SweetSpot: Giancarlo Stanton

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Let's do two more all-time greats.

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

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

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

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

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

Former major infielder Jeff Huson once said this to my ESPN colleague Tim Kurkjian about facing Randy Johnson: "What was the worst thing that Michael Jordan could do to you? He can go dunk on you. He could embarrass you. What's the worst thing Randy Johnson can do to you? He can kill you."

That's the fear major league hitters have to block out every time they dig into the batter's box. They've honed their skills to beat the best pitchers in the world, but they've also learned to bury that fear into the deepest recesses of their brains.

Then we see a frightening incident like the one on Thursday, when Giancarlo Stanton got hit in the face with an 88-mph fastball thrown by Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers, and we're reminded of the potential damage any one pitch can do, reminded of the tragic career of Tony Conigliaro or what might have been with Dickie Thon or what happened to Ray Chapman back in 1920.

Stanton, of course, has been one of the brightest lights in a somewhat desultory major league season, his mammoth moon shots a thing of joy. After a first-pitch fastball at the knees from Fiers in the top of the fifth inning, which Stanton took, Fiers threw another fastball, catcher Jonathan Lucroy setting up on the inside corner of the plate, trying to keep the big guy from gets his arms extended. Fiers doesn't throw hard but comes with an overhand delivery, a deceptive delivery that hides the ball, one of the keys to his success despite mediocre stuff. Stanton, who stands well off the plate, started his swing as the ball kept riding up and in and for some reason failed to react to the movement of the pitch and took the pitch on the side of his face.

He lay motionless at the plate for several minutes as medical personnel attended to him, with blood clearly visible in the dirt around home plate. Fiers, visibly shaken up, stood on the mound, his hands on his head, despondent over the pitch. It was clearly an accident, as most of these pitches are. Just a pitch that got away and a batter who didn't dive out of the way. It is, unfortunately, part of the game.

Obviously, we can only hope Stanton is OK, that the ball didn't get him in the eye. As of this writing, the only medical update we have is he had a laceration on the left side of his face, but he was carted off the field and taken to a nearby hospital, an eerie silence at Miller Park stating the gravity of the situation.

The game nearly took a turn for the worse. With Reed Johnson finishing Stanton's at-bat (the pitch to Stanton was actually called a strike, as umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled Stanton had swung at it), the first pitch to him from Fiers was also up and in -- like Stanton, Johnson didn't seem to pick up the movement and started to swing -- and appeared to hit him on the hand (it was ruled that Johnson, too, had swung). The Marlins charged the field, with a pushing and shoving match ensuing as Marlins third baseman Casey McGehee went a little crazy. The next inning, the Marlins predictably hit Carlos Gomez, who thankfully kept his cool and the matter seemed resolved, at least for this game.

For all the talk about home-plate collisions, the bigger danger epidemic in baseball that can lead to injuries is hit batters -- heads, wrists, hands. For all the talk old-timers love to revel in about Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson throwing at hitters -- which they did (Drysdale led his league five times in hit batters) -- batters continue to get hit by pitches at much higher rates than back in the 1960s.

Look at the rates through the years:

1964: One hit batter every 177 plate appearances.

1974: One hit batter every 192 plate appearances.

1984: One hit batter every 240 plate appearances.

1994: One hit batter every 142 plate appearances.

2004: One hit batter every 102 plate appearances.

2014: One hit batter every 112 plate appearances.

HBP rates peaked in 2001, at one every 99 plate appearances, with general declines after that (although 2014 is up slightly from 2013). Two theories you often here about the increase in hit batters is that "pitchers haven't learned to throw inside" or "pitchers don't throw inside in college because of the aluminum bats" and thus aren't used to doing it in the majors.

I don't think that's the case at all. First of all, hit batter rates decreased drastically from 1964 to 1984, at the same time the rates of college pitchers entering the game were rapidly increasing. HBP rates in the early '90s were up a bit from 1984, but still not higher than 1970s levels. They really started to escalate in the mid-'90s; from 1990 to 1995 the rates had jumped from .20 per game to .30 per game, a 50 percent increase in five years.

What happened in those years? More home runs, more offense, more hitters crowding the plate, more hitters diving out over the plate because they had the power to crush the ball to the opposite field. As offense jumped throughout the '90s, so did the rate of hit batters. Sure, some of that was probably applicable to retaliation effects after home runs, but my theory puts the hitters mostly at fault here. It's pretty simple: If you stand closer to the plate you're more likely to get hit by a pitch.

Take Stanton. He's been hit by just four pitches this year, even though he gets pitched inside regularly. But he doesn't get hit often because he's well off the plate.

Also, if the theory is that young pitchers don't know how to throw inside, check out the list of pitchers with the most hit batters: Charlie Morton, Justin Masterson, Edinson Volquez, Bud Norris, R.A. Dickey, Jeremy Guthrie, A.J. Burnett, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Alfredo Simon, James Shields. Those are all veteran pitchers. Leake is the youngest and he's been in the league five years. Some of them are even known as pitchers with great control -- Guthrie, Cueto, Shields. It's not a young pitcher problem. It's a crowding the plate problem.

I don't see things changing, however. It's a power game we live in right now and hitters are going to continue diving over the plate to hit home runs. Henry Aaron was hit 32 times in his career; singles-hitting Jon Jay has been hit 18 times this year, most in the majors.

It's a different game. A more dangerous game.
Giancarlo Stanton leads the National League in both home runs and RBIs, both by sizable margins -- five more homers than Anthony Rizzo, who is currently out with a back injury (and nine more than the No. 3 guys, Justin Upton and Lucas Duda ), and nine more RBIs than Adrian Gonzalez.

Here's an interesting nugget from ESPN Stats & Info ... players who led the NL in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage the past 40 years and whether they won the MVP Award:

2014: Giancarlo Stanton (?)
1995: Dante Bichette (no)
1993: Barry Bonds (yes)
1989: Kevin Mitchell (yes)
1986: Mike Schmidt (yes)
1981: Mike Schmidt (yes)
1980: Mike Schmidt (yes)
1977: George Foster (yes)

Bichette played in Colorado and finished second in the voting to Barry Larkin.

Does this mean there's a good chance for Stanton to win, even though momentum seems to be swinging in favor of Clayton Kershaw? Keep in mind that a pitcher hasn't won NL MVP honors since Bob Gibson in 1968.

