SweetSpot: Derek Jeter
One thing about Derek Jeter: He has a way of rising to the occasion. As New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi said last year, when Jeter came off the disabled list and hit a home run in his first game back, "He's a movie is what he is."
Indeed, Jeter's entire career seems scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. You know the story.
So here he was in his 14th All-Star Game, receiving multiple standing ovations from Minnesota Twins fans. But he still had a game to play, and that's what Jeter has always done best: focus on playing baseball.
He led off the game with a patented Jeter hit -- a line-drive double down the right-field line with that famous inside-out swing that hasn't changed in 20 years.
OK, so St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright admitted that "I was going to give him a couple of pipe shots. He deserved it. I didn't know he was going to hit a double or I would have changed my mind."
Wainwright would later backtrack during an in-game interview, suggesting his humor was misconstrued. "I hope everyone is realizing I'm not intentionally giving up hits out there," he said. "This game means too much."
The Cardinals ace is known for speaking from his heart, but as much as he didn't want to take away from Jeter's moment, it's a controversy that is unavoidable and should absolutely be discussed and debated. The fact is that something is on the line, home-field advantage in the World Series, something Wainwright knows all too well considering the Cardinals lost Game 6 at Fenway Park last year.
The heart of the game is competition, not giving Jeter a chance for a big moment. Whether he actually grooved that 91 mph fastball will certainly be addressed if the World Series ends up going six or seven games again.
While Wainwright clearly regretted his initial statement, he probably regretted those pitches to Trout and Cabrera even more. He had a full count on Trout, but instead of throwing his nasty curveball -- batters have hit .143 against it -- he threw a cutter that Trout drilled to right. He threw an 0-1 inside sinker to Cabrera that Miggy turned on, a lovely piece of hitting.
The National League later tied the game to take Wainwright off the hook, but the American League scored the winning runs in the fifth off another Cardinals pitcher, reliever Pat Neshek -- a guy whose season began as a minor league spring training invite. He has been terrific for the Cardinals on the season, but Derek Norris and Alexei Ramirez singled and then Trout hit a chopper over the third-base bag that Aramis Ramirez, not exactly known for his defense, failed to came up with, scoring Norris for an RBI double. Jose Altuve then hit a long sacrifice fly off Tyler Clippard.
Those two hits earned Trout MVP honors and perhaps presented a symbolic passing of the torch in some way from Jeter to a young player who grew up in New Jersey with a Jeter poster in his bedroom.
Now, Mr. Trout, all you need is a few big October moments.
A few other random thoughts:
- Cardinals manager Mike Matheny paid the price for playing favorites, as Wainwright and Neshek combined to allow six of the AL's seven hits. While Wainwright was certainly a worthy starter considering his 12-4 record and sub-2.00 ERA, you can certainly make the argument that Clayton Kershaw deserved to start. Kershaw pitched a 1-2-3 second inning. And while Neshek is a great story, he's also a player who has had 38 great innings, not really the kind of guy you think of as an All-Star.
- To be fair, the NL's pitching depth had been hurt by the fact that Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner and Julio Teheran all started Sunday and were unavailable to pitch and Jordan Zimmermann was injured. The fact that Alfredo Simon, a mediocre reliever last year who has had three good months as a starter, was the third NL pitcher used showed the relative thinness of the staff and that Matheny had to rely on a slew of relievers.
- AL manager John Farrell, meanwhile, was able to roll out one good starter after another, not having to turn to his bullpen until two outs in the sixth inning. And remember, guys such as Garrett Richards and Corey Kluber didn't even make the AL squad. In all, the AL staff struck out 13 while allowing just one walk, with the five relievers used combining for six strikeouts in the 10 outs they recorded.
- I don't really like the way the managers skipper these games, basically just getting everyone in the game and not worrying about potential late-game matchups. The final three NL batters against lefty reliever Glen Perkins were Miguel Montero (who can't hit lefties), Pirates utility man Josh Harrison and Charlie Blackmon, who is often platooned by his own team against lefties. Well done, NL. The AL seemed to have the deeper roster coming into the game -- something Matheny perhaps recognized by playing his starters longer -- and it came into play the final couple of innings.
- It was a tough All-Star debut for Yasiel Puig. After going homerless in the Home Run Derby, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts, waving wildly at a Max Scherzer 3-2 slider for his third K.
Here are the fewest All-Star selections for position players who debuted after 1933, the year of the first All-Star Game:
Robin Yount: 3
Phil Rizzuto: 5
Frank Thomas: 5
Richie Ashburn: 6
Lou Brock: 6
Willie McCovey: 6
Willie Stargell: 6
(Monte Irvin made just one All-Star Game but had a short major league career after he started in the Negro Leagues.)
All-Star selections are certainly an imperfect process, but it's still odd that a player of Yount's caliber made it just three times. I mean, Paul Lo Duca was a four-time All-Star. So were John Stearns, Manny Trillo and Dante Bichette. Carlos Guillen and Ozzie Guillen made as many All-Star teams as Yount.
So what was the deal? Let's dig what happened.
1974-1979: Yount came up as an 18-year-old rookie and took a few years to establish himself. He was a good player from '77 to '79 but was bypassed as a reserve each season. He was worth 5.0 WAR in 1978, but it's easy to see why he didn't make it: He hit .281 with one home run and 25 RBIs in the first half but .301 with eight home runs and 46 RBIs in the second half.
1980: His first All-Star appearance, selected as a reserve along with Alan Trammell behind starter Bucky Dent.
1981: Didn't make it as Dent was again voted the starter and Rick Burleson selected as the backup. (Burleson was a four-time All-Star.)
1982: Yount had one of the great seasons ever for a shortstop, winning MVP honors while hitting .331 and leading the league in slugging percentage, and the fans recognized it by voting him in as the starter.
1983: Yount's final appearance, again voted in as the starter (over eventual MVP Cal Ripken).
