SweetSpot: Detroit Tigers

Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield answered your questions about this week's Power Rankings.

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One player won't make or break a team's playoff push, but here is one key guy for each American League club in the second half.

Baltimore Orioles -- Chris Davis
Let's divide Davis' last two years into halves:

Second half, 2012: .269/.337/.530, .338 BABIP, .261 ISO, 32% SO, 8% BB, 31% HR/FB
First half, 2013: .315/.392/.717, .355 BABIP, .402 ISO, 28% SO, 10% BB, 33% HR/FB
Second half, 2013: .245/.339/.515, .309 BABIP, .270 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 21% HR/FB
First half, 2014: .199/.309/.391, .252 BABIP, .192 ISO, 32% SO, 12% BB, 23% HR/FB

I don't know what to make of any of this, except that Davis is probably not as good as the first half of 2013 and not as bad as the first half of 2014. A major reason the Orioles need a better second half from Davis is that among AL players with at least 200 plate appearances, Steve Pearce ranked fourth in wOBA in the first half and Nelson Cruz ranked 11th. Assuming some decline from those two, Davis will have to pick up the slack.


Toronto Blue Jays: Colby Rasmus
Everybody keeps talking about the Blue Jays needing a starter, but from June 1 through the All-Star break only the Red Sox scored fewer runs than the Jays -- and now Edwin Encarnacion is out a few weeks with a quad injury. Rasmus hit .212/.266/.453 in the first half; the 12 home runs were nice, nothing else was. He hit .276 with a .338 OBP last year so there's hope for a turnaround.

New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka
I don't see how the Yankees climb back into this thing with an injury-depleted, makeshift rotation and an aging lineup that is more old than simply disappointing. The slim chance the Yankees have of winning the East or a wild card rests on the ultimate health of Tanaka's elbow. Maybe more importantly, the state of the 2015 Yankees rests on the health of Tanaka's elbow.

Tampa Bay Rays: Evan Longoria
David Price is the important Tampa player to the rest of baseball, but before the Rays pack it in and trade Price, they're going to see if they can get to within four or five games of first place by the July 31 deadline. To do that, they need Longoria to heat up. He wasn't terrible in the first half, but a .386 slugging percentage is well below his .512 career mark entering the season.

Boston Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
The young infielder was hitting .296/.389/.427 through June 1, outstanding numbers for a 21-year-old shortstop. Then the Red Sox activated Stephen Drew and moved Bogaerts to third base and he hit .140 with 37 strikeouts and five walks through the All-Star break. Did the position change affect his mental state? Is it simply a failure to adjust to how pitchers have attacked? The final two-plus months may tell us a lot about his future stardom.

Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
Last year, the Tigers had a Big Four rotation with Max Scherzer, Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister. They traded Fister, and Verlander went 8-8 with a 4.88 ERA in the first half, so it's really down to the Big Two, although Rick Porcello's improvement has added a strong third guy in place of Verlander. Among 86 AL pitchers with at least 50 innings, Verlander is 72nd in ERA. He's underperformed his peripherals a little bit -- 4.02 FIP, 4.46 xFIP -- but even the peripherals are a far cry from peak Verlander.

How far has Verlander fallen? In 2011 and 2012 he had 29 regular starts of eight or more innings. Last year he had three. This year he has one. Right-handers are hitting .329/.377/.505 off him; hard to believe that a guy that was so dominant as recently as last postseason has struggled so severely against same-side hitters. The Tigers don't need a strong Verlander to win the division, but they do want to see a guy they can believe in heading into the playoffs.

Kansas City Royals: Yordano Ventura
Well, yes, Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas ... but Ventura (7-7, 3.22) is key because the 23-year-old right-hander is already at 103 innings; he threw 150 last year between the minors and his brief major league stint. He's not a big guy and he relies so much on that upper 90s fastball, meaning you wonder if fatigue will be an issue down the stretch. The Kansas City rotation has been relatively healthy this year -- the Royals have needed just six starts from guys outside their top five (although Jason Vargas will miss a couple weeks after undergoing an appendectomy) -- and any chance of winning the wild card will rest on that rotation remaining healthy.

Cleveland Indians: Nick Swisher
The Indians finished the first half at .500, pretty remarkable considering the number of awful performances they received: Swisher hit .208 with a .288 OBP, Carlos Santana hit .207, Justin Masterson had a 5.51 ERA before finally hitting the DL with a bad knee, Ryan Raburn hit .199, Danny Salazar pitched his way back to the minors and Jason Kipnis' numbers are way down. So there's some second-half upside here, especially from Swisher, who shouldn't have lost his skills overnight at 33.

Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale/Jose Abreu
The White Sox aren't going anywhere so it's all about Sale chasing a Cy Young Award (that may be tough even though he leads the AL in ERA and WHIP as he's pitched 50 fewer innings than Felix Hernandez) and Abreu chasing 50 home runs.

Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer
Mauer hit .271/.342/.353 in the first half with two home runs. He has four more years on his contract after this one at $23 million per year. Was it just a bad three months? Is it the concussion he suffered late last season? The Twins figured that with his .400-plus OBP skills, he'd remain one of the best players in the game, even moving to first base. But after being worth 5.3 WAR last year, he's been worth 0.7 this year. A singles-hitting first baseman doesn't have a lot of value.

Oakland Athletics: Jeff Samardzija
He doesn't have to be the staff ace, not with Scott Kazmir and Sonny Gray around, but he's under fire to prove his first half with the Cubs was a true improvement. Remember, he had a 4.34 ERA with the Cubs in 2013. Most importantly, Billy Beane acquired Samardzija and Jason Hammel to help the A's win the AL West -- but a red-hot Angels team narrowed the deficit to a mere 1.5 games at the break. Considering Gray is in his first full season and Kazmir hasn't pitched more than 158 innings since 2007, Samardzija will be expected to be a workhorse for Oakland, the guy who goes seven or eight innings every start to prevent the bullpen from getting burned out.

Los Angeles Angels: Josh Hamilton
I could point to Garrett Richards, who pitched like an ace in the first half, but I think he'll pitch close to that level in the second half; he's the real deal. So let's turn to Hamilton, who hit .295/.373/.449 in the first half with five home runs in the 46 games he played. The good news is this:

SportsNation

Which AL player most needs a big second half to help his team?

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    30%
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    23%
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    12%
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    22%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,288)

2012 chase rate: 42.5 percent
2013 chase rate: 37.5 percent
2014 chase rate: 36.1 percent

He's continued to cut down on his free-swinging ways. The bad news is that he's struck out 52 times in 36 games since returning from the DL, with just three home runs. With Mike Trout crushing it and Albert Pujols on pace for 34 home runs, having a third big power threat would add even more to a lineup that led the AL in runs in the first half.

Seattle Mariners: Taijuan Walker
We know the Mariners have to improve the offense, but that's most likely going to have to come via a trade rather than internal improvement. We know Hernandez is great and that Hisashi Iwakuma remains a hidden gem. Chris Young had a terrific first half -- remember the whole Randy Wolf controversy, which basically allowed Young to come to Seattle in the first place? -- but Roenis Elias has struggled of late. That means Walker needs to find some consistency. As bad as the offense has been, Seattle has basically punted the fifth spot in the rotation all year with Erasmo Ramirez (4.58 ERA in 11 starts) and Brandon Maurer (7.52 in seven starts). If Walker lives up to his hype, he'll be a big improvement.

Houston Astros: Jon Singleton
We've seen George Springer flash his potential. Now it's time for Singleton to start doing the same.

Texas Rangers: Rougned Odor
There's not much to watch with the Rangers in the second half, but Jurickson Profar's injury forced Odor to the majors earlier than anticipated. He's held his own so far but a strong second half could lead to an interesting position battle next spring with Profar.
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The Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers play an intriguing two-game series Tuesday and Wednesday in Detroit, with Hyun-Jin Ryu versus Justin Verlander on Tuesday and Zack Greinke versus Max Scherzer on Wednesday afternoon. The clubs split a two-game series in the second week of the season, with both games going 10 innings.

Is this a World Series preview? Well, it obviously has World Series potential. Based on the playoff odds from FanGraphs that we use at ESPN.com, however, neither team is quite the favorite in its league to advance to the World Series.

American League odds to advance to the World Series:

SportsNation

Which team is more likely to reach the World Series?

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    46%
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    54%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,138)

A's: 28.0 percent
Tigers: 25.2 percent
Angels: 15.6 percent
Orioles: 8.2 percent
Blue Jays: 6.6 percent

National League odds to advance to the World Series:

Nationals: 28.4 percent
Dodgers: 24.8 percent
Giants: 11.0 percent
Braves: 10.6 percent
Cardinals: 8.8 percent

Those odds factor in what has happened so far, projected results from the current roster, the remaining schedule, injuries and so on. The additions of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel certainly make the A's stronger on paper. One thing that helps the Tigers' odds is that they are projected as an easy winner in the AL Central; their 84.0 percent odds of winning the division is the highest of any of the six divisions. Win the division and miss the wild-card game and your odds of reaching the World Series increase.

The belief in the Dodgers and Tigers rests on the strength of their rotations. But does either team really have the best rotation in its league? The Dodgers' rotation is fifth in the NL in runs allowed per nine innings -- although the top seven staffs are bunched between 3.47 and 3.67 runs per nine innings. In terms of FanGraphs WAR, the Dodgers are also fifth. Meanwhile, the Detroit rotation has been nowhere near as dominant as last year, when it recorded the highest WAR for a rotation in the past decade. The Tigers have allowed 4.35 runs per nine -- below the AL average of 4.26. The starters do, however, rank first in FanGraphs WAR.

