SweetSpot: Troy Tulowitzki



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

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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?
Troy Tulowitzki, currently on the disabled list with a hip flexor strain, made an appearance at Yankee Stadium on Sunday, watching the game from the ninth row behind home plate. It certainly was a little strange, even given Tulo's respect for Jeter (he wears No. 2 in homage) and the fact that he been in Philadelphia getting a second opinion on his hip.

Ian O'Connor wrote an interesting column on Tulo's presence in the Bronx, essentially blasting him for attending the game and comparing him to Alex Rodriguez. I don't quite get that comparison, but O'Connor's bigger point was hinting that Tulo would make for a nice replacement for Jeter. He writes:

The Yankees aren't just replacing Jeter full time next year with the likes of Brendan Ryan, so Tulowitzki makes sense on all sorts of levels. He's 29. He's a monster at the plate. He's tired of losing. And he's a Dan Marino fan who doesn't want Marino's postseason résumé -- a one-and-done trip to the big game in the early hours of his career.

Tulowitzki lost the World Series in his rookie season; Marino lost his only Super Bowl in Year 2. The shortstop is under contract with Colorado through 2021, and he's afraid of being stuck in mile-high loserville for the balance of his prime.

So he figured he'd go catch a couple of playoff contenders between doctor's appointments. Tulowitzki had to know how this look-at-me stunt would play, and beyond that, he had to know Jeter would've never showed at another man's ballpark while his own team was scheduled to play.


Well ... Tulo makes sense for nearly every team, of course, not just the Yankees.

Trouble is: How do you get him if you're the Yankees?

Let's say the Rockies do decide to blow things up, figuring they haven't won in recent years building around Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez, and shop Tulo in the offseason for depth and young assets. As O'Connor mentioned, he's signed through 2021. But he's also signed at a pretty team-friendly rate for a superstar performer: $20 million per year through 2019, then $14 million in 2020 (his age-35 season) with a $15 million team option for 2021. Yes, there's risk considering Tulo's injury history, but he's still averaged 5.1 WAR per season since 2009 -- and that's including a 0.4-WAR season in 2012 when he played just 47 games (plus an incomplete 2014).

Trading for seven years of Tulowitzki would obviously be expensive. I can't think of a player of his ability who has been traded with that many years of team control remaining, so there are really no comparable deals to consider. You think of Miguel Cabrera going from the Marlins to the Tigers, and while he was younger (entering his age-25 season), he was traded with just two seasons of control remaining. The Tigers gave up Cameron Maybin (a top-10 prospect in the game at the time) and Andrew Miller (a top-10 prospect the previous year). When the Mariners traded Ken Griffey Jr. to the Reds, he had asked for a trade but also had just one year left on his contract.

The Mariners' hands were tied; the Rockies' hands aren't, not with Tulo signed long-term.

Anyway, to acquire Tulo, you have to start with at least one top-10 prospect, probably need another top-25 guy or young proven major leaguer, and then add in a slew of other good prospects or young major league talent. The Yankees don't have those kinds of prospects. Keith Law recently updated his midseason top 50 prospects and the Yankees had one player on it, Class A outfielder Aaron Judge, ranked No. 45. Aaron Judge is not the starting point for a Troy Tulowitzki trade.

Truth is, I'm not sure any team could afford Tulo. Well, the Cubs. But you're talking a Kris Bryant-Javier Baez starter package. Maybe the Dodgers, with Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias. The Twins could start with Byron Buxton and the Rockies would want Miguel Sano as well. The Astros could build a trade around Carlos Correa and a bunch of young pitching. That's what it would take to get Tulo. Remember: Even Bryant isn't a lock to be an annual 5-WAR player in the majors like Tulo.

So, sure, Tulo would make a nice successor to Jeter. But it's not going to happen.



The reason for doing this piece should be pretty obvious: Masahiro Tanaka is 11-2 with a 2.11 ERA, leading the American League in wins and ERA. He's not just the clear best rookie so far but a Cy Young and MVP contender.

Tanaka makes his 16th start on Saturday and his consistency has perhaps been his most impressive attribute. He's pitched at least six innings each start and allowed more than three runs just once, a four-run game against the Cubs in May. He's allowed more hits than innings three times and has reached double-digit strikeouts in five starts, second-most in the majors only to David Price. His splitter has been as good -- or better -- than advertised, as opponents are hitting .119 against it with one home run (his first pitch of the season, actually).

