SweetSpot: Chicago White Sox



How do we think of Hanley Ramirez these days? After winning National League Rookie of the Year honors with the Marlins in 2006, he was one of the best players in the game from 2007 to 2009, hitting .325 while averaging 29 home runs and 38 steals per season. He finished second in the MVP voting in 2009, carrying an undermanned Marlins team to 87 wins. According to Baseball-Reference WAR, he trailed only Albert Pujols, Chase Utley and Alex Rodriguez in value over those three seasons. He was, at the time, on a Hall of Fame track, a power-hitting shortstop with speed.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
After that came injuries and some attitude problems and a trade to the Dodgers in 2012. We see bursts of the young Ramirez: In 2013, he played just 86 games but hit .345 with 20 home runs and finished eighth in the MVP voting. In 2014, he battled several nagging injuries and played 128 games, hitting .283/.369/.449 with 13 home runs.

Ramirez turns 31 in December. Jim Bowden predicted a four-year, $76 million contract for Ramirez. Others have estimated that he'll get something closer to $100 million.

Let's take a closer look.

HALF-FULL

In this era of declining offense, having a shortstop who can hit in the middle of the lineup is a rare luxury, and Ramirez can still hit. His wOBA ranked 25th in the majors in 2014 among qualified hitters and his park-adjusted metric wRC+ ranked 21st. When you focus just on shortstops, Ramirez's numbers are even more impressive. Only Troy Tulowitzki had a better triple-slash line, and only Tulowitzki, Jhonny Peralta and Ian Desmond topped Ramirez in isolated power.

Ramirez has a good approach as a hitter -- he draws some walks, doesn't strike out excessively, sprays the ball around the field and punishes pitches labeled as "soft" by ESPN Stats & Info. Here's his heat map against soft pitches in 2014:

Hanley Ramirez ESPN Stats & Info


Ramirez hit .331 against soft stuff, the second-best mark in the majors among qualified hitters behind Jose Altuve. Only seven batters hit .300. Only Mike Trout had a higher wOBA. This is a smart hitter, a guy who has the ability to adjust at the plate. To me, it all adds up to a hitter who should age well. A four-year contract takes Ramirez from his age-31 season through age-34. Indeed, the Steamer projection system predicts a .277/.352/.450 line in 2015, a nearly identical match to his 2014 numbers. Get him away from Dodger Stadium and it's possible that line jumps even higher as he hit .303 on the road in 2014 and .352 in 2013.

As for Ramirez's defense, he's never been a Gold Glove candidate. He was credited with minus-9 defensive runs saved in 2014, or minus-12 per 1,200 innings. That's admittedly near the bottom of the league, but it's not Derek Jeter-level or Yuniesky Betancourt-level bad. Plus, he makes up for it with his bat, and in this age of increasing strikeouts there are fewer balls in play anyway. He ranked sixth among shortstops in WAR in 2014 and second in 2013.

Ramirez should be able to handle shortstop for at least a couple of more seasons without completely wrecking his value or inflating a pitching staff's BABIP to unacceptable levels. Or, if a team doesn't want him for shortstop, he can move to third base, where his bat still plays.

HALF-EMPTY

Well, this is pretty obvious. The defense is terrible, bordering on brutal. Despite his athleticism, Ramirez has never had the range you want from a shortstop, and now that he's on the other side of 30, he's certainly not getting any quicker. Factor in the injuries and his defense could really crater over the next few seasons.

Speaking of injuries ... do you really want to pay $20 million a season for a guy who misses so many games? He missed 34 games in 2014, 76 in 2013, 70 in 2011. He has played at least 145 games just once in the past five seasons. If you sign him, you better have a good backup on hand.

SportsNation

What's your view on Hanley Ramirez as a free agent?

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    37%
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    63%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,778)

There has been talk that maybe Ramirez could move to the outfield. That sounds nice, but that kind of move rarely happens. I wrote about this a couple of weeks ago: Since 1960 no player has played 400 games at both shortstop and left or right field (Robin Yount did make the transition to center field). The only player who really moved from shortstop to a corner outfield at this stage of his career was Hubie Brooks.

So the idea that Ramirez will move to the outfield in his 30s is rather unprecedented. More likely, if he moves, it will be to third base. Yes, his bat is OK there, but it's not as valuable as shortstop -- and there's also the possibility that Ramirez can't handle the position.

Teams interested in Ramirez may include the Mariners, Astros, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, Padres and White Sox, with a return to the Dodgers a possibility as well.

What do you think? Is Ramirez worth the investment as run-producing shortstop or is his defense too shaky and the injury risk too high?



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There wasn't going to be any drama in the National League Cy Young voting; the only question was whether Clayton Kershaw would be the unanimous winner after going 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA and striking out 239 batters in 198.1 innings. He did, indeed, sweep the voting for his third Cy Young Award in four seasons.

The American League was a different case, however, as everyone figured the voting between Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber would be close -- and it was. Kluber received 17 of 30 first-place votes to Hernandez's 13.

What was the difference in such a close vote? In the end, I wonder if Kluber's advantage in wins trumped Hernandez's advantage in ERA. Wins aren't as important to voters as they were even just a few years ago, but in an otherwise close analysis, I would suggest Kluber's three-win edge may have played a factor.

Did the voters get the right guy? I've been saying all along that it's a coin flip; really, they couldn't go wrong with either guy (and if Chris Sale had pitched a few more innings, he might have been the guy).

Here, their basic stats:

    Hernandez: 15-6, 2.14 ERA, 236 IP, 170 H, 46 BB, 248 SO, 16 HR
    Kluber: 18-9, 2.44 ERA, 235.2 IP, 207 H, 51 BB, 269 SO, 14 HR


Not much to separate there, right down to the innings pitched. Hernandez had the lower ERA; Kluber had more strikeouts. Neither pitcher benefited from a high total of unearned runs. Hernandez allowed 72 runs and Kluber 68.

We get some different numbers if we dig a little deeper, however. Most notably, Kluber led Hernandez in both Baseball-Reference WAR and FanGraphs WAR:

    Kluber: 7.4 bWAR, 7.3 fWAR
    Hernandez: 6.8 bWAR, 6.2 fWAR


The differences here come via ballpark effects, defensive support and, in FanGraphs' version of WAR, Kluber's slight advantage in FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), 2.35 to 2.56.

Basically, Hernandez pitched in Safeco Field, a good pitcher's park, while Kluber had to toil with a worse defense behind him (the Indians had minus-75 Defensive Runs Saved, worst in the majors; the Mariners were minus-11). So Hernandez gets docked for Safeco and Kluber gets value added because of the Indians' poor defense. It should be pointed out, however, that Hernandez had a 2.07 ERA at home and 2.21 on the road, so it's not like he morphed into a lesser pitcher away from Safeco.

Anyway, in part because of those advantages, Hernandez allowed 37 fewer hits and thus had a much better opponents' batting line:

    Hernandez: .200/.243/.303
    Kluber: .233/.279/.345


Hernandez allowed a .260 average on balls in play, Kluber a .318 mark. That's what caused the 37-hit difference. What's more difficult to decipher: How much of that was because of the defense behind Kluber? Maybe not as much as we think.

[+] EnlargeKluber
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesThe Indians' Corey Kluber received 17 of 30 first-place AL Cy Young votes, narrowly beating Seattle's Felix Hernandez.
For example, Kluber had a somewhat sizable platoon split: .687 OPS allowed against left-handers versus .553 against right-handers. In hitter's counts, lefties destroyed him: .455/.566/.788 in 83 plate appearances. Hernandez, meanwhile, actually had a reverse platoon split -- we can chalk that up to that great changeup -- with a .519 OPS against lefties and .584 against righties. Against right-handers in hitter's count, Hernandez allowed a .422/.471/.667; not good, but not as bad as Kluber's line against left-handers, and Hernandez had just 52 such plate appearances. Basically, when Kluber falls behind lefties he pays the price, so I would argue that it wasn't all bad Cleveland defense that caused that 37-hit difference.

