5 Points About Today’s 3-Way Trade

by Jason Epstein

MLB Trade Rumors’ Steve Adams has the 411: 

9:21am [CST]: The Yankees, Diamondbacks and Tigers have completed a three-team trade that will send Didi Gregorius to the Yankees, reports Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (Twitter link). Rosenthal adds that Robbie Ray will indeed go from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks and Shane Greene will be heading to the Tigers. WFAN’s Sweeny Murti first reported the potential framework and noted that Greene would head to Detroit if the deal were to be completed. Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic first tweeted that Ray could be headed to Arizona. 

Here’s what else you need to know about the three-way deal:

  1. Like you, I’m dreading Yankee radio announcer John Sterling’s call of a Gregorius home run. (Let’s all hope Didi doesn’t hit more than a handful.) My guess: ”That wasn’t just gorgeous. It was GREGORIUS!”
  2. Is this Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski’s way of saying to Detroit fans ”My bad?” for dealing away Doug Fister, one of the game’s top starters, to the Nationals for peanuts (i.e., Ray and two other disposable parts)? By acquiring Greene, he’s acknowledging that the Tigers, soon to lose superstar Max Scherzer, are desperate for ready-to-contribute starting pitching.
  3. On a related note: In addition to relinquishing Ray, Dombro had to part too with a highly-regarded middle-infielder prospect, Domingo Layba. The 19-year-old switch hitter will join Ray in the desert.
  4. The willingness to part with Greene suggests that Yankees GM Brian Cashman is pretty confident he’ll bag one of the starting-pitcher elephants on the free-agent market, presumably Scherzer.
  5. From a poster at Baseball Think Factory: “Remember when [former Diamondbacks GM] Kevin Towers said that Gregorius reminded him of a young Derek Jeter? Someone was listening.” Response from a poster at BTF: “Didi’s bat reminds me of an old Derek Jeter.” Zing!  

More here

Reveille 12/1/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning afternoon.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your post-Thanksgiving Monday at the office a bit more bearable: 

  • Will the slower-than-expected outfield-bleacher renovations at Wrigley Field result in April games without fans beyond the fences? According to Brett from Bleacher Nation, Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations, is optimistic that the work will get finished on time, but ”there are contingency plans in place to accommodate season ticket holders within the rest of the stadium if they cannot sit in the bleachers by Opening Day.”
  • Mets fans of a certain age remember fondly Neil Allen, both for being a solid closer — not to mention his awesome windup! – during the dark days of the early 1980s, but ultimately for being the bait needed to acquire Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals in June of ‘83. Allen was just named the Twins’ pitching coach, and Mark Simon of ESPN’s SweetSpot applauds the decision:

“I’ve got to find a way to reach each individual,” Allen said during a conference call on Tuesday, explaining his approach to working with pitchers.

Allen, 56, is finally getting a chance to impart his pitching wisdom in the big leagues. That personal approach is one of Allen’s strengths, according to one of his star pupils. “Neil is the most positive person I’ve encountered in baseball,” said [Chris] Archer, now a starter for the Rays, in an e-mail. “Every day, whether you threw a gem or gave up 10 runs, he brought a smile and optimism to work. Since he had such a great big-league career, his knowledge of situational pitching helped propel my career.” 

It’s not just current major leaguers who speak highly of his work. Ten-year minor-league vet Brian Baker pitched two seasons for Allen, including one in which he racked up a 6.62 ERA. 

“He didn’t care if you were a top prospect or an innings eater,” Baker said via Twitter. “He treated everyone the same. Every day, he had a story from back in his playing days, ready to make you laugh. If you were having a (bad) day, he could make you forget about it. If you needed help on the mound, he was the guy who could fix it. He knew his stuff. 

“He had pitching drills, little tweaks of mechanics, towel drills, different philosophies to get you going back in the right direction on the mound. And they always seemed to work for you. He wanted you to succeed and he did everything he could every day to help make that happen.”

I’ll get into this in more detail in a later post, but this year’s Hall of Fame ballot is a logistical mess. For me, there are many more than 10 qualified Hall of Fame candidates on the ballot. A couple — Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez for instance — will sail into the Hall of Fame by landslide this year. A couple more — Craig Biggio for example — will need every vote he can get for election (Biggio fell shot by two votes last year). Others like [Roger] Clemens and [Barry] Bonds won’t get elected, not a chance, but they were the best players on the ballot.

Then some will need help just to get the 5% necessary to stay on the ballot. What do you do? Do you give Mike Mussina a vote to make sure he falls off the ballot and take it away from Clemens because he’s not getting in anyway? DO you pass on Pedro, knowing full well he will have plenty of wiggle room, and vote for Sammy Sosa to be sure he doesn’t fall below 5%?

These last considerations should NOT be part of this process. I’m now beginning to believe that this, more than anything else, is the worst part of the Hall of Fame voting. The 5% rule is a lousy one. And my recommendation (like anyone cares about my recommendation) is that the BBWAA and Hall of Fame eliminate it immediately.

  • Now that the Red Sox have fortified their lineup via free agency, expect them to make some trades in the coming days, particularly to address the outfielder surplus.

  • Nothing Billy Beane does these days ought to surprise us, even when he ships an MVP candidate who’s both cost-controlled and still not 30 years old. In trading Josh Donaldson to the Jays on Friday night in exchange for Brett Lawrie and three prospects, the A’s general manager hopes to continue keeping Oakland competitive while keeping costs low. Before analyzing the names and motives behind the dealBeyond the Boxscore’s Nick Ashbourne proclaims: “Put as simply as possible, the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics just pulled off a trade that has more angles than a dodecahedron.” (Now that’s a word I haven’t heard in maybe a few decades.)

