SweetSpot: Derek Jeter

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


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

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

I'd suggest Jeter had a better season:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So how come Jeter didn't win an MVP award? Unlike everything else in his career -- including his game-winning hit on Thursday -- the stars just didn't quite align.

Five things we learned Monday

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Check the standings, playoffs odds and upcoming schedule on the Hunt for October page.

1. "That's what speed do." A few years ago, Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, talking about his ability as one of the fastest players in the game, coined the phrase "That's what speed do." It's kind of a popular thing for Royals fan to quote although it's never quite caught on on a national level. Hey, it's the Royals. Well, it may be reaching a tipping point after the wheels of Dyson and fellow pinch runner Terrance Gore inspired a dramatic ninth-inning comeback as the Royals scored twice with two outs to beat the White Sox 4-3. Here's Dyson on second base with two outs, running on the pitch, and scoring as the ball bounces to the backstop; love the excited Royals announcers quoting Dyson. And here's Gore on second base after Norichica Aoki doubled. He's also running on the play and scores the winner on Lorenzo Cain's infield hit.

What a turn of events for the Royals, who trailed 3-0 entering the bottom of the seventh. By that time, they knew the Tigers were on their (likely) way to a win over the Twins. Considering Sunday's bullpen fiasco created by manager Ned Yost, it was looking like doom-and-gloom time in Kansas City. So give them credit for coming alive late against the White Sox bullpen. Give Dyson credit for stealing third on his run -- a base that didn't seem all that important to risk with two outs -- especially considering he got picked off second in a similar scenario last week. As I wrote when Dyson got picked off, there are times you can throw the numbers out the window and just say either the player makes a play or he doesn't. Dyson made a big play.

This is one way the Royals have to manufacture runs. They're last in the AL in home runs and last in walks. They're not a good offensive team. But they have speed, ranking first in the league in steals, and FanGraphs rates them as the second-best baserunning team in the majors behind the Nationals (some of their speed advantage is negated by the likes of Billy Butler and Eric Hosmer, two of the worst baserunners in the league). It's not a big statistical advantage -- plus-7.8 runs above average entering Monday -- but as Monday showed, there are moments in games where speed can be the deciding factor.

The night got even better when the Mariners lost, so the Royals are two up on Seattle for the second wild card, just one game behind the A's and still 1.5 behind the Tigers. (You know the caveat: The Royals are losing to the Indians in that suspended game.)

2. Kudos to Don Mattingly. The Dodgers' skipper didn't fuss around with Roberto Hernandez, yanking him in the fourth inning of a 2-2 game with the bases loaded. With lefty Charlie Blackmon up, Mattingly went to southpaw Paco Rodriguez. Blackmon doesn't have a huge platoon split, but his OPS against lefties was 70 points lower entering the game. Hernandez doesn't have a platoon split this year but has in the past. With all the extra relievers that September provides, there was no need to keep Hernandez in there as you probably would have before rosters expanded. The player still has to execute and Rodriguez got the groundout. The Dodgers went on to break it open with an 11-3 win, but it was a move that shows Mattingly understands that you can manage September differently from April through August.

Oh ... and the Giants lost, so L.A.'s lead in the NL West is now up to four games.

Oh ... if Hyun-Jin Ryu can't make it back for the playoffs because of his sore shoulder, is Hernandez really the team's No. 4 starter right now?

3. Stephen Strasburg with another gem. Christina Kahrl touched on how the Nationals are winning with roster depth and not on the backs of the heralded duo of Strasburg and Bryce Harper. But Strasburg has put together four straight solid starts now, with no walks, 28 strikeouts and just six extra-base hits allowed. His average fastball velocity those four starts: 95.7, 95.6, 95.9 and 95.3. This doesn't look like a guy tiring down the stretch.

One note, however: The past two starts came against the Braves, next to last in the NL in runs; the one before that came against the Phillies (in D.C.); and before that against the offensively impaired Mariners at Safeco. So I'm not quite ready to declare Strasburg has turned the corner from his inconsistent ways. Still, a good sign.

4. Good night, Yankees. Wait, did I write this on Sunday as well? As blog contributor Katie Sharp tweeted after the Yankees' 1-0 loss to the Rays, the Yankees have scored six runs in their past five games, their fewest in a five-game span since June 30-July 4, 1997. By the way, Derek Jeter got the day off. Understandable and needed. Jeter has completely wilted down the stretch, as much to blame as any player for the Yankees' struggles. Over his past 21 games, he's hit .145/.189/.169. And has still been hitting second in the lineup. Shame on you, Joe Girardi, for putting the individual over the team.

5. Tired Hisashi Iwakuma. Felix Hernandez hasn't been quite as dominant of late and Iwakuma has definitely not been sharp. Over his past five starts, Iwakuma has allowed 22 runs in 21.1 innings. On Monday, the Angels pounded him for seven runs in 3.1 innings. The big blow was Albert Pujols' three-run double with two outs in the third -- after Iwakuma had retired the first two batters of the inning. Now two games behind the Royals, the Mariners' playoff odds have dropped to 31 percent -- this after climbing over 50 percent heading into Saturday's game (with King Felix starting). But three straight losses and now it's a tough climb back.

For the Angels, Matt Shoemaker keeps winning, Mike Trout keeps hitting and they've won 11 of 12, averaging 8.2 runs per game in that stretch.

Five things we learned Sunday

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1. Oakland's pain continues.

After Oakland's dramatic ninth-inning rally on Saturday, the Astros returned the favor, scoring twice in the ninth to win 4-3. Especially painful: The Astros didn't even get a hit as Ryan Cook walked three batters and Fernando Abad walked two (around a sacrifice fly). Eric O'Flaherty, the team's interim closer with Sean Doolittle injured, was unavailable with lower back tightness, so Bob Melvin turned to Cook, who promptly walked Marwin Gonzalez on four pitches and threw only five of 18 pitches for strikes. With the Angels pounding the Twins, the A's are now seven back. It's all about holding on to a wild card now -- and avoiding becoming the first team of the wild-card era to have the best record in the majors at the All-Star break and miss the playoffs. Next up: A seven game road to Chicago and Seattle. That trip to Safeco shapes up as a huge series with the Mariners just two games behind the A's for the first wild card.

