SweetSpot: Carlos Beltran

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Which of these three birthday boys should go into the Hall of Fame?

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    26%
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    25%
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    20%
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    27%
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    2%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,647)

Happy birthday to Chipper Jones, Omar Vizquel and the still-active Carlos Beltran.

Today's question: How many of those three should make the Hall of Fame?

OK, Chipper is an obvious Hall of Famer, Vizquel and Beltran less so.

Some quick numbers for Vizquel: Most games ever at shortstop; 2,877 career hits; 1,445 runs; .272 average; 11 Gold Gloves; three-time All-Star; career WAR of 45.3.

Beltran: 363 home runs; 1,340 RBIs; 1,356 runs; three Gold Gloves; eight-time All-Star; 308 stolen bases; .333, 16 HR in 51 postseason games; 68.3 career WAR.

Beltre, Utley among all-time great gloves

January, 10, 2014
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There is an interesting common thread among some of those under consideration for the Hall of 100 this season, and that's how much defensive play impacted their overall value.

Baseball Info Solutions has been tracking defensive runs saved as a statistic since 2003, and in that time, the top three players in that stat are three players who were under Hall of 100 consideration this year: Adrian Beltre (165 DRS), Chase Utley (141 DRS) and Albert Pujols (131 DRS).

Granted, that is partly due to their having been in the majors 11 years ago when the stat was devised, but it also speaks to their consistent defensive success.

I was asked to rank the players on the Hall of 100 ballot by their defensive value and I'm fairly comfortable with that trio being my 1-2-3.

Beltre slipped a little bit last season but has averaged 15 DRS per season in this 11-year stretch. That sort of success has propelled Beltre to be ranked among the elite third baseman in the sport's history (a drum Dave Cameron of FanGraphs and ESPN Insider has been beating for some time).

Consider this: If you look at Baseball Reference's all-time wins above replacement leaders for third baseman (using 40 percent of games at third base as the standard), the top eight are Alex Rodriguez, Mike Schmidt, Eddie Mathews, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson and Beltre, with Ron Santo a little behind.

By the formulas used for defensive WAR, which take into account both DRS and a pre-2003 metric, total zone runs, Beltre's defensive value is nearly 22 wins.

Were Beltre worth half of what he has been worth defensively in his career, his overall rank among third basemen in WAR dips to the 16-17 range, alongside Darrell Evans and Robin Ventura.

My educated guess is that most fans perceive Beltre as being closer to the latter players in stardom, but when you dig deeper into the numbers (including the defensive ones), he fits in with the best of the best, and worth of Hall of 100 consideration.

Utley's glove

If you had asked me which player ranks closer to the top of the all-time list in WAR at their position, Beltre or Utley, I'd have guessed Utley ... and been wrong.

Utley ranks 15th, right behind Jackie Robinson and just ahead of Jeff Kent. Three more 3-WAR seasons and Utley will be the virtual equal of Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, even though he'll be considerably behind them in base hits.

Utley can thank his defensive performance for that. He currently ranks 10th in dWAR among second basemen (17.1), though he'll have to work to maintain that. Last year was the first season of Utley's career in which he didn't rank as strongly above average in DRS.

Pujols and adjustments

The way that dWAR works with regard to adjusting for position played, first basemen don't get a great spike from being great defensively. But when we consider Pujols, we should consider him to be among the best of the best.

From 2004 to 2010, he was among the top five in DRS every season. Total zone, which works off 60 years of data rather than 11, has Pujols as one of only three players with at least 100 runs saved at that position (one run behind Todd Helton and 15 behind Keith Hernandez).

Pujols ranks behind Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx in overall WAR among those whose primary position was first base, and you could make a legit case if you put a premium on defensive value, that Pujols is the No. 2 first baseman of all-time right now, and worthy of his No. 16 rankings in the Hall of 100.

The rest of this year's ballot

Carlos Beltran: His defense has slipped with age and knee injuries, but in his prime, he was a great center fielder, who made difficult catches look easy because he could glide to the ball. Beltran won three Gold Gloves and has a good but not great dWAR and DRS totals. His defense should definitely be worth a slight bump, though probably not enough to get him into the top 100.

Alex Rodriguez: A-Rod has bigger problems than how his defense impacts his overall value, but he should rate pretty well, considering that he handled two of the toughest positions in baseball very well. He rates solidly in dWAR, though chances are not many people are going to remember that when his career is done.

Joe Mauer: The good perception on Mauer's defense doesn't quite match up with his career DRS of minus-6. (For the record, he does rate very well at limiting stolen bases.) The perception of his defense rates as an incomplete, though, as he'll write an additional chapter with his move to first base this spring.

David Wright: Wright is an interesting defender because he has had years where he has looked great (16 DRS in 2012) and been Gold Glove worthy (he has improved since Tim Teufel became Mets infield coach), and had other years in which he has rated poorly (-14 in both 2009 and 2010). It will be interesting to see how Wright rates against Beltre when their careers are done. Beltre probably should rate better overall, but I'm not convinced that public perception will match that.

Derek Jeter: His defense is a polarizing topic, and without getting into a full-fledged discussion about it, I'm inclined to buy into the numerical assessments, which don't treat him well.

Those who rank Jeter as this generation's Honus Wagner need to take this into consideration. Jeter rates as the second or third-best offensive shortstop of all-time (depending on whether you consider A-Rod a shortstop), but his dWAR ranks next-to-last. His Hall of 100 rank of 33 is probably just about right for him. Were he as good a defender as some perceive, I'd argue he’d be worthy of the top 15.

Miguel Cabrera: He is going to put up amazing offensive numbers by the time he's done, but those classifying him as a future top-20 player in our Hall of 100 assessment should consider that he's already in the bottom 100 in dWAR. The move back to first base and the DH role may eventually save him from descending much further.

AL's defensive winter moves

December, 29, 2013
12/29/13
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Today, Buster Olney rated the top defensive teams in the majors. We thought we’d take the time to look at the offseasons for each team from a defensive perspective. Here’s our American League look.

AL East

Blue Jays: The transition from J.P. Arencibia to Dioner Navarro behind the plate is likely a wash and there hasn’t been much of an overhaul to this team other than the departure of Rajai Davis (who did have a decent amount of defensive value).
Ryan Goins
Goins
The most interesting thing for the Jays will be how Ryan Goins fares as a regular second baseman. Goins racked up a hard-to-believe 12 Defensive Runs Saved (backed up on video review by 21 Good Fielding Plays and only a pair of Defensive Misplays & Errors) in a 32-game stint last season.

Orioles: The biggest issue on defense for the Orioles will be dealing with the loss of Manny Machado’s major-league leading Runs Saved, at least until he returns from injury. Baltimore did make one positive move that should upgrade its outfield defense, getting David Lough from the Royals for utilityman Danny Valencia.

Rays: The Rays made a long-term commitment to James Loney, which bodes well from a defensive perspective, and also made one to catcher Ryan Hanigan, who is considered one of the best base-stealing deterrents and pitch-framers in the sport. He’ll give them a solid alternative to Jose Molina.

Red Sox: Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts will likely step into everyday roles and fill the shoes of Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox will also have a new catcher, though there isn’t much of a defensive difference between A.J. Pierzynski and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Both rate below-average statistically.