It's certainly not decisive that either team has the best rotation in its league.

Even if that were the case, is that any kind of playoff guarantee? Hardly. I looked back at the past 10 years and checked the team rotation leaders in FanGraphs WAR and fewest runs allowed per nine innings in each league. This gave us 38 staffs, as the leaders in those categories usually didn't match up.

Three of those teams won the World Series -- the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox and the 2005 White Sox. Four others reached the World Series. Eighteen missed the playoffs altogether. So of the 20 teams that did make the playoffs, seven reached the World Series (35 percent). Including the wild-card teams of the past two years, 84 teams have made the playoffs in the past 10 years, so the random odds of reaching the World Series is basically 1 in 4. So having the best rotation would appear to slightly improve a team's chances of making the World Series (of course, the differences between best and second-best and third-best are often minimal).

So, Dodgers-Tigers? If I had to pick today, I'll stick with the Dodgers, my preseason pick. I would change from the Rays to the A's in the AL. What do you think?

Here are the complete results of the past 10 years:

2013
AL WAR: Tigers (25.3) -- Lost ALCS
NL WAR: Dodgers (13.9) -- Lost NLCS
AL R/9: Royals (3.71) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Braves (3.38) -- Lost NLDS

2012
AL WAR: Tigers (20.6) -- Lost World Series
NL WAR: Nationals (16.7) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Rays (3.56) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Reds (3.63) -- Lost NLDS

2011
AL WAR: White Sox (19.7) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Phillies (24.7) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Rays (3.79) -- Lost ALDS
NL R/9: Phillies

2010
AL WAR: Red Sox (18.5) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Rockies (19.4) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: A's (3.86) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Padres (3.59) -- Missed playoffs

2009
AL WAR: Red Sox (18.8) -- Lost ALDS
NL WAR: Rockies (17.9) -- Lost NLDS
AL R/9: Mariners (4.27) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Giants/Dodgers (3.77 ) -- Missed playoffs/Lost NLCS

2008
AL WAR: Blue Jays (20.3) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Diamondbacks (19.9) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Blue Jays (3.77)
NL R/9: Dodgers (4.00) -- Lost NLCS

2007
AL WAR: Red Sox (19.0) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Giants (13.0) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Red Sox (4.06)
NL R/9: Padres (4.09) -- Missed playoffs

2006
AL WAR: Angels (18.2) -- Missed playoffs
NL WAR: Rockies (16.0) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Tigers (4.17) -- Lost World Series
NL R/9: Padres (4.19) -- Lost NLDS

2005
AL WAR: White Sox (18.8) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Marlins (17.4) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Indians (3.96) -- Missed playoffs
NL R/9: Astros (3.74) -- Lost World Series

2004
AL WAR: Red Sox (22.3) -- Won World Series
NL WAR: Cubs (17.2) -- Missed playoffs
AL R/9: Twins (4.41) -- Lost ALDS
NL R/9: Cardinals (4.07) -- Lost World Series
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It's the award-winning Rapid Fire! Today, Eric and I discuss the Angels' rotation, more replay confusion, Jose Altuve's chances of winning the batting, Manny Machado and the Orioles and whether Felix Hernandez wins the Cy Young Award and more!
Random thoughts for a Monday morning ...

1. As Buster Olney wrote the other day, the Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel trade just ramped up the cost for David Price. If the Cardinals want him, they better start with Oscar Taveras. If the Dodgers want him, they’re going to have to start with Joc Pederon or Corey Seager.

2. Joey Votto has basically been playing on one leg, so it’s no surprise that it appears he’s heading to the DL. I’ve been saying I still expect a four-team race in the NL Central, but with Votto struggling and Jay Bruce still yet to get untracked (he just snapped an 0-for-26 skid), the Reds are looking like the fourth-best team in that division.

3. Always love the All-Star controversies this time of year. Many deserving players got left off the AL roster -- Chris Sale, part of the final player vote, is one of the top five or six starters in the game. I can’t believe the players actually think Mark Buehrle and Scott Kazmir are better pitchers and have to think they failed to vote for Sale only because of his time on the DL.

4. If Giancarlo Stanton ends up starting at DH for the NL, the backup outfield pool will be pretty weak -- Hunter Pence, Charlie Blackmon and utility man Josh Harrison could end up deciding home-field advantage for the World Series. Of course, Mike Matheny could just play Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig and Carlos Gomez the entire game.

5. That’s one of the incongruous things about Matheny selecting Harrison, Tony Watson and Pat Neshek: He clearly selected them for late-game matchup and versatility, to give the NL a better chance of winning. I certain understand that reasoning. But if winning is so important, then play some of your best players the entire game. Why bench Troy Tulowitzki just to get Starlin Castro a couple of at-bats if you're trying to win the game?

6. While Sale is the guy I’d give my final player vote to in the AL, I hope Garrett Richards eventually finds his way on to the team. He had another great outing on Sunday against the Astros with 11 strikeouts while averaging a career-high 97.3 mph with his fastball. He’s 6-0 with a 1.45 ERA since June 1. That sounds like an All-Star to me.

7. Of course, he faced the strikeout-prone Astros. Rookies George Springer and Jonathan Singleton went a combined 0-for-8 with seven K’s. Singleton is hitting .168 with 46 strikeouts in his first 32 games. Springer’s contact issues have been well documented. Domingo Santana was sent down after whiffing 11 times in his first 13 at-bats. As promising as those three guys are, and while strikeouts aren’t necessarily a bad thing for hitters, you do wonder if you can have too many strikeout-prone hitters in the lineup. We’ll see how these guys develop and whether it becomes a long-term issue for Houston.

8. Underrated: Kole Calhoun.

9. Love the idea of Justin Morneau returning to Minnesota, but Anthony Rendon or Anthony Rizzo are clearly better players and more deserving of final player honors in the NL.

10. Now trending on Twitter: “LeBron James,” “Cleveland” and “Cavs.” How awesome would that be? But it’s not really going to happen, is it?

11. Andrew McCutchen: Making another run at MVP honors. Since June 1, he’s hit .364 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs.

12. Fun to watch play defense: Adam Eaton. Still can’t believe the Diamondbacks traded him and now they’re playing somebody named Ender Inciarte in center field.

13. Fun to watch hit: Jose Abreu. Loved the Abreu-King Felix showdown on Saturday. King Felix won as Abreu went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.

14. It’s starting to look like CC Sabathia will miss the rest of the season. Joe Girardi is usually an optimistic guy so if he’s saying Sabathia is done he’s probably done. So here’s a question: What if Sabathia is also finished as a quality pitcher? Hall of Famer? He’s 208-119 in his career with a 3.63 ERA and 54.1 WAR. He can stick around and add some wins and a little bit of WAR, but his winning percentage likely goes down and his ERA likely goes up. He’s close now and while improving his win total with otherwise mediocre pitching shouldn’t be the difference in making him a Hall of Famer at this point, he probably needs to get another 25-30 wins for serious consideration.

15. The Yankees also designated Alfonso Soriano for assignment, no surprise considering his struggles. I’m guessing somebody will give him a chance but with 71 strikeouts and just six walks his free-swinging approach finally got the best of him. Hell of a career though: 412 home runs, 289 stolen bases, seven-time All-Star. He was far from the perfect player but he delivered for a lot of years.

16. Underrated: Kyle Seager.

17. Edwin Encarnacion’s injury should open a spot for Seager or Ian Kinsler to make the All-Star Game.

18. Better than I thought he’d be: Scooter Gennett.

19. Just release Dan Uggla already.

20. Mike Trout needs to be in the Home Run Derby.

21. The Nationals have outscored their opponents by 59 runs. The Padres have been outscored by 51 runs. Both teams have one All-Star.

22. That was a terrific Wimbledon final between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, right up there with the famous Federer-Rafael Nadal final. Federer won his first grand slam tournament in 2003 and is still competing for titles 11 years later. Amazing athlete.

23. Among qualified starters, toughest fastball to hit this year: Johnny Cueto, .164 average, .439 OPS.

24. Easiest fastball to hit: Ricky Nolasco has allowed a .364/.422/.618 line against his fastball. No surprise to Twins fans.

25. Easier fastball to hit than you would think: Batters are hitting .337/.381/.516 against Stephen Strasburg’s fastball.

26. Best curveball so far: Corey Kluber has held opponents to an .080 average and .219 OPS. (For comparison, batters have hit .156 against Adam Wainwright’s curve and .173 against Clayton Kershaw’s curve.)

27. Underrated: Corey Kluber.

28. Toughest slider so far: Johnny Cueto, again. Batters are hitting .176 with a .509 OPS against it.

29. Toughest changeup: In 178 plate appearances ending with a changeup, opponents are hitting .110/.136/.151 against Felix Hernandez.

30. I’m not counting the Rays out just yet.

31. Cool All-Star factoid: For the first time in American League history, the eight starting position players will come from eight different teams. Of course, Nelson Cruz is starting at DH, so there will be two Orioles in the starting nine.

32. For all the David Price to the Cardinals rumors, they need to start scoring runs and that’s going to have to happen from within as there just aren’t big impact bats out there (Marlon Byrd?). The Cardinals are 13th in the NL in runs and last in home runs. Trouble is, where’s the power going to come from? Matt Holliday has only five home runs, so he’s the logical answer, but there’s no reason to expect Matt Adams (nine) or Allen Craig (seven) to suddenly start blasting more home runs.

