SweetSpot: Carlos Gomez

Will McCutchen draw All-Star short straw?

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
11:51
PM ET
It's time to give Andrew McCutchen a little love.

The reigning National League MVP is quietly performing at the same level as last season but with little national attention. That's what happens when your team goes from America's favorite underdog to same old Pittsburgh Pirates. McCutchen, who homered and drove in three runs in the Pirates' 6-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, can't even crack the top three among outfielders in the All-Star voting.

[+] EnlargeAndrew McCutchen
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY SportsSome fans haven't forgotten Andrew McCutchen, but he might ask if she's eligible to vote.
McCutchen is now hitting .309/.423/.509, pretty much identical to 2013's .313/.404/.508. But you're not hearing his name mentioned as an early MVP candidate. Heck, we've had more discussion about minor league outfielder Gregory Polanco; thank god the Pirates finally announced that he's joining the team on Tuesday, so we can finally see if the kid can play rather than just speculate on whether he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer or merely a Hall of Famer.

Of course, one sign of a great player is when you have a great season and nobody really notices. Henry Aaron churned out MVP-caliber seasons like clockwork for nearly 20 years but won only one MVP Award early in his career, in part because it's harder to get recognized when the story is simply, "Oh, yeah, he does that every year."

That means the attention among National League outfielders has centered on Yasiel Puig and Giancarlo Stanton. Puig is a lightning rod for many reasons but he's putting up even bigger numbers than last season. Stanton is carrying the surprising Marlins, routinely hitting 450-foot monster mashes and even making diving catches in right field. Both are young, awesome and undoubtedly have a "wow" factor that few in the game possess. Even Carlos Gomez, third in the voting, has been in the spotlight with his bat flips and is one of the most exciting players in the game with his power/speed combo.

McCutchen? All he does is hit, hit with some power, play good defense, run the bases well, draw walks, rarely miss a game and deliver cotton candy between innings. He doesn't do dumb things on the bases. He doesn't start brawls. He's boring. No signature element to his game. Nope. He just does everything well.

OK, to be fair here: Who do you leave off the ballot? All four guys are having outstanding seasons. The numbers:

  • Puig (1,472,717 votes): .333/.430/.584, 11 HR, 40 RBIs, 34 runs, 6 SB, -2 Defensive Runs Saved, 2.8 WAR (DRS and WAR entering Monday)
  • Stanton (1,259,047 votes): .301/.393/.589, 17 HR, 53 RBIs, 47 runs, 4 SB, 14 DRS, 4.3 WAR
  • Gomez (1,192,174 votes: .307/.376/.554, 12 HR, 35 RBIs, 42 runs, 11 SB, 0 DRS, 2.5 WAR
  • McCutchen (1,190,516 votes): .309/.423/.509, 8 HR, 31 RBIs, 33 runs, 7 SB, -2 DRS, 2.8 WAR


Stanton has separated himself in WAR mostly because of his superior defensive numbers. He's been regarded as an average outfielder in the past, but Stanton's defensive metrics are strong so far this year -- both in Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating -- and he rates fourth among all players, regardless of position, with his 14 Defense Runs Saved. Gomez, who actually edged out McCutchen in Baseball-Reference WAR last year thanks in large part to his outstanding defense in center, hasn't been as good this season, again by DRS and UZR, which both rate him as average defensively so far. McCutchen was +7 last year, but he has no assists this season, compared to 11 in 2013; both defensive systems rate his defense slightly below average this year.

SportsNation

Which outfielder would you NOT vote for as an All-Star?

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    63%
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    18%
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    15%
  •  
    4%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,712)

As for offense, McCutchen's home run and RBI numbers fall short of the others, but keep two things in mind: (1) He doesn't have a lot of help around him (2) He plays in a tough home run park, especially for right-handed hitters. He may have only 31 RBIs but he is hitting .327/.444/.551 with runners in scoring position. But he's had just 63 plate appearances with RISP; Puig has had 89, Stanton 77 and Gomez 63.

Anyway, it's tough to leave one guy off, but I'd go Stanton, Puig and McCutchen.

The good news is the loser can get the start at DH since the game will be in an American League park.

Finally, as for Polanco: Yes, he deserves the spotlight on Tuesday as he presumably makes his debut. It's an exciting day for the Pirates and their fans, and at 30-33, Pittsburgh is still in the clogged-up NL playoff races. The Pirates are in a pretty good stretch to make a run -- three more against the Cubs, three against the Marlins, and then 19 against teams that currently have a losing record. So maybe good things start to happen.

If they do, maybe then we'll remember again that Andrew McCutchen is still one of the best players in the game.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

May, 9, 2014
May 9
3:13
PM ET
We're nearing the end of Week 6 and Nolan Arenado is still hitting, Seattle can't seem to lose, the Jays are mashing, Miami sits atop the the NL East and is unbeatable at home, Laz Diaz is still taunting players and a few teams picked to excel this year are below .500 (looking at you, Rays, Pirates, Royals, Reds, Cleveland).

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Projections vs. reality: D-backs position players: Jeff Wiser compares preseason ZiPS projections to the performances of each of the Arizona position players, showing that some players are more responsible for the team's slow start than others, and discussing what to expect of each going forward. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.

Atlanta Braves: Chop County
The Braves made a mistake by signing Chris Johnson: Martin Gandy says the Braves signed one too many players to a long-term contract when they inked Chris Johnson this week. Follow on Twitter: @gondeee.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Anatomy of a Scoring Decision: Joe Reisel discusses what goes into the decision-making process of an official scorer. He uses a specific incident during one of his games in Norfolk. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
Starting rotation could separate Red Sox in AL East: With a deep and talented set of starters and plenty of prospects biding their time in Triple-A, the Red Sox’s depth at starting pitching might prove to be their crucial advantage. Follow on Twitter: @AlexSkillin.

Chicago Cubs: View From the Bleachers
Three Cubs prospects who deserve a promotion: Joe Aiello takes a look at some names in the Cubs farm system who are off to a great start and deserve consideration for a promotion. Follow on Twitter: @VFTB.

Chicago White Sox, The Catbird Seat
On Donald Sterling and Jerry Reinsdorf: Chris Lamberti uses Jerry Reinsdorf's history to explore the fallacy of believing owner misdeeds are as obvious and easily purged as Donald Sterling's boorish racism. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Analyst Who? Don't blink: Richard Bergstrom channels The Doctor with a word to any companions attempting to observe the Colorado Rockies' front office. Follow on Twitter: @rockieszingers.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
Carlos Gomez and controlled aggression: Carlos Gomez's game is all about aggression, but he's bringing more control to it all the time according to Curt Hogg. Follow on Twitter: @cyrthogg.

New York Yankees: It's About The MoneyDerek Jeter and the fastball: It seems Derek Jeter is having an issue with fastballs and so far, and teams like the Rays and Angels are bombarding him with them. @edermik.

The maturation of Dellin Betances: Dellin Betances has been tremendous out of the bullpen and Brad Vietrogoski writes about how much Betances has matured to get to this point. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.

St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
MAD factor for pitchers: Pip quantifies the Madduxian ideal of enticing batters both to swing at balls and to not swing at strikes. Follow on Twitter @fungoes.

Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Under The Hood: Jennings, Loney and Joyce: Tommy Rancel examines the hot starts of Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce while exploring James Loney's performance in "clutch" situations. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
Second Base and the offensive regression: Brandon Land looks at the spot in the lineup that is now hurting the Rangers the most. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away.

Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook, although the to-be-renamed podcast was spiked on iTunes.
1. Former Orioles manager Earl Weaver -- who knew a thing or two about good pitching staffs -- is widely credited with saying, "Momentum? Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher."

If that's the case, the Atlanta Braves are riding a huge wave of it, because the performance of their starting rotation continues to amaze. We're now 24 games into the season, 15 percent of the schedule, and Braves starters have allowed more than two earned runs in a game just twice and more than two runs just four times.

The latest gem was Julio Teheran's eight shutout innings on Sunday. Teheran had no margin for error because Reds starter Johnny Cueto matched him pitch for pitch, zero for zero. The starters handed the game over to the bullpens, and the Braves finally broke through in the bottom of the 10th when Freddie Freeman singled to deep center to with two outs to score Jason Heyward with the walk-off run.

