The Best and Worst of Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco had one of the better games in baseball Tuesday. Facing the Diamondbacks, he came up in the third inning and doubled, and then he came up in the fifth inning and homered. It’s extraordinarily difficult to have a bad game when you hit a home run. It’s almost impossible to have a bad game when you homer and double. The Phillies would take that performance eight days a week — Franco’s single-game wRC+ easily cleared 300.

There was just one little thing, though. Franco’s a young power hitter, so the fact that he had two extra-base hits shows that that was Franco at his best. Yet there was also a sighting of Franco at his worst. In the end, the Phillies won, and Franco did do his damage, so spirits are high. But Franco did something that’s hard to forget.

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Marcus Semien Deserves Our Admiration

First, Marcus Semien worked hard, every day, with Ron Washington and various tools of the trade in order to improve his defense. He’s now an above-average defender, if you believe the stats — or at least a competent defender, if you prefer your eyes.

The newest evidence of his behind-the-scenes toil comes from his production at the plate. If you look at his overall line, a little bit more patience and power has pushed his weighted, park- and league-adjusted offense up about 10 percentage points. If you look at his overall peripherals, even, it doesn’t look like much has changed. He’s pulling a bit more, but he’s hitting about the same mix of grounders and flies.

You might just chalk it up to getting a little bigger, and picking his pitches a bit better. But if you did that, you’d miss that there’s been a rapid and drastic change to his batted-ball mix this season. It’s almost a tale of two seasons.

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Jay Bruce Might Finally Get Traded

Jay Bruce‘s tenure with the Reds has reached the kids in the back seat asking “Are we there, yet?” stage. It feels like he should have been traded a while ago, yet here is, again a trade target and again a player Cincinnati can move to help its rebuilding process. The team has a $13 million option on Bruce for next year, so they theoretically still control him for another year and a half. That said, now is really the time the Reds need to trade him.

Figuring out when the Reds could have traded Bruce isn’t difficult. Determining if they should have is more so. Jay Bruce signed his current contract back before the 2011 season. The deal guaranteed him $51 million, buying out his arbitration years and potentially three years of free agency. The Reds were coming off a division-winning season, and while the 2011 season was disappointing, the team made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Heading into the 2014 season, the Reds had reasonable expectations of contending.

That edition of the Reds featured one of the best players in baseball, Joey Votto; a still decent Brandon Phillips; a nice, young player in Todd Frazier; and promising guys like Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, who were potentially ready to step forward. With a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — and Tony Cingrani with Aroldis Chapman in the ninth — the team looked like it might have a decent shot at postseason contention. At the very least, there wasn’t the obvious need to blow things up and rebuild. The 2014 season proceeded to become a bit of a disaster, however. Votto got hurt, Phillips got worse, Bailey and Latos couldn’t pitch full seasons, and Jay Bruce had the worst year of his career, putting up a wRC+ of 78, a 40-point drop from his previous four seasons.

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Brock Stewart: A Dodgers Project Set to Debut

On rare occasion, I’ll interview a player and end up not writing about him — at least not right away — despite fully intending to. This happened with Brock Stewart, who will be making his major-league debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers later tonight.

Stewart was more of a project than a prospect when I talked to him last summer. A sixth-round pick in 2014 out of Illinois State University, the converted infielder was having his ups and downs pitching for Rancho Cucamonga in the High-A California League. But his potential was apparent. Not long after we spoke, it was speculated that Stewart would be part of the three-team, multi-player deal that sent Mat Latos to L.A.

After a sophomore season at Illinois State that saw him hit .330/.402/.496, Stewart thought he’d go on to be drafted as a position player. That changed late in his junior year. The Normal, Illinois, native was scuffling at the plate, and opening eyes in occasional appearances out of the bullpen. One of his coaches suggested that he focus more on pitching, and his father, a pro scout for the Padres (and now the Rays), agreed. Jeff Stewart told his son “a lot of scouts, myself included, think your arm is your best tool.”