Indeed, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs addressed this issue:
Thankfully, a month and a half ago, Tony Blengino tackled the assignment. Blengino broke down all the batted balls in incredible detail, using data we don’t have access to, and you should read that if you didn’t, or if you forgot about it. After making all necessary adjustments, Blengino calculated that Felix had a "true" ERA of 2.29, while Kluber had a "true" ERA of 2.45. That works out to a difference of just over four runs ...


Jeff goes into more detail with things like catcher framing -- slight edge to Hernandez there, where Mike Zunino graded out better than Yan Gomes. But how much of catcher framing is created by the pitcher? Maybe Hernandez gets a few calls because he's Hernandez, not because of Zunino. It's complicated.

Anyway, Hernandez made his mark during the season when he set an all-time record with 16 consecutive starts pitching at least seven innings and allowing two runs or fewer. That's pretty cool; you pitch seven innings and allow two runs and you should win. Overall, Hernandez had 22 such starts (plus two more where he allowed zero runs but didn't pitch seven innings). Kluber had 19 such starts (plus one more where he allowed zero runs in six innings).

How much do you factor in that Kluber had a big September -- when five of his six starts came against the Twins, Astros, Rays and White Sox, five teams out of the race and playing their share of September call-ups. How much do you factor that in arguably the biggest start of Hernandez's career, in the final week in Toronto, he got bombed and gave up eight runs?

So who should have won? I think Mariners and Indians fans have their decisive answers. But the rest of us ... flip a coin.

* * *


As for Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright -- better luck next year, guys. Cueto cemented himself as one of the top starters in the majors; this was his fourth straight year with an ERA under 3.00 and he increased his strikeout rate for the third season in a row.

Cueto had that great run at the start of the season, when he allowed only 10 runs in his first nine starts but won just four of those games. With a little more luck, he could have won 24 or 25 games, and while voters didn't focus on wins like they once did, that many wins may have made for an interesting debate. As it is, Cueto became just the sixth NL pitcher since 1972 to finish with a 2.25 ERA and 240 strikeouts; the previous five won the Cy Young Award.

Wainwright went 20-9 with a career-low 2.38 ERA and posted his fourth season of at least 6.0 WAR. He has finished in the top three in voting for the fourth time but has yet to win. The only other two pitchers who have endured a similar fate are Mariano Rivera and Dan Quisenberry, both of whom had four top-three finishes without winning.

But it was Kershaw's year. Well, at least until October, when it became Madison Bumgarner's year.video

SweetSpot TV: Cy Young preview

November, 12, 2014
Nov 12
11:48
AM ET


Eric and I break down the Cy Young races. Felix Hernandez or Corey Kluber? Clayton Kershaw or Clayton Kershaw?

As expected, Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox won the American League honors for top rookie, no surprise considering he hit .317 with 36 home runs and 107 RBIs. He became the ninth unanimous winner in the award's history, easily outdistancing second-place Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and third-place Dellin Betances of the Yankees.

The only debate surrounding the award was a "What if?" that didn't happen once Masahiro Tanaka went down with his sore elbow. What if Tanaka had stayed healthy?

According to Baseball-Reference, Abreu was worth 5.5 Wins Above Replacement while Tanaka was worth 3.3 over his 20 starts. Give him another 12 starts at the same level of performance and we get 5.3 WAR.

I suspect Abreu still would have won. While neither was a rookie in the traditional sense, Tanaka had certainly played at a high professional level in Japan. To call Tanaka a rookie is a bit of an insult to Japanese baseball. You can make the same argument about Abreu, although the level of play in Cuba isn't as good as in Japan. And for those who would suggest some sort of age requirement in the voting to eliminate players like Abreu and Tanaka as eligible candidates, well, Shoemaker is older than both of them.

Anyway, where does Abreu's season rank in the annals of great rookies? In terms of WAR, it wasn't quite historic -- tied for 24th since 1950. But it was one of the great offensive seasons by a rookie. He became just the fourth rookie to hit .300 with 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, joining Walt Dropo (1950), Mike Piazza (1993) and Albert Pujols (2001). In just looking at the offensive side of WAR, Abreu ranks tied for fifth since 1950:

1. Dick Allen, 1964 Phillies: 8.8
2. Trout, 2012 Angels: 8.6
3. Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox: 7.3
4. Vada Pinson, 1959 Reds: 6.7
5. Abreu, 2014 White Sox: 6.5
5. Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox: 6.5

An interesting question about what Abreu is what we'll see in 2015. In the first half, he hit .292 with 29 home runs in 82 games and a strikeout/walk mark of 82/22. In the second half, he hit .350 with seven home runs in 63 games and a strikeout/walk mark of 49/29. The big decline in his power came primarily against right-handers: He slugged .643 against them before the All-Star break and just .436 after.

Is that a concern? I don't think so. I'm more impressed with Abreu's ability to adjust -- as evidenced by the improved strikeout-to-walk ratio and higher batting average -- than worried about the drop in power. Still, what we'll get in 2015 is an intriguing mystery: Will he be a .325 hitter who hits 25 to 30 home runs? A 40-homer guy? A guy who hits for average, power and starts drawing more walks? Really, it's possible he becomes the best hitter in the game if there's still a learning curve to the majors going on. Remember, the scouting label on Abreu before the season was a concern that he might have trouble catching up to good fastballs: He hit .372 and slugged .623 against fastballs ... the best wOBA against fastballs in the majors.

The first projection we have is from the Steamer system, which projects Abreu at .283/.355/.530 with 35 home runs in 138 games. I'll take the over.

* * * *

The National League crop of rookies was far less deep than the American League crop -- which also included guys like Yordano Ventura, Collin McHugh, George Springer, Marcus Stroman and Danny Santana, all of whom could have won if they had played in the NL, plus some partial season guys like Mookie Betts and Rougned Odor.

But Jacob deGrom, who outpolled Billy Hamilton of the Reds and Kolten Wong of the Cardinals, was the right choice, even if he didn't make his major league debut until May 15 and made 22 starts, pitching 140 innings. But the overall numbers were too good to ignore: 9-6, 2.69 ERA with 144 strikeouts and 43 walks.

By advanced metrics, deGrom was also the choice, as he had a 3.5 WAR (including his hitting), better than Hamilton's 2.5 or Wong's 2.2.

DeGrom is a great story. He was a ninth-round pick out of Stetson in 2010, a shortstop who transitioned to pitcher his junior season. (He hit .217 with the Mets as he retained some of that skill with the bat.) He missed the 2011 season after Tommy John surgery, so he never really showed up on the prospect lists until this past offseason. Still, nobody expected this: He was Baseball America's No. 10 Mets prospect heading into the season.

The most impressive thing about deGrom is that he throws a 92-94 mph fastball with good sinking action. Batters hit just .205 against his fastball with just five home runs in 301 at-bats. Opponents had trouble lifting the pitch, but it was also a pretty good strikeout pitch, as 93 of the 144 K's came on fastballs. Maybe hitters will figure something out against deGrom his second year in the league, but I think he's the real deal, a mature 26-year-old with a good arm, athleticism and poise on the mound.

With the expected return of Matt Harvey and a full season from deGrom, maybe a better Zack Wheeler and the possible addition of top rookie Noah Syndergaard, you can see why Mets may have one of the best rotations in the game in 2015.
Continuing our coverage of the Internet Baseball Writers Association season awards, the top rookies:

American League
1st -- Jose Abreu, White Sox (154 of 158 first-place votes)
2nd -- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
3rd -- Dellin Betances, Yankees

National League
1st -- Jacob deGrom, Mets (105 of 158 first-place votes)
2nd -- Billy Hamilton, Reds
3rd -- Ender Inciarte, Diamondbacks

Tanaka didn't make the top three in the BBWAA vote that will be announced later on Monday (Matt Shoemaker of the Angels did), but Abreu was the easy choice for best AL rookie after becoming just the fourth rookie to hit .300 with 30-plus home runs and 100 RBIs. It may have been an interesting vote if Tanaka had remained healthy.

DeGrom's win here probably foretells a win over Hamilton in the BBWAA. I can't disagree there. Even though he made just 22 starts, his partial season with a 2.69 ERA trumps Hamilton's steals and defense.