Let's see if the same precedent holds true in the American League. AL leaders in home runs, RBIs and slugging, past 40 years:

2012: Miguel Cabrera (yes)
2007: Alex Rodriguez (yes)
1997: Ken Griffey Jr. (yes)
1995: Albert Belle (no)
1990: Cecil Fielder (no)
1988: Jose Canseco (yes)
1978: Jim Rice (yes)

Belle finished second to Mo Vaughn in a close vote (eight points) and Fielder finished second to Rickey Henderson in another fairly close vote (31 points).

I would say, based on this history, Stanton still has a chance at MVP honors. His biggest detriment, however, may not be Kershaw but the bias against players from non-playoff teams.

His best chance would seem to be to finish with a flourish, lap the field in homers and RBIs, have Kershaw throw a mediocre start or two and hope that a couple voters who are anti-pitcher leave Kershaw off or down the ballot (like with Pedro Martinez in 1999). If the two essentially split the first-place votes but Stanton is first or second on all the ballots, he could win the vote.
Here are the National League leaders in Wins Above Replacement, via Baseball-Reference.com:

Clayton Kershaw: 7.3
Jason Heyward: 6.3
Giancarlo Stanton: 6.1
Jonathan Lucroy: 5.7
Troy Tulowitzki: 5.5

And here the NL leaders in WAR via FanGraphs:

Clayton Kershaw: 5.9
Jonathan Lucroy: 5.6
Giancarlo Stanton: 5.5
Hunter Pence: 5.4
Jason Heyward: 5.2
Andrew McCutchen: 5.2

Kershaw leads both sites in WAR so the statistical consensus is that he's been the best player in the National League, even though he missed a month of action back in April. He's 16-3 with a 1.73 ERA, so while he may not get to 200 innings he's been so dominant that he still has the highest WAR.

But ... no National League pitcher has won the MVP Award since Bob Gibson in 1968, so Kershaw still has to overcome that bias against pitchers. Plus, he could slump in September and lose a couple games (unlikely, I know, since he's allowed more than three runs in a game just once, but I guess it could happen). Stanton's Marlins aren't going to make the playoffs, and MVPs usually come from playoff teams (see Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout). Lucroy has certainly been terrific, although lacks the big power and RBI numbers MVP voters usually favor, plus the Brewers aren't a lock to make the playoffs.

Enter Heyward, under-the-radar MVP candidate. Based on WAR, he's been one of the best all-around players in the league. Not that he's gotten recognition as such.

Of course, he has no chance of winning; in fact, I'd be surprised if he even finishes in the top-10 in the voting. He's hitting .272/.354/.391 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs and right fielders slugging under .400 don't get MVP support. Heyward's value comes with his defense. Baseball-Reference uses Defensive Runs Saved for its defensive component of WAR and Heyward leads the majors with 33 runs saved above average. Only Juan Lagares of the Mets is at +30, and only four other players are at +20 or higher. FanGraphs uses Ultimate Zone Rating for its defensive component and Heyward leads all fielders there as well, at +26.4 (only Alex Gordon and Lagares are at +20 in UZR).

So those defensive metrics agree that Heyward has been the best defensive player in baseball and that he's saved a lot of runs. Those runs saved are worth about three wins -- so more than half of Heyward's value has come with his glove.

Yes, it's easy to dismiss one-year defensive numbers. Or perhaps wise to use them with caution. Last year, Carlos Gomez had 38 DRS and Gerardo Parra 36, and this year those players rate at 0 and +1, respectively.

But Heyward has always rated as a top defender -- not quite at his 2014 level, but he's averaged +21 DRS per 1,200 innings in his caree, compared to his rate of +34/1,200 innings in 2014. There's no reason to write off the metrics as a one-year anomaly.

What makes him so good? He doesn't have Roberto Clemente's arm (although he does have nine assists), but he has great instincts and range. Let's use an old-school fielding stat: Range Factor, which is simply putouts + assists per nine innings. Heyward has averaged 2.55 plays per nine innings compared to the league average of 2.06 for right fielders. Based on this simple math, he's made one extra out every two games compared to an average right fielder -- 0.49 per nine innings. He's played 1,157 innings so far in right field (128.5 games worth), so that's about 64 extra outs he's made above an average right fielder, let alone a subpar one.

Imagine if we added 64 hits to Heyward's résumé: He'd be hitting .399.

Now, evaluating Heyward's defense isn't quite that simple. Maybe the Braves throw a lot of fly balls (not really; they're 12th in fly ball percentage) or have an unusual number of starts made by right-handed pitchers, thus facing more lefties who hit the ball to right field (not really; the Braves are 20th in games started by right-handers). So there doesn't appear to be any team quirk that has allowed Heyward to make a high number of plays. He just makes a high number of plays.

In digging deeper into the DRS numbers from Baseball Info Solutions, we see Heyward also makes few mistakes. He has just one error and his total of 15 Good Fielding Plays - Defensive Miscues & Errors is +15, second only to Nick Markakis' +16 among right fielders. Heyward's arm has saved two runs -- nothing special there, although not a liability. It's all about running down fly balls.

Should we believe the numbers? The metrics agree on Heyward's performance on defense in 2014. Maybe you don't think one Heyward has been one of the most valuable players in the National League but I'm inclined to believe he has been.

(Although Kershaw would get my vote right now.)video
1. The Angels need Bartolo Colon.

Journeyman left-hander Wade LeBlanc, replacing injured ace Garrett Richards in the rotation, was shelled in a 7-1 loss to the Marlins, giving up six runs and getting knocked out in the fourth inning. Do the Angels give him another start? Trouble is, that would come this weekend against the A's. Other internal options don't look much better than LeBlanc: Randy Wolf? Chris Volstad? Triple-A Salt Lake is 57-80, so you know there isn't much help down there. That brings the Angels to Colon. According to reports, Colon cleared waivers, meaning the Mets can trade him to any team. But if the Mets didn't trade Colon at the non-waiver deadline, are they going to be any more interested now?

2. Giancarlo Stanton is still in the MVP race.

He launched a long three-run home run off Cory Rasmus, his NL-leading 33rd -- and became just the 12th player to reach 150 career home runs before turning 25 (seven of the first 11 are in the Hall of Fame and the other four are Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones and Albert Pujols). He also leads the NL in RBIs, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and tops NL position players in WAR. MVP voters historically don't go for players on non-playoff teams, but in a year where the leading candidate may be a pitcher who missed an entire month of action, Stanton needs to be heavily considered.