The youngster was a little surprised — “I always thought I was going to be playing in the infield for a big-league team someday” — but he heeded the advice. As he put it, “You have to go with the flow, and for me, that flow was toward the mound.” Read the rest of this entry »

The 2016 July 2 Sortable Board

We’re cutting the ribbon on the 2016 July 2 Sortable Board. For background on the J2 process or the scouting grades and future value grades on the board, please refer to our July 2 Primer and this piece on the 20-80 scale. I’ll have full scouting reports up on the prospects ranked 11-25 tomorrow and the top ten on Friday and links to the reports will be added.

Some Notes on the Board

Included in the group are all the players currently eligible to sign during this J2 period, as well as those who I anticipate will be eligible at some point in the next eleven and a half months. This includes Cuban players like Randy Arozarena and Vlad Gutierrez, who are both a half-decade older than the others in the class. While I agree that the age gap creates a bit of conundrum, those players are subject to bonus pools and teams are forced to reconcile it in their own evaluations/valuations, so I think it’s important that we do the same here.

The board has 25 ranked players and then a group of others whom I consider to be 35 FVs listed below that in no particular order. The class has more players, and many of them will also be covered in the reports we roll out the rest of this week, but they profile either as org players or are too raw to consider as 35 FV players (or better) based on the sources to whom I’ve spoken.

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Jason Coats: Stitches and a Ball for a White Sox Rookie

Jason Coats has had an unremarkable career thus far. In eight games with the White Sox, the rookie outfielder has one hit in 15 at-bats. He’s basically a spare part. An unheralded former 29th-round pick, he’s ridden the pine since getting his lone base knock a week ago today.

Of course, everything in life is relative. What qualifies as unremarkable to some could be unforgettable to another. Coats has had a pair of those moments in his short time with Chicago. The more recent of them came at Fenway Park.

Hitless in his first 12 big-league at-bats, Coats stepped up to the plate against Boston southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez and smoked a pitch to deep right field. Soaring beyond the reach of Mookie Betts, the ball one-hopped the short fence into the bleachers, not far from the visiting bullpen.

As the ball was caroming, Coats was motoring.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 6/29/16

Dave Cameron: Sorry for being a few minutes late today. With the trade deadline just a month away, I’m guessing most of the questions we’ll get to today are about who is going where, Or about the adorable golden retriever puppy who just left his owner and picked me at the local Starbucks…
Dave Cameron: If I don’t answer for a few minutes, it’s because I’ve decided petting the dog takes priority.
Frank: If the Red Sox were to deal for Teheran and Vizcaino, what’s a realistic expectation for what we’d have to give up? Would Benintendi be necessary with Dombrowski’s history of giving up young players?
Dave Cameron: I’m guessing Benintendi is off limits. Steamer projects him as an above-average big league hitter right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw him as their Michael Conforto. I know they’re saying the right things about leaving him down right now, but if he gets hot and they are still struggling to get LF production in left, I bet he finishes the year in Fenway.
Dave Cameron: That said, Coppy has made it pretty clear he wants big league talent back, not low level guys, so if they say Benintendi is off the table, I’m not sure the fit there is as strong as everyone assumes.
Matt: Schwarber and good not great prospect for Miller and Chapman. Who say no?

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A Very Different Wei-Yin Chen

When the Marlins inked Wei-Yin Chen to a five year, $80 million deal this offseason they weren’t signing an ace or a workhorse. During his four previous seasons, Chen registered an ERA-, FIP-, or xFIP- better than 90 just once and he maxed out at 192.2 innings in 2012. Chen made a name for himself from 2012 to 2015 as an exemplar of consistency. Above average, but not great. Reliable, but not remarkable.