The most interesting aspect of the rookie lists is that while the NL struggled to come up with three good candidates, the AL was flush with strong choices. Besides the four mentioned, you have guys like Yordano Ventura, Danny Santana, Collin McHugh, George Springer, Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Rougned Odor, Marcus Stroman, Jake Odorizzi and Jonathan Schoop. Some of those were partial-seasons guys, but you get the idea: The AL rookie pool was much deeper this year.

End-of-season Haiku for every team

November, 7, 2014
Nov 7
10:35
AM ET
Congrats to the Giants on their World Series victory. Let's look back at the year on the diamond for all 30 teams, in regular season win total order, through traditional Japanese verse:

ANGELS
Trout league's best player?
Shoemaker pleasant surprise
Yet steamrolled by Royals

ORIOLES
Stoic Showalter
Lost Manny, Matt, Chris but still
Ran away with East

NATIONALS
Fateful decision
In playoffs shouldn't dampen
League's best rotation

DODGERS
The Bison is back
But Clayton couldn't kill Cards
Donnie gets last chance?

CARDINALS
Death of Taveras
Casts pall on terrific year
Still class of Central

TIGERS
Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

ROYALS
Who needs walks, homers?
An "abundance" of bunting
Outfield defense ... whoa!

ATHLETICS
Cespedes got dealt
Team's offense dried up with it
Beane's "stuff" didn’t work

GIANTS
Three titles -- five years
Bumgarner otherworldly
Can they keep Panda?

PIRATES
Burning Cole last game
Trying for division tie
Might have cost Play-In

MARINERS
Cano did his thing
Felix, Hisashi duo
Not quite good enough

INDIANS
Kluber conquered all
But rest of staff slogged through year
Michael Brantley ... star!

YANKEES
Jeter’s farewell tour
Now A-Rod longest-tenured
Not your dad's Yankees

BLUE JAYS
All five starters had
Double-digit wins, but four
Had ten-plus losses

BREWERS
Led till late August
Won nine all of September
Lucroy's framing tops

BRAVES
Shutout 16 times
NL's next to last runs scored
Let's just watch Kimbrel

METS
DeGrom great story
Wheeler looked good, stayed healthy
Harvey's back, Big 3!

PADRES
Last in all slash stats
No-hit by Timmy ... again
Front office rebuilt

MARLINS
Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

RAYS
Friedman, Maddon gone
Price dealt for cheaper prospects
Has their window closed?

REDS
Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

WHITE SOX
Abreu? Real deal
Chris Sale's elbow still attached?
Thank you, Konerko!

CUBS
Top prospects galore
Renteria won't see them
Maddon works magic?

PHILLIES
Vets went untraded
Amaro kept job somehow
Get used to last place

RED SOX
Bradley, Bogaerts ... meh
Buckholz saw ERA triple
Lester will be missed

ASTROS
Altuve a star
If only they could have signed
1st rounder Aiken

TWINS
Hughes K'd 1-8-6
Is that allowed on their staff?
Mauer's bat slumping

RANGERS
Pro-Obamacare
Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

ROCKIES
League-worst ERA
Tulo missed 70 games
Fast start, then crash, burn

DIAMONDBACKS
Gibson, Towers done
Can Hale, Stewart make team rise
Like a phoenix? Eh!

Diane Firstman runs the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
As the offseason speeds ahead into full rumor mill hysteria, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to look at each team’s biggest weakness in 2014 (excluding pitchers). This gives us a start on which positions teams might be most desperate to fill or should be desperate to fill in the upcoming months, although it doesn't include potential holes such as the Giants needing a third baseman if Pablo Sandoval doesn't re-sign or the Dodgers needing a shortstop if Hanley Ramirez departs.

For a quick assessment of value at each position, I used wins below average, via Baseball-Reference.com, which includes both offense and defensive value at the position.

1. Detroit Tigers 3B: 3.7 wins below average

This might surprise you since Nick Castellanos had a solid rookie season at the plate, hitting .259 with 46 extra-base hits. But solid isn't the same as good, as the Tigers ranked 18th in the majors in wOBA at third base. But the biggest liability here was Castellanos' defense: His -30 defensive runs saved ranked worst in the majors -- at any position.

Fix for 2015: It's still Castellanos' job. The Tigers have to hope for improvement in all areas.


2. Houston Astros 3B: 3.5 wins below average

Matt Dominguez started 147 games here, but the Astros ranked last in the majors with a .255 OBP and .252 wOBA at third base as Dominguez hit just .215 with 29 walks. He comes with a better defensive reputation than Castellanos, but grades out about average with the glove. First base wasn't much better for the Astros -- 3.4 wins below average as their first basemen hit .168 (!).

Fix for 2015: Dominguez is just 25, but his sophomore season showed decline instead of improvement. There is no obvious internal fix other than giving Dominguez one more shot. Could the Astros be a dark horse to sign Pablo Sandoval or Chase Headley? If only they had drafted Kris Bryant in 2013 instead of Mark Appel.

[+] EnlargeRyan Howard
AP Photo/Alex BrandonLooks like the Phillies might be stuck with Ryan Howard again in 2015.
3. Philadelphia Phillies 1B: 3.3 wins below average

No surprise here: Ryan Howard is awful, even if he did drive in 95 runs. He had a .302 wOBA -- the same as Alcides Escobar. The Phillies slugged .392 at first base -- 22nd in the majors -- and backed that up with Howard's poor defense and baserunning.

Fix for 2015: Howard will make $50 million the next two years. No, I can't see a scenario where he gets traded.


4. Cincinnati Reds RF: 3.3 wins below average

If there's an award for Most Disappointing Player of 2014, it probably goes to Jay Bruce, who hit .217 with a .281 OBP and 18 home runs. Bruce had knee surgery in early May, came back quickly and simply never got going. The knee might have played a role as he actually homered just as often on fly balls as in 2013, but his fly ball rate dropped 10 percent.

Fix for 2015: Bruce turns 28 in April, so he's certainly a good bet to bounce back.


5. Tampa Bay Rays C: 3.1 wins below average

The Rays love the defense Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan provide, but it's hard to overcome a .191/.274/.250 batting line.

Fix for 2015: Both are under contract for 2015, and Curt Casali is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster. Molina looks done as a hitter so the Rays are going to need Hanigan to catch more.


6. Atlanta Braves 3B: 3.1 wins below average

Chris Johnson and his .292 OBP and below-average defense helped this position score worst overall, but the Braves also scored lowest in the majors at center field (-2.6 wins) and second base (-2.8 wins).

Fix for 2015: The Braves foolishly signed Johnson to a long-term deal after his BABIP-driven .321 season in 2013. While the salaries aren't prohibitive, the deal also means Johnson probably returns in 2015. Phil Gosselin, who hit .344 without power at Triple-A, might get an opportunity, although he hasn't played much third in his career.


7. St. Louis Cardinals RF: 3.1 wins below average

Cardinals right fielders ranked last in the majors in wOBA.

Fix for 2015: The death of Oscar Taveras means the Cardinals will probably look for a right fielder, as Randal Grichuk isn't primed for full-time duty. They could move Jon Jay back there and give Peter Bourjos more time in center; but considering the Cardinals' lack of power in 2014, look for them to seek a right fielder with some ability to hit the ball over the fence -- maybe Nelson Cruz, if they're willing to take the hit on defense, or maybe Carlos Gonzalez in a trade with the Rockies.

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
AP Photo/David GoldmanWhat were the Braves thinking with that long-term deal for Chris Johnson?
8. Cleveland Indians RF: 3.0 wins below average

This was mostly David Murphy, who put up lukewarm numbers at the plate while seeing his defensive metrics slide (-16 defensive runs saved). The Indians also had -2.2 wins from DH (Nick Swisher had the most PAs there with 143), so if they can improve these two positions, they're a good sleeper playoff pick for 2015.

Fix for 2015: Murphy is still under contract, but he's 33; I wouldn't bet on a better year. The DH problem can be solved by just putting Carlos Santana there and maybe there's room in the budget for a first baseman like Adam LaRoche, leaving Swisher to share time in right, first base and DH.


9. Chicago Cubs LF: 2.9 wins below average

Cubs left fielders -- Chris Coghlan had the most playing time out there with 394 PAs -- actually ranked 11th in the majors in wOBA, but they were a collective -19 defensive runs saved.