3. Michael Pineda looked good.

Here's the scary thing about the Yankees: If they do somehow get to the postseason, don't underestimate them. Pineda hasn't been healthy enough to make many starts this year, but when he's been out there, he's been effective. He beat the Royals, allowing one run, five hits and no walks in 6.1 innings, the one mistake a Mike Moustakas home run. In 37 innings, he has a 1.95 ERA. Against the Royals, Pineda averaged 93.9 mph with his fastball (2.6 mph faster than his final start in April before he went on the DL), and in his three starts since coming off the DL he's thrown more 70 percent strikes all three outings. He's not the flamethrower with sometimes shaky command he was as a rookie in Seattle but has turned into a guy who can spot his fastball, with just four walks in those 37 innings. If Masahiro Tanaka returns at 100 percent and with the way Brandon McCarthy has pitched since coming over from Arizona, that trio suddenly looks playoff-caliber.

4. The Pirates suffered a tough loss.

John Lackey allowed just one run in seven innings, but the Pirates actually hit him pretty hard, with seven hits and several hard-hit outs. But the Cardinals turned four double plays behind Lackey (give him credit for inducing the groundballs), turning what could have been another shaky outing into a solid line in the box score. Meanwhile, after Francisco Liriano tossed six scoreless innings, the Cardinals scraped together three runs in the seventh off Jared Hughes, with a walk and some seeing-eye singles. Andrew McCutchen's home run in the ninth made the final score 3-2, but it's one of those games you lose a little sleep over if you're a Pirates fan.

5. The Mariners' punishing travel schedule may have affected them.

No team will travel more miles this year than Seattle and after playing in Boston on Sunday, they had to fly across the country to host the Rangers. They got shut down by Miles Mikolas, who entered with a 7.48 ERA and tossed eight scoreless innings. This is the kind of series the Mariners have to win against the worst-in-baseball Rangers, so the pressure is on these next two games, and the Mariners already announced that Felix Hernandez will be pushed back from Wednesday to Friday against the Nationals (Wednesday's starter is undecided, although it will likely be Erasmo Ramirez). The long plane ride isn't the only reason they lost 2-0, but it's one obstacle East Coast teams don't have to face nearly as often.

As we turn the corner into August, I see seven strong National League MVP candidates in what's shaping up as one of the most wide-open MVP discussions in years.

The players may eventually sort themselves out -- if I remember correctly, we were in a similar position at the end of last July in the NL, but Andrew McCutchen eventually pulled away from the pool of contenders and gathered 28 of 30 first-place votes -- as injuries and team results in the final two months play a factor. But this looks like one of those years in which a big September could put a player over the top.

Eric Karabell and I discuss the race in the video above, but here's a quick outline of the seven players I'm considering in the MVP hunt:

Andrew McCutchen, CF | Pirates
Numbers: .309/.409/.539, 17 HR, 63 RBIs, 60 runs, 4.5 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR

The case for: His numbers across the board are a slight tick up from last year; second in the NL in on-base percentage (he leads the league in walks) and fourth in slugging; 17 for 18 swiping bases; plays a key defensive position, although his defensive metrics aren't great (minus-8 defensive runs saved); the Pirates are in the thick of the playoff race after a slow start; has missed just two games.

The case against: Like last year, one single number doesn't stand out, so voters will have to factor in his all-around excellence; the Pirates and McCutchen were a feel-good story last year, so he can't rely on that part of the narrative again; voters don't like to give it to the same guy (although Miguel Cabrera did just win back-to-back MVP honors in the AL); doesn't lead in WAR on either Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs; Pirates might not make the playoffs, and the MVP almost always comes from a playoff team.

Troy Tulowitzki, SS | Rockies
Numbers: .340/.432/.603, 21 HR, 52 RBIs, 71 runs, 5.6 bWAR, 5.1 fWAR

The case for: Leads the NL in all three triple-slash categories; plays a premium defensive position and plays it well (plus-8 defensive runs saved); leads NL players in both Baseball-Reference WAR and FanGraphs WAR; leads NL in park-adjusted OPS.

The case against: Currently on the DL with a hip flexor strain; hitting .417 at home but just .257 on the road, with 14 of his 21 home runs at Coors Field; the Rockies are horrible (the last player from a sub-.500 team to win an MVP was Cal Ripken in 1991).

Clayton Kershaw, SP | Dodgers
Numbers: 12-2, 1.76 ERA, 112⅓ IP, 76 H, 15 BB, 141 SO, 4.9 bWAR, 4.1 fWAR

The case for: The best pitcher on the planet; leads the league in both K's per nine and fewest walks per nine; he's allowed a .220 OBP -- while owning a .237 OBP himself; after a seven-run outing against Arizona on May 17, he has a 1.10 ERA over his past 12 starts, so he's in the midst of one of the most extended dominant stretches we've ever seen from a starter; leads NL pitchers in both Baseball-Reference WAR and FanGraphs WAR; the Dodgers lead the NL West.

The case against: Pitchers don't win MVP awards; OK, Justin Verlander won the AL MVP in 2011, but he was the first pitcher to do so since Dennis Eckersley in 1992 and the first starter since Roger Clemens in 1986; the last NL pitcher to win the MVP was Bob Gibson in 1968; the last time an NL pitcher even finished in the top five was Greg Maddux in 1995; he missed all of April, so he ranks just 45th in the innings pitched; umm … actually gave up a home run on a curveball this year?

Adam Wainwright, SP | Cardinals
Numbers: 13-5, 1.92 ERA, 149⅔ IP, 110 H, 34 BB, 122 SO, 4.7 bWAR, 3.4 fWAR

The case for: As great as Kershaw has been, Wainwright is right behind with a sub-2.00 ERA and has thrown 37 more innings; has had 10 starts in which he allowed zero runs; since 1980, the most such starts in a season is 11; just like Kershaw, his own OBP (.265) is higher than the OBP he's allowed (.258); has allowed just four home runs; the Cardinals are again in the thick of things; leads the league in wins even though the Cardinals are the second-lowest scoring team in the NL; 7-3, 1.52 against teams with a winning percentage above .500.

The case against: All the pitcher caveats with Kershaw apply here; peripheral numbers, such as walk rate and strikeout rate, are excellent but don't compare to Kershaw's.

Giancarlo Stanton, RF | Marlins
Numbers: .293/.393/.535, 23 HR, 71 RBIs, 67 runs, 5.1 bWAR, 4.2 fWAR

The case for: Leads NL in RBIs and ranks second in home runs while also leading the league in intentional walks; leads McCutchen in Baseball-Reference WAR; plays a good right field (plus-9 defensive runs saved); has helped lead a Jose Fernandez-less Marlins team to a surprising .500 record; if they somehow go on a late-season run, Stanton will have the same narrative McCutchen had last year, the superstar carrying a bunch of nobodies into contention.