For $80 million, an opt-out clause, and a vesting option, the Marlins added someone worthy of slotting in behind Jose Fernandez without tying up significant payroll in one of the offseason’s superstar pitchers. Chen probably wouldn’t have been noticed walking down the street in any major-league city other than Baltimore, but front offices and coaching staffs certainly knew the value he could bring to one of those cities.

Yet the early returns on Chen have been somewhat disappointing for the Marlins. He’s running a career worst ERA-, FIP-, cFIP, and DRA over his first 15 starts of 2016. The only major run estimator by which he hasn’t suffered so far this year is xFIP-, which provides a very easy entry point into his struggles: it’s the home-run rate, mostly.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 at 1.07.28 PM

Chen’s never been known for his home-run prevention, registering a HR/9 above the MLB average in each of his major league seasons. Part of that has to do with pitching in Baltimore and in the AL East, but he’s someone who allows a greater share than most of batted balls in the air, and home runs can often come with that territory. This year, his home-run rate has increased at a rate even greater than the MLB average. Granted, the difference between his 2016 HR/9 and his career average HR/9 is something like four home runs over his 86.1 innings this year. Those four home runs happened, but it’s not like we’re looking at an Anibal Sanchez-level event here.

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NERD Game Scores: Paradox of Choice Home Experiment

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Boston (Price) at Tampa Bay (Moore) | 12:10 ET
Chicago NL (Hendricks) at Cincinnati (Reed) | 12:35 ET
Toronto (Sanchez) at Colordao (Anderson) | 15:10 ET
New York NL (Verrett) at Washington (Scherzer) | 19:05 ET

In both his book The Paradox of Choice (through which the present author has leafed casually) and a TED Talk (which the author watched eight years ago) psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses the means by which greater choice can actually facilitate less happiness. With more options, one expects greater satisfaction. When that satisfaction never materializes, however, one becomes disappointed with his or her own selections.

Today represents an opportunity to conduct this experiment for oneself: four games offer roughly the same expected pleasure according to the author’s haphazardly constructed NERD metric. Does this abundance of choice cultivate the same sort of Paradox addressed by Schwarz? Or is it somehow exempt from his point?

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Assorted, Naturally.

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Anthony Rizzo Keeps Getting Better

Who is the best hitter in the National League? The easy and “right” answer, insomuch as one exists, is Bryce Harper, as we’re mere months removed from watching him put up the best season at the plate by a 22-year-old since Ted Williams. But with Harper currently producing at the plate at a rate more comparable to guys like Odubel Herrera and Stephen Piscotty, it’s natural to ponder the question: “If not Harper, then whom?”

There are a few viable candidates but two who stick out are the only two National League players other than Harper to post a wRC+ above 150 since 2014: Paul Goldschmidt, who has been consistently elite with the bat for four seasons now and, the subject at hand, 26-year-old superstar, Anthony Rizzo.

In the previous sentence, you could argue I threw around the word “superstar” a bit cavalierly. It’s a word from which I tend to shy away because it’s so incredibly subjective as to be functionally meaningless. I don’t know that there are more than two players in the game right now – Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw – who are labeled “superstars” with anything resembling universal agreement. Anthony Rizzo certainly wouldn’t receive universal billing as a “superstar.” I don’t know if he’s a superstar by your definition – shoot, I just paired him with that term and I’m not completely convinced he’s a superstar by my own subjective definition – but I do know this: Anthony Rizzo is an extraordinarily talented baseball player and, so far this year, he’s putting up what looks like the best season of his major-league career.

He has set or matched his career high in most key offensive rate stats from on-base percentage to wOBA to strikeout and walk rates. But not only is he putting together a strong season by his own standards, his stats stand out in comparison to his competition in the National League:

Anthony Rizzo 2016 Stats
2016 NL Rank
OBP .410 2
ISO .291 3
wRC+ 161 2
K% 13.2% 13
BB% 13.9% 7
rank out of 82 qualified NL batters
stats current through start of play on Tuesday

There are a variety of different ways to go about building a prototype for an ideal hitter, but a great starting point would be a guy doing exactly what Rizzo is doing right now: exhibiting plate discipline, getting on base, and hitting for power. That’s an impressive trifecta — and, at the core of that offensive profile, lies the key improvements Rizzo has made.

