SweetSpot: Texas Rangers

Somebody will sign James Shields. We know that's guaranteed to happen because Shields is a very good pitcher who has been extremely durable throughout his career -- and he hasn't suggested he wants to retire and start an olive oil farm in Tuscany. In fact, he has never missed a start in his career. He was shut down with a couple of weeks to go back in 2007, his first full season, and he once went eight days between starts in 2008, but otherwise he takes the ball every fifth day and churns out quality innings.

[+] EnlargeJames Shields
Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports

James Shields has been extremely durable throughout his career. But is he worth a five-year contract in the $90-100 million range?

Over the past three seasons, he has gone 42-27 with a 3.29 ERA. He has pitched the most innings in the majors over that span and ranks 15th in wins, 20th in ERA among those with at least 500 innings, 16th in adjusted ERA and 21st in Baseball-Reference WAR (13th in FanGraphs WAR).

So he's good. Maybe not quite an ace if you're strictly applying the term, especially when you consider that he has pitched in pitchers' parks in front of good defenses with Tampa Bay and Kansas City. But he's worth three or four wins above replacement level.

No, the problem with Shields is the contract he might require. Ervin Santana signed with the Twins for four years and $54 million, and although he's a year younger than Shields, who just turned 33, he's not as good. Using that contract as a guideline, Shields could command a five-year contract for $90 to $100 million, similar to the projections forecast for him at the start of free agency.

I wouldn't give it to him. For starters, a five-year contract takes him through age 37. It goes without saying that he has a lot of mileage on his arm, and, even if he has been the game's most durable starter, he's a pitcher -- which means he comes with risk, in terms of injury and decline in performance.

I looked at comparable pitchers from the past 25 years. I sorted all pitchers who had between 10.5 and 14 FanGraphs WAR from ages 30 to 32 and checked how they did from ages 33 to 37. I then used Baseball-Reference.com WAR for those next five years. No particular reason, other than I had two screens going and wasn't paying attention. Anyway, FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com would have generated different lists of original pitchers, but it doesn't really matter which players we're looking at. The list is presented to show the risk in signing a pitcher of this age to a long-term contract. All of the pitchers below, had they been eligible for free agency at 33, would have received a very nice contract based on their recent performance.

The table lists the pitcher's total WAR and average innings from ages 30 to 32, then his average WAR and average innings over the next five seasons after that.



Only four of the pitchers continued to average 200 innings over those five years -- Roger Clemens and three left-handers, which may or may not be a coincidence. And it's not looking good for CC Sabathia and C.J. Wilson, two pitchers who suffered through bad 2014 seasons. Some on the list, such as David Cone and Jimmy Key, remained effective while healthy -- but couldn't stay healthy. Look at a guy like Roy Oswalt. At age 32, he looked similar to Shields: a 200-inning workhorse. At 32, he had one of his best seasons, posting a 2.76 ERA and leading the NL in WHIP. He won just 13 games the rest of his career.

So health is a major risk for a pitcher like Shields.

But there's another reason not to sign him. Next year three pitchers even better than Shields will hit free agency: David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. Plus, Zack Greinke may also opt out of his deal with the Dodgers.

Price, Cueto and Zimmermann will all be younger than Shields when they hit the market. Yes, they'll cost more than Shields, but you can argue that making a bigger investment in a younger, better pitcher is wiser, even if it's going to cost an extra 50-plus million dollars. I'd rather get any of those three with a Jon Lester-type deal than Shields at $100 million.

Again, this doesn't mean Shields isn't a good pitcher. But any team that's willing to make a big investment in him would have to view him as a difference-maker in 2015 and 2016, a guy it needs to push it over the top. I'm just not sure there's a team that applies to. Depending on the ballpark and the quality of defense behind him, his numbers might drop a little, and his new team might be getting more of a No. 3 starter than a No. 2.

Jim Bowden rates the Giants as the team most likely to sign Shields. That makes some sense, as Matt Cain is a question mark coming back from elbow surgery and Shields would bump Tim Lincecum from the rotation. But wouldn't it make even more sense for the Giants to wait a year and go after one of those young aces, when Lincecum's $18 million comes off the books? Do you want to build a rotation around Madison Bumgarner, a guy coming off an injury and three starters (Shields, Tim Hudson and Jake Peavy) in their mid-to-late 30s?

Sure, Shields could help in 2015. But it's not as if the Giants are going to have trouble selling tickets if they don't sign him. They have a little goodwill to play with after winning the World Series. They have a strong team, with or without Shields, and play in a weak division. I'd pass on Shields, go with Lincecum and/or Yusmeiro Petit in the fifth slot, then go all-in next year on Price or Zimmermann.

Same thing with the Red Sox. If they're going to win, it's because Clay Buchholz is healthy, Wade Miley steps up, the new free agents make an impact and young hitters Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts develop into stars. If that happens, they don't really need Shields and can go after the big guns next offseason.

That's just my take. Somebody will give Shields a lot of money. And maybe he'll prove to be as valuable to his new team as he was to the Royals.

Third-base options for the Giants

December, 17, 2014
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The Giants need a third baseman. Right now, the team's website lists Joaquin Arias as the starting third baseman, and that's not a good depth chart if you're counting on Joaquin Arias to be your starting third baseman. You know this, the Giants know this and I suspect even Joaquin Arias knows this.

