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Are Chapman and Kimbrel Cy Young Contenders?

Last night, on the Sunday Night Baseball telecast of the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets, announcer Dan Shulman facilitated a discussion surrounding relievers and the Cy Young Award.

Quite simply, should Aroldis Chapman and Craig Kimbrel be considered legitimate candidates for the NL Cy Young Award this season?

Relievers possess a difficult time making noise in the Cy Young Award voting because they do not throw nearly as many innings as starting pitchers. Fewer innings equal fewer opportunities to make an impact and provide value to one’s baseball team. This sentiment was largely echoed by Orel Hershiser and Buster Olney on the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast.

The topic of relievers and the Cy Young Award seems to surface annually. This season, however, the conversation has become more earnest because Chapman and Kimbrel are compiling video game numbers on the mound. Just look at how dominant both have been for their respective teams, prior to Sunday’s games:

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Bartolo Colon’s Streak Without An Earned Run

On Tuesday evening, 39-year-old Bartolo Colon handcuffed the Los Angeles Angels for seven innings, only surrendering a single unearned run in his final inning of work.

Although that unearned run ended his consecutive scoreless inning streak at 22.1 innings, he does currently maintain a streak of 22.2 innings without surrendering an earned run. The last earned run given up by the right-hander came on a solo home run by the Yankees’ Curtis Granderson on July 22 in Oakland. Since that home run … nothing.

Extended stints without allowing an earned run are not uncommon in Major League Baseball. After all, Ryan Dempster threw 33-consecutive innings without surrendering an earned or unearned run in July.

Instead, the intriguing aspect of Colon’s streak lies in his pitch selection and how he is finding success on the mound.

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Rickie Weeks’ Quiet Turnaround

After a tremendous +6.5 win season in 2010, the Milwaukee Brewers signed second baseman Rickie Weeks to a four-year, $38.5M contract extension in February 2011.

He followed up his breakout campaign with a +3.7 win season in an injury-shortened 2011, in which he proved 2010 was not a fluke by hitting .269/.350/.468 with 20 home runs and a .358 wOBA. Expectations were sky-high coming into 2012, and the Brewers were relying upon his bat to soften the impact of losing Prince Fielder to Detroit over the offseason.

Instead, Weeks imploded to begin the 2012 season and has essentially been a replacement-level player on the year. He hit below the Mendoza Line from April 29 to July 13 and has the fifth-highest strikeout percentage amongst qualified hitters in the National League at 27.0%. His current .314 wOBA is almost 50-points lower than his wOBA from last season.

Though it’s difficult to categorize 2012 as anything other than a disappointment for Weeks, the 29-year-old has quietly turned his season around this summer and looks a lot more like the Rickie Weeks the baseball community has become accustomed to seeing at the plate.

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Pirates Push For Postseason, Acquire Wandy

Prior to the trade deadline, many expected the Pittsburgh Pirates to leverage their talented farm system to acquire an impact bat. After all, their offense has a combined .302 wOBA, and they penciled in a batting order on Tuesday evening that featured five players (not including the pitcher) with an on-base percentage below .300.

That big bat may still be in the cards this week, but the Pirates temporarily shifted their focus to the starting rotation and acquired southpaw Wandy Rodriguez from the Houston Astros in return for three minor league players — outfielder Robbie Grossman and lefties Colton Cain and Rudy Owens.

The starting rotation for the Pirates was not necessarily a pain-point for the organization, as the group had compiled a 3.95 ERA and 3.92 FIP on the season thus far. Room for improvement existed, however, as right-hander Kevin Correia still took the mound every fifth day with a 4.31 ERA and 4.95 FIP. His ZiPS projection throughout the remainder of the season only forecasts pain, too, as it predicts him to post a 5.40 ERA and 4.83 FIP from here on out.

Trading for Wandy Rodriguez allows the Pirates to remove Correia from the starting rotation and replace him with a more consistent, more effective pitcher.

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Myers Traded To Windy City

As the trade deadline approached this month, the Chicago White Sox desperately needed to upgrade their bullpen. Their cumulative 4.17 FIP ranks second worst in the American League, and their 3.99 ERA ranks only marginally better.

GM Kenny Williams looked to perhaps the only self-identified “seller” on the current market, the Houston Astros, for help. The White Sox acquired right-hander Brett Myers for minor-league pitchers Matthew Heidenreich and Blair Walters, as well as a player to be named later.

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Ben Sheets, Changeup Artist?

