SweetSpot: Minnesota Twins
Buster listed seven teams that could still have a big move left -- the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers, Rangers, Tigers, Mariners and Diamondbacks. With that in mind, here are 10 predictions on what will happen the rest of the offseason.
1. The Rangers sign Shin-Soo Choo.
Nelson Cruz without forfeiting the first-round pick they'd lose for signing Choo, but Texas had a mediocre offense last year with Cruz. Why go down that road again? Choo gets on base more and would give the team another table-setter in front of Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder.
The Tigers signed Rajai Davis and appear willing to move forward with a Davis-Andy Dirks platoon in left field. Don't count out the Mariners -- the outfield is still a mess with the likes of Michael Saunders, Dustin Ackley and possibly Corey Hart or Logan Morrison, although the latter two are best suited for first base or DH duties.
2. The Rays trade David Price to the Mariners.
Robinson Cano and two guys coming off injuries. For better or worse, general manager Jack Zduriencik is all in. Cano's best season in a Mariners uniform is likely to be 2014 and not 2016 or 2017, so there is pressure to upgrade the current roster right now.
To get Price, the Mariners will trade Taijuan Walker despite proclamations from Zduriencik that that won't happen. "I don't have intentions of trading Taijuan," he said during the winter meetings. "You listen to any opportunities that present themselves and you go into discussions with a lot of people. And his name will come up. Why wouldn't it? As do a lot of our guys, quite frankly. But Taijuan is high-profile because he's rated our top prospect."
3. The Angels sign Matt Garza.
Mark Trumbo trade gave the Angels some rotation depth with Hector Santiago from the White Sox and young lefty Tyler Skaggs from the Diamondbacks. Those two would slot in behind Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Garrett Richards, but the Angels may not be done looking for a starter. As they learned last year, you can never have enough pitching depth, plus it wouldn't hurt to give the 22-year-old Skaggs more time in the minors to help rediscover the form that made him one of the top prospects in the game in 2012.
Can Garza fit in the payroll? Right now, Baseball-Reference estimates it at about $144 million, up from last year's $129 million. The new national TV money is coming in, but signing Garza means the Angels may need to clear some payroll. Leading to this ...
4. The Angels trade Howie Kendrick to the Braves.
Brian McCann and Tim Hudson via free agency. No, signing Gavin Floyd -- he's not expected back until at least May after Tommy John surgery -- doesn't qualify as a major move.
Remember, despite winning 96 games, this team still batted Evan Gattis cleanup in a playoff game and started Freddy Garcia with its season on the line. The obvious position to upgrade is second base, where Dan Uggla posted a minus-1.3 WAR and was left off the postseason roster in favor of Elliot Johnson. Uggla is due $13 million each of the next two seasons, but the Braves have to decide whether they want to count on a guy who may be washed up or whether they want to pay $22 million for two second basemen.
Kendrick is signed for two more years and would cost a couple of prospects, but maybe the Braves could toss in Uggla while picking up the majority of his salary.
5. The Reds re-sign Bronson Arroyo.
Homer Bailey to a long-term extension, but that hasn't happened. So they may shift their priorities back to Arroyo, who has been with them since 2006.
Even though the Twins have signed Ricky Nolasco, Phil Hughes and Mike Pelfrey, they reportedly still want to sign one more guy as they revamp their rotation. Arroyo is a classic Twins-type pitcher: control over velocity. He's looking for a three-year contract, which may price out the Pirates, but Arroyo would be a nice fit to replace A.J. Burnett if he doesn't return to Pittsburgh.
6. The Dodgers do not trade Matt Kemp.
Dave Cameron wrote this week that we shouldn't assume Kemp's days as an elite-level player are over:
There's some good news for Kemp and the Dodgers, however; age-28 regressions are actually pretty common, even for good young players who had established themselves as high-quality players at a young age. In most of the cases, the guys who took a year off from hitting well bounced back to perform at a high level again.
Selling now on Kemp means selling low. Yes, he has that monster contract, but the Dodgers would be wiser to hold on to Kemp and hope he rebounds and gives them a huge middle of the order with Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. There is the concern that he shouldn't be playing center field, but it's not like Andre Ethier is that all much better out there. Puig is probably the best option for center if the Dodgers want to move him.
As for Ethier, maybe a trade market develops for him once Choo and Cruz sign. The Dodgers can afford to be patient.
7. The Mariners sign Nelson Cruz.
What would the Mariners look like with Cruz and Price? Something like this:
SS Brad Miller
LF/1B Corey Hart
2B Robinson Cano
RF Nelson Cruz
3B Kyle Seager
DH Logan Morrison
1B Justin Smoak
C Mike Zunino
CF Michael Saunders/Dustin Ackley
SP Felix Hernandez
SP David Price
SP Hisashi Iwakuma
SP James Paxton
SP Erasmo Ramirez
8. The Orioles sign Grant Balfour.
Jim Johnson, a hole in left field after losing Nate McLouth, and no obvious candidate to take most of the DH at-bats. It appears they are most concerned with finding a closer.
Several teams still need (or desire) a closer, but it could come to AL East rivals. While the Yankees can ultimately just put David Robertson in the ninth-inning role, the Orioles' top relievers (Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz) all have platoon issues. Balfour will turn 36 later this month but is seeking a three-year contract. My bet is the Orioles give it to him.
9. The Dodgers sign Ervin Santana.
just decide to keep Tanaka.
Even if the Eagles do post Tanaka -- he's an unrestricted free agent in two years, so they may just decide to cash in regardless -- the Dodgers also have to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract. With Zack Greinke and eventually Kershaw, do they want three starters being paid mega-millions? Probably not. So look for them to seek a cheaper alternative like Santana, who would fill out the rotation as a durable No. 4-type starter.
10.The Cubs will keep Jeff Samardzija.
So maybe he just remains with the Cubs because of the high asking price. And then the Cubs will hopefully sign him to a 10-year extension so we don't have to go listen to all these rumors again in July.
What do they need? They've already been active, trading away Prince Fielder and Doug Fister and signing Joe Nathan, but everyone seems to think they have one big move left in them -- sign a free agent outfielder to play left field. Shin-Soo Choo is the best one remaining now that Carlos Beltran and Curtis Granderson are off the board.
Do you trust the bullpen depth? Not yet. They signed Nathan, but Drew Smyly is now in the rotation and Joaquin Benoit is a free agent. Hard-throwing Bruce Rondon will be expected to take a bigger role, but look for them to make another move here, maybe a lefty like Manny Parra or J.P. Howell.
How much better will the defense be? Much better. Some quick math. Fielder was minus-13 in Defensive Runs Saved in 2013; Cabrera was minus-3 when he last played there in 2011. Ian Kinsler was +11 in 2013 versus Omar Infante's minus-5. Jhonny Peralta and Jose Iglesias both rated at 0 DRS at shortstop, although most view Iglesias as the superior defender; let's say he's a +5 defender. Cabrera was minus-18 at third base; rookie Nick Castellanos isn't viewed as a great defender, so let's say he's minus-5 DRS. Overall, we're talking about potentially 40 runs better in infield defense. How happy are Max Scherzer and company right now?
What do they need? The lineup looks set so they need a starting pitcher to replace free agent Ubaldo Jimenez. Maybe Ubaldo Jimenez?
How's the bullpen shaping up? Replacing Chris Perez at closer with Cody Allen should be a minor step up, but they've also lost Joe Smith, their primary setup guy in recent seasons. The Indians' pen went 33-16 in 2013 but a 3.62 ERA in 2013 -- eighth in the AL -- so the win-loss record was a little bit misleading. A trade is more likely here than spending on a free agent.
Will they be shopping Asdrubal Cabrera? This is an interesting one. Top prospect Francisco Lindor reached Double-A last season and just turned 20 years old, but his glove may be big-league ready. Could that lead to a trade for Cabrera, in the final year of his contract? It seems like a long shot to bet on Lindor being rushed, but the Indians could play Mike Aviles at short until Lindor is possibly ready at midseason.
Kansas City Royals
What do they need? Offense. The Royals were 11th in the AL in runs scored in 2013, scoring 28 fewer runs than the year before. Considering it's likely the pitching will regress at least a little bit after leading the league in runs allowed, they need to find more punch to remain a playoff contender. They were rumored to be in on Beltran, but he's gone, leaving second base as the one position they can upgrade.
Who could they get? The Angels have been shopping Howie Kendrick. Nick Franklin of the Mariners is available now that they have Robinson Cano. Brandon Phillips was rumored at one point to be available, but Reds GM Walt Jocketty has now said a trade involving him is unlikely. They could a take a chance on Dan Uggla. Or just stick with Emilio Bonifacio.
Umm, how good is the rotation? Right now, it needs help. James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas, Danny Duffy and Wade Davis don't look like a playoff rotation to me, although hard-throwing Yordano Ventura showed potential big-time potential in three September starts. The Royals have excess bullpen arms but will likely use them to upgrade second base and hope Duffy and Ventura can stick in the rotation.
What do they need? The Twins already made their "big" splash by signing Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes to help shore up the league's worst rotation. Otherwise, the Twins are primarily sitting tight and waiting for prospects like Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to reach Minnesota.
Anybody they can or should be shopping? Josh Willingham is signed for $7 million for 2014, and he's superfluous for a rebuilding team. Unfortunately, the Twins should have traded him a year ago when he was coming off a 35-homer season. After hitting .208 with 14 home runs, he won't net much in return. But a team like the Orioles or Mariners that needs a left fielder or DH could take a chance.
