SweetSpot: New York Yankees



In 2012, Chase Headley had a monster season for the Padres, hitting 31 home runs and leading the National League with 115 RBIs -- big numbers considering Petco Park's dimensions and the lineup around him. He added a Gold Glove Award and finished a deserving fifth in the NL MVP voting.

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Rather than sign an extension with the Padres, Headley played out the final two years of his contract, which probably cost him some cash. He wasn't able to match those numbers during the following two seasons, was dealt to the Yankees at the trade deadline in 2014 and now hits free agency before his age-31 season.

The Yankees are certainly interested in bringing Headley back, but the Giants could also be suitors now that Pablo Sandoval has signed with the Red Sox. The Indians have also reportedly expressed interest, since Headley would be an upgrade at third base over Lonnie Chisenhall.

Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $27 million deal for Headley, but he'll likely do much better than that.

Let's examine Headley a little closer in our latest half-full, half-empty series installment.

HALF-FULL

In a way, Headley is being compared with the 2012 version of himself -- and he loses that comparison:

2012: .286/.376/.498, 31 HRs, 6.3 WAR
2013-14: .246/.338/.387, 26 HRs, 7.3 WAR

What went so right in 2012? For starters, from the left side of the plate (Headley is a switch-hitter), he had few holes in his swing. Here's his map of slugging percentage at different areas in the strike zone that year:

Chase HeadleyESPN Stats & Info


Not a lot of holes there. You may remember that Headley had a monster second half, during which he hit 23 home runs, 17 from the left side. There's always the chance that he regains that form again, or at least some of that form. Getting out of San Diego could help his power numbers (his home run rate increased after joining the Yankees) and, at 31, his skills should still largely be intact. In fact, Headley's line-drive rate in 2014 was 26.6 percent, much better than the 19.3 percent of 2012. Headley hit .243 in 2014, but that strong line-drive rates suggests that he hit into some bad luck along the way.

More important, even at his 2013-14 level of production, Headley has been a valuable contributor thanks to two underrated skills: his defense and ability to get on base. His 7.3 Baseball-Reference WAR over those two seasons ranks 11th among third basemen -- and higher than Sandoval, who just signed a $95 million contract.

Headley's defense is no fluke and it's one reason he should continue to hold value. His defensive runs saved totals since 2010 are: +14, +1, -3, +5, +13. Ultimate zone rating likes Headley's defense even more, with +35 runs saved over the past three seasons. (FanGraphs, which uses UZR as its defensive metric, has valued Headley at 8.0 WAR over the past two seasons.)

If we value Headley as a 3-WAR player -- a conservative estimate -- at the going rate of about $6.5 million per win on the free-agent market, he should be valued at about $18 million per season. Even if you account for some aging in a three- or four-year deal, Headley looks like he'll be an excellent return on investment even if he gets something like a four-year, $50 million deal.

HALF-EMPTY

First off, you can ignore that 2012 season, which was really one fluke half a season. That's the only time Headley has hit more than 13 home runs, so the expectation that he'll regain some of that power just isn't realistic. It's not like he suddenly starting bashing a lot of home runs after joining the Yankees, even with the benefit of that short right-field porch. His fly ball rate isn't dramatically different than it was in 2012; he just happened to see a lot more fly balls clear the fences that year.

So what does that leave you with? A 31-year-old third baseman who has hit .246 the past two seasons, a guy who draws value from walks and defense.

But ... his walk rate has dipped the past two seasons, from 12.1 percent to 11.2 to 9.6. Defensively, you're counting on him to retain that ability into his 30s. We know defensive players tend to peak in their 20s, before they start to lose a bit of that quickness and reaction time, so Headley is likely to decline in a season or two.

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And you can't compare Headley's potential contract to what Sandoval received. Sandoval is three years younger, so there's a vast potential difference in the years Boston will get out of Sandoval as opposed to what Headley's team will reap.

Headley is a nice player, a middle-of-the-pack third baseman. But his batting line is trending downward and middle-of-the pack third basemen in their 30s can quickly turn into below-average third basemen. He's a good risk at a reasonable price, but he's not going to be a huge difference-maker.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

Randy JohnsonRich Pilling/Getty ImagesRandy Johnson should be a unanimous selection in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot.

Hall of Fame season is kind of like Christmas season: It brings gifts and memories but also a lot of acrimony and stress, and it lasts way too long. Hall of Fame ballots were mailed out Monday to eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, which means the next six weeks will feature many Hall of Fame columns, debates, analyses and other assorted name-calling and belligerence.

Here are 10 main questions of conversation this Hall of Fame season:

1. Who are the new names on the ballot?

Last year's star-studded ballot that featured the election of first-timers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas is followed by another long list of intriguing newcomers: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz, Gary Sheffield and Carlos Delgado are the top names.

2. How many of those guys get in?

Johnson should be a unanimous selection with his 303 career wins, five Cy Young Awards, four ERA titles, nine strikeout titles and six 300-strikeout seasons, but 16 of the 571 voters last year failed to vote for Maddux, so Johnson likely awaits the same slight and will get 95-plus percent of the vote but not 100 percent.

Martinez would certainly appear to be a lock to get the required 75 percent, but Hall voters tend to emphasize wins at the expense of everything else for starting pitchers and Martinez has just 219, so you never know. The BBWAA hasn't elected a starter with that few wins since Don Drysdale, who had 209, in 1984. Still, with the second-best winning percentage since 1900 of any pitcher with at least 150 wins (behind only Whitey Ford), three Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles and the best adjusted ERA for any starting pitcher in history, Pedro should cruise to Cooperstown at well above the 75 percent line. Really, like the Unit, there is no reason not to vote for him.

Smoltz has a little more complicated case and may suffer in comparison to being on the same ballot with Johnson and Martinez. While Pedro was 219-100 with a 2.93 ERA, Smoltz was 213-155 with a 3.33 ERA. He did pick up 154 saves while serving as a closer for three-plus seasons and maybe that will resonate with voters. Smoltz also has a great postseason record -- 15-4, 2.67 ERA -- but similar postseason dominance didn't help Curt Schilling last year when he received just 29 percent of the votes. I believe Smoltz does much better than that, but I don't see why Schilling -- 216-146, 3.46 in his career with 79.9 WAR compared to Smoltz's 69.5 -- would receive just 29 percent and Smoltz 75 percent.

Sheffield, with the PED allegations, has no chance despite 509 career home runs and over 1,600 RBIs and runs. Delgado put up big numbers in an era when a lot of guys were putting up big numbers, and his 473 career home runs with 1,512 RBIs may not be enough to even keep him on the ballot (you need to receive 5 percent to remain on).