1984: Yount was hitting .299/.370/.431 at the break with eight home runs and 42 RBIs. He had spent the previous week or so DHing for the Brewers because of a sore shoulder -- which would force a move to the outfield in 1985 -- so maybe that's why he wasn't selected. Ripken was voted as the starter and Trammell (.307, 8 HR, 44 RBI) the backup. When Trammell was unavailable to play, Alfredo Griffin was added to the roster -- mainly because he was already in town. (Griffin, hitting .241 with 19 RBIs, thus became one of the worst All-Stars ever.)
Keep in mind rosters were smaller than -- only 29 guys were on the AL squad as opposed to the 40 or so who eventually become official All-Stars these days.
1985 -- Rickey Henderson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice started in the outfield, with Harold Baines, Phil Bradley, Tom Brunansky and Gary Ward the outfield reserves. Bradley, Brunansky and Ward were their teams' only rep and Yount didn't tear it up in the first half (.275, 7 HR, 39 RBIs).
1986 -- Kirby Puckett, Henderson and Winfield started with Rice, Baines, Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield and Jose Canseco the outfield reserves. Yount was hitting .330 at the break but with just three home runs and 20 RBIs.
1987 -- Henderson, Winfield and George Bell started and Puckett and Dwight Evans were the backups. The AL squad included three backup first basemen and two DHs. Winfield played the entire 13-inning game. Yount was hitting .301 with 11 home runs and 45 RBIs at the break, but got pushed out by Baines (.301, 12, 49, White Sox only rep), Pat Tabler (.301, 7, 48, Indians rep) and Larry Parrish (.274, 20, 60, Rangers rep).
1988 -- Henderson, Canseco and Winfield started with Puckett and Mike Greenwell (who would finish second in the MVP voting that year) the backups. Johnny Ray and Harold Reynolds both made it as backup second basemen but were their teams' only rep. Yount was hitting .304, 8, 46 at the break.
1989 -- This was Yount's second MVP season, when he edged out Ruben Sierra. He was hitting .299 with 10 home runs and 49 RBIs at the break and then hit .339 in the second half. The All-Star starters were Sierra, Puckett and Bo Jackson, with Greenwell (.300, 10, 55), Canseco (he must have been voted in as a starter because he had missed the entire first half) and Devon White (.259, 9, 39) the reserves. White was the Angels' only All-Star.
So you can what happened here. The fans never voted Yount in after he moved off shortstop, his numbers were rarely "automatic" quality and he got squeezed a couple times by teams needing their token All-Star.
1990-1993: He fell off after his MVP season and was no longer All-Star-quality.
It's interesting, Yount's career WAR is 77.0 -- higher than Derek Jeter's, even though the two had similar careers, minus Yount's position change. Yount had the awesome 1982 season and was worth 7.2 WAR in 1983 and 7.1 in 1980 and had five other seasons at 4.9 or higher. That's eight seasons of 4.9 WAR or higher compared to six for Jeter.
They're players of near identical offensive ability -- Jeter has a 116 career OPS+ and Yount 115. Their career plate appearances are currently within 100 of each other. Jeter, however, is appearing in his 14th All-Star Game. One player will be remembered as a legend and the other is remembered for his great '80s 'stache.
I'm not trying to knock Jeter when I say this: The difference between the two is really in their quality of their teammates and the city they played in. Yount, once that 1982 Brewers World Series team quickly faded, spent the rest of his career playing for mostly mediocre Brewers teams. He simply never caught the public's fascination like Jeter or even other players of his era like Henderson, Puckett, Canseco and, even briefly, Jackson.
Anyway, that led to some responses on Twitter like this:
@dschoenfield Dude, it's the face of baseball's last All Star Game. Why are you having a heart attack over him leading off? Get a grip.— Chris Barca (@CBarcaSTJ) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield You spent time arguing one of the game's legends shouldn't lead off in an exhibition game. Get over yourself.— Yanks Fan (@YanksFan814) July 14, 2014
@dschoenfield Get over Jeter batting leadoff. He's more than earned everything he gets tomorrow night. Get over yourself while you're at it.— Bucksky619 (@Bucksky619) July 14, 2014
My counter is that, yes, in theory and execution it's an exhibition game. Unfortunately, MLB has made winning the game important: The winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series. I think that's ridiculous, but that's the ramification of the game. Just today, I heard an interview with Farrell, talking about how important home field was to the Red Sox last year, not only opening up in their home park but being able to go back home for Game 6 in the middle of a hard-fought series.
Understanding that, even with the artificial constraints of an All-Star Game, isn't Farrell under some obligation to field his best lineup?
Look, in the end, it probably won't matter or have a big impact on the game's outcome, but it's perhaps worth noting that Cal Ripken batted eighth when he started the All-Star Game in his final season.
(How important is home-field advantage? The last time the visiting team won Game 7 of the World Series was 1979, Pirates over Orioles. Since then, the home team has gone 9-0. In all seven-game playoff series, the home team has gone 19-5 since Pittsburgh's win.)
* * * *
To be fair, at least Jeter hasn't been terrible this year, hitting .272, albeit with only two home runs. Is it unusual for an all-time great to start the All-Star Game in his final season? I thought I'd check some big names from the past (not meant to be comprehensive):
Ken Griffey Jr.: He retired early in his final season, so he didn't have the chance to have a final-year send-off. After his trade to the Reds, he made just three All-Star Games, however, twice as a reserve and once voted in by the fans.
Cal Ripken: As mentioned, started and batted eighth. And hit a home run to win MVP honors.
Tony Gwynn: Did not make the All-Star team his final two seasons, when he was a part-time player.
Ozzie Smith: Was named as a reserve his final two seasons, even though he wasn't a full-time starter either season and was hitting .250 with three RBIs when named in 1995.
George Brett: Not chosen for the All-Star Game in any of his final five seasons. His final year he hit .266 with 19 home runs, so he could still hit.
Robin Yount: Similar to Jeter in many ways (respected player, spent his entire career with one team, over 3,000 hits), and yet was selected to only three All-Star Games his entire career, the last in 1983 (he played until 1993).
