SweetSpot: New York Yankees
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:
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.
Oh, and great googly moogly, Giancarlo Stanton. I don't care if you didn't win; that home run was worth sitting through a rain delay!
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Ziegler's extremely high value, and why he shouldn't be traded: Brad Ziegler leads all relievers in "soft hit average" and groundball percentage for the past three seasons. Ryan P. Morrison explains how Ziegler's groundball tendencies have value that traditional statistics don't capture. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.
Atlanta Braves: Chop County
Braves 2014 midseason top 25 prospects: Check out the latest ranking of top prospects in the Braves' system. Follow Chop County on Twitter @gondeee.
Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Orioles' projected second half: Jon Shepherd takes a look at how projection models project the Orioles' second half. He finds that in the games remaining the team is expected to have the worst record in the division while also remaining in first place. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.
Chicago Cubs: View From the Bleachers
Grading the Cubs at the All-Star Break: Chris Neitzel takes a look at how the individual players and coaches grade out so far. Follow on Twitter: @bbcg105reasons.
What to do with Edwin Jackson: Noah Eisner examines a question that has been puzzling Cubs fans since the day the Cubs signed him. Follow on Twitter: @Noah_Eisner.
Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced "Lajaway"
Greatest Indians who were never All-Stars: Ryan McCrystal counts down the 10 greatest Indians of the All-Star Game era who were never selected to participate in the Midsummer Classic. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.
CC Sabathia trade and the evolution of Michael Brantley: Stephanie Liscio takes a look at how Michael Brantley evolved from a player to be named later to All-Star outfielder. Follow on Twitter: @StephanieLiscio.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Dick and Dan and accountability at 20th and Blake: Dick Monfort believes Dan O'Dowd is one of the best general managers in baseball and does not want the Rockies' culture to change. Ryan Hammon evaluates O'Dowd's record and the criticism Monfort has received of late from the fans. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.
Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Trade candidate: Kurt Suzuki: Will the Twins make their All-Star catcher available to contenders at the deadline? Who might be interested? Seth Stohs digs in. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.
New York Yankees: It's About The Money
The IIATMS/TYA 'At the Break' Awards: Domenic Lanza and the writers at IIATMS make their midseason picks for MLB's major awards plus their picks for the Yankees who have shined so far. Follow on Twitter: @DomenicLanza.
Has McCann broken out of his slump?: Brian McCann hasn't had a good debut in Pinstripes but has improved in recent weeks. Katie Sharp wonders if this trend will continue. Follow on Twitter @ktsharp.
Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
Here are the fewest All-Star selections for position players who debuted after 1933, the year of the first All-Star Game:
Robin Yount: 3
Phil Rizzuto: 5
Frank Thomas: 5
Richie Ashburn: 6
Lou Brock: 6
Willie McCovey: 6
Willie Stargell: 6
(Monte Irvin made just one All-Star Game but had a short major league career after he started in the Negro Leagues.)
All-Star selections are certainly an imperfect process, but it's still odd that a player of Yount's caliber made it just three times. I mean, Paul Lo Duca was a four-time All-Star. So were John Stearns, Manny Trillo and Dante Bichette. Carlos Guillen and Ozzie Guillen made as many All-Star teams as Yount.
So what was the deal? Let's dig what happened.
1974-1979: Yount came up as an 18-year-old rookie and took a few years to establish himself. He was a good player from '77 to '79 but was bypassed as a reserve each season. He was worth 5.0 WAR in 1978, but it's easy to see why he didn't make it: He hit .281 with one home run and 25 RBIs in the first half but .301 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs in the second half.
1980: His first All-Star appearance, selected as a reserve along with Alan Trammell behind starter Bucky Dent.
1981: Didn't make it as Dent was again voted the starter and Rick Burleson selected as the backup. (Burleson was a four-time All-Star.)
1982: Yount had one of the great seasons ever for a shortstop, winning MVP honors while hitting .331 and leading the league in slugging percentage, and the fans recognized it by voting him in as the starter.
1983: Yount's final appearance, again voted in as the starter (over eventual MVP Cal Ripken).
1984: Yount was hitting .299/.370/.431 at the break with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. He had spent the previous week or so DHing for the Brewers because of a sore shoulder -- which would force a move to the outfield in 1985 -- so maybe that's why he wasn't selected. Ripken was voted as the starter and Trammell (.307, 8 HR, 44 RBI) the backup. When Trammell was unavailable to play, Alfredo Griffin was added to the roster -- mainly because he was already in town. (Griffin, hitting .241 with 19 RBIs, thus became one of the worst All-Stars ever.)