3. Does Craig Biggio get in this year?

He fell just two votes short last year on his second time on the ballot, so you have to think at least two voters will add him, assuming some of the holdovers don't change their minds. Biggio's Hall of Fame case is kind of ironic in that he was probably one of the more underrated players in the league while active. He finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting three times (10th, fifth, fourth), but the same writers who once dismissed him as an MVP candidate will now be putting him in the Hall of Fame. He's a deserving candidate, but if he hadn't played that final season when he was terrible and cleared 3,000 career hits, you wonder if he'd be even this close. Voters love their round numbers.

4. What's the new 10-year rule?

Candidates will now be allowed to remain on the ballot for only 10 years instead of 15. Three current candidates -- Don Mattingly (in his 15th season), Alan Trammell (14th) and Lee Smith (13th) were allowed to remain on the ballot.

For the first time, the names of all voters will also be made public, although neither the Hall of Fame nor BBWAA will not reveal an individual's ballot.

5. Who will be most affected by this?

Well, all the steroids guys, obviously. Mark McGwire, for example, is on the ballot for his ninth year, not enough time in case voter attitudes toward PEDs starts reversing course. Aside from that group, Tim Raines is on the ballot for the eighth year. He received 46 percent of the vote last year; that was actually a drop from the 52 percent he had in 2013. Historically, nearly every player who received 50 percent of the vote from the BBWAA eventually got elected, but now Raines has just three years left and was affected by the crowded ballot last year.

6. But the ballot is still crowded, right?

Yep. Remember, voters are allowed to vote for up to 10 players -- although most ballots don't get to 10, so the "crowded" ballot is somewhat of an overrated issue. Still, it's there, and several players saw their vote totals decrease last year. Anyway, I would argue there are as many as 22 or 23 players who have some semblance of a Hall of Fame case based on historical precedent. In order of career Baseball-Reference WAR: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Mike Mussina, Schilling, Jeff Bagwell, Larry Walker, Trammell, Smoltz, Raines, Edgar Martinez, Biggio, McGwire, Sheffield, Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Kent, Fred McGriff, Delgado, Lee Smith. Plus arguably Nomar Garciaparra and Mattingly, who had high peak levels of performance but short careers.

Anyway, those who believe in a big ballot will once again have to make some tough choices on whom to leave off.

7. For which players is this an important year?

Raines needs a big increase this year, but it's starting to look slim for him. That makes Bagwell and Piazza two of the more interesting names. Piazza was at 62 percent last year on his second year, a 4.4 percent increase from 2013. If he sees another vote increase, we can assume he's on his way to election; but if he holds at the same percentage, we can probably assume there are enough voters who put him in the PED category and are thus keeping him permanently under that 75 percent threshold. Similar issue with Bagwell; he was 54 percent last year, actually down from 59.6 percent in 2013. If he gets back up over 60 percent, he may be back on a Cooperstown trek.

8. Hey, Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling look like pretty good candidates.

That's not a question, but, yes, yes they are. Mussina (270 wins, 82.6 WAR) and Schilling are overwhelmingly qualified by Hall of Fame standards, even by BBWAA-only standards, especially when factoring in Schilling's postseason success. That both received fewer than 30 percent of the vote in their first year on the ballot was a little shocking and definitely disappointing.

9. What about the steroids guys?

No changes -- or progress, if you prefer -- here. Clemens (35.4 percent) and Bonds (34.7 percent) both received fewer votes than the year before. Rafael Palmeiro already fell off the ballot, and I suspect Sosa (7.2 percent) falls off this time.

10. What about Jack Morris?

Mercifully, Morris is no longer on the ballot so we don't have to spend all December arguing his case yet again. His candidacy goes over to the Expansion Era committee, which will next vote in 2016. I suspect Morris gets in then.


When Mariano Rivera called it a career after the 2013 season, David Robertson graduated from eighth-inning reliever to closer. In 2014, he went 4-5 with 39 saves and a 3.08 ERA while allowing a .192 batting average. This fall, he turned down the Yankees' $15.3 million qualifying offer -- which would have been the largest single-season salary ever paid to a relief pitcher – and decided instead to seek a multiyear contract on the free-agent market.

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Robertson probably won't get $15 million per season, but Jim Bowden predicted a three-year, $39 million contract for Robertson. ESPN's Andrew Marchand reported earlier this offseason that Robertson is looking to match or exceed the four-year, $50 million contract Jonathan Papelbon received from the Phillies a few years ago.

Is Robertson worth it? Let's do another half-full, half-empty.

HALF-FULL

This year's World Series teams showed the importance of a deep, dominant late-inning bullpen crew, as both the Royals and Giants (with the exception of Madison Bumgarner) had mediocre rotations but terrific bullpens. Just ask the Nationals or Tigers about the importance of a shutdown reliever. The Nationals might have won two World Series titles by now if Drew Storen hadn't blown crucial save opportunities in the 2012 and 2014 postseasons, and the Tigers have struggled with their bullpen for years. Both teams could be interested in Robertson.

There's no denying Robertson's late-inning dominance. Over the past four seasons, his 2.20 ERA is sixth in the majors among pitchers with at least 200 innings in that time span -- and that's come in Yankee Stadium, where routine fly balls to right field land three rows deep in the stands. He's allowed a .201 batting average over those four years with a strikeout rate of 34 percent -- again, sixth overall in the majors. Not bad for a onetime 17th-round draft pick.

He's showing no signs of slowing down; indeed, his 2014 strikeout rate of 37.1 percent was the highest of his career. Robertson throws a cutter and a curveball (and a very occasional changeup). It's that curveball, one of the best in the game, that has made him an elite reliever:

David Robertson heat mapESPN Stats & Info


The curveball is a swing-and-miss pitch and generates a lot of ground balls, owing to that sharp 12-to-6 break and location down in the zone. Obviously, it's Robertson's go-to pitch when he's ahead in the count. Since 2011, batters have hit .161 against it with one home run, 140 strikeouts and just seven walks.

Robertson has had two minor DL stints in recent seasons, but neither was an arm-related injury. He repeats his delivery well, and considering he's entering his age-30 season, he's a good bet to remain healthy over a three- or four-year contract.

Importantly, he's pitched in New York. If he ends up leaving the Yankees, there should be no concerns about how he will handle the pressure of closing elsewhere.

HALF-EMPTY

There's a reason the Papelbon contract was much derided at the time: Relievers, even good ones, just don't create enough value to be worth huge, multiyear contracts. Plus, it's not that hard to come up with good ones. Look at the Phillies; They have Ken Giles ready to take over as closer but are stuck with Papelbon's big contract.