So who can the Giants get to play third base? Some possibilities:

1. Asdrubal Cabrera, free agent. Everyone seems to agree that Cabrera's days as a shortstop are behind him, but he reportedly wants to play second base, not third. Also, he hasn't been all that good the past two seasons, posting a .303 on-base percentage. He does bring some pop -- 14 home runs and 30-plus doubles both years, meaning he's averaged more extra-base hits than the departed Pablo Sandoval -- but should be viewed as a down-the-lineup hitter.

2. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox. The signing of Sandoval means there's no room for Middlebrooks in Boston. This would be a flier on a guy who now has over 800 plate appearances in the majors with an unimpressive .237/.284/.411 career line. He teased as a rookie in 2012 when he slugged over .500, but his poor plate discipline has hammered him the past two seasons. Maybe a change of scenery will help.

3. Trevor Plouffe, Twins. With prospect Miguel Sano eventually reaching Minnesota -- maybe at midseason -- Plouffe could be available. He hit .258/.328/.423 with 14 home runs and 40 doubles last season.

4. Jake Lamb, Diamondbacks. General manager Dave Stewart has said the Diamondbacks intend to try Cuban free agent Yasmany Tomas at third base, which could make Lamb available. He struggled in his initial brief MLB trial, but hit .327/.407/.566 in the minors (mostly at Double-A Mobile).

5. Luis Valbuena, Cubs. Valbuena hit .249/.341/.435 with 16 home runs and 33 doubles. Hey, another third baseman with more isolated power than Sandoval. With Kris Bryant about to take over third base, Valbuena turns into a utility guy or trade bait.

6. Zach Walters, Indians. Cleveland has an excess of infielders with Francisco Lindor on the way to take over shortstop. Walters hit 29 home runs in Triple-A for the Nationals in 2013 and hit .310/.369/.619 there in 2014, and then added 10 home runs in 127 at-bats in the majors (although he hit just .181). He's played primarily shortstop in the minors, but should be able to handle third base.

7. Adrian Beltre, Rangers. Beltre has two years remaining on his contract, but the Rangers also have Joey Gallo -- he of the 42 home runs between Class A and Double-A -- knocking on the door. If the Rangers decide they're not contenders in 2015, maybe they deal the future Hall of Famer.

8. Matt Dominguez, Astros. He's an excellent defensive third baseman, but his on-base skills are beyond horrible. The Astros just signed Jed Lowrie, who likely moves to third base once Carlos Correa is ready to take over shortstop in a year.

9. Ryan Flaherty, Orioles. The Orioles likely need to keep him as Manny Machado injury insurance, but Flaherty is another good-glove, low-OBP guy with a little pop who would at least be an upgrade over Arias.

10. Alex Rodriguez. Just kidding.

The easy option here is Cabrera, if the Giants can convince him to play third base. But there a couple of teams potentially looking for a second baseman -- Blue Jays, Nationals, Angels. The Giants also don't have a highly rated farm system or excess value on the major league roster, so acquiring a guy like Beltre is really just a pipe dream.

If I had to bet, Cabrera ends up here.
Jimmy Rollins is apparently headed to the Dodgers. Who's next? It's so much fun pretending to be Ruben Amaro.

1. Cole Hamels to the Mariners for P Taijuan Walker, P Brandon Maurer and IF Ketel Marte

Phillies fans are expecting a huge haul for Hamels, but I think they're expecting too much, considering the trade partner is trading for Hamels and Hamels' contract. It's one thing to sign Jon Lester to a huge deal, but if you trade for Hamels -- who is owed at least $96 million over four years or as much as $114 over five, if his option vests -- do you want to pay $100 million in salary and give up three premium prospects? That's a huge price to surrender, no matter Hamels' value.

Everyone seems to think Hamels will go to the Red Sox or maybe the Dodgers, so let's think outside the box here. The Mariners are focused on improving their offense, and understandably so, but there's no need to lock in on improving just one area. Improvement is improvement, no matter where it comes from, and the Mariners have reasons to be concerned about their current rotation.

The 2014 Mariners did tie for second in the American League in rotation ERA, but consider: (A) They play in a pitcher's park and ranked 16th in FanGraphs WAR; (B) Felix Hernandez had arguably his best season and will probably regress a bit; (C) Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma have been ridden pretty hard the past two seasons, and both looked fatigued down the stretch; (D) Walker and James Paxton have potential but have dealt with minor injury issues; (E) They received surprisingly solid seasons from Chris Young (now a free agent) and Roenis Elias and acquired JA Happ, who is unlikely to be as good as Young was.

So let's see Jack Zduriencik pull a shocker and get Hamels to go alongside King Felix. It's a big contract to take on, considering the money Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz will be getting, as well as Kyle Seager's recent $100 million extension. But Seager doesn't start making huge money until 2018, which will be the final year for Cruz and possibly Hamels. With the Astros and Rangers likely tougher in 2015, the Mariners need to make big strides to make the playoffs in 2015. The Phillies get a potential top-of-the-rotation starter in Walker, a power arm in Maurer (whom they could try as a starter or use as a bullpen weapon alongside Ken Giles) and the slick-fielding Marte, Seattle's No. 3 prospect, according to Baseball America.