Of course, some don't like to call him a rookie considering his years of experience in Japan, but he's a rookie under MLB rules. We're just about at the halfway point and Tanaka has earned 4.1 Wins Above Replacement via Baseball-Reference. Double that and you get 8.2, and only one rookie pitcher since the lively ball era began in 1920 has been worth more.

More on that guy later. Let's take a look at some of the great rookie seasons ever since 1901.

The MVPs: Ichiro Suzuki, 2001 Mariners (7.7 WAR), and Fred Lynn, 1975 Red Sox (7.4 WAR)
Suzuki and Lynn rank fourth and fifth on the all-time rookie list for WAR among position players, if we consider Joe Jackson a rookie in 1911. Did both deserve their awards? Suzuki ranked fourth in the AL in WAR, behind Jason Giambi (9.1), teammate Bret Boone (8.8) and Alex Rodriguez (8.4). I always thought Boone deserved MVP honors that year, hitting .331 while driving in a league-leading 141 runs. Of course, one reason he drove in 141 was Ichiro getting on in front of him. There's no doubt Ichiro had the "wow" factor that year and was so unique -- this little guy playing small ball in the middle of the steroids era -- that everyone fell in love with him.

Lynn hit .331 with 21 home runs and 105 RBIs, leading the league in slugging percentage, runs and doubles and winning a Gold Glove for his defense in center. Baseball-Reference has Rod Carew (7.8 WAR) better, but you can't argue with Lynn getting MVP honors considering the numbers are close and the Red Sox won the AL East while the Twins finished under .500.

The should-have-been MVP: Mike Trout, 2012 Angels (10.8 WAR)
Not to rehash old wounds, but Trout's rookie season WAR is easily the best ever for a rookie position player -- and one of the best ever no matter the experience level. He hit .326/.399/.564 with 30 home runs, 129 runs and a league-leading 49 steals in a depressed offensive era. He played great defense, including four home run robberies. Baseball-Reference ranks his season 22nd all-time since 1901 among position players and the seventh-best of the expansion era (1961).

The only other rookie position player to lead his league in WAR was Paul Waner of the 1926 Pirates, by the modest total of 5.3.

A guy you've probably never heard of: Russ Ford, 1910 Yankees (11.0 WAR)
Actually, they were still called the Highlanders back then. Ford was a right-hander born in Manitoba, Canada -- the first player born in that province to reach the major leagues (and still just one of three, and the other two played a combined 14 games in the majors). Ford had pitched one game in 1909 and then went 26-6 with a 1.65 ERA in 1910, great numbers even for the dead-ball era. He ranked second to Walter Johnson in pitching WAR. His secret? He used an emery board hidden in his glove to scuff up the baseball. The pitch was actually legal back then and Ford was apparently an early practitioner of the pitch, or maybe even its inventor.

This SABR bio of Ford says he claimed to the press that he had 14 different varieties of the spitball (also still a legal pitch). "He had the emery paper attached to a piece of string, which was fastened to the inside of his undershirt," said umpire Billy Evans. "He had a hole in the center of his glove. At the end of each inning he would slip the emery paper under the tight-fitting undershirt, while at the start of each inning he would allow it to drop into the palm of his glove."

Ford wasn't quite a one-year wonder. He was effective in 1911 but then led the league in losses in 1912 as he started suffering from arm fatigue. He jumped to the Federal League in 1914 but then the emery ball was banned, and combined with his arm problems, Ford was out of the majors by 1916.

Best rookie teammates: Shoeless Joe Jackson (9.2 WAR) and Vean Gregg, 1911 Indians (9.1 WAR)
There is dispute on whether to call Jackson a rookie or not. He had 127 plate appearances with the Athletics and Indians over the three previous seasons, below the 140-PA standard we now use, although he probably exceeded the roster time limits. I would prefer to call him a rookie, and what a year he had: He hit .408/.468/.590, knocked in 83 runs and stole 41 bases. He was the second-best player in the league behind Ty Cobb, who hit .420.

His teammate has been forgotten, but Gregg went 23-7 with a league-leading 1.80 ERA. The 6-foot-2 left-hander was already 26 years old when he joined the Indians. Actually, the Indians had purchased his contract from Spokane in 1910, but Gregg refused to sign with Cleveland for $250 a month and was instead sold on option to Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He won 32 games and finally went to Cleveland.