Pete Rose: Last voted in as a starter in 1982, named as a reserve to the 1985 team (.262, one home run at the break) but not in 1986, his final season.
Johnny Bench and Carl Yastrzemski: I seem to remember them being "special" additions to the 1983 teams. Bench hadn't made the All-Star team in 1981 or 1982 while Yaz had made it in '82 but not the two previous years.
Hank Aaron: He started every year for the National League from 1965 to 1974, his final year with the Braves. He was named as a reserve to the AL squad in 1975 with the Brewers, despite hitting .236 with nine home runs at the break. Did not make it in 1976, his final year.
Willie Mays: Was a sub in his final season in 1973, when he hit .211 for the season.
Obviously, that doesn't represent a consistent approach to how to handle the game's living legends. Of course, most of these guys hadn't necessarily announced their retirement before the season like Jeter (and Ripken). Jeter and Ripken were the only two from this list voted in as starters by the fans. Which begs the question: Does that make them the most beloved players of the past 30 years? Maybe so.
Now, that's a bit of a layered question when you start factoring in things like World Series titles and legacy, two areas where it's difficult to trump Jeter. So let's keep it simple: How many will finish with a higher career Wins Above Replacement than Jeter?
Jeter's current career WAR, via Baseball-Reference.com, is 72.1. That's fourth among active players, behind Alex Rodriguez (116.0), Albert Pujols (95.0) and Adrian Beltre (74.0).
Does Beltre, who made this year's All-Star Game, ranking so high surprise you? He's not really considered a slam-dunk Hall of Famer right now, in part because a large percentage of that value is tied into his defense. His career batting line has a much different arc than Jeter's:
Jeter has the better on-base percentage but Beltre has more power. Who has been the more valuable hitter? Beltre has created an estimated 1,410 runs in 9,704 career plate appearances -- 5.6 runs per 27 outs. Jeter has created 1,887 runs in 12,315 PAs -- 6.3 runs per 27 outs. Those are not park-adjusted figures; Beltre spent a large portion of his career in Dodger Stadium and Safeco Field, two pitcher's parks, so that draws him a little closer. But getting on base is more important than slugging and B-R estimates Jeter has been 362 runs better than the average hitter while Beltre has been 193.
But Beltre makes up for that with his good fielding and Jeter's poor fielding. The fielding metrics Baseball-Reference uses has Beltre at 183 runs above average on defense and Jeter at 240 runs below average. So that's how Beltre ends up higher than Jeter in career WAR.
Here are the five remaining 2014 All-Stars with the highest career WAR:
Chase Utley: 60.8
Mark Buehrle: 57.9
Miguel Cabrera: 57.6
Robinson Cano: 48.1
Felix Hernandez: 42.9
A quick and dirty way to see how these guys compare to Jeter is to check his career WAR when he was their age.
Utley rates so well due to more high-peak seasons than Jeter. He was arguably the second-best all-around player in the game from 2005 through 2009 when he averaged 7.9 WAR per season (only Pujols was better). Even while missing time with injuries in recent seasons, Utley has reached at least 3.0 WAR the past three seasons and is already at 2.9 this year. So he's behind Jeter but Jeter didn't do much after turning 36. Could be close.
Buehrle (age-35 season) -- Jeter was 67.3
He's headed for his 14th consecutive season of 200-plus innings. He's never been a big star but he's still accumulating value and with his style of pitching could easily remain effective until 40. Can he pile up 16 more WAR before he's done? He was probably over his head in the first half -- 4.0 WAR compared to 2.1 all of 2013 -- so I say he comes up short.
Cabrera (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
Even though he doesn't earn much value with his defense or position, Cabrera is well ahead of Jeter at the same age. His offensive numbers are down from the past few seasons but he's still hitting .312, leading the league with 32 doubles and has been worth 3.0 WAR. He should soar past Jeter and approach at least 80 career WAR.
Cano (age-31 season) -- Jeter was at 48.4
So these two are just about dead even at the same age, although Cano will move ahead by the end of the season. Jeter had two of his better seasons at 32 (5.5 WAR) and 35 (6.5). With his decline in power so far, Cano is at 2.9 WAR, well below the 7.4 he averaged the previous four seasons. He's been one of the most durable players in the game (as was Jeter until his injury in the 2012 playoffs). Yankees fan will never put Cano on the same pedestal as Jeter -- in part because of Cano's dismal .222 postseason average -- but through the same age it's hard to argue he hasn't been as valuable in the regular season.
Hernandez (age-28 season) -- Jeter was at 36.8
King Felix is ahead of Jeter's pace. Of course, most pitchers don't remain as durable as Buehrle. Hernandez is in the midst of his best season yet and there's no reason he won't stay dominant for many more years if his elbow and shoulder remain intact.
What about the younger guys? Well, Mike Trout only needs five more 10-win seasons to pass The Captain.
Jeter isn't really helping the Yankees much this year, batting .268 but with just two home runs and the kind of range you'd expect from a 40-year-old shortstop. But he's hardly been the primary problem with the Yankees: Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano all have a lower WAR.
Really, considering the play of those four and the injuries to CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova, it's remarkable the Yankees are 40-37 and just 2.5 games behind the first-place Blue Jays.
In honor of Jeter's 40th, I thought it would be fun to look at the all-time age-40 All-Stars, the best seasons at each position since 1901 at that age (via Baseball-Reference.com Wins Above Replacement).
C: Bob Boone, 1988 Angels (3.1 WAR)
Only three age-40 catchers earned at least 1 WAR in a season -- and two of them did it in 1988. Carlton Fisk did it for the White Sox by hitting 19 home runs and slugging .542 in 76 games. Boone, however, edges out Fisk for the highest WAR, as he was still an excellent defender at 40 and started 111 games. Gabby Hartnett, a backup for the 1941 Giants, was third to top 1 WAR.
