Yankees Go All In On 2017 With Sonny Gray Trade

When I first started to write this column, I intended for it to focus on what the Yankees gave up and the risk associated with that. The more in-depth I looked, I realized the Yankees played their cards perfectly in picking up a player who is instantly the second best pitcher on the team.

As of 7/31/17, the New York Yankees are a superior team with Sonny Gray in their rotation rather than Luis Cessa or Caleb Smith or some other combination thereof stepping on the mound every fifth day.

But they better win the World Series within the next couple of years, or heads will roll in the Bronx. That’s the Yankee way. And with no World Series appearances, much less victories, this decade, the Steinbrenners gave the green light to cash in (ha ha, very funny, I know) on the farm system that they had been building over the past few seasons with smart drafting and flipping aging veterans on a hot streak for young prospects. All three of the players going the other way in this one-James Kaprielian, Jorge Mateo, and Dustin Fowler-were drafted and developed by the Yankees, a testament to the quality of the organization all the way on down. This was still a large gamble though-the Yankees weren’t supposed to contend in 2017, and for the majority of the first half, the Bronx Bombers terrorized the American League playing with house money and no pressure. The White Sox trade that cost them Blake Rutherford and this trade for Sonny Gray most assuredly dictates that the circumstances have changed. The pressure to win is on.

At his best, Gray is an All-Star. His 2014 and 2015 seasons in Oakland were unequivocally excellent. At the ages of 24 and 25, he was already one of the best pitchers in the American league. In 2016, injuries robbed him of playing time, and when he was on the hill, it was ugly-his 5.69 ERA was unsightly. in 2017, Gray returned to form-his numbers weren’t quite as good as they were in 2014/2015, but his velocity was consistent, and his FIP and other peripherals suggested that his slight dip in numbers was more due to Oakland’s historically terrible defense rather than any fault of his own. Gray is easily an upgrade over the wildly inconsistent Michael Pineda, who the Yankees no longer need to feel any pressure to resign after his recent Tommy John surgery. CC Sabathia is old and fragile, Masahiro Tanaka is a No. 1 starter with an ERA over 5 and a tender elbow, and Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery has exactly zero postseason starts between them. Gray is a welcome addition as an instant rotation stabilizer with a history of postseason experience who comes relatively cheap contract-wise for the next three years. All told, Gray was the best pitcher available this year.

Still, Gray isn’t a surefire bet to be the Yankee’s ace through 2020. Gray is just 5’10 and one season removed from an injury riddled disaster season. Pitching is inherently a violent motion, and there’s a reason that they look for height with starting pitchers way back down into Little League. Gray’s early career is eerily reminiscent of another Bay Area phenom who came up and immediately lit the world on fire as a young pitcher.

Tim Lincecum was the best pitcher in the world by his second season, and among the worst in major league baseball by his sixth. His body couldn’t take the beating of throwing 95 mph with a 5’10 frame forever-his hips were messed up and his velocity tanked. He couldn’t miss bats and he ended up out of the league by age 33. So smaller pitchers that throw hard come with inherent risk that other players do not.

In addition to Gray’s durability and longevity concerns, there is also the consideration that he pitches in one of the most pitcher friendly ballparks in baseball, the Oakland Coliseum, with it’s deep fences and acres of foul ground. He’s going from a pitcher’s paradise to a hitter’s haven in Yankee Stadium-the adjustment might be troublesome.

So this trade doesn’t come without risk, especially when considering the prospects the Yankees gave up. But the Yankees did their best to mitigate that risk by trading players from positions of depth within the organization

Dustin Fowler looked for all the world to be the centerfielder of the future-after all, Brett Gardner is 33 and Jacoby Ellsbury is, uh, bad. Fowler tore it up in AAA this year and looked to have all the tools to be a solid major league contributor for a decade. Unfortunately, a devastating knee injury before his first at bat robbed him of the chance to ever step up to the plate as a Yankee. If he fully recovers-no guarantee, considering the severity of the injury, he would have profiled nicely between Judge and Frazier.

Fowler is a loss, for sure. However, Aaron Hicks is still just 27 years old and was enjoying a breakout season with the bat when he landed on the disabled list with an oblique injury. He’s due back in August, and even if he doesn’t quite replicate his success at the plate he’s always good for some Gold Glove caliber defense. Waiting in the wings is Estevan Florial, the newly anointed centerfielder of the future after Fowler and Blake Rutherford were both traded. Florial has got all the tools to be an All-Star, and the Yankees are demonstrating tremendous faith in him by trading away both Rutherford and Fowler. Though Frazier and Judge have firmly established themselves on the corners of Yankee stadium, the cupboard of outfielders is bare after Florial, so the pressure is on for him to continue to develop.