Yankees:There have been some pretty notable changes on the defensive side. Brian McCann’s pitch-framing rates well, but he’s not the baserunning deterrent that Chris Stewart was. Kelly Johnson and Brian Roberts could split time at second base but neither is the Gold-Glove-caliber glove that Robinson Cano was. Johnson could also wind up full-time at third base, a position at which he’s barely played more than 100 innings, if Alex Rodriguez gets suspended.

The Yankees should be great in center and left with an Ellsbury/Brett Gardner combo. Carlos Beltran has less ground to cover in the Bronx than he did in Busch. That could benefit his achy knees and help his defensive rating.

One smart thing the Yankees did: Hire Brendan Ryan to be their “shortstop closer” for the next two seasons and as much as it will pain Derek Jeter to leave games, it will be for the good of the team to let Ryan finish close games.


AL Central

Indians: The Indians tried to make a right fielder out of center fielder Drew Stubbs in 2013 and it didn’t work. They got themselves an upgrade in free agent David Murphy who rates adequate enough (5 Runs Saved in about a season’s worth of innings in right field) that his D could be a one-win upgrade by itself.

Royals: The best team in baseball, as it comes to Defensive Runs Saved, tinkered a little bit, swapping out Lough for Norichika Aoki in the outfield, which probably rates as a push (they’re both good … fair warning to Royals fans, Aoki likes to play a deep right field), and making an offensive upgrade by getting Omar Infante to fill the hole that was second base.

The one thing the Royals got from their second basemen last season was good defense (18 Runs Saved from the collection of Elliot Johnson, Chris Getz and others). Infante isn’t at that level, but he rates above average more often than not (he did by UZR, but not Runs Saved in 2013) and his offensive work should make up for any drop-off.

Tigers: The Tigers' defensive overhaul has been the biggest of the offseason as the team’s opening-day infield will be entirely different from 2013. Ian Kinsler is a definite upgrade at second base and we’ll see if Jose Iglesias’ wow plays add up over a full season (he has seven Runs Saved in just under 800 career innings at short).

Going from Prince Fielder back to Miguel Cabrera should actually be a slight upgrade.

The big question will be third base where the scouting reports on Nick Castellanos’ defense don’t inspire confidence. But even so, conservatively, the Tigers should be about 25 Runs Saved better in 2014, which takes them from being a lousy defensive infield to an average one.

Twins: The Twins made the career-preserving move of shifting Joe Mauer from behind the plate to first base and signed Kurt Suzuki, who has a good statistical history at the position. Suzuki has rated better than Mauer over the course of his career in Runs Saved, though he’s not as good at throwing out basestealers.

I asked Doug Glanville to assess what Mauer’s challenge will be in making the move to first:

“He is a super athlete and I am sure he will be fine. It will be tough to not be as involved with the game in every single moment. No one can compete with catchers in the leadership it requires to play that position and the need for constant vigilance. He has to sharpen his focus to deal with new lulls in time. I am sure he will.”

White Sox: The White Sox had the third-worst Defensive Runs Saved total in the majors in 2013 and they’ve been overhauled all over the place. Their worst position last season was center field (-19 Defensive Runs Saved in 2013) and they’ll have a new look there with Adam Eaton.

They’ll also be much different at first base with Jose Abreu, whose hitting has been compared to Ryan Howard's (but if his defense is, that’s not good) and third base with adequately-rated Matt Davidson, whom they got for Addison Reed. Will different equal better? They better hope so.

Al West

Angels: The aging of Albert Pujols will continue to be an issue both on offense and defense. Last season broke a run of eight straight seasons in which Pujols ranked in the top five among first basemen in Runs Saved.

Pujols will have a familiar teammate working at the opposite corner with the addition of third baseman David Freese, who had a dreadful season in 2013 per both Runs Saved and UZR, ranking third-worst in the former and second-worst in the latter. That’s something that will need to be dealt with.

Astros: The Astros traded away their second-best defender stats-wise from 2013 in Brandon Barnes to get Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies. Fowler has less ground to cover in the gaps of Minute Maid Park, but has a deeper center field (and Tal’s Hill) to worry about. Fowler has posted a negative Runs Saved rating in four of his six seasons, but has fared well at handling balls hit to the deepest parts of the park.

Athletics: The Athletics made two moves that should definitely help their defense in 2014.
Craig Gentry
Gentry
By adding Craig Gentry in a trade from the Rangers, they’ve obtained one of the game’s premier outfield defenders and one who could fit in well both in left field (to make Yoenis Cespedes a DH) and center (to give Coco Crisp a breather) very well.

The Athletics also added a valuable utility piece in Nick Punto, who could start at second base (ahead of Eric Sogard) or close games at shortstop (replacing Jed Lowrie, who rates as a poor defender). Either way, he’s a big upgrade over what they had.

Mariners:The Mariners now have a Gold Glove-caliber defender at second in Cano. He’ll need to cover more ground to his left than he did in New York, because the Mariners’ first-base options (Justin Smoak, Logan Morrison and Corey Hart) do not rate well. Morrison is going to present an issue wherever they put him. He’s not quite at the level of Michael Morse, but his ratings historically have been poor.

Rangers: The difference between Prince Fielder and Mitch Moreland at first base is a sizable one, potentially 15 runs over the course of a season, so if the Rangers do decide to hang on to Moreland, they'd be best off playing him at first base and having Fielder DH. The Rangers could use a good defender at first, since Jurickson Profar is basically going to learn on the job at second base. Texas will also have some outfield concerns with Shin-Soo Choo having limited experience in left field and the team no longer having the security blanket of Gentry (traded to Athletics).

Rangers should sign Shin-Soo Choo

November, 25, 2013
11/25/13
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After the Rangers made the blockbuster Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder trade, the front office made it clear the team was far from done making moves this offseason.

"We'd still like to add to the offense," general manager Jon Daniels said after acquiring Fielder. "That's probably still our top goal, our top objective, but we're open to improving the club any way we can. That could be with an obvious name that everybody is talking about, or it could be in the area of adding depth, filling out the club and giving Wash [manager Ron Washington] some options. We're not ignoring the pitching staff by any stretch. We're open to a variety of ways to improve the club."

[+] EnlargeShin-Soo Choo
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesShin-Soo Choo was fourth in the majors with a .423 on-base percentage in 2013.
The Rangers have been linked to all of the prominent outfielders on the free-agent market -- Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson. There is also the possibility they would bring back Nelson Cruz. In theory, the team could also trade Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar to acquire an outfielder and then sign Robinson Cano to play second base.

The Cano idea is probably unrealistic; for one thing, Andrus would be difficult to trade because of a contract that owes him at least $124 million through 2022. Profar is inexpensive and still has breakout potential as he enters his second season in the majors. That leaves signing one of the outfielders as the most logical upgrade and the answer is clear which one the Rangers should go after: Choo.

Some have suggested the Rangers need right-handed power, especially with Cruz likely departing and the loss of Kinsler. But the Rangers actually hit left-handers marginally better in 2013:

versus LHP: .266/.337/.414
versus RHP: .261/.317/.411

The Rangers' biggest offensive problem in 2013 wasn't power. Rather, it was getting on base against right-handed pitching. They ranked just eighth in the American League in that category, after ranking fifth in 2012 (.329), second in 2011 (.338) and third in 2010 (.343). Thus the acquisition of Fielder to help alleviate some of those issues.