Keep in mind rosters were smaller than -- only 29 guys were on the AL squad as opposed to the 40 or so who eventually become official All-Stars these days.
1985 -- Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice started in the outfield, with Harold Baines, Phil Bradley, Tom Brunansky and Gary Ward the outfield reserves. Bradley, Brunansky and Ward were their teams' only rep and Yount didn't tear it up in the first half (.275, 7 HR, 39 RBIs).
1986 -- Kirby Puckett, Henderson and Winfield started with Rice, Baines, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield and Jose Canseco the outfield reserves. Yount was hitting .330 at the break but with just three home runs and 20 RBIs.
1987 -- Henderson, Winfield and George Bell started and Puckett and Dwight Evans were the backups. The AL squad included three backup first basemen and two DHs. Winfield played the entire 13-inning game. Yount was hitting .301 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs at the break, but got pushed out by Baines (.301, 12, 49, White Sox only rep), Pat Tabler (.301, 7, 48, Indians rep) and Larry Parrish (.274, 20, 60, Rangers rep).
1988 -- Henderson, Canseco and Winfield started with Puckett and Mike Greenwell (who would finish second in the MVP voting that year) the backups. Johnny Ray and Harold Reynolds both made it as backup second basemen but were their teams' only rep. Yount was hitting .304, 8, 46 at the break.
1989 -- This was Yount's second MVP season, when he edged out Ruben Sierra. He was hitting .299 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs at the break and then hit .339 in the second half. The All-Star starters were Sierra, Puckett and Bo Jackson, with Greenwell (.300, 10, 55), Canseco (he must have been voted in as a starter because he had missed the entire first half) and Devon White (.259, 9, 39) the reserves. White was the Angels' only All-Star.
So you can what happened here. The fans never voted Yount in after he moved off shortstop, his numbers were rarely "automatic" quality and he got squeezed a couple times by teams needing their token All-Star.
1990-1993: He fell off after his MVP season and was no longer All-Star-quality.
It's interesting, Yount's career WAR is 77.0 -- higher than Derek Jeter's, even though the two had similar careers, minus Yount's position change. Yount had the awesome 1982 season and was worth 7.2 WAR in 1983 and 7.1 in 1980 and had five other seasons at 4.9 or higher. That's eight seasons of 4.9 WAR or higher compared to six for Jeter.
They're players of near identical offensive ability -- Jeter has a 116 career OPS+ and Yount 115. Their career plate appearances are currently within 100 of each other. Jeter, however, is appearing in his 14th All-Star Game. One player will be remembered as a legend and the other is remembered for his great '80s 'stache.
I'm not trying to knock Jeter when I say this: The difference between the two is really in their quality of their teammates and the city they played in. Yount, once that 1982 Brewers World Series team quickly faded, spent the rest of his career playing for mostly mediocre Brewers teams. He simply never caught the public's fascination like Jeter or even other players of his era like Henderson, Puckett, Canseco and, even briefly, Jackson.
Anyway, that led to some responses on Twitter like this:
@dschoenfield Dude, it's the face of baseball's last All Star Game. Why are you having a heart attack over him leading off? Get a grip.— Chris Barca (@CBarcaSTJ) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield You spent time arguing one of the game's legends shouldn't lead off in an exhibition game. Get over yourself.— Yanks Fan (@YanksFan814) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield Get over Jeter batting leadoff. He's more than earned everything he gets tomorrow night. Get over yourself while you're at it.— Bucksky619 (@Bucksky619) July 14, 2014
My counter is that, yes, in theory and execution it's an exhibition game. Unfortunately, MLB has made winning the game important: The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. I think that's ridiculous, but that's the ramification of the game. Just today, I heard an interview with Farrell, talking about how important home field was to the Red Sox last year, not only opening up in their home park but being able to go back home for Game 6 in the middle of a hard-fought series.
Understanding that, even with the artificial constraints of an All-Star Game, isn't Farrell under some obligation to field his best lineup?
Look, in the end, it probably won't matter or have a big impact on the game's outcome, but it's perhaps worth noting that Cal Ripken batted eighth when he started the All-Star Game in his final season.