Jorge Mateo is a nice young player, and at one point was the Yankee’s best prospect. He’s got tremendous speed and can hit for average, but Cashman’s acquisition of Gleyber Torres and Tyler Wade’s development, along with the success and relative youth of Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro, has rendered him expendable. He’s a great addition to the A’s farm system, but a loss of little consequence to the Yankees.

James Kaprielian likely would have been getting the starts that Cessa and Smith have picked up following Pineda’s torn UCL had he not suffered the exact same injury himself. Kaprielian could be a really nice pitcher-he looked to be a lock as at least a number three starter in the big leagues, but this is now his second Tommy John surgery. Chance Adams looks like he’s almost ready in Scranton, and Domingo Acevedo was also ahead of him on the RHP prospects list, so losing Kaprielian doesn’t hurt as much as it might have a year ago, especially as they added Clarke Schmidt and Matt Sauer in the first two rounds of the draft this year.

Gray didn’t come cheap, but the Yankees managed to acquire a cost-controlled starter with ace potential without compromising their future-a win win that proves that Brian Cashman is one  of the best in the business in both selling and buying at the trade deadline.

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How to Hold Your Own at a Sabermetrics Cocktail, Part 2: ERA+/-

You have most likely heard of ERA, and have a pretty good grasp on the concept. It’s the average number of runs a pitcher allows over a span of nine innings. The lower the better, and one of the oldest barometers of pitching success.

The purpose of ERA+/- is to eliminate the variables associated with different ballparks and environments that factor into traditional ERA.

ERA+/- is a new take on an old concept. For starters, a typical ERA might be 3.95, and a typical ERA+ might be 104. The evident difference in those two numbers indicates that ERA+ must be interpreted in different ways.

WHAT IT MEANS:

Ignoring ERA- for now, the higher the better with ERA+ with a baseline average of 100. With ERA+, the difference between the observed result (ex. 104) and 100 is the percentage by which the league’s average ERA differs from the pitcher’s.

So, if Pitcher A has an ERA+ of 104, the league’s ERA is 4% higher (worse) than Pitcher A.

Now, important distinction here, that does not mean that Pitcher A’s ERA is 4% better than the rest of the league. In ERA+, the player is the baseline and the league’s ERA is the variable. It measures how far away the league is from the pitcher.

Most people would agree that it is more useful to see how a pitcher performs compared to the league rather than the other way around. That’s where ERA- comes into play. With ERA-, the difference between the observed result and 100 is the percentage that Player A’s performance differs from the league.

For example, if Bartolo Colon has an ERA- of 91, it means that his ERA is 9% better than the league’s ERA.

HOW IT’S CALCULATED:

The difference between ERA+ and ERA- comes from the mathematical equation itself:

ERA+ = AL or NL ERA/ ERA + [ERA – (ERA x PF)]

ERA- = ERA + [ERA – (ERA x PF)] / AL or NL ERA

As you can see, the only difference is that the numerator and denominator are flipped. This is where the difference comes in: 4/5= 80%, but 5/4= 125%. That 5% difference in the example is same concept that leads to the difference in ERA+ and ERA-, and why one player’s ERA+ and ERA- can be different distances from 100.

Before I go any further, the obvious question remains: Why have both? In short, convenience. ERA- is more useful, to be sure. However, ERA+ was developed first and is a more readily available statistic than ERA- on websites like baseball reference. For a casual fan (or serious fan, if you are truly diving into a pitcher’s advanced stats like this), the difference is mostly negligible. ERA+ is more flawed than ERA-, but it achieves the same basic concept. It still gives you a comparison between the pitcher and the league, and it attempts to eliminate the same variables that can artificially alter ERA.

WHY IT’S USEFUL:

*Exhales*. With all the technical stuff out of the way, let’s get into why ERA+/- is useful. After all, you can compare a player’s ERA to the league ERA in any given year without all the mumbo-jumbo up above. Why ERA+/-?

Now, I know you are wondering about the “PF” in that equation. PF stands for Park Factors, and that is where the value of ERA+/- lies. Park Factors has its own complicated formula, but in short it attempts to compensate for the difference between a bandbox like Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati and a pitcher’s paradise like San Diego’s Petco Park. ERA+/- can be useful to analysts in determining how much the outside factors of a pitcher’s park and the league hitting environment are influencing a pitcher’s performance.

The best example I can give of the value of ERA+ is the 2007 Colorado Rockies. Many thanks to Baseball Reference for almost any and all stats, but unfortunately they don’t provide ERA-; therefore, we have to use ERA+ in this example.

The 2007 Rockies made it all the way to the World Series, where they were swept by the Boston Red Sox. Still though, the first World Series in franchise history was reason for excitement. It’s easy see why they were successful based on the offensive numbers…but wow, how did they make it through the playoffs with that pitching staff?