But Daniels won't stop there. On-base percentage is more important than power and getting on base is Choo's specialty. He ranked fourth in the majors in OBP in 2013 with a .423 mark and second in the majors (behind Reds teammate Joey Votto) with a .457 mark against right-handers. Even if 2013 was Choo's best season, he's still an on-base machine -- he owns a .389 career mark and ranks fifth in the majors over the past five seasons (minimum 1,500 plate appearances).

Choo isn't without power -- 16 home runs with Cleveland in 2012, 21 with Cincinnati -- and would bring an impact bat to the top of the Texas order. Rangers leadoff hitters (primarily Kinsler) were OK in 2013, ranking fourth in the AL in OBP and sixth in OPS, but were just 11th in runs scored. Some of that was because the No. 2 hitters (primarily Andrus) were among the league's worst, ranking 12th in OBP and 14th in slugging percentage. Studies have shown that the No. 2 position in the lineup is actually the spot where you should put your best hitter. Andrus' lack of power makes him a poor choice to bat second.

If Washington insists on keeping Andrus as the top of the order, however, he could roll out a lineup like this:

SS Andrus
LF Choo
3B Beltre
1B Fielder
RF Alex Rios
2B Profar
DH Mitch Moreland
C Geovany Soto
CF Leonys Martin/Craig Gentry

The Rangers were 11th in the AL in runs scored from their No. 1 and No. 2 hitters. Signing Choo would improve them in that category.

Now, Choo isn't without his flaws -- he can't hit left-handers, but you could move up Profar or Gentry against southpaw starters and slide Choo down (although Reds manager Dusty Baker never did it). The Reds played him out of position in center, but Choo should at least be adequate in left.

In the end, Choo makes more sense than Ellsbury, Beltran, Granderson or Cruz. Ellsbury will be more expensive, and a large portion of his value comes from playing center field, but the Rangers are covered there with Martin and Gentry. Beltran comes with declining range, age issues and his own platoon splits -- he had a .281 OBP against left-handers in 2013 (although he was better in 2012). Granderson's power could play well in Texas, but he won't match Choo's on-base ability.

So Choo to the Rangers makes perfect sense ... and considering the team's positive cash flow, maybe even leave some dollars left over to sign Beltran to DH.

How would that lineup look?

SweetSpot TV: Offseason rapid fire!

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
12:07
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Eric and I roll through some of the hot topics of the offseason (we taped this before the big Prince Fielder-Ian Kinsler trade) -- Robinson Cano, Ervin Santana and Matt Garza, Paul Konerko's possible return to the White Sox, Eric's beloved but aging Phillies, Carlos Beltran, Stephen Drew and Ubaldo Jimenez.
David Ortiz turns 38 years old today and is coming off another big season, highlighted by his monster World Series performance. Probably no player did more to help his potential Hall of Fame case than Ortiz did in 2013. Consider:

  • With offensive numbers once again in decline across the majors, Ortiz hit .309/.395/.564 with 30 home runs and 103 RBIs, ranking fourth in the American League in on-base percentage and third in slugging. His OPS+ was the fourth-highest of his career, following his injury-shortened 2012 season, 2007 and 2006. He finished 10th in the MVP voting, his first top-10 finish since 2007.

    [+] EnlargeDavid Ortiz
    Elsa/Getty ImagesDavid Ortiz hit 30 home runs in 2013, giving him 431 in his career.
  • Those numbers also indicate he has a lot left in the tank, suggesting he should still be an effective hitter for at least two more seasons, maybe three or four. That will help some of those all-important counting stats that Hall of Fame voters love. Ortiz has 431 home runs, making 500 a possibility; with 1,429 RBIs, another 300 would put him into the top 20 all time.

  • The World Series heroics -- he hit .688 with eight walks -- boosted his reputation as a clutch postseason performer. While his overall postseason batting line isn't that different from his regular-season numbers (.962 OPS versus .930), it's that reputation that will matter more than a strict analysis of his numbers, much like how we remember Jack Morris' Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series and not what happened in the 1992 World Series, when Morris got hammered twice and lost two games. With three World Series rings, plus several memorable October home runs, Ortiz will gain extra support from those factors, the way they pushed marginal Hall of Fame candidates like Rollie Fingers and Catfish Hunter into Cooperstown.

  • The big knocks against Ortiz remain: 1) he's largely been a designated hitter; 2) tenuous ties to PEDs; and 3) his career Wins Above Replacement. At 44.0, he's below Hall of Fame standards and even below another designated hitter candidate in Edgar Martinez (68.3). But Ortiz's fame and career counting stats should eventually help him get in.

    By the way, one more quick note on Ortiz. Whenever I write about him, the haters always bring up PEDs. They also like to point to his rejuvenation in recent years as "proof" that he's juicing. In 2008 and 2009, Ortiz hit .250/.348/.482, and in 2009 he got off to that awful start when he'd hit one home run through May while batting under .200. Since 2010, he's hit .300/.392/.560. The haters extract this to argue that he obviously must be cheating. I mean, Hank Aaron had the two highest slugging percentages of his career at ages 37 and 39, but whatever, Ortiz must be cheating.

    Of course, that narrative leaves out something important. Check out Ortiz's strikeout rates:

    2009: 21.4 percent
    2010: 23.9 percent
    2011: 13.7 percent
    2012: 13.3 percent
    2013: 14.7 percent

    Ortiz's line drive percentage in 2013 was 25 percent, the highest during any season of his Red Sox career. Even when he hit .332 in 2007, it was much lower, at 19 percent. It seems to me that Ortiz has simply become a better hitter, better against left-handed pitching and willing to sacrifice a few home runs to put the ball in play more often. The guy who struck out 134 and 145 times in 2009 and 2010 struck out just 88 times in 2013.

    Here are four other players who most helped their Hall of Fame cases in 2013 -- I wouldn't include somebody like Mariano Rivera, who was a lock no matter what he did this year, or even Miguel Cabrera, whose Hall of Fame credentials are already firmly established.

    Carlos Beltran
    After injury-plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons with the Mets, Beltran's career appeared in jeopardy, but he's put together three consecutive good-to-excellent seasons, hitting .288 while averaging 26 home runs and 88 RBIs. Although he wasn't quite the terror in the postseason that everyone kept mentioning, he did drive in 15 runs in 17 games. As with Ortiz, it's the perception that matters here. Beltran's career WAR of 67.5 puts him above many recent Hall of Famers -- in some cases, well above -- and though he'll turn 37 in April, he appears to have a couple more good seasons in him. With 358 home runs and 1,327 RBIs, his counting stats are starting to impress as much as the advanced metrics like him.

    Adrian Beltre
    Beltre is similar to Beltran -- he's a good all-around player who has kind of snuck up as a Hall of Fame candidate. Beltre has now had four straight terrific seasons, averaging 6.5 WAR; according to Baseball-Reference, the only position players with more WAR since 2010 are Robinson Cano and Cabrera. Much of Beltre's chances of eventually getting in rest in how much value voters will place on his defense, but his offensive numbers are now strong enough -- and he'll be just 35 next year -- that voters will pay attention to the entire package. Factor in that he's been one of the best players in the game over a period of years (plus 2004, when he was second in the MVP voting while with the Dodgers) and his case looks better and better.