That was a pretty interesting team. Besides Jackson and Gregg, you had an aging Cy Young in his final season (for seven starts) and Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie. Star pitcher Addie Joss, who had fallen ill the previous season, died in April. Anyway, Gregg was a revelation. Cobb and Eddie Collins called him the best left-hander in the league. He remains the only pitcher to win 20 or more games his first three seasons in the majors. Unfortunately, Gregg suffered from recurring arm pain throughout his career and 1913 was his last good season in the majors, although he eventually returned to the PCL and had some good years with Seattle.

1964: Dick Allen, Phillies (8.8 WAR) and Tony Oliva, Twins (6.8)
Allen's WAR total is third among rookie position players behind Trout and Jackson. He hit .318/.382/.557 with 29 home runs while leading the NL in runs and triples. Oliva won the AL batting title with a .323 mark and hit 32 home runs, also leading in hits, runs and doubles. Both had Hall of Fame talent, although they failed to get there. Oliva led the league five times in hits and won two more batting titles but had knee injuries that ruined the second half of his career.

The catchers: Carlton Fisk, 1972 Red Sox (7.2 WAR) and Mike Piazza, 1993 Dodgers (7.0)
In a dominant year for pitchers, Fisk hit .293/.370/.538, making him one of the best players in the league. Piazza hit .318/.370/.561 with 35 home runs. Fisk finished fourth in the MVP voting, Piazza ninth (although he ranked second to Barry Bonds in WAR).

The shortstops: Troy Tulowitzki, 2007 Rockies (6.8 WAR) and Nomar Garciaparra, 1997 Red Sox (6.6 WAR)
Kind of similar in one regard: If Garciaparra had remained healthy, he was on a Hall of Fame trek through the first part of his career. As a rookie, he hit .306 with 85 extra-base hits. Tulo: If he stays healthy, we could be talking about a Hall of Famer.

Ted Williams, 1939 Red Sox (6.7 WAR)
Williams hit .327 with 31 home runs and a league-leading 145 RBIs as a 20-year-old rookie. He was already cocky. When asked before the season opener who he hit like, Williams said, "I hit like Ted Williams." It was in April of his rookie season when he uttered his famous quote, "All I want out of life is that when I walk down the street folks will say, 'There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"

Fifty-two years later, another future Hall of Famer put up nearly identical numbers:

Williams: .327/.436/.609, 31 HR, 145 RBIs
Albert Pujols: .329/.403/.610, 37 HR, 130 RBIs

Greatest relief season ever: Mark Eichhorn, 1986 Blue Jays (7.4 WAR)
By greatest, I don't mean just among rookies. Eichhorn's season was a season for the ages: 14-6, 1.72 ERA, 10 saves and a mind-boggling 157 innings pitched. The sidearmer struck out 166 and allowed just 105 hits. Somehow, he finished third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Jose Canseco and Wally Joyner, whose combined WAR doesn't beat Eichhorn's 7.4.

Britt Burns, 1980 White Sox (7.0 WAR)
Among starting pitchers since 1980, Burns has the highest WAR -- Jose Fernandez's 6.3 from last year would be second-highest. (Dwight Gooden had a 5.5 WAR in 1984; thought he'd rank a little higher.) Burns went 15-13 with a 2.84 ERA, throwing 238 innings at age 21. He actually led AL pitchers in WAR that but didn't factor in the Cy Young voting due to his win-loss record (the White Sox were 70-90 that year). Burns also finished just fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting, which didn't make any sense. Joe Charboneau won it and Dave Stapleton, a part-time first baseman for Boston who hit seven home runs, was second.

Burns, who made his debut in 1978 just two months after getting drafted, made the All-Star team in 1981 and could have been a great one. He hurt his shoulder in 1982, costing him velocity, and suffered from a degenerative hip condition. After winning 18 games in 1985, he never pitched again in the majors.

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Mark Fidrych, 1976 Tigers (9.6 WAR)
A lot of pitchers in the pre-1920 era put up big numbers as a rookie. Hall of Famer Pete Alexander, for example, went 28-13 while pitching 367 innings for the Phillies. Even then, Alexander's WAR doesn't beat what Fidrych did in his rookie season with the Tigers.