Their ace was Jeff Francis, who sported an extremely mediocre 4.22 ERA. None of their starters had an ERA below 4. Even our beloved FIP had them at a team-wide 4.52. Yet, they were good enough to make the World Series. How?

Well, the Rockies had seven different players accumulate at least eight starts that year, and all except for one had an ERA+ of over 100. Coors Field is the most difficult place to pitch in the majors by a wide margin, and ERA+ accommodates for that, as the team wide ERA+ is a respectable 112. It probably would have been even higher if it weren’t for a whole host of guys they had that pitched 15 or less innings (read: garbage time inning eaters) who were downright abysmal. ERA+ allows us to reference the Rockies against the rest of the Coors Field-less league. What appeared at first to be a terrible pitching staff actually ended being a pretty solid one.

Image result for coors field

(Photographer not given)

The other benefit of ERA+/- is it allows for comparison across different decades. In 1968, Carl Yastrzemski won the AL Batting title while hitting just .301. Tough time to hit. Everyone knows about the dead ball era, but fewer know about how much easier it was to pitch before the mound was lowered  in the 1960’s largely due to Bob Gibson’s dominance. And trying to pitch in the steroid era? Forget about it. Because the league’s ERA is built into the formula, it’s easier to compare players from different generations. It should be noted that Pedro Martinez’s dominance of the late 90’s and early 2000’s came during the most prolific offensive period in baseball history. That’s reflected in his ERA+, which ranks second all time.

Image result for pedro martinez pitching expos

(Photographer Not Given)

ERA+/- is a complicated stat, and much more difficult to explain and interpret than traditional stats. However, the reward for the extra effort put into understanding ERA+/- allows fans to gain a clearer picture of a pitcher’s performance and it quantifies and eliminates the variables of time period and location, essentially stabilizing the hitting environment over 100 plus years of baseball.

How to Hold Your Own at a Sabermetrics Cocktail, Part 1: FIP

For most of baseball’s existence, you measured a pitcher’s success with three stats-Wins, ERA, and strikeouts.

Nowadays, if you speak those terms, you’re a baseball dinosaur. Any in depth article you read will reference FIP, ERA+, and WAR. I’ve always considered myself to be a baseball expert-but with these terms I wasn’t even sure if it was better for the number to be high or low.

Here’s an explanation of GM’s and analysts’ new toy for player evaluation, and how you can use it to determine the performance of a particular pitcher or more importantly, hold your own in a conversation with a baseball geek.

FIP

FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. In short, FIP attempts to isolate the pitcher’s ability to prevent runs independent of outside factors. Evaluate FIP in the same way you would ERA-the lower the better. FIP allows analysts to gauge how much the defense behind them is affecting their ability to prevent runs. Another way to say it would be that it helps you determine how lucky or unlucky a pitcher may be.

FIP attempts to quantify the difference between having Jose Canseco and Ken Griffey Junior patrolling the outfield behind you. Even if a a poor defensive player does not make an error, that may simply be because they didn’t get close enough to make a play on the ball. FIP is calculated using only strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs allowed-outcomes that do not involve the defense. This eliminates several confounding variables in a pitcher’s performance.

FIP is not a panacea to the issues present in ERA, but does help to clear the minefield a bit when attempting to evaluate if your pitcher truly getting rocked or the balls are just finding holes.

ERA is still a valuable tool-after all, a pitcher’s primary purpose is to prevent runs. It’s still important to take FIP with a grain of salt-a pitcher with a good FIP never won any ballgames-it’s ERA that gives a team a chance to win. However, a significant FIP and ERA difference can indicate that a pitcher’s success is unsustainable, or that a recent skid is more due to poor luck and/or timing than a true red flag. Think of FIP as the norm that an oscillating ERA should, in theory, return to.

The formula is math spaghetti, so feel free to look that up on your own, but the important thing is to realize what factors play into calculating FIP and what FIP represents in terms of a pitcher’s value.

(Getty Images)

AJ Griffin tossed 200 innings for the A’s in 2013 and posted a respectable 3.83 ERA. His FIP of 4.55, however, suggested that he was getting hit harder than you might think at first glance. This was most likely due to the fact that he gave up an incredible 36 home runs. Sure enough, in Griffin’s next two seasons (he missed 2014 with an injury) he posted ugly ERA’s of over 5-to go along with even higher FIP’s, indicating that he was not, in fact, unlucky; he was just ineffective.