Even if a team is desperate for a closer, where's the guarantee that Robertson does the job in October if you get there? He has one season of closing under his belt and has never had to save a postseason game. There are a lot of great regular-season closers who haven't done the job in October.

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Plus, Robertson is coming off a 3.08 ERA -- that's nothing special these days for a reliever. Sixty-nine relievers who threw at least 50 innings had a lower ERA in 2014. He saved 39 games in 44 opportunities. That's a save percentage of 88.6. Sounds good, but again, it's nothing special; 13 closers with at least 20 opportunities had a higher percentage in 2014. Robertson also allowed seven home runs in 2014, six to right-handed batters. Whoever signs him has to hope that number was either an aberration or Yankee Stadium inflation.

Yes, there has been consistency in his performances over the past four seasons. But relievers tend to burn out quickly. Do you want to gamble $40 million that Robertson will remain healthy and productive in a role that's fairly easy to fill?

What do you think? Will he return to the Yankees or will the Tigers be desperate and give him a Papelbon-like deal?


We've looked at Jon Lester and Nelson Cruz in our half-full/half-empty series. Now let's examine the pitcher everyone views as the prize of the 2014-15 free agents, right-hander Max Scherzer.

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Scherzer hits free agency at age 30, coming off a great two-year run with the Detroit Tigers in which he went 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA. The 2013 Cy Young winner, Scherzer really pitched just as well in 2014 and finished fifth in the voting.

Scherzer reportedly turned a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers last offseason. Colleague Jim Bowden predicts that Scherzer will receive a seven-year, $189 million contract, an average annual value of $27 million. If that contract materializes, it would be the second-largest total ever given to a pitcher, behind the $215 million deal Clayton Kershaw signed with the Dodgers.

Scherzer is a Scott Boras client, so don't expect him to sign anytime soon. Obviously, all the big-market teams will be rumored to have interest. Will Scherzer be a good investment?

HALF-FULL

With Scherzer, you start with the stuff. Few pitchers have the raw arsenal that Scherzer possesses, with four plus pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, changeup and curveball. He added the curveball during the 2012 season, and the addition of that pitch is one reason Scherzer took his game to a new level.

Good pitching starts with a good fastball and fastball command. Scherzer's four-seamer has a natural tail to it and some sinking action. While its average velocity of 92.8 mph doesn't blow you away, he cranked it up as high as 98 mph in 2014, so he keeps a little in reserve when needed.

For the most part, however, he lets that natural movement work. He does tend to throw the pitch up in the zone, but it's still an effective pitch: It sets up the off-speed stuff, and he generates a good share of strikeouts with it. Look at how he pitches with his fastball to left-handed batters:

Scherzer Heat Map ESPN Stats & Info


Lefties have hit .226/.292/.380 against Scherzer's fastball the past two seasons. When you limit damage against your fastball, it makes your other pitches that much tougher. Scherzer has 143 strikeouts the past two seasons against left-handers with his fastball, most in the majors. (Felix Hernandez is second with 124, but only four other pitchers have 100.) As a comparison, Stephen Strasburg struggles somewhat against lefties because his fastball isn't a great strikeout weapon against them, with just 59 K's over the past two years.

With pitchers, you always worry about injuries, but Scherzer has made 30-plus starts in each of his six seasons in the majors. He's also a student of the game. As Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote last offseason:
Max Scherzer is meticulous, the sort of person who sees baseball as a game of centimeters, because inches are too big. Every so often, in the middle of a long season, Scherzer will pore over video of his last start, pause it mid-delivery and vow to change things. A centimeter can mean that much.

His right arm is his gift and his treasure, and if ever he notices his elbow above his shoulder line -- even a hint of the dreaded Inverted W, which is correlated with though not scientifically proven to cause arm injuries -- he corrects it. Little gets past Scherzer.

"You've seen in history guys blow out that way," he told Yahoo! Sports last September. "I've never been a guy who does it, but every now and again, it'll creep higher than that plane, and I'm very cognizant of it."


Seven years is a long time. A lot can happen. But his health history is a big plus.

Then there's this: Scherzer has put up good numbers while pitching in front of some lousy defenses in Detroit. The Tigers were 28th in MLB in defensive runs saved in 2014, 28th in 2013, 25th in 2012. Imagine him pitching in front of a good defense, or in the National League, where he'd get to mow through the bottom of the lineups.

HALF-EMPTY

You want to make Scherzer the second-highest-paid pitcher in the game? A guy with one career complete game? A guy who has had an ERA under 3.00 exactly once in his career, and even then it was barely under, at 2.90? A guy who has been just OK in the postseason with a 3.73 ERA? A guy who has pitched 220 innings just once in a season? Hernandez, by comparison, has topped 230 innings five times.

There's no denying Scherzer's stuff or strikeout rates, but he's had the luxury of being the No. 2 guy behind Justin Verlander in the Detroit rotation. Can he handle the pressure of a megadeal? Is he the guy who will take the ball in a big game and give you eight innings? Pitch efficiency has never been Scherzer's strength, which is why he's been more of seven-inning starter than an eight- or nine-inning guy.

You also have to factor in leaving Comerica Park, or the AL Central. Scherzer does pitch up in the zone, so he will give up fly balls. Comerica isn't the supreme pitchers' park everyone thinks, but it's been about average in giving up home runs, and more than a few balls hit to that deep area in center and right-center would have left other parks. Pitching in Wrigley Field might not be as enjoyable as pitching in Comerica. Plus, Scherzer has faced a lot of weak offenses through the years in that division.

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As for Detroit's defense, it doesn't necessarily explain why the only season Scherzer has had a below-average batting average on balls in play was his Cy Young season (.260 that year, but above .300 every other season). For example, in hitter's counts in 2014, Scherzer allowed a .380 average -- 74th among 88 qualified starters. His OPS allowed in hitter's counts ranked 86th. Basically, when he was behind, he got hammered; only Jason Hammel allowed a higher slugging percentage. It appears that Scherzer just grooves too many pitches when he's behind in the count, and that explains why his hit rate is high given his strikeout rate.

And, of course, you simply can't ignore this: Seven years for a pitcher in his 30s ... how often does that work out? Maybe you reap the rewards of two or three great seasons, but we've seen seemingly durable pitchers like CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee go down with injuries. Pitchers get hurt.

What do you think? Half-full or half-empty?

So, Giancarlo Stanton's contract has me wondering: What would Babe Ruth be worth today?

In his piece for ESPN Insider, Dan Szymborski projected Stanton will be worth $316 million from ages 25 to 37, just shy of the $325 million he'll be getting.

Jeff Sullivan conducted a related study on FanGraphs, comparing Stanton to similar hitters through age 24 and then asking: How would a 13-year contract for those players have worked out in today's dollars?

