional breezes in the stands from the bats striking nothing but air as we watch more 3-1 baseball games.