[+] EnlargeChase Utley
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsChase Utley hit 11 homers and drove in 78 runs last season.
2. Chase Utley to the Nationals for OF Steven Souza and C Jakson Reetz

The Nationals need a second baseman, and though Utley has veto rights over any trade as a 10-and-5 guy, you have to think he'd consider leaving Philly at this point. Utley makes $15 million in 2015 and has $15 million options each of the next three seasons that vest if he gets 500 plate appearances. Souza was a third-round pick way back in 2007 who suddenly exploded in 2014 to hit .350/.432/.590 with 18 home runs and 26 stolen bases. He's ready for the majors but currently blocked in Washington. Reetz is a flyer on a low-level catching prospect.

3. Jonathan Papelbon and cash to the Tigers for P Buck Farmer

Dave Dombrowski has to upgrade his bullpen at some point, doesn't he? The Papelbon contract has been a waste of money for the Phillies, but not because he hasn't pitched well. He's had a 2.45 ERA over his three seasons in Philly, but with the emergence of Giles, he's an unnecessary luxury. He's owed $13 million in 2015 with a $13 million vesting option for 2016. Farmer, Baseball America's No. 3 Tigers prospect (a weak system), jumped from Class A to the majors last season and made just four starts in the upper levels in the minors. He owns a solid-average fastball for a right-hander with good control who needs more seasoning in the minors. In any Papelbon deal, the Phillies will likely have to eat some of the salary.

4. Marlon Byrd to the Orioles for P Tim Berry and a low-level prospect

Byrd's late-career renaissance continued in 2014, with another solid season in which he hit .264/.312/.445 with 25 home runs. With an $8 million contract for 2015 and potential vesting option for 2016, consider him a less expensive option than Matt Kemp or Justin Upton at nearly the same rate of production.

With the losses of Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis, the Orioles will be looking for an outfielder, especially one in their pay range. Berry is a 23-year-old lefty who pitched in Double-A in 2014 and ranked No. 7 on Baseball America's prospect list for the Orioles. He owns a low 90s fastball, curve and changeup. He projects as a back-end starter but is close to the majors.

5. Carlos Ruiz to the Rangers for IF Luis Sardinas and a low-level pitcher

Ruiz turns 36 in January but remains a solid defensive catcher who contributes at the plate. If the Rangers consider themselves contenders in 2015 (after all their injury issues), they'll need to upgrade at catcher. Signed for two more years at $8.5 million per year, Ruiz is the perfect stopgap until prospect Jorge Alfaro is ready. Sardinas reached the majors last year at 21; he's a good glove at shortstop but with little power at the plate and no room to play in Texas with Elvis Andrus, Rougned Odor and Jurickson Profar ahead of him. He and Marte could eventually form a slick-fielding double-play combo.


Let's do one more half-full, half-empty look: left fielder Melky Cabrera, who hit .301/.351/.458 with 16 home runs in 139 games with the Blue Jays.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
The switch-hitting Cabrera enters free agency for his age-30 season. Buster Olney reports that while the Blue Jays are interested in bringing Cabrera back and Cabrera has interest in returning to Toronto, he would prefer to go elsewhere so half his games aren't played on turf. That could lead him to sign with another team that needs an outfielder: Baltimore, Seattle, Cincinnati, Detroit and Texas could be among the possible fits.

Jim Bowden predicts a four-year, $64 million deal for Cabrera.

Let's see if he'd be worth it.

HALF-FULL

Cabrera can hit, simple as that. Over the past four seasons, he's hit .309 and topped .300 in three different seasons. The one year he didn't hit .300 was 2013, when he battled a knee injury and his season ended early when he had surgery to remove a benign tumor from his back. You try hitting .300 with a tumor in your back.

In this age of batters striking out with increasing frequency, Cabrera is a solid contact hitter who had the 12th-lowest strikeout rate in the majors in 2014. In some regards, he's like Pablo Sandoval in that Cabrera is a switch-hitter with an aggressive approach, but he's not the same free swinger that Sandoval is. While Sandoval led the majors with a chase percentage on pitches outside the strike zone of 43.5, Cabrera's chase rate of 30.7 percent ranked 45th, the same as Victor Martinez. In other words, Cabrera isn't a hacker up there.

So while Cabrera doesn't draw a lot of walks, he doesn't get himself out a lot, either. That's why he's a .300 hitter and projects to continue hitting around .300 into the future. As you can see from the heat map, he's also one of the best high-ball hitters in the majors:

Melky CabreraESPN


Cabrera hit .386 on pitches up in the zone in 2014 -- best in the majors. His 1.178 OPS ranked second behind only Jose Abreu. Not surprisingly, Cabrera is a good fastball hitter -- .315 in 2014, .326 over the past four years. But he's also hit .290 against "soft" stuff, so there is no easy pattern to get Cabrera out with. Again, this suggests a good pure hitter who should age well into his 30s.