It was Atlanta's fourth straight win, as they improved to 17-7 with a National League-best plus-31 run differential. With a tip of the cap to the 18-7 Milwaukee Brewers, the Braves have been baseball's best team in April.

The Teheran-Cueto duel was maybe a signature game for Teheran, going up against one of the hottest pitchers in baseball. Cueto has now allowed one run in his past 30 innings while Teheran has allowed one in his past 24. One of those was a 1-0 complete game shutout over Cliff Lee. It's time to start acknowledging that Teheran has developed into a No. 1 starter. Over the past calendar year Teheran has made 32 starts and only Clayton Kershaw and Jose Fernandez have a lower ERA than Teheran's 2.58.

"He's proving to people that he deserves to be the ace,” Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons told MLB.com after the game. "He normally strikes out a lot of people. But I think he went about his job a little different today. He threw strikes, threw great and went against a guy that was throwing really good. They were head-to-head the whole time they were out there. That's pretty impressive. What more can you ask?"

A big reason for Teheran's success has been an improved slider -- batters are hitting .111 against it (4-for-36) with 14 strikeouts and no walks. While the slider was a good strikeout pitch for Teheran as a rookie in 2013 -- he recorded 51 knockouts in 152 plate appearances ending with the pitch -- he also had a tendency to leave some flat ones up in the zone, and nine of the 22 home runs he allowed came off that pitch.

Against the Reds, he fanned just five but also allowed just three hits -- a testament to the movement on his pitches, but also to a defense that entered Sunday with 27 Defensive Runs Saved, best in the majors. His toughest jam came in the fifth when Ryan Ludwick led off with a double, but Teheran fanned Zack Cozart and Cueto with Ludwick on third to escape. Just like an ace.

Can the rotation -- which might get Mike Minor back on Saturday--– keep this up? Well, of course not. It has a 1.57 ERA, with an opponents' batting line of .201/.261/.279. Basically, they've turned the entire National League into Mario Mendoza (career line: .215/.245/.262). Still, it's one of the great stretches of dominance I can remember a rotation being on, the ultimate example of one starter seemingly feeding off the next, not to dissimilar from the days of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

Going back 30 years to 1985, here are the starting rotations with a sub-2.00 ERA in a calendar month:

2011 Phillies: June -- 1.96 (27 games)
1985 Cubs: April -- 1.94 (18 games)
1992 Braves: July -- 1.92 (25 games)
2012 Nationals: April -- 1.78 (22 games)
1992 Cubs: July -- 1.72 (24 games)
1994 Braves: August: 1.61 (10 games)

That's a short list, and one of those entries came in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.

The Braves have two games left in April -- Tuesday and Wednesday in Miami -- to finish off their historic month of pitching. Tuesday's matchup: Alex Wood versus Fernandez, a rematch of last week's 1-0 duel when the two pitchers combined for 25 strikeouts and no walks.

I'll take the under on the total runs.

2. The Braves aren't the only National League rotation tearing things up, however. The Cardinals (2.24), Brewers (2.67), Reds (2.84) and Dodgers (2.87) all have ERAs under 3.00. How much of the Braves' success has been luck? Their starters do lead the majors in home run-to-fly ball ratio, allowing home runs on just 5 percent of the fly balls they've served up (pitchers tend to gravitate around 10 percent). They're also second to the Reds in strand rate, at 84.7 percent. That's how you post a sub-2.00 ERA. That doesn't mean the Braves' rotation has been completely lucky -- it does lead the majors in swing-and-miss percentage at 26.1 -- but that home run rate and strand rate are what we'd call unsustainable.

[+] EnlargeAdam Wainwright
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IISomehow, Adam Wainwright seems to continue to improve.
3. Speaking of aces, Adam Wainwright tossed eight shutout innings in a 7-0 win over the Pirates. He's 5-1 with a 1.20 ERA, has allowed no runs in four of his six starts and has tossed 25 consecutive scoreless innings. Batters are hitting .157 off him with one home run and .080 against his curveball (4-for-50, four singles). He just seems to get better each season. This could finally be the year he brings home a Cy Young trophy.

4. Of course, Wainwright, Teheran and Cueto weren't the only ones with dominant outings on Sunday. Courtesy of Mark Simon, this was the first day in major league history when 10 starters pitched at least seven innings with three or fewer hits. Also joining in on the fun: Dillon Gee (8 IP, 3 H, 0 R); James Shields (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R); Ian Kennedy (7 IP, 3 H, 1 R); Jason Hammel (7 IP, 3 H, 0 R); Collin McHugh (8.2 IP, 2 H, 1 R); Ryan Vogelsong (7 IP, 2 H, 0 R); and Garrett Richards (7 IP, 3 H, 2 R). That list doesn't even include A.J. Burnett's eight shutout innings.

OK, I can understand Wainwright, Teheran and Cueto, but now we're getting guys such as McHugh and Vogelsong throwing up low-hit gems. Lower the mound! Give the hitters a chance! Ban the Bullfrog sunscreen!

5. The Pirates have dug themselves a huge April hole, now 10-16 and 8½ games behind the Brewers and four games behind the Cardinals. They haven't won two in a row since April 8, and now they enter a tough phase of their schedule: at Baltimore, Toronto, San Francisco, St. Louis, at Milwaukee, at the Yankees, Baltimore, Washington. You may point to the offense that's hitting .221, but it's not an empty .221, as they do have 28 home runs (fourth in the NL) and are tied for third in walks (five behind the league-leading Mets). They've scored more runs than the Braves or Cardinals. They're even 7-6 in one-run games.

I'm not ready to declare them out of it, but the predicted regression from some of the pitchers is exactly what's happening.

6. The Giants have quietly jumped to the top of the NL West, and I say quietly because Buster Posey (.223) and Pablo Sandoval (.180) haven't done much yet and Hunter Pence is only now getting going. But they're getting production from unexpected sources: Michael Morse, after bombing out in Seattle a year ago (what is it about Seattle that makes hitters crumble up and die like they're facing Pedro Martinez in his prime every night?), leads the team with 17 RBIs and has played in every game, basically pushing Gregor Blanco into a defensive replacement role.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Pablo Sandoval
Rick Scuteri/USA TODAY SportsPablo Sandoval isn't hitting and the Giants are still winning.
Brandon Hicks hit a three-run walk-off homer in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Indians. Jean Machi has four wins in relief. Vogelsong, despite a strong outing on Sunday, hasn't been that good (5.40), and neither has Tim Lincecum (5.96 ERA). Matt Cain is 0-3 with a 4.35. As I said heading into the season, the Giants are now a team built around its offense, not its rotation. Even Madison Bumgarner has given up 38 hits in 28 2/3 innings. (And don't blame the defense for those hits totals, as the Giants ranked fifth in defensive runs saved entering Sunday.)

It's hard to get a read on this team, but if they're winning without Posey, Sandoval, Cain and Lincecum doing much, maybe that's a good sign.

7. Jose Abreu: Time to start watching some White Sox games.

8. David Lough of the Orioles with one of the better catches you'll see. Notice how shallow he was playing. The Orioles got him from the Royals in the offseason precisely for his defensive abilities. He hasn't hit yet but I think he'll end up as a positive addition by season's end.

9. Are you buying into the Mets yet? Gee's gem put them at 14-11 (and 14-8 since a season-opening sweep by the Nationals), and according to our RPI ratings, they've played the fifth-toughest schedule so far. I can't say I'm buying, as they're hitting .218 and slugging .318 -- even in this 1968 version of National League baseball, both figures are dead last.

They've made their most of their scoring opportunities -- they've scored just one fewer run than the Brewers even though the Brewers have a .308 wOBA versus the Mets' .273. They hit the road for a nine-game trip against the Phillies, Rockies and Marlins, which looks like one of those trips which a team might go 6-3 and start believing in itself.

10. Finally, I think Carlos Gomez has a fan for life. Well done, Carlos.

The big stories a year ago

April, 25, 2014
Apr 25
2:54
PM ET
Four weeks into the 2014 season, we’ve already had plenty to talk about. The Diamondbacks have burst out of the gate as baseball’s worst team. The Braves have had no issue moving on after losing Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to surgery, taking top billing in the NL East. Albert Pujols joined the 500 home run club and reports of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated. And who had the Brewers jumping out to a sizable lead in the NL Central?

