SweetSpot: Albert Pujols

Five things we learned Saturday

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
1. Albert Pujols could be a big factor in the American League pennant chase.

Remember Albert Pujols?

Certainly, the 2014 version of Pujols isn't the legendary hitter we saw during his St. Louis years. (His teammate Mike Trout, however, might be the only hitter on earth who resembles that version of Pujols.) On the other hand, the 34-year-old Pujols is quietly having an effective season (.274/.330/.467, .343 wOBA), and he served notice Saturday night that he intends to be a factor in the Angels' drive toward the American League pennant.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
AP Photo/Ann HeisenfeltAlbert Pujols notched a pair of milestones (2,500 hits and 1,500 runs) in the Angels' 8-5 victory over the Twins.
In the Angels' 8-5 win over Minnesota, Pujols went 3-for-5 with three runs scored, a double, a home run and three runs batted in. In the process, Pujols reached some personal milestones. He scored his 1,500th career run, a feat accomplished in baseball history by only 69 other players. The homer was Pujols' 25th of the season, which means that he is now one of only 14 players all time to have hit 25 or more homers in 13 different seasons.

In addition, Pujols' final hit of the evening was the 2,500th of his illustrious career, and he became just the fourth player ever to have 2,500 hits, 1,500 runs and 500 homers before age 35. None of that, however, likely means more to Pujols right now than the fact that his 2,500th hit was a double that drove in the two go-ahead runs in the ninth inning, a lead the Angels would not relinquish.

Sure, the Athletics had a fun walk-off win against the Astros, but the Angels keep rolling, having won 9 of 11 and 18 of their past 24. The Halos aren't going anywhere.

2. Danny Duffy's injury adds yet another element to the fascinating AL Central race.

You thought the most intriguing division race in baseball couldn't get more interesting, didn't you? Well, you were wrong. Kansas City's Danny Duffy was removed from his start against the Yankees after throwing just one pitch.

Obviously, this looks to be a huge blow to the Royals, in the midst of their first legitimate playoff push since, when? The Reagan administration? After missing portions of the 2012 and 2013 seasons because of Tommy John surgery, Duffy has been outstanding this season.

He's made 22 starts, and despite a pedestrian 8-11 record, Duffy owns a 2.42 ERA that ranks third in the American League (behind Chris Sale and Felix Hernandez).

The Royals say Duffy is just suffering from shoulder soreness; only time will tell whether that's an accurate diagnosis or if there is something more sinister at play. Suffice to say, however, the Royals will find it difficult (impossible?) to replace Duffy in the rotation for the stretch run if he's out for an extended period, since, by some measures, Duffy has been the best starter in the Royals' rotation. Kansas City fans probably shouldn't worry too much, though.

After all, it wasn't long ago that we thought Detroit's acquisition of David Price spelled the end of K.C.'s playoff hopes.

3. The Brewers' slide isn't over just yet.

Milwaukee's free fall in the National League Central was arrested temporarily Friday night, as the Brew Crew snapped a nine-game losing streak. They weren't as fortunate Saturday, as the Cardinals dropped the Brewers 5-3 behind six solid innings from Lance Lynn and homers from Matt Adams and young Oscar Taveras.

Milwaukee has now lost 10 of 11 and 13 of its past 16. The Brewers, as you know, have dominated the division all year, holding first place through the end of August. Barely more than two months ago, they held a 6.5-game lead and were three games ahead as recently as Aug. 17. Milwaukee is now four games behind St. Louis, and even more worrisome is the fact that it's only a half-game ahead of a somewhat resurgent Pittsburgh club (which took a pair from the Cubs) in the NL Central and wild-card standings.

4. The Giants keep the pressure on the Dodgers.

The Giants scored four runs in the first off David Price and cruised to a second straight victory over the Tigers in Detroit. San Francisco is now 78-64, having won nine of its past 11 games. The Giants cooled off substantially after a torrid start to the season, but Bruce Bochy's crew is turning up the heat again. If the Dodgers aren't hearing footsteps, they aren't listening.

Meanwhile, Buster Posey continues to mash the baseball in the second half. Posey reached base four times Saturday, hitting his 20th homer while going 3-for-3 with two runs scored. On the season, Posey's numbers are very good: .310/.361/.494, .370 wOBA. During the second half, however, Posey has been exceptional, hitting .356/.399/.592 with 10 doubles, nine homers and 32 RBIs in 172 at-bats.

5. Corey Kluber is the latest Cleveland pitcher to toss a gem.

Just last night in this space, my colleague Katie Sharp declared that the Indians were still very much in the playoff race thanks to another excellent performance by a Cleveland starter. Different night, same story. Cleveland beat the ChiSox 3-1 on Saturday, and Kluber delivered a superb outing for the Indians, allowing five hits and no earned runs in a complete-game effort. Kluber struck out eight and didn't walk a batter.

Don't look now, but Cleveland is six games over .500 and closer to first place in the AL Central than Oakland is in the AL West. The Indians are four games out of the second AL wild-card spot. Stranger things have happened. This is baseball, after all.

Chad Dotson writes for Redleg Nation on the SweetSpot Network and Cincinnati Magazine. You can find him on twitter @dotsonc.
There's never a dull moment with Yasiel Puig. In Monday's game against the Angels, he made a nice running catch of a fly ball in right-center field and then nearly doubled Erick Aybar off first base, wagging his finger at Aybar as if to say "Don't even think of running on me."

Well, Albert Pujols did. In the eighth inning, Puig caught a ball in deep center and Pujols took advantage of Puig's casual effort in getting the ball back in, tagging from first base. Here are both highlights. The best part of the second play may have Vin Scully's call: "Puig kind of nonchalantly catching it and then realizes, 'What am I doing?' And Pujols says, 'What are you doing? You're gathering wool, that's what you're doing.'"

Gathering wool. Love it. (Also love the Angels mimicking Puig's finger wag.)

Scully just didn't pull the phrase out of thin air. The word woolgathering means "indulgence in idle daydreaming." The Merriam-Webster online dictionary writes,
"Woolgathering" once literally referred to the act of gathering loose tufts of wool that had gotten caught on bushes and fences as sheep passed by. Woolgatherers must have seemed to wander aimlessly, gaining little for their efforts, for in the mid-16th century "woolgathering" began to appear in figurative phrases such as "my wits (or my mind) went a-woolgathering" -- in other words, "my mind went wandering aimlessly." From there, it wasn't long before the word "woolgathering" came to suggest the act of indulging in purposeless mind-wandering.

May we all be going as strong at 86 as Scully.

By the way, Pujols' play is classic Albert, but not necessarily what we've seen from him in 2014. On July 19, John Dewan published a list of the worst baserunners of 2014, using a statistic called Net Gain, which includes both basestealing and advancements on hits and outs. The bottom five guys were:

Victor Martinez: -24
Brandon Phillips: -22
Alex Avila: -22
Billy Butler: -20
Albert Pujols: -20

FanGraphs' current leaderboard for worst baserunners is topped by Avila -5.9 runs, Eric Hosmer at -5.4 runs and David Ortiz and Adam Dunn at -5.1, with Pujols tied for eighth-worst with Martinez at -4.0 runs.

Indeed, Pujols has taken the extra base on a fly ball, wild pitch or passed ball just seven times so far this season, compared to his career high of 27 in 2010. He's taken the extra base on a hit (more than one base on a single or two on a double) just 34 percent of the time. That's up from 21 percent last year, when he was hobbled with the bad foot, but well below his 47 percent career rate.

So, you can maybe understand why Puig didn't expect Pujols to tag up.

Is Puig cutting down on his mistakes? Let's break his career into two-month segments and look at his Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays & Errors, as charted by Baseball Info Solutions.