The numbers are astounding -- 19-9, 2.34 ERA, 24 complete games in 29 starts -- but don't begin to tell the story of Fidrych's magical season. He didn't even begin the season in the rotation, pitching once in relief in April and then once in early May before finally making his first start on May 15. He threw a two-hitter. He started again 10 days later and lost that game but then came a remarkable run: From May 31 through July 20, Fidrych went 10-1 in 11 starts with 10 complete games. He averaged more than nine innings per start because he twice pitched 11 innings. He was a phenomenon, this quirky kid with the curly hair who talked to the baseball.

I just mentioned this video the other day, but here it is again: the final moments of Fidrych's Monday night game against the Yankees that June. As the announcer says, "He is some kind of unbelievable."


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
11:52
PM ET


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.

Defensive Player of the Month: May

June, 3, 2014
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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
 

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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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.

ICYMI: SweetSpot hits of the week

May, 16, 2014
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A very happy Friday to all of you. What we learned this week: Johnny Cueto and Masahiro Tanaka aren't slowing down anytime soon, each with domiminating CGSOs; we can't have nice things as we lose Jose Fernandez to TJS, although Aroldis Chapman returned (yay!); Bud Selig is forming (another) committee, this time to identify/select his replacement; Yanks and Rangers pitching staffs are falling apart, and clearly Tommy John's decision to not trademark "Tommy John surgery" cost him a few nickels this baseball season. Lastly, it's not OK to let any player at any age and skill-set, throw 194 pitches in one game. Cool? Great, enjoy your weekend.

Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
What if all of Towers' trades were reversed? In 43 months as GM, Kevin Towers has completed 32 trades with 22 different teams. Ryan P. Morrison examines what the D-backs roster would look like right now if all of those trades were reversed.

Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Can history tell us anything about Chris Davis' return from the disabled list?: Nate Delong takes a look at Chris Davis and other similar players who have been sidelined with oblique injuries. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.

Cubs: View From The Bleachers
Is Mike Olt the long-term answer at 3B? Luke Jett takes a look at the question many Cubs fans are asking: Is Olt the guy the Cubs should count on at the hot corner? Follow on Twitter: @vftb.

Chicago White Sox: The Catbird Seat
The best Alexei Ramirez in the league: He isn't the best shortstop in the MLB like Hawk Harrelson says, but James Fegan writes that the first six weeks of play have seen Alexei Ramirez show all of his best traits. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.

Cleveland Indians: It's Pronounced Lajaway
The amazing Josh Tomlin: Ryan McCrystal takes a look at how Tomlin continues to beat the odds and win with some of the league's least intimidating stuff. Follow on Twitter: @TribeFanMcC.

Colorado Rockies: Rockies ZingersTroy Tulowitzki changed something: Why is Troy Tulowitzki hitting for more power? Richard Bergstrom tasks the Hitting Performance Lab to do a biomechanical video analysis of Troy Tulowitzki's 2013 and 2014 batting stance.

Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
Podcast with Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info (iTunes link): We talk advanced stats, heat maps, spray charts, defensive metrics, hard-hit average and more. Follow on Twitter: @disciplesuecker, @msimonespn.

New York Yankees: It's About The Money
An airing of grievances from a frustrating weekend at Miller Park: Brad Vietrogoski spent last weekend at Miller Park and watched the Yankees lose two of three to the Brewers and wrote about his experience. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS

Are the Yankees too old again?: Age and injuries are, once again, a problem for the New York Yankees. Matt Bove explores this issue. Follow on Twitter: @RAYROBERT9.

San Francisco Giants: West Coast Bias
Does Buster Posey have a problem? Posey has been instructed not to block the plate ever since he returned from his gruesome season-ending ankle injury in 2012. After two crucial missed tags in the last week, what are we to make of his lack of aggressiveness? Follow on Twitter: @GiantsBaseball.

Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Rays get primal in Seattle: After a disappointing homestand the Rays were blown out in the first game of a West Coast road trip beginning in Seattle. David Price and Jake Odorizzi got the team back on track with a primitive approach. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel.

Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
Are the Rangers doomed? In the wake of more gut-wrenching injuries, Brandon Land looks into that very question. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away.

The hits just keep on coming: Eric Reining also sticks with the injury theme as he considers the short-term vision of the organization. Follow on Twitter: @ericreining.

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.
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.