In case you still have doubts about the bat, Cabrera ranked fourth among American League outfielders in OPS (or fifth if you want to include Nelson Cruz). Unlike Sandoval, Cabrera is also equally effective from both sides of the plate, with an .827 OPS versus left-handers and an .802 versus right-handers over the past four seasons. That makes him a valuable asset if you want to plug him between two hitters of the same side.

Cabrera's range isn't great in left field, but he's relatively error-free and had 13 assists in 2014, second among AL left fielders.

HALF-EMPTY

Sure, Cabrera can hit for average, and while that's a nice trick, he's kind of a one-trick pony. He doesn't hit for a ton of power; he's never hit 20 home runs in a season. He doesn't draw many walks, is a below-average defender and a below-average baserunner, and has a PED suspension in his past. Plus, his body is more body by Pablo than body by Jake.

That means a lot of Cabrera's value is tied up in his batting average. So if he hits .279, as he did in 2013, he doesn't really bring a lot to the table except some singles and a few extra-base hits. If you give him $15-16 million a season, you're expecting him to continue to hit .300 over the length of the contract.

And that defense ... it's already below average (minus-6 defensive runs saved in each of the past two seasons). What's it going to be in two years, let alone four? And you have to worry about a player's knees if he's suggesting he doesn't want to play on turf. While he slots in as a top-of-the-order hitter, he's a below-average runner on the bases; you'd certainly prefer more speed from your No. 1 or 2 hitter.

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Let's also not gloss over that PED suspension with the Giants back in 2012. He hit .346/.390/.516 that year; take that season out of the equation, and his four-year numbers look a lot more pedestrian.

Cabrera was worth 3.1 WAR in 2014. Sure, if he can maintain that, $16 million sounds about right. But it's difficult to envision him putting up bigger numbers -- unless you're buying into that 2012 season -- and it's more likely that he'll regress over the life of a long-term contract, making a three- or four-year contract a bit of a gamble.

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


A year ago, Ervin Santana entered free agency coming off a 9-10 season with the Royals, but with a 3.24 ERA and 211 innings pitched. He reportedly asked for big money, scared teams away with those demands and had to settle for a one-year, $14.1 million contract from the Braves.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
Once again, he enters free agency attached to a qualifying offer, so the team that signs him will lose either its first-round pick (unless it's a top-10 protected pick) or a later pick. That will lessen the enthusiasm for Santana, who went 14-10 with the Braves but with a so-so 3.95 ERA.

Jim Bowden predicts a three-year, $42 million contract for Santana. Consider him a much less expensive and not as good option behind guys like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester or Cole Hamels.

Let's do our half-full, half-empty look at Santana.

HALF-FULL

Are you getting a Cy Young candidate in Santana? No. But you're getting a pitcher who has made 30-plus starts the past five seasons, making him a reliable 200-inning midrotation workhorse. He's averaged 1.7 WAR over those five seasons, but that includes a terrible 2012 season when he posted a 5.16 ERA. Otherwise, he's averaged 2.5 WAR in the other four seasons, which prices him at about $16 million per season in this market.

Santana's bread-and-butter pitch is a slider that generates a good number of swings-and-misses. Santana had the fifth-best strikeout percentage of any starter in the majors with his slider and the fourth-best swing-and-miss percentage behind only Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw and C.J. Wilson.

Overall, batters hit .176/.225/.300 against it with 120 strikeouts in 268 plate appearances. When he's on, he's locating that slider on the corner or just off the corner. Batters know it's coming and still can't hit it.

ESPN Stats & Info


Santana's four-seam fastball averages 92.3 mph, still above-average for a right-handed starter, and he also started using his changeup more often in 2014 against left-handers, with good results. If that pitch continues to develop, that helps neutralize some of the problems Santana has had against left-handed batters in the past. Overall, with the slider and above-average velocity, there's no reason to expect a sudden downturn in performance if he signs a three-year contract.

While Santana's ERA was higher than the year before, his peripherals were actually better, with a 3.39 FIP compared to 3.93 in 2013. His strikeout rate increased to his highest rate since 2008 and he cut his home runs from 26 to 16 in large part because his fly-ball percentage was the best of his career. This may actually be a pitcher maturing as he hits his 30s. The only reason his numbers weren't better was a .326 average on balls in play, much higher than the .285 mark he's had overall since 2009.

HALF-EMPTY

Well, sure, Santana's peripheral numbers got better -- he went from the American League to the National League; it's nice getting to face the opposing pitcher a couple of times a game. Santana also pitched in the NL East, a division that had some terrible offenses in 2014. Against No. 8 and No. 9 batters, he had 46 strikeouts and 10 walks and just one home run allowed. If he goes back to the AL, he won't have the same luxury of building up some fancy stats against the bottom of the lineup.

Plus, be careful about reading too much into one-year home run numbers. This is a guy who gave up 26 home runs in 2013 pitching in a tough home run park in Kansas City and 39 pitching in a tough home run park in Anaheim in 2012. Atlanta has been more neutral, but the bigger point: He's benefited his entire career by pitching in friendly ballparks. Don't buy high on those 16 home runs being a new level of talent.

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You also can't just ignore that 2012 season. It happened and it could happen again. As good as his slider is, his fastball just isn't a great weapon and it makes Santana hittable when he doesn't get into slider counts. Batters hit .322 against his fastball in 2014, which ranked 84th out of 88 qualified starters.