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija throws against the San Diego Padres in the first inning of their baseball game Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) Photo: Eric Risberg, Associated Press

(Eric Rinsberg/Associated Press)

On the other hand, the Giant’s Jeff Samardzija has posted a terrible 2-9 record and unsightly 4.81 ERA this season, numbers that twenty years ago everyone would agree indicated a very poor season indeed. However, his excellent strikeout to walk ration of 104 to 13 buoys (or sinks, however you want to look at it) his FIP, which instead stands at a 3.40, indicating a solidly above average performance. Taking the holistic approach, Samardzija’s numbers must accommodate for the 2017 Giants’ general incompetence. Though Eduardo Nunez is no great shakes at third, the rest of the Giants infield defense is excellent. Where Samardzija is getting killed is the outfield, where Samardzija especially suffers because he is by nature a fly ball pitcher. The Giants have started double digit players in left, including career infielders Eduardo Nunez and Orlando Calixte. In center field, lower body injuries and age have robbed Denard Span of the athleticism that once made routine plays easy, as the case is now exactly the opposite. Hunter Pence has always done things in his own weird way, which was fine when it worked, but now every fly ball to right threatens to send Giants fans into cardiac arrest. And Gorkys Hernandez, well he can’t really hit, but it’s fine because he can field, except, well, he can’t seem to do that either.

But you have a job and a life and what you don’t have is time for all of that analysis, so…FIP!

 

The 2017 Warriors are Not Going to Ruin Basketball

If you listen to the press outside of the Bay Area, there are a good number of people who believe that the Warriors would be better served building their new arena on Alcatraz Island rather than in San Francisco. Terms like “competitive imbalance”, “the easy way out”, and “ruining basketball” are tossed around carelessly without any rational thought behind them as the Warriors unopposed romp through the Western Conference has vilified them in the eyes of a jealous nation.

As flawed as these statements are, it makes sense that they are so prevalent. After all, takes like these are born of emotion-in particular, frustration-not clear headed thought. After all, it’s frustrating when your team stinks and the Warriors have such an unbelievable collection of talent concentrated on one team. Some fanbases have suffered years without success, watching dynasty after dynasty pass them by while they were thrilled to be competing for the eighth seed. And now, a team with three All-Stars, a team in contention to be among the greatest teams of All-Time, went out and signed Kevin Durant in free agency. It would be like if the ’96 Bulls went out and signed Gary Payton. Except Kevin Durant is a more dominant player than The Glove, for all his greatness, ever was.

But this line of thinking is incorrect, for multiple reasons. If there’s any team who embodies this “competitive balance” it’s the Warriors. It would be one thing if the Lakers or Celtics signed Durant and created a superteam-then, people might have some grounds on which the complain that their team could never win. But the Warriors should be an inspiration that event the worst of teams can one day become dominant.

The 1997 Warriors had one All-Star: the talented but unstable Latrell Sprewell, who was traded after choking out his own coach. He later turned down a 21 million dollar contract, claiming that it wasn’t enough to feed his children. Moving on. It wasn’t until 2013, when David Lee was selected to play in the All-Star game, that a Warrior once again made the All-Star team. In between, the Warriors had their magical “We Believe” season and…not much else. Some notable draft picks since the Run TMC era, the last instance of sustained success for the Warriors, include Joe Smith, Todd Fuller, Andris Biendris, Patrick O’Bryant, and Epke Udoh-a litany of busts that prevented the team from ever acquiring a player to build around.

That all changed with the selection of Steph Curry with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft. But success wasn’t instantaneous. Curry struggled with ankle injuries and at one point it was a real debate if he would sign with Charlotte to be closer to home once he hit free agency. It was just three years ago that the Warriors were bounced in the first round against the Clippers in the last year of the Mark Jackson era.

Up until the 1990’s, the Lakers and the Celtics dominated the NBA so thoroughly it was comical. From 1950 (the first year of the NBA finals) to 1990, the Lakers or Celtics won 27 out of 40 NBA Finals. That’s two teams winning the Finals 68% of the time. That’s absurd. The teams that have dominated in the last thirty years had virtually zero success prior to that-the Bulls, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, and Warriors were all afterthoughts in NBA lore before securing their place as All-Time great teams.

It should not be forgotten that the current iteration of these Warriors has just one championship to their name. Dominant teams come in cycles-which is why Jordan’s two three-peats are so impressive, and why the question of whether or not he could have won eight straight titles had he not decided to play baseball will forever remain as one of the most entertaining hypothetical situations in NBA lore. LeBron’s Cavaliers couldn’t break through the first time and the current group can also claim just one championship. The “Boston Three Party”-one of the finest pieces of trade engineering ever-was supposed to unbalance the league and it too produced just a singular title. LeBron’s “Heatles”-a crime far more egregious than the signing of Kevin Durant because it involved three star free agents instead of just one-was one lucky missed call on a Ray Allen travel from also managing just one title as well.

The dynasties with staying power involve home grown players-buying wins sacrifices long term success for moderate short term improvement-and this is evident in the teams and players with the most rings. MJ and Pippen. Magic, James Worthy, Kobe. Duncan and Robinson, with a little help from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.

