The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise (introduced a half-decade ago) conducted by the author with a view to identifying and monitoring the most notable of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly!) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* — and all their attendant midseason lists, as well. Nearly every week during the minor-league season — except for those during which the vagaries of life have interfered — the author has submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.
*Note: Baseball America’s list was excluded this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.
Generally speaking, the word compelling has been used to designate those prospects who possessed some combination of the following:
With the minor-league regular season having been complete now for over a month, the author has finally escorted his carcass to the keyboard with a view towards presenting this document, a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2018.
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Craig Edwards traveled to Milwaukee for Games One and Two of the NLDS between the Brewers and Rockies. In this edition of the program, he discusses what he saw there. Also: what criteria must a club meet to become a dynasty? And: if teams added no players this offseason, which club would be best in 2019?
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Audio after the jump. (Approximately 40 min play time.)
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Before examining Mookie Betts and Mookie Betts’ excellent 2018 season in earnest, allow me first to address some claims I have no intention of making in what follows. I will not, for example, state definitively that Mookie Betts is the most talented player in the majors. I will not suggest that Betts ought obviously to be the MVP of the American League. I will not argue that Wins Above Replacement is an infallible measure of player value. I will also not contend that FanGraphs’ version of WAR is necessarily superior to others that exist.
What I will say is that WAR is a metric designed to account for the ways in which a player contributes on the field and to translate those various contributions into wins. While the methodology employed by FanGraphs differs slightly from the one used by Baseball-Reference, for instance, both are constructed with the same end in mind — namely, to estimate the value of a ballplayer relative to freely available talent. Each represents an attempt to answer a good question in a responsible way.
According to the version of WAR presented at this site, Betts was the major leagues’ most valuable player this year. By FanGraphs’ calculations, he was worth just over 10 wins relative to a replacement player. As Craig Edwards recently noted, that 10-win threshold is pretty significant: the “worst” player to reach it since the beginning of last century is Norm Cash. Cash, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, was more or less his era’s Mark Teixeira. Whatever one’s opinion of Mark Teixeira, it’s encouraging if he represents the floor for a player’s career projection. It’s difficult to record a 10-win season by accident. Mookie Betts is very good.
What follows is an account of how Betts produced those 10 wins — an anatomy, as it were, of a historically great season. By examining the constituent elements of WAR — and Betts’ performance in each category — it’s possible perhaps to arrive at a better sense of what is required for a player to distinguish himself amongst his peers. It might also possibly allows us to better appreciate what a special talent Betts has become.
Batting Runs: +62.2
The batting element of WAR is calculated, more or less, by translating all the hitterly events (walk, single, double, etc.) into runs. By this measure, Betts ranked second among all major leaguers behind Mike Trout — and finished just ahead of teammate J.D. Martinez.
Max Muncy hit a lot of home runs this year. Including his opposite-field effort on Monday against Colorado, he hit 35 of them overall. Not only will that total rank him 14th forever among major leaguers from the 2018 campaign, it will also represent the greatest improvement for a batter between last season and this one. This year, Muncy hit 35 home runs. Last year, he hit zero of them. Arithmetic suggests that he produced a net total of +35 by this very specific measure. A perusal of the leaderboards reveals that no batter rivals him in this regard. Among the many ways in which Muncy’s 2018 season was exceptional, that’s one of them.
The purpose of this post, however, is not to catalog all the unlikely exploits of Muncy’s 2018 campaign, but rather to examine one specific way in which Muncy’s home run on Monday was different than all the others he’s ever hit. To understand the significance of that homer, though, it’s necessary first to contemplate another, different homer.
That’s footage of Muncy, tying the score against the Mariners’ Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning of an August 18th game this season. Edwin Diaz was one of the best relievers in baseball this year. Part of what makes Diaz so effective is his arm speed. Diaz threw this fastball to Muncy at 98 mph, as the hastily edited screencap below indicates.
Jay Jaffe is progenitor of the very famous JAWS metric and author of the reasonably famous The Cooperstown Casebook. On this edition of the program, he discusses his efforts — by means of his Team Entropy series — to documents the possible end-of-season scenarios that would require the greatest number of tiebreaking games and facilitate the greatest volume of disorder.
Audio after the jump. (Approximately 55 min play time.)
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the unconfirmed guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.
Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 6 min play time.)