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

How to Be Like Mike (Trout) This Offseason

by Jason Epstein

Big League Stew’s Mike Oz recently chatted with Mike Trout about a variety of topics, including how the AL MVP takes care of himself during the offseason and if sitting down for two big dinners this Thursday impacts his workout routine in any meaningful way:

MO: You’re home in New Jersey, right? What are you doing for Thanksgiving?

MT: I usually go to two dinners. At my parents’ house, then my girlfriend’s house. They have a dinner too. Nothing too crazy.

MO: Since you’re the youngest of three kids, do you think having an MVP will give you extra clout at Thanksgiving this year? Biggest piece of pie? You get to eat the last roll?

MT: It’s first come and first serve in my house and in my family. That’s why I love ‘em. They stay the same. They’re always joking with me.

MO: What’s your favorite thing to eat at Thanksgiving?

MT: It’s gotta be the turkey. Turkey and mashed potatoes.

MO: Since I know you’re training for next season already and you said you have two Thanksgiving dinners, how do you balance that out in the gym?

MT: Thanksgiving, it’s a day you can cheat a little bit. You don’t want to be sitting at dinner and not eating anything. To me, it’s not that bad the next day, working out. I think the biggest thing is in the morning, waking up, you can tell when you ate too much the day before. But it’s only one day.  . . . 

MO: In general, what’s your training schedule like during the offseason? Do you give yourself a break at all?

MT: I played something like 158 games, so I like to take two or three weeks off to let my muscles relax.

MO: From a training standpoint, are you focusing on anything particular this offseason?

MT: There are always things you can improve on. Obviously speed is part of my game. You want to get quicker feet. I’m just working on my agility and trying to get stronger. are always things you can improve on. Obviously speed is part of my game. You want to get quicker feet. I’m just working on my agility and trying to get stronger.

More here.

Happy Thanksgiving, folks! See you next Monday.

Where at Fenway Will Hanley Ramirez Play?

by Jason Epstein

Before hitting the sack last night or after waking up this morning you learned that the Red Sox were poised to sign both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, this offseason’s top position-player free agents.

Marc Normadin of Over the Monster highlights a pretty important issue: Where on the diamond will the former Dodger shortstop and third baseman play? According to Normandin, Ramirez may find himself manning a corner outfield spot at Fenway:

Hanley Ramirez has played all but 112 of his 1,175 career games at shortstop. He’s a poor defensive shortstop despite all that practice, though, and as he’s now on the wrong side of 30, it’s hard to believe he’s going to get much better. Just because he’s been a shortstop doesn’t mean he’s going to be one going forward, however: ESPN’s Enrique Rojas reported that the Red Sox will decide where Hanley Ramirez will play sometime after they finalize their signing of him.

Ramirez has stated that he’s open to playing third base, a position he was not happy about moving to back when the Marlins signed Jose Reyes before the 2012 season. This is a different situation, though, one Ramirez is in control in, and there shouldn’t be any issue about where he is playing if he and the Red Sox have discussed that this is a question yet to be answered. Given the Red Sox are also trying to land third baseman Pablo Sandoval, it doesn’t sound as if that’s the only position Ramirez is willing to play.

The Red Sox have a glut of outfielders, but none of them haven proven they possess Ramirez’s bat. Obviously, some trades would need to be made to accommodate Hanley Ramirez, Outfielder, but that’s why the Sox haven’t settled on where it is Ramirez will play just yet. His position ultimately depends on which spot they open up, and unless the Sox suddenly plan on trading Xander Bogaerts, we’re likely talking about sticking Hanley in left or right field. Remember, trading Bogaerts doesn’t necessarily make sense in a world where the Sox have Ramirez, Sandoval, and whatever pitchers they end up paying, as its his low cost (and the low cost of other homegrown pieces) that allows for that kind of spending in the first place. The Sox could deal Bogaerts for a pitcher who is similarly talented, youthful, and cost-controlled, but then they’d still be left with Hanley’s glove at shortstop, and position players are better bets than young arms, to boot.

More here.

Reveille 11/24/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

First, a brief comment:

When evaluating the free-agent landscape for the Bronx Bombers, keep in mind that, for the first time since Brian Cashman assumed the role of general manager in 1996, the Yankees no longer have all that much to offer, other than a healthier Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Piñeda, an upgrade at shortstop (yeah, I said it . . . again), and at least modest improvements from Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann. Oh yeah, and A-Rod.

Once upon a time, the Yankees were able to lure top free agents by bundling offers of riches no team could match with promises of October baseball. 

No longer. 

Several other franchises appear to be making credible runs at either Jon Lester or Max Scherzer, this offseason’s marquee names.

So what’s the selling point today? If a premier free agent wants to play for a winner, the Tigers, Cardinals, Orioles, and Nationals expect to be the favorites in their respective divisions next season. If he wants to play for the green, the Red Sox and Dodgers have among the deepest pockets in the game. If he desires a little of both, I’m pretty sure Arte Moreno and the Angels can’t wait to meet him.

Before shouting in response, “It’s New York! It’s playing in the House That Ruth Matsui Built! It’s Madison Avenue!” keep in mind that being a part of a winning team is, first and foremost, what makes the Bronx a coveted place to play. (Come on, don’t tell me you fail to recall the good ol’ days when George Steinbrenner was making rather loud noises about moving the team to Jersey?)

To be clear, I’m not saying Cashman has no chance of signing either player. Only that it’s no longer a foregone conclusion.

And with that . . . here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable: 

The single biggest hurdle between Swisher and productivity in 2015 is health. His season ended in August as both his knees gave him trouble all season long, a problem he first observed towards the end of Spring Training. In the end, he required “debridements” in both his knees, cleaning up all manner of mess and scar tissue. How much did Swisher’s physical issues contribute to the worst season of his career?