Any chance the offense gets better? Only the Astros and White Sox scored fewer runs but don't look for anything but minor moves, such as signing a backup catcher (John Buck?). The outfield could use help, but the Twins will likely give Aaron Hicks another shot in center, give Oswaldo Arcia a full season in right, and hope Buxton tears up the minors and joins this group in 2015.
Chicago White Sox
What do they need? Just about everything.
No, seriously, will they do something? Well, they did sign Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu while also re-signing Paul Konerko. Adam Dunn is still here, but he's a 34-homer guy that would be difficult to trade. The "strength" of the team is a rotation that did have a 3.99 ERA (eighth in the AL), but there isn't depth there to trade from.
Would they trade Chris Sale? Can't see that happening; he's signed to a team-friendly contract through 2019 and is clearly the face of the franchise.
This is Morris' final year on the BBWAA's Hall ballot. He's received 66.7 percent of the vote each of the past two elections, so in order to get to the 75 percent needed for election he'll have to pick up an additional 42 votes if the same 569 ballots are cast again. That's not unreasonable -- players often receive a spike in their final year -- but it's complicated this year by the crowded ballot and the new eligibility of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina, three pitchers with much stronger résumés than Morris.
Joe Posnanski is in the anti-Morris crowd. He admits he's a little obsessed by Morris (he's written many columns on Morris over the years), maybe too obsessed. He wrote the other day:
If someone wanted to make a Hall of Fame case for Jack Morris, they could say this:
1. He was an extremely durable pitcher who never missed a start and completed 175 games in his career.
2. He pitched one of the greatest World Series games.
3. He compiled borderline Hall of Fame caliber stats with his 254 wins and 2,478 strikeouts and his durability, the respect he built from teammates and opponents alike and his Game 7 push him over the border.
4. He was probably better than a handful of starters already in the Hall.
This isn't necessarily the most compelling argument, but this is what you have to work with. The trouble is, many people seem ABSOLUTELY SURE there is more to Morris' case. They just know -- absolutely know -- that Morris had to be better than that relatively tepid argument. And so they go searching.
More from the anti-Morris side. Recently on Twitter, ESPN Insider contributor Dan Szymborski compared Morris to some other pitchers via a series of tweets:
The case against Morris is simple: Relative to Hall of Famers, he wasn't very good at preventing the other team from scoring runs.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To match Morris's career ERA+/IP, Kevin Appier needs 1228.2 IP of 6.23 ERA. Would 6 horrific seasons make Appier better candidate?— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To get to Jack Morris's IP/ERA+, Kevin Brown would need 567.2 IP of a 7.92 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
By request, to match Morris's career IP/ERA+, Dave Stieb would need 928.2 IP of 8.07 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
To catch Morris IP/ERA+, Rick Reuschel would need to come back and throw 275.2 IP of a 7.31 ERA.— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) November 27, 2013
Morris finished with a 3.90 career ERA. Over his final seven seasons, it was 4.48, despite which he managed to go 92-81.
In his piece, Posnanski cited this pro-Morris column from Joel Sherman of the New York Post:
I think there has been retroactive cherry-picking of Morris' career. In his era, he was valued as an unquestioned ace, a workhorse No. 1, the kind of starter who prided himself on working deep into games, saving bullpens, etc. My friend, Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, noted last year the righty pitched at least eight innings in 248 starts, which is the most by an AL pitcher in the DH era and represented 52 percent of his starts.
Here is one I note: Sparky Anderson, Tom Kelly and Cito Gaston combined to manage 8,146 regular-season games and each won two World Series. Every time Morris was available to start Game 1, those experienced managers started him. That was six times in seven series. The only time he didn't was the 1987 ALCS for Anderson's Tigers. He had thrown nine innings in Game 161 against Toronto to help Detroit clinch at least an AL East tie with the Blue Jays and so wasn't available until ALCS Game 2.
I guess the sabermetric crowd could know more today about Morris than those three managers knew then, but I am going with the managers.
Posnanski goes on to refute Sherman's arguments, so I won't do that here.
I do think there's something else going on that elevated Morris from a Hall of Fame afterthought -- he received less than 25 percent of the vote his first four years on the ballot -- to viable inductee.
Morris' first full season in the majors was 1979. His last good one was 1992. He's not really part of the Tom Seaver-Nolan Ryan-Steve Carlton-Phil Niekro-Don Sutton generation that pitched in the late '60s and early '70s, when offense was down, and racked up big innings, often in four-man rotations, and all won 300 games. (Bert Blyleven didn't win 300 but is part of that generation, as well.) Morris isn't really part of the Maddux-Glavine-Mussina-Randy Johnson-Pedro Martinez-Curt Schilling generation that kicked into high gear right as Morris was departing.
No, Morris is kind of a man on an island. Think of all the great pitchers who followed Morris in the '80s:
- Fernando Valenzuela: Burned out after six seasons, won 173 games.
- Dave Stieb: Developed shoulder problems, won 176 games.
- Dwight Gooden: Drug issues, but career ultimately derailed by shoulder issues. Won 194 games.
- Bret Saberhagen: Couldn't stay healthy. Won 167 games.
- Orel Hershiser: Tore his rotator cuff, although managed a comeback. Won 204 games.
- Frank Viola: Tommy John surgery. Won 176 games.
Then you have flickering rays like Mario Soto and Jose Rijo. Only Roger Clemens, who debuted in 1984, and Jamie Moyer, who debuted in 1986, began their careers in the 1980s and won more games than Morris' 254. The Hall of Fame has elected one starting pitcher since 1999 -- Blyleven in 2011, and he began his career in 1970.
Those guys above were all better than Morris at their peaks. With the exception of Valenzuela, they all had a higher career WAR. But they didn't win 254 games. They didn't win more games than Bob Gibson or Juan Marichal or Whitey Ford.
In the end, that is what Morris' case is all about -- 254 wins and that Game 7 shutout. It's not about how he was viewed as an ace or that his managers trusted him or other such arguments. It's about survival. And now Morris may have survived long enough on the Hall of Fame ballot to finally get elected to Cooperstown.
Boston Red Sox
2013 statistics: 3.70 ERA (10th in AL), .710 OPS (12th), 23.3% K rate (6th), 8.7% BB rate (7th)
Record: 30-23, 33 saves, 23 blown saves, 76-7 when leading after six innings
Closer: Koji Uehara
Top setup guys: Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow
Others: Andrew Bailey, Brandon Workman, Franklin Morales, Andrew Miller, Rubby De La Rosa, Brayan Villarreal
Free agents: Joel Hanrahan, Matt Thornton
GM Ben Cherington struck gold when he signed Uehara to a one-year, $4.25 million contract that included a vesting option for 2014; the Red Sox will end up paying $9 million to $10 million or so for two years of Uehara's services. When Hanrahan and Bailey went down with injuries, Uehara took over the closer's role and had one of the best relief seasons in history. Can he do it again? Probably not at that level, and while he's always been underrated the concern is he threw 88 innings in 2013 (including the postseason) after throwing just 103 innings combined over 2011 and 2012. Even if the oft-injured Bailey is brought back (teams have until Dec. 2 to tender a contract to players or they become free agents), I expect them to make a move for at least one free-agent reliever to bolster the depth.
Grade: B+. There are some intriguing young arms like Workman and De La Rosa, who could start for some teams but don't have room in the Boston rotation. Villarreal is a guy who touched the upper 90s with the Tigers in 2012. Still, the depth behind Uehara, Tazawa and Breslow remains somewhat unknown and/or injury-prone.
Tampa Bay Rays
2013 statistics: 3.59 ERA (7th), .645 OPS (2nd), 24.9% K rate (2nd), 9.3% BB rate (9th)
Record: 27-24, 42 saves, 18 blown saves, 70-9 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Joel Peralta, Jake McGee
Others: Alex Torres, Wesley Wright, Josh Lueke, Brandon Gomes, Alex Colome, Enny Romero, Jeff Beliveau
Free agents: Fernando Rodney, Jamey Wright, Jesse Crain
After two seasons of Rodney, who is the next reclamation project for Joe Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey? Can you say "Joba Chamberlain, Tampa Bay closer?" OK, maybe not. More likely, with the emergence of Torres, Maddon moves McGee to the closer role, with Torres and Peralta setting him up. Look for the Rays to make a minor signing or two here, or to pick up a reliever in a potential David Price trade.
Grade: B+. The lack of a Proven Closer isn't the issue, as McGee and Peralta were both better pitchers than Rodney was in 2013. After two years of one of the best bullpens in the league, however, the Rays could simply be headed for a downturn in late-inning production.
2013 statistics: 3.52 ERA (6th), .697 OPS (9th), 21.5% K rate (11th), 7.3% BB rate (1st)
Record: 29-26, 57 saves, 27 blown saves, 61-18 when leading after six innings
Closer: Jim Johnson
Top setup guys: Darren O'Day, Tommy Hunter
Others: Brian Matusz, Troy Patton, T.J. McFarland, Josh Stinson, Edgmer Escalona
Free agents: Jairo Asencio
Check those losses when leading after six innings: Second most in the league behind the Astros. Johnson tied with Craig Kimbrel for the most saves in the majors, which only proves how saves are overrated. Johnson also lost eight games, although that late-inning record indicates he wasn't the only reliever blowing leads.