    Clayton Kershaw
    He obviously has a long way to go because he's just 25, but the important things Kershaw did were win another Cy Young Award, and do it with a high level of dominance, posting a sub-2.00 ERA. There's no doubt that his peak level of performance has made him into being the best pitcher in the game. Certainly, many other young pitchers have been at this stage in their careers -- Dwight Gooden, Bret Saberhagen -- but Kershaw's established level of performance means all he has to do is remain healthy.

    Dustin Pedroia
    Pedroia isn't a classic Hall of Fame candidate because he doesn't hit a lot of home runs or drive in 100 runs, but he's building a lot of positives on his résumé; adding a second World Series ring was a big plus. Pedroia now has four seasons of 5+ WAR, and a fifth at 4.9. Those totals are starting to line up with players like Ryne Sandberg and Roberto Alomar, both of whom had six 5+ WAR seasons. Pedroia turned 30 in August and his career WAR is 38.1, so he has a long way to go to become a Hall of Fame candidate, but if he can churn out three more peak seasons, he's going to have a strong case.

    The thing to remember is that fame remains an important consideration for Hall of Fame voters. Fame is why Jim Rice is in and Tim Raines isn't. For Ortiz and Pedroia, they have that "winner" tag applied to them as well; if their cases end up borderline, they now have a check in the extra-credit column. It could make the difference.


  • Eric Karabell and myself discuss Carlos Beltran and the Cardinals and whether they should bring back their veteran right fielder.

    No surprises in qualifying offers

    November, 4, 2013
    11/04/13
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    Thirteen free agents received one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offers from their previous team, meaning those players will have now a choice: See what the market bears or return to their team for that one-year offer (or negotiate a new contract with that club).

    Those 13 players:

    Stephen Drew, Red Sox
    Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
    Mike Napoli, Red Sox
    Robinson Cano, Yankees
    Curtis Granderson, Yankees
    Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
    Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
    Ervin Santana, Royals
    Nelson Cruz, Rangers
    Kendrys Morales, Mariners
    Brian McCann, Braves
    Carlos Beltran, Cardinals
    Shin-Soo Choo, Reds


    These players are now tied to first-round compensation picks if the team that signs them doesn't own one of the top 10 picks (Astros, Marlins, White Sox, Cubs, Twins, Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, Blue Jays, Mets). Those 10 teams would have to sacrifice a second-round pick for signing one of those 13 guys.

    In the case of a highly sought free agent suc as Cano, Ellsbury or Choo, this will likely have little effect on contract offers they receive. However, for several of the players on the list this could drastically reduce their demand. We saw this happen last year with several players, most notably Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn (who both ended up signing with Cleveland, which owned a protected top-10 pick), Kyle Lohse (who didn't sign with the Brewers until spring training was under way), and Adam LaRoche (who declined the Nationals' $13.3 million qualifying offer before eventually returning to Washington on a two-year, $24 million deal).

    For example, considering Beltran's age, he was probably looking at a two-year contract. Would a contending team be willing to give up a first-round pick for two seasons of him? Perhaps. With Cruz coming off his PED suspension and given that he'll turn 34 next July, he's another guy who will now see limited demand. In both cases, it wouldn't surprise me if it pushes both players back to their original team, unless one of the bottom 10 teams come calling in hot pursuit (such as the Phillies). Coming off an injury, Curtis Granderson also could be headed back to the Yankees.

    For Morales, this almost guarantees he returns to Seattle. The market for designated hitters has been slow in recent seasons and it's unlikely any team will give him $14.1 million, even on a one-year deal, and certainly not at the cost of a first-round pick. He'll probably go back to Seattle, maybe negotiating a deal similar to what LaRoche signed with the Nationals last year.

    The most interesting guy could be Drew. He was a free agent a year ago and signed a one-year deal with Boston that paid him $9.5 million. After missing time in 2011 and 2012 with injuries, he had his best season at the plate since 2010. Considering he's the only top shortstop on the market, interest in him was expected to be high. But if you're, say, the Cardinals and wishing to replace Pete Kozma, do you want to give Drew a multi-year contract for tens of millions and lose that first-round pick? That's a tougher call.
    David Ortiz, in his major league career, is hitting .287/.381/.549. In 80 games in the postseason, he's hitting .290/.399/.548. In his career with the Red Sox, he's homered once every 15.0 at-bats; in his postseason career with the Red Sox, he's homered once every 15.9 at-bats.

    David Ortiz has, essentially, been the exact same hitter in the postseason as he has in the regular season. Yes, you can argue that he faces better pitching in the postseason so has actually raised his game a bit after factoring that in. But it still stands that Ortiz's reputation as a clutch hitter in October exists not because his production has increased but because he's delivered some huge -- sometimes game-altering, sometimes game-winning -- hits in his career, hits and home runs that Red Sox fans can reel off like their cell phone number.

    He's added to that reputation this October. In the first four games of the World Series he's 8-for-11 with two home runs, four walks, no strikeouts and a .727/.750/1.364 slash line. Against the Tigers he went just 2-for-22 but one of those two hits was the crucial grand slam off Joaquin Benoit.

    Of course, we don't remember the failures quite as readily. For example, here are five games from Ortiz's postseason career with the Red Sox:
    • 2003 ALDS, Game 1: 0-for-5 with a walk in 5-4 loss to Oakland in 12 innings. Struck out in the 12th with Manny Ramirez on second and no outs.
    • 2007 ALCS, Game 7: Went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. But nobody remembers since Boston beat Cleveland 11-2.
    • 2008 ALCS, Game 7: 0-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in a 3-1 loss to Tampa Bay. Struck out into a double play in the sixth. Grounded out with two runners on in the eighth.
    • 2009 ALDS, Game 1: Went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in a 5-0 loss to the Angels.
    • 2013 ALCS, Game 1: 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a 1-0 loss to Detroit. Struck out the in the sixth with Dustin Pedroia on second and one out.


    The point here: David Ortiz is a great hitter at any time, whether its April 17 or Oct. 24. You certainly want him up there in an important situation. But the concept of clutch hitting as a character trait should be separated from the concept of a clutch hit delivered at a big moment. I've never understood the desire to ascribe such an attribute anyway. Is it our wish to remove randomness from the course of events? That Ortiz hit that home run not because that was the time he happened to guess right against Benoit (or guess right and make good contact) but because he summoned his inner clutchness. That he rose to the occasion. That he wanted to be up there. That he didn't wilt under the pressure like a Drew brother.

    Joe Posnanski wrote a much longer piece on the "Tao of Clutchiness" the other day and made a good point:
    But this is exactly what I mean when I say I think I've been looking at clutch hitting wrong. I've spent a lot of time comparing players to THEMSELVES. Maybe you have too. And, in the end, I think that's self-defeating. Some players might like being in the big moment more than others, some might feel like curling up in a ball when the game is on the line, but dammit we just can't find that in the numbers. That force, if it exists at all, is too small to register on even the most sensitive seismometers.