The case against: The Marlins are still a long shot to make the playoffs; numbers have tailed off in July, hitting .221 with just two home runs; doesn't play a premium, up-the-middle position.

Jonathan Lucroy, C | Brewers
Numbers: .306/.375/.495, 12 HR, 50 RBIs, 50 runs, 4.6 bWAR, 4.0 fWAR

The case for: Terrific offensive numbers for a catcher; the leader of the first-place Brewers; his WAR is right up there among the league leaders, and that doesn't account for how he handles the pitching staff and his pitch-framing abilities (he's one of the best, if not the best, in the game); has played in 100 of Milwaukee's 108 games and started 90 behind the plate.

The case against: He had the hot May and June but is hitting just .205 in July; you can argue that Carlos Gomez has been just as valuable to the Brewers; while he's great at pitch framing, he doesn't have a great arm and has allowed 56 stolen bases, the most in the league, with a below-average caught stealing percentage; voters obviously prefer big power numbers from their MVP candidates; voters might not place much value on his pitch framing.

Yasiel Puig, OF | Dodgers
Numbers: .317/.402/.544, 12 HR, 54 RBIs, 59 runs, 4.1 bWAR, 4.4 fWAR


Who do you think WILL win the NL MVP Award?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,469)

The case for: Tied with McCutchen for second in fWAR among position players; second in the NL in batting average and slugging percentage and third in on-base percentage; third in extra-base hits; second in assists among right fielders and has committed just one error; has recently started playing center field, which increases his value if he stays there.

The case against: Will have to fight Kershaw for votes and narrative; has just one home run and 14 RBIs since June 1; has missed 10 games; voters might focus too much on some of the negatives (bat flips, baserunning gaffes).

It definitely looks like it will come down to September, one of those years in which the best stretch run will settle the race. There are two ways to look at the MVP voting: Who will win it and who should win it. The "should" debate is wide-open, but we can eliminate Tulo from the candidates of "will" win because the Rockies are out of it (and given his current DL status). Stanton is also unlikely; his numbers aren't any better than McCutchen's and his team is less likely to make the playoffs.

That leaves the other five (although a player who has a hot final two months could climb into the race, especially if he's on a playoff contender -- somebody such as Freddie Freeman or Anthony Rendon).

Who do you think will ultimately win it?

Best outfield D? Don't forget the Marlins

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Giancarlo StantonAP Images, Getty ImagesThe Marlins outfield has done a nice job at tracking down balls this season.

Earlier this week a New York sports-talk radio host convinced himself that the New York Yankees' outfield combination of Ichiro Suzuki, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner was the best in the majors.

That's a hard sell, at least so far this season. Gardner's strong performance in left field has been canceled out a bit by Ellsbury's surprising average play (per advanced stats) and Suzuki is a couple years past his prime. The reputation of all three is very good. But in 2014 the reputation doesn't match the numbers.

The discussion got me to thinking about outfield trios that rate best. In polling some colleagues (Alex Cora, Manny Acta and Chris Singleton) one of the common teams mentioned was the Kansas City Royals, with Alex Gordon, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain, and that trio bears out well as the best in the game via Ultimate Zone Rating.

But I wanted to give another team its due, one that didn’t get mentioned by any of the aforementioned "Baseball Tonight" analysts. The Miami Marlins' trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich has played very well.

Marlins outfielders lead the majors in the other primary advanced defense stat -- Defensive Runs Saved -- and as opposed to the Royals, who had a struggling Norichika Aoki in their outfield for a while, the Marlins group has been consistently solid all season.

Let's take a look at what makes each of them valuable.

Giancarlo Stanton
Stanton has not only had a great offensive season. Stanton's defensive numbers have fluctuated considerably from season to season, but the Marlins may have unlocked a key to his success, as our ESPN The Magazine colleague Sam Miller noted in an article for Baseball Prospectus earlier this season.

The Marlins have played Stanton closer to the right-center gap in bigger parks, like AT&T Park in San Francisco. That's enabled him to get to some balls that other outfielders aren't reaching.

Stanton ranks second in the majors in a stat findable at FanGraphs.com, "Out of Zone catches (OOZ)." An out-of-zone catch is one in which the fielder makes the play in an area in which less than half of batted balls are turned into outs. Stanton's 68 are one fewer than he had last season and are surpassed only by Jason Heyward's 80 (Heyward leads the majors in Runs Saved).

Stanton is a bit of a high-risk, high-reward outfielder in that he's among the major-league leaders at his position in both Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors (based on a video review system that classifies about 30 categories of good plays and 60 categories of miscues). But the good has offset the bad, enough for him to rack up some good overall numbers.

Marcell Ozuna
The exclamation point on Ozuna's season will be the two plays he made against the New York Mets on June 20, throwing out the tying run at the plate in the eighth inning and the ninth inning, the latter ending a one-run win. Those came in a cameo appearance in left field. He's been pretty good in center this season too.

Ozuna is one of three outfielders to have two assists in a game without the help of a relay man this season (the others are Brandon Barnes and Yoenis Cespedes).

Ozuna's arm has been worth a couple of Defensive Runs Saved, but he too has done a nice job of picking off balls in the deeper parts of the ballpark, whether at home or on the road. He is well above average with regards to the range component of Runs Saved and improved from a 2013 season in which he had -2 Runs Saved in 33 games in center field..

Christian Yelich
Yelich is another outfielder whose Runs Saved total can be attributed to catching balls hit to the deepest parts of the ballpark. His 44 Out of Zone plays rank third-best in the majors among left fielders, trailing only Alex Gordon and Dustin Ackley.

Yelich entered Thursday ranked second among left fielders in converting plays with an expected play rate of less than 50 percent -- he'd converted 18 of 44, or 41 percent, trailing only Alex Gordon of the Royals (42 percent).

Yelich has a weakness. His outfield arm rating has actually cost him four runs, bringing his numbers down a bit, but they're still pretty good overall, as noted in the chart on the right. They're much better than 2013, when he had -2 Runs Saved in 59 games.

In combination
One of the great things about this outfield is that it is young -- all three of these players are 24 or younger -- and nimble: By our batted-ball calculations, the Marlins are allowing the third-lowest batting average on balls in play on line drives hit to the outfield (an estimated distance of 200 feet or more).

Being young, they may not have the track record of the likes of Gardner, Ellsbury and Suzuki. So it's hard to make the jump to saying that they're the best one in baseball, especially considering that there is some disagreement between Defensive Runs Saved and UZR on their performance (another discussion for another time).

But I'll say this: I think I'd take this outfield before I'd take the Yankees' one. At least for the moment.