During Monday's Power Rankings video chat, Eric Karabell mentioned that this would be an important week for the Pirates as they entered the week at 12-19 with two big series at home against the Giants and Cardinals. That's a tough week and it's followed by a road trip to Milwaukee and New York to face the Yankees and then six home games against the Orioles and Nationals.

This stretch got off to brutal start on Monday with an 11-10 loss to the Giants in a game that ended at 12:36 a.m. local time, featured ducks on the field, two pitchers pinch-hitting, two replay challenges and an umpire getting hit by a throw. The Pirates had an 8-2 lead after five innings. The Giants scored five in the sixth as Jeff Locke and Bryan Morris couldn't stop the damage. The Giants tied it the seventh but the Pirates re-took the lead, only to see the Giants tie it again with a run off Mark Melancon in the ninth. At that point, it seemed inevitable that the Giants would eventually pull it out and they did, scoring in the 13th when the Giants, out of position players, had to let reliever Jean Machi bat with two on and one out. Jared Hughes threw away Machi's bunt for an error and Hunter Pence scored from second. The Giants' rally that inning: Walk, hit by pitch, throwing error. Ouch.

Needless to say, it's not surprising that the Pirates didn't blow any six-run leads last year. Here's a stat that shows how well the Pirates played when they grabbed an early lead in 2013: They were 64-9 when leading entering the sixth inning; this year, they're just 6-6. Pirates starters are last in the majors in FanGraphs' WAR. The magic and good karma of 2013 is quickly fading and they're already 9.5 games behind the Brewers. It's going to be a tough climb back.

Other thoughts on Monday's wild night of action:
  • Machi has become the Giants' secret weapon or good-luck charm. He's now 5-0 with a 0.53 ERA, part of a Giants' bullpen that is second in the majors with a 1.88 ERA and has held opponents to a .198 average. Due to some struggles in the rotation, Giants' relievers are averaging 3.4 innings per game, fourth-highest in the majors, so that's something to watch. Machi is a great story, a 32-year-old Venezuelan first signed by the Phillies in 2000. He didn't reach the majors until 2012, after spending time in the minors with the Phillies, Rays, Blue Jays and Pirates. He's a bad-body guy who primarily throws a fastball/splitter combo. He didn't really refine his control until last season, which began in Triple-A, but he's walked just 15 and allowed two home runs in 70 innings with the Giants in 2013-2014. And his bunt last night? It was first as a professional, as he was batting for the just the fourth time in his professional career.
  • The Rockies continue to roll at home, where Troy Tulowitzki is unstoppable. They beat the Rangers 8-2 as Jordan Lyles improved to 4-0 with a 2.62 ERA, pitching eight strong innings. The Rockies had just three starts at home all last season where the starter went at least eight innings and allowed two runs or fewer (all by Jhoulys Chacin). As for Tulo, he hit two home runs and is now hitting .596 at home and a 1941 Ted Williams-like .408/.512/.786 overall. Nolan Arenado extended his hit streak to 25 games so that's starting to get interesting. I like what I'm seeing from this club. Sure, some of the offense is Coors infused -- they're hitting .344 at home, .254 on the road -- but they're also outslugging opponents .587 to .423 at Coors. They're going to hang around if Tulowitzki stays healthy. Mark Simon has more on the Rockies.
  • Another team that may hang around: The Miami Marlins, owners of another walk-off victory, 4-3 over the Mets after scoring three in the eighth and once in the ninth. Nathan Eovaldi had another good start and he's developing into a solid No. 2 behind Jose Fernandez. After giving up two first-inning home runs, he settled down and went seven innings, allowing three runs and striking out 10. He was a guy I pinpointed before the season as somebody who could take a big leap forward due to his big fastball. He's walked just six batters in 45 innings and after having a poor 78/40 strikeout/walk ratio last year is at 45/6 in 2014. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight wrote about the Marlins yesterday.
  • Oh, Max Scherzer is still good. He's won four starts in a row and hasn't allowed a run his past two. OK, Monday's game was against the Astros but the three previous came against the White Sox (twice) and Angels, two of the best-hitting teams so far. He won the Cy Young last year and he's looking like the leading candidate in the AL once again.


First-month defensive star: Troy Tulowitzki

May, 2, 2014
May 2
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AP Photo/Barry GutierrezTroy Tulowitzki's month was filled with great play after great play.
Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had a heck of a month, hitting .364 with seven home runs and a 1.205 OPS.