    But are there clutch hitters? YES! DEFINITELY! UNQUESTIONABLY! Frank you are OK! Frank refers to basketball teams he covered and the coaches and players who were convinced that "certain teammates didn't want the ball at the end of a close game or craved it."

    Well, this is absolutely true in baseball too. It just so happens those players who crave the at-bat in the biggest moments tend to also be very good always. Is Derek Jeter a clutch hitter? OF COURSE HE IS. He's not necessarily clutch when you compare him to himself. But he's an amazing clutch hitter compared to Juan Pierre or Orlando Cabrera or A.J. Pierzynski or a bunch of other good players who are simply not Derek Jeter.


    In other words, the Cardinals should be scared of Ortiz right now not because he's clutch but because he's good. Very good.

    * * * *


    Then there's Carlos Beltran. He's 6-for-8 this postseason with runners in scoring position. He's hitting just .265 this October but has 14 RBIs in 15 games. He's been clutch. Everyone keeps saying it.

    An interesting note about Beltran. In his postseason career -- which includes stints with the Astros in 2004, the Mets in 2006 and the Cardinals the past two seasons, he has 35 walks (two intentional) and 26 strikeouts. This year, he has 10 walks (one intentional) and six strikeouts. Since 2004, in the regular season, he has 887 strikeouts and 655 walks. In 2013, he had 90 strikeouts and 38 walks.

    So here's the question: Is Beltran a different hitter in the postseason? Are those walks merely a result of pitchers pitching around him, believing in his "clutch" hitting ability in October? Or does Beltran change his approach, putting more emphasis on contact and patience? Maybe he just focuses better in October. And if his approach is different, and that's why he does well in October, does that then make him a clutch hitter?

    (It should be pointed out that even when removing his monster 2004 postseason, when he hit eight home runs in 12 games with the Astros, his postseason line is .299/.413/.583 with 25 RBIs in 37 games, still an improvement over his regular-season numbers, although not as dramatically so.)

    Maybe Beltran is clutch, although we're still talking about a small sample size of 49 games. Also, in the biggest at-bat of his career, he struck out looking against a rookie relief pitcher in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS.

    Maybe you want to believe in clutch hitting. I prefer to enjoy that I have no idea what Ortiz or Beltran will do in a big moment, that it's more fun to root for ballplayers than superheroes.

    It's a play that will go down in infamy, a game that may go down in infamy if the St. Louis Cardinals go on to win this World Series. The Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in Game 3, but in a game that could be dissected in a thousand ways, everyone will be talking about the final play.

    Hero: Allen Craig. Pinch-hitting in the ninth inning against Koji Uehara, he lined the first pitch into the left-field corner for a double that sent Yadier Molina to third base with one out. Then came the play, one of the most exciting, craziest, wildest, strangest, dumbest plays in World Series history. The Red Sox elected to pitch to Jon Jay -- with Pete Kozma and then Kolten Wong on deck -- and Jay grounded up the middle against the pulled-in infield, with Dustin Pedroia making a terrific diving stop and perfect throw to get Molina at home for the second out. That was the exciting part.

    Now came the dumb part. With Craig and his injured foot running to third, Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw to third, even though Craig pretty clearly was going to beat the throw. Again: Two outs now, awful Kozma on deck. You can't risk the throw. Will Middlebrooks didn't help by not coming off the bag to catch the ball, which skidded off the tip of his glove.

    Then came the crazy, wild and strange part. Craig scrambling to get up, tripping over Middlebrooks, Craig being thrown out but ruled safe due to an obstruction call on Middlebrooks. It's a judgment call, but I think it was the right call; Middlebrooks impeded Craig's progress to home plate. Third-base ump Jim Joyce made the call. Look, it's a hard call to make. Middlebrooks didn't have time to get out of the way; he's on the ground.

    But how we got here: In the ninth inning, with one out, John Farrell let pitcher Brandon Workman bat. How can you concede an out in the ninth inning of a tie game? Mike Napoli was still available to pinch-hit. Afterward, Farrell said that, with the game looking like it may go extra innings, "We needed more than one inning out of Workman." No, you have to get to extra innings first. So Farrell not only gave away an out but used an inferior pitcher to start the ninth. Workman gave up the single to Molina to start the frame. So if you need an extra inning out of Workman, why go to Uehara? If you were going to use Uehara if a runner got on, why not hit for Workman? Completely inexplicable and awful decision by Farrell.

    Goat: Salty and Farrell. You can't make that throw there. You have to hit for Workman and plan on two innings from Uehara if necessary. If that means using a lesser pitcher in the 11th inning, so be it.

    Turning point: Well, there were three of them in the Cardinals' two-run seventh inning that initially broke a 2-2 tie.

    1. Farrell brought in Craig Breslow to face the top of Cardinals' order. The top of the order for the Cardinals goes lefty (Matt Carpenter), switch-hitter (Carlos Beltran), righty (Matt Holliday) and lefty (Matt Adams), so there's really no big platoon advantage to be gained whether you go to the lefty Breslow or the righty Junichi Tazawa. You can debate whether Farrell should have pinch-hit for Felix Doubront in the top of the seventh with two outs and nobody on, considering Doubront had pitched two strong innings.

    2. Carpenter reaches on a scratch infield single to shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who had just moved to third base after Stephen Drew had been hit for. Maybe Drew makes the play.

    3. Beltran's elbow pad. Breslow's pitch barely grazed the pad, sending Beltran to first. New rule needed: Get hit on the pad, you don't get first base. Holliday followed with a two-run double off Tazawa.

    Remember that bunt back in the first inning? The Cardinals scored twice in the first inning, getting four hard-hit singles off Jake Peavy (plus a lineout). But it potentially could have been an even bigger inning if not for Beltran's curious decision to attempt to bunt for a hit with a 3-1 count. It's not so much the bunt (which did move Carpenter to second) but the count: With a runner on and nobody out, Peavy is likely throwing a fastball there (and he did), which means Beltran was in a count to drive the pitch. There was speculation that if Beltran's sore ribs meant he couldn't swing left-handed, he shouldn't be in the lineup, but that will have to remain speculation for now. Beltran did look slow chasing after Bogaerts' triple later in the game, but seemed OK scoring from first on Holliday's double.

    Missed opportunities: Twice the Cardinals had a runner on third with no outs and failed to score, inexcusable in any game, let alone Game 3 of the World Series. In the fourth inning, they loaded the bases with no outs against Peavy and the bottom of the order coming up. Kozma had an all-time awful at-bat, taking a called strike two and then a called strike three -- with the pitcher on deck. Look, the third strike was a perfect pitch -- a slider on the low and outside corner -- but you have to do anything to get that ball in play, even if it means grounding into a double play to score a run. Joe Kelly and Carpenter then both popped out. So credit to Peavy, but bad job by the Cardinals.

    Then in the seventh, St. Louis again failed to score after Holliday reached third on his double (after an ill-advised throw home by Bogaerts) with none out. It looked like it would haunt the Cardinals ... then the play happened.
    Thoughts on a Game 1 of the World Series that was over early and ended up 8-1, Red Sox over Cardinals ...