Heading into Wednesday's game, Troy Tulowitzki leads all qualified hitters in batting average (.354), on-base percentage (.447) and slugging percentage (.634). We can call that the triple-slash Triple Crown. And if you're doing that, you're the best hitter in the game. (Jerry Crasnick has a story here on the game's best pure hitters worth checking out.)

Except ... of course, Coors Field. But we can adjust for the advantage that Tulo and all Rockies hitters possess, by park-adjusting their stats. FanGraphs has a rate stat called wRC+, which adjusts for home-park environment. Tulo is first in the majors, just ahead of Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen.

And yet, I'm still bothered by these facts:

--Tulowitzki is 92nd in the majors in road batting average (.252).
--He's 39th in road OBP (.355).
--He's 44th in road slugging (.465), behind Luis Valbuena. Behind Lucas Duda. What if Duda played his home games in Coors Field?

What Tulowitzki has done is destroy pitchers at home: .457/.539/.803, with 11 of his 18 home runs and 22 of his 34 extra-base hits, in the same number of plate appearances. That said, Tulo does appear to be an improved hitter this season; he's always struck out more than he walked, except in his shortened 47-game 2012 season, but this year he has 42 walks and 43 strikeouts. Back in May, Richard Bergstrom of the RockiesZingers site pointed out that Tulowitzki has changed his stance a bit this year. His BABIP (average on balls in play) is .365, well above his career mark of .320, and according to Baseball-Reference.com, his line-drive rate the past two years has increased dramatically over his career norms (30 percent last year and 28 percent this year, compared to 21 percent over his career).


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Still, those road numbers don't scream "best hitter in baseball." There are various factors in play there, however. The Rockies do play in a division with three pitcher's parks in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, so that's going to hurt his road stats. There appears to be a Coors Field side effect that hurts Rockies hitters when they go on the road. All of that makes it difficult to evaluate Rockies hitters. In other words, what would Tulowitzki do on another team? That's the unknown.

One thing I've wondered: Are good hitters able to take a bigger advantage of Coors Field than their less talented teammates? When adjusting for Coors, a generic park effect is established, based on the results of all Rockies hitters.

As a team, the Rockies are hitting .328/.377/.529 at home and .237/.290/.387 on the road. Using another advanced metric called weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), the Rockies have a .384 wOBA at home and .291 on the road, a difference of 93 points. Tulo's spread is 203 points, so he's been much better at home even compared to his teammates.

What about recent years? Between 2009 and 2013, the Rockies had a .356 wOBA at home and .295 on the road, a difference of 61 points. Over those seasons, Tulowitzki had a .412 wOBA at home and .368 on the road, a difference of 44 points. So before this year, he didn't improve at Coors as much as his teammates.

So far, however, in 2014 Coors has been a better run-scoring environment than its recent past. That could change as the season evolves. Different sites will come up with different park factors but most use a multi-season park factor. FanGraphs appears to use a five-year factor, so the fact that Coors has been even more extreme than normal in 2014 won't "penalize" Tulowitzki as much.

Back to the question at hand: Is Tulowitzki the best hitter in the game? I'm still skeptical, even if an altered stance (and good health) has led to better numbers. Even his home numbers are skewed by his hot start: He hit .608 in his first 15 home games but .355 since. I guess I'd like to see what kind of numbers Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout would put up in Colorado before declaring Tulo the best in the game. Or Giancarlo Stanton. How many more home runs would he hit if he got to play there?

What do you think? Who is the game's best hitter right now?

The best player in baseball

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17

Sorry, Miggy. Your hitting feats are legendary. You'll be in the Hall of Fame some day, on the short list of best right-handed batsmen the game has ever seen. You know you're an all-timer when you're hitting .319 and on pace for 135 RBIs and nobody is even talking much about how great you've been. You've been so good for so long that sometimes we do take you for granted and shame on all of us for that.

Sorry, Giancarlo. Your feats of strength seem impossible. Your home run on Monday was impossible. You've become must-see TV because any swing can result in something we've never seen before. How many players can we say that about? Watching you hit -- I hate to say it because it sounds crazy -- but watching you hit in some ways must have been like when Babe Ruth started swatting home runs for the Yankees in the old Polo Grounds. What was that? When Yankee Stadium was built they called it the House That Ruth Built. Maybe someday that park in Miami will be called Stanton's Playground. You've matured as an all-around hitter and even your defense has improved.

[+] EnlargeMike Trout
AP Photo/Mark DuncanFew players can or should set their personal goals as high as Mike Trout might for himself.
Sorry, Tulo. You might be in the midst of a season for the ages, in the running to win that MVP award all of us have predicted for you at one time or another, and the reason you may not win it is because your team hasn't been so terrific. You were born to play shortstop, gliding effortlessly to make plays, that strong arm of yours allowing you to make plays other shortstops can't. You've managed to stay on the field, and we know that has been an issue in the past.

Sorry, Cutch. You were the MVP last year. You have no weakness in your game and pack surprising power into your small frame. You're one of the class acts in the game, exciting at the plate and in the field, and you've lifted a sorry franchise into a team worth paying attention to.

But Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. I should say: Still the best player in baseball. He was the game's best all-around player the past two seasons. That isn't really up for debate; I mean, you can argue if you want, but you're going to lose. Ask any general manager who has been the best player in the game past two years and I would predict 29 will say "Trout." Maybe 30 if promised anonymity.

In Tuesday's 9-3 win over the Indians, Trout went 3-for-5 with two home runs and four RBIs. His first homer was a three-run shot off Josh Tomlin in the fifth inning that gave the Angels a 5-2 lead, off a 2-2 89-mph fastball that Trout lined over just over the fence in right field after fouling off three two-strike pitches. His second homer in the seventh off Mark Lowe came off an 0-1 fastball that Trout crushed several rows deep into the left-center bleachers.

Trout is now hitting .311/.397/.611 with 16 home runs, 54 RBIs and nine steals. He lead the American League in slugging percentage and OPS while tied for third in RBIs (impressive for a No. 2 hitter). What's remarkable about those numbers is that it was just a few weeks ago when the big story line was, "What's wrong with Mike Trout?"

After a big opening month, he suddenly slumped in early May. On May 19, he went 1-for-4 in a loss to the Astros and his average dropped to .263. As far as crisis, it wasn't quite Babe Ruth overdoing it on the hot dogs, but Trout had struck out 56 times in 44 games, the most whiffs in the American League. What was going on?