(How important is home-field advantage? The last time the visiting team won Game 7 of the World Series was 1979, Pirates over Orioles. Since then, the home team has gone 9-0. In all seven-game playoff series, the home team has gone 19-5 since Pittsburgh's win.)
* * * *
To be fair, at least Jeter hasn't been terrible this year, hitting .272, albeit with only two home runs. Is it unusual for an all-time great to start the All-Star Game in his final season? I thought I'd check some big names from the past (not meant to be comprehensive):
Ken Griffey Jr.: He retired early in his final season, so he didn't have the chance to have a final-year send-off. After his trade to the Reds, he made just three All-Star Games, however, twice as a reserve and once voted in by the fans.
Cal Ripken: As mentioned, started and batted eighth. And hit a home run to win MVP honors.
Tony Gwynn: Did not make the All-Star team his final two seasons, when he was a part-time player.
Ozzie Smith: Was named as a reserve his final two seasons, even though he wasn't a full-time starter either season and was hitting .250 with three RBIs when named in 1995.
George Brett: Not chosen for the All-Star Game in any of his final five seasons. His final year he hit .266 with 19 home runs, so he could still hit.
Robin Yount: Similar to Jeter in many ways (respected player, spent his entire career with one team, over 3,000 hits), and yet was selected to only three All-Star Games his entire career, the last in 1983 (he played until 1993).
Pete Rose: Last voted in as a starter in 1982, named as a reserve to the 1985 team (.262, one home run at the break) but not in 1986, his final season.
Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski: I seem to remember them being "special" additions to the 1983 teams. Bench hadn't made the All-Star team in 1981 or 1982 while Yaz had made it in '82 but not the two previous years.
Hank Aaron: He started every year for the National League from 1965 to 1974, his final year with the Braves. He was named as a reserve to the AL squad in 1975 with the Brewers, despite hitting .236 with nine home runs at the break. Did not make it in 1976, his final year.
Willie Mays: Was a sub in his final season in 1973, when he hit .211 for the season.
Obviously, that doesn't represent a consistent approach to how to handle the game's living legends. Of course, most of these guys hadn't necessarily announced their retirement before the season like Jeter (and Ripken). Jeter and Ripken were the only two from this list voted in as starters by the fans. Which begs the question: Does that make them the most beloved players of the past 30 years? Maybe so.
Somehow, with a lineup of the AL's best hitters at his disposal, Red Sox manager John Farrell decided to have his worst batter lead off , simply inexcusable no matter what Jeter has meant to the game.
The rest of the lineup makes sense, which means Farrell should have moved Mike Trout to leadoff, Robinson Cano to second and so on and let Jeter bat ninth. The game is -- or, in theory, should be -- about trying to win, not about giving respect to Derek Jeter.
Mike Matheny's National League lineup doesn't have any issues, and I particularly like the decision to use Giancarlo Stanton as the designated hitter even though the NL reserve outfielders aren't the strongest group.
You can't really argue either starting pitcher selection, Felix Hernandez in the AL and Adam Wainwright in the NL. Certainly Clayton Kershaw warranted the starting nod as well, but you can't go wrong with Wainwright and his 12-4 record and sub 2.00 ERA. He's been every bit as dominant as Kershaw so far this season.
Where things get interesting is how each manager will use his reserves. The AL pitching staff has been thinned a bit by the injury to Masahiro Tanaka, and David Price being unavailable to pitch after starting on Sunday. If I were Farrell, I would pitch Hernandez for two innings followed by Chris Sale for two more, giving Farrell lots of flexibility over the final five innings to match up his remaining starters and relievers as needed.
Hitting Jeter leadoff hurts in another regard since the two backup shortstops, Alexei Ramirez and Erick Aybar, are both mediocre hitters. Of course, Farrell could simply use a stronger bench bat to pinch hit for Jeter -- like Brandon Moss -- especially if there are runners on base, but we rarely see those moves in All-Star Games any more. Usually we just see straight position-for-position changes.
Matheny's staff has also been weakened by the unavailability of Madison Bumgarner and Julio Teheran, both of whom started Sunday, and the injury to Jordan Zimmermann. That means World Series home-field advantage has a greater likelihood of being determined by "stars" like Pat Neshek, Tony Watson and Tyler Clippard.