Grade: C. Johnson has to be considered a shaky option at closer and Hunter allowed a .535 slugging percentage against lefties. Buck Showalter doesn't really trust Matusz against righties (65 games, 51 innings) and sidearmer O'Day allowed a .309 average to left-handers. It's a pen that works when Showalter manages to get the matchups but can be abused if he doesn't. It really needs a right-hander Showalter can trust against both sides. I could see the O's going after a guy like Joaquin Benoit, whose changeup makes him effective against left-handers.
New York Yankees
2013 statistics: 3.66 ERA (9th), .717 OPS (13th), 23.7% K rate (4th), 8.2% BB rate (4th)
Record: 30-14, 49 saves, 13 blown saves, 59-6 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: David Robertson, Preston Claiborne
Others: David Phelps, Shawn Kelley, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, David Huff, Cesar Cabral
Free agents: Mariano Rivera (retired), Joba Chamberlain
With the Robertson/Rivera late-inning duo the Yankees were terrific in protecting leads and the bullpen managed to go 30-14 despite some otherwise mediocre numbers in ERA and OPS allowed. Robertson can certainly handle the ninth-inning role -- don't give me Proven Closer nonsense -- but don't be surprised if the Yankees go after one of the closers out there -- Joe Nathan, Grant Balfour or Rodney.
Grade: C-. Robertson is great but until they lock in a closer and a lefty to replace Boone Logan, this doesn't look like a playoff pen.
Toronto Blue Jays
2013 statistics: 3.37 ERA (4th), .685 OPS (6th), 22.0% K rate (8th), 8.5% BB rate (5th)
Record: 28-31, 39 saves, 19 blown saves, 51-12 when leading after six innings
Closer: Casey Janssen
Top setup guys: Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar
Others: Aaron Loup, Sergio Santos, Dustin McGowan, Chad Jenkins, Neil Wagner, Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Jeffress, Esmil Rogers
Free agents: Darren Oliver (retired)
While Toronto's team -- a World Series favorite on paper -- was blowing up, the bullpen was actually doing pretty well. Setup guys Cecil and Delabar both made the All-Star team. My concern is the pen wasn't as effective in the second half, its ERA rising from 2.90 to 4.03; some of that could have been fatigue (only Twins relievers threw more innings) but some of the decline could have been regression from a hot first half. If Santos can ever get healthy he's another weapon, and Jeffress and Rogers (if he doesn't start) are power arms who could excel if the light suddenly goes on.
Grade: B-. If everyone's healthy this could be a dominant pen, but Delabar, Santos, McGowan and Janssen all have significant injury histories in their past.
2013 statistics: 4.01 ERA (12th), .709 OPS (11th), 23.7% K rate (5th), 9.5% BB rate (10th)
Record: 17-25, 39 saves, 16 blown saves, 77-12 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Drew Smyly, Al Alburquerque
Others: Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke, Luke Putkonen, Jose Alvarez, Jose Ortega, Evan Reed
Free agents: Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Jose Veras
Can you say "Please come to Detroit, Joe Nathan?" Smyly is the team's best reliever but he may move to the rotation if Rick Porcello is traded (although that is now less likely after the Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade). Alburquerque has that killer slider but also the inability to throw it for strikes at times. Rondon, the closer-in-waiting, still throws 100 mph but needs to prove himself over an entire season before being handed the ninth inning. So that leaves the Tigers likely going after a closer plus maybe re-signing Benoit or another reliever like J.P. Howell or Oliver Perez.
Grade: D+. I like Smyly and Rondon has big-time potential, but until more reinforcements are gathered this group is pretty weak.
2013 statistics: 3.62 ERA (8th), .690 OPS (7th), 22.5% K rate (7th), 10.0% BB rate (10th)
Record: 33-16, 38 saves, 22 blown saves, 67-6 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Cody Allen, Vinnie Pestano
Others: Bryan Shaw, Marc Rzepczynski, Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee, Preston Guilmet
Free agents: Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers, Rich Hill
Despite mediocre numbers, the Indians' pen excelled in tight games, as it went 33-16 and did a good job of holding leads. That wasn't because former closer Perez was anything special; in fact, he'd lost his job by the time the Indians played the wild-card game. With Perez gone and the valuable Smith also a free agent, that leaves Allen as the likely closer. He has the 95 mph heater that managers love late in games and should be solid in the job. The question: Who fills out the rest of the pen? Pestano, after a terrific 2012, was demoted back to the minors in 2013; maybe he resurfaces. Regardless, the Indians are going to have to spend some money here.
Grade: D+. While I like Allen, I see the potential for this pen struggling in the seventh and eighth innings, especially if the Indians spend their available resources to re-sign Ubaldo Jimenez or another starter.
Kansas City Royals
2013 statistics: 2.55 ERA (1st), .628 OPS (1st), 26.2% K rate (1st), 8.6% BB rate (6th)
Record: 33-24, 54 saves, 21 blown saves, 63-12 when leading after six innings
Closer: Greg Holland
Top setup guys: Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar
Others: Aaron Crow, Tim Collins, Louis Coleman, Will Smith, Donnie Joseph
Free agents: Bruce Chen, Luis Mendoza
First in ERA, first in OPS allowed, first in strikeout rate -- you can't do much better than that ... except the Royals still lost 12 games they led after six innings (Herrera lost seven games). So there's room for improvement if you look beyond the glossy statistics. If anything, the Royals have too much depth here -- Herrera pitched just 58 innings, Crow just 48 -- and then factor in more work for Coleman, who allowed two runs in 29 2/3 innings. The Royals should cash in one of these guys to get some help on offense.
Grade: A-. What's not to like about this pen? It's deep, it's young, they throw hard and they don't cost much money. The only minor downgrades are that Holland may not be quite as dominant and more consistency is needed from Herrera.
2013 statistics: 3.50 ERA (5th), .680 OPS (5th), 21.2% K rate (12th), 7.7% BB rate (3rd)
Record: 27-22, 40 saves, 18 blown saves, 41-8 when leading after six innings
Closer: Glen Perkins
Top setup guys: Jared Burton, Casey Fien
Others: Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, Caleb Thielbar, Ryan Pressly, Michael Tonkin
Free agents: None
Quietly effective although Perkins is really the only top-shelf guy here. There's a good chance that guys like Fien and Thielbar take a step backward. The Twins are more likely to spend their resources on starting pitching -- the right decision -- and hope that this group can repeat.
Grade: B-. Solid if unspectacular, but one more power arm in front of Perkins would be nice.
Chicago White Sox
2013 statistics: 4.00 ERA (11th), .705 OPS (10th), 20.8% K rate (14th), 10.3% BB rate (14th)
Record: 19-36, 40 saves, 20 blown saves, 49-13 when leading after six innings
Closer: Addison Reed
Top setup guys: Nate Jones, Matt Lindstrom
Others: Donnie Veal, Dylan Axelrod, Jake Petricka, Daniel Webb
Free agents: None
Ugh. The home park doesn't help, but the numbers don't lie: This group was not good. Reed's peripherals are better than his 3.79 ERA suggests but he still blew eight saves, including five in which he allowed two or more runs. Jones can touch 100 mph but struggled with runners on base (.288, four home runs), leading to an inflated ERA. After those two, the depth and quality falls off in a hurry. Looks for GM Rick Hahn to surf for some of the second-tier relievers like Matt Albers.
2013 statistics: 3.22 ERA (3rd), .657 OPS (4th), 21.5% K rate (10th), 7.7% BB rate (2nd)
Record: 24-18, 46 saves, 21 blown saves, 74-9 when leading after six innings
Top setup guys: Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook
Others: Dan Otero, Jerry Blevins, Jesse Chavez, Evan Scribner, Pedro Figueroa
Free agents: Grant Balfour, Pat Neshek
With Balfour likely departing after a strong season as the closer, who takes his place? In mid-August you would have said Cook, who closed some as a rookie in 2012. But he was hit hard the final six weeks, allowing 21 hits and 10 walks over his final 12 innings. That may give the edge to Doolittle, a lefty with power stuff who can get both sides out. Otero was the big surprise here, a guy picked up off waivers in late March from the Yankees (who had just claimed him a day earlier after the Giants let him go). He's not overpowering, which is why he spent seven years in the minors, but he had a 2.02 career ERA in the minors and 1.38 in 39 innings with the A's (no home runs allowed).
Grade: B-. Doolittle or Cook can handle the closer role, but I could also see the A's making a pitch for Brian Wilson, who looked good in the postseason for the Dodgers and shouldn't be as expensive as the Nathan-Balfour-Rodney group.
2013 statistics: 2.91 ERA (2nd), .645 OPS (3rd), 21.1% K rate (13th), 8.8% BB rate (8th)
Record: 35-18, 46 saves, 11 blown saves, 69-5 when leading after six innings
Closer: Open for battle
Top setup guys: Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria
Others: Neftali Feliz, Neal Cotts, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Joseph Ortiz, Michael Kirkman, Chaz Roe, Josh Lindblom
Free agents: Joe Nathan, Travis Blackley
With a deep arsenal of arms, the Rangers will let Nathan leave after he declined his player option. Feliz and Soria have been closers in the past and Scheppers will likely be considered due to his upper 90s fastball and 1.88 ERA. All three come with red flags, however: Feliz and Soria have to prove they're healthy, and while both were pitching at the end of the season they'll need to show they have the command to be trusted in the ninth inning; as for Scheppers, he struck out just 59 in 76 2/3 innings, so he'll be hard-pressed to repeat that .214 batting average allowed unless he misses more bats. Cotts may actually be the best reliever here, a guy who altered his mechanics after years of injuries and was dominant in his first stint in the majors since 2009. Ross adds more depth from the left side.