Fix for 2015: Outfield prospects Billy McKinney and Albert Almora are still two to three years away from the majors, so it could be more Coghlan and Junior Lake unless the Cubs make a trade or sign a veteran free agent.


10. Miami Marlins 1B: 2.9 wins below average

Their first basemen (mostly Garrett Jones) hit .258/.313/.403, putting them 19th in the majors in wOBA, and mixed in below-average defense and a lack of speed.

Fix for 2015: Jeff Baker is still around as a potential platoon mate against LHP. Jones is signed for $5 million; so while LaRoche would also make a nice fit here, that contract might mean the Marlins stick with Jones.


11. Texas Rangers 1B: 2.8 wins below average

Obviously, Prince Fielder's neck injury was the story here as Texas first basemen hit just .216 with 16 home runs.

Fix for 2015: Hope for Fielder's return to health.


12. Chicago White Sox RF: 2.8 wins below average

Avisail Garcia was supposed to be the solution here, but he hurt his shoulder in early April and Dayan Viciedo ended up getting most of the time in right. He combined a below-average OBP with terrible defense.

Fix for 2015: Garcia returned in August and hit .244/.305/.413; he’ll get another shot. He should be an upgrade, but he's another guy who might struggle to post a league-average OBP.


13. San Diego Padres 2B: 2.8 wins below average

Jedd Gyorko would rate right behind Bruce in that most disappointing category. After signing a six-year, $35 million extension in April following his 23-homer rookie season in 2013, Gyorko collapsed and hit .210 with 11 home runs in 111 games, missing time with plantar fasciitis. He went on the DL in early June with reports saying he injured his foot in late May. He wasn't hitting before then, so it's possible he tried to play through the injury or maybe the pressure of the contract got to him or maybe he just didn't hit. Anyway, when he returned in late July, he hit .260/.347/.398 the rest of the way. (Just three home runs, however.)

Fix for 2015: Like Bruce, Gyorko is a good bounce-back candidate.

[+] EnlargeWill Middlebrooks
AP Photo/Chris BernacchiHow much longer can the Red Sox afford to wait on Will Middlebrooks?
14. Los Angeles Dodgers C: 2.7 wins below average

Dodgers catchers hit .181/.283/.261 as A.J. Ellis got on base (.322) but didn't hit otherwise, and the backups were even worse. Dodgers pitchers like throwing to Ellis, but the defensive metrics have never rated him as a good pitch-framer.

Fix for 2015: Speculation suggests the Dodgers could go after free agent Russell Martin.


15. Boston Red Sox 3B: 2.7 wins below average

Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts and Brock Holt got the majority of playing time here and Holt was the best of the three. He isn’t the 2015 solution, however. Overall, Boston's third basemen hit .211 with just 10 home runs.

Fix for 2015: With Bogaerts likely moving back to shortstop and Middlebrooks just about out of chances, the Red Sox could give Garin Cecchini, a career .298 hitter in the minors, a shot, although he has just 21 home runs in four minor league seasons. There are several third basemen out there in free agency: Sandoval, Headley, Hanley Ramirez (if you want to move him off shortstop) and Jed Lowrie (ditto). Seems Boston is likely to go after one of those guys.

OK, we'll do Part 2 of the list on Thursday.
Last week, with little fanfare and virtually no attention, the Hall of Fame announced the 10 candidates placed on its Golden Era ballot, where the 16-member committee will consider candidates from the 1947-1972 period (whether this was actually baseball's golden era is a subject for another debate).

This year's candidates include nine players and one executive: Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

In the previous Golden Era ballot in 2011, Ron Santo was the lone inductee, a long controversial Hall of Fame candidate whose election may have been helped by his death a year earlier. Twelve of 16 votes are required for election, and Kaat (10), Hodges (9), Minoso (9), Oliva (8), Boyer and Tiant (both with fewer than three) appeared on the previous ballot.

This year's committee consists of Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Pat Gillick (a Hall of Famer), Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

In my opinion, there is one clear Hall of Famer in this group and maybe a second strong candidate, but let's review each candidate.

Dick Allen
Career WAR: 58.7
10-year peak (1963-1974): 54.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 18.9
Similar players: Lance Berkman, Reggie Smith

Allen was one of the most feared hitters of his day, three times leading his league in slugging percentage and hitting .292/.378/.534 in a pitcher's era and winning the AL MVP Award with the White Sox in 1972. His career adjusted OPS of 156 is 19th all-time -- the same as Willie Mays and Frank Thomas, just ahead of Henry Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, Miguel Cabrera and Manny Ramirez. So the dude could hit. The knocks against him are that he had a relatively short career (354 home runs, 1,119 RBIs), and he was blamed for a lot of the failures of his teams.

One of things I like to consider for a borderline candidate: Is he the best player at his position not in the Hall of Fame? Allen played mostly first base but a lot of third early in his career, which complicated the question for him, but I'm not sure he's a better candidate than guys such as Keith Hernandez or John Olerud, let alone guys still on the ballot such as Jeff Bagwell and Mark McGwire.

My call: No.

Ken Boyer
Career WAR: 62.8
10-year peak (1956-1965): 56.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 25.5
Similar players: Robin Ventura, Ron Cey, Ron Santo

A consistent 90-RBI guy for the Cardinals, Boyer was also an outstanding third baseman and the 1964 NL MVP when he led the league with 119 RBIs. Like Allen, Boyer suffers from not doing much outside of his 10-year peak. In Boyer's case, he didn't reach the majors until he was 24 -- but that was in large part due to missing the 1952 and 1953 seasons while serving in the army. What if he had reached the majors two years sooner and added 30 home runs and 150 RBIs to his career totals of 282 and 1,141?

My call: Just outside. I'm surprised he didn't fare better in the BBWAA, as he was well-liked and a respected player. There are a lot of third baseman in this area -- Boyer, Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, Cey. Santo was certainly a notch above them. Scott Rolen is similar, and he'll be on the ballot in a few years.

Gil Hodges
Career WAR: 44.9
10-year peak (1956-1965): 42.2
Top percentage from BBWAA: 63.4
Similar players: Norm Cash, Boog Powell

The much-beloved first baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers, Hodges has, I believe, the highest vote total from the BBWAA for a player who never eventually made it into the Hall of Fame. He also earns bonus points for managing the 1969 Mets to a World Series title.

Bill James just wrote this on his site about Hodges:
You mentioned an eight-year run for Hodges ... he posted an OPS+ of 132 over that period, with the good defense and team success. Is that kind of success particularly rare? It doesn't seem that it is. Actually, you can find a guy like that in almost every era. Starting with Garvey ... Steve Garvey had an eight year run with an OPS+ of 129 (1973-80) ... he was a good defender. His teams won. Keith Hernandez had eight years at a 139 OPS+ (1979-86). He was a good defender who played on good teams, too. Will Clark had a ten-year run at a 143 OPS+ ... 1986-95. John Olerud has a ten-year run with an OPS+ of 137, 1993-02. Mark Teixeira picks up after Olerud ... he clocks a 136 OPS+ for eight years, from 2004-2011. Don't know about his defense, but he was on a lot of winners. Just taking a quick look, I was able to find a player like Hodges active from 1973 to 2010.


My call: No.

Bob Howsam
Howsam's claim to fame was building the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine dynasty of the 1970s. He was the Reds' general manager from 1967 to 1977. He hired Sparky Anderson as manager and made two major trades in acquiring Joe Morgan and George Foster, although guys such as Pete Rose, Johnny Bench and Tony Perez were already in the organization when he came over from the Cardinals (where he had acquired Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris, who helped the Cardinals win the 1967 World Series). Howsam was, interestingly, also one of the founding owners of the Denver Broncos, along with his brother and father, although they sold the franchise after its first season.

My call: No. Is he the most deserving executive not in the Hall of Fame? He certainly built a powerhouse in the Reds, but he was also extremely disliked by players in both St. Louis and Cincinnati (although you can argue his job wasn't to be liked by the players). He was a hard-liner against the Players Association, but then again most execs from that period were. In the end, we probably have enough executives and managers in for now. Let's get more deserving players in there before worrying about GMs.