That’s the number one reason why the Warriors scare people so much. It’s not just that the Knicks or the Nuggets or the Kings or any other number of irrelevant NBA teams have no chance to win a title.

The issue is that nobody else in the entire league, save for perhaps the Cavaliers, has a chance to win a title. A perfect storm-and a herculean effort by LeBron triggered an improbably comeback last season, on the back of superb play by LeBron but also injuries and recklessness by the Warriors. Yes, the Cavaliers beat the Warriors, but the Warriors also beat themselves. The number one seed Boston Celtics, winner of 60 plus games-not just beaten, but embarrassed in the conference finals. The Houston Rockets, the modern iteration of Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense? An afterthought. The Spurs held a commanding lead before losing Kawhi Leonard to an injury, but the successive blowouts proved that one man couldn’t have rescued even the Spurs, who haven’t been bad in twenty years.

If you’re not from the Bay Area, it’s a depressing outlook for an NBA fan. LeBron has been to the last seven NBA Finals, with no indication that anybody is line to slow him down. Out west, the Warriors are unbeatable with a healthy Curry.

However, as the examples above of superteams demonstrates, expected or planned brilliance (“Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4..”-LeBron James, all the way up to seven, on the number of championships he expected the Heat to win) rarely pans out in the fashion expected. The disastrous results expected of an unstoppable superpower failed to materialize, and it was that much more significant and exciting when the veteran Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki and his own version of the flu game, knocked off the heavily favored Heat.

The success of the Mavericks and Spurs against the Heat indicates why the Warriors shouldn’t be cause for distress. The 1927 Yankees, “Murderer’s Row”, was among the most dominant teams ever and certainly didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, it drew more fans because people want to see greatness. Casual observers had their interest piqued by a team that was so talented at their craft it was a sight to behold.

Competitive balance? How about the Yankees from 1949-1953, when they won five straight World Series. Baseball was not ruined.

Or the New England Patriots, owners of three Superbowl Rings, adding the best receiver in football in Randy Moss?

But sports can be fickle. Those 2007 Patriots are a perfect example. Eighteen victories, zero losses, facing a deeply flawed 10-6 New York Giants team led by an erratic Eli Manning (at that point in his career). Yet they failed to take home the trophy.

Greatness needs to be appreciated. People may complain bitterly at the time, but when it’s gone people wish they had it back. Just look at the reception Derek Jeter got at the end of his career-even the most bitter of rivals paid him their respects. The Warriors aren’t just a collection of uber-talented players. They are the next generation in the evolution of basketball. The pieces fit perfectly, with Curry, Klay, Durant, and Draymond each having the ability to stretch the floor and slash inside. Klay can guard 1-4 and KD and Draymond can guard anyone on the court. The seamless flow and positionless basketball is a sight to behold, and a far more advanced concept than the bully-ball that Wade, LeBron, and Bosh employed in their heyday. Bosh, the best shooter of the three, was forced into a perimeter role in the same way Kevin Love is today, which made no sense as he is 6’11 and should have been a dominating post presence, his value diminished as a floor spacer. Wade and LeBron were essentially the same player in their first year together, and there wasn’t enough space to go around. The “there’s only one ball” argument had far more validity hear than it does with the ball movement and spacing oriented offense of the Warriors.

That’s not to say that LeBron’s Heat wasn’t a great team. They were, as evidenced by their 27 game win streak. But they didn’t break the league, and their era of dominance ended more abruptly than expected. These Warriors are a team you will tell your grandchildren about. Appreciate their greatness, built in the right way.

5 Stories From the First Two Months of the 2017 MLB Season

May is winding down, and it’s the time of year when hot streaks need to start being taken seriously and you  can no longer ignore that Ervin Santana is the best pitcher in the AL or the fact that Aaron Judge appears to be the reincarnation of Frank Thomas. Here are five of the most notable stories from the first two months of the 2017 MLB season.

Aaron Judge Electrifies the Bronx

The Yankees rookie phenom has a been a shot in the arm for a previously moribund (by Yankees standards) franchise. Judge’s dynamic personality and the thrill of his tape measure home runs has not only make the Yankees fun again, but has planted him as a front runner for AL Rookie of the Year and squarely in the thick of the MVP race. In limited action last year, Judge was plagued by the typical flaws of big, tall hitters. A large strike zone and poor plate discipline made him susceptible to a high strike out rate and a batting average that even Mario Mendoza would have turned up his nose at.

This season, with improved plate discipline and a more patient approach, Judge has terrorized pitchers across the American League and made the Yankees into the most exciting team in baseball, spurring the Bronx Bombers to first place in the AL East. Time will tell if the pitching will hold up for an October run, but the villains of baseball are officially back, and much earlier than expected to boot. The heaps of young talent in both the Yankees and the Red Sox organizations indicate a bright future for one of the most storied and bitter rivalries in all of sports.