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The Francisco Lindor Effect Is Ridiculous

The Indians have won 10 games in a row! That’s really good, and it’s allowed them to storm out in front in the American League Central. Sure, things can change in a hurry — 10 games ago, the Indians and the Royals were tied. But there’s no sense in just dismissing whole hot streaks, and the Indians now have one of the better records in baseball. For a few years, they’ve gotten some preseason stat hype, and now they resemble an actual contender. A contender that, mind you, has been doing almost all of this without Michael Brantley. Not bad.

I wrote last week about how the Indians’ patchwork outfield has overachieved. That’s been a part of this success. Of course, the rotation has also been critical, and now it looks like even Trevor Bauer might be figuring something out. On the bases, the Indians have been remarkably good, so that’s a quiet strength of theirs. I want to take this opportunity to call attention to another. For a while, the Indians were known for being horrible in the field. Last season, they turned that around. This season, they’ve been up to something special.

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Mike Trout Wants Your Curveballs Now

Mike Trout is, once again, the league leader in position-player WAR, and league leaders in position-player WAR tend to do some incredible things. Trout just did an incredible thing on Monday, and we should talk about it. With two strikes, against Collin McHugh:

No, you didn’t see that wrong. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, because memories are notoriously unreliable, but the thing about eyewitnesses is that they witness things once. You can witness this as many times as you want. Loop it over and over and over again. This pitch. It went for a dinger.


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Cole Hamels Got Better in the Big Leagues

When Cole Hamels arrived in the major leagues, he had a 90 mph fastball, decent command, and what would prove to be baseball’s best changeup. That’s a few bucks short of an ace, and so, in two of his first four seasons, he produced an ERA over four and maybe was looking for something.

Now, instead of having one elite pitch, the Rangers’ ace is the only starting pitcher in baseball to possess four pitches in the top ten by whiff rates (minimum 200 thrown). That’s a long way from a pitch and a half. The fixes were simple, though, and he ran me through them before a recent game with the Athletics.

The Fastball
Here’s a graph that doesn’t follow normal aging curves: Hamels’ fastball velocity. Note that he was 26 years old in 2010.


Instead of going down steadily, the curve has gone up. We could wonder why, but we don’t have to — Hamels can tell us himself. Turns out, Hamels had back problems when he came up — a herniated disc — and he finally was able to do something about it once he got a major-league contract. “I hired a chiropractor, and for the past few years, I have one that travels with me and works on me the day before the game and right after the game,” Hamels told me.

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NERD Game Scores: Lucas Giolito World Premiere

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
New York NL at Washington | 19:05 ET
Harvey (85.1 IP, 101 xFIP-) vs. Giolito (MLB Debut)
It’s probably not entirely accurate to say that tonight’s start by Lucas Giolito represents his “world” premiere. Because he’s actually pitched before, is one reason. And also because only, like, a couple million people (at most) will actually observe the event — which figure only amounts to about 0.3% of the world. On the other hand, most everything one says isn’t entirely accurate. Like, “I love you,” for example. And like, “I love you, too.”

For those interested in consuming actual substantive commentary regarding Giolito should consider reading lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen’s scouting report here and the results of Chris Mitchell’s computer math on Giolito here.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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July 2 International Signing Period Primer

Saturday is July 2, which marks the start of the 2016-2017 International Free Agent Signing Period. Most people in the industry are now simply referring to it as “J2” because “International Free Agent Signing Period” is a bit of a mouthful and because, as one Scouting Director put it, “that’s what all the kids are calling it now.”