33. I like what I’ve seen from this Eugenio Suarez kid at shortstop for the Tigers. Not sure about his defensive chops yet but he’s been a positive at the plate.

34. The Blue Jays just got their butts kicked in Oakland and you have to wonder if this team already peaked. They were six games up on June 6 and now trail the Orioles by two games, having gone 9-19 in 28 games since that high-water mark. And don’t blame the pitching: The offense, which scored four runs in the four-game sweep to the A’s, has hit .235/.302/.366 since June 6.

35. Better than I thought he'd be: Dallas Keuchel.

36. Fun to watch: The Mariners bullpen has been lights out for two months. It has the best bullpen ERA in the majors, a 2.02 ERA since May 1 and 1.52 since June 1. Brandon Maurer, the failed starter, is the latest weapon down there, throwing smoke 97-mph smoke since he's been moved to relief.

37. Fun to listen to: My pals Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft on the Fantasy Focus podcast. Here's today’s show, including ramifications of the Samardzija trade, the Votto and Encarnacion injuries and the Brandon McCarthy trade to the Yankees.

38. Hard to say if Tim Lincecum has improved or just benefited from facing some weak lineups of late. He does have a 1.75 ERA over his past five starts but two of those starts came against the Padres and one against the Cardinals. He has 25 strikeouts in 35 innings, so he hasn’t ramped up the K rate or anything. I’m not convinced he’s turned the corner just yet.

39. Not getting any recognition for a solid season: Justin Upton.

40. Underrated: Jose Quintana.

41. Pat Neshek is a great story, a minor league invite to spring training for the Cardinals and now an All-Star. I got into a debate on Twitter last night about All-Star relievers -- people were asking why guys like Jake McGee, Fernando Rodney, Wade Davis, Koji Uehara and others didn't make it despite great numbers. I pointed out that lots of relievers are having great seasons. It's just not that special to have 35 great innings out of the bullpen. As a point of reference, just look at some of last year's All-Star relievers: Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Edward Mujica, Sergio Romo, Jason Grilli, Jesse Crain. That said, if you're going to pick relievers, Neshek has been as good as any in the game so far.

42. Unique: Henderson Alvarez. He doesn't rack up strikeouts (70 in 115 innings) but that hard sinking fastball is hard to get into the air (five home runs allowed) and he's walked just 22 batters. I believe he's the real deal, which only reinforces the huge blow to the Marlins when Jose Fernandez went down.

43. Bryce Harper is 4-for-21 with nine strikeouts and two walks since coming off the DL. One Nationals fan tweeted me that he doesn't look completely healthy and has had some awkward swings. I don't the think the Nationals would have activated him if he wasn't healthy, but there's no doubt that Harper put added pressure on himself with his comments about how the Nationals' lineup should look. It's OK to say that if you're producing but not if you're striking out twice a game.

44. Remember that season of parity we were having? Things are starting to sort themselves out a bit. In fact, we suddenly have a fair share of bad teams instead of mediocre teams -- Rockies, Padres, Diamondbacks, Phillies, Rangers, Astros, Twins, maybe even the Red Sox. The Cubs will probably fade even more after Samardzija-Hammel trade. The Mets may or may not be bad instead of mediocre.

45. Which leads to: Tanking! That should be fun in the second half. Remember, it pays to finish with one of the worst 10 records.

46. Large person, large fastball: Dellin Betances.

47. Loving Gregory Polanco. I was admittedly a little skeptical, in part because I didn't want to fall prey to prospect hype. I've been most impressed with his approach at the plate -- 15 walks and 20 strikeouts in 25 games, nice to see after walking just 25 times in 62 games in Triple-A. If that kind of discipline continues, I like his ability to hit for a decent average and get on base. Then maybe next year comes the power.

48. Things I didn’t see coming: Jeff Locke. Now 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in seven starts and he’s pitched seven-plus innings in five of those games.

49. Must-see TV on Friday: Jeff Samardzija versus Felix Hernandez.

50. Germany over Brazil. Argentina over the Netherlands.

We've reached the most fun part of the All-Star Game: Arguing about the final rosters.

The starters and reserves were named on Sunday and it was interesting to note the different philosophies of managers John Farrell and Mike Matheny in filling out their rosters. As expected, some worthy American League players were excluded and there were a couple surprising choices in the National League.

Some quick thoughts:

Worst American League starter: Derek Jeter, Yankees. While I actually don't have that big of an issue with Jeter starting -- there is no Troy Tulowitzki in the AL that he's keeping out of the lineup -- he's probably the worst starter we've had in a long time, hitting an empty .273 with mediocre defense and no power, worth 0.5 WAR so far. Matt Wieters was inexplicably voted in by the fans at catcher, but since he's out for the season, Salvador Perez will rightfully start in his place.

Worst National League starter: Aramis Ramirez, Brewers. Cincinnati's Todd Frazier is clearly the deserving starter at third base based on 2014 numbers while Ramirez is hitting .287 with 11 home runs. Considering Frazier, Matt Carpenter of the Cardinals and Anthony Rendon of the Nationals are better all-around players than Ramirez, his selection cost somebody an All-Star spot (Rendon is on the final player ballot).

Best ballot stuffing: Orioles and Brewers fans. Who says you need to play for the Yankees, Red Sox or Dodgers to have an edge in fan balloting? Adam Jones was never in the top three among outfielders until passing Yoenis Cespedes at the wire. He's a fine selection, however, and has come on strong after a slow April. Orioles fans also voted in Wieters and Nelson Cruz in that crowded DH slot that included Victor Martinez, Edwin Encarnacion, Brandon Moss and David Ortiz. Likewise, Carlos Gomez passed Giancarlo Stanton for the third outfield spot in the NL behind Yasiel Puig and Andrew McCutchen. Stanton clearly should be starting but Gomez is arguably one of the top three outfielders in the NL. Brewers fans, however, couldn't get Jonathan Lucroy voted in over Yadier Molina, so Lucroy will be the backup.

National League DH should be: Stanton. Pretty each choice here for Matheny. Heck, start him and let him play the entire game. A nation that never watches Marlins games should see this guy get four at-bats.

Jeff Samardzija, almost an All-Star. The players had actually voted for Samardzija as one of the five best starters in the NL, along with Johnny Cueto, Adam Wainwright, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner. Samardzija had a 1.68 ERA through May, so you can see why he fared well in the balloting. His ERA had since climbed to 2.83 with some bad outings and he was replaced by Julio Teheran of the Braves.

Worst player selection: Charlie Blackmon, Rockies. The players actually did a much better job than they usually do and Blackmon's selection was the only dubious choice, a guy who had a monster April but is down to .295/.341/.463, mediocre numbers for a guy who plays in Colorado. To be fair, the NL lacked obvious choices for the fifth and sixth outfielders, but they somehow came up with a player ranked 21st among NL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR. Justin Upton, Ryan Braun, Billy Hamilton or even Rockies teammate Corey Dickerson (hitting .340) would have been better selections.

The AL crunch: Farrell had some tough choices in filling out his squad. His manager selections were Jon Lester (deserving and the only Red Sox rep), David Price (deserving and the only Rays rep), Glen Perkins of the Twins, Max Scherzer of the Tigers, Kurt Suzuki of the Twins (a third catcher), Encarnacion and Moss. I guess you have to carry three catchers and I don't have a problem with the Scherzer selection. Encarnacion was a lock with his big numbers so the final choice probably came down to Moss or another player.

Biggest snubs: Ian Kinsler, Tigers; Kyle Seager, Mariners. And that led to Kinser and Seager being this year's biggest snubs. Entering Sunday, Kinsler ranked third among AL position players in fWAR and Seager seventh. In Baseball-Reference WAR, they ranked third and sixth, so by either measure two of the AL's top 10 players didn't make it. It's not that an undeserving player made it -- the players voted in Jose Altuve and Adrian Beltre as the backups at second and third -- just that there were too many good players and not enough spots (unless you want to knock out a third catcher). You can debate the Moss selection, but I can see the desire to have the left-handed power off the bench if needed late in the game. (Remember, it counts!)

Matt Carpenter and Pat Neshek are good selections: Matheny picked two of his own players -- third baseman Carpenter and righty reliever Neshek. I'm sure both picks will be criticized but when you dig into the numbers, both are worthy choices. Carpenter isn't having as good a season as last year, but he's still 10th among NL position players in fWAR and 15th in bWAR. Please, I don't want to hear that Casey McGehee is more deserving.

As for Neshek, his numbers are outstanding: 0.78 ERA, 35 strikeouts, four walks and a .134 average allowed. He has been as dominant as any reliever in the game, even if he's not a closer. He's also a great story, once one of the game's top set-up guys with the Twins in 2007 but suffering years of injuries since. On the day the A's clinched the AL West on the final day of the 2012 season, his infant son died after just 23 hours. The Cardinals signed him in February to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training, so Neshek certainly qualifies as this year's most improbable All-Star (along with Dellin Betances of the Yankees).

I suspect Matheny also picked Neshek for late-game strategic purposes -- his sidearm delivery is killer on right-handed batters (although he has been just as effective against lefties this year), so you can see him matching up against Encarnacion or Jose Abreu if there's a big moment late in the game. Similarly, Matheny picked Pirates lefty reliever Tony Watson, a good strategic move since he had only three other lefties on the team.