I'd also argue the NL bench isn't quite as strong, so Matheny may choose to play his regulars an extra inning or two compared to Farrell. There's no reason to pull Andrew McCutchen and Yasiel Puig after four or five innings just to get Charlie Blackmon and Josh Harrison into the game.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
D-backs' slap-hitter offense decent but unusual: Though good overall, the Diamondbacks offense is among the worst in the majors in walks and "hard-hit average." Ryan P. Morrison draws from a quote from Bill James in wondering whether slap hitters are an inefficiency Arizona could exploit. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona.
Wade Miley is the canary in the coal mine: The D-backs are sellers, but their moves so far have been short-term oriented. Jeff Wiser looks at Miley's value as a trade chip, and makes the case that what the team decides to do with Miley will tell us a lot. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.
Atlanta Braves: Chop County
Mississippi Braves game report from 6/24/14: Photos and scouting reports on several of the Braves top prospects, including speedy second baseman Jose Peraza. Follow on Twitter: @gondeee.
Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Examining Steve Pearce's fantastic, unexpected first half: Matt Kremnitzer dives into the play of Pearce, who has been a major reason why the Orioles currently reside in first place in the AL East. His season has been a wild ride of being designated for assignment as well as delivering outstanding play at the plate. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.
Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
It's time for the Red Sox to sell: Alex Skillin writes that the Red Sox need to consider trading players such as Jake Peavy, Jonny Gomes and Koji Uehara to allow the team an opportunity to evaluate its younger talent, like Jackie Bradley Jr, Mookie Betts, and others who could benefit from full-time work. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.
Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Why you should be in favor of the big trade: Joe Aiello talks about the weekend deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland and why Cubs fans should be happy with the result. Follow on Twitter: @vftb.
What the Samardzija and Hammel trade means for the rebuild: Noah Eisner breaks down the deal further and looks at what it means going forward for the Cubs' farm system. Follow on Twitter: @Noah_Eisner.
Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The White Sox are not a bullpen away from being contenders: The White Sox bullpen is terrible, yet the team floats around near .500; would they be contenders if they could get some relievers? James Fegan says no. Follow on Twitter @TheCatbird_Seat.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
The 2014 Colorado Rockies: What went wrong?: Eric Garcia McKinley looks at the Rockies' first-half performance so far and discusses why the Rockies are doing so badly. It turns out that they weren't that good in the first place. Follow on Twitter: @garcia_mckinley.
New York Yankees: It's About The Money
The real Brandon McCarthy: Katie Sharp gives Yankee fans on primer on their newest starting pitcher. Follow on Twitter: @ktsharp.
Power-hitting Brett Gardner: Katie examines how Gardner's game has changed and power has become a part of it. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.
St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Matt Adams' secret: Better strike-zone discipline?: Since returning from the disabled list, Adams has been beating the shift and pretty much everything else that opposing teams have thrown at him. He credits improved strike-zone discipline. But is that really the case? Follow on Twitter: @fungoes.
Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The case for trading Alex Rios: Brandon Land examines the possibility of the Rangers trading Rios to retool for 2015 or 2016. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away.
Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
Now, that's a bit of a layered question when you start factoring in things like World Series titles and legacy, two areas where it's difficult to trump Jeter. So let's keep it simple: How many will finish with a higher career Wins Above Replacement than Jeter?
Jeter's current career WAR, via Baseball-Reference.com, is 72.1. That's fourth among active players, behind Alex Rodriguez (116.0), Albert Pujols (95.0) and Adrian Beltre (74.0).
Does Beltre, who made this year's All-Star Game, ranking so high surprise you? He's not really considered a slam-dunk Hall of Famer right now, in part because a large percentage of that value is tied into his defense. His career batting line has a much different arc than Jeter's:
Jeter has the better on-base percentage but Beltre has more power. Who has been the more valuable hitter? Beltre has created an estimated 1,410 runs in 9,704 career plate appearances -- 5.6 runs per 27 outs. Jeter has created 1,887 runs in 12,315 PAs -- 6.3 runs per 27 outs. Those are not park-adjusted figures; Beltre spent a large portion of his career in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, two pitcher's parks, so that draws him a little closer. But getting on base is more important than slugging and B-R estimates Jeter has been 362 runs better than the average hitter while Beltre has been 193.
But Beltre makes up for that with his good fielding and Jeter's poor fielding. The fielding metrics Baseball-Reference uses has Beltre at 183 runs above average on defense and Jeter at 240 runs below average. So that's how Beltre ends up higher than Jeter in career WAR.
