Season-ending awards routinely evoke differing passionate opinions amongst baseball fans, writers, and players. A perfect example of that is the debate as to whether Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera should win the American League MVP, which has continuously raged for the better part of September.
With that in mind, I was surprised to see the overwhelming majority of the FanGraphs staff vote for Bryce Harper as the NL Rookie of the Year over left-hander Wade Miley. While arguments can certainly be made for Harper, I thought Miley had a slightly better resume to be crowned the best rookie in the National League this season.
And, I suppose, that definition is where some of the confusion lies in my part. The Rookie of the Year is defined as the best rookie, not the most valuable rookie. That difference in terminology has always led me to vote for the rookie who compiled the best numbers without giving extra consideration to a position player because they largely play every day, and thus, often provide more value to their respective teams — which is why pitchers rarely win MVP awards.
Perhaps I’m alone in interpreting the award in that fashion. It was surprising, however, to see Wade Miley and Bryce Harper so far apart in the voting, despite identical +4.8 WAR seasons. Miley has the fourth-highest WAR of any pitcher in the National League, while Harper owns the third-highest WAR of any NL center fielder. The numbers are so close. There doesn’t seem to be a clear-cut decision.
Miley played a huge part in salvaging the Diamondbacks’ starting rotation. The team’s two stalwarts from last season — Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson — failed to reproduce their success, due both to ineffectiveness and injury. Kennedy was nothing more than league-league average. He soaked up 200-plus innings, but merely posted a 98 FIP- and a 96 ERA-. Hudson, on the other hand, only made nine starts and saw his season end with Tommy John surgery.
With that in mind, the Diamondbacks needed someone to step up and anchor the rotation. Miley was not only the starter who experienced the most success on the mound, but he averaged 6.4 innings per start. Working consistently deep into games helped save the bullpen from overwork. It’s hard to imagine the Diamondbacks’ bullpen compiling the fourth-best FIP in all of baseball without Miley stepping into the rotation with such a high level of success.
The Diamondbacks’ left-hander also has the advantage in playing time. He spent the entire season in the big leagues, while Harper joined in the last week in April. That is a month’s more value Miley provided his team.
Harper evens the scales, however, with his his defensive value — in which he compiled an +8.9 UZR and one of the best arm numbers (+6.6 ARM) in the league. He’s more than a than just a bat. He augmented the Nationals’ production on both offense and defense, which negates much of the advantage Miley has with stabilizing a rotation in potential crisis and overall playing time.
The tipping point for me comes on a razor-thin point, in which Miley performed better compared to his position than did Harper. Miley’s 76 FIP- means he performed 24% better than the league-average pitcher. Harper, on the other hand, posted an impressive 122 wRC+, meaning he performed 22% better than the league-average hitter. Both statistics are park-adjusted, as well, which helps cut out the background noise of Chase Field being more hitter-friendly than Nationals Park.
In terms of which performance is more objectively impressive, Bryce Harper wins in a landslide. He was essentially a five-win player as a 19-year-old, while Wade Miley did so at 25 years old. Perhaps that comes into play for some people, which is fine. That simply did not affect my evaluation of which player had a statistically better rookie season.
When it came down to it, the race was so close that an extremely minor point swung my favor to Miley. He performed a little better compared to the league average than did Harper. That’s why he got my vote.
On Tuesday evening, Orioles’ first baseman Chris Davis launched a 445-foot home run to center field off Tampa Bay’s James Shields to place himself in elite company. It marked his sixth-consecutive game in which he hit at least one home run, making him the 19th player in Major League history to accomplish that feat.
In the American League, the last player to hit a home run in at least six-consecutive games was Kevin Mench in April 2006, but some of the other names include Lou Gehrig, Roger Maris, Jim Thome, and Reggie Jackson (the only other Baltimore Orioles player). The longest stretch of consecutive games with at least one home run is eight games, which is held by three players — Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, and Dale Long.