Many of these developments, though, will change or be forgotten altogether as the season marches on. If you’re skeptical, come with me as we examine some of the newsworthy headlines from last April.

Carlos Quentin breaks Zack Greinke’s collarbone in brawl

On April 11, the Dodgers were in San Diego for a night game against the Padres with Zack Greinke on the hill. Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin led off the bottom of the sixth and was hit in the shoulder with a 3-2 fastball. He charged the mound and a bench-clearing brawl ensued. Quentin lowered his shoulder into Greinke, breaking the pitcher’s collarbone.

In the aftermath, Quentin was suspended eight games and received a $3,000 fine, and Greinke needed a one-month stint on the disabled list. There were debates about just how long Quentin should have been suspended, as many felt eight games was not enough despite the length being a record at the time. In fact, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, “He shouldn't play a game until Greinke can pitch.” But ultimately, interest in the debates waned and the issue was forgotten shortly after Greinke’s return.

The obvious comparison this year is the bench-clearing incident between the Brewers and Pirates, when Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole barked at Brewers outfielder Carlos Gomez for staring at a fly ball that eventually bounced off of the center-field wall for a triple. Gomez didn’t take kindly to it and went after Cole. The benches emptied and violence ensued. Gomez used his helmet as a weapon while Martin Maldonado punched Travis Snider in the face, leaving a hefty welt. Maldonado and Gomez got five- and three-game suspensions, respectively; the Pirates’ Snider was suspended for two games and Pittsburgh catcher Russell Martin for one. Cole was not suspended for his involvement.

As usual, there have been plenty of debates, particularly involving Cole’s lack of a suspension. Additionally, some have argued that Gomez’s emotion is part of the culture in which he was raised, and is ultimately good for the game. In a week, however, the incident will be forgotten and nothing will change, just like last April.

Justin Upton and the Braves-Diamondbacks trade

In January 2013, the Diamondbacks and Braves agreed to a headline trade. The Diamondbacks sent outfielder Justin Upton and infielder Chris Johnson to the Braves for three minor leaguers, pitcher Randall Delgado and jack-of-all-trades Martin Prado. The trade was initially hailed as a slight win for the Braves.

Upton started off his time with his new team on fire. In 112 plate appearances through the end of April, Upton hit 12 home runs with an 1.136 OPS. At the end of April, Johnson was also hitting .369 while Delgado was struggling in Triple-A for the D-backs and Prado had a meager .614 OPS. Some thought the trade could end up worse than it looked, even back in January.

But as players on hot streaks are wont to do, Upton cooled off. The 12 home runs he hit in April were followed by a grand total of four between the start of May and the end of July. He finished the season with 27 home runs, meaning that 44.4 percent of his home runs were hit in April, which encapsulated 17.4 percent of his plate appearances. Johnson wound up being the X factor in the trade, as he finished with a .321 average and matched Upton in WAR at 2.4, according to Baseball Reference. At the end of the season, the trade between the D-backs and Braves wasn’t nearly as much of a win for the Braves as it appeared at the end of April.

This past offseason’s biggest trade involved three teams. The Diamondbacks got Mark Trumbo, cash and two players to be named later; the Angels got Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago; and the White Sox got Adam Eaton. While the Diamondbacks may appear to have lost that trade in the early going -- Trumbo has minus-0.3 WAR despite an NL-leading seven home runs, and is currently on the DL -- a lot can happen in the next five months to change our evaluations.

Matt Harvey joins baseball’s elite, but leaves just as quickly

At the end of July in 2012, the Mets added Matt Harvey to their rotation and were immediately rewarded. He posted a 2.73 ERA over 10 starts, cementing his place in the Mets’ rotation. Harvey was even better over a larger sample size in 2013, and it all began in his first start. The right-hander shut out the Padres over seven innings with 10 strikeouts and held the opposition to two or fewer runs in eight out of his first nine starts.

The Mets shut Harvey down after his 26th start on August 24. He finished with a 2.27 ERA, 191 strikeouts and 31 walks in 178 1/3 innings. He led the league in FIP at 2.01 and finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting.

In September, it was revealed that Harvey needed Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Harvey had tried his best to avoid surgery, but ultimately went under the knife on October 22. The operation meant that he will miss most or all of the 2014 season, a serious blow to the Mets.

Pitchers, as a group, seemingly are needing Tommy John surgery now more than they ever have. Harvey was later joined by Medlen, Beachy, Matt Moore, Patrick Corbin, Jarrod Parker, Jameson Taillon and now Ivan Nova, among others who needed the surgery.

The Red Sox really were baseball’s best

At the end of April 2013, the Red Sox had baseball’s best record at 18-8. It was matched by baseball’s best run differential at plus-38. The Sox had finished 2012 at a disappointing 69-93, but made a lot of personnel changes, including at manager, during the offseason. Still, few had them winning the AL East going into the season. Only four of the ESPN experts polled in March picked the Red Sox to make the postseason, and all four of them pegged the Sox as wild-card winners, not division winners.

The additions of Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp, Jake Peavy and Koji Uehara proved to be just what the doctor ordered even though only Napoli and Carp came out of the gates hitting. Peavy wasn’t acquired until midseason in a trade with the White Sox, and Uehara didn’t become the closer until late June.

The Red Sox were fearsome enough with their core of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury. But the ebbs and flows of a season sometimes require tinkering, and GM Ben Cherington and manager John Farrell weren’t afraid to tinker when the situation called for it.

Right now, the Athletics (plus-36) and the Braves (plus-21) have the best run differentials in their respective leagues. Will they still be at the top when the end of the regular season rolls around? Will they make the appropriate adjustments to remain competitive through the dog days of summer? That is, after all, why they play the games.
The suspensions are in from Sunday's Brewers-Pirates fracas and they seem pretty fair to me:


Notably absent is Pirates pitcher Gerrit Cole, who kind of instigated the whole thing when he yelled at Gomez after Gomez's triple. Still, yelling at a guy isn't the same thing as throwing at a batter's head, so I'm not sure you can really call Cole an instigator here just because Gomez reacted (Brewers fans, of course, will disagree).

Anyway, I think there's a bigger picture here. This whole "play the game the right way" thing has gotten out of control. What's the right way? As Jon Paul Morosi wrote on FOX:
But for the most part, Gomez needs to be celebrated -- not discouraged -- for what he brings to major league baseball. At a time when the sport's message on instant replay and home-plate collisions has become muddled, Gomez illuminates an even greater concern: Why do major league players take exception to peers who have the audacity to enjoy themselves on a baseball field?

If Gomez's story sounds familiar, it should. Replace "Carlos Gomez" with "Yasiel Puig" or "Jose Fernandez," and the basic theme holds true: A Latin American-born player has become a star in the major leagues, and he's supposed to "tone down" his celebrations and remove the individuality from his game because "we don't do that here."


In my chat Tuesday, we had a big discussion about Gomez and his theatrics on the field. Gomez, who also had a flare-up against the Braves last September, is the common link, one reader wrote. Jacob from Georgia wrote, "Why do people keep pretending the [Brian] McCann/Gomez incident was about pimping a home run? It's blatantly clear to anyone who saw it happen that McCann and [Freddie] Freeman and everybody else were simply sticking up for [Paul] Maholm. Guys have pimped homers against the Braves before plenty of times, and we haven't seen McCann do anything. McCann got in Gomez's face because Gomez made a fool of himself by screaming at Maholm unprovoked. I guess it makes for a better mindless meme if we pretend that McCann is the rules police though, regardless of how little sense it makes."

Of course, it's not that simple, is it? Maholm had hit Gomez earlier in the season so Gomez probably had a rush of adrenaline after hitting the home run, screamed, and then had Freeman yelling at him as he rounded first base and McCann standing in the middle of the baseline as he neared home plate. McCann, of course, had another incident earlier in September with Fernandez. The Braves also had a bench-clearing incident against the Nationals in August after Julio Teheran hit Bryce Harper.