2. Wade Davis continues to throw up zeroes.

Filling in for Greg Holland (biceps tendinitis) in the ninth inning, Davis spun another scoreless inning to get his second save of the weekend -- closing out 1-0 and 2-0 wins over the Yankees, giving the Royals their first season-series edge over the Yankees since 1999. Davis has allowed five runs all season for a 0.71 ERA and hasn't allowed a run since June 25, a span of 31 appearances. Ned Yost has been careful not to ride his big three relievers too hard. With Holland out, Aaron Crow pitched out of the seventh on Sunday after Yordano Ventura threw six-plus scoreless innings and Kelvin Herrera was pushed back to the eighth.

Yost may have to ride that bullpen a little harder down the stretch, especially after Danny Duffy left his start on Saturday after one pitch with a sore shoulder. But he does have his three veteran starters lined up for the big series against the Tigers that begins Monday, with Jeremy Guthrie, Jason Vargas and James Shields set to go.

3. Don't forget Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP race.

He went 3-for-5 with his 22nd home run as the Pirates finished off a sweep of the Cubs. McCutchen also went 3-for-5 on Saturday and ranks first in the NL in OBP and third in slugging.

4. Matt Kemp stepping up for the Dodgers.

Adrian Gonzalez had the big day on Sunday with two two-run homers, but Kemp also hit his third homer of September, after hitting five in August. Kemp is quietly 10th in the NL in slugging percentage and considering the struggles of Yasiel Puig of late (.207, no home runs since Aug. 1), Kemp may have to be the guy to carry the Dodgers down the stretch.

5. Derek Jeter had a nice career ... in case you had forgotten.

The Yankees had their Derek Jeter sendoff of sorts on Sunday, even though they still have more home games remaining. But maybe it was a good idea to do it now and get it out of the way, just in case the Yankees are fighting for a wild card down the stretch. Jeter wouldn't have wanted the ceremony to distract the team before a crucial game in the week's final season.

Of course, the Yankees went out and laid an egg with that shutout defeat. I figure it's going to take at least 90 wins to win the second wild card, which means the Yankees have to go 17-5 the rest of the way. Doesn't seem likely, does it?
1. Mike Trout isn't exactly tearing things up right now.

As late as July 24, Trout's OPS was over 1.000 -- .309/.396/.606. Since then, 37 games, he's hit .227/.298/.413 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs but also with 47 strikeouts. Some of this is just the natural ebb and flow of a baseball season, but some of this is the streakiness that can occur with a hitter who strikes out a lot, which is what Trout has morphed into this season. He's gone hitless the last two games, both losses to the Astros. We've all heard about Trout's difficulties hitting pitches in the upper half of the zone -- he's hitting .151/.329/.253 on such location in 2014 -- and during this stretch, it's not surprising he's seeing more pitches up in the zone, 29 percent of all pitches compared to 24 percent through July 23.

2. Alex Gordon continues to come up big.

Gordon is going in the opposite direction as Trout, hitting .299/.367/.639 with 10 home runs over his past 27 games, during which the Royals have gone 18-9. His two-run shot in the fourth inning staked the Royals to the lead in a 4-1 win over the Rangers and underrated Jason Vargas tossed 6.2 scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 3.14.

3. Derek Jeter is still batting second.

The Yankees beat the Red Sox behind seven solid innings from Hiroki Kuroda and Brian McCann's 4-for-4 performance, but let's address this Jeter issue. He went 1-for-3 with a walk, but his season line is .261/.309/.319. His on-base percentage is below the league average and his power is way below the league average. Why is he still hitting in the second spot, the position sabemetricians have deemed the most important in a lineup? OK, we know why he's hitting second. Joe Girardi doesn't have the guts to move Jeter down in the lineup and Jeter doesn't have the leadership to move himself down. Jeter has started 122 games, 119 of them batting second. Guess which team's No. 2 hitters have scored the fewest runs in the majors? Which team has the second-fewest home runs from the No. 2 spot? The Yankees are 21st in OPS from that spot, and that's only because the non-Jeter No. 2 hitters have gone 26-for-74 (.351), with two of the five home runs.

4. Justin Verlander isn't going to figure things out.

Every time he throws out a decent start, everyone expects that it's a sign he's going to turn things around. In his previous start he had allowed one run in seven innings. But on Wednesday, he gave up seven runs to the Indians. It's September. Among 95 qualified starting pitchers, he's 90th in ERA. Among 131 pitchers with at least 100 innings, he's 117th in ERA. It's time to stop expecting JUSTIN VERLANDER to turn up.

5. Miguel Gonzalez pitching himself into O's playoff rotation.

With his first career shutout, Gonzalez has now allowed two runs or fewer in eight of his past nine starts. Has he solidified a spot in the playoff rotation behind Chris Tillman? Maybe, but the home runs are still a concern. In those nine starts, he's allowed nine home runs, but just 15 runs. As long as they're solo shots, he's OK, but there's some playing with fire here. He's also struck out just 39 in 63 innings. Buck Showalter will have an interesting decision between Gonzalez, Bud Norris Kevin Gausman and Wei-Yin Chen to see who gets left out of the four-man playoff rotation.

One thing about Derek Jeter: He has a way of rising to the occasion. As New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said last year, when Jeter came off the disabled list and hit a home run in his first game back, "He's a movie is what he is."

Indeed, Jeter's entire career seems scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. You know the story.

So here he was in his 14th All-Star Game, receiving multiple standing ovations from Minnesota Twins fans. But he still had a game to play, and that's what Jeter has always done best: focus on playing baseball.

He led off the game with a patented Jeter hit -- a line-drive double down the right-field line with that famous inside-out swing that hasn't changed in 20 years.

OK, so St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright admitted that "I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it. I didn't know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind."