On May 20, Trout started and left in the fifth inning with what was reported at the time as tightness in his leg. He sat out the next day. On June 3, he left a game after one at-bat and the club reported he'd been dealing with a lingering back issue, or "mid-back discomfort." An MRI showed no major problems, just inflammation. He sat out the game on June 4 but has been back in the lineup since. And he has been raking. He's Mike Trout.

In fact, since falling to .263 on May 19, he's hitting .410/.475/.819 with eight home runs, eight doubles and a triple in 22 games. Remember when he was striking out twice as often as he was walking after being close to a 1-to-1 ratio last year? In those 22 games, he has 14 walks and 14 strikeouts.


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Both of his home runs on Tuesday came on low pitches. That's danger zone against Trout. He whips that bat through the zone so quickly on those pitches with great extension. The swing is different, of course, but in some ways it reminds me of Ken Griffey Jr.; his beautiful lefty swing with that big arc was tailor-made for low pitches. Fifteen of Trout's 16 home runs have come on pitches in the lower half of the strike zone. His one home run in the upper half of the zone was a middle-of-the-plate slider. Eight of his home runs have come on low fastballs. Basically, the worst pitch you can throw Trout is a low fastball.

The Indians threw two low fastballs and paid the price.

Power, speed, defense, walks. We know Trout does all of those things. Maybe pitchers will eventually learn to expose that top part of the strike zone more often (Trout is hitting .119 against pitches in the upper half of the zone or above), but pitchers are not trained to pitch up in the zone these days; it's down, down, down, so many just aren't comfortable throwing high fastballs.

Even then, I suspect Trout will eventually learn to adjust. He is, after all, still just 22 years old.

Best player in the game? Here's my top 10 right now, June 17, 2014:

1. Mike Trout
2. Troy Tulowitzki
3. Giancarlo Stanton
4. Andrew McCutchen
5. Jose Bautista
6. Yasiel Puig
7. Carlos Gomez
8. Miguel Cabrera
9. Jonathan Lucroy
10. Paul Goldschmidt, Josh Donaldson (tie)

I reserve the right to change this list on June 18.

Will McCutchen draw All-Star short straw?

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
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.


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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.

Defensive Player of the Month: May

June, 3, 2014
Jun 3

Getty ImagesYoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson excelled on defense for the Athletics in May.

The Oakland Athletics had the best ERA in the American League in May, and one reason for that was that they had the outfielder with the most Defensive Runs Saved and the infielder with the most Defensive Runs Saved of anyone all month.

Those two players -- Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Donaldson -- finished one-two in our voting for Defensive Player of the Month.

The award is given each month after balloting by ESPN.com writers, members of ESPN Stats & Information and video scouts for Baseball Info Solutions (BIS), which tracks defensive data. Cespedes got five first-place votes and finished with 31 points (we vote with a 5-3-1 system for first through third place), one more first-place and two more points than Donaldson. Troy Tulowitzki won the award for April.

Cespedes turned a good month into a great month with a flourish in the final game of May, when he threw two runners out at the plate, propelling him to a tie for the Runs Saved lead with Mets outfielder Juan Lagares, with 10 apiece.

Even without that final game, this was one of Cespedes’ best defensive months in his career. Baseball Info Solutions charted him with eight “Good Fielding Plays” (think Web Gem nominees) and only one Defensive Misplay & Error.

In his first two seasons, Cespedes had 30 Good Plays and 41 Misplays. But May pushed his totals for 2014 to 11 and 6. After catching 28 of 35 balls hit into his zone (the areas in which most left fielders turn batted balls into outs) in April, Cespedes snagged 30 of 32 in May, and had 10 “Out of Zone” catches (up from seven in April). He’s also already matched his 2013 total for “baserunner kills” (the term for throwing out a runner without needing a cutoff man) with five.

His infield teammate, Donaldson, already has a pretty stellar rep for his defensive play and solidified that with eight defensive runs saved at the hot corner last month. His 12 Defensive Runs Saved this season lead major league third basemen and already match his total from 2013, when he finished fourth-best in the majors at third base.

Donaldson tied Jean Segura for the lead in Good Fielding Plays with 18 and had only five misplays and errors. He’s greatly improved his ratio of good plays to misplays, from 63 and 53 in 2013 to 28 and 14 in 2014. Like Cespedes, Donaldson improved on his Revised Zone Rating, going from turning 56 of 73 balls hit into his zone into outs in April to 57 of 67 in May.

Donaldson’s presence makes the Athletics' left side of the infield very formidable. The Athletics turned 81 percent of ground balls hit to the left of the second-base bag into outs in May, easily the highest rate of any team (the Pirates finished second at 78 percent).

A few weeks ago, when we asked Eduardo Perez for a list of defenders who had impressed him in 2014, he put Donaldson at the top of his list. “I like him a lot,” Perez said. “He expects every ball to be hit to him, and he’s really good from side to side."

Donaldson excels most at handling balls hit closest to the third-base line, whether it's due to his positioning or quickness. Our internal batted-ball tracker had the Athletics giving up hits on only 19 percent of ground balls hit closest to the third-base line in May, well below the average of 35 percent.

Donaldson didn’t just have a great defensive May. He had a great offensive one as well, with eight home runs, a .417 on-base percentage and a .990 OPS. Combine his defense and his offensive and you get a Wins Above Replacement total of 2.6, which even outpaced homer-slugging Edwin Encarnacion for best in the AL for the month.

Mark Simon helps oversee the ESPN Stats & Information blog and regularly tweets defensive stats on Twitter at @msimonespn
The Miami Marlins' season appeared to end -- at least their slim hopes for a spot in the postseason did -- on May 9. That was the game in which Jose Fernandez suffered a season-ending elbow injury in a 10-1 loss to the San Diego Padres. They were 20-16 when Fernandez was injured, a solid start for a team nobody expected to contend, the offense producing far better than expected. But how do you replace an ace, even a 21-year-old ace?

You don't. You can't.

But maybe the Marlins can try. Maybe the Marlins should be pursuing Jeff Samardzija. After beating the Nationals on Wednesday, they're only a half-game behind the Braves. It's late May and they're right there.

* * * *

The Marlins should have lost Wednesday's game to the Washington Nationals. God knows they tried to give it away. They led 4-0 after touching up Nationals starter Jordan Zimmermann for four runs in the fourth, but the Nationals scored three in the sixth, the third run coming on first baseman Garrett Jones' throwing error with two outs. In the eighth, the game now tied, Casey McGehee got picked off first base with Giancarlo Stanton on second. In the bottom of that inning, Mike Dunn walked the first two batters and then threw wild on Denard Span's bunt to load the bases; he somehow escaped. They allowed three runners in the ninth, but Stanton gunned down Wilson Ramos trying to stretch a single into a double and the Nationals again failed to score.