Keep in mind that he's also pitched in front of good defensive teams -- the 2012 Angels ranked second in the majors in defensive runs saved, the 2013 Royals ranked first and the 2014 Braves ranked 11th. Again: New park, worse defense, a few more hanging sliders and you're looking at a back-of-the-rotation guy who will be getting paid like a front-of-the-rotation starter.

There's a reason Santana didn't get big money last year. He's a difficult guy to buy completely into at eight figures per season. He may get a three-year contract, but if he's asking for $50 million he's going to be left hanging again like last year.

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


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.

MLB Free Agency: Half-Full, Half-Empty Logo
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?

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.

End-of-season Haiku for every team

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIGERS
Flammable bullpen
Undermined starting pitching
Now replace V-Mart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MARLINS
Stayed competitive
Despite losing Fernandez
Can they sign Stanton?

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

REDS
Votto hardly seen
But Mesoraco burst out
Cueto stayed healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

RANGERS
Pro-Obamacare
Given multitude of hurts
Washington bowed out

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

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

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

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

1. Detroit Tigers 3B: 3.7 wins below average

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

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


2. Houston Astros 3B: 3.5 wins below average

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

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

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

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

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


4. Cincinnati Reds RF: 3.3 wins below average

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

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


5. Tampa Bay Rays C: 3.1 wins below average

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

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


6. Atlanta Braves 3B: 3.1 wins below average

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

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


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

Cardinals right fielders ranked last in the majors in wOBA.

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

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

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

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


9. Chicago Cubs LF: 2.9 wins below average

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

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


10. Miami Marlins 1B: 2.9 wins below average

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

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


11. Texas Rangers 1B: 2.8 wins below average

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

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


12. Chicago White Sox RF: 2.8 wins below average

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

OK, we'll do Part 2 of the list on Thursday.
With the news that Jacob deGrom has been shut down by the New York Mets and after watching Yordano Ventura deliver another impressive performance Tuesday night for the Kansas City Royals, it seems like a good time to review the 2014 rookie class. Here's my all-rookie team, based on 2014 performance, not future value.

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

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

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

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

SportsNation

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

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    15%
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    20%
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    18%
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    32%
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    15%

Discuss (Total votes: 850)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rookies of the year: Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom.
This has to be one of the season's best moments: Guilder Rodriguez, a 31-year-old Venezuelan recently called up to the majors for the first time, gets his first major league hit and we see his parents crying, Rangers fans giving him a standing ovation and happy teammates in the dugout.

Rodriguez had played 13 seasons and 1,095 games in the minor leagues -- more games than any current player who hadn't played in the majors. The Rangers generously called him up a couple weeks ago and he'd gone 0-for-6. Later in the game, he added an RBI single.

In what other sport can you toil 13 years in a lower league before finally getting a chance at the big leagues? I guess it can happen, but you don't see 31-year-olds making their debuts in the NFL. You don't see parents crying. Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas reports that it was the first time Rodriguez's dad had seen him play in the U.S. since he was in Class A in 2004.

"This is one of the best moments of my life," Rodriguez said after the game. "My first big league hit, my first RBI, my father in the stands, my wife. This is my second-best moment, after my two daughters were born."

Amazingly, Rodriguez has played for just two organizations, the Brewers, who signed him in 2001, and the Rangers. He's spent most of the past five seasons at Double-A Frisco, where he's served as a mentor to many of the Rangers' young Latin players. He has no power -- two career home runs in over 4,000 plate appearances -- and hopes to coach once his playing days end. As a writer for the Lone Star Ball blog termed him, he's a utility man's utility man.

Now he'll have this moment. After all those bus rides. All that bad clubhouse food. Hours upon hours of batting practice in empty minor league parks. How many times has he dropped those bunts down the third-base line, perfecting his game? I wonder if he was thinking of all that as he stood on first base on Monday night.

Back in June, when he was still at Frisco, Rodriguez told writer Jay Wallis, "My father and my whole family are just happy because not too many players have the opportunity to play here for a long time. My father always told me, 'I want to see you one day in the big leagues.' He saw me and now sees me. It's the dream."







Rangers chasing dubious record

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
4:55
PM ET
It wasn't supposed to go down like this. Following four straight 90-win seasons, two of which provided the Texas Rangers with the first two World Series appearances in franchise history, all signs -- or most, depending on how you viewed the offseason moves by the front office -- pointed up for the 2014 team. Then the avalanche of injuries began.

First, it was Derek Holland tripping over his dog, requiring knee surgery, an injury he has yet to return from, although he is currently set to complete a rehab assignment as early as Thursday. Then came news that Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto would both miss approximately half the season with shoulder and knee injuries, respectively. The season had yet to start, and already the Rangers were without their No. 2 starter from 2013 and their projected starting second baseman and catcher.

Profar, as it turns out, will end up missing the entire season, one in which he was expected to replace Ian Kinsler. As for Soto, he played in just 10 games for Texas before being traded over the weekend to Oakland for cash considerations. In other words, the Rangers agreed that the season was so lost, and Soto almost certainly wasn't returning in 2015, that it was better to deal him away for something, even of minor value.