[+] EnlargeDerek Jeter
Scott Rovak/USA TODAY SportsDerek Jeter, who had a double, single and a run scored, left the All-Star Game in the fourth inning to a rousing standing ovation.
Still, you have to hit the ball, and Jeter did. His double kick-started the American League's three-run first inning, as Mike Trout followed with a triple and, with one out, Miguel Cabrera lined a home run into the left-field stands.

Wainwright would later backtrack during an in-game interview, suggesting his humor was misconstrued. "I hope everyone is realizing I'm not intentionally giving up hits out there," he said. "This game means too much."

The Cardinals ace is known for speaking from his heart, but as much as he didn't want to take away from Jeter's moment, it's a controversy that is unavoidable and should absolutely be discussed and debated. The fact is that something is on the line, home-field advantage in the World Series, something Wainwright knows all too well considering the Cardinals lost Game 6 at Fenway Park last year.

The heart of the game is competition, not giving Jeter a chance for a big moment. Whether he actually grooved that 91 mph fastball will certainly be addressed if the World Series ends up going six or seven games again.

While Wainwright clearly regretted his initial statement, he probably regretted those pitches to Trout and Cabrera even more. He had a full count on Trout, but instead of throwing his nasty curveball -- batters have hit .143 against it -- he threw a cutter that Trout drilled to right. He threw an 0-1 inside sinker to Cabrera that Miggy turned on, a lovely piece of hitting.

The National League later tied the game to take Wainwright off the hook, but the American League scored the winning runs in the fifth off another Cardinals pitcher, reliever Pat Neshek -- a guy whose season began as a minor league spring training invite. He has been terrific for the Cardinals on the season, but Derek Norris and Alexei Ramirez singled and then Trout hit a chopper over the third-base bag that Aramis Ramirez, not exactly known for his defense, failed to came up with, scoring Norris for an RBI double. Jose Altuve then hit a long sacrifice fly off Tyler Clippard.

Those two hits earned Trout MVP honors and perhaps presented a symbolic passing of the torch in some way from Jeter to a young player who grew up in New Jersey with a Jeter poster in his bedroom.

Now, Mr. Trout, all you need is a few big October moments.



A few other random thoughts:
  • Cardinals manager Mike Matheny paid the price for playing favorites, as Wainwright and Neshek combined to allow six of the AL's seven hits. While Wainwright was certainly a worthy starter considering his 12-4 record and sub-2.00 ERA, you can certainly make the argument that Clayton Kershaw deserved to start. Kershaw pitched a 1-2-3 second inning. And while Neshek is a great story, he's also a player who has had 38 great innings, not really the kind of guy you think of as an All-Star.
  • To be fair, the NL's pitching depth had been hurt by the fact that Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and Julio Teheran all started Sunday and were unavailable to pitch and Jordan Zimmermann was injured. The fact that Alfredo Simon, a mediocre reliever last year who has had three good months as a starter, was the third NL pitcher used showed the relative thinness of the staff and that Matheny had to rely on a slew of relievers.
  • AL manager John Farrell, meanwhile, was able to roll out one good starter after another, not having to turn to his bullpen until two outs in the sixth inning. And remember, guys such as Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber didn't even make the AL squad. In all, the AL staff struck out 13 while allowing just one walk, with the five relievers used combining for six strikeouts in the 10 outs they recorded.
  • I don't really like the way the managers skipper these games, basically just getting everyone in the game and not worrying about potential late-game matchups. The final three NL batters against lefty reliever Glen Perkins were Miguel Montero (who can't hit lefties), Pirates utility man Josh Harrison and Charlie Blackmon, who is often platooned by his own team against lefties. Well done, NL. The AL seemed to have the deeper roster coming into the game -- something Matheny perhaps recognized by playing his starters longer -- and it came into play the final couple of innings.
  • It was a tough All-Star debut for Yasiel Puig. After going homerless in the Home Run Derby, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, waving wildly at a Max Scherzer 3-2 slider for his third K.
Robin Yount was a great player: A two-time MVP, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, over 3,000 hits. Yet he made just three All-Star teams in his career.

Here are the fewest All-Star selections for position players who debuted after 1933, the year of the first All-Star Game:

Robin Yount: 3
Phil Rizzuto: 5
Frank Thomas: 5
Richie Ashburn: 6
Lou Brock: 6
Willie McCovey: 6
Willie Stargell: 6

(Monte Irvin made just one All-Star Game but had a short major league career after he started in the Negro Leagues.)

All-Star selections are certainly an imperfect process, but it's still odd that a player of Yount's caliber made it just three times. I mean, Paul Lo Duca was a four-time All-Star. So were John Stearns, Manny Trillo and Dante Bichette. Carlos Guillen and Ozzie Guillen made as many All-Star teams as Yount.

So what was the deal? Let's dig what happened.

1974-1979: Yount came up as an 18-year-old rookie and took a few years to establish himself. He was a good player from '77 to '79 but was bypassed as a reserve each season. He was worth 5.0 WAR in 1978, but it's easy to see why he didn't make it: He hit .281 with one home run and 25 RBIs in the first half but .301 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs in the second half.

1980: His first All-Star appearance, selected as a reserve along with Alan Trammell behind starter Bucky Dent.

1981: Didn't make it as Dent was again voted the starter and Rick Burleson selected as the backup. (Burleson was a four-time All-Star.)

1982: Yount had one of the great seasons ever for a shortstop, winning MVP honors while hitting .331 and leading the league in slugging percentage, and the fans recognized it by voting him in as the starter.

1983: Yount's final appearance, again voted in as the starter (over eventual MVP Cal Ripken).

1984: Yount was hitting .299/.370/.431 at the break with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. He had spent the previous week or so DHing for the Brewers because of a sore shoulder -- which would force a move to the outfield in 1985 -- so maybe that's why he wasn't selected. Ripken was voted as the starter and Trammell (.307, 8 HR, 44 RBI) the backup. When Trammell was unavailable to play, Alfredo Griffin was added to the roster -- mainly because he was already in town. (Griffin, hitting .241 with 19 RBIs, thus became one of the worst All-Stars ever.)