1B: Darrell Evans, 1987 Tigers (4.9 WAR)
Evans is the easy choice as he hit 34 home runs while drawing 100 walks. No other first baseman tops 2 WAR and only four (Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Mickey Vernon, Jason Giambi) topped 1. You may think first base is an old guy's position, but not many make it to 40. Only 10 guys even reached 200 plate appearances.
2B: Eddie Collins, 1927 A's (2.3 WAR)
Collins hit .336 with a .448 OBP in a part-time role, good enough to beat out Tony Phillips, Nap Lajoie and Joe Morgan. Craig Biggio and Jeff Kent were still playing second base at this age (Biggio hit 21 home runs), but defensive issues knocked down their WAR.
3B: Graig Nettles, 1985 Padres (3.3 WAR)
Nettles was a terrific glove man earlier in his career and still good enough to play 137 games in 1985. He hit .261/.363/.420 while walking more than he struck out. Chipper Jones' final season with the Braves in 2012 rates second at 2.8 WAR, while Cal Ripken's last season comes in at -0.6.
SS: Luke Appling, 1947 White Sox (4.6 WAR)
Only seven players played at least half their games at shortstop at age 40. Five of them are in the Hall of Fame -- Appling, Honus Wagner, Ozzie Smith, Barry Larkin and Bobby Wallace (who played just 26 games at age 40). The sixth will get there: Jeter. And the seventh is Omar Vizquel, and he may get there as well.
OF: Willie Mays, 1971 Giants (6.3 WAR)
For some reason, at age 40 Mays suddenly decided to start walking a lot more. His previous high had been 82, but in '71, playing just 136 games, he drew 112 and posted a career-best .425 OBP even though he hit .271.
OF: Sam Rice, 1930 Senators (4.7 WAR)
The Hall of Famer was one of the great "old" players ever. He had 426 hits before age 30 but 2,561 after. At age 40, he hit .349 with 207 hits.
OF: Ty Cobb, 1927 A's (4.4 WAR)
How did Cobb end up on the A's? After managing the Tigers to a 79-75 record in 1926, Cobb announced in November that he was stepping down as manager and retiring. A few weeks later, fellow future Hall of Famer Tris Speaker did the same with the Indians. Later, it was revealed commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis was investigating Cobb and Speaker for betting and perhaps fixing a game in 1919 (as accused by former pitcher Dutch Leonard). While there was strong evidence bets were made or attempted to be made (Cobb had written in a letter that his attempted bet didn't work out), Landis eventually found the two stars not guilty. When Connie Mack (a man Cobb respected) offered Cobb a job with the A's, he decided to play two more years. At age 40, he hit .357 and drove in 93 runs.
DH: Dave Winfield, 1992 Blue Jays (4.1 WAR)
Winfield hit .290 with 26 home runs and 108 RBIs and finished fifth in the MVP voting.
SP: Randy Johnson, 2004 Diamondbacks (8.5 WAR)
SP: Phil Niekro, 1979 Braves (7.9 WAR)
SP: Cy Young, 1907 Red Sox (7.6 WAR)
SP: Pete Alexander, 1927 Cardinals (6.1 WAR)
SP: Nolan Ryan 1987 Astros (5.4 WAR)
That's a pretty tough group to crack. Obviously, pitchers have a higher rate of success at age 40 than position players. Seventeen pitchers have reached 4.0 WAR or more -- including Bartolo Colon last year -- and 30 have reached 3.0 WAR or more. For position players, the totals are six and 10 (Wagner and Edgar Martinez are the others to reach 3.0).
But do many others pop into your head? Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline are known for their legendary arms, but did either one have a signature throw? Certainly, Pirates or Tigers fans of a certain age may remember a specific throw, but from the days before widespread TV broadcasts, visual evidence is spotty. If for some reason you think maybe Clemente's arm strength has been exaggerated through the years ... you're wrong. Here's one example, from the 1971 World Series, late in his career. It didn't catch a runner but held one at third and provides pretty solid evidence of his cannon.
Well, I'm thinking the throw from left field made by Yoenis Cespedes on Tuesday night is one we'll remember for a long time. I was watching the end of the Yankees-Mariners game when Twitter exploded -- this time, with good reason. It was definitely an all-timer.
The best throw I ever saw in person was back in the '80s, sitting in the right-field stands at the Kingdome. Somebody hit a ball into the right-field corner and attempted to stretch the hit into a triple. Jesse Barfield fired a laser all the way to third to get the runner. I had a perfect, direct line right behind Barfield to view the throw. Amazing. Barfield was known as having the best arm in the game in the '80s. Although there's no video of that throw (at least that I could find), here he is throwing out Chili Davis at third base. And here he is throwing out Mariners catcher Matt Sinatro on a base hit -- only a big deal because Sinatro was on third base to start the play.
As a kid, I watched the 1979 All-Star Game in Seattle, in which strong-armed Dave Parker threw out two runners. That second one ... wow. Also: Bring back those all-yellow Pirates jerseys!
Another outfielder of that era known for his powerful arm was Ellis Valentine of the Expos. Here he is with the Mets throwing out Pete Rose and Dale Murphy. Another strong-armed -- but also famously wild at times -- Expos right fielder was Vladimir Guerrero. But when he was on target, he did things like this.
One throw that some of you may remember from 1998 was from another Pirates right fielder. Jose Guillen's throw from the warning track was impressive enough that MLB Network named it the most unbelievable throw of all time.
Former pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel was known for his terrific arm. Here's a fly ball to medium-deep center in which the runner decides not to tag up -- probably a good decision. Here's a pretty good one to catch a runner at third from deep right-center.
Of course, in his short time in the majors, Yasiel Puig has developed a reputation for his great arm. Here are four from his rookie season.
Here's one from 2010 that Yankees fans will remember: Backup outfielder Greg Golson throws out speedy Carl Crawford at third base for the final out of an 8-7 victory.
Here's one I just learned about: Joe Ferguson cutting down Sal Bando at the plate in the 1974 World Series. The Dodgers played Ferguson, a catcher, in the outfield at times because they had Steve Yeager.