Houston Reaps the Fruits of their Labor

To be completely honest, I’m not sure exactly why Houston owns the best record in the American League. Jose Altuve is playing fantastic, to be sure, and the defense certainly runs a tight ship, but there are a concerning number of red flags for a team that has the best record in baseball.

Carlos Correa, rookie phenom of 2015, looked poised to take the league by storm and lead the next generation of great shortstops. Correa certainly hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination-we’re not looking at Bobby Crosby here-but his performance and potential has been relegated from transcendent to slightly above average.

I would be remiss not to mention the terrific season that Marwin Gonzalez is enjoying. Josh Reddick, too, is playing great. But Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel has been average, Alex Bregman has yet to live up the the hype, and Carlos Beltran is showing his age.

Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young Award in 2015, then pitched like your average fifth starter in 2016. He’s back to the Cy Young level this year, and thank goodness for it, because their rotation is thinner than a papercut behind him and Lance McCullers. The best thing you can say about Charlie Morton is “he’s not the worst”, and he can thank the Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers for that, both of whom have been dreadful.

The key to their success has been their lockdown bullpen, which has been performing at a historic rate. Houston has suffered for many years following the era of the Killer B’s-they are finally getting the chance to cash in on all those high draft picks.

Mike Trout Toils in Obscurity

The best baseball player in the world plays in the second biggest market in the United States. He has been compared to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, two of the greatest baseball players who have ever graced this earth.

And nobody ever talks about him.

Oh sure, ESPN throws him a bone every once in a while and he wins the MVP award once every couple seasons. Most of Mike Trout news consists of “Yep, he’s still really good. Probably still better than Bryce Harper, too.” Yet for all of his immeasurable talent-the power and grace that makes a very hard game seems very easy-Mike Trout has little to no impact on the general state of baseball or the outcome of each MLB season.

It’s a constant battle in the sports world to stay relevant-the NFL, the top dog for a long time, must fight off the increasing pressure mounting as a result of the danger of concussions. Warriors-Cavs III in a rubber match makes for the most compelling NBA rivalry since Bird-Magic. Baseball has been seeking to make itself more entertaining and fast paced, with the implementation of pitch clocks. The MLB’s biggest ace in the hole right now is Trout, who should be front and center of all things baseball. Trout is the the absolute prime of his career and his exploits should be regaled with the same level of attention that Brady or LeBron receive. Perhaps more, because, have we mentioned he’s only 25?

But Trout is stuck on a team playing second fiddle in the LA market, the Angels being just bad enough to be totally irrelevant for the foreseeable future and recent memory, and not bad enough to land another star player in the draft to help Trout. In baseball, it’s much tougher for one player to mask a team’s flaws, not to mention that the rebuilding process takes longer because draft picks take longer to develop. The man hits with zero protection in the lineup and still mashes. The best player in the world has absolutely no impact on the results of every MLB season.

I hope he likes pinstripes.

The Brewers and Twins are Good Now, Everybody

Hooray for the upper Midwest!

Safe to say no one saw this coming. The Eric Thames experiment in Milwaukee has been an unequivocal success, and Ervin Santana is pitching as well as he ever has in Minnesota, and I was surprised to find out he’s been quietly excellent ever since his last awful season in the City of Angels. Former Number 1 prospect Byron Buxton is playing like Aaron Hicks, and by that I mean “couldn’t hit water if he fell off a boat but will catch anything in the ballpark and probably hose them at third too” Twins version of Aaron Hicks and not “suspiciously really good really fast” Yankees version of Aaron Hicks. He’s already valuable due to his defense, and if his bat ever catches up like many have long predicted it will, he’ll be an All Star. Miguel Sano has been straight up abusing baseballs this year in the box and just about adequate at third, which any baseball team will take ten times out of ten.

Travis Shaw is good now for the Brewers, and catchers Manny Pina and Jeff Bandy have combined to hit .292 with seven homers, excellent production from behind the dish. The pitching is uh, suspect, for the Brewers, especially because apparently Matt Garza is not bad now/the best pitcher they’ve got, recent history suggest that’s an untenable position. He was a good-to-very-good pitcher before the past two seasons, so it’s possible he has rediscovered his mojo, but his age makes that a risky assumption, especially with his recent injury concerns.

Both teams have been feel-good stories for 2017, but the Indians and Cardinals, two teams with established track records and pennant race experience, are hot on their respective tails. Even if the fast starts fizzle, the rapid rise of both these franchises has reignited baseball fever up North.

The Blue Jays are Not Good, and Probably Won’t be For a While

Speaking of up north, the Blue Jays went to the ALCS in back to back years on the power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion each of the previous two years, and are now mired in the depths of mediocrity.