Keep in mind rosters were smaller than -- only 29 guys were on the AL squad as opposed to the 40 or so who eventually become official All-Stars these days.

1985 -- Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice started in the outfield, with Harold Baines, Phil Bradley, Tom Brunansky and Gary Ward the outfield reserves. Bradley, Brunansky and Ward were their teams' only rep and Yount didn't tear it up in the first half (.275, 7 HR, 39 RBIs).

1986 -- Kirby Puckett, Henderson and Winfield started with Rice, Baines, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield and Jose Canseco the outfield reserves. Yount was hitting .330 at the break but with just three home runs and 20 RBIs.

1987 -- Henderson, Winfield and George Bell started and Puckett and Dwight Evans were the backups. The AL squad included three backup first basemen and two DHs. Winfield played the entire 13-inning game. Yount was hitting .301 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs at the break, but got pushed out by Baines (.301, 12, 49, White Sox only rep), Pat Tabler (.301, 7, 48, Indians rep) and Larry Parrish (.274, 20, 60, Rangers rep).

1988 -- Henderson, Canseco and Winfield started with Puckett and Mike Greenwell (who would finish second in the MVP voting that year) the backups. Johnny Ray and Harold Reynolds both made it as backup second basemen but were their teams' only rep. Yount was hitting .304, 8, 46 at the break.

1989 -- This was Yount's second MVP season, when he edged out Ruben Sierra. He was hitting .299 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs at the break and then hit .339 in the second half. The All-Star starters were Sierra, Puckett and Bo Jackson, with Greenwell (.300, 10, 55), Canseco (he must have been voted in as a starter because he had missed the entire first half) and Devon White (.259, 9, 39) the reserves. White was the Angels' only All-Star.

So you can what happened here. The fans never voted Yount in after he moved off shortstop, his numbers were rarely "automatic" quality and he got squeezed a couple times by teams needing their token All-Star.

1990-1993: He fell off after his MVP season and was no longer All-Star-quality.

It's interesting, Yount's career WAR is 77.0 -- higher than Derek Jeter's, even though the two had similar careers, minus Yount's position change. Yount had the awesome 1982 season and was worth 7.2 WAR in 1983 and 7.1 in 1980 and had five other seasons at 4.9 or higher. That's eight seasons of 4.9 WAR or higher compared to six for Jeter.

They're players of near identical offensive ability -- Jeter has a 116 career OPS+ and Yount 115. Their career plate appearances are currently within 100 of each other. Jeter, however, is appearing in his 14th All-Star Game. One player will be remembered as a legend and the other is remembered for his great '80s 'stache.

I'm not trying to knock Jeter when I say this: The difference between the two is really in their quality of their teammates and the city they played in. Yount, once that 1982 Brewers World Series team quickly faded, spent the rest of his career playing for mostly mediocre Brewers teams. He simply never caught the public's fascination like Jeter or even other players of his era like Henderson, Puckett, Canseco and, even briefly, Jackson.











So, in my last post I argued that John Farrell made a mistake by naming Derek Jeter his leadoff hitter for the All-Star Game. Actually, I didn't really even make much of an argument, just said that with a lineup of All-Stars to choose from, Farrell elected to hit his worst hitter leadoff. That's not an argument but more of a statement of fact. It's not even that critical of Jeter. In fact, I've been on record that I'm fine with him starting the game.

Anyway, that led to some responses on Twitter like this:



My counter is that, yes, in theory and execution it's an exhibition game. Unfortunately, MLB has made winning the game important: The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. I think that's ridiculous, but that's the ramification of the game. Just today, I heard an interview with Farrell, talking about how important home field was to the Red Sox last year, not only opening up in their home park but being able to go back home for Game 6 in the middle of a hard-fought series.

Understanding that, even with the artificial constraints of an All-Star Game, isn't Farrell under some obligation to field his best lineup?

Look, in the end, it probably won't matter or have a big impact on the game's outcome, but it's perhaps worth noting that Cal Ripken batted eighth when he started the All-Star Game in his final season.

(How important is home-field advantage? The last time the visiting team won Game 7 of the World Series was 1979, Pirates over Orioles. Since then, the home team has gone 9-0. In all seven-game playoff series, the home team has gone 19-5 since Pittsburgh's win.)

* * * *

To be fair, at least Jeter hasn't been terrible this year, hitting .272, albeit with only two home runs. Is it unusual for an all-time great to start the All-Star Game in his final season? I thought I'd check some big names from the past (not meant to be comprehensive):

Ken Griffey Jr.: He retired early in his final season, so he didn't have the chance to have a final-year send-off. After his trade to the Reds, he made just three All-Star Games, however, twice as a reserve and once voted in by the fans.

Cal Ripken: As mentioned, started and batted eighth. And hit a home run to win MVP honors.

Tony Gwynn: Did not make the All-Star team his final two seasons, when he was a part-time player.

Ozzie Smith: Was named as a reserve his final two seasons, even though he wasn't a full-time starter either season and was hitting .250 with three RBIs when named in 1995.

George Brett: Not chosen for the All-Star Game in any of his final five seasons. His final year he hit .266 with 19 home runs, so he could still hit.

Robin Yount: Similar to Jeter in many ways (respected player, spent his entire career with one team, over 3,000 hits), and yet was selected to only three All-Star Games his entire career, the last in 1983 (he played until 1993).

Pete Rose: Last voted in as a starter in 1982, named as a reserve to the 1985 team (.262, one home run at the break) but not in 1986, his final season.

Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski: I seem to remember them being "special" additions to the 1983 teams. Bench hadn't made the All-Star team in 1981 or 1982 while Yaz had made it in '82 but not the two previous years.

Hank Aaron: He started every year for the National League from 1965 to 1974, his final year with the Braves. He was named as a reserve to the AL squad in 1975 with the Brewers, despite hitting .236 with nine home runs at the break. Did not make it in 1976, his final year.

Willie Mays: Was a sub in his final season in 1973, when he hit .211 for the season.