Plus, all this showing enjoyment and emotion on the field isn't a new thing. Pete Rose ran to first base on walks; he wasn't given the nickname "Charlie Hustle" out of admiration. Rickey Henderson had his snap catch in the outfield and was showboating home runs in the '80s. Dennis Eckersley used to point at batters after striking them out. Roger Clemens showed up to a playoff game with war paint on his face. You don't think Babe Ruth styled a few home runs?

I mean, we can go back to the days when players hit home runs and ran the bases with their heads down and didn't even stop as they crossed home plate. Or we can enjoy that there are different ways to play the game.
Joe Posnanski is ranking the 100 best baseball players of all time and the other day he wrote about Sandy Koufax, his No. 46 guy.

Koufax is one of the most difficult players to rank in a list like this due to his short career. His case raises the problems of factoring in peak value versus career value, not to mention postseason performance. Even Koufax's peak -- five great seasons, three of which were pantheon-level seasons -- is relatively short. Plus, he benefited from his time and place: A pitcher's era in a pitcher's park.

Joe writes:

At Dodger Stadium, on that Everest of a mound, Koufax was both literally and figuratively on an even higher level.

– in 1963, at Dodger Stadium, he went 11-1 with a 1.38 ERA and batters hit .164 against him.
– In 1964, the one year he did not manage 300 innings, he went 12-2 with an 0.85 ERA at home.
– In 1965, the league hit .152 against Koufax in LA, and he went 14-3 with a 1.38 ERA. On the road that year, he was a much more human 12-5 with a 2.72 ERA.
– In 1966, he was was more or less the same dominant pitcher at home and on the road. His 1.52 ERA at home was not very different from his 1.96 ERA on the road.

So what do all these advantages mean for Koufax’s legacy? Well, I’m a numbers guy at heart but I have to say … it doesn’t mean much to me. Koufax, like all of us, was a man of his time and place. He was given a big strike zone and a high mound and, with the wind at his back, he became indelible, unforgettable, the greatest and most thrilling pitcher many would ever see in their lifetime. No, of course the numbers do not compare fairly with pitchers of other eras — you can’t say Koufax was better than Lefty Grove or Roger Clemens just because his ERA was lower — but those numbers offer a nice display of his dominance and, more, the way people looked at him. He still had a 1.86 ERA over four seasons. He still struck out 382 batters in a season.


Overall, in his three monster seasons in 1963, 1965 and 1966 Koufax went 25-5, 1.88; 26-8, 2.04; and 27-9, 1.73.

Now, in retrospect we know Koufax gained a big advantage from Dodger Stadium. They probably knew that on some level at the time, but nobody really kept track of the numbers. What I always found interesting is that other pitchers were putting up big numbers in the same era, and yet it's Koufax whose legacy grew the largest. For example:
  • Juan Marichal went 25-8 in 1963, 25-6 in 1966 and 26-9 in 1968.
  • Bob Gibson had his 1.12 ERA in 1968.
  • Dean Chance went 20-9 with a 1.65 ERA in 1964.
  • Tom Seaver went 25-7 with a 2.21 ERA in 1969 (after the mound was lowered) and 20-10 with a 1.76 ERA in 1971.
  • Koufax struck out 300 batters three times; Sam McDowell did it twice and even had a season with a 1.81 ERA.
  • Denny McLain won 55 games in 1968-69, two more than Koufax won in 1965-66.




The point: Other guys were doing Koufax-like things at the same time. So why Koufax? (Not that Seaver, Gibson and Marichal are disrespected but I'm guessing more casual fans would be inclined to call Koufax the greatest pitcher ever over those three.) Maybe it's the two World Series titles in 1963 and 1965, including a Game 7 shutout in 1965, when the World Series still meant everything. Maybe it was pitching in Los Angeles. Maybe retiring early added to his aura; nobody saw Koufax grow old.

A recent article by Bill James on Bill James Online titled "Climbing the Stairway to Sandy Koufax" finally made my understand why. Bill wrote:
Since 1900 there have been only three seasons by a pitcher in which the pitcher had 25 wins, 300 strikeouts, an ERA under 2.50 and a winning percentage of .750. Those three seasons were by Sandy Koufax, 1963, Sandy Koufax, 1965, and Sandy Koufax, 1966.


So there you go. Those other guys came close and maybe did two of those things, but only Koufax has had a Koufax season. Vida Blue came close in 1971; if he'd gone 25-8 instead of 24-8, he would have had a Koufax season. If Steve Carlton goes 27-9 instead of 27-10 in 1972, it's a Koufax season. Randy Johnson came close.

The rest of the article is a fun look at isolating the best pitching seasons ever, or as Bill wrote, "trying to develop a protocol to make a list of the seasons worthy of the Sandy Koufax label."

A few other things to check out:
  • John Dewan writes that shifts are still on the rise. Teams are on pace for more than 12,000, more than 4,000 more than last season. The Astros lead the majors with 176 shifts; the Yankees are second with 98. The White Sox are fourth with 61 -- just 12 fewer than they had all of last season.
  • Be sure to check out the ESPN The Magazine story by Scott Eden on Yasiel Puig's defection from Cuba if you missed it last week.
  • Via Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk, the respected Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post drops a few hints as to why Matt Williams may have pulled Bryce Harper from Saturday's game after Harper failed to run out a little tapper to the mound.
  • Harper Gordek of Nationals Baseball writes about Bryce and Boswell.
  • On the same subject, in his newsletter, Joe Sheehan writes, "The problem isn't that Matt Williams benched Bryce Harper for some perceived lack of effort. The problem is the antediluvian mindset that even makes that an option. Modern baseball players aren't wide-eyed farm boys being herded from the saloons to the ballyard and back, they're highly-trained professionals recruited, trained and deployed in a nine-billion-dollar industry. You do nothing for the Washington Nationals by treating them, collectively or individually, like something less."
  • Adam Wieser of Disciplines of Uecker writes about Carlos Gomez -- and his "crazy" swing. (That's his bat, not his jab.)
  • Michael Eder of It's About the Money on who will replace Ivan Nova for the Yankees.
  • The Twins are actually scoring some runs this year, but they're still looking for some offense at shortstop and center field, writes Nick Nelson of Twins Daily.
  • Brandon Land of One Strike Away on the curious case of J.P. Arencibia and his play so far with the Rangers.
  • The Mets are calling up Bobby Abreu. Must need some veteran leadership.
  • Domonic Brown is still struggling, writes Bill Baer.
The National League Central was shaping up as a season-long bloodbath, and now we have some bad blood as well between the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates to spice things up. I suppose there will be those out there decrying the decline of civilization and need for severe punishment after the two clubs brawled in the top of the third inning of Sunday's game, but this is part of baseball: Tempers flare, players lose their cool and sometimes benches clear.

Fighting used to be a much larger part of baseball. The '86 Mets had four on-field brawls, including this infamous fight between Ray Knight and Eric Davis of the Reds, as Knight dropped his glove and went to his best Marquess of Queensberry impersonation for hardly any reason at all. The closest Cal Ripken came to missing a game during his consecutive games streak came the day after this Mariners-Orioles brawl. If you were fan during the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s, you can easily recount a big brawl involving your favorite team.

Things have toned down the past 15 years as punishments for brawls became more severe. But fights have also decreased as salaries have increased; with more money comes the expectation of a certain level of professional civility (and more to lose if you get injured) -- fewer brawls, fewer managers throwing fits like a 3-year-old child and more respect for your opponent.

That’s what made this brawl interesting. It didn’t result from the usual issue of pitching inside or hitting a batter or Brian McCann getting upset, but from Carlos Gomez hitting a triple. It all began when Gomez hit a two-out fly ball to center, flipped his bat and admired his own awesomeness, which he has been known to do -- except the ball didn’t clear the fence, rebounded past Andrew McCutchen and Gomez didn’t turn on the jet skis until he rounded first base. Given Gomez’s blazing speed, he may have been able to turn the hit into an inside-the-park home run he had ran hard out of the batter’s box.

Pitcher Gerrit Cole, backing up third on the play, obviously chirped a little something to Gomez and Gomez went a little Ray Knight, swinging his batting helmet at one point. The benches cleared and the players weren’t wishing each other a Happy Easter. In the middle of the scuffle, Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado cold-cocked Pirates outfielder Travis Snider with a solid right to the head.