Jeff looked at the value of the deals under the cost of $6 million per WAR and $7 million per WAR. Henry Aaron was the best comparable player and was valued at $776 million from ages 25 to 37 under the $6 million context. Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera, Mickey Mantle and Albert Pujols also topped $500 million of value. Heck, even Will Clark came in at $308 million. Boog Powell topped $200 million. BOOG POWELL! Who never made an All-Star team in his 30s and was basically done at 33.

Hmm.

OK ... if Will Clark was worth $300 million, what about Babe Ruth? I mean, no offense to Will Clark. Ruth wasn't in Jeff's study. What would the Bambino be worth today?

I combined Dan's system with Jeff's system. I assumed each win above replacement was worth $6 million with 5 percent annual growth. I then plugged in Ruth's year-by-year WAR from Baseball-Reference to get a value for each season. Here's what we get at each age:

25: 11.9 WAR ($71.4 million)
26: 12.9 WAR ($81.3 million)
27: 6.3 WAR ($41.7 million)
28: 14.1 WAR ($97.9 million)
29: 11.7 WAR ($85.3 million)
30: 3.5 WAR ($26.8 million)
31: 11.5 WAR ($92.5 million)
32: 12.4 WAR ($104.7 million)
33: 10.1 WAR ($89.5 million)
34: 8.0 WAR ($74.5 million)
35: 10.3 WAR (100.7 million)
36: 10.3 WAR ($105.7 million)
37: 8.3 WAR ($89.4 million)

Holy ... that's $1.06 billion of value. Babe Ruth, the billion-dollar ballplayer.

Let's do two more all-time greats.

Willie Mays comes in at $931 million, topping out at $104.2 million at age 34 when he was worth 11.2 WAR.

Barry Bonds comes in $916 million, topping out at a whopping $127.1 million at age 37. (Our theoretical contract doesn't even cover Bonds' age 38 and 39 seasons, when he was worth 9.2 and 10.6 WAR.)

Of course, I'd suggest this methodology breaks down at the extremes. It's one thing to pay a one-WAR player $6 million on a one-year contract but something different to pay a 5-WAR player $30 million over many seasons. In fact, you can argue that teams have limited their contracts on the upper end. Clayton Kershaw's AAV is $31 million even though he's averaged 7.0 WAR of value the past four seasons, suggesting he should have at least topped at $42 million, or even higher given inflation.

Stanton's AAV comes out to a mere $25 million -- although much of that is backloaded in the final seven years of the deal, so this does look like a short-term play by the Marlins. Maybe Stanton will be worth $25 million a season.

But if he is ... well, just imagine a contract for a reincarnated Babe.





A few new things and a few old things I wanted to get out there.
  • Jeremy Collins with a piece titled "Thirteen ways of looking at Greg Maddux," a heartfelt memoir of what the pitcher meant to Jeremy and his friend Jason. Read it.
  • We ran this piece during the playoffs. Maybe you missed it while updating your fantasy football team. Steve Fainaru's story of the friendship between Giants broadcasters Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper is about much more than two baseball announcers.
  • This is pretty awesome, via Ryan McCrystal of It's Pronounced "Lajaway": How the Indians turned Jerry Dybzinski into Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
  • Joe Posnanski writes about Bill James, 40 years after he first started writing about baseball but still thinking about the game. This quote from James is certainly interesting:
    Here is Bill James on Wins Above Replacement, perhaps the hottest advanced statistic in the game right now:

    "Well, my math skills are limited and my data-processing skills are essentially nonexistent. The younger guys are way, way beyond me in those areas. I’m fine with that, and I don’t struggle against it, and I hope that I don’t deny them credit for what they can do that I can’t.

    "But because that is true, I ASSUMED that these were complex, nuanced, sophisticated systems. I never really looked; I just assumed that the details were out of my depth. But sometime in the last year I was doing some research that relied on these WAR systems, so I took a look at them, and ... they’re not very impressive. They’re not well thought through; they haven’t made a convincing effort to address many of the inherent difficulties that the undertaking presents. They tend to get so far into the data, throw up their arms and make a wild guess. I don’t know if I’m going to get the time to do better of it, or if it will be left to others, but ... we’re not at anything like an end point here. I assumed that these systems were a lot better than they actually are."


    Posnanski doesn't elaborate more on the details, so we're just left with the idea Bill James isn't a big fan of WAR.
  • Speaking of James, he had a fascinating study on BillJamesonline (pay). He went back to the 1950s and studied consecutive starts made by starting pitchers. As he writes, it's not a perfect study because of factors that couldn't be completely adjusted for; for example, a rainout can create a gap between starts that's not actually meant to be a gap, or maybe a starter makes a relief appearance between starts. Anyway, he tracked the ongoing leaderboards for consecutive starts made under the rules he set up. He writes:

    But here is the point I wanted to make ... now that I made you read 25 pages of lead up just to make this point, but ... people talk about injuries to pitchers as if this were a new phenomenon; more and more pitchers every year are getting hurt. Well, maybe.

    But this study shows that the number of pitchers staying in rotation for years and years without any injury or interruption is clearly higher than it has ever been. A record was set in 2012, broken in 2013, broken in 2014. I don’t want to make too much out of that; the record is based on just ten pitchers out of a population of 150. But there is certainly some indication that injuries to starting pitchers may not, in fact, be increasing.


    I would go far as to suggest that an additional reason for the decline in run scoring isn't just the increased size of the strike zone but pitchers staying healthier than a generation ago. Healthier pitchers are better pitchers. (Yes, even with the long list of Tommy John surgeries this season.)
  • We remember Madison Bumgarner's heroic Game 7 performance, but he had help from the defensive positioning behind him.
  • Brad Johnson of The Hardball Times with 10 forgotten plays from the postseason.
  • Alex Remington looks back at the Giants' World Series titles -- include those while they were in New York.
  • Great piece by Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs on the player who attempted to bunt for a hit most often in 2014: Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner.
  • Yoan Moncada is a 19-year-old Cuban with big skills. He'll soon be very rich. Kiley McDaniel tells us about Moncada's unique background.
  • Rob Neyer says writers are still too obsessed with RBIs when it comes to MVP voting. Agreed.
  • Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus examines some of the reasons for the decline in scoring and whether this is just a "down" cycle. He says it's not:

    After looking at the evidence, I think the conclusion to be drawn is that baseball is not in the middle of a mild cyclical hitting drought. There'ôs a real structural change about how the game is being played and it'ôs bringing scoring down.
  • The writers at It's About the Money discuss the Yankees of 2015 and optimism versus pessimism. I'd lean towards pessimism right now. The Yankees haven't finished under .500 since 1992. This may finally be the year. Maybe.
  • Eric Reining of One Strike Away wonders if there's a way the Rangers can trade for Cole Hamels.
  • Maury Brown reports on the high local TV ratings throughout the sport during the regular season.