It’s easy to dismiss everything as a product of a weakened lower half, but a rough 2014 together with his 2013 season suggests a player in decline. just not as steep as he fell off last year. The uptick in strikeouts — and subsequent drop in walk rate — is the ledge upon which his entire bounce-back teeters.

Swisher’s increasing whiff rate as the year went on, coupled with the increase in breaking balls thrown his way, is a matter of perspective. A sympathetic soul might chalk all his struggles up to injury. A weakened base slowed his bat, causing him to cheat on the fastball and leaving him exposed to the larger doses of breaking balls. If he’s healthy and able to produce more rotation with his lower half, suddenly he has a quicker bat and voila! Swisher’s fixed! He did chase more in 2014, a fact the optimists among us happily brush under the injury rug.

On top of more strikeouts, fewer walks, and more chases, Swisher managed to hit more pop-ups and generally made worse contact as the year wore on and his knees wore down. Suddenly there is a mounting pile of evidence suggesting this hitter just isn’t that great anymore. Any expected regression gets held down by the weight of rapidly deteriorating 



That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Brian Cashman Goes Homeless for Charity

by Jason Epstein

ESPN New York has the details of Brian Cashman’s night on the street in Manhattan to boost dollars and awareness for homeless youth:

For the fifth consecutive year, the New York Yankees general manager planned to sleep outside in the blustery West 41st Street courtyard of Covenant House as part of an annual nationwide event to raise money to benefit homeless children and adolescents.

“I don’t know how any human beings can deal with this on a daily, weekly, monthly basis,” Cashman said. “There’s no comfort on that ground. Even one night is terrible. With all the elements, with nature. It’s not right. No one should have to live like that.” 

Along with dozens of other participants, Cashman was heading out to his concrete bed with just a sleeping bag and his arm for a pillow. “The first year, I didn’t get a wink of sleep,” he said. “But after Year 1, I brought a sleeping pill with me. I don’t know if that’s cheating or not.”

Cashman, did, however, have a cell phone, his lifeline to the rest of the baseball world. And he did admit that in past years, he has taken calls from agents and even proposed a trade or two.

But Cashman, citing collective bargaining agreement rules prohibiting GMs from discussing free-agent negotiations, could offer no specifics on what he might be able to get done from his chosen spot on the cold pavement. So far this winter, the Yankees have traded Francisco Cervelli for pitcher Justin Wilson, sold the rights to Zelous Wheeler to the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Masahiro Tanaka’s former club, and added four minor leaguers — outfielders Tyler Austin and Mason Williams and right-handers Danny Burawa and Branden Pinder — to the 40-man roster.

Other than that, all quiet on the free-agent front.

“Lots of calls, lots of texts, but nothing to show for it yet,” he said. “It’s certainly taking its time, but it’s been busy. Certainly a lot of conversations. Hopefully they’ll lead somewhere positive.”

Kudos to Cashman for his dedication to the plight of homeless children and teens, although I’m sure there are Yankee fans also wanting to know whether he’s found next season’s starting shortstop, either via text messages or in the adjacent sleeping bag.

More here.

Snow Drives Jets–Bills Game Out of Buffalo

by Jason Epstein

Ralph Wilson Stadium will be quiet this Sunday.

The Jets and Bills had been scheduled to play a 1 p.m. EST game in Orchard Park, but the existence of some six feet of snow on the ground in the Buffalo suburb has forced the NFL to move the game to a yet-to-be disclosed location.

Initially, the Bills hoped to clear the stadium in time for Sunday’s scheduled kickoff, offering $10 per hour and free game tickets to fans who could help shovel out Ralph Wilson Stadium.

“It is not practical to play a game in Orchard Park in the condition that our community is in,” [team president Russ] Brandon said. “It really wasn’t an option to try to play the game at any point Sunday, Monday or even potentially Tuesday based on what the forecast is.”

Possible alternate locations, according to sources, include Detroit, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. The Lions and Redskins are on the road this weekend; the Steelers have a bye. It’s 215 miles from Buffalo to Pittsburgh, 256 miles from Buffalo to Detroit and 389 miles from Buffalo to FedEx Field in Washington.

Coaches for the teams are preparing with the belief the game will be moved to Monday evening in one of those three cities, sources said. The Bills have been unable to practice for the past two days and will have to leave Buffalo to do so.

Under consideration for the Bills is flying to the alternate site Friday and holding their first practice of the week in that city. However, about 85 percent of players live in the towns south of Buffalo, hit hardest by the storm.

“We’re working through that right now,” Brandon said. “The logistics are very difficult. We’ve had a lot of brainstorming sessions, and really trying to target all of our guys that are in very difficult situations. Some of the guys have been in apartment complexes that are not plowed in any shape or form and very difficult to get out.”

More here.

Two Teens Scoop Ken Rosenthal

by Jason Epstein

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Hardball Talk applauds Ken Rosenthal, known by some as “Robothal” for his tireless reporting and ability to be the first to announce breaking news on Twitter, for being scooped yesterday by two teenagers, one a mere 13-year-old.

The news in question was, first, free-agent designated hitter Billy Butler’s being close to signing a deal with the A’s and, second, the terms of the contract ($30 million over three years):

[Transaction news] is, by definition, single data point news that does not necessarily require reporting savvy and experience. It usually does, of course — you gotta get yourself into a place where people trust you with information — but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes people just hear things. And yes, that someone can be a 13-year-old kid if he’s in the right place at the right time. The key isn’t getting one scoop. It’s getting hundreds and hundreds of them over years.