Jim Kaat
Career WAR: 45.4
10-year peak (1966-1975): 36.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 29.6
Similar players: Tommy John, Jamie Moyer, Bert Blyleven

Kaat won 283 games, including 20 games three times. He finished fifth in the MVP voting the year he won 25 games and finished fourth once in the Cy Young. He was a good pitcher, but not really in the same class as Blyleven, who has a career WAR of 96.5. Kaat ranked in the top 10 in his league in WAR for pitchers just five times.

My call: No. Kaat, of course, has hung on in the game forever as a broadcaster, still doing games for MLB Network at 75 years old. Considering he had 10 votes last time, it wouldn't surprise me if he gets in.

[+] EnlargeMinnie Minoso
Robert Riger Collection/Getty ImagesMinnie Minoso was a seven-time All-Star.
Minnie Minoso
Career WAR: 50.1
10-year peak (1951-1960): 50.1
Top percentage from BBWAA: 21.1
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Enos Slaughter, Tony Oliva

Here's what I wrote three years ago:

Minoso's first full season in the majors came in 1951, when he was 25 years old. He hit .326, scored 112 runs, led the league in triples and stolen bases and finished fourth in the MVP vote. From 1951 until 1962 (when he fractured his skull and wrist running into a wall, and later fractured his forearm when hit by a pitch) Minoso had the seventh-highest WAR among all major league position players, trailing only Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Eddie Mathews, Stan Musial, Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks. In other words, for an 11-year span, he was one of the best players in baseball.

Minoso did everything well: He hit for average, drew walks, had speed, hit for some power, was durable and was regarded as a good outfielder (the Gold Glove award wasn't created until he was 31, but he won three). The writers of his time knew he was an excellent player -- he finished fourth in the MVP voting four times, an impressive achievement considering he never played for a pennant winner.

Of course, his career numbers may not look impressive, but remember: His career didn't start until he was 25 because of the color barrier. He was the first black player for the White Sox. Considering he was already a star as a rookie, what if he had reached the majors when he was 21? Now you're adding another 700 hits or so, 400 runs and 350 RBIs to his career totals and 15 seasons as one of the best players in baseball. It seems to me more than unfair to discount Minoso's totals simply because he got a late start in the major leagues due to racial circumstances.

Minoso is 85 years old and still going strong. Put the man in Cooperstown. He deserves it.


My call: He's now 88 years old and still deserving of Cooperstown.

Tony Oliva
Career WAR: 43.0
10-year peak (1964-1973): 42.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 47.3
Similar players: Carl Furillo, Pedro Guerrero, George Bell

I got an email from Jessica Petrie, communications director for the VoteTonyO campaign, a grassroots organization trying to help get Oliva elected to the Hall of Fame. Oliva was a terrific pure hitter who won three batting titles with the Twins but had his last good season at age 32 because of knee problems. In some ways, Oliva's career is similar to another former Twins outfielder:

Oliva: .304/.353/.476, 222 HR, 947 RBI
Kirby Puckett: .318/.360/.477, 207 HR, 1,075 RBI

Puckett sailed into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. He had some advantages over Oliva: He played center field and led his team to two World Series titles. But as hitters, they were similar. But Puckett is a weak Hall of Famer, not a strong one, so that one comparison shouldn't help Oliva's case too much.

My call: No.

Billy Pierce
Career WAR: 53.1
10-year peak (1950-1959): 43.7
Top percentage from BBWAA: 1.9
Similar players: Vida Blue, Luis Tiant, Catfish Hunter

I'm glad to see Pierce's case get some consideration. An underrated star of the 1950s, Pierce had a career record of 211-169. The left-hander wasn't big (5-foot-10) but had a good fastball. The White Sox were overshadowed in the '50s by the Yankees but had a winning record every season from 1951 through 1967, and Pierce was one of the mainstays, helping the White Sox win the pennant in 1959. From 1951 to 1958 he had a 2.89 ERA, good for an ERA+ of 134, an eight-year peak better than many Hall of Famers. (Kaat, by comparison, never had an ERA+ that high in one season where he pitched at least 162 innings.)

My call: No. A stronger candidate than Kaat, however, despite the fewer career wins. (Pierce, by the way, is 87 and still alive, as well.)

Luis Tiant
Career WAR: 66.1
10-year peak (1967-1976): 45.8
Top percentage from BBWAA: 30.9
Similar players: Catfish Hunter, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale

I wrote about Tiant's case back in July, when he was elected to the Hall of Very Good. He had a career record of 229-172, similar to Hunter and Drysdale. I think he was every bit the pitcher whom Drysdale was and better than Hunter -- trouble is, Tiant's best years were separated by a 20-loss season and two years of arm problems, which makes his timeline look a little odd (and he didn't play on World Series winners like those two).

My call: Three years ago I said "no" on Tiant. Again, he was a better pitcher than Kaat, even though he received much less support from the committee last time. I'm torn here, but would lean to "yes" now. Not that I have a vote.

Maury Wills
Career WAR: 39.5
10-year peak (1960-1969): 36.5
Top percentage from BBWAA: 40.6
Similar players: Luis Castillo (hey, that's his No. 1 comp on Baseball-Reference), Larry Bowa, Steve Sax

Hey, Bruce Sutter made the Hall of Fame for revolutionizing the game with his split-fingered fastball, so maybe Wills can make it for helping return the stolen base to the game in the early '50s. He stole 104 bases in 1962, which got him the MVP Award ahead of Willie Mays. That looks silly in retrospect. Anyway, Wills was a good player for a decade after not reaching the majors until he was 26, but he's not a serious Hall of Fame candidate.

My call: No.

It's a good ballot. I'd love to see Minoso get elected. My guess is that Kaat gets those extra two votes, however, and is the only guy who gets in. Which opens the door for Tommy John. ...

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
11:09
AM ET
This weekend the 2014 regular season winds down to a close. For those teams who were contenders at the All-Star break, the conclusion is a tad bit sad. To others? It might even be a relief.

Yet for those who play on into October, they get more than the chance to etch their franchise's name into the record books. The long hours clocked in on the ballfield and in the training room pay off with an opportunity to win it all. And for the personnel staffing those winning organizations, there is some validation for all that time spent at the office, away from their families long before the first pitch is thrown and well after the stadium lights turn off. Those efforts at the ballpark, from the clubhouse attendant doing laundry through the public relations staffer juggling media requests through the owner wringing his hands over costs and revenue, pay off with a bit of proof that whatever they did, at least for this year "worked." They even get some extra baseball out of it.

And for the casual fans, the newspaper writers, the sports broadcasters and the bloggers, the end of the regular season is a time to look back or, in other cases, to look ahead to 2015. As the last ICYMI for 2014, feel free to weigh in your last thoughts for the year about your team in the comments section below.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Lamb fitting his way into time share: He may not have gaudy home run totals to show for it, but Jake Lamb's line drive approach produced truly amazing minor league numbers. Ryan P. Morrison examines Lamb and how he could fit in with Didi Gregorius, Chris Owings and Aaron Hill. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
A statistical look at previous O's rotations since Baltimore's last AL East crown: Matt Kremnitzer looks back at previous Orioles' rotations since 1997, the last time they won the American League East title. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Paul Konerko -- adults only: As the entire White Sox fan base says its weepy goodbyes to a franchise mainstay, James Fegan looks at Konerko's career as a testament to the value of maturity. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
LaTroy Hawkins -- ageless wonder: Ryan Hammon profiles LaTroy Hawkins, in pursuit of his 1000th career appearance. Besides being a fan favorite on Twitter (@LaTroyHawkins32), in a season with frustrating performances out of the bullpen, Hawkins has been one of the steadiest pitchers on the Rockies staff. Follow on Twitter: @RyanHammon.

Carlos Gonzalez's trade value: Eric Garcia McKinley discusses Carlos Gonzalez's trade value, considering his talent and an injury history with an eye towards what the Rockies have and what they'll need in the future. Follow on Twitter: @garcia_mckinley.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
The Twins have a problem: As they head toward another last-place finish and crowds continue to dwindle at Target Field, Nick Nelson lays out the major problem the Twins face. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Jeter providing one last memory: Brad Vietrogoski discusses Derek Jeter's mini-hot streak against Toronto in the final homestand of his career.