The most famous throw in World Series history may be George Foster getting Denny Doyle in the iconic Game 6 of 1975. Mets fans would like to forget Derek Jeter's relay throw to nail Timo Perez in Game 1 of the 2000 World Series.
Anyway, we could go on and on. I didn't even mention guys like Carl Furillo, Dwight Evans, Larry Walker or Raul Mondesi. Greatest throw ever? Maybe it is Cespedes or Guillen. It's definitely none of these.
- Fun list from the Baseball Prospectus staff: 11 draft-day what-ifs. Of course, there is no end to the what-ifs, but these are some good ones that could have happened.
- Matt Kremnitzer with an interesting idea if the Orioles fall out of the playoff race: Could Nelson Cruz be a trade chip? At 30-27, I'm not sure the Orioles will fall out of the everyone's-in-it AL wild-card race, but if they do, it's a plausible scenario.
- David Laurila of FanGraphs interviews Pedro Martinez on the art -- and science -- of pitching. Love this quote: “My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it." Note: Ramp up when I needed to. Relates to one of the issues we've been talking about with all these Tommy John surgeries: Pitchers don't have to -- and probably shouldn't -- air out every fastball at max velocity.
- Joe Posnanski has a little fun with a scouting report on Derek Jeter.
- Michael Eder of It's About the Money is a little more blunt: Jeter is hurting the Yankees.
- More Posnanski: How the A's continue to thrive, a decade after "Moneyball." Money quote: "Moneyball II is not about being smart. Everybody in baseball can be smart. Moneyball II is about doing smart things. There's a big difference. The A's face the same pressures, the same groupthink, the same visual cues as everyone else. They have the same gut reactions to events, and they initially want to respond in the same way as everyone else. To say that they are smarter than everyone else misses the biggest point.
"The biggest point is this: Nobody's that smart -- not even the A's. They have to work just as hard as anybody to avoid the traps, address their weaknesses, overcome the silly flaws in their System One thinking. They have to call up Josh Donaldson when brains tell them not to call him up. They have to pitch Tommy Milone even though they see that nothing fastball and can't figure out how he can get anyone out."
- You may have read Tim Kurkjian's piece last week on the unwritten rules of baseball. Former major league reliever and book author Dirk Hayhurst had a pointed response on Deadspin: "None of the players passing along their wisdom seemed to realize that it was all completely arbitrary. No one came close to acknowledging, 'You know, it's stupid and none of us know where it came from, and before we go fracturing some poor rookie's wrist because he looked too happy about going yard on a vet, we should really sit down and ask ourselves if the punishment fits the crime.'"
- Jonathan Judge says Kendrys Morales is more valuable to the Brewers than he would be to other teams.
- Fire Brand of the AL with their latest podcast on the Red Sox.
- Here's the It's Pronounced "Lajaway" podcast on all things Indians.
- Maybe it's time the Rangers admit that Mitch Moreland just isn't that good.
- Ryan P. Morrison with a look at the Diamondbacks' defense. Last year, Arizona's defense was excellent; this year, it's been mediocre -- or unlucky. Either way, maybe the pitchers have been as awful as everyone thinks.
- This may be of more interesting to baseball fans in Connecticut than to Twins fans, but the New Britain Rock Cats, Minnesota's Double-A affiliate, is relocating to Hartford for 2016, as the city is building a new downtown stadium.
- Finally, this is pretty awesome: Harry Caray, when he was a broadcaster for the White Sox in 1972, kept a diary that year. It was a pretty simple diary: Caray kept track of the bars he visited and the bar tabs. The first date is Jan. 1 and it lists four bars. At one point, he goes 288 consecutive days visiting a bar. Now that is a legendary streak.
In this week's Rapid Fire SweetSpot TV segment with Eric Karabell, one topic we discuss is Yasiel Puig. Entering Wednesday, Puig is second in the National League batting race, hitting .346 to Troy Tulowitzki's .373. Can Puig actually win the title? Some quick thoughts here ...
1. Dodger Stadium is a tough place to hit for average ... but not impossible.
Since moving into Dodger Stadium in 1962, only six Dodgers have hit .330 in season (Mike Piazza did it twice, including .362 in 1997). The only Dodger to win a batting title since 1962 is Tommy Davis, who led the NL with a .346 mark in 1962 and .326 in 1963.
Here are the number of .330 seasons for each National League team since 1962:
Rockies -- 17
Cardinals -- 14
Pirates -- 11
Braves -- 10
Giants -- 8
Padres -- 8 (six by Tony Gwynn)
Dodgers -- 7
Cubs -- 6
Reds -- 6
Expos/Nationals -- 6
Phillies -- 5
Brewers -- 5
Mets -- 4
Marlins -- 4
Diamondbacks -- 1
I chose .330 since that's usually the minimum it takes to win the batting title. Since 1969, only four NL batting leaders were under .330 -- Bill Buckner (.324) in 1980, Bill Madlock (.323) in 1983, Tony Gwynn (.313) in 1988 and Terry Pendelton (.319) in 1991.
So while Dodger Stadium can be a tough place to hit, I don't think it's a roadblock to Puig winning a title. It can be done.
2. Puig is for real.
I've mentioned this before, but Puig's plate discipline has improved each month of his career. Here are his month-by-month swing rates on pitches outside the strike zone (his "chase" percentage):
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.
Paul Konerko, who also is retiring, stood with Jeter during the pregame presentation behind home plate. The bench was constructed by former White Sox slugger Ron Kittle, who has a company that makes such items.
Jeter has now received six gifts. On Tuesday, the Cubs handed him a No. 2 white-and-green square that fell off the Wrigley Field scoreboard. The Mets gave Jeter a No. 2 mosaic designed with subway tiles and donated $22,222.22 to the Turn 2 Foundation. The Houston Astros gave Jeter a pair of Yankees cowboy boots, a cowboy hat and some golf lessons. The Los Angeles Angels gave Jeter a paddleboard. The Milwaukee Brewers donated $10,000 to Jeter's Turn 2 Foundation and presented him with a bronzed bat.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Inside the 'Zona
Projections vs. reality: D-backs position players: Jeff Wiser compares preseason ZiPS projections to the performances of each of the Arizona position players, showing that some players are more responsible for the team's slow start than others, and discussing what to expect of each going forward. Follow on Twitter: @OutfieldGrass24.