    Hero: Jon Lester. The line score says it all: 7 2/3 innings, five hits, no extra-base hits, no runs, one walk, eight strikeouts. He tied his season high with five strikeouts on his cutter. Get this: Lester is the third southpaw to start Game 1 of a World Series for Boston. Babe Ruth pitched a shutout in 1918. Bruce Hurst pitched eight scoreless innings in a 1-0 win in 1986. And now Lester.

    Goat: Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma made two costly errors, arguably leading to five runs (although only two of the five were charged as unearned). He dropped the relay throw on what should have been an easy inning-ending double play on David Ortiz's grounder in the first and then booted Shane Victorino's grounder in the hole in the second. Really, though, you can blame the entire Cardinals defense. Shane Robinson bobbled Mike Napoli's double that followed Kozma's error in the first, removing any shot of throwing out Ortiz at home. Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina miscommunicated on Stephen Drew's popup leading off the second. And David Freese showcased his limited range when Dustin Pedroia's RBI single scooted under his glove later in that inning. Wainwright wasn't sharp but he could have easily escaped with no runs allowed.

    Turning point: Second-base umpire Dana DeMuth originally and inexplicably missed the call on Kozma's first-inning error, even though Kozma clearly never caught the ball. Red Sox manager John Farrell went out to argue the call, the umpires gathered and correctly changed the call. Napoli followed with a bases-clearing double, lining a 2-0 cutter into left-center.

    At-bat of the night: Has to be Napoli's double. How often does Wainwright fall behind 2-0? Including the playoffs, he'd thrown only 103 pitches with a 2-0 count, so that means just 103 batters out of 1039 batters faced -- just under 10 percent of the time. Even though Wainwright has that great curveball, he only threw it nine times out of those 103, usually throwing his fastball or cutter. Napoli was sitting on something hard, Wainwright caught too much of the plate and it was 3-0 in the first inning.

    Revealing statistic: The first Boston batter to swing at the first pitch was leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury -- his second time up, the 10th Boston batter of the game. No team works the count like the Red Sox and Wainwright threw 31 pitches in the first (just the third start this season he threw 30-plus pitches in the first inning) and 60 through two innings. He had just four outs after 52 pitches.

    Injury of the night: Carlos Beltran, playing in his first World Series game, robbed Ortiz of a grand slam but slammed into the low right-field fence in the process, exiting the game with a rib contusion and departing to the hospital for X-rays. Needless to say, if he can't go in Game 2 or beyond it's a devastating injury for the Cardinals.

    Debate of the night: There was some debate on Twitter on whether Mike Matheny should have removed Wainwright after two innings, either to save him for a possible Game 4 start or just to get him out of there considering he's thrown more innings than any pitcher in baseball. The Cardinals have 12 pitches on their roster, including starter Shelby Miller available in relief, so Matheny has more pitchers than he can use. Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher -- and smart guy -- Brandon McCarthy argued for leaving in Wainwright, that his pitch count was high enough that Matheny would be unlikely to start him in Game 4 anyway and he's your ace, so leave him in and give your team a chance to come back. Another argument for taking him out, however: In postseason history, the team that led by five-plus runs after two innings was 45-0. A comeback was extremely unlikely regardless (not that Matheny would have known that data, of course).

    One swing and the Cardinals could have been back in it: They loaded the bases in the fourth with one out and Freese up. Lester induced a 1-2-3 double play. Since hitting .397 in the 2011 postseason, Freese is hitting .239 with two home runs in 25 games. So ... maybe he's not clutch and just happened to have a postseason for the ages?

    Keep this one in your back pocket: Ortiz crushed a two-run homer (off a first-pitch fastball) in the seventh off rookie lefty Kevin Siegrist, who hadn't allowed a home run to any of the 84 left-handed batters he'd faced. This is a matchup we could see again, in a more crucial situation.

    It's just one game, but ... The team that won Game 1 has won 21 of the past 25 World Series.
    videoAs Carlos Beltran delivers more big postseason hits this October for the St. Louis Cardinals, talk about him as a potential Hall of Famer has increased, carrying over from discussions that began in the regular season. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick wrote about Beltran's Hall of Fame case back in August, while Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote about Beltran and David Ortiz the other day.

    Basically, Beltran's case goes something like this: He kind of snuck up on everyone as a Hall of Fame candidate, he fares very well in advanced metrics, such as WAR, but not quite as well in more conventional measurements, such as counting stats and MVP voting results. Certainly, two more strong seasons will help his case.

    Comparisons have been made to Andre Dawson, another guy who did a little of everything. In terms of career WAR, they're similar: Beltran 67.5, Dawson 64.4. One major difference: There was a time when Dawson was considered maybe the best player in the game, something that has never been said of Beltran. Dawson also won an MVP Award (though ridiculously undeserved), and that undoubtedly helped get him elected to Cooperstown.

    It all means Beltran is a borderline candidate. Which gets us to this: How much should his great postseason numbers (.337 BA, 16 HR, 37 RBIs, 1.173 OPS) factor in?

    Case study: Jim Rice versus Bernie Williams
    Rice: 382 HR, 1451 RBIs, .298/.352/.502, 47.2 WAR
    Williams: 287 HR, 1257 RBIs, .297/.381/.477, 49.5 WAR

    [+] EnlargeCarlos Beltran
    Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Beltran's exceptional postseason numbers could bolster his Hall of Fame case.
    After a long and heated debate, Rice finally made it on his 15th and final year on the ballot. Despite similar career value, Williams fell off the ballot after one year. Williams was a key performer on four World Series champions, hitting .275/.371/.480 in his postseason career, with 22 home runs and 80 RBIs in 122 games (he's the all-time postseason leader in RBIs). To be fair, neither are strong Hall of Fame candidates, but in Williams' case his postseason numbers clearly had no effect on the voters.

    Verdict: Postseason doesn't help.

    Case study: Curt Schilling versus Kevin Brown
    Schilling: 216-146, 3.46 ERA, 127 ERA+, 80.7 WAR
    Brown: 211-144, 3.28 ERA, 127 ERA+, 68.5 WAR

    In their raw stats, these two are nearly identical, right down to innings pitched (Schilling had five more in his career). Neither won a Cy Young Award, although Brown should have won in 1996 when he had a 1.89 ERA for the Marlins and arguably for the Padres in 1998, when he led the National League in WAR. Schilling finished second in the voting three times, twice to teammate Randy Johnson, once to Johan Santana. They're not exactly the same: Schilling does have the edge in career WAR (he spent more time in good hitter's park) and strikeouts.

    The difference, of course, is Schilling was one of the great postseason pitchers ever, going 11-2 with a 2.23 ERA in 19 career starts, winning three rings. Brown went 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA in 13 starts and one ring. Brown fell off the ballot after one; Schilling received 39 percent of the vote last year on his first year on the ballot, actually a pretty good starting point to eventual election.

    Verdict: Postseason helps.

    Case study: Jack Morris versus Dennis Martinez
    Morris: 254-186, 3.90 ERA, 105 ERA+, 43.8 WAR
    Martinez: 245-193, 3.70 ERA, 106 ERA+, 49.5 WAR

    Pretty similar numbers. Morris' win-loss record is slightly better, but he also generally pitched on much better teams. Martinez's best years came in relative obscurity with the Expos, with whom he went 100-72 with a 3.06 ERA in eight seasons. This is more like the Rice-Williams case, in that neither really has a strong Hall of Fame case.