The Marlins finally pulled out the win with a four-run 10th inning. This is just one game and maybe it will be forgotten in a week, but it's one of those games that playoff teams find a way to win. I know that's not a sabermetric thing to say and there's no science or numbers behind that statement, and the Marlins probably had a win or two like this last season when they lost 100 games and finished 34 games out of first place. But they won a game when it appeared they would stumble into a loss, and maybe that counts for something.

There were two key moments. In that eighth inning, after Dunn struck out Anthony Rendon and got Jayson Werth to pop up to third, he had a great duel with Adam LaRoche, as LaRoche fouled off four pitches before finally bouncing out.

In the 10th, Ed Lucas singled to lead off the inning and Christian Yelich walked. Derek Dietrich is up. Stanton is on deck. If you bunt, you take the bat out of Stanton's hands. What do you do? Marlins manager Mike Redmond went old school and had Dietrich bunt. I think I'd have let Dietrich swing away -- yes, you want to get that runner to third, but even if Dietrich fails to move up the runners, then the Nationals have to pitch to Stanton.

But Redmond also trusts McGehee, who has just one home run but has been a terror with runners in scoring position. After the Nationals went ahead and intentionally walked Stanotn, McGehee singled sharply to left and Reed Johnson doubled over Jayson Werth's head, and that was pretty much the ballgame. In the end, the bunt worked out, I guess. Like I said, one of those games.

* * * *

OK, Samardzija. The rumors are out there, of course: Blue Jays, Rangers, Yankees and others. But why not the Marlins? Yes, owner Jeffrey Loria isn't the most likely candidate to take on salary, but Samardzija is only making $5.3 million this year. Plus, there are reports the Toronto Blue Jays might not want to add much to their already sky-high $137 million-plus payroll. And while Samardzija is likely to get around $14 million in arbitration next year, the Marlins could always trade him after this season if they can't afford that salary.

Anyway, the Marlins are second in the NL right now in runs per game -- pretty amazing considering last year's league-worst offense. Much of that is due of course to the wonderfully awesome and powerful Mr. Stanton, who went 1-for-2 with three walks as the Nationals basically pitched around him whenever they could. He is now hitting .318/.413/.621, has hit several home runs that landed near Mount Rushmore, and is in that early season MVP discussion along with Troy Tulowitzki and Yasiel Puig.

The question is whether the supporting cast can keep it going. McGehee, for example, has 32 RBIs thanks to a .439 average with runners in scoring position. Overall, however, the offense hit .266/.331/.411 in April and has hit .261/.331/.422 in May, so it's been consistent. And it's probably easier to trade for an arm than an impact bat.

Without Fernandez, the rotation is the area that could be upgraded, especially with Wednesday starter Henderson Alvarez leaving after five scoreless innings with elbow stiffness (please, nothing more severe than that). Nathan Eovaldi and Tom Koehler have been solid, but they could use a No. 1. Enter Samardzija. A trade package would have to begin with top prospect Andrew Heaney, but what do the Marlins have to lose? In a lackluster NL East, where neither the Braves or Nationals look like 95-win powerhouses at this point, you never know. Go for it while you still have Stanton around.

And if you can't get Samardzija? Go give the Rays a call about David Price.

It's late May and your team is a half-game out of first place, Jeffrey Loria. Do you want to win?

Eric and myself discuss two of my favorite plays from April -- one involving Andrelton Simmons and another where the Rays recorded a double play with both outs coming at home. You can see the plays in the video.

Here are a few more candidates -- some quirky, some spectacular -- with the link to the video.

April 4: Giancarlo Stanton blasts a 484-foot homer, the longest of the month.

April 9: David Ortiz breaks the previous "record" by nearly two seconds while taking 33.39 seconds to round the bases after a home run.

April 13: White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton robs David Murphy of a hit with a great jump and diving catch.

April 14: Orioles pitcher Wei-Yin Chen fields a swinging bunt down the third-base line and gets the out.

April 17: The Yankees turn a triple play.

April 18: Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado literally knocks the cover off the ball.

April 21: Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar runs a long way to catch a foul pop. (Ruben Tejeda and Daniel Murphy of the Mets turn a nice double play in that video as well.)

April 25: The Rays turn another unusual double play.

April 27: Orioles left fielder made three diving catches in a week, but this one was the best. Look how shallow he was playing.

April 30: A Reds fan snags a foul ball while holding his son.

Doug Wachter of Baseball Info Solutions helped with some recommendations on the defensive plays -- we were looking not just for plays that looked spectacular but were made where plays usually aren't. The Eaton catch may not look as fancy as some other diving catches, but few plays are made in that area of the field when factoring in the short time the ball was in the air.

In fact, two of the plays Doug recommended weren't even archived on MLB.com: Brett Gardner's diving catch on April 3 against the Astros and Adrian Gonzalez robbing Brandon Belt of a hit with a nice play up the line.

The much-anticipated Alex Wood versus Jose Fernandez rematch didn’t materialize on Tuesday night, as Fernandez turned in another dominating performance with eight scoreless innings while Wood gave up 10 hits and seven runs. What did materialize was another Giancarlo Stanton laser beam home run, this one into the right-center bullpen at Marlins Park.

Is there a more exciting batter to watch in the game right now? While I’d certainly put guys like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Freddie Freeman and newcomer Jose Abreu right up there, Stanton combines the prospect of a potential tape-measure home run with every swing along with maybe the most intimidating presence in the game as he digs in. At 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds or so, he’s a tight end playing right field, a 24-year-old who is quickly joining legendary status for his tape-measure home runs. (Is there better term in sports than "tape-measure home run"?)

His home run off Wood was measured at a mere 391 feet -- the shortest of the eight he’s hit this season. His 484-foot blast off Eric Stults back on April 4 that landed in Pensacola is the longest in the majors so far this season, but Stanton has also crushed home runs of 469 and 457 feet, according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker. His average distance per home run of 427 feet trails only Mike Morse, who benefited from two long home runs in the thin air of Coors Field back on April 23, and Ian Desmond, who has just four home runs.

[+] EnlargeGiancarlo Stanton
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAfter mashing his latest big fly for the Fish, Giancarlo Stanton had plenty to celebrate.
Of course, those distance numbers are nothing new for Stanton. He ranked third in 2013 behind only Trout and Justin Upton in average home run distance (minimum 18 home runs), had the longest home run in the majors in 2012 (494 feet) and the second-longest average distance in 2011 behind Upton. Eighteen of his 125 career home runs have been measured at 450-plus feet and he’s done that despite playing half his games in the thick swamp air of Miami.