Similarily, the Giants were one bullpen collapse away from pushing the Cubs to Game 7 (and about 30 bullpen collapses-I wish I was joking-from being among the best teams of the past five years) and are now attempting to claw their way back into contention after a Murphy’s Law start to the season.

The Blue Jays cashed out in 2015-adding Josh Donaldson, David Price, and Troy Tulowitzki, at no small cost. Now, with Encarnacion and Price gone, Bautista in decline, and Tulowitzki injured (what else is new), the Jays are staring at a rebuilding era a little quicker than they’d hoped, and with a dearth of prospects to do it with.

The Giants outlook was equally as bleak before a recent hot stretch, having emptied their cupboards for Matt Moore, Will Smith, and Mike Leake in recent seasons and failing to refurbish them in quite some time. Christian Arroyo, the system’s top prospect, has been called up and has shown a knack for timely hitting, though he’s struggling overall, his batting average narrowly eclipsing .200.

Two of the best teams in recent memory are suddenly afterthoughts, an important reminder to the rest of the league to savor success while it lasts.

 

MLB All-Time Team-A long overdue sequel

The title says it all.

Third Base-George Brett

Brett’s balance outweighs Mike Schmidt’s power (548 home runs) and Brooks Robinson’s defense (16 Gold Gloves.)

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Shortstop-Derek Jeter

Sixth all time in hits, 35 ahead of Honus Wagner and countless ahead of Ernie Banks. That spot among the all time greats, plus the five rings, nets him this spot.

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Second Base-Rogers Hornsby

It was a different era, but a .358 career average (second only to Ty Cobb), plus 301 home runs (surprising), and the historically weak offense that has accompanied second basemen throughout history makes this a fairly easy selection.

First Base-Lou Gehrig

Disease robbed us of one of baseball’s greatest players of all time. It’s a testament to his ability that his numbers stand up with the all time greats despite being forced to retire early due to ALS.

Catcher-Johnny Bench

Mike Piazza’s steroid suspicions and uninspiring defense assure Johnny Bench this spot.

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(Doug McWilliams/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

The Rotation

Nolan Ryan, RHP-ESPN’s biggest error of their list in my opinion. The All-Time strikeouts leader didn’t crack their top ten right handed pitchers of all time, but he’ll be the Opening Day starter here.

Randy Johnson, LHP-Mixing righties and lefties is strategically sound, not to mention Johnson’s impressive numbers of his own. At 6’10, he would have made a fine power forward but was unhittable as a pitcher. During the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s, where he still possessed the ridiculous stuff of his youth yet had also learned to control it, there was simply no one better. He once averaged 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings. As a starter, that’s unfathomable.

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(Ronald C. Modra, Sports Illustrated)

Cy Young, RHP-Weird ball, different era. Wins are vastly overrated as a statistic and an inaccurate measure of a pitcher’s success. Still, 511 wins and the namesake of the award given to the best pitcher in each league can’t be ignored.

Sandy Koufax, LHP-Tempting to go with Steve Carlton due to longevity, but I firmly believe that in his prime, Sandy Koufax was the best left handed pitcher ever. Injuries forced him out of the game at age 30, yet he left twice the impression in half the time of most Hall of Famers.

Tom Seaver, RHP-Tom Terrific rounds out the back end of this rotation. Numbers, longevity, and a wicked fastball.

Bullpen

Were this team to ever need to get a clutch save, there’s only one man for the job-Mariano Rivera.

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How many rings do you have, Mo?

The MLB All Time Team-Outfielders

ESPN recently did a series where they ranked the top 10 players of all time at each respective position. Now, it’s normal for there to be some dissension between fans and writers-it’s simply in the nature of the game. It’s also difficult to compare players from different eras. Rod Carew once won the batting title hitting under .300, and it’s difficult to judge anything from the dead ball era, because baseball was just funky back then. Players did things you just don’t see now, and I find it hard to believe that the records set back in 1898 were set because the players were so much better.

All of that being said, ESPN’s choices were…interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but not ranking Nolan Ryan as one of the top 10 right handed pitchers and making A-Rod the number three shortstop of all time? Roger Clemens as the 5th best righthander, PED’s and all?

When disagreeing about something, often times a person will defend their point with a “Well then, who else?” argument. If I’m going to criticize, ESPN, I have to back it up. However, to make it interesting, here is my all time 25 man roster. If I had access to every MLB player in their prime to add to my roster, this is how I would play it out. A slightly different take on the greatest of all time mantra. Today, we’re starting with the 80’s pop band, The Outfield.

Left Field

Hank Aaron spent the majority of his days in right field, but he had the speed, range, and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. Left field is typically occupied by the weakest fielder of the trio of outfielders, so anyone who can man center or right can usually handle left.