In response to that trade, Texas brought up Triple-A catcher Tomas Telis for a five-week audition in which he'll get the opportunity to show he deserves an opportunity to log some more major league time in 2015. He's also the 58th player that the Rangers have used on the season.

To put this all in perspective: The Rangers have used 36 pitchers and the aforementioned 58 total players. The MLB record for pitchers used is 37 set by the San Diego Padres in 2002. Three clubs hold the MLB record for total players used in a season at 59: San Diego in both 2002 and 2008, and Cleveland in 2002. Texas is one shy of the record. And it's not even September.

When rosters expand from 25 to 40 come Sept. 1, the Rangers will have a plethora of additional options to make those records a reality. Sure, you might see a hot prospect like Jorge Alfaro added to the 40-man roster, but there's not a realistic expectation that he'll see any playing time. The Rangers will instead be getting a head start on spring training auditions for 2015.

The pitchers who have fallen victim to the disabled list for Texas in 2014 are Holland, Yu Darvish, Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Pedro Figueroa, Joe Saunders, Joseph Ortiz and Nick Martinez.

Regarding potential September additions, Holland could make a return, barring any setbacks. From there, you could see Ortiz, who is rehabbing an offseason foot injury. Spencer Patton, the reliever acquired by Texas from Kansas City in exchange for Jason Frasor, has put up an ERA of 0.69 and FIP of 1.08 in 13 innings for Triple-A Round Rock. You can pretty much count on him getting some time in Arlington. Luke Jackson, bound for the 40-man roster over the winter, might get a look, even despite his recent struggles. That would put the Rangers at 39 pitchers on the season before even considering other possible additions like Will Lamb and Jerad Eickhoff. Corey Knebel, acquired for Joakim Soria in July, would have been a lock had a UCL strain not ended his season early.

Position players who have landed on the DL this season are Mitch Moreland, Donnie Murphy, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Jim Adduci, Profar, Engel Beltre, Soto, Shin-Soo-Choo, and Jake Smolinski. Only Beltre, Adduci, Murphy, and Soto returned from the DL. Murphy and Soto are no longer with the organization. While Beltre is battling for a potential batting title, Adduci has found himself mired in an ineffective slump.

Regarding potential September additions, Ryan Rua, who the Rangers have played exclusively in the outfield of late, has fared well in Triple-A. Given that he will be a virtual lock for the 40-man roster over the winter, it would be surprising if he doesn't see some time down the stretch, especially now that Choo has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. With the Rangers cutting ties with catchers Chris Gimenez and Soto in the past week, it's also possible that Brett Nicholas might get a quick peak of major league action.

A conservative estimate of the above would have the Rangers using at least 39 pitchers and 63 overall players, which would both set MLB records. If Texas were to decide to get creative and truly hold "open auditions" in anticipation of 2015, both records could be put into a realm in which they might stand for a very, very long time.

So next time you think your team is injury-riddled, the likes of which has never been seen, simply recall the 2014 Texas Rangers. In being a virtual lock to shatter records for players used in a season, it’s no wonder that the current 25-man roster is sitting right about where you’d expect: Last place.

Brandon Land runs the One Strike Away blog on the Rangers.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
5:49
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With a little more than a month left in the season and many division races still not settled, it's not too early to talk about what might have been, what might still could be, and what kinda is what we thought it kinda is ... or was ... or whatever. Just within the last week, we've had two new division leaders and a slew of injuries to reshuffle expectations. Did I mention that the waiver wire deadline hasn’t passed yet? Yup, it's a changing landscape, and whoever's doing the painting is keeping the 2014 baseball season a little squiggly.

Feel free to chime in on what you think might happen in the comments section below.

And without further ado -- because if we wait too long, these thoughts might go out of date faster than the Tulowitzki-to-Yankees rumors – on to the best of the SweetSpot Network contributing sites from the past week.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Roundup: Jackson Trade, Lessons from Saber Seminar: Ryan P. Morrison examines the D-backs' trade for Brett Jackson and discusses a dozen or so nuggets of cutting-edge sabermetrics wisdom from last weekend's Saber Seminar in Boston. Follow on Twitter: @InsidetheZona

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Jon Shepherd takes the Ice Bucket Challenge: Jon Shepherd, whose family has been impacted by ALS, has his take, but highlights the need to secure more long-term funding beyond episodic viral campaigns. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot

Chicago Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Should the Cubs Pass on Signing an Ace this Offseason?: As we get closer and closer to the offseason, Joe Aiello wonders whether the Cubs should be looking at a nontraditional route when it comes to building their rotation for next season. Follow on Twitter: @vftb

Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
The Evolution (or Devolution) of the Indians Pitching Staff: Stephanie Liscio takes a humorous month-by-month look at the fans' confidence level in the Tribe's starters. Follow on Twitter: @StephanieLiscio

Don't Give Up on Tomlin: Ryan McCrystal analyzes how Josh Tomlin has been a victim of bad defense and bad luck in recent weeks. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Honoring Todd Helton: The Colorado Rockies retired Todd Helton's jersey number, the first Rockies player afforded such an honor. Richard Bergstrom reminisces on his career.