    Except that Morris has those World Series rings. Martinez pitched in two World Series, but his teams lost both times. Morris' career in the playoffs: 7-4, 3.80 ERA (13 starts). Martinez: 2-2, 3.32 ERA (seven starts). Martinez received 16 votes and was knocked off the ballot. Morris received 68 percent last year and has one year left on the ballot with a good chance of getting the final-year push like Rice did.

    It should pointed out that Morris' overall postseason record isn't that special. He did win two games in the 1984 World Series, but other pitchers have had spectacular World Series and didn't get in to the Hall of Fame (Lew Burdette, Mickey Lolich). For Morris, his candidacy really comes down to voters putting a huge value on his Game 7 performance in 1991.

    Verdict: Postseason helps.

    Case study: Kirby Puckett versus Larry Walker
    Puckett: 207 HR, 1085 RBIs, .318/.360/.477, 50.8 WAR
    Walker: 383 HR, 1311 RBIs, .313/.400/.565, 72.6 WAR

    This one is a little more complicated. Puckett's career was ended early by the eye injury, although an injury is an injury, no matter how freakish (voters seemed to give him a pass on his shortened career, however). Walker's numbers were inflated some by Coors Field. Still, Puckett was a Gold Glove center fielder; Walker was a Gold Glove right fielder. Puckett had some power and rarely walked; Walker had power and walked much more often. Walker won an MVP Award, Puckett didn't. Career WAR? Not close.

    Puckett sailed in on the first ballot. Walker has been right around 22 percent his three years on the ballot. Puckett played in two World Series and won both; he hit .309/.361/.536 in 24 career playoff games, and had that memorable walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. Walker played in one World Series and lost. Puckett was lovable, Walker injury-prone. That certainly influenced voters, but Puckett's postseason heroics must have helped get him elected.

    Verdict: Postseason helps.

    Case study: Tony Perez versus Keith Hernandez
    Perez: 379 HR, 1652 RBIs, .279/.341/.463, 53.9 WAR
    Hernandez: 162 HR, 1071 RBIs, .296/.384/.436, 60.1 WAR

    Another interesting one in that they were completely different types of players. Perez was a power-hitting first baseman who drove in a ton of runs (it helped having Pete Rose and Joe Morgan hitting in front of him). Hernandez didn't have the same power but hit for a higher average, got on base more and is regarded as maybe the best fielding first baseman of all time.

    Perez had the reputation of being a clutch hitter, and the Reds won two World Series titles with him. But Hernandez also won two titles, with the Cardinals and Mets. Here's the kicker, though: Perez was a terrible postseason player, hitting .238/.291/.378 with six home runs and 25 RBIs in 47 games. Hernandez hit .265/.370/.359 but with 21 RBIs in 30 games and was also terrific in two Game 7s (2-for-3, two walks, two RBIs in 1982; three RBIs in 1986).

    Of course, in this case, voters probably didn't get past the career RBI totals.

    Verdict Postseason doesn't help, unless you're part of a famous team (unless you're Bernie Williams).

    OK, one more. These are kind of fun.

    Catfish Hunter versus Orel Hershiser
    Hunter: 224-166, 3.26 ERA, 104 ERA+, 36.6 WAR
    Hershiser: 204-150, 3.48 ERA, 112 ERA+, 51.7 WAR

    SportsNation

    Should postseason performance factor into a player's Hall of Fame case?

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      50%
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      47%
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      3%

    Discuss (Total votes: 8,640)

    Hunter basically got in because he was a famous anchor of Oakland's three straight World Series champions (and a lesser part of two Yankees World Series winners). Hunter went 9-6, 3.26 in his postseason career. His regular-season numbers aren't all that impressive, especially when looking at the advanced metrics such as ERA+ and WAR. Hershiser went 8-3, 2.59 ERA in his postseason career, carried the Dodgers almost single-handedly to the 1988 World Series title (unlike Morris, his team won in five instead of seven). Hershiser fell off the ballot after two years. If only one of his Indians teams had won a championship.

    Verdict: Postseason helps only if the voters want it to.

    In the end, you've seen what I've done: compared some of the more marginal Hall of Famers or Hall of Fame candidates to similar players. There is certainly inconsistency from the voters, except perhaps in one main narrative: fame. Rice was famous as an active player, while Williams was always overshadowed by other teammates. Schilling's fame rose with the bloody-sock game and titles in Boston. Morris was certainly more famous than Martinez, Puckett more so than Walker, Hunter probably more than Hershiser, Perez maybe more than Hernandez (although that one is more debatable).

    As for Beltran, that's what will probably ultimately make his Hall of Fame case an uphill climb: He comes up a little short on the "fame" side of things (unlike, say, David Ortiz). Plus: He's about to just play in his first World Series.


    Eventually, we got to one of those postseason moments: Kenley Jansen, one of the most dominant relievers in the majors, facing Carlos Beltran, one of the most dominant October hitters of all time -- maybe the most dominant postseason hitter of all time.

    Jansen had just entered the game in the bottom of the 13th inning with two runners on base and one out -- more on that later -- to face Beltran, he of the career playoff line of .345/.463/.761 entering this game, the highest slugging percentage ever in the postseason.

    Batters hit only .177 off Jansen in the regular season, who basically throws a fastball that hits 97 mph and a deadly cut fastball that moves more like a sinker than the riding cutter that made Mariano Rivera a future Hall of Famer. He generates swings and misses on it as opposed to the weak contact Rivera often induced -- Jansen fanned 111 batters in 76 2/3 innings, walking only 18.

    But in a 2-2 game, Jansen relieved Chris Withrow, who had given up a blooper to Daniel Descalso and walked Matt Carpenter. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had wanted to keep Jansen for a save situation but could no longer avoid using his best reliever.

    Jansen threw a bunch of cutters and fell behind 3-and-1. He threw another one and Beltran reached down and lined it down the right-field line for the winning hit.

    Oh, Beltran also doubled in two runs in the third inning and threw Mark Ellis out at the plate in the 10th inning.

    Final score: Beltran 3, Dodgers 2. Winner: Lance Lynn. Loser: Don Mattingly.

    Wait ... Mattingly?

    If Game 1 showed us anything, it's that we should expect a tight, low-scoring series, which means managerial decisions will become more vital. Neither manager has a reputation for astute in-game strategic decisions -- as we especially witnessed with Mattingly in the Braves series -- although Cardinals manager Mike Matheny didn't seem to get criticized as much this season and has shown flexibility in matters like adjusting bullpen roles late in the season.

    The Cardinals had a strange sacrifice bunt attempt in the seventh inning with Jon Jay, which didn't make a lot of sense considering the slow-moving Yadier Molina was on first, meaning he's not only more likely to get thrown out at second but less likely to score from second on a base it, and one of the next two hitters was weak-hitting Pete Kozma. The bunt didn't work as Zack Greinke threw out Molina at second and Yasiel Puig then caught a low liner on a hit-and-run play and doubled Jay off first.