So, the ramifications? The umpires will file an initial incident report to MLB senior vice president of standards and on-field operations Joe Garagiola Jr., who will review the report and video and make a recommendation to Joe Torre and the suspensions should be issued in a couple days.

Gomez and Snider (who came off the bench) were ejected from the game and face likely suspensions. Gomez’s reputation -- he got into two incidents with the Braves last season -- probably won’t help here, and swinging equipment is almost surely an automatic suspension. Maldonado may draw the longest suspension for his punch.

Look, while a little bad blood is a good thing for us fans, this is clearly an incident in which Gomez should have remained cool (Cole admitted he let his emotions get the best of him, telling Gomez not to watch the ball if he's going to hit triples). Gomez did showboat, which I don't really mind as long as the ball actually clears the fence, and potentially cost his a team a run (the Brewers didn’t score that inning).

You can argue Cole could have handled things differently as well, like buzzing Gomez the next time he was up if he didn’t like the preening at home plate, but that’s a potentially more dangerous situation than saying some heated words as you walk back to the pitcher’s mound.

Oh, there was still a game to be played and the Brewers got the final word in what turned into a 14-inning marathon. While the discussion will be about the brawl, the most important aspect of the game is that the Pittsburgh bullpen blew another late lead. Jason Grilli blew the save in the ninth when Ryan Braun homered with one out to tie it up. This came a night after Braun belted a two-run homer off Grilli in the ninth to give the Brewers an 8-7 win. Khris Davis eventually homered off Jeanmar Gomez in the 14th and Francisco Rodriguez locked down his seventh save.

The Brewers have an MLB-best 14-5 record and a big part of that is they’ve cleaned up on the Pirates with a 6-1 record. The Pirates, now 8-11, didn’t lose many of these games last year -- they were 80-4 when leading entering the ninth inning -- and now have to be concerned about their closer bouncing back from back-to-back blown saves as they play the Reds and Cardinals this week.


Eric and myself talk about the underrated Carlos Gomez and the Brewers' hot start.

Brewers hitting all the right notes

April, 12, 2014
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When our panel of experts published its team predictions for the 2014 season, not one listed the Milwaukee Brewers as their pick. It is hard to blame the panel, as Milwaukee's offseason was rather quiet outside of the surprise signing of Matt Garza coming off the heels of a 74-88 season, which saw Carlos Gomez break out while Ryan Braun broke down physically and the hounds of justice closed in on him and ended his season with a 65-game performance-enhancing drugs suspension.

The rest of the Brewers offseason involved shopping in the free-agent bargain bin as they brought in Francisco Rodriguez, Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay and proceeded to trade Norichika Aoki to the Kansas City Royals to acquire Will Smith to give them someone who could work in the bullpen as well as the rotation while freeing up a starting role for Khris Davis. The Fangraphs projected standings believed Milwaukee to be a .500 team at 81-81. The PECOTA projections from Baseball Prospectus had the club one game worse than Fangraphs at 80-82.

Ten games into the season, Milwaukee has an early two-game lead in the National League Central and the best record in all of baseball after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates for the team's seventh straight win. That winning streak includes a perfect 6-0 record on the road with stops in Boston and Philadelphia and Friday night's win to pull them even at 2-2 at Miller Park.

[+] EnlargeAramis Ramirez, Carlos Gomez
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY SportsAramis Ramirez's two-run homer in the fourth inning on Friday gave the Brewers a lead they never relinquished.
It sounds cliché, but it is truly an all-around team effort that has Milwaukee off to a hot start.

The success begins with the pitching staff. Heading into play Friday night, Milwaukee pitchers had a league-best 1.95 team ERA and had held opposing batters to a .205 batting average. The starting pitchers had a collective 2.44 ERA while holding opposing batters to a .227 batting average. Wily Peralta went seven innings in the victory Friday, marking the seventh time in 10 contests this season that a Brewers pitcher worked at least six complete innings in a start. Last season, Milwaukee was in the bottom third of baseball in that area as starters worked at least six innings just 93 of 162 times.

The bullpen has been even more amazing as that group now has a 0.91 ERA with the two shutdown innings provided Friday by Jim Henderson and Rodriguez. The bullpen has permitted just three earned runs in 29⅔ innings of work. One reason Rodriguez has the closer role instead of Henderson is that the club was concerned with Henderson's velocity and life on his pitches coming out of spring training. Henderson answered some of that concern Friday by touching 96 mph on the radar gun while working a perfect eighth inning. Getting the ball to Henderson and Rodriguez has been the surprising youthful combination of Smith and Tyler Thornburg. The duo has combined to face 50 batters; 11 have reached base, one has scored and 17 have struck out.

Offensively, Milwaukee has been more aggressive on the basepaths to help generate runs. According to Baseball-Reference.com, the league average for teams taking an extra base is 40 percent. Last season, Milwaukee was well below the league average at 35 percent. That was the lowest total in the National League and nearly all of baseball. Heading into play Friday, Milwaukee is well above that league average and has taken the extra base a league-leading 61 percent of the time.

The top six spots of the Brewers lineup have also not been an easy matchup for opposing pitchers. The red-hot Gomez has set the table, while the equally hot Aramis Ramirez and Jonathan Lucroy have cleaned it up. Only the Colorado Rockies have a higher team batting average and OPS in the National League, and the only team to hold the lineup in check this season has been the strong pitching efforts of the Atlanta Braves.

The hot start that Milwaukee is off to can be viewed as a precarious one for a couple of reasons. Primarily, the fluid status of Braun's thumb issue is going to be a situation that will most likely linger for the rest of the season. If he does have to take an extended period of time off, it exposes the other issue with the team in its lack of depth. However, the surprising start gives them an early leg up in a division that does have a clear favorite in the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals but no clear second. Injury issues to favorite postseason candidates in the other divisions have left a crack open in the door for Milwaukee to kick in and perhaps surprise pundits, just as the Baltimore Orioles did in 2012.

Jason Collette writes for The Process Report, a blog on the Tampa Bay Rays, and also contributes to FanGraphs and Rotowire.

Best defender of 2013: Andrelton Simmons

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty ImagesAndrelton Simmons was baseball's best defender in 2013 with plays like this.


Who was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013?

In our view, it's not a close call. The SweetSpot voting panel named Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons as its Defensive Player of the Year.

Simmons took nine of the 10 first-place votes from our panel to win easily. Brewers center fielder Carlos Gomez edged Orioles third baseman Manny Machado for second place by one point (Machado got the only other first-place vote). Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra finished fourth. Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia placed fifth.

Simmons and Parra both finished 2013 with 41 Defensive Runs Saved, the highest single-season total in the 11 years that Baseball Info Solutions has compiled the stat.

Why Simmons won
What separated Simmons was how much better he was than everyone else at his position. No other shortstop finished the season with more than 12 Defensive Runs Saved.

Baseball-Reference.com computes the defensive component of WAR and credited Simmons with 5.4 Wins Above Replacement just for his glove work, nearly a full win better than the runner-up (Gomez, 4.6).

Simmons twice won our Defensive Player of the Month award this season, and we've provided ample description of his skill sets on many occasions. His strength is that he makes every type of play, from the routine to the difficult. He made the rest of the infield better with his presence.

Two of the stats that most validate his selection are:

1. Baseball Info Solutions’ plus-minus system calculates that Simmons made 49 more plays than the average shortstop would have made against the same series of batted balls.

2. Braves opponents reached safely on only 22 percent of ground balls hit to the left of the second base bag. That was the lowest success rate in the majors.

Other worthy candidates
That's not to say that the other defenders cited weren't worthy of strong consideration.

Gomez finished with 38 Defensive Runs Saved, the most by a center fielder in the 11-year history of the stat. He robbed five hitters of home runs during the 2013 season. No other player had more than two homer robberies.

SportsNation

Who is your Defensive Player of the Year?

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Machado led all third basemen with 35 Defensive Runs Saved and rated highest in the game's other primary defensive metric, Ultimate Zone Rating (31.2). He excelled at the flashy play, finishing with the most Web Gems in the majors.