Yankeemetrics: Jeter farewell edition: As the final games of his career tick down, Katie Sharp looks back at some of her favorite Jeter statistics. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.


With the news that Jacob deGrom has been shut down by the New York Mets and after watching Yordano Ventura deliver another impressive performance Tuesday night for the Kansas City Royals, it seems like a good time to review the 2014 rookie class. Here's my all-rookie team, based on 2014 performance, not future value.

Catcher: Travis d'Arnaud, Mets (.242/.302/.416, 0.4 WAR)
His overall batting numbers aren't great, but he flashed some of the potential prospect analysts had long seen at the plate, including a .265/.313/.474 line in the second half. More importantly, he stayed relatively healthy, always a problem for him in the minors. The defense is still an issue: His 19 percent caught stealing rate is well below league average -- teammate Anthony Recker was at 41 percent -- and he allowed 12 passed balls and 39 wild pitches, also well above Recker's rates. D'Arnaud is 25, so I'm not sure how much growth there is in him, but if he can match his second-half production over a full season and clean up the defense, he is going to be a solid role player.

Others: Caleb Joseph, Orioles; Christian Vazquez, Red Sox; Christian Bethancourt, Braves; Josmil Pinto, Twins. Joseph has been a huge bonus for the Orioles, filling in for Matt Wieters. Vazquez and Bethancourt are defense-first guys with questionable bats. Pinto allowed 19 steals in 19 attempts and ended up going back to Triple-A for a couple months.

First base: Jose Abreu, White Sox (.316/.382/.582, 5.3 WAR)
Yeah, he can hit big league pitching. Abreu is leading the American League in slugging percentage and ranks sixth in on-base percentage. He's not the MVP of the league -- that's Mike Trout -- but he should finish high in the voting even though he doesn't have much value on defense. Here's one thing I love most about his season: In the first half, Abreu hit .292 with 29 home runs but had an 82-22 strikeout-walk ratio. In the second half, he has hit .352 with six home runs and has a 45-27 strikeout-walk ratio. Should we be concerned about the drop in power? I don't think so. His fly ball rate has dropped about 5 percent from the first half, which could be some fatigue or pitchers just working him a little more carefully, but I like that he has improved his control of the strike zone, showing he's a hitter and not just a slugger.

Others: Jonathan Singleton of the Astros has hit .168 in 356 plate appearances with 133 strikeouts. He walks, has shown power and just turned 23, but .168 is .168.

SportsNation

Which position player would you most want for the next six years?

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    15%
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    20%
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    18%
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    32%
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    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 850)

Second base: Kolten Wong, Cardinals (.252/.295/.396, 2.1 WAR)
The most impressive season, however, may be from Rougned Odor of the Rangers, who has essentially the same batting line as Wong but is three years younger. Wong rates higher due to better defense and baserunning, but Odor is the guy I'd take for the future.

Others: Javier Baez, Cubs; Jonathan Schoop, Orioles; Joe Panik, Giants; Tommy La Stella, Braves. Would you rather have Baez or Odor? Baez is a year older and has hit .164. Odor was rushed to the majors due to all the injuries in Texas with just 62 games above Class A, whereas Baez had 158 games above Class A. Like Baez, Odor is an aggressive swinger at the plate, although with better contact skills. It will be interesting to see how these two develop.

Third base: Nick Castellanos, Tigers (.264/.310/.397, -1.5 WAR)
Wait, negative WAR? That's because he has rated as the worst defensive player in the majors via defensive runs saved, with minus-31. In looking at the numbers from Baseball Info Solutions, Castellanos has been credited with 30 good fielding plays and 37 defensive misplays and errors. The misplays and errors aren't out of line with the best defenders, but the good plays are near the bottom of the list. Josh Donaldson, for example, leads with 75. Castellanos' raw range factor is half a play per game lower than league average. It just looks a guy who doesn't have the range and reaction time to be a good defensive third baseman (not that he can't improve). Anyway, the bat hasn't been anything special, but he's just 22 and has popped 45 extra-base hits.

Others: Yangervis Solarte, Padres; Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks. Lamb should retain rookie eligibility for next season if he sits a couple more games this final week.

Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox (.237/.297/.362, 0.3 WAR)
He didn't have the year everyone expected, but he's going to be an excellent player.

Outfield: Billy Hamilton, Reds (.251/.293/.357, 2.5 WAR); George Springer, Astros (.231/.336/,468, 2.0 WAR); Danny Santana, Twins (.314/.351/.469, 3.5 WAR)
Hamilton has plummeted to a .202/.256/.259 line in the second half after showing some surprising pop in the first half. His base stealing hasn't been that electric as he has 56 stolen bases but has a league-leading 23 caught stealings. There have been reports he has had some leg issues, but regardless, he is going to have to improve that percentage and get stronger to get through an entire season. Springer's season was cut short by injury while Santana has been the big surprise as he never hit like this in the minors.

Others: Gregory Polanco, Pirates; Oscar Taveras, Cardinals; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs; Ender Inciarte, Diamondbacks; Kevin Kiermaier, Rays. Those players all used up their rookie eligibility, with mixed results. Inciarte has the highest WAR of any rookie outfielder at 3.6 thanks to a terrific defensive rating.

SP: Collin McHugh, Astros (11-9, 2.73 ERA, 4.3 WAR); Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees (13-4, 2.47 ERA, 4.0 WAR); Yordano Ventura, Royals (14-10, 3.07 ERA, 3.5 WAR); Jacob deGrom, Mets (9-6, 2.63 ERA, 3.0 WAR); Matt Shoemaker, Angels (16-4, 3.04 ERA, 2.3 WAR)
It's an interesting group. McHugh was plucked off waivers from the Rockies; Shoemaker was basically a nonprospect who got a chance due to injuries in the Angels' rotation; deGrom was a second-tier prospect, but nobody expected this; Ventura was a highly rated prospect due to that explosive fastball; and Tanaka, of course, was the prized free agent from Japan. Lesson: Good pitchers can come from anywhere.

Others: Kyle Hendricks, Cubs; Marcus Stroman, Blue Jays; Jake Odorizzi, Rays; Tyler Matzek, Rockies; James Paxton, Mariners; Trevor Bauer, Indians; Shane Greene, Yankees; Roenis Elias, Mariners; Kevin Gausman, Orioles. Many others, of course, but those are some I like.

Reliever: Dellin Betances, Yankees (5-0, 1.40 ERA, 3.7 WAR)
With 135 strikeouts and just 46 hits allowed in 90 innings, he's had maybe the best relief season of any pitcher in the majors -- tied with Wade Davis of the Royals in WAR. With David Robertson a free agent, it will be interesting to see what the Yankees do. Betances is probably more valuable as a 90-inning setup guy than a 70-inning closer.

Overall, I'd rate this rookie class as average in production -- good on the pitching side, weak on the hitting side once you get past Abreu -- but with the potential to be better over the long haul with guys like Bogaerts, Polanco, Taveras, Baez, Odor and Springer having star potential.

My rookies of the year: Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom.

Five things we learned Monday

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
1:42
AM ET


Six days of regular-season baseball left. Barring a tie-breaker. Catch the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedule at the Hunt for October page.

1. Andrew McCutchen is a baseball deity, conqueror of enemy moundsmen and lifeblood of Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Pirates played their third straight 1-0 game and it was McCutchen's home run that provided the night's lone run in the win over the Atlanta Braves. McCutchen lined a 2-0, 86-mph fastball from Aaron Harang over the fence in left-center -- you don't throw 86-mph fastballs past baseball deities -- in the sixth inning and the Pirates' magic number for clinching a playoff berth is down to two. (Here's the home run call from Pirates announcer Greg Brown. That pitch has to rank up there as one of the biggest meatballs of the season.)