Obviously, that doesn't represent a consistent approach to how to handle the game's living legends. Of course, most of these guys hadn't necessarily announced their retirement before the season like Jeter (and Ripken). Jeter and Ripken were the only two from this list voted in as starters by the fans. Which begs the question: Does that make them the most beloved players of the past 30 years? Maybe so.
Longtime reader/chatter Tarek asked the following question in Tuesday's chat: How many of this year's All-Stars will have a better career than Derek Jeter?

Now, that's a bit of a layered question when you start factoring in things like World Series titles and legacy, two areas where it's difficult to trump Jeter. So let's keep it simple: How many will finish with a higher career Wins Above Replacement than Jeter?

Jeter's current career WAR, via Baseball-Reference.com, is 72.1. That's fourth among active players, behind Alex Rodriguez (116.0), Albert Pujols (95.0) and Adrian Beltre (74.0).

Does Beltre, who made this year's All-Star Game, ranking so high surprise you? He's not really considered a slam-dunk Hall of Famer right now, in part because a large percentage of that value is tied into his defense. His career batting line has a much different arc than Jeter's:

Beltre: .284/.335/.480
Jeter: .311/.379/.443

Jeter has the better on-base percentage but Beltre has more power. Who has been the more valuable hitter? Beltre has created an estimated 1,410 runs in 9,704 career plate appearances -- 5.6 runs per 27 outs. Jeter has created 1,887 runs in 12,315 PAs -- 6.3 runs per 27 outs. Those are not park-adjusted figures; Beltre spent a large portion of his career in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, two pitcher's parks, so that draws him a little closer. But getting on base is more important than slugging and B-R estimates Jeter has been 362 runs better than the average hitter while Beltre has been 193.

But Beltre makes up for that with his good fielding and Jeter's poor fielding. The fielding metrics Baseball-Reference uses has Beltre at 183 runs above average on defense and Jeter at 240 runs below average. So that's how Beltre ends up higher than Jeter in career WAR.

Here are the five remaining 2014 All-Stars with the highest career WAR:

Chase Utley: 60.8
Mark Buehrle: 57.9
Miguel Cabrera: 57.6
Robinson Cano: 48.1
Felix Hernandez: 42.9

A quick and dirty way to see how these guys compare to Jeter is to check his career WAR when he was their age.

SportsNation

Which of this year's All-Stars will end up with the highest career WAR?

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    11%
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Discuss (Total votes: 1,214)

Utley (age-35 season) -- Jeter was at 67.3
Utley rates so well due to more high-peak seasons than Jeter. He was arguably the second-best all-around player in the game from 2005 through 2009 when he averaged 7.9 WAR per season (only Pujols was better). Even while missing time with injuries in recent seasons, Utley has reached at least 3.0 WAR the past three seasons and is already at 2.9 this year. So he's behind Jeter but Jeter didn't do much after turning 36. Could be close.

Buehrle (age-35 season) -- Jeter was 67.3
He's headed for his 14th consecutive season of 200-plus innings. He's never been a big star but he's still accumulating value and with his style of pitching could easily remain effective until 40. Can he pile up 16 more WAR before he's done? He was probably over his head in the first half -- 4.0 WAR compared to 2.1 all of 2013 -- so I say he comes up short.

Cabrera (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
Even though he doesn't earn much value with his defense or position, Cabrera is well ahead of Jeter at the same age. His offensive numbers are down from the past few seasons but he's still hitting .312, leading the league with 32 doubles and has been worth 3.0 WAR. He should soar past Jeter and approach at least 80 career WAR.

Cano (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
So these two are just about dead even at the same age, although Cano will move ahead by the end of the season. Jeter had two of his better seasons at 32 (5.5 WAR) and 35 (6.5). With his decline in power so far, Cano is at 2.9 WAR, well below the 7.4 he averaged the previous four seasons. He's been one of the most durable players in the game (as was Jeter until his injury in the 2012 playoffs). Yankees fan will never put Cano on the same pedestal as Jeter -- in part because of Cano's dismal .222 postseason average -- but through the same age it's hard to argue he hasn't been as valuable in the regular season.

Hernandez (age-28 season) -- Jeter was at 36.8
King Felix is ahead of Jeter's pace. Of course, most pitchers don't remain as durable as Buehrle. Hernandez is in the midst of his best season yet and there's no reason he won't stay dominant for many more years if his elbow and shoulder remain intact.

What about the younger guys? Well, Mike Trout only needs five more 10-win seasons to pass The Captain.
Derek Jeter turned 40 years old today and Ian O'Connor talks with a guy Jeter has burned perhaps more than any other -- A's general manager Billy Beane.

Jeter isn't really helping the Yankees much this year, batting .268 but with just two home runs and the kind of range you'd expect from a 40-year-old shortstop. But he's hardly been the primary problem with the Yankees: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano all have a lower WAR.

Really, considering the play of those four and the injuries to CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, it's remarkable the Yankees are 40-37 and just 2.5 games behind the first-place Blue Jays.

In honor of Jeter's 40th, I thought it would be fun to look at the all-time age-40 All-Stars, the best seasons at each position since 1901 at that age (via Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement).

C: Bob Boone, 1988 Angels (3.1 WAR)
Only three age-40 catchers earned at least 1 WAR in a season -- and two of them did it in 1988. Carlton Fisk did it for the White Sox by hitting 19 home runs and slugging .542 in 76 games. Boone, however, edges out Fisk for the highest WAR, as he was still an excellent defender at 40 and started 111 games. Gabby Hartnett, a backup for the 1941 Giants, was third to top 1 WAR.

1B: Darrell Evans, 1987 Tigers (4.9 WAR)
Evans is the easy choice as he hit 34 home runs while drawing 100 walks. No other first baseman tops 2 WAR and only four (Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Mickey Vernon, Jason Giambi) topped 1. You may think first base is an old guy's position, but not many make it to 40. Only 10 guys even reached 200 plate appearances.

2B: Eddie Collins, 1927 A's (2.3 WAR)
Collins hit .336 with a .448 OBP in a part-time role, good enough to beat out Tony Phillips, Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan. Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent were still playing second base at this age (Biggio hit 21 home runs), but defensive issues knocked down their WAR.