Parra shares the Defensive Runs Saved record with Simmons after catching him with a September that earned him Defensive Player of the Month honors. Parra had the best combination of range and arm. His 130 "Out of Zone plays" (plays in locations in which a fielder turned the ball into an out less than half the time) were the most in the majors for an outfielder. He also earned 10 Defensive Runs Saved with his arm, the most of any outfielder in 2013.

Pedroia led all second basemen in Defensive Runs Saved. Baseball Info Solutions does video review, tagging Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays into different categories. Pedroia finished the regular season with 89 Good Fielding Plays and 23 Defensive Misplays, the best ratio of any middle infielder. He's solidified that with a strong postseason performance as well.

Do you agree/disagree with our selection? Feel free to cast your vote here and share your thoughts in the comments.


Wins still matter. Well, of course wins matter, you know that. That's why we play the game. I mean wins for pitchers still matter in things such as Cy Young or MVP votings.

Which gets us to Clayton Kershaw.

With about 50 games remaining, the National League MVP race is as wide open as we've seen in years. Andrew McCutchen may be the favorite right now, but he's not an on-paper landslide candidate just yet as he's on pace to drive in fewer than 100 runs (MVP voters love RBIs) and voters often overlook defensive value. Yadier Molina was a strong candidate until his recent knee injury. Joey Votto has the sabermetric numbers but not the RBIs. Paul Goldschmidt has the RBIs but the Diamondbacks may not make the playoffs. Carlos Gomez may have been the best all-around player in the league so far but players from losing teams rarely win MVP awards (the last one was Alex Rodriguez in 2003).
[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
Jeff Curry/Getty ImagesTake a pitcher seriously as an MVP candidate? In Clayton Kershaw's case, absolutely.

So, Kershaw. Only one starting pitcher in the past 25 years has won the MVP award, Justin Verlander in 2011, and he won 24 games. As dominant as Kershaw has been with that fancy 1.91 ERA, he has only 10 wins. Not his fault, of course. On Tuesday, he pitched six solid innings against the Cardinals; not a classic Kershaw effort, but he gave up just two runs, leaving in the seventh when Don Mattingly pinch-hit for him with a runner on first base and one out, removing Kershaw after just 90 pitches. I thought it was an inning early to hit for him; Kershaw was working on five days of rest, he'd thrown just 97 pitches his previous start, the Dodgers were down just one run, and it wasn't really that high leverage of a scoring situation. Anyway, Kershaw left trailing 2-1 and ended up with the loss as the Cardinals won 5-1.

That's now seven games this year in which Kershaw has allowed two runs or fewer and not earned a win. He has no wins in any starts in which he has allowed three or more runs. Compare that to, say, Detroit's Max Scherzer, who has five wins when allowing three or more runs.

Anyway, my argument is this: Ignore Kershaw's 10-8 record. He not only should be the Cy Young favorite right now, he should also be in the MVP discussion.

His chances, however, are probably slim. As we break down the NL MVP race, consider the different types of MVP winners.

The RBI Guy
Recent examples: Ryan Howard, Phillies, 2006; Justin Morneau, Twins 2006.

The first stat column many voters usually turn to is the RBI column. It’s why leadoff hitters or No. 2 hitters rarely win the award. Even more than his Triple Crown, it’s why Miguel Cabrera beat out Mike Trout last year. Even though the stat is team- and lineup-dependent, the RBI altar is still a popular place to worship.

Howard led the NL with 149 RBIs and, even though the Phillies missed the playoffs, he beat out Albert Pujols of the division-winning Cardinals with 20 first-place votes to Pujols' 12. Pujols beat out Howard in Wins Above Replacement, 8.5 to 5.2. Howard also led the NL in RBIs in 2008 and 2009 and finished second and third, respectively, in the voting.

Morneau finished second in the AL in RBIs but was named MVP even though he ranked just 23rd among AL position players in WAR. Teammate Joe Mauer was more valuable but had fewer RBIs.

Helps/hurt: This is the big advantage for Goldschmidt. He leads the NL in RBIs with 27 more than McCutchen, 35 more than Molina and 37 more than Votto.

The Best Player On a Team That Made the Playoffs Guy
Recent examples: Joey Votto, Reds, 2010; Ryan Braun, Brewers, 2011.

Votto and Pujols had basically identical numbers, so it should have at least been a toss-up. But the Reds made the playoffs, the Cardinals didn’t, and Votto collected 31 of 32 first-place votes. Braun beat out Matt Kemp in 2011 because the Brewers made the playoffs and the Dodgers didn’t.

Helps/hurt: Big advantage here for McCutchen, as most of the other leading position player candidates via WAR are on non-contenders: Carlos Gomez, David Wright, Carlos Gonzalez, Buster Posey. Plus, the Pirates are a surprise playoff team, which is kind of like earning extra credit.

The Out-of-Nowhere Surprise Guy
Recent example: Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, 2008; Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners, 2001.

SportsNation

Predict: Who will win the NL MVP Award?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,854)

The voters love this kind of player, especially if he’s small and scrappy. Pedroia had won Rookie of the Year honors but certainly nobody would have projected him as an MVP candidate heading into 2008. Pedroia was actually a good choice in a year when no player had statistical dominance, but his surprise season pushed him over the top. Same thing with Ichiro in his rookie year. Teammate Bret Boone was probably the better choice but he couldn’t match Ichiro in surprise factor.

Helps/hurt: This would normally help Gomez, but the not-playing-for-a-playoff-team factor trumps the surprise factor. Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig could be helped here, as everyone figured Ramirez was on the decline and Puig would spend the season in the minors.

The Hot in September Guy
Recent example: Vladimir Guerrero, Angels, 2004.

This is often a decisive factor for voters, who have determined that a win in September counts more than a win in April, and thus helping your team in September is better than helping your team in April. Guerrero ranked sixth among AL position players in WAR but hit .363 with 11 home runs in September and the Angels beat out the A’s by one game to win the West. Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were 2-3-4 in the voting with similar offensive numbers but the Yankees and Red Sox cruised into the playoffs. In an otherwise close MVP race, a big September can push a player over the top (see also: Chipper Jones, 1999; Jason Giambi, 2000).

Helps/hurt: To be determined. Keep in mind, however, this only helps guys who are in a tight race. Freddie Freeman could have a monster final two months but it doesn’t really matter because the Braves already have a huge lead in the NL East.

The Momentum Guy
Recent example: Justin Verlander, Tigers, 2011.

This is when groupthink starts to develop and that player rolls to the MVP award. Verlander went 24-5 with a 2.40 ERA and became the first starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to win the MVP. Baseball-Reference.com values him at 8.4 WAR; a great season, no doubt. But B-R rates 28 other pitcher-seasons at 8.5 WAR or better since 1987, and none of those guys won MVP awards. Only one of them (Randy Johnson in 2002) won 24 games, and he finished seventh in the voting. Behind the RBI guys. It's hard for a pitcher to get that momentum vote, but it happened with Verlander.

Helps/hurt: Kershaw isn’t going to win 20 games, let alone 24. If I had to predict, McCutchen will probably be the momentum guy. Everyone loves the Pirates' story and that will help McCutchen. But if Ramirez or Puig keep going -- despite missing two months -- they could be sneaky candidates.

The We Can’t Give the Damn Thing to Willie Mays Every Year Guy
(Also applied in various eras to Mickey Mantle, Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols.)

Recent example: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies, 2007.

Rollins did have an excellent season at 6.0 WAR, but he also led the NL in outs made, which is a pretty amazing feat for an MVP.

Helps/hurt: Votto is the guy who has won before, but since he’s having just another Joey Votto year, he's probably a long shot.

The Glue Guy
Recent example: Buster Posey, Giants, 2012.

This is a guy with something that goes beyond the stats: leadership, toughness, recovery from horrific injury, you name it. The all-time glue guy MVP was probably Kirk Gibson of the Dodgers in 1988.

Helps/hurt: Definitely Molina, although he needs to get healthy soon and back in the lineup.

The Best Player in the League Guy
Recent example: Mike Trout, Angels, 2012.

Oh, wait ...

Helps/hurt: This may be the strongest argument for Kershaw. Who is the best player in the National League? The one guy you would build a team around for 2013? I believe that's Mr. Kershaw. And that's the MVP.