Grade: B+. If Feliz and Soria can return to something close to what they were once, this could once again be the best pen in the AL even without Nathan.
Los Angeles Angels
2013 statistics: 4.12 ERA (13th), .692 OPS (8th), 21.8% K rate (9th), 10.1% BB rate (13th)
Record: 20-27, 41 saves, 17 blown saves, 56-14 when leading after six innings
Closer: Ernesto Frieri
Top setup guys: Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn, Sean Burnett, J.C. Gutierrez, Cory Rasmus, Kevin Jepsen, Nick Maronde, Robert Carson
Free agents: None
Frieri is the closer for now, although the Angels may look to upgrade after he allowed 11 home runs in 68 2/3 innings. He does strike batters out, however, and finished with 37 saves in 42 chances. The bullpen woes you see in the numbers above came more from the setup guys. De La Rosa is a 30-year-old minor league vet the Angels picked up from the Rays and he had a decent year but has had battled control issues in the past. Kohn is another guy who throws in the mid-90s but must refine his command. Burnett missed most of the season with an elbow injury.
Grade: C-. There is some upside here and some good arms, but the Angels will undoubtedly be in the market for relief help.
2013 statistics: 4.58 ERA (14th), .724 OPS (14th), 24.2% K rate (3rd), 10.1% BB rate (12th)
Record: 16-33, 43 saves, 23 blown saves, 56-10 when leading after six innings
Closer: Danny Farquhar
Top setup guys: Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina
Others: Tom Wilhelmsen, Carter Capps, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Bobby LaFromboise, Hector Noesi, Chance Ruffin
Free agents: Oliver Perez
After a strong showing in 2012 -- fifth in the AL in bullpen ERA -- the Mariners were excited about their pen heading into 2013, with Wilhelmsen closing, backed up by Capps and Pryor, three guys with high-octane fastballs. Instead, Pryor got hurt, Capps got torched by left-handers and Wilhelmsen's confidence fell to the point where he was sent down to Triple-A. Farquhar took advantage and became the closer and while his ERA was 4.20, he flashed good stuff and struck out 79 in 55 2/3 innings while allowing just two home runs.
Grade: C. As indicated by that strikeout rate (third best in the AL), this is a group that has a good chance to bounce back from a horrible season. The Mariners' focus will be on upgrading the outfield and maybe adding a starting pitcher or two, so I wouldn't expect a major move here. Which means they'll probably give Rodney too much money to close.
2013 statistics: 4.92 ERA (15th), .816 OPS (15th), 17.5% K rate (15th), 10.5% BB rate (15th)
Record: 14-40, 32 saves, 29 blown saves, 36-21 when leading after six innings
Closer: To be determined
Top setup guys: Josh Fields, Chia-Jen Lo
Others: Jose Cisnero, Paul Clemens, Josh Zeid, Rhiner Cruz, Kevin Chapman, Darin Downs, Raul Valdes
Free agents: None
The numbers say it: This was one of the worst bullpens in history, right up there with the 2007 Tampa Bay bullpen that went 21-34 with a 6.16 ERA. But that Rays team was 50-13 when leading after six innings; the Astros were an abysmal 36-21.
Grade: F. Nowhere to go but up.
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David Arias has stirred up a lot of excitement with his hitting for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.
The young first baseman leads Seattle's Midwest League farm club in average (.331), hits (134), home runs (17), runs batted in (80), total bases (218) and runs scored (80).
"He continues to swing the bat," Wisconsin Manager Mike Goff said. "He's been streaky. He'll get seven or eight hits in 10 at-bats, then he'll go seven or eight at-bats with nothing. But that's just a matter of maturity. The older he gets, the better he's going to be."
Larry Beinfast (sic), Seattle Mariner player-development director, said Arias has worked hard and "gotten a lot stronger" since he was signed as a free agent in the Dominican Republic after the 1992 season. Baseball America recently rated Arias the Class A Midwest League's "most exciting player."
Arias was also named the Midwest League's best defensive first baseman. On Aug. 29, 1996, the Mariners were battling for a playoff spot and acquired third baseman Dave Hollins from the Twins for a player to be named. Hollins did hit .351 and drive in 25 runs in 28 games with the Mariners, but they missed the playoffs anyway. On Sept. 13, they shipped Arias to the Twins.
In September of 1997, the Twins called up Arias -- now known as David Ortiz -- from the minors. "Maybe he got married or something," quipped Twins manager Tom Kelly. Ortiz proved himself enough in 1997 that the Twins protected him in that year's expansion draft. However, he wasn't guaranteed a starting job in 1998. From the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jan. 13, 1998:
He doesn't have the bat of Cecil Fielder or the name recognition of even Darren Daulton, both of whom the Twins pursued earlier this offseason, but odds are Orlando Merced will line up at first base for manager Tom Kelly's club on opening day.
Merced, who suffered through an injury-riddled 1997 season in Toronto, signed a minor-league contract with an invitation to major league spring training on Monday and will compete with Scott Stahoviak and David Ortiz for the first base job this spring.
"He's not as big of a threat as Fielder, obviously, but he is a proven major league hitter and should be a good addition to our order," Twins general manager Terry Ryan said. "Hopefully, he'll be a good fit here. Last year was a tough year for him but, historically, he's been a good hitter. And I think this park (the Metrodome) will help his power numbers some."
Ortiz hit .277/.371/.446 for the Twins in 86 games as a rookie in 1998, hitting four home runs in April but then missing the next two months after breaking the hamate bone in his right hand. The Pioneer Press, March 30, 1999:
The sharp decline of David Ortiz bottomed out during an early-morning Twins bloodletting Monday when Ortiz and pitcher Frankie Rodriguez, two players who were supposed to figure in the club's future, were optioned to Class AAA Salt Lake. ...
Ortiz appeared back on track this winter with solid play in the Dominican Republic Winter League. After he poked the winning single in the Carribean World Series, the Twins hoped an improved stroke and added confidence would bolster Ortiz this spring.
Instead, he appeared lost from day one.
"You can see he's been frustrated over the past couple of weeks, throwing his helmet," Kelly said. "He really didn't hit that much."
Ortiz couldn't pinpoint his slow start.
"I wasn't really concentrating this spring," he said before vaguely alluding to a personal problem, becoming teary-eyed and ending the interview.
Ortiz spent nearly all of 1999 at Triple-A, hitting .315 with 30 home runs, before going 0-for-20 in September. He hit .282/.364/.446, playing in 130 games but platooned a lot. But there was a reason he hit only 10 home runs.
The Sporting News, April 30, 2001:
A year ago, the Twins tried to get DH David Ortiz to shorten his stroke and punch balls up the middle and to the opposite field. The results were decent: a .282 batting average, 10 homers and 63 RBIs in 415 at-bats. This season, the club would like to see Ortiz take advantage of the power potential in his 6-4, 230-pound frame. He has made several adjustments, including lowering his hand position in his stance and shortening his leg kick. After 16 games, he was batting .365 and leading the team in homers with four. If Ortiz stays focused, he has the opportunity to have a breakout year offensively.
A few days after that was written, Ortiz broke his wrist. At the time of the injury on May 4 he was hitting .311/.386/.611. He returned July 21 and finished the season at .234/.324/.475.
In 2002, Ortiz got off to a slow start, bothered by a sore knee that kept him out of action for nearly a month in April and May. The Twins, who had nearly been contracted the year before, won their first division title since 1991. Ortiz hit .272/.339/.500 with 20 home runs in 412 at-bats, ranking third on the team in OPS, homers and RBIs. He hit .299/.371/.548 against right-handers but just .203/.256/.381 against lefties.
That winter Ortiz became eligible for arbitration. On Dec. 17, the Twins designated Ortiz for assignment to make room on the roster for shortstop Jose Morban, who had been selected from Texas in the Rule 5 draft. (Morban was waived in March.)
"I would've liked to have found a home for him," Ryan said. "We exhausted every avenue, but in essence it turned out to be an Ortiz-for-Morban type of thing." From the Pioneer Press:
The Twins finally solved their math problems Monday, even as they struggled with chemistry during the final day of baseball's winter meetings.
In a move that trimmed payroll and opened a spot in a left-leaning lineup for their promising, young right-handed hitters, the Twins released charismatic designated hitter David Ortiz, perhaps the most popular player in the clubhouse.
"He's very disappointed. Very disappointed," said Ortiz's agent, Diego Benz. "He's really close to a lot of those guys there. It'll be a few days before he's upbeat again." ...
Ortiz, who was in his second winter of arbitration eligibility, made $950,000 last season and figured to command a 2003 salary in the $2 million range. By eliminating his salary, general manager Terry Ryan can be competitive in contract negotiations with all-star center fielder Torii Hunter and survive arbitration with left fielder Jacque Jones and first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz without going beyond a payroll budget of just more than $50 million.
"This isn't the most ideal scenario," said Ryan, who spent the past several weeks right up until Monday morning trying to trade Ortiz. "I would have much preferred to be able to trade him and to find a home for him with another club. We just couldn't get it done."
Ryan was chosen as Executive of the Year in 2002.
Teams make mistakes all the time and, to be fair, this one did appear to involve money. The Twins claimed to be losing $15 million a year. They needed to give a big raise to Hunter. Still, you can argue they essentially chose Mientkiewicz's glove (he'd hit .261 with 10 home runs in 2002) over Ortiz's bat. (Mientkiewicz would soon play his way out of Minnesota, getting traded to Boston in 2004). Ortiz had battled a long list of injuries -- a broken hamate bone, a broken wrist, a knee injury -- and those injuries had certainly played a role in his production. But there were clearly signs he could hit and hit for power, at least when he wasn't being asked to shorten his swing.