But you don’t get to 3.0 Wins Above Replacement for a month without being a great defensive player, too.

Tulowitzki was.

He won our balloting for Defensive Player of the Month for April, edging out the major league leader in Defensive Runs Saved, Braves outfielder Jason Heyward.

Balloting consisted of ESPN.com writers, members of ESPN Stats & Information and Baseball Info Solutions, and Baseball Tonight analyst Doug Glanville, each of whom ranked their top three defenders on a 5-3-1 point scale.

Tulowitzki was named first on seven of the 16 ballots and finished with 57 points, seven more than Heyward, who got six first-place votes. Tulowitzki’s teammate Nolan Arenado placed third, capturing the remaining three first-place votes and 22 points.

Tulowitzki finished the month with 10 Defensive Runs Saved. No other shortstop had more than six. His three Web Gems were second-most of any shortstop (Alcides Escobar had five).

Perhaps most impressive about Tulowitzki was the video review work done by Baseball Info Solutions, which categorizes plays into about 30 categories of Good Fielding Plays and about 60 categories of Defensive Misplays & Errors.

Tulowitzki finished April with 16 Good Fielding Plays and only one Defensive Misplay & Error. That was a better ratio than even flawless Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who had 12 Good Plays and one Misplay & Error.

Our favorite Tulowitzki stat is one we cited a few weeks ago (and also pays tribute to Arenado): Rockies opponents have reached on only 21 percent of ground balls hit to the left of the second-base bag. That rated best in the majors.

The Tulowitzki highlight reel for April was pretty impressive. You can get a look at a few of his best plays here and here.

The latter immensely impressed Rockies first-base coach Eric Young, who is back with the team after previously coaching for the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“Tulo’s range is unbelievable, but more importantly, he has a knack for positioning himself very well,” Young said Thursday. “As for him making the Derek Jeter acrobatic throw, Tulo is, by far, the only shortstop in the game to imitate [that] consistently. “Making throws on the run in any direction sets him apart from the rest. Watching him play defense is just as much a joy as watching him hit every day.”
It was caught the month for Brewers backup catcher Martin Maldonado. Consider:
  • He literally knocked the cover off the ball against the Pirates a couple weeks ago.
  • He was in the middle of the Carlos Gomez-Gerrit Cole spat and cold-cocked Pirates outfielder Travis Snider, leading to a five-game suspension.
  • Before yesterday, he had played in six games -- and the Brewers won all six.
  • On Wednesday, he appeared in his seventh game and pitched a scoreless inning of relief.


OK, maybe wackiest player of the month.

The real candidates for player of the month:
  • Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki: .364/.477/.727, 24 runs, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 10 Defensive Runs Saved, 3.0 WAR. Have a month. OK, so he's hitting .563 at home and just .250 on the road. 3.0 WAR in a month? That's insane. Anyway, if Tulo remains healthy the Rockies are going to be a playoff contender.
  • White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu: .270/.336/.617, 20 runs, 10 HR, 32 RBI, 71 total bases, 0.7 WAR. That WAR total seems a little low but the OBP isn't great and he has no value on the bases or in the field. Still, welcome to America, Jose.
  • SportsNation

    Who was the player of the month for April?

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    Discuss (Total votes: 1,070)

  • Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright: 5-1, 1.20 ERA, 2.0 WAR, 24 hits and 11 walks in 45 innings. He's allowed no runs in four of his six starts and is working on 25-inning scoreless streak.
  • Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto: 2-2, 1.15 ERA, 2.5 WAR, 22 hits and 14 walks in 47 innings. Cueto's strikeout rate has jumped from 7.1 per nine innings when he finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2012 to 9.6 so far in 2014. He's pitched at least seven innings in all six starts and hasn't allowed more than two runs. (He lost one game 1-0 and pitched eight scoreless innings in another 1-0 loss for the Reds.)
  • Angels outfielder Mike Trout: .321/.403/.596, 21 runs, 6 HR, 18 RBI, 4 SB, 2.3 WAR. The high strikeout rate is a bit of a concern -- up 8.4 percent over 2013 -- but his numbers are all there. He's once again been the best all-around player in the AL.


My choice? Seems like a no-brainer: Tulo had one of the great months in recent history.