Rockies Bloggers Panel Recording 8/16/14: It was one of the most anticipated panels of the year, filled with bloggers flying into town to commemorate Todd Helton's retirement and a special guest. Members of Rockies Zingers, Purple Row, Rockies Review and Mile High Sports discuss the Rockies injuries and trainers/coaches along with the potential offseason moves. Follow on Twitter: @RockiesZingers


New York Yankees: It's About The Money
Brian McCann's Crazy Reverse Platoon Split: Brad Vietrogoski attempts to explain the flip-flop of Brian McCann's production against right- and left-handed pitching this season. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS

What If: The 1994 World Series: Domenic Lanza looked at how the '94 Fall Classic could have played out if the Yanks and Expos had stayed on track as the best teams in baseball that year. Follow on Twitter: @DomenicLanza

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
Cardinals walk off via hit-by-pitch for second time this season: Jon Jay helped the Cardinals win their second straight game in their final at-bat Tuesday night when he drew a bases-loaded plunking from Reds reliever J.J. Hoover. The Cardinals hadn’t had a walk-off hit-by-pitch in more than 25 years, but now -- including Greg Garcia back on May 13 -- they’ve had two in 2014. Pip lists all of the walk-off HBPs over the last 25 years. Follow on Twitter: @fungoes

San Francisco Giants, West Coast Bias
Giants pursuing Rusney Castillo: Tim Kennedy delves into the Giants' dealings with Cuban player Rusney Castillo. With the possibility of being a contributor to a major league team in 2014, he could certainly help out a Giants ball club fighting for its life. Follow on Twitter: @giantsbaseball

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
The Replacements: Brandon Land takes a look at the current roster for the Rangers, and why it's unreasonable to have high expectations in a season so rife with injury. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away
Last week, after Corey Kluber dominated the Mariners with an 85-pitch shutout, I rashly tweeted that Kluber is one of the best 10 starting pitchers in the game. That seemed to stir things up a bit on Twitter, and Giants fans were especially angered when I suggested Kluber is better than Madison Bumgarner. Kluber came back on Monday with another solid effort, allowing one run while striking out seven in 7.1 innings, improving his record to 12-6 with a 2.55 ERA.

But is he one of baseball's top 10 starters right now?

[+] EnlargeCorey Kluber
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesHe's been very, very good. But is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in baseball right now?
How do you even measure such a thing? We can take the easy way out and just look at wins above replacement for the season.

FanGraphs
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.8
2. Corey Kluber: 5.0
3. Jon Lester: 4.7
4. Clayton Kershaw: 4.5
5. Chris Sale: 4.2

Baseball-Reference
1. Felix Hernandez: 5.5
2. Clayton Kershaw: 5.2
3. Corey Kluber: 4.7
4. Johnny Cueto: 4.6
5. Chris Sale/Max Scherzer: 4.5

By WAR, Kluber isn't just a top-10 starter, but a top-five starter. Even ignoring how much you believe in WAR, the question is: Do you buy into Kluber's four-month streak as a true breakout performance? How much emphasis do we place on history? Zack Greinke won a Cy Young Award in 2009. Should that matter as to how we evaluate him now? Scherzer won the Cy Young Award last year when he was arguably the best pitcher in the American League. How much should that matter as to how we evaluate him in August 2014?

Bill James actually devised a method to answer this question a couple of years ago. He wrote:
Everybody starts out with a ranking of 300.0, and you can’t go lower than 300, even if you pitch badly. If you’re at 300, you’re unranked; you’re only actually on the list if you have a current score higher than 300. There would typically be 150 to 180 pitchers who are, at the moment, ranked. Pitchers never actually pitch badly enough that they would rank below 300 (if it were possible to do so) for more than two or three starts, because if you pitch that badly, you lose your position in the rotation.

When a pitcher makes a start, we:

a) Mark down his previous ranking by 3%, and

b) Add 30% of his Game Score for the start.

We base the rankings on Game Scores, which means that we ignore wins and losses, but give weight to innings pitched, runs allowed, earned runs allowed, walks and strikeouts.


James also adjusted for park effects, inactivity (if a pitcher doesn't pitch, his overall rating goes down) and postseason play, which he factored in. Anyway, his site unfortunately doesn't update the rankings, so I don't know how Kluber would rank. So I'll just wing my own top 10.

1. Clayton Kershaw

The best pitcher in baseball, and I don't think anybody is really arguing this. Hernandez ranks higher on the WAR lists because Kershaw missed April, so he doesn't have as many innings.

2. Felix Hernandez

3. Adam Wainwright

Similar in many ways -- veteran right-handers (it seems weird to call Felix a "veteran," but he has been around a long time) having their best seasons.

4. Chris Sale

He's 10-1 with a 2.09 ERA with 129 strikeouts and 20 walks in 116 innings. Incredible numbers. He has cut his home run rate from last year, even though he pitches in a good home run park. I'm not knocking Wainwright when I say this: Sale is better. But he did miss time earlier this year and I think we have to give Wainwright extra credit for his durability.

5. Yu Darvish

6. David Price

SportsNation

Is Corey Kluber one of the 10 best starters in the game?