In January, Ortiz signed a one-year deal with the Red Sox. From the Boston Herald:
"I'm just 27 years old. I'm working out hard this winter to see if I can be an everyday first baseman like I used to be," said Ortiz, who will be paid a base salary of $1.25 million. "If they need me to be a (designated hitter) I'll do that, but I want to be in the field." ...
"I think, our scouts think and our analysis dictates that he has a really high ceiling," said Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "You're looking at a player that has a chance to be an impact player in the middle of the lineup in the big leagues. That's his ceiling and I hope he reaches it with us." ...
Ortiz underwent knee surgery to remove bone chips at the end of last season and attributed his problems to the artificial surface at the Metrodome.
"That was one of the big reasons I picked Boston," Ortiz said of Fenway's playing surface.
Still, the Red Sox, or manager Grady Little, didn't completely believe in Ortiz. Early on in 2003, Ortiz was still sharing time with Jeremy Giambi. From the Boston Globe, May 25, 2003:
But someday he'd like to walk into the clubhouse and see his name on the lineup card on an everyday basis.
"I hope that time comes, that I'm in there," said Ortiz. "I'm seeing the ball good right now. I got some good hits."
Ramirez has helped Ortiz stay ready to hit when the time comes. Ortiz's biggest obstacle is not being able to get into a rhythm, the feeling of every part-time hitter that he has to do too much with each at-bat.
"I'm all about balance," said Ortiz, whose home run in the first was a scorching shot to right field. "That's what Manny (Ramirez) is good with. Some pitchers throw nasty stuff and I swing hard and I know I have to wait more."
Ortiz eventually beat out Giambi, of course, in part because Giambi hit under .200 (he never again played in the majors). After hitting four home runs through June, Ortiz would hit eight in July, 11 in August and eight more in September.
He was finally on that lineup card every day. He improved against left-handed pitchers. He learned from Manny Ramirez. He learned how to attack the Green Monster with opposite-field doubles. He'd become David Ortiz.
The rest, as they say, is history. (Well, other than that time when everyone wanted the Red Sox to release him.)
Baseball’s multicentury scope almost automatically defies you to shave any such list to a top 10. There are plays with their place in legend: Willie Mays’ Game 1 snag for the Giants in 1954, or Bill Wambsganss’ unassisted triple play in the Tribe’s backbreaking Game 5 win over the Brooklyn Robins (or Dodgers) in 1920 to help untie a series they’d ultimately win. If you’re going to peg an all-time best World Series, Mays would be the huge favorite to top any poll or list, because as grainy as the footage might be, it’s more than we have on Wambsganss. How fair a choice is that, really?
So let’s put those two incomparable moments in their corner of baseball Valhalla and talk about the best from the past 50 years. It’s a good, round number that incorporates the full spread of divisional-era play. Running them down in chronological order:
(To cast your vote for the best World Series Web Gem of the last 50 years, click here.)
Game 4, 1969: Right fielder Ron Swoboda, Mets (Watch )
You’d think Swoboda might be best remembered for driving in the winning run in Game 5. Not so, because that was made possible by his ninth-inning, full-extension leap the day before to rob Brooks Robinson of extra bases with two men on. That prevented the Orioles from taking the lead and potentially tying the series; instead, the Mets won in extras.
Game 1, 1970: Third baseman Brooks Robinson, Orioles (Watch )
Robinson’s snag of a hard grounder down the line by Lee May was perhaps just the best of several slick-fielding plays he made, in part because he picked up the ball in foul ground heading away from first but nevertheless managed to pivot and get off a one-hop throw that bounced true off Cincinnati’s artificial turf to retire May.
Game 2, 1972: Left fielder Joe Rudi, Athletics (Watch )
Denis Menke’s smash looked like it would be at least a ninth-inning double off the wall for the Reds trailing 2-0 with a man on, but Rudi raced back, found the wall with his right hand and leaped to spear the ball with his left to help preserve Oakland’s win in a series that proved the Big Green bragging rights over Big Red in the battle between the Machines.
Game 6, 1975: Right fielder Dwight Evans, Red Sox (Watch )
Peter Gammons has said this was the best catch in World Series history -- Joe Morgan’s smash to right field went over Evans’ head, but Dewey made an over-the-head catch going up against the wall and fired to first base to complete the double play. Carlton Fisk’s home run in extras never would've happened if not for this catch.
Game 3, 1978: Third baseman Graig Nettles, Yankees (Watch )
Much like Robinson, you could pick from among several great plays in the Fall Classic. Nettles’ D was decisive in helping the Yankees rally from a 2-0 deficit in the series.
Game 3, 1982: Center fielder Willie McGee, Cardinals (Watch )
McGee’s running leap at the wall in the ninth inning robbed Gorman Thomas of a two-run home run that would have brought the Brewers back to within two runs.
Game 6, 1991: Center fielder Kirby Puckett, Twins (Watch )
Puckett’s perfectly timed running leap against the fence in left-center robbed Ron Gant of extra bases with a man on. The run saved would prove huge when the Braves rallied to tie, only to lose in the bottom of the 11th -- on Puckett’s walk-off homer, which set up …
Game 7, 1991: Second baseman Chuck Knoblauch, Twins (Watch )
It’s 0-0 in the eighth, Jack Morris’ biggest game, dueling with John Smoltz. Lonnie Smith’s leadoff single looked like trouble, and Terry Pendleton’s double should have provided a lead ... except the rookie Knoblauch deked Smith into thinking he was fielding a double-play grounder, limiting him to reaching third base, where he’d be stranded. If most great plays on defense are a testament to physical gifts, Knoblauch’s moment is a bit of incomparable situational awareness that made sure Morris’ shutout held -- and that the Twins won the Series.
Game 3, 1992: Center fielder Devon White, Blue Jays (Watch )
There are a couple of amazing things about this play, first that Devo nearly started a triple play on his catch in center against the wall, but also that he made it look easy. But there’s nothing easy about making a catch heading into the wall yet coming off the wall firing the ball to first base for the DP, and perhaps winding up just a replay shy of starting a triple play.
Game 5, 2008: Second baseman Chase Utley, Phillies (Watch )
Much like Knoblauch’s play, this was just pure reactive genius, and that should be considered as important as a throwing arm or a great set of wheels. The Rays had already tied the score and had the lead run at second in Jason Bartlett. Aki Iwamura’s sharp grounder up the middle looked like it would be an infield single as Utley threw to first -- except he didn’t. Utley sold that pump fake to everybody, including Bartlett, who tried to score but was dead to rights when Utley threw home to preserve the tie in an eventual Phillies win.
There were some tough cuts that we had to kick around before the start of this year’s Series. Swoboda wasn’t the only Met making a major difference with leather in ’69: Tommie Agee also made a pair of plays that merit mention. Juan Uribe going into the stands down the left-field line to run down a popup for the White Sox in 2005 was a pretty rangy feat. And removing Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar’s diving stab to rob Lenny Dykstra of a hit in 1993? Perhaps the toughest cut of all.
So that’s our 10 -- which one tops your list? And if not one of these, if there’s a different play from the Fall Classic that you think was even better, pipe up and tell us: What was it?
Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Basically, Beltran's case goes something like this: He kind of snuck up on everyone as a Hall of Fame candidate, he fares very well in advanced metrics, such as WAR, but not quite as well in more conventional measurements, such as counting stats and MVP voting results. Certainly, two more strong seasons will help his case.
Comparisons have been made to Andre Dawson, another guy who did a little of everything. In terms of career WAR, they're similar: Beltran 67.5, Dawson 64.4. One major difference: There was a time when Dawson was considered maybe the best player in the game, something that has never been said of Beltran. Dawson also won an MVP Award (though ridiculously undeserved), and that undoubtedly helped get him elected to Cooperstown.
It all means Beltran is a borderline candidate. Which gets us to this: How much should his great postseason numbers (.337 BA, 16 HR, 37 RBIs, 1.173 OPS) factor in?
Case study: Jim Rice versus Bernie Williams
Rice: 382 HR, 1451 RBIs, .298/.352/.502, 47.2 WAR
Williams: 287 HR, 1257 RBIs, .297/.381/.477, 49.5 WAR
Verdict: Postseason doesn't help.
Case study: Curt Schilling versus Kevin Brown
Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 80.7 WAR
Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 68.5 WAR
In their raw stats, these two are nearly identical, right down to innings pitched (Schilling had five more in his career). Neither won a Cy Young Award, although Brown should have won in 1996 when he had a 1.89 ERA for the Marlins and arguably for the Padres in 1998, when he led the National League in WAR. Schilling finished second in the voting three times, twice to teammate Randy Johnson, once to Johan Santana. They're not exactly the same: Schilling does have the edge in career WAR (he spent more time in good hitter's park) and strikeouts.
The difference, of course, is Schilling was one of the great postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts, winning three rings. Brown went 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts and one ring. Brown fell off the ballot after one; Schilling received 39 percent of the vote last year on his first year on the ballot, actually a pretty good starting point to eventual election.
Verdict: Postseason helps.