Aaron is synonymous with the term “Home Run King”, even after Barry Bonds passed him almost ten years ago now. That’s because Aaron conquered the seemingly unreachable Ruthian total of 714, a record that many felt would never fall, and surpassed it by 41, unaided by steroids or anything other than the power of a flick of his wrists.

Yet Henry Aaron is so much more than that. You might know that Pete Rose is the all time hits leader, and the more savvy baseball fans are aware that Ty Cobb, the only other man besides Rose to reach 4,000 hits, resides in second place. (A fact that surely would have rankled him.) Yet few know that it is Aaron, not Honus Wagner or Stan Musial (though Musial is just 140 hits behind him), nor George Brett that occupies the number three spot on the list: It is none other than Hank Aaron. Aaron’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency: He never once hit even 50 home runs in a season, yet he hit 40 or more 8 times and 30 or more 14 times. 50 home runs was a regular occurrence in the steroid era: players such as Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Greg Vaughn all reached that plateau, and none of them are anywhere close to the Hall of Fame. Yet the only player from this inflated offensive era in baseball history who even approached Aaron was the man who eventually passed him.

Aaron also spend much of his prime in the high mound era of the sixties than was so dominant for pitchers that the mound had lowered to keep competitive balance-but Aaron still managed to win two batting titles before the mound was lowered. He also collected three Gold Glove Awards-the pinnacle of most players’ careers, but a mere footnote in his.

There are a great number of terrific outfielders-perhaps more so than there are at any other position. Picking three is no easy task, but Aaron was perhaps the easiest selection of them all.

Center Field

William Howard Mays, Junior is considered by many to be the most complete baseball player of all time. Not only could Mays hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, field, and throw, he could do it better than anyone else.

These days, the term 5-tool player is thrown around when a guy hits .300 with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases while being a good defender. Willie would hit .330 with 50 homers and steal 40 bases. Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards, and he would have won more had the award been instated before 1957. He holds the record for the most putouts in baseball history-and the most iconic catch in the history of the game.

Mays was so good for so long, and his peak value was unlike anyone else. If he didn’t lose two years of his prime to the Korean War, he easily would have easily surpassed 700 and most likely would have passed Ruth himself. The statistics are staggering-but that’s only half the story. What makes Mays special is how he played the game. He was amazingly durable. He was the greatest defensive player ever by many metrics-and one of the best to ever swing the lumber, too.

Many believe that Mays is the greatest to ever step in between the lines. Even those who don’t must grudgingly admit that he was certainly the most complete player to lace them up.

Willie Mays could do it all-and he did.

Right Field

Three of the greatest baseball players of all time, men who defined an era of American history and were revered as household names across the land during baseball’s golden age-didn’t make the list. Ted  Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial dominated the 1950’s, yet none of them cracked this list. They were left off in favor of three of baseball’s most hallowed names. The next man on this list is perhaps the most recognizable of them all.

Babe Ruth would probably make this list as a pitcher, had he stuck with his original position. Instead, he became the most revered slugger the game has ever known. (Madison Bumgarner, this could be you.)

Ruth’s untouchable 714 has now been passed twice, but that doesn’t make it any less special. It wasn’t just the ball that created the lack of home runs in the dead ball era-it was the approach. Everybody tried to hit like Ichiro because it was the most consistent way of garnering success at the plate. Anyone who tried to launch moonshots ended up with a can of corn instead. Ruth changed all of that.

After leading the league with 11 homers (seriously), Ruth shocked the baseball world when he swatted 29 the next year. That was more homers than entire teams hit back in those days. Those who figured that it was a once in a lifetime fluke were drastically mistaken when Ruth nearly doubled his total and smacked 54 the next year. That was nothing short of unheard of in those days. None of the great home run hitters who followed him would have done what they did without one George Herman Ruth.

As baseball and advanced statistics evolve, it becomes even more clear how dominant Ruth was. Sabermetrics love Ruth, grading him as the best ever with their sacred OPS statistic, which combines on base percentage with slugging percentage.

Just think of how many homers Ruth could have hit had he started his career in the outfield with the live ball they use today. 800 is not out of the question. Four years to hit 86 home runs when he was young would have been a piece of cake.

Ruth’s weight problem made him no great shakes in the outfield, but the other parts of his game are often overlooked. Would you believe me if I told you Ruth’s career batting average is well ahead of Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, and Wade Boggs? That it’s just .002 points behind Ted Williams and Ichiro is almost 30 points behind?

Something that seems impossible is seen as a “Ruthian Task.” For all of Mays and Aaron’s greatness, they never made it into common vernacular in the way Ruth did. He epitomized all the grandeur and success of the Roaring 20’s, and did his best to distract a nation from the desolation of the Great Depression.

Ruth was not without his numerous faults-but there were almost none when he stepped inside the batter’s box.