Defensive notes: Rockies, Heyward, Hunter

April, 24, 2014
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Perhaps you caught regular Insider contributor Mike Petriello’s article on the Indians defensive struggles on FanGraphs.

It's worth a read (and a watching of the videos within the piece) and it also served as inspiration for a look at some of the season's early defensive notes.

Many people say it's dangerous to make observations from a small sample of defensive data, but I think there are some things that can be gleaned already. Here are a few thoughts.

Tulo and Arenado look like best in the business
A healthy Troy Tulowitzki could have a big impact on the left side of the infield for the Rockies in tandem with one of the the most impressive rookie defenders from 2013, Nolan Arenado.

The Rockies are converting groundballs hit to the left of the second base bag into outs at the highest rate in baseball (78 percent). Tulowitzki has six Defensive Runs Saved already. He's had as many as 31 in a season and his presence could make a big difference for Rockies pitchers. (Eric Garcia McKinley has a piece on the Rockies' infield shifting -- or rather, the lack of it.)

Yankees/Twins have it right
In terms of right sides of infields, the ones doing best at converting groundballs hit to the right of second base into outs are the Yankees and Twins, both doing so at about an 83 percent rate.

The story here is that the Yankees haven't missed a beat with the departure of Robinson Cano and temporary absence of Mark Teixeira (and perhaps the increase in shifting has something to do with it), and Joe Mauer's move to first base hasn't yet set off any alarms for the Twins.

Heyward not taking his offensive struggles into the field
Jason Heyward isn't hitting yet (we've written about that already), but he's making up for it with defense.

Heyward already has 10 Defensive Runs Saved, the most among right fielders.

The Braves have the third-most outs recorded on balls hit to right and right center by our computing (76, using a pre-designed field grid), and have allowed the fewest fly ball/line drive doubles and triples (eight).

The Braves outfield defense is off to a great start this season, with a combined 19 Defensive Runs Saved.

Torii Hunter may be getting old
If you thought that Torii Hunter’s Defensive Runs Saved total from last season (he cost his team 10 runs) was a fluke, given that he'd ranked second and third in that stat the previous two years, you might reconsider.

Hunter is already a worst-in-baseball -7 Defensive Runs Saved in right field for the Tigers.

The Tigers have the fewest outs recorded on fly balls and line drives hit to right field and right-center (38), but are tied for eighth in most doubles and fly ball/line-drive triples allowed to that same area (18).

White Sox shift their stance
What team has most shifted positions with regards to the shift? How about the Chicago White Sox, who have already shifted more times this season (84 shifts on balls in play) than they did all of 2013 (73).

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the White Sox lead the majors in "Out of Zone plays," a stat charted at FanGraphs.com that measures how often players are converting outs on balls outside of the areas in which they typically turn batted balls into outs.

Of course, given that the team's ERA is hovering around 5, we'll see how patient Robin Ventura and his pitching staff are with this new philosophy.

Is anyone worthy of a reverse shift?
Lastly, one thing I've been wondering about with the emphasis on shifting is whether any players would be worthy of a "reverse shift" -- in other words, a right-handed hitter for whom the defense tilts its infield to the right, rather than the left.

Derek Jeter took his opposite-field hitting to extremes earlier this season.


There was a hitter who was worthy of this for a bit, but he's since balanced things out a little.

Derek Jeter leads the majors in percentage of groundballs hit to the opposite field.

It's not quite as extreme now as it was in the image on the right (he's pulled five of 29 ground balls), which comes from the first two weeks of the season, but it's still notable.

Maybe Joe Maddon will have the guts to try something like a reverse shift on Jeter. Stay tuned.
Troy Tulowitzki has arguably been the best player in baseball this season, leading the National League in slugging percentage and OPS while hitting .347 with 16 home runs. Unfortunately, he's expected to miss four to six weeks after breaking a rib, and his reputation as a brittle player is further cemented.

Tulowitzki
Tulowitzki
Last year, a groin injury limited the Colorado Rockies shortstop to just 47 games, and he also missed significant time in 2008 (61 games missed), and 2010 (40 games missed). Manager Walt Weiss had already been cautious about sitting Tulowitzki this year when he was banged up. When healthy, Tulo is on the short list of best players in the game, but it's hard to build a consistent winner around a player who keeps missing large chunks of playing time. The two seasons Tulowitzki remained completed healthy and played 150-plus games the Rockies made the plaoffs.