Strangest selection: That picking reserves for strategic reasons also led to the selection of Pirates utility man Josh Harrison. I get it: He's having a nice season and can play multiple positions, but it's a little odd to pick a guy who doesn't even start regularly for his own team (reminiscent of the Omar Infante choice a few years ago). Rendon -- who has played second and third -- is the better player and Matheny already had versatility with Carpenter and Dee Gordon.

Best AL final man: Chris Sale, White Sox. Farrell went with five pitchers -- Sale, Dallas Keuchel, Corey Kluber, Garrett Richards and Rick Porcello. I wrote the other day that four of these guys would be battling for a spot or two (along with Scott Kazmir, who got voted on by the players). All are worthy but the best choice is pretty easy since Sale is one of the top starters in the game and would have otherwise already made the team if not missing some time with an injury.

Best NL final man: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs. Torn here between Rizzo and Rendon, but since Matheny has already loaded up with third basemen and second basemen, let's go with Rizzo in case you need to swing for the fences late in the game.

Suggested AL lineup: Jeter better hit ninth. Mike Trout, CF; Robinson Cano, 2B; Jose Bautista, RF; Miguel Cabrera, 1B; Nelson Cruz, DH; Adam Jones, LF; Josh Donaldson, 3B; Salvador Perez, C; Derek Jeter, SS. With Felix Hernandez on the mound.

Suggested NL lineup. Yasiel Puig, RF; Andrew McCutchen, CF; Troy Tulowitzki, SS; Giancarlo Stanton, DH; Paul Goldschmidt, 1B; Carlos Gomez, LF; Aramis Ramirez, 3B; Chase Utley, 2B; Yadier Molina, C. With Clayton Kershaw on the bump.

Trade deadline preview: AL Central

July, 6, 2014
Jul 6
11:36
AM ET
We're going division by division to look at what each team needs to do at the trade deadline and what may actually happen. As always, you can keep up with the latest trade talk at Rumor Central.


Chicago White Sox

Status: Selling, but not as much as you'd think.

Biggest needs: Suddenly, the team that annually surprised with how much advanced metrics loved the production of its pitching staff can't buy an out. The White Sox have an admirable one-two combo up front in the rotation, are committed to John Danks and will be rushing Carlos Rodon up the ranks as fast as they usually do, but they have had their lack of pitching depth exposed this season.

General manager Rick Hahn has moved the organization away from big investments in relievers, so the Sox will be looking for potential starters who are close to the majors.

Available for trade: OF Dayan Viciedo (arbitration-eligible in 2015), 1B/DH Adam Dunn (free agent), SS Alexei Ramirez ($10 million in 2015, club option for 2016), 2B Gordon Beckham (third-year arbitration), OF Alejandro De Aza (third-year arbitration), C Tyler Flowers (arbitration-eligible), RP Ronald Belisario (free agent).

The White Sox have no tolerance for long-term rebuilds. The 2013 season is talked about like a war atrocity around these parts, and Hahn & Co. will likely be eyeing contention in 2015. The core is off the table, so forget Chris Sale, Jose Abreu and Jose Quintana and be prepared to have to push hard for Ramirez.

Possible suitors: The Mariners seem perfect. Shortstop Brad Miller has had a terrible season, although he was better in June. They need production from first base and designated hitter, could use a corner outfielder and have solid but not exorbitantly expensive pitching prospects they can spare, particularly James Paxton. The Pirates, Reds and Marlins all could use a shortstop who actually hits on occasion. Jed Lowrie has struggled for the A's, but Oakland would have to work hard to find the minor league pitching to make a Ramirez trade work. The Angels and Yankees could both use some left-handed thunder that Dunn may or may not have in him to provide.

Likely scenario: Against all odds, the Sox seem to be fielding offers for the OK-hitting, wackadoodle-fielding Viciedo. They simply have no reason to keep Dunn for the second half of 2014 and should realize it soon enough, even if it's not until after the waiver deadline. They are under no forced timeline to move Ramirez and still need to decide if any of their infield prospects can replace him. They will need to be blown away to make a deal.

-- James Fegan, The Catbird Seat


Cleveland Indians

Status: On the bubble.

Biggest needs: The Tribe have a big need for starting pitching (because Corey Kluber can't start every day) and a slightly less crucial need for some offensive oomph.

Possible trade targets: SS Asdrubal Cabrera and RHP Justin Masterson, who both become free agents at the end of the season. The Indians were unable to come to terms with Masterson before the season started, and it seems almost certain that he will test the free-agent market. Fans have been placing bets on when Cabrera will be traded since last season.

Up-and-coming prospect Francisco Lindor may not be ready to move up to the show to replace Cabrera, but the Tribe have a strong utilityman in Mike Aviles to fill in at short until Lindor is ready.

Prospect everyone will ask about: Lindor, who is untouchable. Danny Salazar showed enough potential and poise on the mound at the end of 2013 that teams might ask, even though some rough starts this season sent him back to Triple-A Columbus for more seasoning. The Indians and Rays discussed a trade for David Price at the end of 2013, but the Rays' demands started with Salazar (and Carlos Santana). If Cleveland wasn't interested in parting with Salazar then, it doesn't seem likely it would do so now.

Likely scenario: They can't get rid of Masterson unless they get pitching in return, and the set of available starting pitchers who could make an immediate impact consists of guys named David Price. It seems unlikely that the Rays' demands for Price have lessened since December, and Salazar and Santana may not be as interesting anyway. The Indians still look at themselves as possible contenders, so they have to do something to bolster the roster. Cabrera for a DH/power hitter seems most probable.

-- Susan Petrone, It's Pronounced "Lajaway"


Detroit Tigers

Status: All-in.

Biggest needs: The bullpen has been the biggest issue for the Tigers from day one -- and that was before Joe Nathan's struggles began. For the second year in a row, the Tigers will almost certainly be big players in the reliever market. A month ago, shortstop would have been up there on this list, but Eugenio Suarez's emergence has addressed that somewhat. They may still look for a more proven veteran if the opportunity arises, though.

Possible trade targets: Relievers such as Joaquin Benoit and Huston Street of San Diego, Arizona's Brad Ziegler or even Texas' Joakim Soria if the price is right.

Prospect everyone will want but the Tigers won’t want to trade: Now that Nick Castellanos has graduated to the majors, the Tigers' system is short on real blue-chip prospects. Second baseman Devon Travis is one of the best they can offer, and he will be asked about. He's an asset because of his bat; he hit over .350 in Class A and is hitting .291 at Double-A Erie. The Tigers would prefer to keep Travis, but they are an aggressive team when it comes to making moves and won't consider anyone off-limits if the deal works for them.

Likely scenario: The Tigers will probably land a reliever. They've already been linked to Benoit, who the Tigers know well after he spent three years with the club. It probably won't be a huge name or someone regarded as a proven closer, but more likely someone who can help them through the seventh and occasionally eighth inning.

-- Grey Papke, Walkoff Woodward


Kansas City Royals

Status: All-in as they try to catch the Tigers or win a wild card for their first postseason appearance since 1985.

Biggest needs: Power. The Royals are last in the American League in home runs, and Raul Ibanez is unlikely to be the answer. Trouble is, whom do you bump? Right field, where Norichika Aoki failed to do the job and is currently on the DL, is the obvious hole, but first baseman Eric Hosmer has four home runs and DH Billy Butler has two, so the Royals need to at least consider upgrading those positions.

Possible trade targets: OF Marlon Byrd, DH Adam Dunn, 1B/DH Chris Carter, OF Dayan Viciedo, DH Kendrys Morales.

Prospect everyone will ask about: RHP Kyle Zimmer, the team's top prospect heading into the season, has yet to pitch because of a muscle strain in his shoulder. Shortstop Raul Mondesi Jr. was a top-50 prospect before the season but has struggled in high Class A, hitting .216. But he is 18 and the Royals won't give up on him just yet.

Likely scenario: While Byrd would be the best fit, he is signed through next season with a 2016 option, and even an $8 million future salary may scare off the Royals. Dunn and Carter, with their high strikeout rates, aren't Royals type of players, although Dunn has been good enough to at least warrant consideration. Don't be surprised if the Royals stand pat and just hope Hosmer and Butler start hitting.

-- David Schoenfield


Minnesota Twins

Status: Selling and retooling.

Trade targets for other teams: OF Josh Willingham (free agent), 1B/DH Kendrys Morales (free agent), SP Kevin Correia (free agent), C Kurt Suzuki (free agent).

Possible suitors: Any team needing a bat could take an interest in Willingham, who has shown good power and patience at the plate and might be one of the best bats available at the deadline, though his age and lack of mobility in left field will limit his return. Morales is a big name who would be an interesting pickup for some team if he heats up a little.

What they need: Young, talented players. The Twins are looking to rebuild internally, and any quality prospects who could aid the arrival of Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Alex Meyer and others would be welcomed.

Likely scenario: The Twins flip Willingham and maybe another expiring veteran for a couple B-level prospects.

-- Nick Nelson, Twins Daily


Jim Bowden, Jerry Crasnick, Buster Olney, Jayson Stark and myself presented our 34-man All-Star rosters today. Here are our National League selections and here are our American League selections. Of course, our choices aren't affected by fan balloting or the players choosing the wrong backup (although we did stick to the rule of requiring one rep from each team), so the real rosters will likely include some names that none of us included.