June/July 2013: 15 GFP, 13 DME (10 misplays, three errors)
August/Sept. 2013: 15 GFP, 14 DME (12 misplays, two errors)

April/May 2014: 10 GFP, 16 DME (16 misplays, no errors)
June/July 2014: 5 GFP, 13 DME (11 misplays, two errors)

The June/July total includes the first few games of August.

As you can, Puig's rate of misplays hasn't dropped from last year. He's now playing center, but spent most of his time right field. The "leaders" in Defensive Misplays & Errors among right fielders:

Yasiel Puig: 26
Gerardo Parra: 21
Giancarlo Stanton: 21
Jayson Werth: 21
Marlon Byrd: 20
Alex Rios: 20

Puig's net difference between Good Fielding Plays & Defensive Plays & Errors is -11, tied with Torii Hunter for worst in the majors among right fielders. Nick Markakis has the best net difference at +16.

Here is the breakdown of Puig's misplays from Baseball Info Solutions:

Ball bounces off glove: 5
Failed dive for fly ball/line drive: 4
Wasted throw after hit/error: 4
Mishandling ball after hit: 3 (including one charged as an error)
Wasted throw after sac fly: 2
Overrunning the play: 2
Bad route: 1
Cutting off a better positioned fielder: 1
Failing to reach pop foul: 1
Letting a pop fly drop between fielders: 1
Throw to wrong base: 1
Giving up on a play: 1

You may think some of these misplays are unfair -- maybe the ball bounced off his glove after a long run, a ball other right fielders wouldn't have go to -- but clearly many of his mistakes are still mistakes of exuberance. As teammate A.J. Ellis said after Monday's game, "He came straight to the big leagues, and he's still learning things. Hopefully, when you make a mental mistake, you'll never make it again."

Puig does make up for some of his mistakes with plus range; his overall Defensive Runs Saved is zero (compared to Hunter's MLB-worst -14).

But the perception of Puig has an exciting but erratic outfielder seems to still hold.

Angels add Richards to big O for 'best' bid

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5

One ballgame does not a four-game, home-and-home, crosstown series make -- not when the Angels are in what figures to be a two-month race yet to run against the other AL West candidate for best team in baseball, the Oakland A's. But on Monday, the Angels provided a few quick reminders for why folks might want to think about them as baseball’s main feature, and not just in La-La Land.

Start with Garrett Richards, best young righty in the league using almost any metric you might want to turn to. He was already among the top 10 AL pitchers in WAR before Monday’s complete-game shutout, allowing just seven baserunners and whiffing nine in his 17th quality start in 23 turns. His ERA is in the top 10, but turn to Baseball Info Solutions’ Component ERA and you’ll find that the only pitchers in the league doing a better job of keeping runs off the board than Richards’ 2.02 ERC are Felix Hernandez (1.54) and Chris Sale (1.82). Now boasting a 12-4 record on a team that might wind up with the best record in baseball, it’s easy to suggest he might be in the Cy Young mix no matter who comprises this year’s electorate from among the BBWAA’s members: young or old, sabermetrically savvy or new-data indifferent and old-school.

It would be safe to say that wasn’t what most people expected from Richards at the start of the season, but the Angels are simultaneously balancing the proposition that you can be baseball’s best ballclub and nevertheless conjure up answers on the fly, because nothing works out exactly the way you expect. Success isn’t just a matter of getting great years out of great players or enjoying a breakthrough as big as Richards’; it’s also about managing around the problems that arise in-season and coming up with your best combinations as you figure out what works. Richards is one big in-season development; shoring up the bullpen with closer Huston Street and former closer Jason Grilli is another.

But another thing that’s happened along the way is that the Angels’ lineup is finally taking shape along the lines manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto might have envisioned on Opening Day. That’s because they’ve finally gotten all of the big names back from the DL while also being able to discard what hasn’t worked.

[+] EnlargeMike Trout
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsMike Trout wasn't Superman on Monday, but on this Angels' team, he doesn't need to be every night.
In Mike Scioscia’s front-stacked lineup featuring power-hitting Kole Calhoun leading off with Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton behind him, you could argue that the Angels are doing the best possible job of punting on old-school lineup design by trying to put speed or bat control up top, instead concentrating the most at-bats in their best players. They didn’t have the benefit of having that all season, not when both Calhoun and Hamilton got hurt in April, but now they have one of the best front fours in any lineup all active at once.

As a result, Trout can afford to turn in workmanlike Clark Kent nights like this -- when he kept his Superman thing relatively muted, “just” doubling in a run and scoring another in the Angels’ four-run first -- because everyone else did plenty to remind folks that they’re not just Mike Trout and Troutettes. Instead, ex-famous people such as Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton provided reminders that they still have plenty left in the tank, doubling and homering, respectively, off Zack Greinke.

They still afford themselves their former World Series-winning conceit of hard-contact, ball-in-play types who don’t strike out -- guys such as Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar -- but they’re down in the order, behind the big thumpers. The bottom third of the order is where Scioscia gets to play around with combinations, such as professional hitter Efren Navarro and power prodigy C.J. Cron sharing regular at-bats between the first, left and DH slots, or Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger combining to contribute an OPS around .740 from the catchers’ slot. When the worst player in your regular lineup is David Freese, you’re probably going to score runs, and it’s why the Angels rank second in the league in runs scored per game.

The front half of the season also provided answers as well as absences. Giving Raul Ibanez a chance as their DH wasted their time and left runs unscored, but that’s no longer their problem down the stretch. Now, it’s a matter of keeping Hamilton and Pujols in the lineup and injury-free through scheduled rest and sporadic DH starts. If both are contributing behind Calhoun and Trout down the stretch, it can be the kind of lineup that keeps cranking out five runs a night.

That’s no small thing in this low-scoring age. Instead, it’s about as decisive an edge as you could ask for, even on the nights when Garrett Richards doesn’t pitch. And as the Angels look forward to scoreboard-watching night after night to see if this is the night they've caught the A's, the Angels will take both the benefits of the contender they designed and the assets that they've added along the way.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.

Angels' AL-best O not firing on all cylinders

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
Albert Pujols’ hot start has been tremendously good news for the Angels. Of course, it’s always a good thing to have the big guy bash nine homers in the season’s first month. And after an injury-marred 2013 season, it certainly helps that it appears not all of Arte Moreno’s investment in him has been in vain. And paired with Mike Trout’s reliable “best player in baseball” act, the Angels are cranking out a league-leading 5.7 runs per game. They’re both swinging among the hottest bats in baseball in the early going. Pujols’ OPS+ of 179 is the second highest in the league, while Trout ranks ninth (157).

But the other reason why it’s key? Imagine where the Angels’ lineup would be without those two, because league-leading offense or not, a lot of things aren’t working out perfectly well for the Angels’ offense in the early going.
[+] EnlargeAlbert Pujols
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisAlbert Pujols is leading the Halos' charge on offense, but how many Angels are following?

First, there’s the problem with stocking their outfield. Starting left fielder Josh Hamilton and starting right fielder Kole Calhoun both went down with injuries after hot starts, and won’t be back from the DL until the back end of May. Their playing time is going to a combination of J.B. Shuck, Collin Cowgill and Brennan Boesch. Shuck had a decent 2013 season, hitting .293/.331/.366, but he’s at best a fourth outfield type. They’re all pretty much the real-world definition of replacement-level talent, not in terms of the numbers assigned to a replacement-level hitter in models like WAR, but in terms of describing what you wind up with when you lose two starters and your farm system doesn’t have ready alternatives.