David Robertson to the Mets?

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
7:08
PM ET
This is a bit of a follow-up post to the Mets' signing of Michael Cuddyer.

In my chat today, a reader asked if this could possibly mean the Mets will sign another free agent who received a qualifying offer, which would mean they would lose their first-round pick and second-round pick in the June draft -- thus essentially making the Cuddyer signing a little more palatable since you could then argue that Cuddyer is costing a second-round instead of the valuable first-rounder. (The Orioles did this last year in signing Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez.)

In the chat, I mentioned that none of the qualifying offer free agents make sense for the Mets -- there's no room in the outfield for Cruz or Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval doesn't fit with David Wright around, Hanley Ramirez is too expensive and it doesn't make sense for the Mets to be bidding on Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or James Shields since they already have a solid rotation. (Well, sense or cents, I'm not sure.)

But I blanked on David Robertson.

As it turns out, Joe Sheehan mentioned this in his newsletter this morning. He wrote,
No, if the Mets do sign another [compensation-eligible] free agent, I suspect it will be David Robertson. Robertson fills a position of perceived need, closer, where the Mets have a number of options but none with a track record of success. Robertson, as Granderson did a year ago, comes with familiarity to the fan base, a built-in credibility. Signing a closer is one of those, "We're serious now, darn it!" moves that organizations trying to buy credibility love to make. Most important to the Mets, Robertson will come in at half the AAV of Scherzer and less than 25% of the total contract value. Yes, making a second free-agent signing this winter would allow the Mets to get away with a lower penalty, but committing 10-15% of their payroll to a 65-inning reliever would be a terrible waste of what appear to be limited resources.


I'm going to disagree with Joe. Robertson does fit with the Mets. We know the importance of a good bullpen; heck, we just saw two teams reach the World Series, in large part due to the quality of their relievers.

On the surface, the Mets had a good-enough bullpen in 2014: Their 3.14 ERA ranked eighth in the majors. However, some deeper stats don't rate the pen as highly. They ranked 19th in OPS allowed and 24th in strikeout-to-walk ratio. Jenrry Mejia became the closer and had a 2.72 ERA as a reliever, but allowed 59 hits and 21 walks in 56.1 innings out of the bullpen, hardly elite numbers for a reliever.

Robertson, meanwhile, has been one of the game's best the past four seasons, with a 2.20 ERA and 354 strikeouts in 258 innings. He saved 39 games replacing Mariano Rivera as the Yankees' closer, although his 3.08 ERA was the highest of those four seasons. Still, he's a good bet to remain effective the next three seasons and would be an improvement over Mejia while adding to the Mets' bullpen depth.

Robertson turned down the Yankees' qualifying offer so he's going to expect a multi-year deal. Three years at $27 to $30 million should do it and he can sign with the Mets and not have to change his address.

(Update from original post: Not sure what I was thinking, but Robertson will get more than $30 million for three years. Jim Bowden estimated three years/$39 million in his free agent predictions article and that figure could be low if the Tigers decide Robertson is the missing piece they need and they get into a bidding war with the Yankees.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * *

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

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

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

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

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

With the expected return of Matt Harvey and a full season from deGrom, maybe a better Zack Wheeler and the possible addition of top rookie Noah Syndergaard, you can see why Mets may have one of the best rotations in the game in 2015.
It's awards season, and this week we'll get the big ones, with the Cy Young winners announced on Wednesday and the MVPs on Thursday.

The Internet Baseball Writers Association of America also votes on awards, and it's always interesting to see how the IBWAA vote compares to the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA) vote. The IBWAA voters -- I'm one of them -- are probably a little more sabermetrics-minded than their counterparts in the BBWAA (some writers are members of both groups, myself included), leading to some differences in opinion as a result.

Anyway, the first IBWAA vote is one that the BBWAA doesn't have: relievers of the year. Here are the winners:

National League Hoyt Wilhelm Relief Pitcher of the Year Award
1st -- Craig Kimbrel, Braves
2nd -- Aroldis Chapman, Reds
3rd -- Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

American League Hoyt Wilhelm Relief Pitcher of the Year Award
1st -- Greg Holland, Royals
2nd -- Dellin Betances, Yankees
3rd -- Wade Davis, Royals

The interesting thing about the voting is that two setup guys finished second and third in the American League -- and deservedly so, given the success Betances and Davis had. In fact, considering Betances pitched 90 innings while going 5-0 with a 1.40 ERA, you can make an argument that he was the most valuable reliever in the majors. He and Davis tied for the major league lead in Baseball-Reference.com's WAR among relievers at 3.7, while Betances led in FanGraphs WAR, 3.2 to 3.1.

Yankees closer David Robertson will decide today whether to accept the Yankees' qualifying offer or hit the free-agent market. Considering his 90-inning workload and usage patterns -- Betances actually led all AL pitchers in win probability added, a stat that factors in game situation and score -- Betances is likely more valuable to the Yankees pitching the seventh and eighth innings than serving as the closer. If he were the closer, his innings total would likely see a decline to 70 or so, with many of those coming to get saves while up by two or three runs.

Of course, Yankees manager Joe Girardi may plan to use Betances fewer innings next year anyway since relievers rarely top 80 innings anymore, but he's so strong that he should be able to handle 90 innings without too much trouble.

Stayed tuned for the IBWAA awards all week.

End-of-season Haiku for every team

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIGERS
Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARLINS
Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

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

REDS
Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

RANGERS
Pro-Obamacare
Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

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

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

Diane Firstman runs the Value Over Replacement Grit blog and is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog.
Here's the first part of our ranking of each team's worst position in 2014. We conclude with our final 15 teams and positions that might be looking to upgrade during the offseason.

16. Minnesota Twins LF/RF: 2.6 wins below average

Yes, Byron Buxton can't get here soon enough, although he'll eventually slot into center field, not a corner. Twins left fielders ranked 21st in wOBA -- they hit .238/.331/.332 -- but were dragged down by an MLB-worst minus-25 defensive runs saved. That shouldn't be a surprise as 11 different players got time out there with lead-footed Jason Kubel and Josh Willingham getting the most innings. Oswaldo Arcia got 399 PAs in right field; and while the Twins collectively ranked 15th among right fielders in wOBA, they also ranked worst in the majors in defensive runs saved, at minus-23. Arcia was minus-10 in his time there, while Chris Colabello and Chris Parmelee, in about half the playing time, were a combined minus-12. Twins pitchers weren't getting a lot of help from their outfield’s corners.