Here are the five remaining 2014 All-Stars with the highest career WAR:
Chase Utley: 60.8
Mark Buehrle: 57.9
Miguel Cabrera: 57.6
Robinson Cano: 48.1
Felix Hernandez: 42.9
A quick and dirty way to see how these guys compare to Jeter is to check his career WAR when he was their age.
Utley rates so well due to more high-peak seasons than Jeter. He was arguably the second-best all-around player in the game from 2005 through 2009 when he averaged 7.9 WAR per season (only Pujols was better). Even while missing time with injuries in recent seasons, Utley has reached at least 3.0 WAR the past three seasons and is already at 2.9 this year. So he's behind Jeter but Jeter didn't do much after turning 36. Could be close.
Buehrle (age-35 season) -- Jeter was 67.3
He's headed for his 14th consecutive season of 200-plus innings. He's never been a big star but he's still accumulating value and with his style of pitching could easily remain effective until 40. Can he pile up 16 more WAR before he's done? He was probably over his head in the first half -- 4.0 WAR compared to 2.1 all of 2013 -- so I say he comes up short.
Cabrera (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
Even though he doesn't earn much value with his defense or position, Cabrera is well ahead of Jeter at the same age. His offensive numbers are down from the past few seasons but he's still hitting .312, leading the league with 32 doubles and has been worth 3.0 WAR. He should soar past Jeter and approach at least 80 career WAR.
Cano (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
So these two are just about dead even at the same age, although Cano will move ahead by the end of the season. Jeter had two of his better seasons at 32 (5.5 WAR) and 35 (6.5). With his decline in power so far, Cano is at 2.9 WAR, well below the 7.4 he averaged the previous four seasons. He's been one of the most durable players in the game (as was Jeter until his injury in the 2012 playoffs). Yankees fan will never put Cano on the same pedestal as Jeter -- in part because of Cano's dismal .222 postseason average -- but through the same age it's hard to argue he hasn't been as valuable in the regular season.
Hernandez (age-28 season) -- Jeter was at 36.8
King Felix is ahead of Jeter's pace. Of course, most pitchers don't remain as durable as Buehrle. Hernandez is in the midst of his best season yet and there's no reason he won't stay dominant for many more years if his elbow and shoulder remain intact.
What about the younger guys? Well, Mike Trout only needs five more 10-win seasons to pass The Captain.
Now, there's no need to panic just yet if you're a New York Yankees fan. I mean, even Bob Gibson allowed five runs in a game two times and six runs once back in 1968, the year that he posted a 1.12 ERA. Sandy Koufax won 27 games with a 1.73 ERA in 1966 but he allowed six runs in two innings to the lowly Mets in one start that year.
So great pitchers do have bad games.
But Masahiro Tanaka has looked a little less spectacular his past couple outings. On Tuesday, the Cleveland Indians got him for 10 hits and five runs, including two home runs, in 6 2/3 innings. The start before this one, against the Minnesota Twins, he allowed four runs and nine hits in seven innings with a season-low three strikeouts.
And that is an important question for an obvious reason. The Yankees having been riding Tanaka all season long. Even after Tuesday's loss, they're 13-5 in games he starts and seven games under .500 when he doesn't start. If the Yankees are going to climb out of mediocrity they need Tanaka to keep pitching like the Cy Young candidate he has been and nothing less.
Cleveland's 10 hits in their 5-3 victory included five ground balls, three line drives, and line-drive home runs by Michael Brantley line-drive home run and Nick Swisher. To be fair, not everything was hit hard and Tanaka's other numbers lined up with his season totals. For example, he had a swing-and-miss rate of 28.6 percent, which is right at his season total of 29 percent. The Indians swung at 50 percent of his offerings, right at his season rate of 51 percent.
Digging deeper, however, we see that although he walked just one batter he had his third-worst strike rate (64.7 percent) and his lowest rate of pitches that were actually in the strike zone (36.4 percent compared to a season rate of 44.6 percent).
Those are a lot of numbers, but one thing in particular interests me. I had noticed the other day that hitters have been effective against Tanaka's fastball. For the season, they're hitting .318/.369/.551 in plate appearances ending in his fastball; of 91 qualified starters that's the 84th highest slugging percentage allowed on fastballs, and he has allowed 11 home runs on fastballs. Only five starters have allowed more -- Bartolo Colon, Chris Young, Wade Miley, Wei-Yin Chen and Marco Estrada. Not exactly the cream of the crop there.