That’s a matter of unhappy accidents, but some of the choices the Angels made as a matter of design have turned out even worse. Designated hitter Raul Ibanez is looking done, for starters. Sure, you can say that about anybody hitting .157/.224/.314 after three weeks, and if you’re a big Ibanez fan, you might reasonably point out that his BABIP (now at .170) will come around. The problem is that Ibanez is getting reliably beaten up at home plate, as he’s struggling with breaking pitches and off-speed stuff. If you look at his Hot Zone data here or his PitchF/X outcomes over at Brooks Baseball via Baseball Prospectus, you’ll find that he isn’t killing pitches up the zone, and is getting eaten up low and outside. Another problem for a power hitter like Ibanez is that he isn’t getting balls in the air. Instead, he’s generating a career-worst 1.40 ratio of grounders to fly balls when he isn’t striking out at a career-worst 26.3 percent clip. If he doesn’t start winning those battles at home plate, there won’t be a BABIP level to regress to. As many times as people have been saying Ibanez is done (at least since 2011, if not earlier), this time it might be true.

Over at third base, thanks to his cold start, David Freese, former World Series hero, is losing at-bats to Ian Stewart, former washout with the Rockies and Cubs. Freese has been brutal in the early going, with an OPS at .418 through Friday, while striking out in nearly 30 percent of his at-bats as he struggles to adjust to a new league. Meanwhile, Stewart’s shown some early power, ripping six extra-base hits in 41 at-bats -- while also striking out 16 times already, just going to show that the same whiffery that undermined his career in Colorado and Chicago when he was healthy enough to play hasn’t gone away.

But perhaps even more surprising when talking about these two? It’s worth keeping in mind that while Stewart (2008) broke through to the major leagues two years before Freese (2010), he’s two years younger than Freese. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Stewart keep cadging at-bats and spot starts against right-handed pitching all season, especially if Freese doesn’t get going.

Which brings me to a last point about the Angels to keep in mind: They’re old. Averaging 30.1 years of age, the lineup is fourth-oldest in the American League, trailing just the veteran-spackled lineups of the Red Sox, Yankees and Tigers. The only guys who might regularly play in the lineup this year who bring that number down are Trout and (when healthy) Calhoun. Hitters like Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Chris Iannetta and Freese, all in their age-30 seasons or older, aren't going to get any better, having long since moved beyond fulfilling those dreams some had for them when they came up.

So Angels fans, just keep hoping you get more of the same as far as the Albert of old turning back up, paired up with Mike Trout being Mike Trout. Because even after Hamilton and Calhoun come back, you’re going to need them.

Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.
Is that such an outlandish headline? I'm not sure it is. Wood did it all in Monday's 5-1 win over the hapless Diamondbacks, pitching seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks and going 2-for-3 with a double and three-run homer. Here's a fun tweet:

Wood hit .222 with three home runs last year, and while we won't quite declare him the new Mike Hampton yet, there are similarities in that both are/were smallish lefties who could hit (Hampton hit seven home runs for the Rockies in 2001 and hit .344 the next season with three home runs).

More importantly, Wood is off to a great start on the mound (2.52 ERA), so far proving his 2013 breakout wasn't a fluke. In 25 innings, he has 28 K's and four walks and two home runs allowed. That's a big boost in his strikeout rate from 2013 -- 17.5 percent to 25.7 percent -- and if this is a real improvement then it's time to start thinking of him as an elite starter.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, while Wood and Jeff Samardzija have allowed just 14 runs in their eight starts, those two are a combined 1-4 as the Cubs are next-to-last in the NL in runs.

Other quick thoughts from Monday's action:
  • New Pirates first baseman Ike Davis hit a grand slam and then the Pirates scored runs in the eighth and ninth to beat the Reds 6-5. The Reds have an MLB-worst 5.77 bullpen ERA with an atrocious 1.72 WHIP. J.J. Hoover and Manny Parra have really struggled, so even Aroldis Chapman's return isn't an automatic fix. As for Davis, he's been plagued by inconsistency in his career, but we're not that far removed from the second half of 2012 when he hit .255/.346/.542 with 20 home runs. Who knows if it will work out, but it was a good risk by the Pirates to get him. Sure, you worry about all the strikeouts and low average you're going to get from Davis and Pedro Alvarez but they may also combine for 65 home runs.
  • Some sweet fielding plays on Monday. Loved this double play by Ruben Tejeda and Daniel Murphy for the Mets and this slick bare-handed play by Albert Pujols. Tejeda made another diving stop and out as the Mets blanked the Cardinals 2-0 behind Jenrry Mejia's 6.2 scoreless innings and Kyle Farnsworth's first save.
  • Nice 4-3 win for the Rangers over the A's on a night Yu Darvish didn't have a dominant outing, with eight hits and four walks in six innings. Fun fact: Prince Fielder has already been intentionally walked nine times, the most ever for an AL player in April. He's hitting just .205 but opposing managers still want to get a righty-righty matchup when possible.
  • Fielder's old teammate in Detroit, some guy named Miguel Cabrera, continues to struggle with a .206/.275/.333 line and one home run. It's gone relatively unnoticed because he's Miguel Cabrera and we expect him to heat up soon enough -- and the Tigers are still 9-7 after losing to John Danks on Monday -- but this is a guy who never has a bad month (last September, when he was injured, being the exception). He only has one opposite-field hit all season. Last year, 55 of his 193 hits went to right.
  • Keep an eye on Corey Dickerson, who gets a chance to play for the Rockies with Michael Cuddyer on the DL. He can hit and went 3-for-4 with one of the five home runs the Rockies hit against the Giants.
  • Things are turning ugly in Seattle. The Mariners returned home to face the Astros with Felix Hernandez pitching and put up a stinkbomb of a game for their seventh straight loss. An error by Kyle Seager in the sixth inning led to four unearned runs as Hernandez gave up three run-scoring hits with two outs. Dustin Ackley was moved up to the No. 2 spot in the lineup and promptly went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. Justin Smoak is hitting .170 after his big opening series against the Angels. Seager and Brad Miller are hitting under .200. Leadoff hitter Abraham Almonte has 28 strikeouts in 19 games. Looks like the same old Mariners.

Happy birthday, Albert Pujols

January, 16, 2014
Jan 16
I'm going to try something new here. Maybe this will be a one-time post, maybe I'll do it on occasion or maybe I'll do it for two months and get tired of doing it. Anyway, the idea is to look at each day's list of birthdays and write a short blurb about some of the players. So let's give it a shot.

Today looks like a pretty good day for birthdays -- two Hall of Famers plus a future Hall of Famer.

Jimmy Collins: Born in 1870

Collins was a turn-of-the-century third baseman known for his slick fielding, one of the stars of the National League powerhouse Boston Beaneaters. He jumped ship to the Boston Americans to become player-manager when the American League was founded in 1901. Can you imagine the uproar that must have caused? It would be like Robinson Cano leaving the Yankees to become player-manager of the Mets. Collins received a big raise in salary and a percentage of the team's profits and accused National League owners of holding down salaries (he was right). Collins was the manager of the Americans when they won the first World Series in 1903.

Those Beaneaters teams were dominant for much of the decade. They won championships in 1891, '92 and '93, and with Collins, they won National League pennants in 1897 (Collins hit .346 and drove in 132 runs) and 1898 (Collins hit .328 and led the league in home runs and total bases). The 1897 team featured four Hall of Famers (Collins, outfielders Hugh Duffy and the original Billy Hamilton, and pitcher Kid Nichols) and went 93-39 while outscoring its opponents 1,025 runs to 665. That's 7.6 runs per game. And you thought offense was out of control in the steroids era. The 1898 club went 102-47 and added a fifth Hall of Famer in pitcher Vic Willis. Manager Frank Selee is also in Cooperstown. The Boston clubs were known for their speed, probably utilizing the hit-and-run and double steal with runners on first and third more than any team of their era.

After his major league career ended, Collins played and managed a couple years in the minors before returning to his hometown of Buffalo, where he lived well off real-estate investments until the Depression wiped him out. It seems odd he never got another chance to manage in the majors, as his Boston teams were generally successful, but maybe he'd had enough with baseball. As Bill James has written, Collins was largely considered the greatest third baseman of all time up to the mid-'50s, but he's a forgotten star now. The Old Timers Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1945, two years after his death.

