Thursday, November 29, 2012

Braves Land Upton

Yesterday the Atlanta Braves made a splash by inking B.J. Upton to a five year deal worth $75.25 million, the largest free agent contract in the team's history.

Justin Upton's older brother will replace free agent Michael Bourn in center field. Bourn (now favored to sign with Philadelphia) is also seeking a five year deal but turns 30 next month, so Atlanta deemed him to be a riskier investment than Upton, who posted the worst OBP and walk rate of his career last year.

Bossman Junior has been something of an enigma throughout his major league career. He appeared to be on the path to superstardom after slugging 24 home runs, swiping 22 bases and batting .300/.386/.508 as a tender 22 year-old in 2007. But instead of making the leap like Matt Kemp and Andrew McCutchen have, Upton regressed and became a perennial disappointment. He clearly possesses all the tools, but has yet to put them together and probably never will.  To make matters worse, he's stubborn and immature with a history of clashing with management and teammates when they rightfully question his lack of effort and focus.

His mental approach has prevented him from realizing his abundant potential, and so the chasm between what he is and what grows wider with each frustrating season.  Since breaking out five years ago he's batted an underwhelming .248/.330/.416 while averaging 18 home runs and 69 RBI per year; hardly superstar production. The former second overall pick of the 2002 draft has been labeled as an underachiever, a gifted player content to coast on his abundant natural ability without putting in the hard work that could make him a franchise centerpiece.  Middling power numbers, massive strikeout totals and cringe-worthy batting averages have torpedoed what is supposed to be the prime of his career.  He's never been selected to an All-Star team, received a single MVP vote or taken home any hardware in the form of Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves or World Series rings.  His amazing 2008 ALDS and ALCS teased us by providing a breathtaking glimpse of Upton's ability to get in the zone and take his game to unbelievable heights.

But he just doesn't reach them often enough.  He's maddeningly inconsistent, prone to lengthy slumps and constant headaches.  The Rays, clearly frustrated with his lack of progress and poor attitude, shopped him in the past. They were willing to part ways with him because he was more trouble than he was worth, and because they have the second coming of B.J. Upton in Desmond Jennings (a toolsy outfielder with a .248/.327/.406 career batting line)

Hopefully a change of scenery will do him some good.  Maybe he'll be more motivated and will try harder now that he plays in a city where fans actually show up to games every now and then. The move from pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field to the more neutral Turner Field should help boost his numbers a bit even though Upton's career home/road splits are identical. After all, he did post career highs with his 28 dingers (12 in September) and 260 total bases 2012. His home run totals have improved every year since 2008, jumping from nine to 28, which leads one to wonder if he can continue this trend and become a 30/30 player in 2013.

But is Upton a better investment than Bourn? I don't think so. Upton is two years younger, but over the past five seasons Bourn has been almost twice as valuable. Check it out:

Bourn 3,222 PAs  18.3 bWAR  .272/.338/.365   91 OPS+
Upton 3,149 PAs  10.3 bWAR  .248/.330/.416  104 OPS+

It's tough to compare the two because they're totally different players. Bourn is a leadoff (read: singles) hitter who relies on his blazing speed to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Upton is like Jason Heyward, a middle-of-the-order bat who balances power with speed. Upton's power (more home runs last year than Bourn has in his entire career) makes him a superior hitter, but Bourn is the better baserunner and defender.

But Bourn has reached his ceiling. He is coming off a season in which he set personal bests in bWAR, home runs, RBI, walks, slugging, and OPS. Atlanta's front office was worried that Bourn's speed, his most valuable asset, would diminish with age/that he would fall apart like Carl Crawford has. But plenty of speedsters have remained valuable into their thirties, from Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines to Ichiro Suzuki and Juan Pierre (a good comp for Bourn who just batted .307 in his age-34 season). I understand why GM Frank Wren shied away from Bourn and overpaid Upton instead. Upton is younger, adds more pop and provides a much-needed right-handed bat for a lineup loaded with southpaw mashers like Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Brian McCann  It probably won't make much of a difference either way, given how close the two players are in terms of value.

And if Upton ever figures it out and becomes the player he's capable of, this deal will look like quite a bargain five years from now.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Rough Year for Red Sox

Rough Year for Red Sox on Dipity.

A look back at many of the things that went wrong for the Boston Red Sox in 2012, from Bobby Valentine and Josh Beckett to Kevin Youkilis, Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury.