Fix for 2015: Minnesota can't continue to give so many innings to converted first basemen and DHs. Arcia will be the regular right fielder, but left and center are still wide open. Danny Santana finished the year in center, and he's a natural shortstop ... and Eduardo Escobar was OK there in 2014. Anyway, Jordan Schafer and Aaron Hicks are on the 40-man roster but aren't good starting options. Maybe Hicks gets one more chance to prove himself.

17. New York Yankees SS: 2.5 wins below average

Yes, that 2.5 ranked worst in the majors. It was time.

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Elsa/Getty ImagesGreat career. But a not-so-great 2014 season. The numbers don't lie.

Fix for 2015: Brendan Ryan and Jose Pirela are on the 40-man roster; but Ryan can't hit and Pirela, .305/.351/.441 in Triple-A, didn't play much shortstop (eight games) at Scranton. So the replacement could come from the free agent ranks: Hanley Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera, Stephen Drew or Jed Lowrie. Drew hit .162 after missing the first two-plus months last year but is the best defensively and could probably be had on a one-year deal.

18. Kansas City Royals DH: 2.5 wins below average

The Royals declined the $12.5 million option on Billy Butler, who hit .271/.323/.379 as his power numbers continued to drop (nine home runs).

Fix for 2015: They'll probably try to bring Butler back, but on more team-friendly terms. A guy like Rickie Weeks may make sense as well, as he can hit lefties while also providing insurance at second base. Guys like Nelson Cruz and Victor Martinez are likely out of the Royals' price range.

19. Seattle Mariners DH: 2.4 wins below average

Seattle DHs hit a pathetic .189/.266/.302. In 2012, they hit .214/.286/.311. In 2011, they hit .225/.316/.333. In 2010, they hit .195/.270/.342. So, umm ... it's been an ongoing problem.

Fix for 2015: Is there a more perfect free-agent fit than Victor Martinez going to the Mariners? Otherwise, there's Cruz, another try with Kendrys Morales, a return of Mike Morse (the Mariners do need a right-handed batter) or finding a first baseman and moving Logan Morrison here.

20. Pittsburgh Pirates 1B: 2.4 wins below average

Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez formed an ineffective platoon. Davis at least had a decent .341 OBP; but overall, the Pirates' first sackers hit .226 with 17 home runs and below-average defense.

Fix for 2015: With supersub Josh Harrison emerging in 2014, the Pirates could give him the full-time job at third base and slide Pedro Alvarez over to first.

21. Arizona Diamondbacks 2B: 2.2 wins below average

Aaron Hill's OPS dropped 164 points from 2013. The Diamondbacks would probably like to trade him, but he's making $12 million each of the next two seasons.

Fix for 2015: Hill likely returns for his age-33 season. Or the D-backs give the job to one of the young shortstops, Chris Owings or Didi Gregorius. More likely, it's Hill at second with GM Dave Stewart looking to trade one of the shortstops for pitching or outfield help.

[+] EnlargeMorse
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMichael Morse had some big postseason hits. Too bad he had to play the outfield some.
22. San Francisco Giants LF: 2.0 wins below average

This is a reflection of Mike Morse's statue-caliber defense, as Giants left fielders hit a respectable .257/.327/.440.

Fix for 2015: Morse is a free agent after signing a one-year, $6 million deal. He did slug .511 against lefties, and that right-handed bat was a nice fit lower in the order. Gregor Blanco is still around as a fourth outfielder and defensive caddy, or they could go the all-defense route with Blanco and Juan Perez and Travis Ishikawa filling in.


23. Los Angeles Angels 3B: 1.9 wins below average

David Freese had a tough year, as Angels third basemen ranked 24th in the majors in wOBA and 29th in defensive runs saved.

Fix for 2015: Freese still has one more season before free agency, so the job is his, with Gordon Beckham around as the backup.

24. Milwaukee Brewers SS: 1.7 wins below average

Who is the real Jean Segura?

First half, 2013: .325/.363/.487
Second half, 2013: .241/.268/.315
First half, 2014: .232/.266/.315
Second half, 2014: .271/.330/.345

Fix for 2015: Hope Segura is at least the player of the second half of 2015 and closer to the All-Star of the first half of 2013.

25. New York Mets C: 1.5 wins below average

Mets fans are probably shocked that left field, right field or shortstop didn't show up here. But while those positions were also all below-average, catcher was the worst. Mets catchers hit .226 with a sub-.300 OBP, but a big liability was Travis d'Arnaud's defense, which Baseball Info Solutions rated as the worst in the majors (minus-15 defensive runs saved).

Fix for 2015: D'Arnaud had a nice second half at the plate (.265/.313/.474) but threw out just 19 percent of base-stealers and led the NL with 12 passed balls. He does rate better on pitch framing. Anyway, he's the catcher, so the Mets will undoubtedly be looking to upgrade left field (.219/.306/.308) and shortstop.

26. Oakland Athletics 2B: 1.4 wins below average

Eric Sogard got the most time here with Nick Punto and Alberto Callaspo filling in. They ranked 29th in the majors in wOBA.

Fix for 2015: The A's have a bigger hole to worry about at shortstop with Lowrie a free agent, so they may be forced to go again with Sogard and Punto, who at least provide solid-average defense.

27. Washington Nationals 2B: 1.2 wins below average

Danny Espinosa didn't hit. Then Asdrubal Cabrera came over, but his defensive metrics were terrible. The ranking would be even lower if Anthony Rendon hadn't played 28 games here.

[+] EnlargeAsdrubal Cabrera
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesAsdrubal Cabrera joined the Nats at the trading deadline, but he didn't solve their defensive problems at second base.

Fix for 2015: With Ryan Zimmerman presumably moving over to first base to replace free agent Adam LaRoche and Rendon slotting in at third, where he's a plus defender, the Nationals could: (A) give Espinosa one more chance; (B) find a better contact guy; or (C) try to trade a pitcher for a second baseman. (One rumor you'll see is Howie Kendrick, who has one year until free agency.) Personally, I'd try to keep the pitching depth, especially with Jordan Zimmermann a free agent after 2015. If Espinosa doesn't do the job, you can always look for a trade deadline replacement.


28. Baltimore Orioles 2B: 0.9 wins below average

There were a lot of black holes at second on offense across the majors in 2014. The Orioles (primarily, rookie Jonathan Schoop) hit .216 here with an awful .259 OBP.

Fix for 2015: Schoop has power (16 home runs), his defense was outstanding (he has a shortstop's arm) and he was rushed a bit to the majors. He might never give you the good plate discipline, but the O's can live with 20-homer power and Gold Glove-caliber defense if he boosts that OBP a bit.

