The Los Angeles Dodgers completed their three-game NLCS comeback on Sunday night, beating the Atlanta Braves to reach their third World Series in four years. Joining the Dodgers in Texas will be the Tampa Bay Rays, who avoided an embarrassing four-game reverse sweep at the hands of the Houston Astros by the skin of their teeth the day before. In what will hopefully prove to be 2020’s final mischievous prank, the most unorthodox season in baseball history has ended up with the most orthodox result: despite a 16-team playoff format that held little advantage for the top seeds, the World Series matchup features the clubs with the best records in their respective leagues. For both, a championship would end significant droughts, as the Dodgers have not won a Fall Classic since 1988, and the Rays have yet to grab a title since at least the Big Bang, approximately 13.8 billion years ago.
Fittingly in a matchup of the two best teams, ZiPS sees the win probabilities as very close, with the Dodgers squeezing out a slight 53%-47% edge in the projections. But while these squads may be similar in their quality, they approach baseball’s financial world quite differently; the Dodgers are big spenders while the Rays regularly have a payrolls that rank near the bottom of the league. With the outcome squarely in the realm of coin flip, small things will likely decide the series winner. To that end, I’ve outlined seven questions, the answers to which will determine how fate conducts its deliberations. Read the rest of this entry »
On a Rays team that’s long on talent but short on household names, Randy Arozarena has carved out an identity with a postseason for the ages. The 25-year-old left fielder, who has just 99 regular season plate appearances in his brief career, became the first rookie position player to win a League Championship Series MVP award via his four-homer, nine-hit performance against the Astros. He now has seven homers in this postseason, one short of a record, not to mention a prominent place on the leaderboards of a few other categories.
Arozarena’s final homer of the ALCS was a two-run first-inning shot off Lance McCullers Jr. in Game 7, giving the Rays a lead that they would not relinquish. That followed his game-tying solo homer off Framber Valdez in the fourth inning of Game 1, his two-run shot off Zack Greinke in the fourth inning of Game 4, and his solo dinger off Enoli Paredes in the fifth inning of Game 5. Here’s the supercut:
For the series, Arozarena collected five other hits as well, and batted .321/.367/.786 while driving in six runs. In winning LCS MVP honors, he joined the Orioles’ Mike Boddicker (1983 ALCS), the Marlins’ Livan Hernandez (1997 NCS), and the Cardinals’ Michael Wacha (2013 NLCS) — all pitchers — as the only rookies to win the award; Hernandez also won the World Series MVP award, lest Arozarena need to set another goal. They don’t give Division Series MVP awards, but his .421/.476/.895 showing with three home runs against the Yankees, and for that matter his .500/.556/1.000 performance in the Wild Card Series against the Blue Jays, might have garnered him additional hardware. The dude is en fuego, hitting a combined .382/.433/.855 through 60 postseason plate appearances, with 11 of his 21 hits going for extra bases (three doubles, one triple, seven homers). He’s tied for fourth in homers in a single postseason:
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Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowd to better understand and project the 2020-21 free-agent market.
This year, we’ve added a few new features to the ballots based on reader feedback. You now have the option to indicate that a player will only receive a minor-league contract, or won’t receive one at all. We’ve elected to show averages from the 2017-2019 seasons so that this year’s shortened slate doesn’t skew the numbers, but we’ve also included 2020 stats as a point of recent reference. 2020 salary figures represent players’ pre-pandemic contract amounts. Statistics are prorated to full season where noted; the projected WAR figures are from the first cut of the 2021 Steamer600 projections.
Below are ballots for seven of this year’s free agents — in this case, a collection of infield types. Read the rest of this entry »
The likelihood of Patrick Murphy reaching the big leagues was far from certain when I wrote about the then-22-year-old right-hander in February 2018. He’d pitched well the previous season, but that was in Low-A, and his injury history included thoracic outlet syndrome and multiple elbow procedures. Question marks abounded, and Murphy merited a mere honorable mention our Blue Jays Top Prospects list.
His future remained murky when I wrote about him nine months later on the heels a promotion to Toronto’s 40-man roster. Murphy was again coming off a good year — this time in High-A — but there was nonetheless still a lot to prove. He entered 2019 ranked No. 26 on our Blue Jays list, his FV an uninspiring 35+.
Then came a speed bump that necessitated a mechanical change. Midway through the 2019 season, Murphy was told that his delivery was illegal. More on that in a moment.