Monday, November 19, 2012

MVP Reaction

The debate between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera has been raging for months, and by this point it's been analyzed to death. I don't want to beat a dead horse, so I'm just going to say this. Mike Trout deserved to win the American League Most Valuable Player award. So did Miguel Cabrera. Trout deserved it more. He should have been the third player to win both Rookie of the Year honors and the MVP award in the same season (Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the others).

I don't mean to bash Cabrera here, because he had a monster season. He really did. Besides leading the league with his .330-44-139 produciton, he also led the majors with his .999 OPS and 377 total bases. Hands down the best hitter in baseball this year. No disrespect to Cabrera, but his numbers weren't that special (they look like your typical Manny Ramirez year, or something out of Jim Rice's prime). Trout had one of the greatest seasons of all time. There is no compelling argument for why Miggy should have won over Trout, especially by such a huge margin;

-Cabrera won the Triple Crown, which is cool. Nobody had done it since Carl Yastrzemski's magical 1967 season. But Trout became the first player ever to score at least 125 runs, hit 30 homers and steal 45 bases.

-Cabrera hit better down the stretch (August and September), but Trout was better in May, June, and July. Last time I checked, a win in May counts just as much in the standings as it does in September.

-Sure, the Tigers made the playoffs and the Angels didn't, but LA actually won one more game in Detroit despite playing in a much tougher division. While Detroit got to beat up on the Twins, Royals, and Indians, LA had to duke it out with Oakland and Texas all summer long. The Halos missed the playoffs because Pujols had the worst April of his career, Mark Trumbo disappeared after the All-Star Break, Ervin Santana fell apart and Dan Haren had the worst full season of his career. How is any of that Trout's fault? If the team hadn't kept him buried in the minors for most of April it probably would have reached the postseason. And I'm sick of the notion that the MVP has to come from a playoff team (it cost Matt Kemp the award last year). The best player deserves to win. Period.

-Trout had the best season by a 20 year-old has ever had. Better than Alex Rodriguez's 1996, Ted Williams' 1939 and Ty Cobb's 1907. Cabrera didn't even have the best season of his career (his last two years were better).

-Trout was the best defensive centerfielder (forget Adam Jones winning the Gold Glove, Trout won the Fielding Bible Award) and the best baserunner in baseball. Cabrera "sacrificed" by moving back to third base to make room for Prince Fielder, but he is average at the hot corner and average on the basepaths.

-Cabrera hit better with runners on base, but he also had 138 more men on base than Trout did over the course of the season and also grounded into two dozen more double plays. Besides, WPA (the best statistic for measuring "clutch") shows that Trout was superior in high leverage situations.

-Forget the batting title. Every baseball fan worth his salt knows OBP is more important, and Trout's .399 mark tops Cabrera's .393.

-Last but not least, Trout was worth 10.7 bWAR, the most any position player has had since Barry Bonds ten years ago. Cabrera was worth 6.9, becoming the first Triple Crown winner not to lead his league in in WAR. You tell me who was more valuable.

As for the National League, it was a foregone conclusion that Buster Posey would win the award after his monster second half helped San Francisco reclaim the NL West. Even though his counting numbers paled in comparison to Ryan Braun's, Posey's 7.2 bWAR led the league. The Giants backstop posted the best batting average and OPS+ in the majors. He cut down more would-be basestealers than any catcher in baseball. Put it all together and Posey became the first NL catcher to win the award since Johnny Bench took home the trophy in 1972 (looking at Mike Piazza's player page it's a wonder he never won.)

I was happy to see Braun get the credit he deserved for another phenomenal season. The 2011 NL MVP paced the Senior Circuit in runs, homers, OPS, total bases, and extra base hits while finishing second in hits, slugging, RBI. He was the only player in the league to go 30/30, something he did last year as well.  He was undoubtedly the top hitter in th NL this year, and had the Brewers made the playoffs the vote would have been much closer. As it is, he finished a distant second but still received ten first place votes. I thought the BBWAA would punish him for his testosterone red flag last October, but they gave him a fair shake. Andrew McCutchen (third) and Yadier Molina (fourth) took the remaining pair of first place votes, while NL RBI leader Chase Headley rounded out the top five.

Other notes of interest:
The AL  truly was a two-horse race. Cabrera and Trout received all 28 first place votes. I'm a little surprised that Robinson Cano or Josh Hamilton didn't get any.

Justin Verlander, the Cy Young runner-up, finished four spots higher than David Price, who won the award.

Albert Pujols wound up 17th, the first time in his career he missed the top ten. Before this season he'd made the top five every year from 2001-2011 except 2007, when he finished ninth.