I thought I'd explain my selections in a little more detail.

National League

I thought the NL selections were much easier than the AL. In fact, I struggled to find obvious candidates for the final couple of spots.

Starters
C -- Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
1B -- Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks
2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies
3B -- Todd Frazier, Reds
SS -- Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
LF -- Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
CF -- Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
RF -- Yasiel Puig, Dodgers
DH -- Freddie Freeman, Braves
SP -- Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

I thought this was pretty straightforward, with the only debate being Puig or Carlos Gomez for the third outfield spot. I settled it this way: Who would I rather see? And that tiebreaker goes to Puig. I could have made Gomez the DH, but the NL was lacking in other outfield candidates, so I cleared some of the logjam at first base by making Freeman the DH and bringing Gomez off the bench. Sorry, Carlos.

Johnny Cueto and Adam Wainwright certainly have strong arguments to start and if you want to disagree with Kershaw, I won't put up much of a fight. Yes, he missed a month, but he's back, he's dominating and he's the best pitcher in the game.

Reserves
C -- Yadier Molina, Cardinals
C -- Devin Mesoraco, Reds
C -- Buster Posey, Giants
1B -- Anthony Rizzo, Cubs
2B -- Daniel Murphy, Mets
2B -- Dee Gordon, Dodgers
3B -- Anthony Rendon, Nationals
3B -- Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
SS -- Hanley Ramirez, Dodgers
OF -- Carlos Gomez, Brewers
OF -- Ryan Braun, Brewers
OF -- Justin Upton, Braves

I went three catchers because all are deserving. Molina and Posey maybe aren't having their typical seasons but they're two of the biggest stars in the game and Mesoraco makes it over the injured Evan Gattis for his monster first half. Rizzo was an easy call over Adam LaRoche and Justin Morneau, as nice a story as it would be to see Morneau go back to Minnesota (I have a feeling that he'll somehow make the real All-Star team). Murphy makes it as my lone Mets' rep and I took Hanley over Starlin Castro and Jhonny Peralta, although any of three are justifiable. Rendon is a rising star and second among NL third basemen in WAR. Carpenter isn't having the year he had last year but still has a .378 OBP and 53 runs scored. He's a better player than Aramis Ramirez or Casey McGehee, plus he can play second if needed (the game counts after all!)

After Gomez, the outfield choices were more difficult. In the end, I went with Braun and Upton over Hunter Pence, Jason Heyward's defense and rookie speedster Billy Hamilton. I was the only one to pick Braun, but he's hitting .293/.342/.515 and, like him or not, it's called the All-STAR Game and Braun is a star. My final choice was one of tactics: It came down to Gordon or Hamilton over Pence, to have a pinch-running option late in a close game if needed. Gordon has the better success rate (and has been a little better at the plate), so he gets the nod.

Pitching staff
SP -- Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
SP -- Johnny Cueto, Reds
SP -- Julio Teheran, Braves
SP -- Zack Greinke, Dodgers
SP -- Madison Bumgarner, Giants
SP -- Tim Hudson, Giants
SP -- Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
SP -- Jake Arrieta, Cubs
RP -- Craig Kimbrel, Braves
RP -- Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers
RP -- Huston Street, Padres
RP -- Aroldis Chapman, Reds

We had to pick four relievers and these four were pretty clear. Street gives me a Padres rep and Chapman, while missing time after his spring training line drive to the head, is one of the game's star relievers and has struck out 46 batters in 23.2 innings. For the starters, the first six listed above were pretty clear selections. I went with Zimmermann over teammate Stephen Strasburg and then Arrieta for the final spot. Maybe that's dubious choice since he's really had just the one dominant month, but he is 5-1 with a 1.81 ERA and has terrific periphals. If you want to go with Strasburg or his Cubs teammate Jason Hammel instead, that's fine with me.

The one concern here is that with Kershaw starting, there are only two lefties in the pen in Bumgarner and Chapman. For that reason, I did consider Cole Hamels, who has been great even if his 2-5 record isn't. The actual roster will likely include a couple replacements like it always does, so I could see a lefty setup guy like Tony Watson (0.93 ERA) of the Pirates eventually making it.

Just missed: Hamilton, Pence, Strasburg, Hammel, Henderson Alvarez.

American League

C -- Salvador Perez, Royals
1B -- Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2B -- Robinson Cano, Mariners
3B -- Josh Donaldson, A's
SS -- Derek Jeter, Yankees
LF -- Michael Brantley, Indians
CF -- Mike Trout, Angels
RF -- Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
DH -- Victor Martienez, Tigers
SP -- Felix Hernandez, Mariners

Derek Jeter? OK, Derek Jeter. Of course he doesn't deserve to make the team on his 2014 merit, but in lieu of a Tulowitzki or even half of a Tulowitzki in the AL, he's the guy I want to see start. At third, you could go Donaldson, Adrian Beltre or Kyle Seager. Donaldson holds a slight edge over Seager in FanGraphs WAR and a bigger one on Baseball-Reference, with Beltre well behind on both, so Donaldson gets my nod. Left field could be Brantley or Alex Gordon or Yoenis Cespedes or Nelson Cruz, who is listed on the ballot as a DH although has started 38 games in left. I went with Brantley but, really, any of the four are reasonable selections. DH was just as tough with Martinez, Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion. Again, any of three work. Maybe we can just play Encarnacion at shortstop and hope nobody hits the ball to him.

OK, King Felix versus Masahiro Tanaka. Tough call since their numbers are about identical. Flip a coin. Yes, I'm a Mariners fan, but the difference for me was Hernandez has allowed four home runs and Tanaka 13. I know Tanaka is a great story but Hernandez has been one of the best pitchers for many years now and has never started the All-Star Game. Hey, there's also the chance that Tanaka could turn into a Jack Armstrong pumpkin (just kidding, Yankees fans).

Reserves
C -- Derek Norris, A's
1B -- Jose Abreu, White Sox
1B/DH -- Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays
2B -- Jose Altuve, Astros
2B -- Ian Kinsler, Tigers
3B -- Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3B -- Kyle Seager, Mariners
SS -- Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
OF -- Alex Gordon, Royals
OF -- Adam Jones, Orioles
OF/DH -- Nelson Cruz, Orioles
OF/1B -- Brandon Moss, A's

It will be interesting to see how the real AL roster shakes out. I assume since Cruz and Moss were listed as DHs on the ballot that they weren't considered outfielders for the player vote. So, assuming Cespedes holds on to the fan lead for the third spot, your minimum of three backup outfielders will come from the Brantley/Gordon/Jones group -- except Jones got off to a terrible start and Brantley isn't a big name, so the players may instead vote in guys like Jacoby Ellsbury and Melky Cabrera (who got off to a strong start). If Brantley then makes it as the Indians rep and David Ortiz fares well in the player vote, it's possible that Martinez and Encarnacion both get squeezed off the roster (Cruz is leading the fan voting at DH).

As for the other backup, I actually cheated by including just one backup catcher when we told to include two. (Sorry, boss.) So three catchers from a weak AL group would further squeeze a deserving player off the team. I would have loved to have found room for hometown Twins second baseman Brian Dozier to make it, but I can't justify his selection over Altuve or Kinsler. The second shortstop could be Ramirez, Erick Aybar or Alcides Escobar; I don't really care which one. My final spot came down to Moss or teammate Cespedes. In part, this is a strategic move: Having that big lefty bat off the bench could be important (not that managers actually manage strategically in the game).

Pitching staff
SP -- Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
SP -- Yu Darvish, Rangers
SP -- David Price, Rays
SP -- Jon Lester, Red Sox
SP -- Chris Sale, White Sox
SP -- Max Scherzer, Tigers
SP -- Garrett Richards, Angels
SP -- Mark Buehrle, Blue Jays
RP -- Greg Holland, Royals
RP -- Glen Perkins, Twins
RP -- Koji Uehara, Red Sox
RP -- Sean Doolittle, A's

Love this staff. Great righty/lefty balance. My automatic selections were Tanaka, Darvish, Price, Lester and Sale, with Scherzer next in line even if his ERA is a little high. Richards and Buehrle got the edge over a strong pool of candidates that included Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Rick Porcello, Dallas Keuchel, Anibal Sanchez and even Phil Hughes. Like I said, a lot more difficult calls in the AL.

For the bullpen, Perkins makes it on merit, not just as the Twins rep. He does have a 3.41 ERA but has a 46/7 strikeout/walk ratio and just two home runs allowed and has been very good for four years now. Doolittle is a second lefty and you know his crazy numbers: 57 strikeouts and two walks. Apologies here to Yankees setup man Dellin Betances and his dominant strikeout rate. I'm guessing he finds his way on to the actual roster.

Just missed: Cespedes, Dozier, Kluber, Keuchel, Betances.


Not only that: Rick Porcello threw a no-strikeout, no-walk shutout -- the first time that's happened since Jeff Ballard did it in 1989, making this one of the coolest performances of the season.

Porcello's four-hit gem to beat the A's 3-0 was a thing of beauty: He threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 31 batters, increased his scoreless streak to 25 innings and improved to 11-4 with a 3.12 ERA. In this age of more strikeouts and more strikeouts, Porcello is a throwback to another era ... one that existed a mere 25 years ago, when you didn't have to average nine or 10 strikeouts per nine innings to be considered an elite pitcher.