Anyway, kudos to McCutchen for giving us more awesomeness. That home run is only going to help his MVP chances against Clayton Kershaw, if such a chance exists. (I say it does, although Kershaw is the clear favorite.) And kudos to Francisco Liriano for another strong outing. He's 4-0 with a 0.35 ERA in September and it raises the question: With St. Louis still up 2.5 games after their win on Monday, the wild-card game is still the likely destination for the Pirates. Does Liriano draw that game against a Giants lineup that features right-handed boppers Buster Posey, Hunter Pence and Mike Morse? Do the Pirates throw Liriano this weekend in hopes of securing home-field advantage for that game and perhaps go with Gerrit Cole against the Giants? These are questions that will soon require answers.

2. The AL Central is back up for grabs. The Kansas City Royals lose the suspended game but then beat the Cleveland Indians 2-0 behind Danny Duffy's escape job while the Chicago White Sox beat the Detroit Tigers 2-0 behind Chris Bassitt. Who? Bassitt was making his fourth major league start and earned his first win. The White Sox's No. 15 prospect before the season, according to Baseball America, Bassitt actually made just eight starts in the minors this season due to a broken hand. He throws a low-90s sinker with a slider he developed in spring training, plus a curve and changeup. Nothing special and the Tigers don't have the excuse of not seeing him before, having knocked him around for five runs on Aug. 30, but they couldn't get to him and Tyler Flowers' two-run homer in the second off Kyle Lobstein held up. Right when we start believing again wholeheartedly in the Tigers, they play a game like this.

3. The Mariners' playoff chances are dwindling close to zero. James Paxton had been great but he wasn't on Monday, as shaky control (six walks in 2⅔ innings) led to a nine-run disaster in the Seattle Mariners' 14-4 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. It has been an embarrassing three games for Seattle as its starters have allowed 20 runs in 10 innings. The Mariners' playoff odds are now down to three percent. Look at it this way: If the Royals go 3-3 over their final six games, the Mariners have to go 5-1 to tie. They've already announced Chris Young won't make his next start, so they'll likely look at one bullpen game, and that's aside from what Taijuan Walker, Hisashi Iwakuma and Paxton can do in their final starts. The good news: Felix Hernandez on Tuesday, Felix Hernandez on Sunday.

4. The Angels really need Matt Shoemaker. Right when we start feeling good about C.J. Wilson -- he threw seven one-hit innings against Seattle in his previous start -- he records only two outs against the Oakland A's after walking four batters. The Los Angeles Angels are still hoping Shoemaker makes a start this weekend, but Wilson remains inconsistent and Hector Santiago has been hammered his past two starts. Cory Rasmus, who had never started a game above A-ball before being pushed into an emergency starting role the past few weeks, is looking like a possibility to start a division series game.

5. Adam Wainwright wins his 20th game. I think he's over that dead arm period. In beating the free-swinging Chicago Cubs with seven scoreless innings, Wainwright showed why he's such a smart pitcher and not just a guy with a nice curveball. He threw just 42 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, his lowest percentage of any start this season. But with the Cubs hacking away, why throw strikes? The St. Louis Cardinals maintained their 2.5-game lead over the Pirates. Wainwright is next scheduled to go on Saturday, which then lines him up to start Game 1 of the division series on Friday, Oct. 3. There is some risk here: If the Pirates somehow catch the Cardinals, Wainwright would have to pitch the wild-card game (Wednesday, Oct. 1) on three days' rest.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
10:24
AM ET
A hearty congrats to the Orioles, Nationals and Angels as they prepare for the postseason, especially Orioles fans, who have been waiting since 1997 to once again don the AL East crown. Meanwhile, former doormats (Pirates, Royals, and Mariners) are all sprinting towards the playoffs while past postseason regulars (Yankees, Red Sox, Braves) have wilted. The A's, on the other hand, cannot seem to stop the slide. And how about the performances of Carlos Carrasco and Jake Arrieta? Wow. And wow.

What did we learn this week? The SweetSpot staff has been diligently helping us learn something every day.

On to the best from around the SweetSpot Network this week:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
D-backs have free agent options, limited flexibility in 2015: A recent report has D-backs leadership pointing at a $100 million payroll for next season. Jeff Wiser examines how that restraint may play out in the offseason. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
The Orioles don't have an MVP candidate, so who's the MVO? Pat Holden determines who has been the most valuable Orioles player in 2014. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
Free agent wishcasting: The White Sox have been done for a while now, but have lots of money. Nick Schaefer takes a long look at potential free agent targets. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Projecting Michael McKenry: Ryan Hammon evaluates Michael McKenry, who has played his way into the starting catcher mix for the Rockies. Included is a chat with him about what he plans on working on this offseason and other topics. Follow on Twitter: @RyanHammon.

Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
What's going on with Glen? All-Star closer Glen Perkins is unraveling late in the season. Parker Hageman digs deep to figure out what's ailing the lefty. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Will Kevin Long be the sacrificial lamb? With the Yankee offense reduced to a punchline this season, William Tasker discusses Long's role in the situation and whether the hitting coach should end up taking the fall. Follow on Twitter: @FlagrantFan.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
Would Tim Lincecum make the Giants' postseason roster? Dave Tobener takes a look at what has been a horrendous year for Tim Lincecum, and how he stacks up against the other options Bruce Bochy has for assembling a postseason pitching staff. Follow on Twitter: @gggiants.



Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

Five things we learned Wednesday

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
1:35
AM ET
Check out the latest standings, playoff odds and upcoming schedules at the world-famous Hunt for October page.

1. This is how Mariners fans feel right now. Mariners rookie James Paxton was filthy, matching zeroes with Angels left-hander C.J. Wilson into the seventh inning. Then came a one-out single and soft liner to right that Chris Denorfia let bounce past him, Howie Kendrick scoring from first. Then an intentional walk to Erick Aybar for reasons I don't understand. And then, with two outs, C.J. Cron blasted a loud and long home run off reliever Danny Farquhar. Just like that it was 4-0, the Angels clinched a tie for the AL West title (and later won it as the Rangers rallied to beat the A's in the ninth) and the Mariners' wild-card dreams took a hit as they fell two games behind the Royals.

C.J. Wilson was terrific in his own right, allowing just one hit in seven innings, although the Mariners are pretty inept against southpaws. It was the first time Wilson went seven in 14 starts -- and he went five innings or less in half of those 14 starts. So this was a much-needed strong outing from Wilson as the Angels look to line up their playoff rotation, especially with the iffy status of rookie sensation Matt Shoemaker, who will miss his next start with a mild oblique strain. (Shoemaker said on Wednesday that he's feeling better: "The positive part is it feels better every day. It’s not getting worse. They said it’s going to linger for a few days, and hopefully after a few days it will be gone."

The Angels clinched and they're also three games up on the Orioles for the best record in the league. Would you rather face the wild-card winner or the AL Central winner in the first round? I guess that depends on the opponent. Either way, they'll need Wilson to come up big.

2. Here come the Giants! Crazy day in the NL West as the Giants scored twice in the ninth to beat the Diamondbacks 4-2 -- pinch-hitter Matt Duffy delivered a two-run single -- and the Rockies pounded the Dodgers 16-2. Dodgers starter Carlos Frias, filling in for sore-shouldered Hyun-Jin Ryu, allowed 10 hits while getting two outs, apparently becoming the first starter since 1900 to allow that many hits while getting fewer than three outs. Ouch. The big picture: The Dodgers' lead is down to three games and they're suddenly scrambling in the rotation once you get past Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Before their huge series in San Francisco that starts on Monday, the Dodgers travel to Wrigley this weekend for four games and the Giants to San Diego for three.

3. Maybe that Adam Wainwright guy is OK. Is it time to stop worrying about that little dead-arm slump Wainwright was in? Locked into a great duel with Mike Fiers -- who took a no-hitter in the sixth before Wainwright singled -- Wainwright tossed a nifty 102-pitch, seven-hit shutout for his MLB-leading 19th win. Suddenly, he's Mr. Ace again: Two runs in 26 innings over his past three starts.

It was a tough loss for Fiers, who showed some mental toughness with a good outing after hitting Giancarlo Stanton in his previous start. He deserved better. With Matt Holliday on first in the seventh, Matt Adams hit a slow ground ball that bounced through the shift and center fielder Carlos Gomez bobbled the ball, allowing Holliday to score all the way from first when he threw the ball into second base instead of home.