Dizzy Dean: Born 1910

You probably know the Dizzy Dean story; or maybe not. If not, you should, as he's one of the most colorful characters in major league history, an American original, the last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a season and later a national broadcaster for ABC and CBS. He was a country boy from Arkansas, an image he played up both as a player and broadcaster. ("The Good Lord was good to me. He gave me a strong right arm, a good body, and a weak mind.")

Dean won 30 games in 1934 and two more in the World Series, including a Game 7 shutout to beat the Tigers. He won the MVP Award that year and followed that up with MVP runner-up finishes in 1935 (28-12, 29 complete games) and 1936 (24-13, 28 complete games and 11 saves). He was pitching as well as ever when he started the 1937 All-Star Game. Earl Averill smoked a line drive back to the mound that broke Dean's toe and, as the story goes, Dean came back too soon from the injury, altered his delivery so he wouldn't land as hard on his foot and hurt his shoulder.

Does the story hold up? It seems to. The All-Star Game was on July 7. Dean had thrown a shutout in his last start before the game. He returned on July 21 and made a few more starts -- pitching OK, although his strikeouts were down. He started on Aug. 8, but not again until Aug. 22. On Aug. 26, he started but left after one batter. He tried one more start before shutting it down for the season. So there's little doubt he wasn't the same after the All-Star Game.

The following April, the Cardinals traded Dean to the Cubs at the end of spring training. The AP article doesn't mention anything about Dean's injury problems from the year before, although it quotes teammate Pepper Martin saying this about his spring performance: "Well, he's been sort of in and out so far. He hasn't been pitching his fast ball." Terry Moore, another teammate, said, "Don't worry about that. We'll have his fast ball all right when he gets to Chicago." The article quotes a Cubs scout saying, "I'm convinced Dizzy is just as good as he ever was."

Dean actually went 7-1 with a 1.83 ERA with the Cubs, but he made just 10 starts. Sure, it could have just been a result of all those innings -- he averaged 306 innings from 1932 to 1936, often pitching in relief between starts -- but everything did fall apart after the broken toe. A 1942 newspaper story tells of Dean attempting a comeback (he had pitched one game for the Cubs in 1941), and mentions he was now throwing sidearm and a lot of slow curveballs. Dean said his shoulder didn't hurt, just that he no longer had his fastball.

Here's a question: If Dean had his career today, would he be elected to the Hall of Fame? He won just 150 games and basically had a six-year career. Kind of where Clayton Kershaw is right now. If Mike Trout hits a line drive off Kershaw in the 2014 All-Star Game, breaking his toe, and Kershaw proceeds to hurt his shoulder and scuffle along for a few years, does he get elected to the Hall of Fame? Probably not. (Of course, if Kershaw had Dean's personality ...)

Jack McDowell: Born 1966

As a Mariners fan, I have two quick recollections of McDowell: Randy Johnson should have won that 1993 Cy Young Award (OK, maybe Kevin Appier should have won it); and, of course, this play. A fun pitcher to watch, competitive, injuries cut his career short.

Albert Pujols: Born 1980 (no snickering)

Is there a more difficult player to project for 2014 than Pujols? It still seems too soon to dismiss his greatness, especially considering the foot injury he tried to play through in 2013. On the other hand, there is the trend line in his batting averages and slugging percentages: .357, .327, .312, .299, .285, .258; and .653, .658, .596, .541, .516, .437. In 2008 and 2009, he was a 9-WAR player and deservedly won two MVP trophies. In 2013, he was down to 1.5 WAR.

The projection systems don't know exactly what do with Pujols. Steamer has him at .282/.357/.515 -- basically a mirror image of 2012, when he hit 50 doubles and 30 home runs. Oliver has him at .263/.330/.446.

Pujols is still just 34 and he was pretty good in 2012, even if he wasn't the ALBERT PUJOLS of his Cardinals days. So the Angels have to believe that Pujols can rebound to his 2012 level. If he does and plays 150 games, they should be happy at this point. I'm inclined to bet he rebounds a bit -- that .280/.350/.500 line sounds about right.

Mark Trumbo: Born 1986

Happy birthday, Mark. May you hit 40 long ones for the Diamondbacks.

Beltre, Utley among all-time great gloves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utley's glove

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

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

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

Pujols and adjustments

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

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

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

The rest of this year's ballot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miguel Cabrera: He is going to put up amazing offensive numbers by the time he's done, but those classifying him as a future top-20 player in our Hall of 100 assessment should consider that he's already in the bottom 100 in dWAR. The move back to first base and the DH role may eventually save him from descending much further.
After winning five American League West titles in six seasons, the Angels missed the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 and replaced general manager Tony Reagins with Jerry Dipoto. In 2012, they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson as free agents and Mike Trout burst onto the scene with a rookie season for the ages, but they still missed the playoffs. In 2013, they added Josh Hamilton, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton and missed the playoffs again, finishing with their worst record since 2003.

The consensus seems to be the Angels need to make some big moves this winter, but those moves will be impeded by the albatross contracts of Pujols and Hamilton. Pujols is owed $212 million through 2021 and Hamilton $107.6 million through 2017. In 2016, those two alone will make $57.4 million ($58.4 million in 2017). Wilson and Jered Weaver are also signed through 2016; that year, the Angels will be paying more than $98 million to those four players.

Oh, they also have what is regarded as one of the weakest farm systems in the majors.

The hidden flaw in the Angels in 2013 was their defense. Consider:

2013: -63 Defensive Runs Saved (27th in majors)
2012: +58 Defensive Runs Saved (2nd in majors)

Whoa. The Angels were 121 runs worse on defense in 2013? Let's see what happened, with the usual caveats that one-year defensive metrics aren't always reliable (Ultimate Zone Rating had the Angels declining from plus-60 to negative-2, still a big drop).

C: +2 to -7 (Chris Iannetta from 0 to -7)
1B: +7 to 0 (Pujols from +8 to +1)
2B: +3 to -9 (Grant Green was -6 in 323 innings)
3B: +4 to -4 (Alberto Callaspo from +7 to -6)
SS: -7 to -12 (Erick Aybar from +3 to -7)
LF: +7 to +1 (Mark Trumbo was +7 in 497 innings in 2012)
CF: +30 to -7 (Trout from +23 to -9)
RF: +9 to -13 (Torii Hunter was +15 while Hamilton was -8)
P: +2 to -13 (J.C. Gutierrez -4 in just 26 innings)

So according to Defensive Runs Saved, the Angels declined at every position, with the biggest problems caused by Trout declining 32 runs in center field and Hamilton replacing Hunter, a decline of 23 runs. (Mark Simon detailed Trout's defensive problems in late August.)

Overall, the Angels allowed 38 more runs in 2013, so that decline -- if you trust Defensive Runs Saved -- is mostly attributable to the defense and not the pitching staff. If that's the case, this should show up in the peripheral pitching numbers. Let's see:

2012 7.3 3.0 1.0 72.6 .277
2013 7.4 3.3 1.2 72.3 .300

The Angels did walk a few more batters, but the big difference was batting average on balls in play. In 2012, the Angels ranked second in the majors in BABIP (just behind the Rays). In 2013, they ranked 22nd. Those figures do suggest a defensive decline (well, plus a lot of line drives allowed by Joe Blanton).

The trick for the Angels' front office: Do you work to improve the pitching staff or work to improve the team's defense? And how can they avoid torpedoing the offense in the process? Trading Howie Kendrick and installing Grant Green or rookie Taylor Lindsey at second base likely hurts you on defense and offense (Green probably won't hit as well as Kendrick and Keith Law gave Lindsey's defense in the Arizona Fall League a poor review). Or maybe you trade Kendrick, hope for the best from Green/Lindsey and hope everyone else plays a little better than last season. Still, the defensive numbers are a reason I'd be hesitant about trading Peter Bourjos, who may not bring much in trade anyway considering his injury issues last season.