(Tip to DJ Gallo for the idea.)


Tristan Cockcroft joins me to discuss the wide-open NL MVP race. Starting pitchers rarely win but is Clayton Kershaw a strong candidate?

Today's scrubs may be tomorrow's All-Stars

July, 11, 2013
7/11/13
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On Monday night, Carlos Gomez jumped, stuck his glove over Miller Park's center field fence, and pulled back what would have been a go-ahead home run from Reds first baseman Joey Votto. Instead, it was the third out in the ninth inning. Francisco Rodriguez got the save and the Brewers happily celebrated as Gomez jogged towards his teammates from the warning track.

According to FanGraphs, Gomez has been the National League's best player thus far, compiling 4.9 wins above replacement thanks to an .889 OPS, that great defense in center and 21 steals in 24 attempts. At one time, he was the No. 3 prospect in the Mets' system according to Baseball America, but the Mets included him in a package they sent to the Twins to acquire ace lefty Johan Santana.

Playing every day for the Twins in 2008 and '09, Gomez struggled at the plate. In 963 plate appearances, he posted a .645 OPS with a staggering 214 strikeouts and 47 walks, a ratio in excess of 4.5. His defense was great at times, but the Twins couldn't justify keeping his weak bat in the lineup. After the 2009 season, they traded Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Though he missed some time between 2010-12 with injuries, Gomez still did not live up to the lofty expectations set for him when he ascended through the Mets' system. The Brewers used him as a fourth outfielder behind Nyjer Morgan in 2011, and splitting time with Norichika Aoki to start the 2012 season, primarily platooning him against left-handers. By the end of July, though, Gomez was back playing every day and he finally showed flashes of the player dominating the league presently. Between July 16 and the end of the 2012 regular season, Gomez posted an .812 OPS with 14 home runs in 273 plate appearances. He stole 26 stolen bases in 29 attempts.

In an article for Sports On Earth, Howard Megdal noted how Gomez himself decided to make a change. He discarded years of advice from the plethora of coaches and decided to try to hit home runs, rather than put the ball on the ground. "I always expected myself to be a three-hole hitter," Gomez said. "Thirty-plus home runs. That's how I saw myself ... But all the people wanted [was] to take advantage of was my speed. I mean, better late than never."

Gomez, still just 27 years old, is just the latest in a surprisingly long line of players who are now at the top of the game after having been given up on by their former teams. Jose Bautista went from club to club, never finding the kind of success that parlays into a starting role. He went to the Blue Jays in 2008, changed his swing, and the rest is history. Edwin Encarnacion has a similar story; he hovered around the league average offensively, came to the Blue Jays in 2009, and turned into one of the game's premier power hitters. Domonic Brown was nearly given up on by the Phillies organization just a few years after they refused to include him in a trade for Roy Halladay, and now he sits with the second-most home runs in the National League.

Perhaps the best example is Chris Davis. Davis tore up opposing pitching while in the minors with the Rangers between 2006-08. In 2008, he reached Triple-A at the age of 22, and he hit 23 home runs in 329 trips to the plate while posting a 1.029 OPS. He earned a call up to the majors at the end of June, and hit 17 home runs with an .880 OPS.

He was asked to replicate that in 2009 at the big league level, but he couldn't. Opposing pitchers had a book on him and his approach at the plate wasn't major league quality. While he was able to muscle out 21 home runs, he struck out 150 times and walked only 24 times in 391 plate appearances. The Rangers kept him in Triple-A for most of 2010 and he performed well; in three different stints in the majors that year, however, he looked completely lost.

At the trade deadline in 2011, the Rangers needed to add some pieces for a postseason run so they traded Davis to the down-and-out Baltimore Orioles with Tommy Hunter for reliever Koji Uehara and a small amount of cash. The Rangers lost the World Series in seven games and, they would eventually find out, they also lost an impact bat.

Davis flourished with the Orioles. Last season, he hit 33 home runs with a .827 OPS. This year, were it not for Miguel Cabrera hitting at an historic level, Davis would be baseball's best hitter. He has hit the most home runs in baseball thus far with 33 and he has the highest slugging percentage with a Bondsian .690. He is walking more, striking out less, and making good contact on seemingly everything. And he's only 27 years old.

The moral of the story is not to give up on players with a surfeit of talent but a deficit of results. Patience is often rewarded in baseball. And it is a never-ending cycle. Right now, there are struggling players who have yet to live up to expectations who will eventually be discarded by an impatient, unsatisfied team and picked up by an optimistic team hoping to strike lightning in a bottle.

SportsNation

Which of these young players is the best bet to develop into a future All-Star?

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Mike Moustakas may be one such player. After hitting 20 home runs last year but posting overall below-average offensive numbers, he has been among the five worst-hitting American Leaguers this year, with only six home runs and a .213 average to his name entering Thursday's game against the Yankees. The Royals are 43-45 and just seven games out of the second wild-card spot. Their offseason trade of Wil Myers to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis was a public admission they wanted to compete for the postseason, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them use Moustakas in a trade to bolster the roster for a late-season run.

Lonnie Chisenhall is another. The 24-year-old has posted tremendous minor league numbers and was ranked as the No. 39 overall prospect by Keith Law before the 2011 season. In 542 PAs in the majors, though, he hasn't shown much. The power and plate discipline he showcased in the minors seems to disappear when he faces major league pitching, but the potential is there nonetheless. Since being recalled on June 18, Chisenhall has posted a .772 OPS. That is certainly a small sample, but also a glimmer of hope as well.

Mariners second baseman Dustin Ackley was ranked No. 7 by Law before the 2011 season, but like Chisenhall, has not been able to translate minor league success into major league success. In 1,249 PAs in the big leagues, he has a .650 OPS, including a paltry .533 this year that includes a .209 average. With Triple-A Tacoma -- after getting sent down -- he posted a .947 OPS with more walks (19) than strikeouts (14). He's back with Seattle and now playing outfield.

You can look at Mets first baseman Ike Davis through the same prism. And to the Mets' credit, they have been incredibly patient with him and have been exhausting their options to get him to be an above-average major league contributor. In fact, Davis has a lot in common with Davis, including the tremendous raw power and the high strikeout rate.

As odd as it sounds, some of tomorrow's All-Stars may be found at the bottom of this year's offensive leaderboards. At the same time two years ago, you would never have expected us to be talking about Chris Davis and Gomez as their league's respective most valuable players, but here we are in 2013 doing exactly that. Baseball, it's a funny game that way.

Bill Baer is a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog. He runs the Crashburn Alley blog on the Phillies.


The big questions for this season’s All-Star selections as we headed into Saturday’s selection show: Would Yasiel Puig make it? Who backs up Miguel Cabrera at third base in the American League from a strong field of candidates? Who represents the Astros?

But I’m left with this one: Could the American League have chosen a worse, more boring squad?

Remember, the All-Star squads are chosen by a four-tiered system: The fans vote in the starters, the players vote for the reserves at each position, plus the top five starting pitchers and top three relievers, the managers choose the rest of the squad (with their choices limited due to having to name a representative for each team) and then the fans vote again for the final man.

Got all that?

The player vote is the one that usually causes the biggest mistakes. Last season, for example, the players voted in Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair as the backup first baseman even though he was a platoon player with 28 RBIs at the time of selection. Similarly, Lance Lynn, who had a big April, was voted in as one of the top five starters even though he ranked 28th in the National League in ERA. The ripple effect for selections like those end up causing more worthy All-Stars to not make it. This season, a similar thing happened, most notably with Torii Hunter named as an outfield reserve in the AL.

My quick reaction to this season's American League and National League squads:

Best fan selection: Chris Davis, Orioles. Hardly a household name before the season, his offensive numbers are just too good to ignore, and he’s a deserving starter over Prince Fielder.

Worst fan selection: Bryce Harper, Nationals. The fans generally do a good job -- better than the players -- and while I don’t see Harper as a glaring mistake (I’d put him on my NL roster as a reserve), he did miss significant time with the knee injury. Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates or Carlos Gomez of the Brewers would be a more deserving starter (both should be starting over Carlos Beltran as well).