Nobody on the Boston Red Sox received MVP consideration, and rightfully so. Can't remember the last time that happened.

Hunter Pence made his way onto the ballot despite skidding to the finish line with a .253/.319/.425 batting line and 0.8 bWAR. I'm guessing someone was impressed with his 24 home runs and 104 RBI.

Chipper Jones received consideration for the 13th and final time in his career.

And who in God's name voted for Raul Ibanez? (probably the same guy who threw David Robertson a vote last season; the man needs to be stopped). Ibanez batted .240/.308/.453 and was worth a paltry 0.3 bWAR. I can think of many players more deserving of that vote; Curtis Granderson, David Ortiz, Chris Davis, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, and the biggest snub; Austin Jackson. A-Jax led the league in triples, maintained a .377 OBP and scored 103 runs setting the table for Prince Fielder and the MVP.

Tricky Dickey, Price is Right

Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw replicated their numbers from 2011, when both won their league's pitching triple crowns and Cy Young awards, except in one important category.

Wins. Both won seven fewer games than they did last season.

C'mon guys. I thought we were past this. Didn't the 2009 and 2010 awards (when Zack Greinke, Felix Hernandez and Tim Lincecum won despite less than stellar win totals) prove anything?

Guess not. This time around, the decidedly old-school BBWAA went with the traditional stats and compelling narrative.

Suddenly, Verlander wasn't even in the conversation for his second AL MVP despite accruing 7.5 bWAR, third most in the baseball behind Mike Trout and Robinson Cano (he finished eighth in the voting behind Josh Hamilton, Adam Jones and Derek Jeter, who combined for 8.9 bWAR). Neither was Kershaw, who finished 16th even though his 6.6 bWAR put him in the same ballpark with Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, Andrew McCutchen, Yadier Molina, Chase Headley, and David Wright.

R.A. Dickey, at the ripe old age of 38 became the first knuckleballer to win the award by capturing 27 of 32 possible first place votes. He joined Dwight Gooden and Tom Seaver as the only players in the 50 year history of the New York Mets to win the award.

Dickey had been sneaky-good in 2010 and 2011, but unless you're a die-hard Mets fan or had him on your fantasy team I doubt you noticed. This year, he became a household name. He won 20 games despite playing for a bad team. He led the league in innings, shutouts, and complete games. He paced the league in strikeouts.

Dickey won largely on the strength of his dominant first half. Prior to the All-Star break he went 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA and 0.93 WHIP while fanning more than a batter per inning. Predictably, he leveled off a bit in the season's final three months, but still pitched well enough to finish with outstanding overall numbers. That Matt Cain, not Dickey, started the All-Star Game remains a mystery.

Choosing between him and Kershaw was splitting hairs. But Dickey had such an incredible backstory, and Kershaw just won last year, so the voters favored Dickey.

Perfectly understandable, even though Kershaw was better by the slimmest of margins.

Never mind the fact that Kershaw posted the best ERA in the major leagues for the second year in a row. Or that he was literally the most unhittable pitcher in baseball (his 6.7 H/9 led both leagues). Or how about the fact that he had the best WHIP in the NL?

Impossible to go wrong with either candidate here. I prefer Kershaw, but have no issue with Dickey winning. Both deserved it, just like Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera both deserved to win the AL MVP award. Somebody had to lose.

The wrong man lost in the American League. Verlander was once again the best pitcher in baseball. He deserved to become the first AL hurler to win consecutive Cy Youngs since Pedro Martinez was at the peak of his powers at the turn of the century. JV paced the majors in strikeouts, innings, batters faced, and ERA+. He also had the most adjusted pitching runs, adjusted pitching wins and situational wins.

David Price, my preseason favorite for the award, tied Jered Weaver (who finished third) for the league lead in wins with 20. He also posted the best winning percentage (.800) and ERA (2.56) in the Junior Circuit. But when you consider that wins are dependent on factors outside of a pitcher's control, and that Verlander's 2.64 ERA was actually more impressive according to ERA+, then the basis of Price's candidacy falls apart.

That Verlander finished four spots higher on the AL MVP ballot should tell you all you need to know.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Johnson, Melvin Best Managers

Davey Johnson and Bob Melvin were named managers of the year on Tuesday after leading their respective clubs to the postseason. Both were eliminated during the division series, but that disappointing result doesn't take anything away from the phenomenal seasons enjoyed by these two skippers.