As an all-around hitter, Stanton may or may not be a finished product. He has 34 strikeouts in 26 games and that strikeout rate may prevent him from becoming a .300 hitter (he did hit .290 in 2012 and is at .269 in 2014). That’s another reason he’s so tantalizing as a hitter: Has he reached his apex, or is there more still to come?

Stanton’s prodigious blasts have to put him on the short list as one of the greatest pure power hitters of all time, right? He's one of those guys who busts the 80 power rating on the 20-to-80 scouting scale. Based mostly on anecdotal evidence, history books, legends, myths, lies, truths and a personal favorite or two, here are my 10 most powerful home run hitters ever, in no particular order:

Babe Ruth
Of course. His longest home run? In Robert Creamer’s "Babe," the author writes of a spring training blast hit with the Red Sox in 1919 against the Giants in Tampa. The game was played at the Tampa fairgrounds, with a baseball diamond laid in the infield of the horse racing track. "No one had ever seen a baseball hit anywhere near as far before," Creamer writes. "A couple of sportswriters talked to [Giants outfielder Ross] Youngs afterwards and got him to show them the precise spot where the ball had ended up. They paced off the distance back to home plate and found themselves disbelieving the results."

Contemporary accounts placed the distance at "more than 500 feet" to "more than 600 feet." Red Sox general manager Ed Barrow, who was present that day, said it went 579 feet. There are other stories of long Ruth home runs, but Creamer’s account is probably the most reputable and accurate, at least as far as these things go.

Mickey Mantle
Mantle’s 565-foot home run off Chuck Stobbs that cleared old Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C., is widely recognized as the longest hit in a major league game. Thing is, however: That number was a basically a fabrication of Yankees publicist Red Patterson. In Jane Leavy’s "The Last Boy," she exhaustively researched the home run, even tracking down Donald Dunaway, the 14-year-old kid who retrieved Mantle’s baseball from a front yard beyond the left-field fence that day and showed Patterson where he had found it.

That 565 feet that Patterson roughly measured off was where Dunaway found the ball, not where it landed. Others have looked into the distance and laughed at the 565 estimate. Robert Adair, author of "The Physics of Baseball," estimated 506 feet, give or take five feet. He told Leavy, “That number 565 is pure fiction. It was where they picked up the ball after it rolled across the street." Home run historian Bill Jenkinson estimated the home run at 505 to 515.

How hard is it to hit a ball 565 feet? Last April, Greg Rybarczyk explained where such a ball would land at various ballparks.

So maybe Mantle's shot isn't the longest home run ever hit. Or maybe it is.

Mark McGwire
There’s this home run hit off a Randy Johnson 97 mph fastball in the Kingdome in 1997 and this one at Busch Stadium on May 16, 1998, that was estimated at 545 feet at the time. McGwire said on that home run after the game: "The best ball I've ever hit. I don't think I could hit a better one." Manager Tony La Russa: "I think he's got a little more than that."

Dave Kingman
Built like Stanton, Kingman was the subject of a famous Tommy Lasorda rant not suitable for this website, said athletes are "pieces of meat," skipped Dave Kingman Day at Wrigley Field because he was on the disabled list and instead went fishing and once sent a female sportswriter a live rat in a pink box. He also hit mammoth home runs when he wasn’t striking out.

I once saw Kong hit a ball off the speaker that hung over the outfield in the Kingdome in deep left-center. Who knows how far the ball would have gone had it not been interrupted mid-flight. He's also known for two long home runs at Wrigley Field. This one, hit on May 17, 1979, during that semi-famous 23-22 slugfest against the Phillies. (The home run is at the 23-second mark. Love the announcer saying "That one’s in Milwaukee!") The wind was blowing out that day at 18 mph. It was also blowing out on April 14, 1976, when Kingman belted one that the New York Times reported went 630 feet. It hit the third house beyond Waveland Avenue, which is 530 feet from home plate. Not 630, but still pretty impressive.

Glenallen Hill
Speaking of prodigious Wrigley Field blasts, my lord. I think more than the players may have been juiced.

Josh Gibson
Buck O’Neil tells a great story about the Hall of Fame Negro League catcher in Joe Posnanski’s "The Soul of Baseball." As a kid in Florida, he had seen Babe Ruth in spring training. Twenty years later, O’Neil was with the Kansas City Monarchs, in the clubhouse getting dressed for the game, when he heard that sound again. Posnanski writes:

He heard that same crack of the bat -- to Buck the sound seemed to shake the walls. He rushed out into the dugout -- he was wearing only his jock -- and he climbed to the top step. He saw a thick muscular black man swinging a bat roughly the size of a fully grown oak tree. The man hit the next pitch, and that unmistakable sound rang again in Buck O’Neil’s ears. That was Josh Gibson.
Dick Allen
Known for his immense opposite-field power, Allen once hit the roof façade in deep left-center at Tiger Stadium, a distance of 415 from home plate -- but also 85 feet in the air. Players on the field swore the ball was still ascending. That’s unlikely; Jenkinson estimates if that was the case the ball would have gone 700 feet. But Allen was clearly one of the few who possessed the ability to hit a baseball 500 feet.

Willie Stargell
Only four balls have been hit completely out of Dodger Stadium -- two of them by Stargell, merely a visiting player there with the Pirates. On Aug. 6, 1969, he hit an estimated 507-foot home run off Alan Foster that cleared the right-field pavilion and hit a bus parked outside the stadium.

Frank Howard
Before my time, Howard was a mammoth individual, 6-foot-7, 275 pounds, one of the largest players in major league history. While with the Senators, he reached the upper deck at RFK Stadium an amazing 24 times (earning the nickname "The Capital Punisher"). He also cleared the Tiger Stadium roof with one legendary home run. His response to that home run, in a 2010 interview with David Lauriila at Baseball Prospectus: "I think I’ve hit baseballs a lot further than that. That one probably only traveled 530-540 feet, and I think I hit about half a dozen of them well over 600 feet."

What, are you going to question Frank Howard?

Rob Deer
Rob Deer? Sure, Rob Deer. Built like a linebacker, Deer took one of the most ferocious swings you’ll ever see. He hit one out of old Comiskey Park and I once saw him hit one off the left-field foul pole in Seattle -- WAY up the foul pole. And I swear it was ascending. He didn’t connect very often, but when he did, ball go far.

SweetSpot TV: Who is No. 2?

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24

Keith Law has his list up of his 25 best players under 25. Obviously, Mike Trout is No. 1. But who should be No. 2? Eric and myself discuss and debate.