Most controversial AL selection: Justin Verlander, Tigers. He’s not having a terrific season, with a 9-5 record and lukewarm 3.54 ERA, but I don’t have a huge problem with American League manager Jim Leyland selecting the guy who’s been the best pitcher in baseball the previous two seasons.

Most controversial NL selection: Marco Scutaro, Giants. The NL roster is actually pretty solid, but you can nitpick Scutaro and Allen Craig. With Matt Carpenter being voted in by the players, manager Bruce Bochy didn't have to add a third second baseman, but he did select his guy and take a slot away from a deep pool of outfield candidates -- Puig and Hunter Pence were added to the final-vote group, but Starling Marte, Jay Bruce and Shin-Soo Choo all had All-Star first halves. But, hey, even All-Star teams need professional hitters.

How the Astros screwed the AL: Salvador Perez being voted in by the players as the backup catcher meant Jason Castro was named as a third catcher to represent the Astros. Actually, this is a little unfair, since Castro is having a season equal to or better than Perez’s. But having three catchers on the squad takes a slot away from one of the much more deserving third basemen -- Evan Longoria, Josh Donaldson or Adrian Beltre.

[+] EnlargeMax Scherzer
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsWith the American League's weak pitching staff, Max Scherzer could see a couple innings.
How the players screwed the AL: Hunter rode a .370 April to an All-Star berth, but he’s down to .307 with just five home runs. It’s not a great season for AL outfielders, but Hunter is kind of a joke selection: He ranks 24th among AL outfielders in FanGraphs WAR (0.9). Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury are better options.

Weirdest selection: Brett Cecil, Blue Jays. The Jays already had Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, so there was no need to add Cecil. Don't get me wrong, he is having a nice season -- 1.43 ERA, 50 strikeouts in 44 innings -- but this is also a guy with a 4.79 career ERA entering the season. (Granted, mostly as a starter.) Rangers starter Derek Holland was the better choice here.

Team with a gripe: The A’s have a better record than the Tigers yet ended up with one All-Star to Detroit’s six.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, AL: Longoria. Seventy All-Stars were named today, but somehow one of the top 10 players in the game didn't make it.

Most-deserving guy who didn't make it, NL: Not including the players eligible in the final-player vote, I'd go with Pirates outfielder Marte or Braves defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons.

Worst final-player vote ever: American League. Choose from Joaquin Benoit, Steve Delabar, David Robertson, Tanner Scheppers and Koji Uehara. Can I go to a dentist appointment instead? Unless you have a fetish for right-handed relief pitchers, this isn’t exactly the best way to get fans enthused about the All-Star final vote. Why not at least have a final-man vote with Longoria, Beltre and Donaldson?

Most predictable final-player vote ever: National League. Is there any way Puig doesn’t beat out Ian Desmond, Freddie Freeman, Adrian Gonzalez and Pence for the final vote?

In a perfect world, Jim Leyland does this: The AL pitching staff is a little shaky, so he should try to ride his top starting pitchers. Assuming Max Scherzer starts, I’d pitch him two innings and then bring in White Sox lefty Chris Sale for two more innings so he can face the top of the NL lineup that would probably feature Carlos Gonzalez and Joey Votto. Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez take over from there and hand the ball to Mariano Rivera, with Glen Perkins and Cecil used as situational lefties if needed.

Offensively, Cabrera and Davis should play the entire game, as they’ve clearly been the dominant offensive forces in the AL. Frankly, I’m not too thrilled with the AL bench, especially the outfield. Mike Trout and Bautista should also play the entire game. Use Fielder and Encarnacion to pinch hit as needed for J.J. Hardy or Adam Jones. Manny Machado can replace Cabrera in the late innings if the AL is ahead.

In a perfect world, Bruce Bochy does this: The NL squad looks much better on paper. Assuming Matt Harvey starts, he should be followed up with Clayton Kershaw and Cliff Lee (Adam Wainwright is scheduled to pitch on Sunday and will be unavailable). From there, I’d match up -- Madison Bumgarner or Jordan Zimmermann -- and then turn the game over to three dominant relievers: Jason Grilli, Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel. (Kudos to Bochy for going with all starting pitchers after the mandatory three relievers.)

Offensively, David Wright should play the whole game in front of the home fans, and assuming Paul Goldschmidt gets the nod as the designated hitter, I’d let him and Votto play the entire nine as well. Without a regular center fielder in the starting lineup (although Beltran, Gonzalez and Harper have all played there in the past), I’d get McCutchen in the game as soon as possible, with apologies to Gomez. I’d hit for Brandon Phillips in a key situation with a better bat like Buster Posey or Craig or maybe for Gonzalez against a left-hander (although he’s hit very well against lefties this season).

And Puig? Yes, once he makes the team, I’d like to see him play as well.
Quick thoughts on Tuesday's slate of games ...
  • The Blue Jays belted three home runs off the Rockies' Jeff Francis (why is he still in their rotation?) in an 8-3 win, their seventh in a row. Now 34-36, the Jays are 8.5 out of first place -- although still in last place in the AL East. Can they really climb back into the playoff race? Well, let's do some quick math. With 92 games left, the Jays will have to go 58-34 the rest of the way to win 90, a .630 winning percentage (or 102-win pace over 162). Jose Reyes has begun his rehab in Class A, so he'll be back soon. Brandon Morrow suffered the same forearm soreness in his rehab start on Monday so his return remains down the road. Currently, we have the Jays' odds of making the playoffs at 17 percent; the Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report had the Jays at six percent before Tuesday. While catching Boston will be difficult (if Boston plays .500 ball, the Jays have to win 17 more in a row to catch them), I think the Jays can make it an interesting summer in Toronto and get in the wild-card hunt.
  • Here's Adam Rubin's report on Zack Wheeler's impressive major league debut for the Mets. Wheeler or Gerrit Cole? My quick impression after watching both debuts is that I'd take Wheeler first, although one follower on Twitter suggested Wheeler's box score line looked like a Daniel Cabrera line: five walks, seven strikeouts. He certainly has to improve his command but he has a lot of life and run on his fastball. Cole's heater, on the other hand, is very straight, one reason he has just three strikeouts through his first two starts. Anyway, one or two starts don't mean anything, other than at least Mets fans two days a week the rest of the year to watch exciting baseball. Here's a good breakdown on Cole from Andrew Shen of Beyond the Box Score.
  • Speaking of the Mets, Matt Harvey was dominant in the first game of their doubleheader sweep of the Braves, taking a no-hitter into the seventh before tiring. He struck out Jason Heyward in the first on a pitch clocked at 100.1 mph -- the fastest pitch by a starting pitcher this year.
  • The legend of Paul Goldschmidt continues to grow as he hit a walk-off homer to lift the Diamondbacks to a 3-2 win over the Marlins. That's five go-ahead home runs in the eighth inning or later. That's how you win MVP Awards.
  • Nice win for the Pirates, a 4-0 shutout of the Reds to hand Mat Latos his first loss. The Pirates are scraping together a rotation right now with A.J. Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, James McDonald and Jeanmar Gomez all on the DL, but Charlie Morton, in his second start since returning from elbow surgery, stepped up with 5.1 scoreless innings. It was the Pirates' MLB-leading 12th shutout. By the way, over the last calendar year, Pedro Alvarez leads all NL hitters with 33 home runs.
  • Mark Simon wrote about Carlos Gomez's ability to go back on balls last week. He did this Tuesday in Houston, running up that ridiculous hill to make one of the great catches of the season.
  • Jonny Gomes hit a dramatic walk-off homer to give the Red Sox a doubleheader sweep over the Rays. Don't miss the punt he gives his helmet as he trots home.
  • Tough loss for the Padres to see their seven-game winning streak end as the Giants scored twice in the bottom of the eighth to win 5-4. Juan Perez, filling in for the injured Angel Pagan, had two big plays, throwing a runner out at home and hitting the go-ahead single.
  • Yu Darvish is winless over his past six starts -- but he has a 2.66 ERA. Run support, my friends.
  • Another rough night for Josh Hamilton in the Angels' 3-2, 10-inning loss to Seattle. He went 0-for-5, grounded into three double plays, and struck out with runners in scoring position in the seventh and ninth. He's hitting .213/.269/.388 and over a calendar year is hitting .235 with a .302 OBP.

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