29. Colorado Rockies 2B: 0.9 wins below average

As bad as the Rockies were, it's surprising their biggest position weakness didn't rate worse. DJ LeMahieu is one of the worst hitters in the majors -- his park-adjusted RC+ ranked 143rd out of 146 regulars -- but was a deserving winner of the Gold Glove.

Fix for 2015: Considering his defense, LeMahieu will be back as the Rockies try to plug holes on their pitching staff. On the other hand, they need to realize his empty .267 average is of little value in Coors Field.


30. Toronto Blue Jays C: 0.6 wins below average

Congrats, Blue Jays fans: You had the best worst position in the majors! This was actually a big upgrade from 2013, when J.P. Arencibia led the Jays to 2.6 wins below average at catcher. Blue Jays catchers ranked 19th in wOBA with average-ish defense.

Fix for 2015: Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole will return.
Alfonso Soriano announced his retirement Tuesday, although after hitting .221/.244/.367 and getting released by the Yankees in July, his career may have been over anyway.

How to view Soriano's legacy? It has been one of the more fascinating careers of the past 15 years as he has been a player with enormous strengths and obvious flaws.

After a solid rookie season with the Yankees in 2001 -- he hit the go-ahead home run in Game 7 of the World Series before Mariano Rivera gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth -- he had a monster sophomore season, hitting 39 home runs and 51 doubles thanks to that lightning-quick bat, and knocking in 102 runs while leading the AL with 41 steals, 128 runs and 209 hits. He finished third in the MVP voting and that power-speed combo while playing second base made him one of the great fantasy players of all time.

It also made him somewhat overrated in those early years. He wasn't the third-best player in the AL in 2002. Because he drew so few walks his on-base percentages were more good than great. Defensively, he was never smooth at second base and led second basemen in errors his first five seasons, prompting a move to left field.

After three years in New York, the Yankees traded him to the Rangers in the Alex Rodriguez deal. His two seasons in Texas weren't as good and the Rangers traded him to the Nationals for Brad Wilkerson. After a huge 46-homer, 41-steal season for Washington, he signed that monster eight-year, $136 million deal with the Cubs -- the contract that just expired.

The deal was criticized almost immediately given Soriano's mediocre on-base percentages, lack of polish in left field and age -- he'd be 31 for the 2007 season (he'd admitted in 2004 that he was two years older than his listed age). Throughout his tenure with the Cubs, Soriano would be evaluated under that contract and as the Cubs eventually floundered, Soriano became one of the primary scapegoats for the franchise's failures.

What seems forgotten is that the Cubs won division titles in 2007 and 2008 (although they were swept in the Division Series both years) and Soriano hit .291/.340/.547 those two seasons with 62 home runs. His defense in left field was also better than advertised; he had 22 assists with the Nationals in 2006, 19 with the Cubs in 2007 and 10 in 2008.

He wasn't as good after that, especially in 2009 and 2011. But he hit 32 home runs in 2012 and 34 in 2013, splitting the season between the Cubs and Yankees. In the end, maybe it wasn't a great contract for the Cubs, but it wasn't a disaster either.

Soriano hit 412 home runs and stole 289 bases. He made seven All-Star teams. He scored and drove in over 1,100 runs. His career WAR of 27.2 seems low, but that's dragged down by some bad defensive ratings. Still, it seems as though we spent half his career arguing that he wasn't that good, when it wasn't his fault the Cubs gave him $136 million.

The guy had a good career. He was that rare power-speed combo and, for a few years there, one of the most exciting players in the game. When's the next time we're going to see a 40/40 player?

Think how his career could be viewed differently: If Rivera hadn't blown that save, he'd be forever remembered as a Yankees hero; if the Cubs had reached the World Series one of those years, he'd be remembered as a great Cub.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


video
I know we've all been inundated with Derek Jeter stories, columns, videos and tributes the past few days -- well, all season long -- but as I was watching his final home game, I saw this tweet:


Now, Rob is a biased Yankees fan, but it leads to a good question: How come Jeter never won an American League MVP award? He played on winning teams his entire career, one of the primary criteria writers consider, and you'd think the respect everyone in the game has for him would have helped in the voting.

The closest he came to winning an MVP was in 2006, when he finished second to then-Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, 320 points to 306. Morneau received 15 first-place votes and Jeter 12 (Twins pitcher Johan Santana received the other one). Morneau had a good year but was a weak MVP choice. Writers overrate RBI guys, and Morneau knocked in 130 runs, second in the league. He also had the advantage of being a breakout player that year, improving from a .239 average and 22 home runs to .321 and 34. He hit .342 in the second half, and that seemed to factor in as the Twins rallied on the final weekend to edge out the Tigers for the AL Central title.

I'd suggest Jeter had a better season:

Morneau: .321/.375/.559, 34 HR, 130 RBI, 97 R, 3 SB, 4.3 WAR
Jeter: .343/.417/.483, 14 HR, 97 RBI, 118 R, 34 SB, 5.5 WAR

Morneau drove in 33 more runs, but Jeter scored 21 more while playing the more demanding defensive position. In fact, Baseball-Reference.com rated Jeter the most valuable offensive player in the AL in 2006, with 7.1 oWAR (other hitters had better overall numbers, but Jeter combined strong numbers with more than 700 plate appearances).

But did that make Jeter the best player in the league? Not necessarily. His overall WAR was dragged down by poor defensive metrics -- minus-16 Defensive Runs Saved compared to an average shortstop. (Using less advanced stats, Jeter made 4.14 plays per nine innings compared to the MLB average of 4.49; over the 1,292 innings he played at shortstop, that's 50 fewer plays made, so it's hard to deny the metrics.)

Anyway, there wasn't a clear MVP favorite that year. By WAR, it was Santana:

Johan Santana, Twins: 7.6
Grady Sizemore, Indians: 6.6
Vernon Wells, Blue Jays: 6.2
Carlos Guillen, Tigers: 6.0
Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees: 6.0

Jeter ranked 10th overall, seventh among position players. I remember at the time thinking Joe Mauer -- he edged Jeter for the batting title and was worth 5.8 WAR -- was the best candidate. But Jeter would have been a solid choice, and you wonder if he would have won if he had gotten three more RBIs.