Compare those 11 home runs to Felix Hernandez, who will likely start the All-Star Game now over Tanaka since Tanaka will pitch Sunday and thus be ineligible to pitch: Felix has thrown 893 fastballs and hasn't allowed a home run on any of them.
That's all to get to this point: Tanaka's fastball has been hittable. Which gets to the second point: Are hitters going to adjust and start attacking Tanaka earlier in the count, trying to avoid that deadly two-strike splitter? It does appear that is already starting to happen. Tanaka's lowest average pitches per plate appearance have come in his past two starts, an indicator that batters are swinging earlier in the count.
Interestingly, both home runs on Tuesday came while Tanaka was ahead in the count: Swisher hit a 1-2 slider in the sixth inning and Brantley connected on an 0-1 fastball in the seventh.
All of this suggests that the next step would be for Tanaka to make some adjustments. He appeared to do this against Cleveland, as he threw his lowest percentage of fastballs in any start, 31.3 percent compared to his season average of 43.6 percent. He also threw his highest percentage of cutters at 14.1 percent, way above his season average of 3.4 percent.
Remember, as our ESPN colleague Curt Schilling likes to point out, the key to good pitching is all about fastball command. Get ahead with the fastball and then you can put hitters away with your off-speed pitches. Tanaka's fastball is vulnerable to the long ball, hitters are apparently starting to look for it earlier in the count, so he threw more cutters. This is the cat-and-mouse game at the heart of baseball.
The other issue to keep in mind with Tanaka: In Japan, he basically pitched once a week rather than once every five days. Here's his 2013 game log. He didn't start once all season on four days' rest and usually had six days between starts, so he has to adjust to a different kind of schedule and workload.
Ultimately, I think he will. His style of pitching, including the splitter, is similar to Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, who has excelled since joining the Mariners' rotation in July of 2012. Tanaka seemed to show Tuesday that he understands the importance of changing up his pattern a bit. That's part of what makes guys like Hernandez or Adam Wainwright so effective. Hitters expect Hernandez's changeup with two strikes, but there are games in which he'll focus on the fastball more with two strikes. Wainwright threw his season-high percentage of curveballs in his most recent start; the outing before he threw a season-high percentage of fastballs. Cat and mouse.
As for the Yankees, it's pretty clear why they need Tanaka to have a monster season. They're not a very good team without him. Brian McCann has been a disaster as a free-agent signing, which shouldn't have been that big of a surprise given his decline in recent seasons. Carlos Beltran has been awful but this is what can happen to 37-year-olds. Same with the recently departed Alfonso Soriano. There is no easy solution to fixing this offense.
Which puts a huge amount of importance on Tanaka. Maybe he's not quite the pitcher who had a 1.99 ERA through June 17, but he has the stuff to post a sub-3.00 ERA. So I'm just reading this as a blip; he'll be fine.
But I can't say that about the rest of the team. For the second straight season -- and the first time since 1992-1993 -- the Yankees will miss the playoffs.
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.
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.
Status: All in. Despite all that has gone wrong in the first -- the struggles of Chris Davis and Manny Machado, poor results from Chris Tillman and Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Wieters' season-ending injury -- the Orioles are right there with the Blue Jays.
Biggest needs: Tillman and Jimenez were supposed to headline the rotation but are a combined 10-12, both with ERAs over 4.00. It's not just Camden Yards as both have poor strikeout-to-walk rates. So you'd think the top priority would be landing a starting pitcher. If the O's are willing to trade Dylan Bundy, they could probably land Jeff Samardzija (the Rays are unlikely to deal David Price to a division rival). Second base has been a problem all season with a .277 OBP. Jonathan Schoop has 56 strikeouts and seven walks while Ryan Flaherty is best suited for utility role. Steve Pearce has been hot of late so the need for a left fielder isn't the same as a few weeks ago. They could also look to add a closer or, if they're comfortable with Zach Britton there, a setup guy to pair with Darren O'Day.
Possible trade targets: Jason Hammel has succeeded before in Baltimore and the way he's pitching with the Cubs would make him the No. 1 starter in Baltimore. There are several second basemen who may available: Aaron Hill of the Diamondbacks, although he comes with a contract through 2016 at $12 million per year; Ben Zobrist of the Rays; Martin Prado of the D-backs can also play second; Daniel Murphy may be the best guy out there if the Mets decide to deal him. Huston Street could is an option for the ninth, pushing Britton into a lefty-righty setup role with O'Day.