Eleven years removed from his last managerial gig, Johnson took over the Washington Nationals halfway through last season three days after Jim Riggleman unexpectedly resigned. The Nats went 40-43 under his command to finish the season one game below .500. Johnson agreed to come back, and the front office deepened his pitching arsenal by signing Edwin Jackson and trading for Gio Gonzalez.

Heading into 2012 the Nationals were viewed as an intriguing team loaded with young talent, but was probably another year or two away from making the leap to bona fide contenders. Certainly nobody expected them to wrestle the division away from the star-studded Phillies, winners of 102 games in 2011. The Braves were going to be tough as always, and the Marlins looked dangerous after adding Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell via free agency. Even though the NL East was shaping up to be a crowded field, it was reasonable to assume the Nats would win more than they would lose. In my own preseason predictions, I projected Washington to win 86 games and finish third in their division. Best case scenario, maybe they would win 90, 92 tops.

But 98 wins? In that division? Not even Washington's slickest politicians could have spun that one to make it sound believable.

But it happened. The new-look Marlins tanked. Philadelphia floundered. The Mets disappointed. Washington saw a golden opportunity and seized it by the throat. The Nats hit the ground running, jumping out to a 14-4 start and never looking back. They held first place in the NL East fot all but 13 games, including every day after May 21st. At no point in the season did they ever fall below second place. When the dust settled at the end of the season, Washington owned the best record in the bigs. This year's vintage brought playoff baseball back to the nation's capitol for the first time since 1933, only to choke away a six run lead in Game 5 of the NLDS.

Washington's dominance can be explained in one word; pitching. Stephen Strasburg was the dominant force everyone thought he would be before he was shut down. Gio Gonzalez led the majors in wins and had a Cy Young-caliber season. Jordan Zimmermann retained his title as the best pitcher nobody talks about. Ross Detwiler and Edwin Jackson rounded out the rotation. The starting five missed just a dozen starts between them. The bullpen was just as strong despite losing closer Drew Storen for the first half.

The offense survived injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos, Ian Desmond, and Mike MorseAdam LaRoche rebounded from a lost 2011 to slug 33 home runs and drive in 100 with a huge contract year. NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper had the best season ever by a teenager. Desmond emerged as the league's top shortstop.

Johnson, who turns 70 next year, will manage the Nationals again in 2013 before becoming a consultant. Washington has all the pieces in place and is constructed to contend for years to come. I like their chances of making the World Series next season

Like Johnson, Melvin stepped into the manager's role halfway through last year. He guided the A's to a 47-52 finish, decent enough given their 27-36 start under Bob Geren.

But Billy Beane clearly didn't view his team as a contender in the near future, so he cashed in his established talent for young, unproven prospects. He dealt Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Guillermo Moscoso, Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney for the likes of Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, A.J. Cole and Seth Smith. He let Hideki Matsui, David Dejesus and Josh Willingham, his best hitter, walk.

Hamstrung by his organization's microscopic payroll, Beane blew up his roster and started from scratch. But, as usual, he managed to stretch the money he did have. Beane splurged on Yoenis Cespedes, his one big signing, then raided the bargain bin. The shrewd GM scooped up Bartolo Colon, Brandon Moss, Jonny Gomes, and Brandon Inge for next to nothing. After a busy winter, Beane had somehow managed to cobble together his usual band of misfits. Best case scenario, they'd finish close to .500.

Oakland was written off before Spring Training. The AL West  a battle for supremacy between the Texas Rangers and the Los Angeles Angels, reducing the A's and Seattle Mariners to glorified punching bags. How could Oakland compete against the two-time defending AL champs, who brought back all their key players and added Yu Darvish? How could they possibly beat the Halos, who signed the best hitter (Albert Pujols) and best pitcher (C.J. Wilson) on the market? Surely these two powerhouses would eat the A's alive. Nobody, myself included, gave them a snowball's chance in hell.

For the first half of the season, Oakland was the team everybody thought they would be. In other words, not very good. After losing to the Rangers on June 30th they fell to 37-42. They weren't hitting, and their young players were struggling to find consistency. Then the calendar flipped to July and they became the best team and best story in baseball overnight. From July 1st onward, the Oakland A's went 57-26. That's a .687 winning percentage, folks. They rode this second half surge all the way to the finish line, chasing down the Texas Rangers and stealing the division from them on the season's final day.

The A's racked up 94 wins by squeezing just enough offense out of their lineup to back their outstanding pitching, which ranked second among AL teams in ERA. Cespedes lived up to the hype. Josh Reddick came out of nowhere to become the best all-around rightfielder in the American League. The bullpen, minus Brian Fuentes and Tyson Ross, was untouchable.