Fast forward to last month: Seven years after the Blue Jays selected him in the third round of the 2013 draft out of a Chandler, Arizona high school, Murphy made his major league debut. It came against the Philadelphia Phillies, and one of the first batters he faced was a close friend. Read the rest of this entry »
Below are ballots for six of this year’s free agents — in this case, a designated hitter as well as a collection of catchers. Read the rest of this entry »
Without a true minor league season on which to fixate, I’ve been spending most of my time watching and evaluating young big leaguers who, because of the truncated season, will still be eligible for prospect lists at the end of the year. From a workflow standpoint, it makes sense for me to prioritize and complete my evaluations of these prospects before my time is divided between theoretical fall instructional ball, which has just gotten underway, and college fall practices and scrimmages, which will have outsized importance this year due to the lack of both meaningful 2020 college stats and summer wood bat league looks because of COVID-19.
I started with the National League East, then completed my look at the American League West, AL East, and Central. Below is my assessment of the , covering players who have appeared in big league games. The results of the changes made to player rankings and evaluations can be found over on The Board, though I try to provide more specific links throughout this post in case readers only care about one team. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s impossible for a single play in the fourth inning to decide the outcome of a baseball game. There are simply too many at-bats left, too much time for something else to happen that invalidates whatever occurred so early in the action. Consider a bases loaded, two out situation, down two runs in the top of the fourth, for a random example: hit a grand slam, and our WPA Inquirer will tell you that the away team wins 70.3% of the time. Strike out, and it’s 21.1%. In neither case is the game over.
Don’t tell Atlanta that, though. In the top of the fourth inning, the Braves were ready to hit the turbo button. With a one-run lead already in their pocket, they had an enviable situation: runners on second and third with no one out. A single could make it a three-run game; heck, a grounder to the right side and then a sac fly would suffice. Nick Markakis, the batter, almost never strikes out; he’s the exact kind of player the Braves wanted at the plate in this moment.
Markakis put the ball in play. Dansby Swanson broke on contact, and well, yeah, he probably wishes he could take that decision back:
Three years ago, when MLB.com referred to Charlie Morton as an “unlikely” World Series hero, the description was fitting. After nine years in the majors, most of which had come with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Morton had alternated between being acceptable and downright dreadful. Then, in his first year with Houston at the age of 33, he didn’t just pitch the best season of his career — he closed out the final four innings of Game 7 of the World Series to secure the first championship in the history of the franchise. Nobody in their right mind would have foreseen such a responsibility being placed in his hands before the season started, and yet there he was, limiting the Dodgers to one run in a game in which they needed five.
These days, Morton is no longer some big surprise, a novelty pitching far above the expectations anyone holds for him. He’s just a great pitcher who gets the ball in big games because he is clearly the right man for the job. On Saturday, however, the Astros weren’t the team celebrating with Morton. They were the ones who felt his wrath.
Morton threw 5.2 shutout innings while allowing just two hits as the Rays defeated the Astros, 4-2, in Game 7 of the ALCS. With the win, Tampa Bay secured its second World Series appearance in the franchise’s 23-year history, and a chance at its first-ever title.
The Astros entered Saturday having battled back from a 3-0 series deficit to win three straight and force a Game 7, just the second team in MLB history to do so. After being held to just five combined runs over Games 1, 2 and 3, the Astros finally outpitched Tampa Bay with a pair of one-run victories in Games 4 and 5 before unleashing a back-breaking rally in the middle innings of Game 6 to knot the series up. But unlike the Boston Red Sox of 2004 — who rallied from a 3-0 ALCS deficit to steal the pennant away from the New York Yankees and eventually win the World Series — Houston could not pull off that fourth-straight win, a streak the team mustered just once during the regular season. Read the rest of this entry »
Everett Scott holds the Red Sox franchise record for games played at shortstop. A part of three World Series-winning clubs in Boston, he manned the position in 1,093 regular-season games from 1914-1921. Right behind Scott are Rick Burleson (1,004), Nomar Garciaparra (956), Freddy Parent (909), and Xander Bogaerts (908).
The last of those names stands out, and not just because he’s current. It also stands out because myriad prospect prognosticators didn’t expect him to stick at the position. To some it was barely even a question. I was once told by a name-you’d-recognize prospect guru, — in a condescending manner, no less — that “Xander Bogaerts will never play shortstop in the major leagues.”
He was wrong. Moreover, had this been a normal 162-game season — and assuming Bogaerts had stayed healthy — the 28-year-old native of Aruba would already be within 100 games of Scott’s total. As it is, he’s in line to eclipse the century-old record by the midway point of the 2022 season.
Called up in August 2013, Bogaerts did play nine of his first 17 big-league games as a third baseman — the position he was earmarked for by his doubters. But that was circumstance as opposed to choreography. With Stephen Drew etched in at short, and Will Middlebrooks scuffling at the hot corner, the Red Sox were looking for a way to slot their top-rated prospect into the lineup.
According to Bogaerts, a permanent switch was never in the plans. Read the rest of this entry »