Prospect everyone will ask about: Bundy has now made three rehab starts in short-season Class A with 22 strikeouts and three walks. That doesn't tell us a whole lot but the reports have been good. It's possible he could be ready to contribute by mid-August, but would the Orioles be ready to trust him? And then there's Kevin Gausman, who the O's keep shuffling back and forth between the majors and minors. They won't want to trade Bundy or Gausman, and conceivably could go with the youngsters alongside Tillman, Jimenez, Wei-Yin Chen and/or Bud Norris. Schoo could be dangled.
Likely scenario: The Orioles will do something, that's almost guaranteed. The AL East is too ripe for the taking to stand pat. They'll be battling the Blue Jays for the same group of starting pitchers. Knowing their history with Hammel, that seems like a strong possibility. If not Street, expect minor pickups for the bullpen and maybe a lefty outfield bat to platoon with Pearce since David Lough is hitting under .200.
-- David Schoenfield
Status: On the bubble.
Biggest needs: The Red Sox outfield has been among baseball's worst in 2014, and the club surely needs to add another bat to the mix if it has any hope of contending in the AL. Boston has especially had problems against right-handed pitching (though the Sox offense has'’t hit lefties well either). Adding a lefty bat to replace the injured Shane Victorino or fill in periodically for the struggling Jackie Bradley Jr. is the move GM Ben Cherington is most likely to make if he chooses to upgrade Boston's major league roster.
Possible trade targets: OF Will Venable; OF Gerardo Parra; another available outfield bat.
If the Red Sox can’t find a way to win some games over the next couple of weeks, Cherington could also look to sell off some of Boston's pieces, though the GM remains adamant the team can still contend in 2014.
Likely scenario: The Red Sox make a minor move for an outfield bat but still can't climb into legitimate contention in the AL East as the offense continues to struggle. Cherington sells off some of the team’s veterans -- players such as Jake Peavy, A.J. Pierzynski, Felix Doubront, Stephen Drew and even Koji Uehara are all shipped elsewhere -- while holding onto bigger pieces like Jon Lester and John Lackey (and hope to re-sign Lester after the season). Boston adds young talent at the deadline, makes room on the major league roster for some of its talented prospects down in Triple-A, and gears up for another run in 2015.
-- Alex Skillin, Fire Brand of the AL
Status: Buying (by default).
Biggest needs: The problem that presents itself is that the Yankees are in need of a great many things, but don't necessarily have the pieces to acquire those things. On top of that, they have very little roster flexibility, unless they start axing vets like Brian Roberts, Ichiro Suzuki and Alfonso Soriano. Of those many needs, though, the biggest is in the starting rotation. No one has any idea how CC Sabathia will be when he returns from the disabled list and counting on Michael Pineda to pitch again this year, let alone be effective, seems like a risky proposition at best. Additionally, with Ivan Nova out for the year, three-fifths of the rotation -- David Phelps, Vidal Nuno and Chase Whitley -- is of the "just-keep-the-team-in-the-game" variety and that's not going to propel the Yankees into the playoffs, mediocre AL East or not.
Possible trade targets: We've seen the Yankees linked to the big names like Cliff Lee and David Price, as well as "lesser" targets like Jeff Samardzjia and Jason Hammel.
Potential trade chips: The shine is off the apple of a lot of Yankee prospects, like the oft-injured Slade Heathcott and the under-performing Mason Williams and Tyler Austin. Catchers Gary Sanchez and John Ryan Murphy, who impressed with his cup of coffee this season, could be interesting pieces in a trade, but it's likely that the Yankees don't have the prospect package to land a big name.
Likely scenario: The Yankees trade for Jason Hammel or someone like him: A mid-rotation arm to take the pressure off the Phelps-Nuno-Whitely troika while Sabathia slides back into the rotation.
-- Matt Imbrogno, It's About The Money
Status: Should be selling, despite the recent hot streak.
Trade targets for other teams: 2B Ben Zobrist (2015 team option), David Price (controlled through 2015), Matt Joyce (arbitration eligible), Grant Balfour (under contract through 2015).
Possible suitors: The Dodgers were rumored to be interested in Price during this past offseason and could use Zobrist's flexibility for insurance at multiple positions. The surprising play of Kevin Kiermaier and Brandon Guyer lead to a crowded depth chart in the outfield as David DeJesus and Wil Myers return from injury, making Joyce a trade possibility for teams looking for a left-handed bat or outfield depth such as the Angels, Athletics, Giants or Brewers.