[+] EnlargeRick Porcello
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonRick Porcello's breakthrough this season could put him in the All-Star Game.
Porcello has 62 strikeouts in 106 2/3 innings and a K rate of 5.2 per nine innings. Among the 93 qualified starting pitchers, that rate ranks 87th; his sinker induces ground balls, not strikeouts. It's just a different style of pitching than we're used to now, but there's no reason it can't be successful. Back in the '80s and up through 1993, the league-average strikeout rate was less than six per innings, so obviously many pitchers won back then with strikeout rates similar to Porcello's.

His approach does require good infield defense, and the Tigers are definitely stronger in that area this season, with the departure of Prince Fielder, the move of Miguel Cabrera from third base to first base and the addition of Ian Kinsler. More shifting also helps. It's no coincidence that Porcello's average on balls in play is .266, after averaging .327 from 2011 to 2013.

It's not just better defense, however; Porcello is throwing his curveball more -- 16 percent of his pitches this year compared to 8 percent of the time over the previous three seasons. To be fair, this trend started last season and has proven to be an effective pitch, as batters have hit .208 against it the past two seasons, compared to .293 against his slider. More curves and better defense have made Porcello a better pitcher. He's been around so long that we forget that he's still 25, clearly young enough to still be learning and adapting his stuff.

This time of year, it's fun to talk about potential All-Star selections. Porcello's strong first half certainly puts him in prime consideration for a spot. Once you get past some of the automatic selections -- Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, Jon Lester, David Price, Chris Sale (well, he should be automatic, even if he missed time with an injury), here are four other surprise guys battling Porcello for maybe one or two spots on the American League staff:

Garrett Richards, Angels (9-2, 2.81 ERA, .194 AVG, 108 SO, 40 BB). Richards is the new kind of cool: high-octane fastball and a wipeout slider. His average fastball velocity is second in the majors among starters to Yordano Ventura, and he's improved his command to become an elite starter in the first half. Like Porcello, he helped his All-Star case with a strong outing on Tuesday. He gave up a three-run home run to Jose Abreu in the first inning after he had walked two batters, but then he settled down and over his final seven innings allowed just one more hit and no walks. That's exactly the sign of maturing the Angels are seeing this year. Another example: After the A's knocked him out in the first inning on May 30, he's responded with his best stretch of the season, with a 1.49 ERA and .147 average allowed over six starts. At this point, he's just about a lock to make the team.

Dallas Keuchel, Astros (8-5, 2.78, .234 AVG, 88 SO, 26 BB). Who saw this coming? I don't want to compare him to Tom Glavine, but he's kind of like Tom Glavine. His fastball sits 89 to 92 and he pounds the outside corner with fastballs and changeups. He'll also go inside to righties with a wipeout slider -- righties are hitting .151 against with 26 strikeouts in 56 plate appearances.

There was nothing in Keuchel's track record that said he could be this good -- he owned a 5.20 ERA over his first two seasons with Houston while giving up 34 home runs in 239 innings -- but there's no fluke here. The strikeout rate is good enough, his control is excellent and he keeps the ball down in the zone, a reason he's allowed just five home runs. I think he's the real deal, one of those lefties who figures things out ... just like Glavine did after a rocky start in his first couple of years with the Braves.

SportsNation

Which one of these AL starters is most deserving of an All-Star spot?

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    20%
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    3%
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    6%
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    59%
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    12%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,995)

Corey Kluber, Indians (7-6, 2.99 ERA, .254 AVG, 127 SO, 29 BB). Kluber actually had a breakout season of sorts last year with a 3.85 ERA and excellent peripherals, but he made just 24 starts, so it didn't get much attention. But check out that strikeout rate: 127 whiffs in 117 1/3 innings. He's eighth among all starters in strikeout percentage. His curveball has developed into one of the most unhittable weapons in the league: Batters are hitting .087 against it with 61 strikeouts, three walks and no home runs. Yes, those are Kershaw-esque types of results.

Don't put too much emphasis on that win-loss record. Kluber has allowed two runs or fewer in 11 of his 18 starts but has won just six of those games. He's good. How are we going to find room for all these guys?

Scott Kazmir, A's (9-3, 2.16 ERA, .216 AVG, 91 SO, 24 BB). Kazmir was one of the best stories of 2013, when he returned after years of injuries, awful results and not even pitching in the majors to go 10-9 with Cleveland. He's been even better with Oakland this year, justifying the two-year contract the A's gave him as a free agent. Kazmir's fastball isn't as overpowering as it was when he was a two-time All-Star with Tampa Bay in 2006 and 2008, but he still throws in the low 90s and mixes in a slider, curve, cutter and changeup, with the changeup becoming his best strikeout pitch.

OK, five guys, all worthy first-half All-Stars. Which one most deserves to make the American League's All-Star team?


As my friend Thomas the Tigers fan tweeted after Rajai Davis' dramatic walk-off grand slam off Sean Doolittle gave the Tigers a 5-4 win over the A's: "Best thing about it? No chance for Joe Nathan to blow the save."

So here's a question: Does this game say more about the Tigers or the A's? Yes, it could say nothing other than a gritty win for Detroit in the middle of a long season and a tough loss for Oakland in the middle of a long season, and that's generally how baseball players view results. They put the day's game behind them and come back to the park the next day with a clean slate. You have to do that in baseball since there are 161 next games on the schedule.

Still, these are people and not machines or stat lines, so it's fair to bring up the issue of whether the Tigers have a little whammy over the A's, having defeated them in the postseason the past two Octobers thanks in large part to the singular dominance of Justin Verlander. In some fashion, it's not unlike where the Red Sox and Yankees stood back in 2004. The Red Sox knew that to win it all they would eventually have to beat the Yankees; while the Tigers themselves are trying to win a World Series after winning the past three AL Central division titles, the A's have to know there's a good chance they'll have to go through the Tigers at some point.

[+] EnlargeRajai Davis and Miguel Cabrera
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsEven Miguel Cabrera was impressed by Rajai Davis belting a walk-off grand slam.
That's why Monday's result matters, even if it puts even one-tenth of one percent of doubt in the heads of the A's. It's not simply a matter of wiping it from your brain. Stuff lingers; bad losses linger. You don't think if Doolittle has to face Davis -- or, more problematic, Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez -- in a big moment in October that maybe Monday's grand slam has the potential to create just a little more pressure? Not every reliever has the veins of ice like Mariano Rivera.

Doolittle, of course, entered this outing with some mind-boggling season numbers, namely his totals of 56 strikeouts and one walk. Those are Little League numbers. Doolittle's approach is pretty simple: The lefty pounds the strike zone with fastball after fastball. He throws first-pitch fastballs over the plate -- and then with two strikes goes up in the zone. For some reason, it's taken opponents half a season to figure out that you have to attack Doolittle early in the count.

Doolittle entered with a 4-1 lead. Nick Castellanos led off with an infield single against an 0-1 fastball at the knees. Alex Avila hit a line drive to right -- a first-pitch low fastball. After Eugenio Suarez struck out, Austin Jackson walked on a 3-2 inside fastball, a terrific battle in which Jackson fouled off three 2-2 fastballs (clocked at 97, 96 and 97 mph). All nine pitches to Jackson were fastballs. You'd think Davis would be sitting fastball, but instead Doolittle threw him two sliders, the first for a ball and the second that Davis sent over the fence in left field. Good job, Rajai -- just the fourth Tigers player since 1969 to hit a walk-off grand slam while trailing.

Doolittle has now blown saves in his past two appearances. I'm not too worried about him; this was just one of those games that happens to the best of closers. I don't think we're entering Jim Johnson territory here. Doolittle does, after all, still own a 57-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39⅓ innings -- and that's going to work over the long haul.

That doesn't mean there aren't minor concerns about the Oakland bullpen. One thing that worked so well over the previous two years was the A's had Grant Balfour closing with Doolittle and Ryan Cook primarily working the seventh and eighth, with manager Bob Melvin using those two to match up as needed (not that Doolittle is a situational lefty or anything; he's just as good against righties). With Johnson struggling early on, the primary setup guys have been Luke Gregerson and Dan Otero, two right-handers, although lefty Fernando Abad has started pitching his way into more high-stress situations.

Overall, that's still a strong group and the A's are fifth in the majors in bullpen ERA. They are, however, seventh in bullpen innings pitched, and none of the six teams that have used their bullpens more are currently in a playoff position. That's why the one area the A's are most likely to address is the starting rotation. Check out the month-by-month ERA and OPS for the Oakland rotation:

SportsNation

Do you think the Tigers own a mental edge over the A's after beating them in the playoffs the past two years?

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    80%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,297)

April: 2.85/.622
May: 3.12/.676
June: 4.00/.707

That's a trend in the wrong direction. While GM Billy Beane doesn't need to overreact, he also knows Sonny Gray and Jesse Chavez have never had a 30-start season in the majors and Scott Kazmir hasn't had one since 2007. As valuable as Chavez has been as a surprise starter, is he really a No. 3 guy for a playoff series? That's why Oakland will likely be in on the non-David Price, non-Jeff Samardzija starters who may be available -- guys like Jason Hammel, Ian Kennedy, Brandon McCarthy and so on.

OK, Tigers fans are waiting for something about the Tigers since they won the game. The Tigers have their own bullpen issues, as our pal Thomas hinted at in his tweet. Certainly, Huston Street ($7 million team option for next year) and/or Joaquin Benoit ($8 million next year with 2016 option) of the Padres would be of interest. Detroit is now 9-2 since temporarily falling behind the Royals for three days. Verlander has been a little better his past two starts and you can see the offense starting to come together a little better with the additions of J.D. Martinez and Suarez.