But, as Billy Beane's teams are apt to do, the A's folded in the playoffs. They took the Tigers to the brink in the ALDS after falling behind 2-0, but Justin Verlander slammed the door on their Cinderella season with a complete game shutout. Oakland's magical run was over.

By now I should know better than to count them out, but I don't see the A's returning to the postseason next season. I know I said the same thing in the preseason, but the Rangers and Angels are too good. I feel like the A's caught lightning in a bottle this year, like the Mavericks did during their championship run two summers ago. But it's not like everything went right for Oakland, either. Colon was busted for PED use. Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson missed time. Jemile Weeks was terrible. If they can stay healthy next year and perform up to their potential, their contributions should help offset some expected regression to the mean.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Harper, Trout Top Rookies

The Rookie of the Year results were announced on Monday, and there weren't too many surprises. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, neither of whom were old enough to drink when the season began, took home the trophies.

Trout, as expected, won unanimously by collecting all 28 first place votes and becoming the youngest player to win the AL award, beating out Lou Whitaker's 1978. Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes finished second on the strength of his 23 home runs, 16 steals and 137 OPS+. In a normal year, he takes home the trophy, especially given the prominent role he played in Oakland's division-winning season. Yu Darvish, the most anticipated Japanese pitcher since Daisuke Matsuzaka, finished third after winning 16 games, piling up 221 strikeouts and posting the second highest K/9 rate in baseball behind Max Scherzer. He also had the third lowest H/9 and HR/9 ratios despite calling The Ballpark in Arlington, a notorious hitter's park, home. His 89 walks (fourth most) and inconsistency were concerns, but if he can improve his command he'll be able to achieve his Cy Young potential. It will be interesting to see if he can avoid the pitfalls, namely wildness, inconsistency and fragility, that plagued Matsuzaka and made Boston rue the day they ponied up more than $100 million to make him a Red Sock.

Fellow starting pitchers Wei-Yin Chen (fourth) and Jarrod Parker (fifth) rounded out the AL ballot. Chen proved to be a nice pickup for the Orioles, stabilizing the rotation and serving as the de facto ace after knee surgery derailed Jason Hammel's career year. The Taiwanese southpaw made 32 starts and led the team in wins (12), strikeouts (154) and innings pitched (192.2). As for Parker, the 23 year-old emerged in his A's debut after Arizona traded him, Ryan Cook and Collin Cowgill for Trevor Cahill, Craig Breslow and cash. Parker won 13 games with a 3.47 ERA while posting the second lowest HR/9 ratio in the Junior Circuit (only Felix Hernandez was better). His glaring home/road splits are something to keep an eye on next year.

The National League race was much tighter. Bryce Harper became the second youngest winner ever (behind Dwight Gooden) and captured 16 of 32 first place votes. However, he won by a difference of only seven points. Runner-up Wade Miley received a dozen first place votes and had a legitimate claim to the award after going 16-11 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Most impressively he walked just 37 batters in 194.2 innings of work while fanning nearly four times as many. If Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson bounce back next year, Arizona is going to have a formidable starting rotation. Cincinatti's Todd Frazier did a great job filling in for Scott Rolen, providing Harper's numbers without the flair. He got three first place votes for his efforts. Fourth place Wilin Rosario earned the remaining first place vote. Colorado's slugging backstop led all catchers with 28 home runs and his .530 SLG, but also led them in errors and passed balls. His combination of prodigious power and defensive struggles reminds me of Mike Napoli.

Norichika Aoki, a 30 year-old Japanese rookie, placed fifth. The Brewers leadoff hitter batted a solid .288, reached base nearly 36 percent of the time and displayed some pop with 51 extra base hits. He also stole 30 bases and scored 81 runs. Nothing special here; just a very steady, underrated ballplayer. Had nearly identical numbers to Alejandro De Aza.

Yander Alonso, Matt Carpenter and Jordan Pacheco all tied for sixth with one point apiece. Alonso led all rookies with 155 games played, but his counting stats were unimpressive and none of his numbers stand out besides his 39 doubles and .348 OBP. To be fair, he does play for the Padres.Carpenter proved to be a decent replacement for Lance Berkman by batting .294/.365.,463 and figures to put up good numbers as a regular next season. Pacheco, like his teammate Rosario, had issues in the field but compensated with terrific production at the dish. He batted a Coors Field-inflated .309, cracked 32 doubles, and drove in 33 runs over the season's final two months. Could be the next Garrett Atkins.