Like many teams across Major League Baseball this season, the Atlanta Braves’ starting rotation got bitten by the injury bug. The ace of their rotation, right-hander Brandon Beachy, underwent Tommy John surgery — as did prized prospect Arodys Vizcaino. Both will not return before the end of the season.

The pitching depth that Atlanta had accumulated was supposed to help weather the storm, but the results have been underwhelming. That has forced Atlanta to look elsewhere for a starting pitcher. Preferring the least-expensive route, the organization did not turn to the trade market and instead signed former All-Star Ben Sheets to a minor-league deal.

On Sunday afternoon, Sheets made his first major-league start since 2010 and dominated the New York Mets over six scoreless innings. He struck out five and only walked one, generating ten whiffs over an 88-pitch outing. In many ways, it was like watching the old Ben Sheets on the mound.

In one particular aspect, though, it was very much a different Ben Sheets.

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The Home Run Derby Curse

We’ve all heard it: the Home Run Derby can ruin a player’s swing and single-handedly cause the player to tank in the second half of the season.

The theory has been utilized to explain the decline of Brandon Inge in 2009, Dan Uggla in 2008, and Justin Morneau in 2007. Perhaps more famously, though, the Home Run Derby has routinely been identified as the culprit for Bobby Abreu’s disappointing second half in 2005 — in which he connected with 18 home runs in the first half and only six in the second half.

Most people within the baseball industry — players, coaches, and writers — now dismiss the theory’s validity. Some players may alter their swings in the event, but as third baseman Brandon Inge said in this article by Jim Caple:

“We’re professionals. As Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard said, you can make adjustments. It won’t stick with you anyway. Someone once told me it takes 30 days for muscle memory to become habit. I wouldn’t think that few swings in one night would affect you.”

Ironically, Inge said that prior participating in the 2009 Home Run Derby and subsequently taking a nosedive in the second half of the season. He became Exhibit A for those providing evidence in favor of the theory.

So, does the Home Run Derby legitimately affect player performance in the second half of the season?

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Quality vs. Quantity: The Blue Jays’ Draft Strategy

Ever since the new collective bargaining agreement was announced in November 2011, people speculated as to how the newly-formulated signing bonus budgets for the MLB Draft would affect draft strategy.

Signability became extremely important. Teams could not afford to fail to sign a pick because it caused them to forfeit their pick and the bonus money allotted for that pick, ultimately lessening their overall spending pool. That focus on signability resulted in an influx of college seniors getting drafted in earlier rounds than their talent would have otherwise dictated.

Drafting college seniors in the top ten rounds allowed organizations to sign those players — who lack negotiating leverage due to their inability to return to college — well under the prescribed slot value and bank money to utilize elsewhere.

Most teams drafted a college senior or two in the first ten rounds, but the Toronto Blue Jays took the strategy to a whole different level. In rounds four through ten, Toronto drafted seven-consecutive college seniors, and not one of those players has signed for more than $5,000 — including outfielder Alex Azor out of the United States Naval Academy, who signed for a mere $1,000 in the tenth round. Azor saved the Blue Jays $124,000 against their overall signing bonus allotment.

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Rule Changes In The International Market

With the July 2 implementation of the new international spending budgets that were agreed upon in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement beginning today, much of the baseball world is attempting to wrap their heads around the potential impact the new rules may have in terms of spending and disbursement of players.

Until today, organizations across Major League Baseball were free to open their wallets and spend whatever they felt was necessary to lure top international talent into their farm system. Some organizations have jumped into the deep end in the past, while other teams have largely chosen to barely dip their toes into the water and have spent frugally on international talent. The Texas Rangers doled out $12.83 million on international bonuses in 2011, the most in all of baseball. On the other end of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Dodgers spent $177,000 on the international market last year.

With that massive range in expenditures in mind, teams will no longer be able to spend wildly without repercussions. Each team will have a $2.9 million budget in international signing bonuses for the 2012-13 signing period. If the budget is exceeded, various penalties would be assessed:

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Cuban OF Yasiel Puig Declared Free Agent

Cuban outfielders have been a hot commodity over the past year, and another young Cuban defector was declared a free agent on Tuesday evening and is now able to sign with any major league team, according to Jesse Sanchez of

Twenty-one-year-old Yasiel Puig has long attempted to make his way to the United States. In fact, he was suspended from playing in the Cuban Serie Nacional this past season due to attempting to defect. He successfully did so this summer, establishing temporary residency in Mexico, and is expected to agree to terms rather quickly in hopes of signing prior to July 2, when the new CBA regulations  will severely limit international spending.

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