With Pittsburgh winning, the Brewers dropped to 2.5 games behind the Pirates. Milwaukee has one more game with St. Louis before squaring with the Pirates in Pittsburgh this weekend. No matter the results of Thursday's game, the Brewers will essentially be in a "must sweep" scenario against the Pirates.

4. Chris Sale can be beat. Which is good news for the Royals because they touched up the AL ERA leader (well, Sale is now second in ERA to Felix Hernandez) after giving up nine hits and five runs in five innings. Lorenzo Cain, who a week ago was batting eighth and is now hitting third (Ned Yost, everyone!), hit a three-run homer in the third inning and then Alcides Escobar torched Sale in the fourth. It was just the third time Sale has allowed five runs and the nine hits are the second-most he's allowed in a game -- the Orioles got him for 11 back on June 23. The Royals are now a half-game behind the Tigers for the division lead and two up on Seattle for the wild, the usual "suspended game against Cleveland" not included.

5. Indians barely alive. Carlos Carrasco tossed a dominant two-hit, 12-strikeout shutout over the Astros. His Game Score of 94 tied for the sixth-highest of the season. Do the Indians have any shot at the wild card? Very slim, as they trail the Royals by five games. But they do have a series against Kansas City next week. Get some help from Detroit this weekend, sweep the Royals and hope Seattle falters and you never know. Because ... baseball.
We probably spend way too much discussing and arguing about awards, but it's fun and fans like to argue about these things, so straight to the numbers. There are, I'd suggest, five reasonable Cy Young candidates in the American League:

 


Pitcher W-L ERA R/9 IP H BB SO HR OPS FIP Felix GS bWAR fWAR
Felix 14-5 2.14 2.47 219.0 160 41 225 15 .551 2.59 20 65.5 6.8 5.8
Kluber 16-9 2.54 2.87 219.2 195 48 244 14 .631 2.47 17 61.7 6.3 6.5
Sale 12-3 1.99 2.31 163.0 116 34 192 11 .543 2.46 11 66.4 6.5 5.3
Lester 15-10 2.45 3.06 205.2 181 46 206 15 .633 2.81 13 60.8 4.3 5.7
Scherzer 16-5 3.26 3.34 207.1 184 58 237 18 .661 2.88 12 59.3 5.6 5.2


(Some of the numbers above: OPS is OPS allowed; FIP is Fielding Independent Pitching; Felix -- named in honor of Felix Hernandez -- is the number of starts a pitcher had where he went at least seven innings and allowed two runs or fewer; GS is average Game Score; and bWAR and fWAR are from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.)

A few weeks ago, Hernandez appeared to be a Cy Young lock, with that stretch of 17 Felixes in a row, an all-time record. Over his last six starts, however, he has just one win and a 3.03 ERA. OK, that's not bad when your bad stretch still produces a lower ERA than Max Scherzer has on the season. Hernandez's main culprit in this period has been the home run: After allowing seven in his first 25 starts, he's allowed eight in those six, including four in one game to the Nationals.

Still, this little slump has allowed others to jump into the race. Corey Kluber had another outstanding effort on Tuesday, striking out a career-high 14 to earn his 16th win and lower his ERA to 2.54. He has a 1.84 ERA since the All-Star break and his FanGraphs WAR has also edged ahead of Hernandez's. While Hernandez's changeup is regarded with awe, it's time to view Kluber's curve with same level of appreciation, as opponents are hitting .094 against it in 198 plate appearances with no home runs and 113 strikeouts.

Chris Sale leads the AL with a 1.99 ERA, despite pitching in a tougher park for pitchers than Hernandez. He's closing in on Hernandez in both bWAR and fWAR and starts Wednesday against the Royals. The Condor's slider is reminiscent of another tall, slim lefty: Randy Johnson. Opponents are hitting .135 off it with just four extra-base hits (two home runs).

Jon Lester is close behind in ERA, innings and WAR, but he's also allowed 14 unearned runs, so his actual runs allowed per nine is significantly higher than Hernandez's. Scherzer's ERA is higher but he has solid peripherals; keep in mind that his ERA was hurt by that 10-run outing to the Royals -- all earned runs.

One category I like to look at is dominant performances. That's why I like the "Felix" -- if you go seven and allow two runs or fewer, you should win, or you've at least put your team in position to win. It's a better quick-and-dirty method than quality starts (six innings, three runs or fewer), which don't work as well in this era of depressed offense.

As you can see, Lester and Scherzer trail Hernandez significantly in that area. They've been terrific, but I feel comfortable knocking them off the list.

The problem I have in giving Sale the edge over Hernandez is that large gap in innings -- Hernandez has pitched 56 more innings. So why is Sale so close in WAR? The quality of opposition has been about the same (4.35 runs scored per game on average for Hernandez's opponents, 4.28 for Sale's), so it's all about park effects. But Felix has a 2.16 ERA at home and 2.11 on the road. This isn't a Sandy Koufax type of situation, where Hernandez derives an obvious and large benefit from Safeco Field. Maybe Sale has been slightly better on a per-inning basis, but I can't get over that gap in innings and the benefit has created in resting the bullpen.

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That leaves Kluber. He's got the innings, the strikeouts and more wins than Felix. He's faced an easier group of opponents -- 4.09 runs on average -- and his runs per nine innings is still 0.40 higher than Felix's. That's a minor knock against him.

It could come down to wins, especially if Kluber gets up to 18 by the end of the season and Felix remains stuck at 14 or 15. But we probably all know the tough luck Felix has pitched in this year. Hernandez has seven games where's he allowed no runs or zero runs, tied for most in the majors (with Jeff Samardzija and Hector Santiago). Sale has six such games and Kluber four. If we increase the runs allowed to two, Hernandez has had 11 such starts where he didn't get the win, compared to eight for Sale and seven for Kluber.

I still think Felix is the guy. But it's close enough that these final two starts for each pitcher could make a difference.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
1:06
PM ET
A couple of scary, horrible moments Thursday night cast a pall across the league as first the otherworldly Giancarlo Stanton was drilled in the face by Mike Fiers and had to be removed from the stadium via stretcher. He suffered multiple facial fractures. Moments later, Chase Headley was hit in the chin with a pitch, also drawing blood. It's a reminder how incredibly dangerous this game can be and how tremendously focused these players are to be willing to stand in there. Here's to hoping for a speedy recovery to both. Buster Olney wonders if it's time to consider protection for hitters. Remember, it took an injury to a star catcher (Buster Posey) to marshal enough support to change the rules, so this could be a similar inflection point.

And hot off the press: the Orioles are losing Chris Davis for the rest of the regular season (and into the post-season) due to testing positive for amphetamines, a tough break for the AL East leaders.

On to the best from around the SweetSpot Network this week:

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Deep thoughts about Inciarte: Despite being seventh or eighth on the major league depth chart when the season began, Ender Inciarte has put up 2.1 fWAR this season, mostly through outstanding defense. Jeff Wiser investigates. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
The 2008 Chicago Cubs: Great team or overachievers? Chet West takes a break from the less than stellar year that is the 2014 Cubs to look at the last team they sent to the postseason. Follow on Twitter: @chetwest19.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
What holes should the White Sox fill?: James Fegan takes a look at where the suddenly flush-with-cash White Sox should look to throw money at in free agency. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.


Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
Carrasco's historic streak continues: Ryan McCrystal takes a look at Carlos Carrasco's recent hot streak, and how it puts him in some elite company in the Indians' record book. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Back to school special: Juggling sports and school is tough. As kids across the country return to school, Richard Bergstrom polled Rockies players Brooks Brown, Charlie Culberson, Tyler Matzek, Ben Paulsen, Josh Rutledge and Drew Stubbs about what they liked about school and how they were able to balance athletics and grades. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.


Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Could Doug Mientkiewicz be the next Twins manager? If Ron Gardenhire is gone after this season, a former Minnesota first baseman could be positioning himself as the team's managerial successor. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Has Mark Teixeira finally learned to beat the shift? Katie Sharp looks at the BIP trends to see if Teixeira is finally changing his approach. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.

Should Yankees sign Victor Martinez this offseason? Matt Bove weighs Martinez as a free agent option to help the ailing Yankee offense in 2015. Follow on Twitter: @RAYROBERT9.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.

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