If I'm the Angels, I look to deal Trumbo, who hit 34 home runs but will be 28 and had a sub-.300 OBP. The power is nice, but it comes at the expense of a lot of outs at the plate. Now's the time to trade him, with three years of team control being an attraction for another club. Return Pujols to first base, play Kole Calhoun in the outfield with Trout and Bourjos and have Hamilton split time in right field and DH.

Baseball-Reference estimates the Angels' payroll right now at $148 million after being at $137 million in 2013. With the new $25 million in national TV money, there's money for the Angels to go up over that $137 million, but probably not a lot of room for big-ticket free agents. That means the Angels probably have to take a risk on a couple of low-cost starters if they want to improve their rotation -- think Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Phil Hughes or bringing back Jason Vargas. None of those guys will break the bank or require a long-term deal.

That still leaves third base open, assuming Trumbo is dealt for pitching help (say, Felix Doubront from the Red Sox). Jhonny Peralta would be a nice fit there, a guy Jim Bowden predicted to receive a two-year, $20 million deal.

It's not a sexy offseason, but the Angels could then roll out a lineup like this:

RF Kole Calhoun
2B Howie Kendrick
LF Mike Trout
1B Albert Pujols
DH Josh Hamilton
3B Jhonny Peralta (2 years, $20 million)
C Chris Iannetta/Hank Conger
SS Erick Aybar
CF Peter Bourjos

SP Jered Weaver
SP C.J. Wilson
SP Josh Johnson (1 year, $8 million)
SP Felix Doubront
SP Garrett Richards
SP Jerome Williams
SP Tommy Hanson (the Angels may non-tender him )
SP Joe Blanton (he's still around!)
SP Chris Volstad

Can that team win? It certainly would be dependent on getting more from Pujols than Hamilton. Pujols had the foot injury he tried to play through and Hamilton did hit .287/.341/.460 in the second half (a big improvement from his .224/.283/.413 first half), so there is a good chance that will happen.

I can see the Angels improving in 2013. Just not sure they have the resources to catch the A's and Rangers.
Yesterday, I mentioned there have been just three come-from-behind walk-off home runs in postseason history: Kirk Gibson and Joe Carter in the World Series and Lenny Dykstra in the 1986 National League Championship Series.

Visiting players can't hit walk-off home runs, of course, but there have been four ninth-inning, come-from-behind home runs hit by visiting players. In order:

Jack Clark, Cardinals, 1985 NLCS, Game 6
The Dodgers led 5-4, trying to remain alive in the series, but the Cardinals had runners on second and third with two outs and Clark, one of the best hitters in the league, up at the plate. Tom Niedenfuer was pitching. Andy Van Slyke was on deck. Tommy Lasorda could have intentionally walked Clark but elected to stick with a righty-righty matchup instead of Niedenfuer versus the lefty Van Slyke. Lasorda was criticized immediately for pitching to Clark, but was it the wrong move? Not necessarily.

One way to look at this: You're comparing Clark's batting average (the Cardinals need a hit) versus Van Slyke's on-base percentage (a walk ties the game). Niedenfuer's splits that year were pretty even -- .222 versus righties, .224 versus lefties, although he allowed just one home run to righties all season, five to lefties. Clark hit .261 versus right-handers that year, Van Slyke had a .360 OBP versus righties. Based on the numbers, Lasorda made the right call. Based on what happened ... the wrong one.

Dave Henderson, Red Sox, 1986 ALCS, Game 5
The Angels led 5-2 heading into the top of the ninth, just three outs from reaching the first World Series in franchise history. The Red Sox, of course, were trying to slay their own demons. Starter Mike Witt was still pitching for the Angels. Bill Buckner singled and with one out Don Baylor homered. Witt then retired Dwight Evans. Manager Gene Mauch brought in lefty Gary Lucas to face Rich Gedman. It's hard to argue with the move: Gedman had hit .186 against lefties that year. But Lucas hit him, Donnie Moore came on and with two strikes, Henderson hit his famous home run.

People forget that Hendu's home run didn't end up winning the game as the Angels actually tied it in the bottom of the ninth, with Steve Crawford escaping a one-out bases-loaded jam. The Red Sox would win in 11 innings, with Henderson's sacrifice fly scoring the go-ahead run.

Ed Sprague, Blue Jays, 1992 World Series, Game 2
The Braves had won Game 1 behind Tom Glavine's four-hit complete game and veteran closer Jeff Reardon, who had come over late in the season from Boston, was in to finish off Atlanta's 4-3 lead. With one out, pinch hitter Derek Bell walked. Sprague, who had just 50 plate appearances and one home run in the regular season, hit for pitcher Duane Ward. Sprague swung at the first pitch and launched a two-run homer to left field. The Braves got two on in the bottom of the ninth against Tom Henke but Terry Pendleton popped out.

The Blue Jays would win Games 3, 4 and 6 ... all by one run. In Game 3, they scored runs in the eighth and ninth (Reardon gave up the winning hit). In the clinching Game 6, they won in 11 innings.

Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2005 NLCS, Game 5
Astros up 4-2, trying to wrap up the series, Brad Lidge on for the save. He strikes out John Rodriguez and John Mabry, but David Eckstein singles to left and Jim Edmonds walks. And then this happened. Lidge could have pitched around Pujols to pitch to Reggie Sanders, but he elected to go after the big guy.

The Astros did win Game 6 behind Roy Oswalt to reach the World Series -- where Lidge would lose two more games.

It's another edition of SweetSpot TV!


Which team has been the biggest disappointment?


Discuss (Total votes: 1,688)

Eric and I discuss four pairs of teammates who have been big disappointments.

I realize now we didn't talk about the Blue Jays -- and we should have, considering they were viewed as potential World Series favorites by many heading into the season. I guess their disappointing duo would lead with Josh Johnson (2-8, 6.20 ERA); he could be joined by R.A. Dickey (9-11, 4.46 ERA) or Melky Cabrera (.279, three home runs) or Ricky Romero (stuck in the minors, unable to throw strikes). The Jays have had injuries but they've also had plenty of bad performances.

Which team has been most disappointing? I still go with the Nationals, but you can make a good case for the Blue Jays, Angels, Phillies or the defending champion Giants. What do you think?
Eric Karabell and myself fill in for Buster Olney on today's Baseball Tonight podcast and we attempt to discuss an entire season in 35 minutes! OK, maybe not the entire season, but we do talk about the red-hot Dodgers and our power rankings, the weird Jack Clark accusation about Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Clayton Kershaw, Wil Myers and James Shields, the playoff races, the season's big disappointment and more!
From Buster Olney's blog today:
Albert Pujols is likely out for the year, given the amount of time he will miss. From ESPN Stats & Information, the most money owed to a player based on where deals will be at the start of the 2014 season:

Joey Votto: $225M (signed through 2023)
Albert Pujols: $212M (2021)
Prince Fielder: $168M (2020)
Buster Posey: $164M (2021)
Justin Verlander: $160M (2019)

Pujols' salary takes a sizable increase next year -- from $16 million to $23 million, with $1 million annual raises from there until 2021, when he'll be making $30 million at the age of 41. Pujols' value, meanwhile, is trending in the opposite direction:

2009: 9.7 WAR
2010: 7.5 WAR
2011: 5.4 WAR
2012: 5.0 WAR
2013: 1.4 WAR

As mediocre as he's been this year -- .258/.330/.437 -- it doesn't mean he can't reverse course next year. He was still pretty effective in 2012 and no doubt has been affected by his foot problems all season. Keep in mind that David Ortiz hit .257/.356/.498 from ages 32 to 34 but has hit .317/.407/.584 over the past three seasons. I would suggest a Pujols renaissance isn't an impossibility (not that I'd bet on it happening to the extent of Ortiz's improvement).

Still, it seems pretty clear the Angels aren't going to extract anything close to $212 million of value from Pujols over the next eight seasons. It doesn't mean the contract will cripple the Angels' future -- it's just too difficult to look that far into the future. And the biggest problem with the Angels right now isn't the money they paid Pujols and Josh Hamilton in 2013 but their production.