It’s quite refreshing, then, to see Ken Rosenthal — a guy who feeds his family on the scoops he gets — having a great sense of humor about it all. He went on MLB Network and broke down how these kids scooped him.

Watch the segment here:

I agree with Calcaterra: Way to go, Robothal!

More here.

Reveille 11/17/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

  • Actually, this fascinating piece from John Dewan in BillJamesOnline.com got posted the week before last. Dewan argues that, while Madison Bumgarner’s World Series Game 7 performance was indeed spectacular, those responsible for San Francisco’s defensive positioning also deserve major kudos.

When Nori Aoki slapped a line drive down the left field line that was slicing away from the left fielder, it seemed like Bumgarner had done just that. Aoki’s liner was in the air for just 2.6 seconds. It is a play that Baseball Info Solutions’ Plus/Minus system expects to never get made. However, even as the ball quickly fell out of the sky, Juan Perez came out of nowhere to reach the ball and snag it before it touched down.

That out was made possible by the Giants’ decision to play Perez close to the left field line, which is not at all an obvious decision with a left-handed hitter at the plate. But it was no lucky break for the Giants. They knew that Aoki had a tendency to hit his line drives and flyballs the other way and often down the line. You can see that trend in Baseball Info Solutions’ Defensive Positioning software, which highlights red the sections of the field that Aoki’s most recent balls in play have been hit to.

  • I don’t agree with Ben Lindbergh of Grantland that Mike Trout’s winning this year’s AL MVP vote is akin to Martin Scorsese’s finally winning Best Picture for The Departed. Come on, Ben, I agree with your overall concern about Trout’s future, but he had a really good season, even if his previous two campaigns were markedly superior. As for The Departed, well, let’s just say that film was way closer in quality to Kundun than Goodfellas.
  • Victor Martinez re-signed with the Tigers, but the designated hitter, who turns 36 later next month, didn’t come cheap: $68 million over four years.
  • Who needs Panda the most?” asks A. J. Cassavell of Sports on Earth. He looks at several teams who could use free agent Pablo Sandoval’s bat in their lineup.
  • Writing in SB Nation, Eric Stephen introduces us to Cuban sensation Yasmany Tomas, who is expected to sign a contract with a big-league club in the coming days. Stephen expects Tomas will command a pretty penny:

Because Tomas is at least 23 years old and has played at least five years in a professional league, as stipulated per the collective bargaining agreement, he is considered a professional free agent and not subject to the international bonus pool limits imposed on signing international amateurs.

That has Tomas in line for a payday similar to the $68 million over six years received by [Jose] Abreu, or the $72.5 million over seven years given to outfielder Rusney Castillo by the Red Sox. Gone are the days of grabbing a potential impact slugger like [Yoenis] Cespedes for four years and only $36 million, or [Yasiel] Puig for seven years and $42 million, as their success gave teams the confidence to invest more heavily in Cuban hitters.

[Agent Jay] Alou said an eight-year offer was already turned down, per Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, with Tomas preferring a shorter contract so he can cash in again on another big free agent deal when he is still somewhere between ages 27-30. Cespedes employed a similar strategy when he turned down six-year offers to sign with Oakland for only four seasons at a higher annual value.

  • Courtesy of Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan, you’ll never guess who in 2014 led MLB in attempts to bunt for a base hit. Never. Ever.
  • Another Cuban, infielder Yoan Moncada, has been cleared to test free agency by MLB, according to ESPN’s Keith Law, although the Office of Foreign Assets Control will have to give its okay before any team signs the 19-year-old.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Report: Giancarlo Will Sign a $325M Contract

by Jason Epstein

Giancarlo Stanton, who finished second in this year’s NL MVP voting and is two seasons away from free agency, appears poised to become the recipient of the richest contract in MLB history.

Here’s Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors:

The Marlins and Stanton are close to agreeing to terms on a 13-year, $325MM contract that is expected to contain a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause, tweets Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.

Count Matt Snyder, Heyman’s CBS colleague, as being very impressed with an owner with a less than stellar reputation across the sport:

Remember, [Jeffrey] Loria bought the Marlins before the 2003 season, watched the club win the World Series with a young core and blew it up as fast as he could. They haven’t sniffed the playoffs since, but Loria has made a ton of money and spent taxpayer dollars to get a new stadium built.

And ever since that Toronto deal [involving Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes], it has seemed unlikely the Marlins would lock up Stanton long-term, and many big-market teams have been pestering them about a potential deal for the MVP-caliber youngster.

Even if Stanton was given a deal, I would have been skeptical without the no-trade clause. “Window dressing” would have been my immediate reaction along with a yawn. Surely the Marlins would have been signing Stanton just to show they aren’t averse to that before dealing him a few years later. After all, a long-term deal would increase his trade value, because the acquiring team would know how long they’d have him along with the dollar amount.

The no-trade clause, though, has me on the opposite end. This is a great deal for the Marlins and, more importantly, their fans. Forget the money (seriously, MLB teams wipe their figurative backsides with $25 million a season — and would you rather Stanton or Loria get that? C’mon). This is the Marlins saying for once that they are committing the franchise to a young superstar, like they didn’t do with [Miguel] Cabrera and others. They are telling Stanton he has no-trade protection, so he won’t have to vent on Twitter about being “pissed” again — at least when it comes to a trade.

More here and here.

R.I.P. Alvin Dark, 92

by Jason Epstein

Former star shortstop and manager Alvin Dark (.289/.333/.411, 35.6 fWAR) died earlier today. A native of Comanche, Okla., he won two World Series rings, one as shortstop for the 1954 New York Giants, the other while piloting the 1974 A’s. He was 92.