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“Bats, they are sick. I cannot hit curveball. Straightball I hit it very much. Curveball, bats are afraid. I ask Jobu to come, take fear from bats. I offer him cigar, rum. He will come.” — Pedro Cerrano
The archetype of power hitters feasting on fastballs and whiffing on offspeed pitches has long floated within baseball circles. The quotation featured above from the movie Major League highlights how pervasive the idea that “power hitters are fastball hitters” has become in baseball.
Alfonso Soriano has long found success by smashing fastballs, and he now receives a heavy diet of sliders and curveballs to counter that strength. Adam Dunn, Mark Reynolds, and Garrett Jones also serve as fruitful examples of sluggers who have experienced the vast majority of their success against fastballs.
The stereotype often proves true, so you’ll have to excuse me for jumping to conclusions when assuming that Oakland Athetics’ outfielder Josh Reddick would fall into that same broad category. After all, his 29 home runs, .216 ISO, and .242 batting average all suggest on the surface that he’s merely another power-hitting, fastball-feasting slugger who needs to adjust to big league breaking pitches to become more consistent at the plate.
That’s not just a misleading statement, though. It’s blatantly wrong. In fact, amongst qualified batters this season, Josh Reddick has the worst batting average against fastballs in all of baseball, and it’s not particularly close.
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This upcoming offseason was poised to be one filled with excitement surrounding the starting pitchers available on the free agent market. Teams were poised to open up their wallets in hopes of signing Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, or Cole Hamels — but the market quickly dried up once Cain and Hamels signed contract extensions with their current teams.
An intriguing name should join the market this winter, however, as CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported last week that the Chicago White Sox are not expected to exercise Jake Peavy’s 2013 option worth $22M. Instead, they are expected to pay a $4M buyout and allow Peavy to sign elsewhere.
When the San Diego Padres extended both Huston Street and Carlos Quentin this summer, they effectively signaled an intent to contend in the NL West in the near future. The organization felt that future was imminent enough to forego acquiring additional young talent via the trade market and instead committed valuable resources to injury-prone (though productive) assets who play non-premium positions.
All this from a team who owned a 34-53 record at the All-Star Break this season. Needless to say, the moves ruffled a few feathers and caused some to question whether the organization was truly intent on building a World Series contender or simply staving off an inevitable attendance decrease that normally accompanies mid-season fire sales.
If the Padres’ recent performance proves to be a believable measuring stick for its future, though, the front office in San Diego understood something that the vast majority of baseball fans did not. Their team was ready to start winning ballgames much earlier than expected.
“I love his upside. If he can harness his fastball, throw a few more strikes, he’s got a chance to be pretty good. Guys have a tough time squaring up balls against him; it’s tough to make solid contact. When you see some of the reaction of some of the hitters, I don’t think there’s any fluke about it.” — Ryan Doumit on Samuel Deduno
Few things are inevitable in baseball. Preseason favorites fail to deliver postseason destinies, future Hall of Famers go through prolonged slumps both at the plate and on the mound, and under-the-radar prospects burst onto the big league stage and become household names in a matter of weeks. It’s one of the main reasons we so passionately follow the game.
As of mid-August, though, perhaps nothing seemed so inevitable as the downfall of right-hander Samuel Deduno.
The 29-year-old journeyman began his season in Triple-A Rochester for the Minnesota Twins — his third team over the past three years — and eventually worked his way into the big league rotation. He took advantage of the opportunity by only allowing eight earned runs in his first 29 innings, winning three of his first five decisions and posting a 2.48 ERA. Given the state of the Twins’ starting staff, that type of production secured him a permanent place in the rotation for the remainder of the season.
Plenty of reasons for concern existed, however. Our very own Mike Podhorzer outlined why Deduno was unlikely to continue his early success on the mound, which largely centered around his lack of command. He has historically struggled to command his pitches — particularly his fastball — and that resulted in an astronomical walk rate. Even today, his walk rate currently stands at 5.45 BB/9. Far too high for a guy who possesses a below-average strikeout rate.
Almost a month later, Deduno’s statistics continue to defy common sense. His 1.12 K/BB ratio currently ranks seventh-worst in the league amongst starting pitchers who have thrown at least fifty pitches this season. He owns a 5.06 FIP and 4.93 SIERA. His 80.3% strand rate continues to beg for a regression.