Case study: Jack Morris versus Dennis Martinez
Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 43.8 WAR
Martinez: 245-193, 3.70 ERA, 106 ERA+, 49.5 WAR
Pretty similar numbers. Morris' win-loss record is slightly better, but he also generally pitched on much better teams. Martinez's best years came in relative obscurity with the Expos, with whom he went 100-72 with a 3.06 ERA in eight seasons. This is more like the Rice-Williams case, in that neither really has a strong Hall of Fame case.
Except that Morris has those World Series rings. Martinez pitched in two World Series, but his teams lost both times. Morris' career in the playoffs: 7-4, 3.80 ERA (13 starts). Martinez: 2-2, 3.32 ERA (seven starts). Martinez received 16 votes and was knocked off the ballot. Morris received 68 percent last year and has one year left on the ballot with a good chance of getting the final-year push like Rice did.
It should pointed out that Morris' overall postseason record isn't that special. He did win two games in the 1984 World Series, but other pitchers have had spectacular World Series and didn't get in to the Hall of Fame (Lew Burdette, Mickey Lolich). For Morris, his candidacy really comes down to voters putting a huge value on his Game 7 performance in 1991.
Verdict: Postseason helps.
Case study: Kirby Puckett versus Larry Walker
Puckett: 207 HR, 1085 RBIs, .318/.360/.477, 50.8 WAR
Walker: 383 HR, 1311 RBIs, .313/.400/.565, 72.6 WAR
This one is a little more complicated. Puckett's career was ended early by the eye injury, although an injury is an injury, no matter how freakish (voters seemed to give him a pass on his shortened career, however). Walker's numbers were inflated some by Coors Field. Still, Puckett was a Gold Glove center fielder; Walker was a Gold Glove right fielder. Puckett had some power and rarely walked; Walker had power and walked much more often. Walker won an MVP Award, Puckett didn't. Career WAR? Not close.
Puckett sailed in on the first ballot. Walker has been right around 22 percent his three years on the ballot. Puckett played in two World Series and won both; he hit .309/.361/.536 in 24 career playoff games, and had that memorable walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Walker played in one World Series and lost. Puckett was lovable, Walker injury-prone. That certainly influenced voters, but Puckett's postseason heroics must have helped get him elected.
Verdict: Postseason helps.
Case study: Tony Perez versus Keith Hernandez
Perez: 379 HR, 1652 RBIs, .279/.341/.463, 53.9 WAR
Hernandez: 162 HR, 1071 RBIs, .296/.384/.436, 60.1 WAR
Another interesting one in that they were completely different types of players. Perez was a power-hitting first baseman who drove in a ton of runs (it helped having Pete Rose and Joe Morgan hitting in front of him). Hernandez didn't have the same power but hit for a higher average, got on base more and is regarded as maybe the best fielding first baseman of all time.
Perez had the reputation of being a clutch hitter, and the Reds won two World Series titles with him. But Hernandez also won two titles, with the Cardinals and Mets. Here's the kicker, though: Perez was a terrible postseason player, hitting .238/.291/.378 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games. Hernandez hit .265/.370/.359 but with 21 RBIs in 30 games and was also terrific in two Game 7s (2-for-3, two walks, two RBIs in 1982; three RBIs in 1986).
Of course, in this case, voters probably didn't get past the career RBI totals.
Verdict Postseason doesn't help, unless you're part of a famous team (unless you're Bernie Williams).
OK, one more. These are kind of fun.
Catfish Hunter versus Orel Hershiser
Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 36.6 WAR
Hershiser: 204-150, 3.48 ERA, 112 ERA+, 51.7 WAR
Verdict: Postseason helps only if the voters want it to.
In the end, you've seen what I've done: compared some of the more marginal Hall of Famers or Hall of Fame candidates to similar players. There is certainly inconsistency from the voters, except perhaps in one main narrative: fame. Rice was famous as an active player, while Williams was always overshadowed by other teammates. Schilling's fame rose with the bloody-sock game and titles in Boston. Morris was certainly more famous than Martinez, Puckett more so than Walker, Hunter probably more than Hershiser, Perez maybe more than Hernandez (although that one is more debatable).
As for Beltran, that's what will probably ultimately make his Hall of Fame case an uphill climb: He comes up a little short on the "fame" side of things (unlike, say, David Ortiz). Plus: He's about to just play in his first World Series.
1. Astros: 51-111
Just in case they were worried about the Marlins catching them, they lost their final 15 games to ensure the No. 1 pick for the third draft in a row.
2. Marlins: 62-100
Kudos to Henderson Alvarez for his final-day no-hitter. In fact, the Marlins swept the Tigers in that season-ending series and won five of their final six, allowing just seven runs over those six games.
3. White Sox: 63-99
Tried hard to catch the Marlins, going 7-21 in September and losing five of their final six. Went 2-17 against the Indians, although no truth to the rumor that the Indians will share their playoff shares with the White Sox.
4. Cubs: 66-96
Ended up tied with the Twins, but get the higher pick based on 2012 record. And boy did they fight hard to get that fourth pick. Lost six of their final seven and 12 of their final 15.
5. Twins: 66-96
Lost 10 of final 11. Too bad they beat the Tigers in extra innings on Sept. 23 or they would be drafting one slot higher. In Sunday's finale, ensured defeat with three errors. In the sixth inning. Nice job, Twins!
6. Mariners: 71-91
Went 6-14 over their final 20 games to slide from a bubble team securely into a top-10 position. Lost their final eight extra-inning games, proving there's an art to successful tanking. Namely: A bad bullpen helps.
7. Phillies: 73-89
It looked like they would jump out of the bottom 10 but then lost nine of their final 11. No wonder Ryne Sandberg got the job for next year! The final game was huge, as the Phillies came up big with a 12-5 loss to the Braves.
Now, this is where things get really interesting. We had a four-way tie for spots 8 through 11. The tiebreaker is 2012 record. So ...
8. Rockies: 74-88
Those two one-run wins over the Dodgers on Saturday and Sunday didn't help, but the tiebreaker gives them the edge. Not that they'll be pursuing Robinson Cano or anything.
9. Blue Jays: 74-88
How nervous was GM Alex Anthopoulos watching the Jays nearly rally from a 7-0 deficit on Sunday? They did beat the Rays twice on the final weekend but still lost 12 of their final 19.
10. Mets: 74-88
The Mets had the most to lose if they finished out of the top 10, since they presumably could be pursuing some of the big free agents this winter. Luckily the offense came through with three straight 4-2 losses to the Brewers (before winning the season finale 3-2).
11. Brewers: 74-88
Well, this is what a 15-12 record in September will do to you. No Kyle Lohse for the Brewers this offseason!
12. Padres: 76-86
Yes, Padres fans, there were 11 teams worse than yours.
13. Giants: 76-86
The Giants went 10-5 over their final 15 to at least avoid becoming just the second World Series winner (after the 1997 Marlins) to finish in last place the next season. So there's that.
14. Angels: 78-84
A 21-7 stretch in August/September ruined any chance the Angels had of finishing with a top-10 pick. So if they went to throw $250 million at Cano, it will cost them their first-round pick.
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins (.324/.404/.476, 11 HRs, 47 RBIs, 5.2 WAR)
There's not a real clear choice, as Mauer played just 75 of his 113 games behind the plate, but he's the best hitter among the catchers and threw out a league-leading 43 percent of base stealers. Carlos Santana has good offensive numbers, but he played a lot of first base and DH and struggled defensively. Jason Castro's fine season was buried in the Astros' awfulness, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia has hit .272, raising his average 50 points from last year, while bashing 40 doubles and 14 home runs. If he had played a little more behind the plate -- he started 95 games -- he might have been my choice.
First base: Chris Davis, Orioles (.287/.370/.637, 53 HRs, 138 RBIs, 6.7 WAR)
Davis is the easy choice in a weak year at first base in the AL. The only other two first basemen to slug .500 were Edwin Encarnacion, who spent a large chunk of his time at DH, and Brandon Moss, a platoon player. Davis joined Babe Ruth and Albert Belle as the only players with 50 home runs and 40 doubles in a season.
Second base: Robinson Cano, Yankees (.313/.383/.514, 27 HRs, 106 RBIs, 7.6 WAR)
In a year when so much went wrong with the Yankees, Cano was the one constant, missing just one game and putting up his usual excellent numbers. Now the Yankees have to decide exactly how much they're willing to pay for those numbers. Teams like the Dodgers and Nationals could pursue the free agent this winter.
Third base: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers (.347/.441/.637, 44 HRs, 137 RBIs, 7.1 WAR)
Despite the injury issues that have slowed him in September (.265, just two extra-base hits and seven RBIs), Cabrera remains the likely MVP winner, thanks in part to a .397/.529/.782 mark with runners in scoring position. It's a deep position with Josh Donaldson having his own MVP-caliber season, Manny Machado catching everything at the hot corner and Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre once again doing everything, but it's hard to deny Miggy's dominance with the bat.
Shortstop: J.J. Hardy, Orioles (.262/.305/.432, 25 HRs, 74 RBIs, 3.6 WAR)
There's not an obvious guy at the position. Hardy is good defensively and has power, but that .305 OBP lowers his offensive value. Yunel Escobar may have had the best year on defense, but a slow start dragged down his offense. Elvis Andrus plays great defense and has 41 steals but doesn't give you much at the plate. Jed Lowrie stayed healthy and hit but lacks range. In the end, I went with Hardy, who has played 157 games and gives you a little on both sides of the ball.
Left field: Mike Trout, Angels (.323/.431/.554, 26 HRs, 94 RBIs, 9.1 WAR)
OK, I cheated a little bit since Trout actually started more games in center than left. But the state of left field in the AL is pretty pathetic, with Alex Gordon and Michael Brantley the only other two rated as even 2.0 WAR players.