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    55%
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    45%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,346)

I'm not completely comfortable ranking Price this high -- he's ninth in FanGraphs WAR and 25th in B-R WAR. He has 189 strikeouts and just 23 walks but has allowed 20 home runs, and he goes from a good pitcher's park with a good Rays defense behind him to a better hitter's park with a below-average Tigers defense behind him. It's possible that change will reveal that he did benefit from pitching in Tampa. Or it may not reveal anything. But Price has been good a pitcher for five years, and his new approach of pounding the strike zone has basically turned him into a harder-throwing version of Cliff Lee.

OK, now things get a little murky. Let's start with Kluber versus Bumgarner, because that got a lot of feedback on Twitter.

I know Bumgarner has been a solid pitcher for several years. He has come up big in the postseason. But in comparing 2014: Kluber has the better ERA, the better FIP, the better strikeout rate, a lower walk rate, a lower home run rate, a higher ground ball rate, the lower batting average and OPS allowed, has pitched more innings and has done it in a DH league while pitching in a tougher park with a lousy defense behind him. I can't rate Bumgarner ahead of Kluber.

(By the way, Bumgarner's career high bWAR is 3.8, achieved last year. A lot of that is park effects. Giants fans will point out that Bumgarner has a better ERA on the road in his career than at home, but that's not the way park effects work. Bumgarner still has the advantage of pitching half his games in a pitcher's park.)

Jon Lester? Hmm. Lester is a No. 2 starter having a No. 1-level season. But he had a 3.75 ERA last year and 4.82 the year before. FanGraphs and B-R differ on his value -- FanGraphs ranks him third overall while B-R ranks him 22nd. Kluber, by the way, had a 3.85 ERA last year with excellent peripherals. If you give Lester a little extra credit for his postseason last year, I'll reluctantly give him the nod, although I think his track record works against him just as much as Kluber's lack of track record works against him.

Scherzer is similar to Lester, except his No. 1 season came last year. He's been nearly as good this year, even though his BABIP has once again bounced up:

2011: .314
2012: .333
2013: .259
2014: .316

One reason Scherzer's BABIP is usually high is that he does pitch up in the strike zone, unlike a lot of pitchers who pound the zone at the knees. Of course, the other reason is the lousy Tigers defense. (Take note, Mr. Price.)

Johnny Cueto? I'm not quite sure what to do with Cueto, giving his history of injuries. But we're talking best starters right now, and Cueto has been healthy and effective all season and he has always been effective even when he has missed time.

Garrett Richards is another young starter having a breakout season. While Kluber relies on command and a wipeout curve, Richards has upper 90s heat and a deadly slider. Their numbers:

Kluber: 2.55 ERA, .233/.277/.341, 26.7 percent K rate
Richards: 2.58 ERA, .195/.267/.259, 24.7 percent K rate

Kluber rates a little higher in WAR because he has pitched 12 more innings and Richards benefits from a pitcher's park. Tough call here. Like Kluber, Richards doesn't have much of a track record before this season. There's no denying his stuff. Richards has the fourth-lowest BABIP allowed among starters at .258 (Kluber's is .309) and a low rate of home runs per fly ball (third-lowest among starters). I think those numbers indicate Richards has pitched in more good luck than Kluber this season. But I could be wrong; his stuff is nasty.

OK, where does that leave us? With apologies to Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Hisashi Iwakuma, the injured Masahiro Tanaka and maybe a couple of others, the top 10 starters in the majors RIGHT NOW:

1. Kershaw
2. Hernandez
3. Wainwright
4. Sale
5. Darvish
6. Price
7. Cueto
8. Lester
9. Kluber
10. Scherzer

Including Richards, you could rank the final four guys in any order, really. If you want a longer track record, go with Lester and Scherzer. If you like raw, unhittable stuff, go with Richards. If you think postseason history matters, go with Lester. If you like 28-year-olds out of nowhere with curveballs that make major league hitters weep in frustration, go with our man Corey Kluber -- one of the 10 best starters in the game.
Aug. 4, 1993: Nolan Ryan plunks Robin Ventura in the back with a fastball. You know the video. You've watched the video, or at least the part where Ryan gets Ventura in a headlock and starts pounding away. Here's the whole six-minute highlight of the brawl.

Anyway, I came across this video on YouTube. As it shows, after the initial headlock, Ventura escapes and actually gets Ryan in a chokehold of his own. So the common belief that Ryan put a beating on Ventura isn't necessarily true.

A couple other thoughts on maybe the most famous fight in baseball history (maybe right after the Juan Marichal-John Roseboro fight).

1. As my co-worker Dave Wilson, who was at the game, pointed out to me: Ryan wasn't even ejected from the game. The brawl occurred in the third inning and Ryan ended up going seven innings and getting the win. Probably made sense not to eject him: Rangers fans may have rioted.

2. Ryan would win just two more games in his career. Six starts later, he snapped his ligament in a game in Seattle and was done.

3. That was a weird White Sox lineup that day. Matt Merullo was hitting third and DHing (Bo Jackson pinch-hit later in the game). Dan Pasqua played first base. (Looks like Frank Thomas wanted the day off.) Steve Sax played right field and hit fifth. I don't remember Sax on the White Sox, although he was their regular second baseman in 1992. He started 26 games in the outfield for the White Sox that year. The White Sox won the AL West as Thomas won MVP honors.

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