Yet, instead of experiencing a tremendous regression of his skills on the mound, Samuel Deduno has shown marked improvement in recent starts. He has only surrendered four earned runs in his last three starts (spanning 20 innings), while striking out 19 and only walking six. And as his catcher Ryan Doumit said in the quotation above, success for the right-hander begins with throwing more strikes.
If pressed to name which year featured the best amateur draft class in recent baseball history, the vast majority would immediately gravitate toward the 2005 Draft.
(Side Note: In fact, I originally began researching this article in an attempt to prove just how good the 2005 Draft was in comparison to other recent drafts.)
It’s certainly not an unreasonable position to take. The 2005 Draft enjoyed copious amounts of hype prior to draft day, and the star power atop the draft is mind-blowing. Players such as Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, Ryan Braun, Troy Tulowitzki, Andrew McCutchen, and Alex Gordon were all drafted in the first twelve selections. Those six players combined for an impressive +35.6 WAR last season.
The 2005 Draft has the big names early in the first round, to be sure, but the 2002 Draft could actually be the better all-around draft. The reason the 2002 Draft doesn’t make headlines is that the early picks did not produce All-Star caliber players.
Coming into the season, the Angels picking up Dan Haren’s $15.5M option for the 2013 was a foregone conclusion. He had been a workhorse in recent years, throwing 1581.1 innings between 2005 and 2011 and compiling an 81 ERA- and 82 FIP- over that stretch. A $15.5M option was a no-brainer for a five-or-six win player.
Now, sitting with a disappointing 4.82 ERA in late August and concerns lingering about his health, Angels GM Jerry Dipoto and his staff must determine whether Haren is a smart investment for the organization.
The questions about his health started in early July, when Haren spent 19 days on the disabled list with a back injury — one that has reportedly been an issue since spring training. It marked his first stint on the disabled list as a professional. It also helped explain his uncharacteristic struggles on the mound.
More specifically, the injury accounted for his significant velocity decrease from 2011 to 2012. Our own Wendy Thurm examined the effects of less velocity on every one of his pitches this year. The real problem, however, reared its head when Haren’s velocity didn’t improve after his stint on the disabled list. If anything, his velocity decreased even more:
The Milwaukee Brewers have been one of the biggest disappointments of the 2012 season, underperforming expectations that had them contending for back-to-back divisional crowns in the mediocre NL Central. The bullpen imploded in spectacular fashion, Alex Gonzalez suffered a season-ending knee injury early on, Zack Greinke is now pitching in Los Angeles, and Shaun Marcum threw for the first time in more than two months on Saturday.
Despite all of those misfortunes, the Brewers’ starting rotation has not been part of the problem — well, other than the recently-released Randy Wolf — and owned a combined 3.78 FIP coming into Sunday’s games. That’s only ticks above their 3.75 FIP from last year, when they reached the NLCS.
The unit as a whole has improved in some aspects, though. Coming into Sunday, Milwaukee’s starting rotation has compiled the best strikeout rate in all of baseball.
When Seattle traded Ichiro Suzuki to New York in mid-July, the 38-year-old outfielder owned a mere .281 wOBA and was largely assumed to be on his last legs as a major-league baseball player. He still provided value with his glove, but his 77 wRC+ was simply too unproductive to pencil in as a right fielder every night.
As a New York Yankee, however, Ichiro has enjoyed far greater success and has people dreaming of his six-win years in Seattle.
After last night’s two-home-run outburst against Josh Beckett and the Boston Red Sox, the former MVP has hit .322/.344/.506 with the Bronx Bombers, and his .364 wOBA as a Yankee is well above average in relation to the remainder of American League right fielders.
The overall statistics should obviously be taken with a massive grain of salt due to the standard small sample size concerns. Not to mention he still has only drawn one walk since joining New York, and he also has seen his BABIP increase almost 40-points in that time frame. Plenty of reasons exist as to why we should not trot onto the field at Yankee Stadium and celebrate his re-coronation.
At the same time, Ichiro’s selectivity at the plate has drastically changed since donning pinstripes.