You do wonder, however, if there will be ripple effect from the Pujols deal and the similarly bad Alex Rodriguez contract signed after 2007. The Reds may be enjoying Joey Votto's production right now, but he's making $17 million this year, $12 million next year, $14 million in 2015 and then $20 to $25 million from 2016 to 2023 -- when he'll be 39.

Prince Fielder is on the list above and he's not having a Prince Fielder season. Once you look past the 75 RBIs (it helps hitting behind Miguel Cabrera!), he's hitting .261/.353/.440, far below his career line of .284/.389/.529, and numbers unacceptable for a guy who brings no value in the field or on the bases. He's hitting .249/.332/.395 since May 1; maybe it's just a three-month slump or maybe it's the beginning of something more ominous.

Maybe the moral of the story is to be careful about signing players on the left end of the defensive spectrum. Maybe there is no lesson to be learned here and teams will continue to offer contracts to players that run well past their prime years. Impending free agent Robinson Cano is one of the best players in baseball right now at age 30. Will he still be one of the best in three years? Five years? Eight years? Does it even matter if he can help you win in 2014 and 2015?

ESPN Insider Dan Szymborski reports that each Win Above Replacement is currently worth about $4.9 million on the open market. Assuming 4 percent inflation, Dan estimates Cano will be worth $181 million over the next eight seasons, using projected WAR totals from his ZiPS projection system. Considering Dustin Pedroia just signed a $100 million extension, that total seems reasonable with $200 not out of the realm of possibility.

Whether he returns to the Yankees or goes to the Dodgers or some other deep-pocketed team, everyone will undoubtedly be delightfully happy the day Cano signs. Of course they will be. Angels owner Arte Moreno was the day Pujols signed: "This is a monumental day for Angel fans and I could not be more excited."

Albert Pujols was placed on the disabled list on Sunday, sort of the exclamation point to the Los Angeles Angels' debacle of a season. Sunday was Hall of Fame induction day -- you may have missed it, considering the lone player elected played his final game in 1890 -- and Pujols' injury and the ceremony in Cooperstown got me wondering: Which of today's players will be future Hall of Famers?

There are probably more than you realize. Pujols, of course, is a slam-dunk Hall of Famer, even factoring in the somewhat disappointing results of his first two seasons with the Angels. With three MVP Awards, 492 home runs, 1,491 RBIs, a .321 average and a career WAR of 92.9 (27th all time among position players) his legacy is ensured, even if his Angels career never lives up to the expectations of his contract.

Based on historical trends, I estimate about 40 current players are future Hall of Famers -- possibly more, although Hall of Fame standards have been growing tougher in recent years, both by the Baseball Writers Association, which pitched a shutout this year, and the Veterans Committee, which has voted in just one post-1950 player since 2001. The steroids era fallout is also affecting voting results.

Anyway, if we look back at 10-year increments we can see how many Hall of Famers were active that season:

1953: 28 players
1963: 36 players
1973: 37 players
1983: 34 players
1993: 19 players

There are fewer players in 1953 because there were fewer teams, just 16 compared to 30 now. Compared to 1983, when there were 26 teams, 1953 still has a higher percentage of players inducted (1.75 per team versus 1.30). Still, 1983 already has 34 players who active that season already in the Hall of Fame, plus potential enshrinees like Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Lee Smith, Dale Murphy, Lou Whitaker, Keith Hernandez, Ted Simmons and others (some of whom are off the BBWAA ballot but could be Veterans Committee selections).

OK, to our little list. Here are 40 active players who will be Hall of Famers -- listed in order of most likely to make it. We're at a moment when there are very few sure-thing Hall of Famers -- I count only five -- so the list thus involves a lot speculation. I considered only players who have played in the majors this year, so no Andruw Jones, Manny Ramirez or Scott Rolen.

1. Derek Jeter: Would anyone find reason not to vote for Jeter? Well, he did date Mariah Carey. Jeter may seem like a lock as a unanimous selection, but keep in mind that eight voters somehow found reason not to vote for Cal Ripken Jr.

2. Mariano Rivera: No matter what you think of closers, Rivera will be a slam-dunk selection, with his "greatest closer ever" label, World Series rings, universal respect among opponents and writers, and 0.70 postseason ERA in 141 innings. While writers have generally become very generous to relievers -- Dennis Eckersley made it in his first year on the ballot -- I suspect a few won't vote for Rivera out of an anti-reliever stand.

3. Albert Pujols: If his career continues to peter out, that more recent perception may cast a shadow over his dominant run from 2001 to 2010, when he averaged 8.1 WAR per season. Many Hall of Famers never achieved that in one season.

4. Miguel Cabrera: Cabrera is now in his age-30 season, with 53.2 WAR. Through age 30, Pujols had 81.1 WAR. That's how good Pujols was -- nearly 30 wins better than a sure Hall of Famer who arrived in the majors at a younger age. Much of that advantage comes on defense and the basepaths, but Baseball-Reference estimates Pujols created 590 runs more than the average batter through 30, with Cabrera at 447 (and counting).

5. Ichiro Suzuki: He may not get to 3,000 hits in the majors -- he's at 2,706 after Sunday's four-hit game -- but with 1,278 hits in Japan, voters should factor that he didn't arrive in Seattle until he was 27. With his all-around brilliance, he should sail in on the first ballot.

6. Robinson Cano: He has done a lot of things MVP voters like -- hit for average, drive in runs, win a World Series -- and done it with exceptional durability. He's already at 42.4 WAR and needs three to four more peak seasons to ensure lock status, but he's just 30 and still at the top of his game. Considering his durability and age, 3,000 hits isn't out of the question either.

7. Clayton Kershaw: Obviously, he could get hurt, and a lot of pitchers who were dominant through age 25 couldn't carry that success into their 30s. But Kershaw has been handled carefully, is on his way to a third straight ERA title and second Cy Young Award. He's the Koufax of this decade … minus the World Series heroics. But maybe he'll get that shot this year.

8. Felix Hernandez: He's 27 and has won 109 games, despite playing for some of the worst offenses in the history of the game. He has earned 38.8 WAR, which puts him about halfway to Hall of Fame lock status. As with Kershaw, barring injury he'll get there.

9. Roy Halladay: He leads all active pitchers with 65.6 WAR, a total higher than Hall of Famers Bob Feller (65.2), Eckersley (62.5), Juan Marichal (61.9), Don Drysdale (61.2) and Whitey Ford (53.2), to name a few. But what if he never pitches again? Is he in? He has 201 wins and voters still fixate on wins for pitchers. To Halladay's advantage is the general consensus that he was the best pitcher in baseball at his peak, his two Cy Young Awards and two runner-up finishes, three 20-win seasons and the second no-hitter in postseason history.

10. Adrian Beltre: Voters have never been kind to the good-glove third basemen -- excepting Brooks Robinson -- so I may be overrating Beltre's chances. But he also has the chance to reach 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. If he gets to those milestones, that combined with his defensive reputation should get him in.

11. CC Sabathia: He has 200 wins and looked like a possible 300-game winner entering this season, but that 4.65 ERA has everyone wondering how much he has left in the tank at age 33.

12. David Wright: Similar in a lot of ways to Cano -- same age, similar career WAR (Wright is actually a little higher at 45.9) -- so if he plays well into his 30s like Beltre has, he'll get in. But a lot of players have looked like Hall of Famers at 30.

13. Justin Verlander: He still has a lot of work to do, with 134 career wins and just two seasons with an ERA under 3.00.

14. Carlos Beltran: I suspect he'll have a long, slow trek to Hall of Fame status, as his all-around game may be difficult for voters to properly assess. His having just two top-10 MVP finishes will work against him, but he has eight 100-RBI seasons, should reach 400 home runs, is one of the great percentage basestealers of all time and should reach 1,500 runs and 1,500 RBIs.