His best season was probably 1999, in which he hit .349/.438/.552 with 24 home runs, 102 RBIs and 134 runs scored. Of course, this was in the middle of the Crazy Offense era. Jeter's 102 RBIs ranked 27th in the AL, but he did rank fifth in OPS. It was a split vote that year, with six different players receiving first-place votes, although Jeter received just one. The voting:

Ivan Rodriguez, Rangers: 252 points (7.0 WAR)
Pedro Martinez, Red Sox: 239 points (9.7 WAR)
Roberto Alomar, Indians: 226 points (7.4 WAR)
Manny Ramirez, Indians: 226 points (7.3 WAR)
Rafael Palmeiro, Rangers: 193 points (5.2 WAR)
Derek Jeter, Yankees: 177 points (8.0 WAR)

Yep, Jeter led AL position players in WAR. That was the year Pedro went 23-4 with a 2.07 ERA and 313 strikeouts in 213⅓ innings -- in my book, the best pitching season of the past 50 years -- so it's hard to argue against him, although obviously the voters did. The WAR numbers are close enough among Rodriguez, Alomar, Ramirez and Jeter that you could fight any of their cases, but it's surprising Jeter didn't get more support.

Anyway, Jeter also finished third in 1998 (he was second among AL position players in WAR) and third in 2009, when he was sixth among position players in WAR. The voters made the right choice with Mauer in 2009, but Juan Gonzalez (4.9 WAR) was a bad choice in 1998. Nomar Garciaparra (7.1 WAR) finished ahead of Jeter (7.5 WAR) in the voting, and it probably should have gone to one of them or Mariners shortstop Alex Rodriguez, who led with 8.5 WAR. Considering that was the year the Yankees won 114 games, it's kind of surprising in retrospect Jeter received only two first-place votes. (And what was the Juan Gonzalez infatuation all about back then?)

So how come Jeter didn't win an MVP award? Unlike everything else in his career -- including his game-winning hit on Thursday -- the stars just didn't quite align.
On Tuesday, Nelson Cruz of the Orioles hit his 40th home run, saving us from the deprivation of not having a 40-homer guy for the first time since 1982. That year Reggie Jackson of the Angels and Gorman Thomas of the Brewers tied for the major league with 39, and what a pair that was. Dave Kingman of the Mets led the National League with 37. Those three players also ranked 1-2-3 in the majors in strikeouts -- Reggie and Kingman had 156 and Stormin' Gorman had 143, so those guys were playing 2014-style baseball 32 years ago. Ahead of their time!

Reggie had been a free agent that year and George Steinbrenner once said letting Jackson leave was the biggest mistake he ever made. That's not really true. Reggie did have a big season in 1982 but that was kind of a last hurrah. He played through 1987 -- remember that return to Oakland? -- but didn't really provide much value after '82. Of course, 1982 was the Yankees tried to win with speed -- Dave Collins! Jerry Mumphrey! Ken Griffey Sr.! -- and didn't steal that many bases and went 79-83.

While nobody hit 40 in 1982, sixteen players did reach 30. This is kind of interesting: Ten of the 16 were in their 30s. This year, only 10 players have hit 30, even though we have four more teams and generally smaller parks. It’s worth noting that only seven of those 16 players from 1982 struck out 100 times, although it's also worth nothing that four of this year’s 30-homer guys are under 100 K’s – Victor Martinez, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and David Ortiz. Speaking of which, Ortiz doesn’t get much credit for how he’s changed his game as he’s aged. This is a guy who struck out 145 times in 2010; even though strikeouts have risen across the sport his have decreased. Anyway, of the top 40 home run hitters this season, only seven have so far struck out fewer than 100 times.

So, yes, it’s a different era. In 1982, the average strikeouts per game was 5.0; this year it’s 7.7. Overall, there are slightly more home runs in 2014: 0.87 per game compared to 0.80 in 1982. While we have fewer 30-homer guys in 2014, teams today have more power throughout the lineup. That shouldn’t be a surprise; the banjo-hitting infielders and Omar Moreno-type outfielders have basically been phased out by players who sell out to hit 15 home runs a year. With so many strikeouts (and give credit to the pitchers as well), offense is down, as we all know: 4.07 runs per game compared to 4.30 in 1982.

That decline in offense has led to many "baseball is dying" stories of late. Yes, offense is way down compared to the steroids-infused 1990s and 2000s but the difference between 2014 and 1982 is about one run every four games. Is that really noticeable until you look at the numbers?

Anyway, the first 40-homer guy was, apropos, Babe Ruth, who cracked the 40-homer and 50-homer barrier in 1920, when he joined the Yankees and swatted 54. Rogers Hornsby became the first National Leaguer to reach 40 when he hit 42 in 1922. That was pretty impressive; only one other player in the NL even hit 20 that year. Once the 40-homer had barrier had been reached, the lowest league-leading total, not including the 1981 strike season, was Nick Etten of the Yankees in 1944 with 22. But that was during the war without many of the regular major leaguers and the baseball was made out of mud or cornstalks or something. Not including World War II, the lowest total is 23 by Ralph Kiner of the Pirates in 1946. He and Johnny Mize both hit 51 the next year, so maybe the NL was still using leftover mushballs in 1946. Could be the case. Owners were cheap back then. From 1971 through 1977, the AL actually went seven seasons in a row without a 40-homer hitter. No wonder Jim Rice beat out Ron Guidry for the 1978 AL MVP Award when he hit 46.

The season with most 40-homer guys is 1996, with 17 (long live Brady Anderson and Toddy Hundley!). There were 16-homer guys in 2000. And the top 10 seasons all occurred between 1996 and 2005. So steroids are bad but baseball is dying because we don't have enough players juicing up and hitting 40 these days. Can't win.

Of course, we have nearly double the teams now as prior to the 16-team circuit that existed before the first expansion in 1961. That year saw eight 40-homer guys between the 18 teams in the majors (including Roger Maris with 61, the only year he reached 40). Plus they played 154 games before expansion, so a 40-homer season now is kind of the same as a 38-homer season in a 154-game season (one homer every four games). Using a cutoff of 38 home runs per season, most years in the 1950s saw five or six guys reach that total, so the rate of 40-homer guys back then was pretty high.

Ruth has the most 40-homer seasons with 11. Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Harmon Killebrew each have eight. Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffey Jr. have seven. The most obscure 40-homer guy? Well, probably Cy Williams, who hit 41 in 1923 for the Phillies. That was a long time ago which makes him obscure. The Phillies played in Baker Bowl, maybe the greatest hitter’s park ever, a little bandbox with a short right-field fence. Guys put up crazy numbers there and Williams hit 26 of his 41 home runs at home. Williams led the NL four times in home runs, including in 1927 when he was 39 years old, which I believe makes him the oldest player to lead his league in home runs. According to this bio, after his playing days, Williams retired to his dairy farm in Wisconsin "where he worked as an architect and started a construction business. Some of the finest buildings on Wisconsin's Upper Peninsula stand today as tributes to his architectural talent."

So, thank you, Nelson Cruz, for giving us reason to mention Cy Williams.

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