Another key has been Castellanos, the rookie third baseman who hit .337/.365/.520 in June. With Avila getting on base at a .348 clip, the Detroit offense suddenly has some depth in the order behind Ian Kinsler, Cabrera and Victor Martinez. The two weak spots have been Jackson and veteran Torii Hunter, who hit just .194 in June. Considering Hunter's poor defensive metrics, age may finally have caught up to the 38-year-old. That's why J.D. Martinez's outburst has been vital.

That all makes the Tigers the heavy favorite in the AL Central -- as everyone said back in March. They should get back to October. Maybe they'll face the A's. And then we can remember this game on the final day of June.
Eric Karabell and David Schoenfield took your questions about this week's Power Rankings.

Why Tigers are AL favorites

June, 29, 2014
Jun 29
12:50
AM ET

With the season nearly half over, the Detroit Tigers have stumbled to first place in the AL Central. And yes, I said "stumbled." As you might recall, the Tigers were the ESPN Forecast preseason prediction to be the American League representative in the World Series. Yet so far they have the second-best record and worst run differential of the three AL division leaders.

As bland as leading a division by 4.5 games can be (which can make all the difference in sudden-death wild-card formats), the 2014 Tigers could have been even worse. I wouldn’t call it karma, but trading Prince Fielder seemed fortunate, especially after he stuck his neck out with some rather nonchalant comments about last year’s playoffs but before he had the season-ending neck injury. Throw in slow starts from Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera, a false start from Joe Nathan, and no start at all from their original starting shortstop, Jose Iglesias, and even the Cleveland Indians (briefly) looked competitive.

That phase has passed. After Saturday's come-from-behind victory over the Houston Astros, the Tigers are 8-2 in their past 10 games while other teams in the AL Central have wilted. Cabrera, their reigning Triple Crown winner, has a .994 OPS over the past week. To complement Cabrera, Victor Martinez hasn't exactly been roster filler either, nesting himself among the league leaders in hitters. And the guy they acquired for Fielder? Ian Kinsler's got a higher WAR than Martinez and Cabrera. While you might be dazzled by the offense, don't forget that the Tigers have two Cy Young award winners, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, on their staff which can make all the difference in a short series playoff format. Furthermore, they have remaining upside on both sides of the ball if Jackson returns to form and Nathan returns to relevance.

[+] EnlargeIan Kinsler
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesIan Kinsler for Prince Fielder? The Tigers have certainly gotten the better end of that deal so far.
But what if Jackson falters or Nathan remains, um, not good? What separates the Tigers from the other AL division leaders and wild-card wannabes is that they have much more flexibility to make moves at the trade deadline, getting the players needed to win in 2014. It is no secret that Mike Ilitch, the elder Tigers’ owner, badly wants to win a World Series. Ilitch has thrown, wisely, his support (and let’s not forget the money) to a front office headed by GM Dave Dombrowski, who has provided Detroit with one of baseball's rarities, a team that perpetually wins.

We’ve seen evidence of Dombrowski's handiwork beyond the Fielder trade. Before the season, he signed J.D. Martinez to a minor league contract and called him up near the end of April to avert an offensive outfield offense. While Martinez has been used sparingly and is highly unlikely to continue to post an elite OPS of .957, he’s bought time for the rest of the offense to find its wheels. Meanwhile, though Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Castellanos has been serviceable at third base, Dombrowski’s early promotion of Eugenio Suarez to plug the shortstop hole is paying off offensively, if not defensively, so far.

Furthermore, there’s little that blocks Dombrowski from making a future move. Though the Tigers' farm system isn’t the richest in the world, there is still some talent that can be used to snatch players from “rebuilding” teams. Meanwhile, they can still take on more money despite having a payroll in excess of $161M. Comparatively, the Blue Jays and A’s are both near their limit payroll-wise. Sure, they can acquire players for prospects (which would be a break for the norm for both of them), but the Tigers can swim in both ends of the pool.

If Hunter continues to look better smiling than he does hitting, he can ride the bench and be sent on his merry way while a star player (and their ensuing salary) is brought on. Ilitch has the finances to absorb a Nathan demoted to middle reliever status if it means bringing on a still-working closer. If Castellanos (or some other Tiger) goes into a horrible slump, the Tigers can make a move. Those are worst case scenarios from a front office that wants to win. If Castellanos achieves his upside, pure gravy cometh.

The AL East and AL West are still tight races, meaning that even the Oakland A's, with their lofty run differential, could get bumped out early in either a wild-card game or short series. We also know that there are teams "in the hunt" such as the Los Angeles Angels or (gasp) the New York Yankees that will spend. While the Tigers, at present, have neither the best record nor the best run differential, they have an outstanding group of core talent, they are in the best position to win their division and have the kind of roster that can go far in the playoffs. Furthermore, they have a front office empowered to make moves that their rivals just can't or won't make.

Richard Bergstrom writes for Rockies Zingers, a SweetSpot network blog on the Colorado Rockies.


The reason for doing this piece should be pretty obvious: Masahiro Tanaka is 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA, leading the American League in wins and ERA. He's not just the clear best rookie so far but a Cy Young and MVP contender.

Tanaka makes his 16th start on Saturday and his consistency has perhaps been his most impressive attribute. He's pitched at least six innings each start and allowed more than three runs just once, a four-run game against the Cubs in May. He's allowed more hits than innings three times and has reached double-digit strikeouts in five starts, second-most in the majors only to David Price. His splitter has been as good -- or better -- than advertised, as opponents are hitting .119 against it with one home run (his first pitch of the season, actually).

Of course, some don't like to call him a rookie considering his years of experience in Japan, but he's a rookie under MLB rules. We're just about at the halfway point and Tanaka has earned 4.1 Wins Above Replacement via Baseball-Reference. Double that and you get 8.2, and only one rookie pitcher since the lively ball era began in 1920 has been worth more.

More on that guy later. Let's take a look at some of the great rookie seasons ever since 1901.

The MVPs: Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Mariners (7.7 WAR), and Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox (7.4 WAR)
Suzuki and Lynn rank fourth and fifth on the all-time rookie list for WAR among position players, if we consider Joe Jackson a rookie in 1911. Did both deserve their awards? Suzuki ranked fourth in the AL in WAR, behind Jason Giambi (9.1), teammate Bret Boone (8.8) and Alex Rodriguez (8.4). I always thought Boone deserved MVP honors that year, hitting .331 while driving in a league-leading 141 runs. Of course, one reason he drove in 141 was Ichiro getting on in front of him. There's no doubt Ichiro had the "wow" factor that year and was so unique -- this little guy playing small ball in the middle of the steroids era -- that everyone fell in love with him.

Lynn hit .331 with 21 home runs and 105 RBIs, leading the league in slugging percentage, runs and doubles and winning a Gold Glove for his defense in center. Baseball-Reference has Rod Carew (7.8 WAR) better, but you can't argue with Lynn getting MVP honors considering the numbers are close and the Red Sox won the AL East while the Twins finished under .500.

The should-have-been MVP: Mike Trout, 2012 Angels (10.8 WAR)
Not to rehash old wounds, but Trout's rookie season WAR is easily the best ever for a rookie position player -- and one of the best ever no matter the experience level. He hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 129 runs and a league-leading 49 steals in a depressed offensive era. He played great defense, including four home run robberies. Baseball-Reference ranks his season 22nd all-time since 1901 among position players and the seventh-best of the expansion era (1961).

The only other rookie position player to lead his league in WAR was Paul Waner of the 1926 Pirates, by the modest total of 5.3.

A guy you've probably never heard of: Russ Ford, 1910 Yankees (11.0 WAR)
Actually, they were still called the Highlanders back then. Ford was a right-hander born in Manitoba, Canada -- the first player born in that province to reach the major leagues (and still just one of three, and the other two played a combined 14 games in the majors). Ford had pitched one game in 1909 and then went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA in 1910, great numbers even for the dead-ball era. He ranked second to Walter Johnson in pitching WAR. His secret? He used an emery board hidden in his glove to scuff up the baseball. The pitch was actually legal back then and Ford was apparently an early practitioner of the pitch, or maybe even its inventor.

This SABR bio of Ford says he claimed to the press that he had 14 different varieties of the spitball (also still a legal pitch). "He had the emery paper attached to a piece of string, which was fastened to the inside of his undershirt," said umpire Billy Evans. "He had a hole in the center of his glove. At the end of each inning he would slip the emery paper under the tight-fitting undershirt, while at the start of each inning he would allow it to drop into the palm of his glove."

Ford wasn't quite a one-year wonder. He was effective in 1911 but then led the league in losses in 1912 as he started suffering from arm fatigue. He jumped to the Federal League in 1914 but then the emery ball was banned, and combined with his arm problems, Ford was out of the majors by 1916.

Best rookie teammates: Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 WAR) and Vean Gregg, 1911 Indians (9.1 WAR)
There is dispute on whether to call Jackson a rookie or not. He had 127 plate appearances with the Athletics and Indians over the three previous seasons, below the 140-PA standard we now use, although he probably exceeded the roster time limits. I would prefer to call him a rookie, and what a year he had: He hit .408/.468/.590, knocked in 83 runs and stole 41 bases. He was the second-best player in the league behind Ty Cobb, who hit .420.