3B: Graig Nettles, 1985 Padres (3.3 WAR)
Nettles was a terrific glove man earlier in his career and still good enough to play 137 games in 1985. He hit .261/.363/.420 while walking more than he struck out. Chipper Jones' final season with the Braves in 2012 rates second at 2.8 WAR, while Cal Ripken's last season comes in at -0.6.

SS: Luke Appling, 1947 White Sox (4.6 WAR)
Only seven players played at least half their games at shortstop at age 40. Five of them are in the Hall of Fame -- Appling, Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin and Bobby Wallace (who played just 26 games at age 40). The sixth will get there: Jeter. And the seventh is Omar Vizquel, and he may get there as well.

OF: Willie Mays, 1971 Giants (6.3 WAR)
For some reason, at age 40 Mays suddenly decided to start walking a lot more. His previous high had been 82, but in '71, playing just 136 games, he drew 112 and posted a career-best .425 OBP even though he hit .271.

OF: Sam Rice, 1930 Senators (4.7 WAR)
The Hall of Famer was one of the great "old" players ever. He had 426 hits before age 30 but 2,561 after. At age 40, he hit .349 with 207 hits.

OF: Ty Cobb, 1927 A's (4.4 WAR)
How did Cobb end up on the A's? After managing the Tigers to a 79-75 record in 1926, Cobb announced in November that he was stepping down as manager and retiring. A few weeks later, fellow future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker did the same with the Indians. Later, it was revealed commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was investigating Cobb and Speaker for betting and perhaps fixing a game in 1919 (as accused by former pitcher Dutch Leonard). While there was strong evidence bets were made or attempted to be made (Cobb had written in a letter that his attempted bet didn't work out), Landis eventually found the two stars not guilty. When Connie Mack (a man Cobb respected) offered Cobb a job with the A's, he decided to play two more years. At age 40, he hit .357 and drove in 93 runs.

DH: Dave Winfield, 1992 Blue Jays (4.1 WAR)
Winfield hit .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs and finished fifth in the MVP voting.

SP: Randy Johnson, 2004 Diamondbacks (8.5 WAR)
SP: Phil Niekro, 1979 Braves (7.9 WAR)
SP: Cy Young, 1907 Red Sox (7.6 WAR)
SP: Pete Alexander, 1927 Cardinals (6.1 WAR)
SP: Nolan Ryan 1987 Astros (5.4 WAR)

That's a pretty tough group to crack. Obviously, pitchers have a higher rate of success at age 40 than position players. Seventeen pitchers have reached 4.0 WAR or more -- including Bartolo Colon last year -- and 30 have reached 3.0 WAR or more. For position players, the totals are six and 10 (Wagner and Edgar Martinez are the others to reach 3.0).
Here's the funny thing about great throws: How many do you remember? Specific throws, I mean? Of course, there's the Bo Jackson throw to nail Harold Reynolds and the Ichiro Suzuki throw early in his first season in Seattle that helped establish his reputation for having a great arm.

But do many others pop into your head? Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline are known for their legendary arms, but did either one have a signature throw? Certainly, Pirates or Tigers fans of a certain age may remember a specific throw, but from the days before widespread TV broadcasts, visual evidence is spotty. If for some reason you think maybe Clemente's arm strength has been exaggerated through the years ... you're wrong. Here's one example, from the 1971 World Series, late in his career. It didn't catch a runner but held one at third and provides pretty solid evidence of his cannon.

Well, I'm thinking the throw from left field made by Yoenis Cespedes on Tuesday night is one we'll remember for a long time. I was watching the end of the Yankees-Mariners game when Twitter exploded -- this time, with good reason. It was definitely an all-timer.

The best throw I ever saw in person was back in the '80s, sitting in the right-field stands at the Kingdome. Somebody hit a ball into the right-field corner and attempted to stretch the hit into a triple. Jesse Barfield fired a laser all the way to third to get the runner. I had a perfect, direct line right behind Barfield to view the throw. Amazing. Barfield was known as having the best arm in the game in the '80s. Although there's no video of that throw (at least that I could find), here he is throwing out Chili Davis at third base. And here he is throwing out Mariners catcher Matt Sinatro on a base hit -- only a big deal because Sinatro was on third base to start the play.

As a kid, I watched the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, in which strong-armed Dave Parker threw out two runners. That second one ... wow. Also: Bring back those all-yellow Pirates jerseys!

Another outfielder of that era known for his powerful arm was Ellis Valentine of the Expos. Here he is with the Mets throwing out Pete Rose and Dale Murphy. Another strong-armed -- but also famously wild at times -- Expos right fielder was Vladimir Guerrero. But when he was on target, he did things like this.

One throw that some of you may remember from 1998 was from another Pirates right fielder. Jose Guillen's throw from the warning track was impressive enough that MLB Network named it the most unbelievable throw of all time.

Former pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel was known for his terrific arm. Here's a fly ball to medium-deep center in which the runner decides not to tag up -- probably a good decision. Here's a pretty good one to catch a runner at third from deep right-center.

Of course, in his short time in the majors, Yasiel Puig has developed a reputation for his great arm. Here are four from his rookie season.

Here's one from 2010 that Yankees fans will remember: Backup outfielder Greg Golson throws out speedy Carl Crawford at third base for the final out of an 8-7 victory.

Here's one I just learned about: Joe Ferguson cutting down Sal Bando at the plate in the 1974 World Series. The Dodgers played Ferguson, a catcher, in the outfield at times because they had Steve Yeager.

The most famous throw in World Series history may be George Foster getting Denny Doyle in the iconic Game 6 of 1975. Mets fans would like to forget Derek Jeter's relay throw to nail Timo Perez in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series.