15. Mike Trout: Well, of course this is premature; he's only 21. He could be Willie Mays, he could be Cesar Cedeno. I'm betting on Mays.

16. Evan Longoria" Beloved in sabermetric circles, he could use that one monster MVP season to create more of a Hall of Fame aura around him.

17. Joey Votto: Will voters appreciate the on-base percentage in 20 years?

18. Joe Mauer: Like Votto, Mauer has an MVP award that helps his case; any time you can argue "he was the best player in the game" about a guy, his candidacy shoots up in the minds of voters. He's not going to end up with the big home run and RBI totals but his .323 career average, .405 OBP and solid defense (three Gold Gloves) will garner support. He has to stay healthy and probably needs to stay behind the plate a few more years.

19. Andy Pettitte: See Jack Morris. Probably a slow crawl on the BBWAA ballot, perhaps hurt by admitting he tried PEDs (although he seems to have escaped the stain), with eventual election by the Veterans Committee. With 252 wins, five World Series rings and 19 postseason wins, it's difficult to ignore his fame and constant presence in October.

20. Bryce Harper: Most home runs before turning 21: Mel Ott 61, Tony Conigliaro 56, Ken Griffey Jr. 38, Harper 37, Mickey Mantle 36, Frank Robinson 34.

21. Buster Posey: Yadier Molina may be the most valuable catcher right now, but Posey is the better Hall of Fame candidate.

22. David Price: Pitchers become Hall of Famers in their 30s, not their 20s, but Price is already 66-36 with a Cy Young award.

23. Dustin Pedroia: I'm a little skeptical how he'll age into 30s, but Pedroia seems like the kind of player voters would love to put in if he becomes a borderline candidate. He does have an MVP award and recognition for his all-around play, but since he's not a big home run or RBI guy, he'll have to remain durability and approach 3,000 career hits.

24. Manny Machado: He's in a big slump right now but we have to remember he's still just 20 years old. But few players have shown this kind of ability at his age and his defense -- Jim Palmer said recently he makes plays at third base that Brooks Robinson could not have made -- is already Hall-of-Fame caliber.

25. Todd Helton: We can just about close the book on him. The .318/.417/.541 career line is impressive, although voters will have to adjust for Coors Field. The 361 home runs and 1,378 RBIs are short of Hall of Fame standards for recent first base inductees. Considering Larry Walker's poor support so far, Helton will probably have to get in through the back door.

26. Andrew McCutchen: How about an MVP Award for 2013?

27. Giancarlo Stanton: Injuries are an issue, but I'm still betting on him (or Harper) to be the premier power hitter of his generation.

28. Troy Tulowitzki: He has to stay healthy, of course, but he has 30.5 WAR so far, in his age-28 season. Jeter had 36.8 and Ripken 50.1 through age 28, but you don't have to be Derek Jeter or Cal Ripken to make the Hall of Fame. Recent inductee Barry Larkin had 30.9 WAR through age 28 and only played 140 games three seasons after that (although did play until he was 40).

29. Miguel Tejada: Tough one here. He has the PED rumors, but he also has six 100-RBI seasons as a shortstop, an MVP award, more than 300 home runs and he will top 2,400 hits. Perhaps a Veterans Committee choice?

30. Prince Fielder: He hasn't hit 40 home runs since 2009 and is going through the worst season of his career. Still, he's just 29 and has 277 home runs and 838 RBIs. He has been the most durable player in the game since his rookie season, but his body type certainly raises questions about how he'll do as he gets into his mid-30s. If he does remain healthy and reaches some of the big milestones he's going to be a Morris-like controversial candidate, because his career WAR (currently 22.4) isn't going to reach Hall of Fame standards.

31. Madison Bumgarner: He turns 24 on Aug. 1 and already has 46 career wins, two World Series rings and is in the midst of his best season. Check back in 10 years.

32. Yasiel Puig: Is he not in already?

33. Andrelton Simmons: We're starting to get into the area of crazy projections. Hey, a lot of Hall of Famers didn't look like Hall of Famers their first few seasons in the league. Anyway, the Braves have four young players you could reasonably project long-shot HOF status onto -- Simmons, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel. I like Simmons; he'll have to have an Omar Vizquel-type career with most of his value coming from his glove, but what a glove it is.

34. Chase Utley: He basically has no chance to get in via the BBWAA because his career counting totals will be well short of Hall standards. His five-year peak from 2005 to 2009 was among the best ever for a second baseman -- in fact, since 1950, from ages 26 to 30, the only players with a higher WAR were seven guys named Mays, Pujols, Yastrzemski, Aaron, Bonds, Boggs and Schmidt. If he can stay healthy for a few more years -- a bit of a dubious proposition -- he enters Veterans Committee territory.

35. Jose Fernandez: This could be Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg or some other hotshot young pitcher.

36. Tim Hudson: I believe pitching standards will have to change, as the idea that you need 300 wins eventually subsides in this day where starters just don't as many decisions as they once did. Hudson is out for the year after breaking his ankle and, at the age of 38, you have to worry about his future. But he does have 205 wins and one of the best winning percentages of all time at .649. He sounds like a Veterans Committee choice in 2044.

37. Nick Franklin: The point isn't that I think Franklin is a Hall of Fame player, but that somebody like Franklin will turn into a Hall of Famer. It could BE Franklin, it could be Wil Myers, it could be Marcell Ozuna, it could be Jurickson Profar. As for Franklin, he has reached the majors at 22, has flashed power (10 home runs and 12 doubles in 52 games) and shown a good approach at the plate. You never know.

38. September call-up to be named: Xander Bogaerts? Oscar Taveras? Miguel Sano?

39. David Ortiz: There's no denying the fame and the peak value -- he finished in the top five in MVP voting five consecutive seasons -- but he has several strikes against him, notably the PED allegations (Ortiz was mentioned in the Mitchell report) and the fact that he may not be the best DH eligible (that would be Edgar Martinez, with a career WAR of 68.3 to Ortiz's 42.7). Papi is at 420 home runs; if he gets to 500 (round number!), his chances go up, but like all the guys tied to steroids, he'll be a controversial candidate.

40. Alex Rodriguez: He hasn't actually suited up in the majors yet this season, but let's assume he does to be eligible for this list. I also assume, at some point in the future -- 20 years? 25 years? 75 years? -- the moral outrage against the steroids users eventually subsides. Maybe, like Deacon White, A-Rod makes it some 130 years after he plays his final game.

WARfare, 2013 style

June, 29, 2013

With the season roughly halfway over, I thought it would be a good idea to dig into the numbers to see what WAR (wins above replacement) is telling us. I'll start with a man who has been at the center of a lot of WAR talk in the last year.

1. Miguel Cabrera is putting that whole Triple Crown thing in the shade.

You probably already know that Miggy is on pace to hit more homers, drive in more runs and hit for a higher average than he did in 2012, when that old-school Triple Crown helped him beat out Mike Trout in the minds of many MVP voters. And, to grossly simplify matters, a lot of Trout advocates relied on WAR as a key element of their case, pointing to Trout's 10.9 WAR to Cabrera's 7.3.

So what does it say about this season that Miggy already has a 4.4 WAR, good enough to run neck-and-neck for the AL lead with Manny Machado? Here, as in the classic Triple Crown components, Miggy's en route to having a better season, but just as Chris Davis might keep him from winning all three elements of the crown while he sets career highs, Machado might keep him from winning his first WAR tiara as well.

2. And another thing about Miggy ...

WAR is sort of like sabermetrics' answer to the philosopher's stone, converting everything -- hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning, you name it -- into one currency, wins. That said, we know a lot more about being precise about the value of a player's contributions on offense than we do about defense, and simple WAR can mask something truly historic, which is the value of Miggy's year at the plate.