Daniel Brown of the Sacramento Bee:

Dark emerged as a Giants star while the franchise was still in New York, serving as the captain of the 1951 team that toppled the Brooklyn Dodgers on Bobby Thomson’s pennant-winning “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

Dark was also on the field three years later when Willie Mays made his legendary catch against the Cleveland Indians in the ‘54 World Series.

Regarded as one of the best hit-and-run artists of his time, Dark finished his 14-year playing career with a .289 average, 126 home runs and 757 RBIs. He made the All-Star team in 1951, ‘52 and ’54.

Giants owner Horace Stoneham gave Dark his first managerial job in 1961, three years after the team had transplanted to the West Coast. Dark’s ‘62 team, featuring stars such as Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Juan Marichal, nudged the Dodgers for the National League pennant.

While managing the Giants, Dark got mired in racial controversy:

Behind the scenes, however, Dark struggled to navigate baseball’s shifting demographics. Dark prohibited Latinos from speaking Spanish to each other, a ruling that upset many of the team’s best players, including Dominican Republic native Felipe Alou — whose brothers, Jesus and Matty, played on the team.

Dark also prohibited Latin music, which alienated Cepeda, the player nicknamed “Cha-Cha.” Cepeda had been second in voting for the MVP award in ‘61 and was the team’s leader among Latin players.

In July of 1964, Newsday quoted the manager as saying that the minorities on the Giants were “just not able to perform up to the white ballplayers when it comes to mental alertness.” The team’s black and Latin players threatened an indefinite boycott until Dark was replaced. It took Mays, the manager’s long time teammate, to quiet the rebellion.

Dark, meanwhile, insisted he was misquoted by Newsday — and players of various ethnicities rushed to his defense. Jackie Robinson, the Dodgers star who had broken baseball’s color barrier, said: “I have found Dark to be a gentleman and, above all, unbiased. Our relationship has not only been on the ball field but off it.”

The incident forever rankled Dark, who was 90 years old when he told the Chronicle: “Let me say this: Some reporters always tried to find a reason that a manager like myself wouldn’t like people from different countries. We have 25 on the ballclub, and every one is important to me. I don’t care where they came from.”

More here.

Why Did Corey Kluber Win the Cy?

by Jason Epstein

Mind you, Corey Kluber is a deserving American League Cy Young Award winner. I was mildly surprised that he edged out Felix Hernandez for the hardware, however. (ESPN had also predicted a King Felix triumph.)

Both starters were durable, having taken the mound 34 times. Hernandez threw 236 innings for the Mariners while Kluber gave the Indians 235 2/3.

Hernandez posted a better strikeout-to-walk ratio: 5.39 to 5.27. He also had a better ERA: 2.44 to 2.14.

So what may have tipped the scales in favor of Cleveland’s hurler?

Do you want the new-school stat reasoning? Kluber led King Felix in both Baseball-Reference WAR, 7.4 versus 6.8, and Fangraphs WAR, 7.3 versus 6.2.

Or is old-school stat reasoning your cup of tea? Kluber led King Felix in wins, 18 to 15.

David Schoenfield of ESPN’s SweetSpot suggests another factor may have been at work:

How much do you factor in that Kluber had a big September — when five of his six starts came against the Twins, Astros, Rays and White Sox, five teams out of the race and playing their share of September call-ups. How much do you factor that in arguably the biggest start of Hernandez’s career, in the final week in Toronto, he got bombed and gave up eight runs? 

More here.

By the way, congrats to Clayton Kershaw, the unanimous choice of the BBWAA voters for the Cy in the National League.

Reveille 11/10/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable:

2. The October Roster Is More Important Than the Regular-Season Record

[Mike] Trout’s 98-win Angels took major blows to their pitching staff this season, with young ace Garrett Richards suffering a season-ending injury in August and breakout arm Matt Shoemaker pitching at less than 100 percent in the playoffs. The 96-win Orioles lost two pivotal players to injury in Matt Wieters and Manny Machado, and then lost Chris Davis to suspension, making them far less formidable in October than they would have been at full strength. Meanwhile, the Royals entered the postseason with all of their key players healthy, then fared far better than their record or reputation suggested they would.

The expanded playoff format implemented in 2012 again served its purpose this year, getting two additional teams into the field and positioning those wild-card clubs as heavy underdogs. Maybe it’s time to consider the possibility that the wild-card teams aren’t as puny as we prognosticators make them out to be, though. Baseball carries the smallest home-field advantage of any major North American professional team sport, meaning a wild-card team that sneaks in with 88 regular-season wins can go from afterthought to genuine danger if it’s healthy, fully stocked, and built for October.

Martinez’s breakout was suitably astonishing, and most were willing to dismiss it as lucky for the first few months of the season (for the record, I believed in him early on). But Victor Martinez is also 35 years of age, and a pure hitter with no defensive position. His impending free agency will no doubt beget a hefty contract, but it is unlikely he will continue to perform like this season’s edition. We have four consecutive prior years of data to suggest he’s something like a good, maybe even a great hitter, and then one aberrant, miraculous year in which he tore the cover off the ball. This year shades his forecasts towards greatness, but it likely doesn’t set the pace for all Victor Martinez seasons to come. . . . 

The proper remedy would be to price Victor Martinez not on his 2014 success, but on the player he’s likely to be going forward. That’s a task easier stated than done, however. Even though breakout players don’t systematically outperform their forecasts in the next year, they do deviate from them to a greater degree, both positively and negatively, than you would expect by chance. These players are simply more difficult to predict.

The task is made more dangerous still by the free agency bidding process. If we assume that each team has independent and slightly different projection systems, then they will all come to marginally distinct views on someone like Victor Martinez. At that point, it only takes a single team with an over-optimistic projection to drive a player’s price beyond reason. That team may win the auction for the player’s services, but, because their projection lies outside the consensus, they are also the most likely to have made an error in valuation (this paradoxical effect is called the winner’s curse).