Rockies fans are familiar with star players who couldn't stay on the field enough. Larry Walker was the team's star from 1996 to 2003, but averaged just 125 games per season over those eight seasons; that's 296 missed games and probably cost Walker a shot at the Hall of Fame. The one season he remained healthy and played 150 games he won the MVP Award.

The Rockies will likely call up infielder Josh Rutledge, who hit his way out of Colorado a couple weeks ago with a .242/.298/.357 line. He played second for Colorado, but came up as a shortstop and should get the first chance to start over Jonathan Herrera. It's obviously a big loss for the Rockies. Baseball-Reference rated Tulowitzki at 3.6 WAR in the 61 games he played, so if he had continued at that level and misses 45 games, that's about 2.5 wins. Rutledge and Herrera are about replacement-level players, maybe a little better, so Tulo's injury will cost the Rockies about two wins.

The one piece of good news is that the Rockies only have one series apiece against the Diamondbacks and Giants through the end of July.

The Rockies are dealing with injuries to Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler, both listed as day-to-day after leaving Thursday's game. Gonzalez was hit on the foot by a foul ball while in the on-deck circle, and Fowler was hit in the hand by a pitcher. X-rays were negative on both, so they shouldn't miss much, if any, time.
The evening began with the OTL report that MLB seeks to suspend Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz, Bartolo Colon and others named in the Biogenesis scandal. But the night turned into a reminder of what makes the sport so great.
  • When the Dodgers signed Cuban defector Yasiel Puig last June to a 7-year, $42 million contract, many in the industry scoffed at the money given him, calling it an overreaction to the soon-to-be-changing rules that would cap spending on international signings. But Puig is in the majors less than a year later, much quicker than most expected, and in his second major league game had a day to remember with two home runs, a double and five RBIs. Here's Vin Scully calling Puig's first home run, a long blast to left field. And here's Scully calling his second, which Puig hit the opposite way. Scully began calling Dodgers games in 1950, the year before Willie Mays debuted with the Giants. Now he gets to call home runs by Yasiel Puig. Loved how Don Mattingly hit Puig leadoff, and the energy Puig brought to Dodger Stadium -- the Dodgers beat the Padres 9-7 -- was exciting. As bad as everything has gone for the Dodgers, they're not buried just yet. Maybe this will be the start of more than just a great career.
  • In Philadelphia, John Mayberry Jr. became the first player in major league history to hit two home runs in extra innings, with the second one being a walk-off grand slam. Here are his two home runs.
  • I watched the Arizona-St. Louis game, featuring 21-year-old starters Tyler Skaggs and Michael Wacha, each making their second starts of the season (Skaggs debuted last year) after dominant first outings. Neither was effective this time around, with Skaggs giving up five runs, including two home runs, in 5.2 innings, and Wacha allowing 10 hits and six runs in 4.2. Wacha only walked one batter, but after showing great fastball command in his first start -- 45 strikes in 58 pitches -- the fastball wasn't as effective and the D-backs were 7-for-19 off it. He was falling behind and forced to his fastball more instead of going to his changeup to put batters away. Still, hard to believe there were 18 players drafted ahead of him last June. Anyway, it was a good game as the both bullpens produced lockdown performances, the D-backs finally winning in 14 innings. One thing to question with Mike Matheny: Twice in extra innings he had a pitcher pinch-hit leading off an inning instead of using his last bench player, backup catcher Tony Cruz. I think you have to use Cruz there, otherwise you're playing with a four-man bench.
  • Big win for the Rockies against the Reds, with Troy Tulowitzki hitting a go-ahead, two-run homer in the eighth. The Reds have now lost five games they were leading heading into the eighth inning. More proof that the eighth-inning guys are often more important than the closer.
  • The Braves, Brewers and Nationals joined the Phillies as walk-off winners.
  • Tim Lincecum had more of a vintage Lincecum performance as the Giants beat the Blue Jays 2-1. "It definitely feels good, but we've still got a lot to do, a lot of work to do," he said after the game. "I've said it before, I'm not jumping up and down right now, I'm just happy with what we did today. Tomorrow's another day for work."
  • The Royals have now lost 11 consecutive home games, scoring just 23 runs in those games, after the Twins shut them out 3-0. You have to think Ned Yost will be out of a job soon.

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