His teammate has been forgotten, but Gregg went 23-7 with a league-leading 1.80 ERA. The 6-foot-2 left-hander was already 26 years old when he joined the Indians. Actually, the Indians had purchased his contract from Spokane in 1910, but Gregg refused to sign with Cleveland for $250 a month and was instead sold on option to Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He won 32 games and finally went to Cleveland.

That was a pretty interesting team. Besides Jackson and Gregg, you had an aging Cy Young in his final season (for seven starts) and Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. Star pitcher Addie Joss, who had fallen ill the previous season, died in April. Anyway, Gregg was a revelation. Cobb and Eddie Collins called him the best left-hander in the league. He remains the only pitcher to win 20 or more games his first three seasons in the majors. Unfortunately, Gregg suffered from recurring arm pain throughout his career and 1913 was his last good season in the majors, although he eventually returned to the PCL and had some good years with Seattle.

1964: Dick Allen, Phillies (8.8 WAR) and Tony Oliva, Twins (6.8)
Allen's WAR total is third among rookie position players behind Trout and Jackson. He hit .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs while leading the NL in runs and triples. Oliva won the AL batting title with a .323 mark and hit 32 home runs, also leading in hits, runs and doubles. Both had Hall of Fame talent, although they failed to get there. Oliva led the league five times in hits and won two more batting titles but had knee injuries that ruined the second half of his career.

The catchers: Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox (7.2 WAR) and Mike Piazza, 1993 Dodgers (7.0)
In a dominant year for pitchers, Fisk hit .293/.370/.538, making him one of the best players in the league. Piazza hit .318/.370/.561 with 35 home runs. Fisk finished fourth in the MVP voting, Piazza ninth (although he ranked second to Barry Bonds in WAR).

The shortstops: Troy Tulowitzki, 2007 Rockies (6.8 WAR) and Nomar Garciaparra, 1997 Red Sox (6.6 WAR)
Kind of similar in one regard: If Garciaparra had remained healthy, he was on a Hall of Fame trek through the first part of his career. As a rookie, he hit .306 with 85 extra-base hits. Tulo: If he stays healthy, we could be talking about a Hall of Famer.

Ted Williams, 1939 Red Sox (6.7 WAR)
Williams hit .327 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 145 RBIs as a 20-year-old rookie. He was already cocky. When asked before the season opener who he hit like, Williams said, "I hit like Ted Williams." It was in April of his rookie season when he uttered his famous quote, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

Fifty-two years later, another future Hall of Famer put up nearly identical numbers:

Williams: .327/.436/.609, 31 HR, 145 RBIs
Albert Pujols: .329/.403/.610, 37 HR, 130 RBIs

Greatest relief season ever: Mark Eichhorn, 1986 Blue Jays (7.4 WAR)
By greatest, I don't mean just among rookies. Eichhorn's season was a season for the ages: 14-6, 1.72 ERA, 10 saves and a mind-boggling 157 innings pitched. The sidearmer struck out 166 and allowed just 105 hits. Somehow, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner, whose combined WAR doesn't beat Eichhorn's 7.4.

Britt Burns, 1980 White Sox (7.0 WAR)
Among starting pitchers since 1980, Burns has the highest WAR -- Jose Fernandez's 6.3 from last year would be second-highest. (Dwight Gooden had a 5.5 WAR in 1984; thought he'd rank a little higher.) Burns went 15-13 with a 2.84 ERA, throwing 238 innings at age 21. He actually led AL pitchers in WAR that but didn't factor in the Cy Young voting due to his win-loss record (the White Sox were 70-90 that year). Burns also finished just fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, which didn't make any sense. Joe Charboneau won it and Dave Stapleton, a part-time first baseman for Boston who hit seven home runs, was second.

Burns, who made his debut in 1978 just two months after getting drafted, made the All-Star team in 1981 and could have been a great one. He hurt his shoulder in 1982, costing him velocity, and suffered from a degenerative hip condition. After winning 18 games in 1985, he never pitched again in the majors.

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Mark Fidrych, 1976 Tigers (9.6 WAR)
A lot of pitchers in the pre-1920 era put up big numbers as a rookie. Hall of Famer Pete Alexander, for example, went 28-13 while pitching 367 innings for the Phillies. Even then, Alexander's WAR doesn't beat what Fidrych did in his rookie season with the Tigers.

The numbers are astounding -- 19-9, 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games in 29 starts -- but don't begin to tell the story of Fidrych's magical season. He didn't even begin the season in the rotation, pitching once in relief in April and then once in early May before finally making his first start on May 15. He threw a two-hitter. He started again 10 days later and lost that game but then came a remarkable run: From May 31 through July 20, Fidrych went 10-1 in 11 starts with 10 complete games. He averaged more than nine innings per start because he twice pitched 11 innings. He was a phenomenon, this quirky kid with the curly hair who talked to the baseball.

I just mentioned this video the other day, but here it is again: the final moments of Fidrych's Monday night game against the Yankees that June. As the announcer says, "He is some kind of unbelievable."
In my Tuesday chat session, we somehow got on the topic of one-year wonders. I mentioned Mark Fidrych, who had a great rookie season with the Tigers in 1976 and then got injured.

Chris from NYC responded: "I saw Fidrych pitch live a few times and he was absolutely electrifying. I never experienced anything else like him at a sporting event."

I mentioned a video from Fidrych's famous 1976 Monday night game against the Yankees. I'm sure I've written about that game before; I was 7 years old and it's probably the first game I actually remember watching.

Chris wrote back:
It's hard to imagine Detroit being any worse off than it is now but it really was horrible in the 1970s. A lot more people were living there at the time and the crime rate was incredibly depressing. Fidrych was like a breath of fresh air -- he really seemed to enjoy playing the game -- and the locals really took to him. I think he was making $19,000 in 1976, living in a crappy apartment but he was happy as a lark. At least he got one decent contract and bought the farm he always wanted to own.


Anyway, here's a 4-minute video from the end of the game. I love the announcer saying, "And the Tigers act like Fidrych just won the seventh game of the World Series." That's how exciting he was. Be sure to watch the whole video to see Fidrych receive a curtain call -- after he'd already gone into the clubhouse.


video

Heading into Wednesday's game, Troy Tulowitzki leads all qualified hitters in batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.447) and slugging percentage (.634). We can call that the triple-slash Triple Crown. And if you're doing that, you're the best hitter in the game. (Jerry Crasnick has a story here on the game's best pure hitters worth checking out.)

Except ... of course, Coors Field. But we can adjust for the advantage that Tulo and all Rockies hitters possess, by park-adjusting their stats. FanGraphs has a rate stat called wRC+, which adjusts for home-park environment. Tulo is first in the majors, just ahead of Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen.

And yet, I'm still bothered by these facts:

--Tulowitzki is 92nd in the majors in road batting average (.252).
--He's 39th in road OBP (.355).
--He's 44th in road slugging (.465), behind Luis Valbuena. Behind Lucas Duda. What if Duda played his home games in Coors Field?

What Tulowitzki has done is destroy pitchers at home: .457/.539/.803, with 11 of his 18 home runs and 22 of his 34 extra-base hits, in the same number of plate appearances. That said, Tulo does appear to be an improved hitter this season; he's always struck out more than he walked, except in his shortened 47-game 2012 season, but this year he has 42 walks and 43 strikeouts. Back in May, Richard Bergstrom of the RockiesZingers site pointed out that Tulowitzki has changed his stance a bit this year. His BABIP (average on balls in play) is .365, well above his career mark of .320, and according to Baseball-Reference.com, his line-drive rate the past two years has increased dramatically over his career norms (30 percent last year and 28 percent this year, compared to 21 percent over his career).

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Still, those road numbers don't scream "best hitter in baseball." There are various factors in play there, however. The Rockies do play in a division with three pitcher's parks in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, so that's going to hurt his road stats. There appears to be a Coors Field side effect that hurts Rockies hitters when they go on the road. All of that makes it difficult to evaluate Rockies hitters. In other words, what would Tulowitzki do on another team? That's the unknown.

One thing I've wondered: Are good hitters able to take a bigger advantage of Coors Field than their less talented teammates? When adjusting for Coors, a generic park effect is established, based on the results of all Rockies hitters.

As a team, the Rockies are hitting .328/.377/.529 at home and .237/.290/.387 on the road. Using another advanced metric called weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), the Rockies have a .384 wOBA at home and .291 on the road, a difference of 93 points. Tulo's spread is 203 points, so he's been much better at home even compared to his teammates.

What about recent years? Between 2009 and 2013, the Rockies had a .356 wOBA at home and .295 on the road, a difference of 61 points. Over those seasons, Tulowitzki had a .412 wOBA at home and .368 on the road, a difference of 44 points. So before this year, he didn't improve at Coors as much as his teammates.

So far, however, in 2014 Coors has been a better run-scoring environment than its recent past. That could change as the season evolves. Different sites will come up with different park factors but most use a multi-season park factor. FanGraphs appears to use a five-year factor, so the fact that Coors has been even more extreme than normal in 2014 won't "penalize" Tulowitzki as much.

Back to the question at hand: Is Tulowitzki the best hitter in the game? I'm still skeptical, even if an altered stance (and good health) has led to better numbers. Even his home numbers are skewed by his hot start: He hit .608 in his first 15 home games but .355 since. I guess I'd like to see what kind of numbers Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout would put up in Colorado before declaring Tulo the best in the game. Or Giancarlo Stanton. How many more home runs would he hit if he got to play there?

What do you think? Who is the game's best hitter right now?

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