Atlanta Braves: Chop County
The Braves made a mistake by signing Chris Johnson: Martin Gandy says the Braves signed one too many players to a long-term contract when they inked Chris Johnson this week. Follow on Twitter: @gondeee.
Baltimore Orioles: Camden Depot
Anatomy of a Scoring Decision: Joe Reisel discusses what goes into the decision-making process of an official scorer. He uses a specific incident during one of his games in Norfolk. Follow on Twitter: @CamdenDepot.
Boston Red Sox: Fire Brand of the American League
Starting rotation could separate Red Sox in AL East: With a deep and talented set of starters and plenty of prospects biding their time in Triple-A, the Red Sox’s depth at starting pitching might prove to be their crucial advantage. Follow on Twitter: @AlexSkillin.
Chicago Cubs: View From the Bleachers
Three Cubs prospects who deserve a promotion: Joe Aiello takes a look at some names in the Cubs farm system who are off to a great start and deserve consideration for a promotion. Follow on Twitter: @VFTB.
Chicago White Sox, The Catbird Seat
On Donald Sterling and Jerry Reinsdorf: Chris Lamberti uses Jerry Reinsdorf's history to explore the fallacy of believing owner misdeeds are as obvious and easily purged as Donald Sterling's boorish racism. Follow on Twitter: @TheCatbird_Seat.
Colorado Rockies: Rockies Zingers
Analyst Who? Don't blink: Richard Bergstrom channels The Doctor with a word to any companions attempting to observe the Colorado Rockies' front office. Follow on Twitter: @rockieszingers.
Milwaukee Brewers: Disciples of Uecker
Carlos Gomez and controlled aggression: Carlos Gomez's game is all about aggression, but he's bringing more control to it all the time according to Curt Hogg. Follow on Twitter: @cyrthogg.
New York Yankees: It's About The MoneyDerek Jeter and the fastball: It seems Derek Jeter is having an issue with fastballs and so far, and teams like the Rays and Angels are bombarding him with them. @edermik.
The maturation of Dellin Betances: Dellin Betances has been tremendous out of the bullpen and Brad Vietrogoski writes about how much Betances has matured to get to this point. Follow on Twitter: @IIATMS.
St. Louis Cardinals: Fungoes
MAD factor for pitchers: Pip quantifies the Madduxian ideal of enticing batters both to swing at balls and to not swing at strikes. Follow on Twitter @fungoes.
Tampa Bay Rays: The Process Report
Under The Hood: Jennings, Loney and Joyce: Tommy Rancel examines the hot starts of Desmond Jennings and Matt Joyce while exploring James Loney's performance in "clutch" situations. Follow on Twitter: @TRancel
Texas Rangers: One Strike Away
Second Base and the offensive regression: Brandon Land looks at the spot in the lineup that is now hurting the Rangers the most. Follow on Twitter: @one_strike_away.
Jason Rosenberg is the founder of It's About the Money, a proud charter member of the SweetSpot Network. IIATMS can be found on Twitter here and here as well as on Facebook, although the to-be-renamed podcast was spiked on iTunes.
- 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.
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaDerek Jeter gives some advice to Angels' outfielder Mike Trout.
BY THE NUMBERS
Jeter's regular season career vs. Angels
.331 BA/.405 OBP/.473 SLG
DID YOU KNOW?
• Jeter's first-ever hit and RBI at Yankee Stadium came off Shawn Boskie on June 3, 1995, in a 4-2 loss to the Angels. Jeter would eventually pass Lou Gehrig in 2008 for the most hits at the old Yankee Stadium.
• He has a career .405 OBP vs. the Angels, his highest OBP vs any AL team.
• In 1999, Jeter hit .474 in 38 at-bats against the Angels. The only Yankees player to have a higher batting average against them in a season (minimum 35 AB) is Don Mattingly in 1989 (.490).
• Jeter is one of two players with two separate hit streaks of at least 15 games vs the Angels. The other is his former teammate, Bernie Williams.
• The Captain has nine sacrifice hits against the Angels, tied with Oakland Athletics and Toronto Blue Jays for his most vs any team.
• His .335 career batting average at Angel Stadium is the highest by any player at the ballpark with at least 250 plate appearances.
• The Yankees are 78-86 all-time against the Angels in the regular season when Jeter plays, his worst record vs any AL team.
• Jeter's 1.038 OPS in 15 postseason games vs Angels is his highest vs. any team he's faced in more than one postseason series.
• His six postseason home runs, 22 postseason hits and 15 postseason runs vs. the Angels are all his most vs. any team in the postseason.
• Jeter also has the most postseason homers (6), hits (22) and runs scored (15) vs. the Angels of any major-league player.
THEY SAID IT
"He has played the game the right way since Day 1. A true ambassador of the game and the ultimate leader. His legacy will live on because he touched so many people. I looked up to him and am honored to have played against him."
-- Angels outfielder Mike Trout
• June 3, 1995: The Yankees lost to the Angels, 4-2, but in the game a young shortstop named Derek Jeter recorded his first-ever hit at Yankee Stadium. Jeter lined an RBI double off Shawn Boskie down the left-field line in the fourth inning to give the Yankees a brief 2-1 lead.
• June 4, 1995: The day after his first hit at Yankee Stadium, Jeter played in his first win (the Yankees lost his first five games), an 11-3 victory over the Angels. Jeter was 2 for 4 with three RBIs that day. Yet the story in the next day's papers was of how Tony Fernandez could be returning soon, necessitating Jeter's return to the minors (he would be sent down a week later).
• August 26-27, 1998: Yankees win back-to-back games vs. the Angels in walk-off fashion and Jeter is a key part of each win. On August 26 in the second game of a doubleheader, Jeter has the game-winning hit on a full count with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. The next day, he draws a leadoff walk in the bottom of the 11th inning, and eventually scores the winning run on a Bernie Williams walk-off double.