  • Just a Bit Outside is losing one of its star authors, Gabe Kapler. The Dodgers have tapped the former big-leaguer as its new farm director. Before packing up his things, Kapler penned a farewell note. He concluded:

Clubhouse chemistry may not be quantifiable, but it is certainly palpable at its most potent. Our team at FOX Sports is a savory blend of innovative and traditional, tolerant and pressing, studious and fun. I was proud to call the members of this crew my teammates. I learned valuable lessons from each of them.

As I move on to work with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, I say farewell to a special group of people. In baseball, clubhouse chemistry matters. Apparently, it does in media too.      

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

#smh: The Most Boneheaded Play of the Year

by Jason Epstein

“What was he thinking?”

“Oh, my goodness.”

I hate picking on amateur athletes for their in-game gaffes but, jeez Louise, after watching this play in last night’s Oregon-Utah game, no doubt even the ghost of Fred Merkle rushed to Twitter to offer a #smh.

More here and here.

The Royals Are Still No Blueprint for Success, But . . .

by Jason Epstein

You may remember a post from a few weeks back, ”The Royals Are No Blueprint for Success,” where I shared (and agreed with) an assertion that the franchise’s ”three months of winning isn’t a blueprint for other teams to rush out and follow.”

Well, Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post points to one area, the bullpen, where Kansas City’s competitors might want to take note:

Bullpen performance is exceedingly hard to predict, not just on a year-in, year-out basis, but sometimes on a month-to-month basis. Consider that the last four World Series champions ended October with a different closer than began the year. St. Louis went from Fernando Salas to Jason Motte in 2011, San Francisco from Brian Wilson to Sergio Romo in 2012, Boston from Joel Hanrahan to Andrew Bailey to Koji Uehara in 2013, San Francisco from Romo to Santiago Casilla this year.

The follow-up point: As important as locking down games over the final few innings has become, there is scant evidence that paying top dollar for those performances is wise. And the follow-up to the follow-up: As much time as teams will spend trying to figure out their end-of-the-game formula this offseason, formulas often deviate midstream, and the best-laid plans — often expensive plans — are often replaced.

The Royals, of course, are the hot example. But think about what went in to creating a bullpen that allowed Kansas City to go 72–1 when leading after seven innings: Happenstance. Davis came up as a starter with Tampa Bay and made 23 starts in 2013 with Kansas City — posting a 5.67 ERA and allowing opposing hitters a stunning .320 average in those starts. But he had something that is valuable in a back-end role: Power.

“Any time you take a pitcher that has some power as a starter, and then you put him in the pen, more than likely the velocity and the stuff is going up,” Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland said.

The message for other teams: If you’ve got a power arm lying around, and you think he can’t cut it as a starter, have him pitch the eighth. It’s not that simple, of course, and the whole formula can be in flux over the course of a season. Herrera didn’t really settle into his seventh-inning role until late June.

To be sure, by the start of the 2012 season Rays skipper Joe Maddon and pitching coach Joe Hickey had already moved Davis, a mediocre starter, to reliever duty, believing that his gas could be better harnessed in shorter bursts. The flamethrower spent that entire season in the bullpen and posted impressive numbers: 11.13 K/9, 3 K/BB, 2.43 ERA, and 3.24 xFIP.

When Kansas City acquired Davis that offseason, however, manager Ned Yost and Eiland stuck him back in the rotation and he regressed: 7.68 K/9, 1.98 K/BB, 5.67 ERA, and 4.17 xFIP. For 2014, the Royals set things right and Davis set the world on fire: 13.63 K/9, 4.74 K/BB, 1.00 ERA, 1.93 xFIP. (On a related note, the Royals picked up Davis’s option for 2015 on Monday.)

More here.

Chicken Parm vs. Diet Coke: Who’ve You Got?

by Jason Epstein

Chicken parm vs. Diet Coke: Who’ve you got?

Via the New York Post’s Justin Terranova: On his ESPN New York radio show (simulcast on the YES television network) yesterday afternoon, Michael Kay, rapacious consumer of the popular Italian dish, launched a nine-minute broadside at his No. 1 competitor, WFAN’s popular gasbag Mike Francesa:

According to Kay, Francesa was discussing his November interview with Alex Rodriguez on WFAN. A caller suggested the infamous in-studio interview, during which A-Rod denied PED use and blasted MLB, was the reason Francesa and YES Network parted ways.

Kay, the play-by-play voice of the Yankees on YES, has since taken over the afternoon simulcast slot from Francesa.

“And Francesa said, ‘That’s not the truth, they wanted a show where they can control the editorial and I wasn’t going to give them that,’” a heated Kay said of his rival.

“I don’t know how to say this without being blunt: Mike’s a liar. No one controls this show, but me and [co-host] Don La Greca. That’s it. We have never, ever been called by anybody at YES and critiqued on what we said and how we said it or the truth of it.”

Kay would later correct himself and say that the only time he heard from YES was after his initial simulcast, which he opened by dumping a bottle of Diet Coke, Francesa’s favorite beverage, in the trash. …

“To say they wanted editorial control, you’re lying to soften the blow that you got taken off a great network and saying we are a house organ,” Kay said. “You are wrong, I am sorry, you are wrong.

“Two reasons: 1. You ended up earning a lot of money, which you earned, but they were losing a lot of money on the show. 2. It’s obvious the proper decision has been made because our ratings are better than your rating when you were on YES.”

And then Kay attacked Francesa for his viral sleeping moment when he dozed off while talking to WFAN’s Yankees reporter Sweeny Murti.