Center field: Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox (.297/.355/.421, 8 HRs, 52 RBIs, 5.7 WAR)
Ellsbury also stole 52 bases in 56 attempts, the second-best percentage ever for a player with at least 50 steals. Orioles fans will argue for Adam Jones, who has 33 home runs and 108 RBIs, but he's drawn just 25 walks so his OBP is a mediocre .318 and his defense doesn't match Ellsbury's.
Right field: Shane Victorino, Red Sox (.297/.354/.456, 15 HRs, 61 RBIs, 6.2 WAR)
He's been solid offensively -- including hitting .303 and slugging .515 while having to bat right-handed against right-handed pitchers after a hamstring injury prevented him from batting left-handed. He has been terrific defensively with 24 Defensive Runs Saved, the sixth-best total in the majors at any position. Again, nobody with big numbers here on offense, especially with Jose Bautista's season-ending injury, but Victorino is a worthy selection.
Designated hitter: David Ortiz, Red Sox (.308/.395/.565, 30 HRs, 103 RBIs, 4.3 WAR)
At 37, he's still going strong with his seventh 30-homer, 100-RBI season. Hall of Famer? He's up to 431 career home runs and 1,429 RBIs.
Starting pitchers: Max Scherzer, Tigers (21-3, 2.90 ERA, 6.6 WAR); Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners (14-6, 2.66 ERA, 7.0 WAR); Chris Sale, White Sox (11-14, 3.07 ERA, 7.0 WAR); Yu Darvish, Rangers (13-9, 2.82 ERA, 5.7 WAR); Anibal Sanchez, Tigers (14-8, 2.64 ERA, 6.0 WAR)
Apologies to Bartolo Colon and Felix Hernandez, and even Clay Buchholz, who went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA in 16 starts.
Left-handed setup guy: Neal Cotts, Rangers (7-3, 1.13 ERA)
Cotts was one of the great stories of the season. He hadn't pitched in the majors since 2009, having Tommy John and four hip surgeries in the intervening years. He pitched in 25 games for the Rangers in Triple-A last year and started there again this season before getting recalled. In 55 2/3 innings, he's allowed just eight runs and 35 hits while striking out 63.
Right-handed setup guy: David Robertson, Yankees (5-1, 2.07 ERA)
For those worried about replacing Mariano Rivera as Yankees closer, the bigger question may actually be: Who replaces Robertson as the eighth-inning guy?
Closer: Koji Uehara, Red Sox (4-1, 21 saves, 1.10 ERA)
Apologies to Kansas City's Greg Holland, who has a 1.23 ERA and 46 saves, and Texas' Joe Nathan, who has a 1.41 ERA and 43 saves. But Uehara, who began the year in middle relief, has put up one of the most dominant relief seasons ever, limiting batters to a .129 average with a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 100-to-9.
1. Instant replay and quality of umpiring
We finally get expanded replay next season, so that should help resolve some of the controversial and blown calls. It remains to be seen how effective and efficient the system will be, but it can be adjusted as necessary. Just as importantly, the new commissioner has to work to improve consistency of ball/strike calls and reduce the episodes of ump rage.
Right now, the best umps (Eric Cooper, Chad Fairchild, Phil Cuzzi) get about 90 percent of ball/strike calls correct, according to our pitch data; the worst umps (Wally Bell, Tim Welke, Kerwin Danley, Jerry Meals) are at 86 percent. That difference may not seem like a lot, but that's a spread of 10 incorrect calls per 250 pitches. Even a 90 percent correct rate means the best umps are missing about 25 to 30 ball/strike calls a game. Maybe the human eye can't do better, but MLB needs to pay its umpire better, and in particular pay minor league umpires a living wage, so you can recruit from a wider field of candidates.
2. To DH or not to DH?
This ridiculousness has gone on too long. You simply can't have one sport with two leagues playing under different rules. The answer seems to be pretty obvious: Get rid of the designated hitter. There were only four full-time DHs this year: David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Billy Butler and Kendrys Morales. They all batted at least 500 times as a DH. Nobody else even had 300 plate appearances (including Adam Dunn, who played a lot of first base). With so few teams actually using a DH, the resolution should be pretty clear. OK, so Butler is the youngest of those four and signed through 2015. No DH starting in 2016.
3. Oakland and Tampa Bay stadium issues
Look, both organizations have shown they can compete and win in spite of their lousy ballparks and low revenue. Part of the problem is that other teams are tired of propping up the Rays and A's. "The key here is to recognize that without the revenue-sharing dollars, we wouldn't even be able to compete or do what we're doing," Rays principal owner Stuart Sternberg said in August. "The other owners are looking at this and saying, 'How many years is this going to be? How much money is this going to be to a failing situation?'"
Oakland's problem is more easily solved. The A's want to move to San Jose; the Giants hold territorial rights to Santa Clara County (given to them years ago by the A's). A three-quarters majority vote of all owners can return those rights to the A's, but Selig has refused to call for a vote, wanting unanimity, including the Giants. Well, of course, the Giants would vote against it. The new commish should side with the A's here and get them, literally, out of the sewage.
I've written about this issue. Buster Olney addressed it the other day. The current collective bargaining agreement makes it beneficial for teams to lose -- either to get a higher draft position (and thus more money to spend in the draft) or finish with one of the 10 worst records and thus have a protected first-round pick when signing free agents. What kind of sport essentially encourages tanking for 10 or more teams?
This season, we'll likely finish with 10 teams and maybe 11 winning 90 games ... and seven to 10 losing 90 games. You don't want to read too much into one season, but it's possible we'll see more seasons like this: Contenders and non-contenders, which makes for a less interesting sport. Back in 2004, only five teams won 90 and six lost 90. That's a healthier sport.
But the draft rules tie into another problem. For the most part, the owners love the new rules and capping the amount teams can spend in the draft. Why give more money to amateurs when you can pocket some of that money instead and buy new leather seats for your private jet? The long-range issue here is obvious: You risk talented athletes choosing other sports as signing bonuses decrease. The new commissioner should find ways to get more athletes playing baseball, rather than potentially pushing them towards a different sport.
5. The schedule
Nobody likes the fact that interleague play is now a constant throughout the season, but that's unavoidable with 15 teams in each league. But the unbalanced schedule creates issues of teams competing for the same thing (a wild-card spot) while playing vastly different schedules.
My own personal pet peeve is that the season drags too long into October. Last year's World Series games in Detroit were played in brutally cold weather. Depending on which teams advance, you're often playing your most important games of the year in your worst weather. The World Series can be as much a test of ability as a test of weather fortitude. There isn't a good solution, unless your shorten the regular season or the playoffs, add some doubleheaders, or -- god forbid -- play some World Series games during the day. The weather in Detroit in the afternoon last October was quite lovely. At night? Not so much.
Nick Nelson of Twins Daily says Mauer's concussion -- which will end up costing him 39 games -- is the final straw: That catching should no longer be an option for Mauer.
I'm inclined to agree with Nick. It's time to get Mauer's bat in there for 150 games and avoid the injury risk. He's only been a part-time catcher the past two seasons anyway, filling in at DH and first. As Nick writes, "He's too valuable to the franchise -- monetarily and otherwise -- for such an undeniably substantial risk."
What do you think?
AP PhotoPedro Florimon and David Lough don't get a lot of press, but they have stellar defensive stats.
We've written frequently about the outstanding defense of Andrelton Simmons, Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gomez this season, but it should be noted that they;re not the only ones who have been terrific with the glove.
You may have read Buster Olney's blog today in which I made a statistical assessment of the clubhouse leaders for Gold Glove Awards. That hooks into something I've been wanting to do for awhile -- take a closer look at nine players having good defensive seasons that you may not have been aware. (Note that all data is entering Thursday).
Mike Napoli, Red Sox 1B
Napoli was the most surprising name among the Defensive Runs Saved and UZR leaders. His 10 Runs Saved are most among AL first basemen.
What is he doing that those stats are rewarding?
It's fairly simple. Napoli doesn't go beyond the basic area he covers to make plays (his rate of out of zone plays per inning ranks in the bottom third among first basemen), but what he can get to, particularly on balls hit near the first-base line, he turns into outs.
Napoli entered Thursday with the best Revised Zone Rating among AL first basemen, though remember that group doesn't include Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez or a healthy Albert Pujols.
Brian Dozier, Twins 2B
Pedro Florimon, Twins SS
Dozier has handled the move from shortstop to second base with aplomb, netting 11 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013, second-most in the AL (Dustin Pedroia leads with 16).
He leads AL second basemen in range factor (plays per game) and is one of those players who passes the eye test too.
Dozier's 83 Good Fielding Plays (think: Web Gem nominees) are only two fewer than the leader at the position, Pedroia (in 177 fewer innings). What's separating Dozier from being as good as Pedroia are the defensive misplays and errors. He has 31, 10 more than Pedroia.
Florimon has shown himself to be adept, particularly at getting to balls in the shortstop-third base hole (which helps, because Dozier covers a lot of ground up the middle). His 14 Defensive Runs Saved rank second-best among shortstops this season, dwarfed by Simmons’ major-league leading 39.
Juan Uribe, Dodgers 3B
Like Napoli, this one may merit an eye roll, but the numbers show that Uribe has been good. His 11 Defensive Runs Saved are second-most in the NL and the same as Evan Longoria (in nearly 450 fewer innings). Like Napoli, Uribe gets to balls and doesn't make a lot of mistakes.