Anyway, we could go on and on. I didn't even mention guys like Carl Furillo, Dwight Evans, Larry Walker or Raul Mondesi. Greatest throw ever? Maybe it is Cespedes or Guillen. It's definitely none of these.
If you want to take a break from the MLB draft or actual baseball games, some stuff to check out:
  • Fun list from the Baseball Prospectus staff: 11 draft-day what-ifs. Of course, there is no end to the what-ifs, but these are some good ones that could have happened.
  • Matt Kremnitzer with an interesting idea if the Orioles fall out of the playoff race: Could Nelson Cruz be a trade chip? At 30-27, I'm not sure the Orioles will fall out of the everyone's-in-it AL wild-card race, but if they do, it's a plausible scenario.
  • David Laurila of FanGraphs interviews Pedro Martinez on the art -- and science -- of pitching. Love this quote: “My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it." Note: Ramp up when I needed to. Relates to one of the issues we've been talking about with all these Tommy John surgeries: Pitchers don't have to -- and probably shouldn't -- air out every fastball at max velocity.
  • Joe Posnanski has a little fun with a scouting report on Derek Jeter.
  • Michael Eder of It's About the Money is a little more blunt: Jeter is hurting the Yankees.
  • More Posnanski: How the A's continue to thrive, a decade after "Moneyball." Money quote: "Moneyball II is not about being smart. Everybody in baseball can be smart. Moneyball II is about doing smart things. There's a big difference. The A's face the same pressures, the same groupthink, the same visual cues as everyone else. They have the same gut reactions to events, and they initially want to respond in the same way as everyone else. To say that they are smarter than everyone else misses the biggest point.

     



    "The biggest point is this: Nobody's that smart -- not even the A's. They have to work just as hard as anybody to avoid the traps, address their weaknesses, overcome the silly flaws in their System One thinking. They have to call up Josh Donaldson when brains tell them not to call him up. They have to pitch Tommy Milone even though they see that nothing fastball and can't figure out how he can get anyone out."
  • You may have read Tim Kurkjian's piece last week on the unwritten rules of baseball. Former major league reliever and book author Dirk Hayhurst had a pointed response on Deadspin: "None of the players passing along their wisdom seemed to realize that it was all completely arbitrary. No one came close to acknowledging, 'You know, it's stupid and none of us know where it came from, and before we go fracturing some poor rookie's wrist because he looked too happy about going yard on a vet, we should really sit down and ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime.'"
  • Jonathan Judge says Kendrys Morales is more valuable to the Brewers than he would be to other teams.
  • Fire Brand of the AL with their latest podcast on the Red Sox.
  • Here's the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" podcast on all things Indians.
  • Maybe it's time the Rangers admit that Mitch Moreland just isn't that good.
  • Ryan P. Morrison with a look at the Diamondbacks' defense. Last year, Arizona's defense was excellent; this year, it's been mediocre -- or unlucky. Either way, maybe the pitchers have been as awful as everyone thinks.
  • This may be of more interesting to baseball fans in Connecticut than to Twins fans, but the New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, is relocating to Hartford for 2016, as the city is building a new downtown stadium.
  • Finally, this is pretty awesome: Harry Caray, when he was a broadcaster for the White Sox in 1972, kept a diary that year. It was a pretty simple diary: Caray kept track of the bars he visited and the bar tabs. The first date is Jan. 1 and it lists four bars. At one point, he goes 288 consecutive days visiting a bar. Now that is a legendary streak.
 

In this week's Rapid Fire SweetSpot TV segment with Eric Karabell, one topic we discuss is Yasiel Puig. Entering Wednesday, Puig is second in the National League batting race, hitting .346 to Troy Tulowitzki's .373. Can Puig actually win the title? Some quick thoughts here ...

1. Dodger Stadium is a tough place to hit for average ... but not impossible.

Since moving into Dodger Stadium in 1962, only six Dodgers have hit .330 in season (Mike Piazza did it twice, including .362 in 1997). The only Dodger to win a batting title since 1962 is Tommy Davis, who led the NL with a .346 mark in 1962 and .326 in 1963.

Here are the number of .330 seasons for each National League team since 1962:

Rockies -- 17
Cardinals -- 14
Pirates -- 11
Braves -- 10
Giants -- 8
Padres -- 8 (six by Tony Gwynn)
Dodgers -- 7
Cubs -- 6
Reds -- 6
Expos/Nationals -- 6
Phillies -- 5
Brewers -- 5
Mets -- 4
Marlins -- 4
Diamondbacks -- 1

I chose .330 since that's usually the minimum it takes to win the batting title. Since 1969, only four NL batting leaders were under .330 -- Bill Buckner (.324) in 1980, Bill Madlock (.323) in 1983, Tony Gwynn (.313) in 1988 and Terry Pendelton (.319) in 1991.

So while Dodger Stadium can be a tough place to hit, I don't think it's a roadblock to Puig winning a title. It can be done.

2. Puig is for real.

I've mentioned this before, but Puig's plate discipline has improved each month of his career. Here are his month-by-month swing rates on pitches outside the strike zone (his "chase" percentage):

SportsNation

Best bet to win the NL batting title?

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    31%
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    53%
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Discuss (Total votes: 2,610)

June 2013: 38.3
July 2013: 35.6
August 2013: 33.2
September 2013: 30.5
April 2014: 27.1
May 2014: 20.8

Puig is hitting .413/.518/.750 in May. Is it a coincidence that's he done that at the time he's chasing fewer and fewer pitches off the plate? I don't think so. The two are correlated and while Puig did hit into a great deal of luck during his hot start last year (he had a lot of bloopers and infield hits), his numbers this year show an improved hitter with a better approach. His strikeout rate is down, his line-drive rate is up and and his percentage of 2-0 counts has increased (from 14.5 percent to 19.6 percent). Yes, his BABIP is still high at .403 but with his speed, Puig is also the type of hitter who should hit for a high BABIP (although very few guys have ever had a .400 BABIP over an entire season).

3. The Coors Field factor.

Obviously, there is no better place to hit. Six different Rockies have won batting titles since they joined the league in 1993, including Michael Cuddyer last year at .331. Tulowitzki is hitting .521 at home, .238 on the road. Certainly, this will be a huge edge for Tulo.

4. Tulowitzki's career high in average is .315.

With this great start, he's certainly a good bet to beat that. He could go 0-for-his-next 30 and still be hitting .316. His updated ZiPS projection has him finishing at .333. If that's about where he ends up, however, it could give Puig a fighting chance.