“And let me give you a No. 3: Maybe they didn’t want to broadcast a show where someone was falling asleep on the air,” Kay said.

Will Francesa respond to Kay’s rant this afternoon? Those in the New York metropolitan area should tune to 660 on the AM dial. Others may listen via WFAN.com.

More here.

Maybe Know Moneyball Before Badmouthing It?

by Jason Epstein

When it was reported that the Dodgers would be hiring A’s assistant general manager Farhan Zaidi as its new GM, the move awoke the demon in former MLB infielder Ryan Theriot (.281/.341/.350, 8.0 fWAR). He took to Twitter to to exclaim about the decision to bring in the 37-year-old with economics degrees from MIT (undergraduate) and UC Berkeley (doctorate):

Followed by this explanation:

Free-agent pitcher Brandon McCarthy took note and promptly schooled Theriot:

As Paul Casella of Sports on Earth points out, neither John Mozeliak of the Cardinals (2011) nor Brian Sabean of the Giants (2012) have played professional ball. Moreover, Billy Beane, Zaidi’s now former boss in Oakland and the featured subject in the concentrated evil Moneyball, happens to be a former player. (Oops.)

Realizing the pickle he had put himself in, Theriot resorted to an Intentional Talk version of the mea culpa:

More here.

Award Finalists Announced

by Jason Epstein

MLB.com’s John Schlegel previews the announced finalists for the major awards, here focusing on the MVP vote:

Thursday, Nov. 13, 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network
National League
[Clayton] Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins

The votes already have been submitted — voting BBWAA members had to send their ballots by the end of the regular season — but the debate no doubt continues about whether a pitcher eligible for the Cy Young also should be considered for MVP. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander won both in the AL in 2011, but the last one to do it in the NL was the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson in 1968. Kershaw, however, made a very compelling case that he is deserving of both in 2014.

His peers made it clear where they stand. Kershaw already collected a trifecta of awards from the Major League Baseball Players Association, winning overall Player of the Year honors for all of Major League Baseball, the NL’s Most Outstanding Pitcher and the Marvin Miller Man of the Year for his contributions on and off the field. With a season in which he became the first pitcher to win four consecutive ERA titles, posting a career-best 1.77 ERA, Kershaw set a very high bar even while missing a month to injury.

So, too, did Stanton, whose stellar season came to a horrific end when he suffered facial fractures being hit by a pitch on Sept. 11. Before the injury, Stanton hit 37 homers, which stood up as the NL’s top total, and his 105 RBIs wound up being second in the NL — and that’s just part of the story for the strong-armed right fielder, who accepted the Hank Aaron Award for the NL’s top offensive player in October and was named the NL’s Most Outstanding Player in the Players Choice Awards. McCutchen is the reigning MVP, and he posted a season worthy of that status, helping lead the Pirates to a second consecutive postseason bid after being out of it for 21 years.

American League
Michael Brantley, OF, Indians
Victor Martinez, DH/1B, Tigers
[Mike] Trout, OF, Angels

The last two seasons, Trout played second fiddle in the MVP voting behind the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera, and another Tigers slugger enters the conversation this year with Martinez putting together a stellar season. But Trout, who won Most Outstanding Player in the Players Choice Awards and the AL Hank Aaron Award, put up another campaign that’s going to be hard to beat.

Becoming the first player to lead either league in runs scored his first three full Major League seasons with 115 this year, Trout kept his unprecedented start to a career going. Trout set or tied career highs in doubles with 39, triples with nine, home runs with 36 and RBIs with 111. Martinez certainly offers some strong numbers for his case, setting career highs with 32 homers and a .974 on-base plus slugging (OPS), tops in the Majors, while truly defining the word “valuable” for the Tigers. Brantley, meanwhile, became the first hitter in Indians history to go for more than 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals — a strong showing for any franchise.

My guess: Kershaw and Trout capture the MVP Award, Kershaw and Felix Hernandez take home the Cy Young hardware, Matt Williams and Mike Scioscia get Manager of the Year, and Jacob deGrom and José Abreu win Rookie of the Year.

More here.

Reveille 11/3/14

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

First, a brief comment:

I sympathize with the Keith Olbermanns of the world who were less than thrilled to see a Finals World Series featuring the team with the fourth-best record in the American League squaring off against the club with the fifth-best record in the National League. 

Just don’t place all of the blame on the second-wild-card formula introduced in 2012, okay?

From 1995 until 2011, only one wild card was awarded per league. Unlike the present scheme, however, that team immediately advanced to play the top seed in a best-of-five division series. In those 17 seasons, an astonishing 53 percent — 18 of 34 — of wild card clubs triumphed. Additionally, five wild card teams won the World Series, an absurd 29.4 percent rate. A wild card team was represented in the World Series each year from 2002 to 2007, with both wild cards — Angels and Giants — appeared in the 2002 Fall Classic. 

As evidenced by this year’s results, the second wild card is no panacea. However, by having the wild card teams face each other in a one-game playoff, at least MLB may have implemented a system that will ultimately reduce the odds that teams who fought tooth and nail for six months to post the best record in the league get knocked off mere days later. Perhaps extending the division series to a best-of-seven format would help as well.

And with that . . . here are several links from the past week that will make your Monday at the office a bit more bearable: 

Over these five seasons, the Giants own the seventh-best regular-season winning percentage in the majors:

Yankees .563

Cardinals .557 

Braves .554 

Tigers .552 

Rays .551 

Rangers .540 

Giants .538

Even if you include their amazing 34-14 record in the postseason since 2010, their overall winning percentage climbs to just fourth-best behind the Yankees, Cardinals and Braves and one percentage point ahead of the Tigers and Rays. 