Now I would like to direct your attention to the two winners.

Trout, the five-tool stud projected as a future Mickey Mantle, struggled in his initial call-up two summers ago. The 19 year-old barely batted his weight and had more strikeouts than hits. He showed flashes--a long home run here, a nice running catcher there--but clearly wasn't ready for the Show. Little more than a year later he's looking back on an MVP caliber season, the greatest campaign ever produced by  20 year-old according to bWAR. Better than Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, and all the rest. He paced the major leagues in runs (129), stolen bases (49) and bWAR (10.7) something no rookie had ever done before. He was the only American Leaguer to go 30/30 (Ryan Braun did so in the NL) and became the first rookie to turn the trick. He helped the Angels overcome their 6-14 start and make a run at a Wild Card berth. He overshadowed Albert Pujols, the greatest hitter in baseball for over a decade. He took away home runs and our collective breath. He did it all. His all-around contributions rivaled anything Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio or Ken Griffey Jr. ever did.

Trout was so good that he made everyone outside of Washington D.C. forget about baseball's LeBron James, reducing the Chosen One to mere afterthought. Even when Trout wasn't stealing the headlines, the controversy surrounding Stephen Strasburg's premature shutdown became a dominant storyline in the second half. Meanwhile, Harper had the best season by a teenager since Tony Conigliaro, though it was not without its fair share of ups and downs. Harper's rollercoaster season was marked by a strong start, brutal middle and torrid finish. At the end of the day he produced a solid .270/.340/.477 (119 OPS+) batting line while scoring 98 runs, smacking 22 homers and swiping 18 bases. He also provided 5.0 bWAR (setting a new record for teenagers by obliterating Mel Ott's previous mark), made his first All-Star team (becoming the youngest position player to do so) and gave the Nationals a much needed shot in the arm when their lineup was devastated by injuries to Ryan Zimmerman, Mike Morse, and Wilson Ramos, sparking the Nats to the best record in baseball.

Interestingly, both debuted on the same day, April 28th, after wasting nearly a full month in the minors. Here are what their numbers might have looked like had they made the Opening Day rosters:

162 Game Projections (each actually played 139)
Harper 114 runs, 167 hits, 30 doubles, 10 triples, 25 home runs, 68 RBI, 20 steals, 296 total bases
Trout 150 runs, 212 hits, 31 doubles, 9 triples, 34 home runs, 96 RBI, 57 steals, 367 total bases

Impressive, no? If both teams played their budding superstars from Day 1, the Nationals probably would have won at least 100 games and the Halos probably would have made the playoffs.

But that's in the past. The real question is; what can these guys do for an encore? Will they pick up where they left off, or will they suffer through extended sophomore slumps like the ones that plagued Jason Heyward and Eric Hosmer? Trout just had one of the greatest seasons of all time, so he's a sure bet to regress. I'm also less than enthusiastic about the way he finished the season, batting .287/.383/.500 from August 1st onward. Harper, on the other hand, ended the year on fire. I think his 2012 numbers are his floor for next year and expect him to at least hold steady if not improve.

Celtics Correlation

used the 2012-2013 Boston Celtics to look at the correlation between minutes per game and points per game.

Boston has played just seven games to date, so the sample size is pretty small. Nevertheless, there's an obvious correlation between the amount of minutes players receive and the amount of points they score. Simply put, more playing time means more points, and less playing time corresponds to fewer points scored. Who would have guessed?

In basketball, scoring is all about opportunity. It's impossible for a player to score when he's riding the pine. The more time he spends on the floor, the more shots he takes and the more points he scores.

Paul Pierce, the team's captain and leading scorer, ranks second in minutes per game. Kevin Garnett rates second in points and third in minutes. This trend holds true for the reserves as well as the starting five. Darko Millicic and Kris Joseph, the benchwarmers, play less frequently than anybody else on the team. Accordingly, they rank dead last among Celtics in points per game.

I found it interesting that Rajon Rondo leads the team in minutes but ranks third in points per game. This probably has something to do with the fact that he's leading the NBA in assists with just under 13 dimes per game. As a pass-first point guard, his job is to set up teammates and facilitate the offense, so it makes sense that his scoring totals are somewhat suppressed. Rondo has shown the ability to score at will in the past, especially during the playoffs, but instead sacrifices many scoring opportunities for the good of the team.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Posey for MVP

MLB award season is in full swing, and starting tomorrow the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their selections for the sport's top rookies, managers, pitchers, and most valuable players. All eyes are on Thursday, when the MVPs will be revealed.