5. Other candidates.

I listed three other guys in the poll above. Chase Utley is hitting .333, Tulo's teammate Charlie Blackmon .321 and Andrew McCutchen .310. Each has his advantages. Utley is probably the biggest long shot since he hasn't hit .300 since 2007 (when he hit .332), but he's also the healthiest he's been in years. Blackmon had the great April and gets to play in Coors and being a platoon player could actually help since he won't face many lefties to drag down his average (he should still get enough PAs to qualify). McCutchen is a proven high-average hitter: .327 in 2012, .317 last year and .310 so far in 2014. He's drawing a ton of walks this year as he gets pitched around, but fewer at-bats means a hit is worth "more" in terms of batting average.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy is hitting .332, which may not be a fluke since he did hit .320 in 2012. Still, hard to bet on a catcher keeping that up through the summer, but Milwaukee is a good hitter's park. I don't expect Matt Adams to stay at .326 -- that 39/5 strikeout/walk ratio suggests a hitter who can be pitched to or chase too many pitches out of the zone. Cuddyer is hitting .319 but has played just 24 games due to injury; he can't be ignored if he can reach the 502 plate appearances to qualify.
Derek JeterDavid Banks/USA TODAY SportsDerek Jeter got a unique bench, to enjoy in his retirement, before Sunday's game.
CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox gave Derek Jeter a miniature Yankees bench made out of bats, balls and bases, some U.S. Cellular Field shortstop dirt in a glass container with legendary shortstops' names on it and a $5,000 check made out to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation.

SportsNation

What's Derek Jeter's worst gift so far?

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    34%
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    41%
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    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 7,481)

Paul Konerko, who also is retiring, stood with Jeter during the pregame presentation behind home plate. The bench was constructed by former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle, who has a company that makes such items.

Jeter has now received six gifts. On Tuesday, the Cubs handed him a No. 2 white-and-green square that fell off the Wrigley Field scoreboard. The Mets gave Jeter a No. 2 mosaic designed with subway tiles and donated $22,222.22 to the Turn 2 Foundation. The Houston Astros gave Jeter a pair of Yankees cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and some golf lessons. The Los Angeles Angels gave Jeter a paddleboard. The Milwaukee Brewers donated $10,000 to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation and presented him with a bronzed bat.

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.
Some stuff to check out ...
  • Craig Calcaterra of Hardball Talk disagreed with my take on instant replay after the Giants-Pirates game on Tuesday. Fair enough. I can admit I may have missed the boat (the ocean?) on that one. Certainly, if there's any reason to apply instant replay, that would be the occasion, along with all other plays at home plate or when a run scores.
  • You may have heard that Troy Tulowitzki is hitting the baseball very hard these days. Grantland's Jonah Keri looks into Tulo's hot start. One interesting note: "Seeking a second opinion, I turned to a longtime scout for an NL team. While the scout largely agreed that not much has changed, he did notice one small thing: Tulowitzki is closing his stance a bit more than in the past, and is also now spreading his legs slightly farther apart."
  • The Hardball Times has had an excellent series of "10 things I learned" articles on sabermetrics-related themes. The pieces: ESPN Insider contributor Dan Szymborski on creating a projection system, Dave Studeman on Win Probability Added, Mitchel Lichtman on defensive statistics, Dave Cameron on baseball economics and Matt Hunter on creating a baseball simulator. Good stuff.
  • Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus with an early report on catcher framing. Through Monday, Mike Zunino leads the majors with 5.1 framing runs added, according to the BP measurement.
  • Brian Dozier of the Twins is quietly developing into a star-level second baseman. He has power (eight home runs, although just one double), draws walks (third in the AL with 24), is 11 for 12 stealing bases, leads the AL with 31 runs and seems to show up every other night with a diving play on defense. Grantland's Michael Baumann appreciates this unsung player.
  • The Orioles swing a lot and chase a lot of pitches out the strike zone, which means they don't walk much. Which means they rely on home runs. Matt Kreminitzer of Camden Depot takes a look.
  • Alex Skillin of Fire Brand of the AL says rotation depth is what could eventually separate the Red Sox from the rest of the AL East.
  • Jason Collette of The Process Report takes a closer look at David Price, who has off to an odd start with diminishing velocity but more strikeouts -- and more hits.
  • Can Derek Jeter no longer hit the fastball?
  • Will the Mets be gone from New York in 10 years?
  • Joe Aiello asks: Which Cubs prospect are you most confident in? Sounds like this may be related to Javier Baez's awful start at Triple-A.
  • Curt Hogg of Disciples of Uecker looks into Jean Segura's improved play at shortstop.
  • Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal aren't fooling batters as much this season.
  • Without Jurickson Profar, Brandon Land reports that the Rangers are having problems from offense at second base.
  • The Justin Upton trade keeps looking worse, writes Ryan Morrison of Inside the 'Zona.
  • More from Craig Calcaterra: A bunch of baseball-related podcasts were pulled from iTunes. An MLB Advanced Media spokesperson said it was for "infringing uses of trademarks of Major League Baseball and certain Clubs." I understand MLB's desire to protect its trademarks but what a way to anger your most passionate fans. Unfortunately, it's not the first time MLB has done this (see: blackout policy).
  • Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs with a piece titled "At the Ballpark: Race, Community and MLB."
  • Richard Griffin writes about Brandon Morrow, who may or may not be done for the year and who may or may not be done as a Blue Jay (the club has a $10 million club option for next season). Morrow was the guy the Mariners drafted ahead of local kid Tim Lincecum back in 2006 (also two spots ahead of a high school kid named Clayton Kershaw). It didn't work out in Seattle and despite flashes of brilliance in Toronto, Morrow was never able to stay healthy. Griffin suggests Morrow's diabetes may be a cause for his injury issues, at least a related problem (fatigue, etc.). Anyway, in the end it's hard to say whether injuries or command issues or lack of consistency ultimately undermined Morrow from reaching his potential.

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