• July 31, 2005: Jeter had 4 hits, including a game-tying single in the bottom of the eighth which capped a 4-run rally in that inning. The Yankees would eventually beat the Angels in the 11th inning on a Tony Womack walk-off single.
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 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.
I suspect a lot of Yankees fans are going to view this as just another attack on Derek Jeter, a grouchy anti-New York writer going all fancy with his statistics and ripping a legend.
That's not my intention. I've written before that Jeter deserves consideration as maybe the second-greatest shortstop of all time, behind Honus Wagner and ahead of Cal Ripken, so I've certainly appreciated what Jeter has done on the field. No, the intention is this: As he plays out his final season and we pay him respect in ballparks across the country, he has an accomplished veteran teammate who we should also remember to appreciate.
In fact, you can make the case: Ichiro Suzuki has been a better player than Jeter.
The basic element of the argument is this: Ichiro came to the U.S. in 2001 at 27. From ages 27 to 39 (both are in their age-40 season this year), Ichiro outpointed Jeter in wins above replacement, 57.8 to 43.7. It's not really that close.
Isn't it then reasonable to extract from there and presume, since Ichiro was better from 27 to 39, that he was at least as good as Jeter from 22 to 26? It's actually possible to make the argument that Ichiro would have compiled more WAR than Jeter in his pre-27 years if Ichiro had played over here. Jeter reached the majors at 21 but he was 22 in his rookie season in 1996. Ichiro's first full season in Japan came when he was 20 ... and he hit .385. His numbers that year (.385 AVG/.445 OBP/.549 SLG) are basically identical to what he did his final season in Japan (.387/.460/.539). It seems pretty clear that Ichiro could have succeeded in the U.S. majors when he was 20.
Jeter had more power -- 178 home runs to 111 -- and got on base a little more often, but Ichiro had nearly twice as many stolen bases, 472 to 240.
From 2001 to 2013, Jeter created 1,252 runs, according to Baseball-Reference.com, or 6.0 per 27 outs. During those years, Ichiro created 1,357 runs, or 5.9 per 27 outs.
Jeter's advantage on offense is minor.
Ichiro's advantage on defense, however, is huge.
I think even the most die-hard Yankees fans -- those who want to take defensive metrics and throw them into the Bronx River -- will reluctantly admit that Ichiro played a better right field than Jeter played shortstop. The metrics, of course, resoundingly favor Ichiro: Again, using Baseball-Reference's numbers, Ichiro is credited with 106 runs saved above average from ages 27 to 39 compared to minus-182 for Jeter. Ichiro is rated as the 18th most valuable fielder since 1901 from ages to 27 to 39; Jeter is rated as the worst.
To be fair, Jeter's two best seasons via WAR came in 1999 (8.0) and 1998 (7.5), when he was 25 and 24. Ichiro's best seasons were 2004 (9.1) and 2001 (7.7). Again, however, Ichiro was a superstar in Japan at 20.
The point, even if we don't agree on the exactness of the numbers: Ichiro has been a terrific player, every bit the all-timer on the field that Jeter has been. I think we lose sight of that since he has faded in recent years (he hasn't hit .300 since 2010), and while Jeter was out there virtually every October, Ichiro played on a lot of lousy teams in Seattle.
That gets to the biggest difference between the two, of course: Jeter has won five rings (although just one since turning 27) and Ichiro has won none; he hasn't even played in a World Series, for that matter.
Ultimately, I suppose it's impractical for many to isolate Jeter's numbers from Jeter's legacy, the fact that he wore pinstripes during a great Yankees dynasty. He had the good fortune to be drafted by the Yankees, and while many will argue they wouldn't have won all those titles without Jeter, would they win them without Mariano Rivera or Bernie Williams or Andy Pettitte or Paul O'Neill or Jorge Posada or Orlando Hernandez or David Cone any number of other players? One player doesn't "win" championships.
The thing that impresses me most about Jeter, especially later in his career, is kind of what Joe Posnanski wrote the other day about Bruce Springsteen, still going all-out at concerts at 64:
He was a man compelled. I’ve written many times about how amazed I am by Bruce Springsteen’s dedication to the moment. Night after night after night, for about 40 years now, he has played Born to Run, and he has played it with the fire he had as a young man. I’ve often wondered: How is that possible? How can he not be sick of playing that song by now? Or if not sick, how can he not go through the motions with it?
Doesn't that describe Jeter? For younger Yankees fans, he's been there since they first began watching baseball, always playing like it was still his first day in the majors.
Maybe we never quite got that same feeling from Ichiro, although if you were in Seattle in 2001, that magical season, you know the exhilarating thrill he provided game after game after game. I suspect if Ichiro had simply played for better teams, we'd look at him a little differently than we do now.
Ichiro, of course, hasn't announced his retirement. Maybe he wants 3,000 hits in the United States, but with 2,755 and now relegated to a reserve role, that's looking more and more unlikely. Maybe he won't go out with the same fanfare as Jeter, but when he does I'm going to miss him.
In the end, he missed just one start, which was still enough of a setback to put Rangers fans in a minor state of panic considering the opening week rotation was already without Derek Holland and Matt Harrison.
Darvish returned Sunday after not having pitched in three weeks and looked a lot like the guy many predicted will win the Cy Young Award, undoubtedly calming at least a few nerves in the Rangers fan base and front office. He pitched seven innings of no-run baseball in a 3-0 win over the Rays, an efficient 89-pitch effort that included just one walk. He threw 65 of his 89 pitches for strikes and held the Rays to an 0-for-10 mark with runners in scoring position.
He wasn't necessarily overpowering, averaging 91.7 mph on his fastball while maxing out at 95.1 mph, but maybe this is the new, strike-throwing Darvish, one looking to be a little more economical in his pitch counts to avoid walks and pitch consistently deeper into games.