Both races were hotly contested this year and there figures to be plenty of controversy regardless of who wins.  The American League award is too close to call and seems destined to end in a photo finish between wunderkind Mike Trout and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera (Trout should win, but Cabrera probably will win). Buster Posey appears to be the favorite in the National League but is far from a sure thing. Andrew McCutchen, Ryan Braun and Yadier Molina all have compelling cases as well.

I recently read an article arguing against Posey and felt compelled to plead his case. No National League catcher has won the award since Johnny Bench in 1972, but Posey deserves it. Here are five good reasons why he should take home the trophy:

1. Posey led the National League in Wins Above Replacement (WAR)
WAR is one of my favorite stats because it combines batting, defense and baserunning to represent a player's value based on how many additional wins he provides compared to a replacement level player. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs use different methods to calculate this statistic, but both sites have Posey leading the National League.

2. Posey led the major leagues in Adjusted OPS+
By that measure, which takes the league's offensive environment and the player's home ballpark into account, he was the best hitter in baseball this year. Better than Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, and all the rest. Accordingly, Posey received the NL Hank Aaron Award, awarded annually by the MLB to the best hitter in each league. Posey is the first catcher to win the award.

3. Posey led the NL in Adjusted Batting Runs, Adusted Batting Wins, and Base-Out Wins Added
He topped the Senior Circuit in these three important advanced statistics. Adjusted Batting Runs estimates a player’s total contributions to a team’s runs . Adjusted Batting Wins estimates a player’s total contributions to a team’s wins with his bat. Base-Out Wins Added deduces the number of wins above average the player was worth by his performance measured by the 24 base-out situations across every play in the game.

4. Posey became the first catcher to win a batting title in 70 years (since Ernie Lombardi)
Granted, he won on a technicality, but it remains an impressive feat nevertheless (thanks to Melky Cabrera).

5. Posey led the majors in caught stealing
He gunned down more potential basestealers (38) than any other catcher, including Yadier Molina who is widely regarded as the best defensive backstop in baseball. Posey is no Ivan Rodriguez, but next year runners should think twice before testing his quick reflexes and strong arm.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Silver Sluggers Review

The winners of MLB's Silver Slugger awards were announced on Thursday to honor the best hitters at each position. Like Gold Gloves, these awards are voted on by coaches and managers. But whereas Gold Gloves typically miss the mark, these awards do a much better job of identifying those that enjoyed the best offensive seasons. There were a couple selections I disagreed with, but on the whole the voters got them right this year.

C A.J. Pierzynski
A 35 year-old catcher having a career year is pretty rare, but it couldn't have come at a better time for the veteran backstop. Pierzynski enters free agency after winning his first Silver Slugger and setting personal bests in runs, home runs, walks, slugging, OPS, OPS+ and total bases. His 27 dingers surpassed every catcher in baseball not named Wilin Rosario and were ten more than he hit in the previous two seasons combined.

1B Prince Fielder
The hefty slugger did not appear phased by his new giant contract nor his transition to the American League. As expected, his power numbers sagged somewhat, but at the end of the day Fielder still put together an incredible all-around season.  The Tigers cleanup hitter batted a robust .313/.412/.528, walked more than he struck out, and reached the 30 home run benchmark for the sixth consecutive season.

2B Robinson Cano
Terrible postseason notwithstanding, Cano was far and away the best second baseman in baseball this year. The Yankees keystone set career highs in runs scored, homers, walks, total bases, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and extra base hits to take home his third straight Silver Slugger (fourth overall).

3B Miguel Cabrera
Miggy moved back across the diamond to make room for Prince Fielder and manned the hot corner everyday for the first time since 2007. Not only did Cabrera provide adequate defense there, but he also made history by winning the first Triple Crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

SS Derek Jeter
The 38 year-old face of baseball continued his assault on the record books this year. His 216 base knocks topped the major leagues as he leapfrogged the likes of George Brett, Cal Ripken Jr. and Willie Mays on the all-time hit list. His .316 batting average led all shortstops and his 99 runs scored were second only to Jimmy Rollins at the position.

LF Josh Willingham
Willingham, fresh off signing a three year, $21 million deal with the Twins, was a beast in the heart of Minnesota's order batting cleanup behind OBP-machine Joe Mauer. The hulking slugger brought back memories of Harmon Killebrew with his 35 circuit drives and 110 RBI. Good to see Willingham finally get some recognition. He has always been productive on a per game basis, but now that he's been healthy the past two seasons he compiled monster numbers despite playing for terrible offensive teams in ballparks that suppress power figures.