    But that bunt paled when compared to Mattingly's decisions. Paramount was his move to pinch-run for cleanup hitter Adrian Gonzalez with Dee Gordon after a leadoff walk in the eighth inning against Carlos Martinez. Puig grounded into a 6-4 fielder's choice and the Dodgers had lost Gonzalez. If you're not going to run with Gordon there -- and a steal attempt against Molina is risky -- or at least hit-and-run, then at least wait until Gonzalez reaches second base to pinch-run. There was no need to waste Gonzalez.

    Sure enough, we got to the 10th inning and Ellis tripled with one out (thanks to a bad route by Jay on what probably should have been a single). With no Gonzalez to worry about, Matheny intentionally walked Hanley Ramirez to pitch to Michael Young -- who flew out to shallow right, with Beltran gunning down Ellis with plenty of room to spare.

    Timeout. It looked as if Molina never actually tagged Ellis, just got him with his forearm. No umpire is going to call the runner safe there, but next year we'll have instant replay, Mattingly could throw his red flag and then all hell would break loose when Ellis is ruled safe. The umpires would need a police escort to leave the stadium.

    But in 2013, it didn't seem to raise much of an uproar. Ball beat runner, runner out.

    That pinch-running move haunted the Dodgers in the 12th inning, too. Carl Crawford led off with a single. Ellis sacrificed -- which in isolation isn't the dumbest move, but in this case it meant Matheny would again intentionally walk Ramirez and pitch to Young. 6-4-3, double play, rally over. The Dodgers would go 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

    Finally, there was the decision to use inferior relievers, hoping to get a save situation for Jansen. Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell did pitch scoreless innings, but the Cardinals finally got to Withrow in his second inning. But the time Jansen got in there, it was too late.

    Look, I realize I'm picking on Mattingly. The players do win and lose the games. If Young gets a hit or Andre Ethier catches Beltran's drive at the wall in the third inning or Gonzalez and Puig don't strike out against Joe Kelly with runners at second and third in the first inning, then it's a different story. But those things didn't happen and Mattingly's decisions proved costly in this game.

    It was a great opener to the NLCS -- just the 12th postseason game ever to go 13 innings. I think we learned a couple of valuable things: The Cardinals have a better, deeper bullpen; Beltran is still a postseason god; Puig (0-for-6) will have to calm down a bit a the plate.

    But the key question: Did Donnie Manager learn anything?

    Why Cole will challenge Beltran

    October, 9, 2013
    10/09/13
    4:10
    PM ET
    One of the key matchups in tonight's Game 5 between the Pirates and Cardinals is rookie starter Gerrit Cole versus Carlos Beltran, who is doing his usual Babe Ruth impersonation in the playoffs.

    While some may believe Cole should pitch as carefully as possible to Beltran, one of the keys to Cole's recent run of success has been his ability to dominate left-handed batters. In a nine-start stretch dating back to Aug. 16, during which Cole has allowed more than two runs only once, left-handers are hitting just .191 off Cole without a home run. In Cole's Game 2 start, left-handers went 1-for-12 off him with a walk, with Beltran's double the only hit.

    Still, I expect Cole to go right after Beltran.

    The main reason for Cole's success against lefties is the ability to keep his offspeed stuff down in the zone:

    Gerrit Cole heat mapESPN Stats & Information


    He still comes at batters with his explosive, upper 90s heat, but he's been effectively mixing in a slider, curveball and changeup. Cole threw 45 percent offspeed pitches in Game 2, a testament to how he's using those pitches more and more. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Cole threw just 22 percent offspeed pitches in June, when he was first called up to the majors; he's slowly increased that percentage since.

    Most impressive has been the command: Just five walks against left-handed batters in those nine starts. If the Cards bring out the same lineup as in Game 2, it will feature five lefties: Matt Carpenter, Beltran, Matt Adams, Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso. The only run St. Louis got off Cole was Yadier Molina's home run.

    So, yes, Beltran is hitting .286 with two home runs and six RBIs in this series, adding to a postseason legacy that now features a career .783 slugging percentage and 16 home runs in 38 games.

    Oh, by the way, the offspeed pitches have worked pretty well against right-handed batters as well. Justin Havens of ESPN Stats & Info points out that if you move the calendar up a couple starts to the beginning of September, all batters have the grand total of one hit off Cole's offspeed stuff. That's a batting average of .017 -- one hit in 232 offspeed pitches.

    Cole versus Beltran. Adam Wainwright versus Andrew McCutchen. Pirates versus Cardinals. I can't wait.

    "Clutch" Cardinals crush Pirates

    October, 3, 2013
    10/03/13
    8:05
    PM ET
    Clutch hitting has long been one of the touchier subjects in sabermetric circles, with the conventional wisdom being that clutch hitting doesn't exist. Well, "doesn't exist" might be harsh, but rather there is no evidence that players raise their game in certain situations. A .280 hitter is a .280 hitter regardless of the situation, and data suggest this is true.

    The St. Louis Cardinals, however, are doing their best to put that theory to the test. They hit .330 with runners in scoring position this season, and then wore out Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett with ducks on the pond in the third inning of Game 1 of the NLDS.

    First, postseason superstar Carlos Beltran hit a three-run bomb to make it 3-0, and then David Freese (another postseason hero) hit a bases-loaded single that ended up scoring three runs thanks to a Pittsburgh error.

    Adam Wainwright did his usual thing, allowing one run in seven innings while hardly breaking a sweat, and the Cardinals cruised to a 9-1 win.

    So clutch hitting was the key, right? Well, maybe not. Just the inning before the Cardinals put up a seven spot, they wasted a two-on, no out rally when Freese grounded into a fielder's choice before Daniel Descalso hit into an inning-ended double play. And for the game the Cardinals were just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.

    So are the Cardinals clutch or not? While I tend to agree with sabermetric orthodoxy that hitters don't "raise their game" in clutch spots, the Cardinals do have the kind of team that is more inclined to hit well with men on base.

    For starters, they were second to the Rockies in the NL in overall team batting average (.269), and they don't strike out -- only San Francisco had fewer strikeouts than St. Louis among NL clubs. In order to get clutch hits you need already be able to hit for a high average and put the ball in play. The Cardinals do both.

    Another hidden factor is that when men are on base, it's harder to shift because you have to be close enough to each base to prevent runners from easily stealing. That's a huge factor for the Pirates, a team that loves to shift. The Bucs love to position their defenders based on spray-chart data, but if they have to modify their shifts with runners on base that will theoretically open up holes for the opponent's hitters. This is a subplot worth watching in this series.

    In the Pirates-Cardinals National League Division Series preview that Joe Sheehan wrote for his newsletter, he talked about how recent history shows that World Series winners have been teams that made contact. According to Sheehan -- whose newsletter is very much worth subscribing to -- the team with a better contact rate during the regular season has gone 22-6 in the last four postseasons. Per Sheehan, here is how the 2013 LDS teams line up in terms of contact rate across MLB.

    1. Tigers
    5. Cardinals
    9. Dodgers
    10. Rays
    11. Athletics
    22. Red Sox
    25. Pirates
    28. Braves

    If recent history holds, we're looking at a rematch of the 2006 World Series. As for the Pirates-Cardinals series, the Birds won Round 1 thanks to some early big hits off of Burnett and some stellar pitching from Wainwright. But considering how close these teams played each other this season, I expect the rest of the series to be a lot closer.

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