Let me show you what I mean:
The image on the left shows how a team that ranks among the best in the majors in out conversion -- the Dodgers -- has fared against those balls. The image on the right shows how a team that ranks among the worst -- the Marlins -- fares against balls hit to that same swath.
The two players making most of those plays for the Dodgers are Uribe and Nick Punto, who has five Runs Saved in limited time at the position.
Uribe's performance is the bigger surprise. The last time he had a season with at least a dozen Defensive Runs Saved was 2004.
David Lough, Royals OF
The inspiration to include Lough came from seeing him crash into the right-field fence to make a catch for his third No. 1 Web Gem in Tuesday's win over the Indians. Lough has 17 Defensive Runs Saved in 666 innings and has done his best work getting to balls hit to the deepest parts of the park. His runs saved per inning rate ranks fifth-best among outfielders with at least 500 innings played.
Lough has a near 2-to-1 rate of good fielding plays to defensive misplays and errors in right field based on video review by Baseball Info Solutions. His rate ranks fifth-best among the 21 right fielders with at least 15 good plays this season.
Shane Victorino, Red Sox RF
Victorino has the most Runs Saved of anyone who hasn't been nominated for Defensive Player of the Month this year with 22, the best year of any in his 10-year career.
Victorino has had a good year with his arm (see the chart), but even at age 32, he's shown that he can go into the gap and get the ball. The Red Sox defense has improved considerably from a statistical perspective at getting to balls in the deepest parts of right-center. Victorino has been a key to that.
As we did for Uribe, we cut the field into a swath, one meant to show the charting (by hand and eye) of balls hit to the deepest parts of right-center that stayed in play at Fenway Park, and looked at the data.
In 2012, the Red Sox turned 16 of those 25 into outs. In 2013, they've turned 22 of 25 into outs. Six would-be doubles and triples (just at Fenway) may not sound like a lot, but it's the sort of thing that can help enhance the defensive value of someone like Victorino.
Chris Denorfia, Padres OF
Denorfia has played three outfield positions and played them solidly, combining for 15 Defensive Runs Saved. He has five Defensive Runs Saved at each of the three outfield positions.
If that holds to the end of the season, he'd be the first player in the 11-season history of Defensive Runs Saved to have at least that many Runs Saved in all three of those spots.
Welington Castillo, Cubs C
Castillo's season doesn't look great on paper, particularly the 10 errors, but he ranks second in the National League in runners caught stealing with 26 and has five pickoffs.
Castillo's stats also have gotten a spike from one area that BIS charts that might be hard to recognize -- the ability of a catcher to block pitches in the dirt.
Castillo entered Thursday having blocked 613 pitches in the dirt (without a baserunner advancing) this season, second-most in the majors to Salvador Perez's 622.
That's helped him accumulate a major-league high 17 Defensive Runs Saved at catcher.
Russell Martin, Pirates C
Martin has done more than his share of good things behind the plate for the Pirates. His 15 Defensive Runs Saved are his best total since he netted 18 in 2007.
The two reasons for that are:
(A) The Pirates' ERA is about half-a-run better when he's behind the plate compared to when he isn't.
(B) He's thrown out 28 of 75 of would-be basestealers, compared to only three of 35 by the rest of the team's backstops.
Martin probably won't win a Gold Glove, with Yadier Molina in his way, but his value has been as noteworthy as Molina's on the defensive side this season.
Scott Spratt of Baseball Info Solutions contributed research to this article.
Sunday's winner: Tough call, but let's give it to the Seattle Mariners for some questionable bullpen usage in the eighth inning. Leading 1-0 against the Rays, right-hander Yoervis Medina came on with Evan Longoria leading off, followed by four lefties. I get using Medina against Longoria as he's sort of established himself as Seattle's eighth-inning guy. Joe Maddon had stacked his lineup with left-handed batters, but had already used Delmon Young and Wil Myers off the bench in the seventh. With Luke Scott, James Loney, Matt Joyce and Kelly Johnson due up, didn't it make sense to bring in Oliver Perez at that point? Sean Rodriguez, Desmond Jennings and Yunel Escobar were on the bench, but I'd rather have Perez facing those guys than Medina against the lefties. Anyway, Scott walked (Jennings pinch-ran), Loney doubled in a run and Perez was finally brought in, and Rodriguez singled in two runs as the Rays avoided the sweep.
(Honorable mention to the Giants for resting both Brandon Belt and Pablo Sandoval, although they beat the Diamondbacks anyway.)
Current standings in the race to 10:
Team W L Pct. GB
1. Astros 47 96 .329 ---
2. Marlins 53 88 .376 7
3. White Sox 57 85 .401 10.5
4. Cubs 60 82 .423 13.5
5. Twins 61 80 .433 15
6. Brewers 62 80 .437 15.5
7. Giants 64 79 .448 17
8. Mets 64 77 .454 18
8. Mariners 65 78 .455 18
10. Padres 65 77 .458 18.5
10. Rockies 66 78 .458 18.5
12. Phillies 66 77 .462 19
13. Blue Jays 67 76 .469 20
14. Angels 67 75 .472 20.5
The Padres, Phillies and Blue Jays all hurt their chances to finish in the top-10 worst records by sweeping their series. The Twins jumped into the top five with their sweep at the hands of Toronto and the Rockies are suddenly right there with their sweep defeat in San Diego. Good job, Roy Oswalt! Key series starting Monday: Rockies at Giants.
Player A: .265/.342/.496, 28 HR, 72 RBI, 132 OPS+
Player B: .283/.352/.468, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 134 OPS+
Player A is Evan Longoria, Player B is Kyle Seager. Longoria does hold the WAR advantage, 5.2 to 4.1, thanks to better defense, but Seager is quietly have another solid season at the plate.
Player A: .271/.359/.448, 22 HR, 117 OPS+, 1.0 WAR
Player B: .260/.370/.446, 17 HR, 131 OPS+, 3.1 WAR
Player A is Prince Fielder, Player B is Carlos Santana. Of course, I left out RBIs, and Fielder has 95 of those compared to 60 for Santana (Fielder has 81 more plate appearances). Has Fielder had a great RBI season? According to Baseball-Reference, the average major leaguer drives in 65 runs in 622 plate appearances, so Fielder is +30. Sounds good. But ... he's also had 98 more runners on base than the average hitter. In WAR, Santana moves ahead thanks to Fielder's poor defense and a positional adjustment for Santana, because he's played a lot behind the plate.
Player A: .233/.291/.448, 29 HR, 84 RBI, 1.5 WAR
Player B: .238/.299/.422, 19 HR, 62 RBI, 1.0 WAR
Player A is Mark Trumbo and Player B is Angels teammate Josh Hamilton. Trumbo has escaped criticism because he has more home runs and RBIs, but he's also another sub-.300 OBP guy in the middle of the Angels' lineup.
Player A: .243/.311/.433, 17 HR, 102 OPS+
Player B: .267/.316/.420, 18 HR, 98 OPS+
Looks pretty close, right? What if I told you one of these guys has 101 RBIs and has been touted as an MVP candidate by some (OK, at least one prominent national broadcaster), and the other guy has 60 RBIs.
Player A is Twins second baseman Brian Dozier and Player B is Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips. In terms of WAR, Dozier has the bigger advantage, 3.8 to 1.7. Look, Phillips is hitting .354 with runners in scoring position. He's also hitting .211 with a .249 OBP with the bases empty; those at-bats count, too. Phillips has made the fourth-most outs in the NL.
Player A: 209 IP, 145 H, 47 BB, 201 SO, 6.6 WAR
Player B: 187.2 IP, 158 H, 40 BB, 199 SO, 6.2 WAR
Pretty similar. Both are left-handed. One stat I left out: Player A has a 1.89 ERA, while Player B's is 2.97. Player A, of course, is Clayton Kershaw while Player B is Chris Sale. How can Sale be close despite an ERA a run higher? A few things. We're talking an NL pitcher versus an AL one, so Kershaw's run-scoring environment is a little lower. Home park: Kershaw pitches in Dodger Stadium, a good park for pitchers, while Sale pitches at The Cell, a hitter's park. Quality of opponents: Kershaw's opponents have averaged 4.20 runs per game compared to 4.51 for Sale's. Defense: Kershaw's is good, Sale's isn't. So why has nobody noticed Sale's season? He's 10-12. Put him on the Tigers and he'd be competing with Max Scherzer for Cy Young Award honors.
Player A: 193 IP, 180 H, 43 BB, 174 SO, 3.50 ERA, 4.1 WAR
Player B: 184 IP, 169 H, 50 BB, 172 SO, 2.98 ERA, 4.0 WAR
Cole Hamels is A, and Mat Latos is B. Of course, Hamels is 6-13 and Latos is 14-5, obscuring the fact that Hamels has been outstanding. Hamels was 1-9 with an ERA approaching 5 through May, and those bad starts (or good starts) stick in our memories. But since July, he's made 12 starts and posted a 2.17 ERA, allowing more than two runs just twice (though he has just four wins). He's still one of the best left-handers in the league.
Player A: 5-2, 1.48 ERA, 38 saves, 2 blown saves
Player B: 4-2, 2.19 ERA, 41 saves, 6 blown saves
Joe Nathan (A) and Mariano Rivera (B). By the way, Nathan's career save percentage since becoming a closer: 91 percent. Rivera's since becoming a closer: 90 percent, not including the postseason.