CF Mike Trout
The major league leader in runs (129), steals (49) and bWAR (10.7) has his first Silver Slugger award, and I'm betting it won't be his last.

RF Josh Hamilton
Hamilton couldn't maintain his torrid start but still finished his contract year with some gaudy totals. His 43 home runs, 128 RBI, .577 slugging percentage, and AB/HR ratio all ranked second in the American League. The modern day Mickey Mantle is primed for a massive payday this winter.

DH Billy Butler
During his first five seasons with the Royals, Butler was a high average, high doubles hitter in the same mold as Nick Markakis, leaving many to wonder when/if his home run power would ever develop. Well, this year some of those two-baggers cleared the fences. Butler emerged as a legitimate power threat with his 29 home runs, 107 RBI and .510 slugging percentage all setting new career highs. Not taking anything away from Country Breakfast, but Edwin Encarnacion deserved this award after breaking out Jose Bautista-style. E-5 posted the best AB/HR rate in the American League , finished third in slugging (.557) and RBI (110) while his 42 big flies placed him fourth. On an injury-riddled Blue Jays squad, Encarnacion was one of the few bright spots. It will be interesting to see if, like Joey Bats, he can sustain his success and avoid becoming a one-hit wonder.

C Buster Posey
The cornerstone of San Francisco's championship team led both leagues in batting with his .336 mark, becoming the first National League backstop to win a batting title since Ernie Lombardi in 1942.  Posey also posted the best OPS+ in the majors, drove in 103 runs and had a second half for the ages; starting July 8th he batted a sizzling .386/.458/.649. While most catchers wear down during the dog days of summer, Posey took his game to another level as the Giants ran away with the division.

1B Adam LaRoche
Written off after his disastrous debut with Washington that ended with shoulder surgery last year, LaRoche rebounded with a Mark Teixeira-esque campaign. His 33 bombs and 100 RBI (both career bests) outranked all NL first baseman as he helped lead the Nats to the the best record in baseball. First base is traditionally a deep position but he didn't have much competition this year given the free agent departures of Fielder and Albert Pujols and injury plagued seasons from Ryan Howard and Joey Votto (who probably should have won the award, but I'll let it go).

2B Aaron Hill
Following a pair of down seasons, Hill rediscovered the form that helped him win the award with Toronto in 2009. Arizona's second baseman deserves some MVP consideration after batting .302/.360/.522 with 44 doubles, 26 home runs and 318 total bases.

3B Chase Headley
Headley put together a monster offensive season not seen in San Diego since Adrian Gonzalez. The switch-hitting third baseman entered 2012 with just 36 home runs and a .392 slugging percentage to his name before morphing into Chipper Jones. Was especially lethal down the stretch, batting .318/.389/.632 with 19 dingers and 63 RBI from August 1st on. Set career bests in almost every offensive category, paced the NL with 115 ribbies and received his first Gold Glove award. He's also one of the five finalists for NL MVP.

SS Ian Desmond
Desmond ranked first among shortstops with 25 home runs and was the only player at the position to slug better than .500 this season (.511). His breakout season would have been even more impressive had he not spent a month on the Disabled List with an oblique injury.

LF Ryan Braun
The 2011 NL MVP secured his fifth consecutive Silver Slugger award by topping the Senior Circuit in runs scored, home runs, extra base hits, slugging, and total bases. He was the only National Leaguer to go 30/30 this year.

CF Andrew McCutchen
'Cutch put it all together this year with an MVP caliber season. His 194 hits, 269 times on base and 7.5 Offensive WAR paced the NL, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. He ranked second in runs scored, total bases, batting average, and OPS+ while rating third in OBP and SLG, all while playing Gold Glove defense in center and keeping the Pirates in the playoff picture for most of the summer.

RF Jay Bruce
Bruce has improved his home run and RBI totals every year since debuting as a 21 year-old rookie in 2008. This year he finished with 34 and 99, respectively, to anchor the Reds lineup and win his first Silver Slugger. I disagree with this selection and would have chosen Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton crushed 37 home runs while posting the best slugging percentage (.608) and AB/HR ratio (12.1) in the major leagues.

P Stephen Strasburg
Everybody knows Strasburg is a force to be reckoned with whenever he toes the rubber, but he also acquitted himself well in the batter's box this season. The 2009 first overall draft pick was anything but an easy out, for he batted .277/.333/.426 with five extra base hits in his 53 plate appearances. He also helped his own cause by driving in seven runs.