What they need: Tampa Bay needs to address the upper levels of the minors to restock the cupboard for the next couple of years. Starting pitching would be a primary need to replace Price and make up for the loss of Matt Moore as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. The team has two middle infielders in Zobrist and Yunel Escobar that are on the other side of 30 that have lost a step or two this season after excelling in 2013 and have two fringe players in Hak-Ju Lee and Cole Figueroa as the next men up on the depth chart. The bullpen is long in the tooth with Balfour and Peralta, and a MLB-ready catcher to add to the 40-man roster would be helpful.
Likely scenario: Price is traded for a high-profile pitching prospect and an outfield prospect. Joyce is traded for near-ready bullpen help. Given the front office strongly believed in the potential of the 2014 team, they could also keep all of their pieces and make one more push for the postseason in 2015.
-- Jason Collette, The Process Report
Status: All in.
Biggest needs: The Blue Jays are currently 17th in MLB in starting pitching ERA. The Jays' rotation consists of two soft-tossers, a journeyman lefty and two 23-year olds. Toronto needs a power arm, a workhorse who can put an end to losing streaks and take the pressure off youngsters Drew Hutchison and Marcus Stroman. As well, the Blue Jays could use an upgrade at second base and pitching depth in the bullpen.
Possible trade targets: SP Jeff Samardzija, SP David Price, SP James Shields, SP Jason Hammel, SP Justin Masterson, SP Cole Hamels, 3B Chase Headley, 2B Chase Utley, 2B Daniel Murphy, 2B Ben Zobrist.
That prospect everyone will want but the Blue Jays won't want to trade: SP Aaron Sanchez is ranked by both ESPN's Keith Law and Baseball America as being the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect -- and for good reason. The 22-year old right-handed pitcher possesses a power arm with a fastball that averages a tick above 95 mph. Before being promoted to Triple-A Buffalo, Sanchez averaged 7.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and induced 3.3 groundballs for every fly ball. With that said, command of his pitches is an issue. He's walked 5.5 for every nine innings this season.
Likely scenario: It is doubtful that the Rays would trade Price within the division, or that the Blue Jays would part with a package deep enough to acquire him. With the Royals flirting with first place in the AL Central, they're not going to trade Shields. The Jays will trade for a lower-tier arm such as Hammel, Jonathon Niese, Ian Kennedy or even the prodigal son A.J. Burnett. As for the gap at second base, Martin Prado would fill it nicely.
-- Callum Hughson, mopupduty.com, @callumhughson
Remember, no firing bottle rockets at one another. Stay safe and have fun!
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
The Inside the 'Zona midseason plan: A comprehensive breakdown of the D-backs' trade deadline strategy, with discussion of assets and targets. The Inside the 'Zona team also recommends specific trades with the Blue Jays, Pirates, Mariners and Red Sox. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona, @OutfieldGrass24, @rghods, @JeffreyBellone.
Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
Rivalry redirect: Brett Cowett calls the vaunted Red Sox-Yankees rivalry dead. In its place comes a new rivalry which has only grown more heated over the past decade. Follow on Twitter: @firebrandal.
Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
This would be a good year to figure out how to handle Adam Eaton: Now that Adam Eaton has shaken off the brutal slump after his return from the DL, James Fegan says the White Sox should figure out how to avoid running him into the ground again. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
One more reason why the Rockies don't hit on the road: Why do the Rockies hit so horribly on the road? Richard Bergstrom believes he found a surprising reason. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers.
Minnesota Twins: Twins Daily
Crazy Twins stats at the halfway point: Joe Mauer is on pace to finish with four homers and 52 RBIs. Brian Dozier is on his way to joining the 30/30 club. Plus more quirky midseason marks. Follow on Twitter: @TwinsDaily.
New York Yankees: It's About the Money
Yankees' first half by the numbers, offense: The Yankees finished the first half 41-40 and a big reason for such mediocrity was their offense. Stacey Gotsulias breaks down the numbers and highlights the good and the bad. Follow on Twitter @StaceGots.
Yankees' first half by the numbers, pitching: Even though the Yankees' starting rotation has been decimated by injuries, some guys on the pitching staffreally stepped it up.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Finding Forsythe: The Rays have slowly climbed out of the American League basement and utility man Logan Forsythe has been one of the catalysts. Tommy Rancel explains how he has turned it around. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel.
Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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."