They were never the best team in the majors in the regular season during any of their title seasons, either: 

2010: 92–70, fifth in majors, second in NL 

2012: 9468, tied for fourth in majors, tied for third in NL 

2014: 8874, tied for eighth in majors, tied for fourth in NL 

The Giants have also benefited all three years from playing fairly mediocre World Series opponents as far as World Series teams go. This is one of the results of a playoff system that allows 10 (or eight teams before 2012) in as opposed to four or two: The best regular-season teams may be eliminated before the World Series due to the nature of short series, where upsets are common. . . . 

If anything, the moral of the Giants’ success story is a reminder that in this particular era, with so much parity and few great teams and the more wide-open structure of the postseason, the goal is just to get into the playoffs. At that point, what happens in the regular season is irrelevant. The Giants didn’t win it all in 2011 or 2013 because they didn’t make the playoffs. 

Multi-Position – Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

“This is the first year of the Multi-Position Fielding Bible Award. The goal of this new award is to recognize players who bring versatility to their teams with their ability to play multiple positions, and who play those positions well defensively. Lorenzo Cain was so good in 2014 that if he played full-time in either center field or right field, he might have won the Fielding Bible Award at either position. He saved 14 runs in center field in 93 games he started there for the Royals on the season, and another 10 runs in right despite only 29 games started there. Cain’s ability to play right field gives the Royals the best outfield defense in baseball by a wide margin with fellow FBA winner Alex Gordon in left field and baseball’s fastest player, Jarrod Dyson, in center. In the closest of margins in this year’s balloting, Cain edged out Mr. Versatility, Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays, by three points, 92 to 89.”

First Base – Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers

“Adrian Gonzalez has been the best defensive first baseman in baseball over the last six seasons but somehow he has never won a Fielding Bible Award. Until now. Gonzalez wins his first Fielding Bible Award, leading all of baseball’s first basemen by saving 11 runs defensively for the Dodgers in 2014. That brings his six-year total to 62 runs saved, 12 more than Albert Pujols’ second-place total of 50. Every aspect of Gonzalez’s defensive game is superb. He fields his position well, does a great job with difficult throws, and handles bunts and double plays with the best of them. But he’s not flashy. Just consistently excellent.” . . . 

Third Base – Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics

“Josh Donaldson led all MLB third basemen with 20 Defensive Runs Saved. Here’s another way to measure Donaldson’s excellence. Baseball Info Solutions tracks a stat invented by Bill James called Good Fielding Plays (GFP). It’s not as easy as it sounds to define a Good Fielding Play—there are 28 different categories of GFPs. Donaldson’s total of 77 GFPs is 13 more than the 64 good plays handled by Colorado’s Nolan Arenado. Donaldson is especially good making plays to his right where his excellent reaction time and strong arm really stand out. Nolan Arenado was second in the voting: Donaldson 114 points, Arenado 104.” . . . 

Left Field – Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals

“It’s a three-peat for Alex Gordon. Three Fielding Bible Awards in three years. And it was unanimous. Every voter had Alex Gordon ranked first. Gordon saved 27 runs for the Royals on the year. This is the highest total ever recorded for a left fielder since the tracking of Defensive Runs Saved began in 2003. Christian Yelich of Miami was a distant second with 13. Gordon’s converted third-baseman arm has always set him apart. It counted toward nine of his runs saved in 2014, but his excellent range also makes a huge difference. His range in left field has been above average every year since he started playing there in  2010, but this year he had his career high with 16 Plus/Minus Runs Saved.”

  • The “Greek God of Walks” has said goodbye to baseball. Over the Monster’s ”BrendanOToole” shares his fond memories of one of Boston’s most colorful characters in recent memory, Kevin Youkilis.

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Game 7 Saves Fox’s World Series Ratings

by Jason Epstein

The San Francisco Giants weren’t the only winners in Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday evening.

Deadline’s Dominic Patten explains:

After a bunch of strikes and walks, Fox finally hit a 2014 World Series ratings home run. . . . We knew the drama alone of a Game 7 was going to be a high for this year’s struggling Major League Baseball championship series, but . . . at a packed Kaufman [sic] Stadium ran all the bases for the broadcaster. In metered market results, Fox’s broadcast of the 3–2 win by the San Francisco Giants over the Kansas City Royals got a surging 15.2/24. . . . 

After the lowest rated World Series on record so far, Fox really needed last night’s unexpected Game 7 to turn things around and have America’s pastime grab America’s eyeballs. With smaller market and wild card teams making up the match-up and most of the games’ blowouts, the series and Fox distinctly suffered. Not only was it down from the sturdy numbers of 2013 but this year’s World Series also dipped from the 4-game series of 2012, which had been a record low. The rush of attention and viewers that last night’s Game 7 drew will allow Fox, MLB and the advertisers some much desired breathing room and to make up traction in a sport that has seen audience interest distinctly wane in recent years. Needless to say, Fox is looking pretty good to top Wednesday’s primetime both among adults 1849 and in total viewership.

Maury Brown of Forbes adds:

2014 may be the most uncompelling, competitive World Series in history. While it went the distance, five of seven games were lopsided blowouts. Already saddled with a couple of aspects that meant it would be a challenge to have solid numbers (the Giants returning so many times in recent years coupled with the Royals being in baseball’s smallest market), with the lack of compelling play it had many a writer running for the “Pacing to be the Worst Ever Ratings” headline.

It wasn’t. . . . 

Game 7 was also FOX’s highest-rated prime-time broadcast of the television season, and the network’s best (excluding Super Bowl Sunday) since January 2013.

Game 7 also ranks as the network’s best non-NFL rating since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series

More here and here.