So far, in a little less than half a season, Miggy has cranked out 5.2 offense-only WAR (or oWAR). If he keeps this up over a full season, he would become the first player since Barry Bonds to reach double digits of offensive value in WAR in a single season. Bonds did it three times (2001, '02 and '04), and Bonds was the first person to do it since Mickey Mantle (1956, '57 and '61). There have only been 29 individual 10.0 oWAR seasons, and just six of those have come since integration.

Miggy has a chance to post the single greatest season at bat in the last 50 seasons of American League history -- which Trout hasn't done (yet, but given time ...).

3. Just one pitcher in 10 years has produced a season worth 9.0 WAR or better

And that would be Zack Greinke for the Royals in his Cy Young season of 2009. But this season two pitchers might challenge that mark: Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers (4.5 WAR) and Cliff Lee of the Phillies (4.6 WAR and counting).

For pitchers, piling up big stacks of value from on-field performance is tough, especially in today's workload-conscious era as teams mitigate risk. But even allowing for that, while there have been 182 pitching seasons worth 9.0 WAR or more, just 30 of those seasons have come since divisional play started in 1969. Or about one every three years in each league, only it's happening even less frequently these days.

So, if we get two seasons like that in the same league in the same year (I'm pretending for the moment that Lee won't get dealt, so play along), it would be pretty rare. Whether that means Kershaw gets his second Cy Young in three seasons, after just missing out last year, we'll have to see.

4. Andrelton Simmons could be putting up the most valuable season afield

In less than half a season, Simmons' defense-only WAR (or dWAR) has been worth 3.0 wins to the Braves so far. That's awfully abstract, of course, and we're all probably much less familiar with -- or confident about -- quantifying defensive value as we are offense or pitching.

But to put that into context, Ozzie Smith's best single-season tally in dWAR was 4.7 in 1989; Mark Belanger's best was 4.9 in 1975. Those two rank fourth and third all-time, behind two Deadball Era shortstops, Art Fletcher (5.1 in 1917) and Terry Turner (5.4, 1906). All four of them played at a time when there were considerably more balls in play, giving them that much more opportunity to mound up piles of a counting stat like dWAR.

So, playing the admittedly lazy game of multiplying everything by two at this stage of a live season, Simmons could top these marks in just his first full season. When scouts, players, ex-players, managers or analysts tell you Simmons is something special, as subjective as you might think those comments might be, and as tricky as defensive metrics might be, that's already being reflected in the data as well.

5. Albert Pujols is arguably the best first baseman of all time.

Say wha ...? Now, I know it's easy for some of you to write Albert off as he struggles through an injury-wracked season, and for some folks it's reflexive to decry the amount of money he's making. But give credit where it's due: He earned a huge payday.

For total career value via WAR, with his current tally of 92.8 Pujols has outproduced every first baseman in history not named Lou Gehrig or Jimmie Foxx -- two hitters who profited from playing in the tiny eight-team American League that had as little going for it by way of competitive balance as it did from integration.

And if you're suspicious about the defensive components of WAR, Pujols still rates third all time behind that same pair in an offense-only tally like Baseball-Reference's Rbat (or Runs Batting). Given that Gehrig and Foxx were beating up on the same small group of pitchers without having to face many of the best (their own teammates), maybe folks should skip worrying how Arte Moreno chooses to spend his money and give an all-time great his due.

All WAR citations rely on Baseball-Reference.com and ESPN.com.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Paul GoldschmidtStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesPaul Goldschmidt has been money in late-inning situations for the Diamondbacks in 2013.
So Paul Goldschmidt's "clutch" credentials so far are pretty spectacular:

  • He's hitting .431 and slugging .914 with runners in scoring position.
  • He has four go-ahead homers in the eighth or later, most in the majors, including this three-run homer with two outs in the eighth on Friday against the Giants. (Why Goldschmidt was allowed to face a left-hander there is another discussion).
  • He's hitting .368 and slugging .754 in so-called high-leverage situations.
  • He leads the majors in a statistic called Win Probability Added, which calculates the change in probability of a player's team winning the game based on each individual outcome while batting. A single in the ninth inning of a tie game, for example, is worth more than a single in a 10-0 game. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs calculate the results a little differently, but Goldschmidt is best on both sites -- 4.0 WPA at B-R and 3.6 at FanGraphs.

The myth of the clutch hitter is one of the key sabermetric tenets, but that doesn't mean Goldschmidt hasn't been clutch; he has. He's been amazingly clutch. In focusing on the WPA statistic, for example, the only other players with a WPA of 3.0 are Chris Davis (both sites) and Josh Donaldson (FanGraphs). Miguel Cabrera, who leads the majors with 67 RBIs, ranks seventh on B-R (2.5 WPA) and sixth on FanGraphs (2.6 WPA). He's hit .493 with runners in scoring position, but has also had many more opportunities than Goldschmidt, who has 58 RBIs; Cabrera has 93 PAs with RISP versus 69 for Goldschmidt. But no hitter can match Goldschmidt's late-game heroics.

What sabermetricians argue, however, is that clutch hitting isn't a predictable result. Right now, for example, nine batters are hitting at least .400 with runners in scoring position -- Cabrera, Carlos Beltran, Freddie Freeman, Goldschmidt, Brandon Phillips, Adrian Gonzalez, Kelly Johnson, Alejandro De Aza and Allen Craig. Last year, only Craig finished at .400. Cabrera hit .356 with runners in scoring position, but he hit .356 because he's a good hitter. In 2011, nobody hit .400 with RISP, with Victor Martinez topping the list at .394.

Since 2009, the top 10 leaders in batting average with runners in scoring position are Craig (.367), Joey Votto (.360), Cabrera (.357), Adrian Gonzalez (.357), De Aza (.351), Joe Mauer (.341), Salvador Perez (.336), Goldschmidt (.328), Donaldson (.328) and Jordan Pacheco (.324). No. 11 is Jesus Guzman. There are some odd names in there (De Aza is even slugging .554), but I've never heard anyone refer to De Aza or Pacheco as one of the game's best clutch hitters. But the odd names are guys with small sample sizes; the big names -- even Craig is a career .302 hitter -- are guys who hit well regardless of the situation.

Back to Goldschmidt. What I'm getting at is that his clutch hitting will likely slow down, considering he's on pace for over 10 WPA. Here are Baseball-Reference's 10 best WPA seasons since 2009:

1. Prince Fielder, Brewers, 2009: 8.0
2. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays, 2011: 8.0
3. Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 2009: 8.0
4. Prince Fielder, Brewers, 2011: 7.7
5. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 2011: 7.6
6. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 2010: 7.5
7. Joey Votto, Reds, 2011: 7.1
8. Joey Votto, Reds, 2010: 6.9
9. Ryan Braun, Brewers, 2011: 6.4
10. Ryan Howard, Phillies, 2009: 6.4

(FanGraphs rates Pujols' 2009 as the best in this period at 8.2).

If we go back 20 years to include seasons when offensive levels were much higher, only three players have cracked the 10.0 WPA barrier -- Barry Bonds in 2004, Barry Bonds in 2001 and Barry Bonds in 2002. Both sites also agree that the only two other seasons to top 9.0 WPA were Pujols in 2006 and Mark McGwire in 1998.

How good was Bonds? Since we have play-by-play data (mostly complete since 1954), Baseball-Reference rates only one other season at 10.0 WPA -- Willie McCovey's 1969 MVP year with the Giants when he hit .320 with 45 home runs and drove in 126 runs despite being intentionally walked 45 times. McCovey hit .349 with RISP but he really shone in the same situations Goldschmidt has thus far: He hit .390 with eight home runs in "late and close" situations. Even then, however, his heroics didn't quite match what Goldschmidt has done. McCovey hit three game-tying home runs in the eighth or later, but no go-ahead home runs. He did hit three go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning.

That's how great Goldschmidt has been; he's been more clutch than one of the great clutch seasons ever.