"It seems like they are very aggressive, so I tried not to overthrow and be very careful with my command," Darvish said. "That was the key to my success. I was aggressive throwing strikes. I felt like I was pitching in spring training or any other game. I didn't feel anything unusual."
While Darvish recorded just six strikeouts, he showed what makes him so tough to hit -- the six K's came on two fastballs, two curveballs, a slider and a changeup to Wil Myers. It's that changeup that could be a new weapon for him: He threw 90 changeups all of last year, recording just four strikeouts. Just what batters want to hear, knowing it's hard enough already with two strikes gearing up for a curveball or slider.
The Rangers' rotation remains a little unsettled -- Colby Lewis may be close to returning and they may use six starters this week. The good news is the Rangers are 3-3 despite the makeshift rotation and having hit just one home run. They play the Red Sox and Astros this week but will need the rotation to come together sooner rather than later as they play the Mariners seven times and the A's six before the end of the month.
Darvish joked that he'd pitch great every time if he had three weeks between starts. The Rangers are hoping he'll pitch great every fifth day.
2. The most impressive result of the weekend was the Brewers going into Boston and sweeping the Red Sox by scores of 6-2, 7-6 (in 11 innings) and 4-0 on Sunday. The Red Sox were swept just once all last season -- in a three-game series in Texas -- and shut out just three times at Fenway Park in the regular season.
Yovani Gallardo struck out only three in 6 2/3 innings but issued no walks and got 11 ground balls outs compared to four in the air. He hasn't allowed a run in his first two starts. Gallardo struggled last year and while his velocity isn't up from last year at least he's throwing strikes early on.
3. I watched a lot of Mariners this week and there were a lot of positives to draw upon as they went 4-2 on the road: Two dominant starts from Felix Hernandez, one from James Paxton, good hitting from Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley. Robinson Cano hit a quiet .391/.500/.478 as he's still looking for his first home run. He has drawn three intentional walks already as the Angels and A's elected to go after Smoak.
All three walks came in conventional IBB situations: Two outs, runners on second or second and third. Smoak went 1-for-3 with a bases-clearing double. Still, for now, it appears opponents will avoid Cano whenever possible. The biggest positive with Cano may have been his hustle double on Sunday when he singled to center and took advantage of Coco Crisp jogging after the ball. That's a Cano that New York writers like to say doesn't exist. It's one play, but perhaps a sign that Cano will embrace being a leader on the Mariners.
4. Mark Trumbo homered for the fourth straight game Sunday in the Diamondbacks' 5-3 win over the Rockies, just their second victory in nine games as they currently sit with the majors' worst record. Even though Trumbo has five home runs and 13 RBIs and Paul Goldschmidt is mashing, the Arizona offense has mostly struggled, averaging fewer than four runs per game.
The Rockies intentionally walked Trumbo with a runner on third base and one out on Sunday to pitch to Miguel Montero, who promptly grounded into a double play against Brett Anderson. Montero's OPS fell from .820 and .829 in 2011 and 2012 to .662 in 2013. He and Gerardo Parra are the only regular lefties in the D-backs' lineup, and they need the old Montero not the 2013 version.
5. I watched the last few innings of Chris Tillman's gem to beat the Tigers, and he looked really good, allowing one run again as he did in his Opening Day start. He couldn't quite finish it off, getting one out in the ninth before being pulled for Tommy Hunter, but he challenged the Tigers -- 74 of his 113 pitches were fastballs -- and did a good job of moving the fastball around against left-handed batters (he pitches mostly to the outside corner with the fastball against righties).
Without sounding overdramatic here, it was a big win for the Orioles as 2-4 just sounds a lot better than 1-5. The Orioles have one of the toughest April schedules in the majors as just six of their first 27 games are against teams that finished under .500 last year and those six are against Toronto, no pushover, so they need to make sure they don't get buried before May.
6. This wasn't from Sunday, but I hope you didn't miss Giancarlo Stanton's mammoth home run on Friday off Eric Stults. The ESPN Home Run Tracker estimated the moon shot at 484 feet, 31 feet longer than the second-longest home run so far. The longest home run last year was Evan Gattis' 486-foot blast for the Braves on Sept. 8 off Cole Hamels.
The Marlins lost on Sunday, but they're off to a 5-2 start. Stanton is hitting .345/.406/.655, and for all those fears that he wouldn't get pitched to, he hasn't drawn an intentional walk
Jeter has his most hits off Tim Wakefield (36) and among pitchers he faced at least 40 times, has the highest average against Bruce Chen (.429). (He also hit an impressive .413 against Johan Santana. Molitor got 33 hits off both Jack Morris and Roger Clemens (and hit above .300 against both) and killed Erik Hanson (.482) and Walt Terrell (.477).
8. The Yankees have one home run in six games, hit by Brett Gardner on Sunday's win over the Blue Jays. Could power actually be an issue for the Yankees? Mark Teixeira landed on the DL over the weekend, which means they're really going to have to rely on 38-year-old Alfonso Soriano and 37-year-old Carlos Beltran for some pop. Leading the team in extra-base hits? Yangervis Solarte. Of course.
9. B.J. Upton: Hey, at least he didn't strike out in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Nationals. But he did go 0-for-4 and is off to a .120/.120/.140 start with 11 strikeouts in 25 plate appearances. So far, Fredi Gonzalez has hit him second in all six games. It's way too early to panic, but tell that to Braves fans.
10. Speaking of worrying, should the Angels be worried about Jered Weaver? In two starts, batters are slugging .600 against him and the Astros pounded four home runs off him on Sunday. The four home runs came on four different pitches: Jason Castro off a 3-1 changeup, Matt Dominguez off a 3-2 slider, Jesus Guzman on an 0-1 fastball and Alex Presley on an 0-1 curveball. His fastball velocity, such as it is, has averaged 86.0 mph, about the same as last year's 86.5.
As with all these first-week results, don't overreact, but if Weaver isn't a strong rotation anchor, the Angels are in trouble. They're 2-4, hoping to avoid the terrible April starts of the past two seasons.