Much has been written here at FanGraphs and in other spaces about J2, its rules and the ways teams try to circumvent them. If you’re unfamiliar with the process and its nooks and crannies — or if you just want a refresher before diving into this week’s content — here is a summary of the basic rules and regulations:

International players who are already 16 years old, or will be by Sept. 1 of 2016 (or the applicable year), are now eligible to sign with teams unless they’re old enough (23) and have the requisite experience (five years) in a foreign professional league to be declared an open-market free agent, the way Yoenis Cespedes was and Yulieski Gourriel will be.

A given J2 period runs from July 2 through June 15 of the following year, at which point there’s a two-week moratorium on any deals before the next signing period begins. Per the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team receives its own bonus pool, a cap on how much money the organization can spend on players during each signing period. Pool amounts are distributed much in the same way as they are for the domestic amateur draft in June and teams’ pools are based largely on their records from the previous season, with worse teams receiving more money to spend. Teams can acquire more bonus money — up to 50% of their original pool amount — via trade.

Here is a rundown of this year’s pool amounts.

If a team spends more than their pool amount, they are taxed at 100% of the overage and, if the overage exceeds 15% of their cap, are barred from signing a player to a bonus exceeding $300,000 during the next two signing periods. If a club goes over, but not by more than 15%, they must take a one-year hiatus.

Teams that are in that “penalty box” include:

Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Royals, Diamondbacks, Angels, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays

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A Status Update on Nats Prospect, Future MVP Max Schrock

At the end of January, the author published unassailable evidence to the effect that — owing to certain traits he shares with SEC alumnus and current major leaguer Josh Donaldson — that Washington infield prospect Max Schrock is a strong future candidate for an MVP award.

Not unlike life itself, the author’s argument bore trace elements of the absurd. One finds, for example, that Schrock passed his junior year at the University of South Carolina as a 5-foot-8 left fielder — not a classic profile for which scouts are clamoring. Perhaps not coincidentally, Schrock wasn’t selected until the 13th round of the 2015 draft. The $500,000 bonus he eventually extracted from the Nationals compensated him more along the lines of a fourth-rounder. Despite that — and despite success in his first exposure to affiliated ball — he entered the 2016 campaign absent from all notable top-prospect lists.

The purpose of this post is to announce how Schrock, following a strong half-season at Low-A Hagerstown — for which he was rewarded with a place in the Sally League All-Star game (winning that contest’s MVP award) — has been promoted to High-A Potomac, for which club he debuted last night, batting second and playing second base (box). By those measures which suggest future success — most notably, contact and power and the capacity to provide defensive value — Schrock’s tenure in Hagerstown was encouraging. One notes, for example, that Schrock recorded the lowest strikeout rate among all qualified batters across all Low-A while also recording an isolated-power figure about 10 points higher than the SAL average. Schrock’s last month, in particular, was impressive — and rendered below in table form.

Max Schrock’s Final Month in South Atlantic League
Schrock’s Final Month 107 3.7% .179
SAL Average, 2016 21.6% .122

On the most recent edition of FanGraphs Audio, managing editor Dave Cameron made comments to the effect that contributors to this site aren’t clairvoyant — nor is it the present author’s intention to contradict that sentiment. What one finds in Max Schrock, however, and his receipt someday of baseball highest single-season honor, isn’t so much a prediction as an account of the inevitable. Future Max Schrock has already been recognized as an MVP. We’re human anachronisms, all of us, for not knowing it yet.

Scouting Earth’s Best Young Arm, Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito was once the 2012 draft’s odds-on first-overall selection. As he began his senior season at Harvard-Westlake, Giolito was seen as the most talented player in a draft class that included Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa. It would have made him the first and only high-school righty to be selected at 1.1 in the draft’s history. But then Giolito felt discomfort in his elbow during the first inning of an early-March start (he was up to 100 mph and had thrown a one-hitter the start before) and removed himself from the game in the second.

An MRI revealed damage to Giolito’s UCL but not so much that he would require immediate ligament reconstruction. Despite that, Giolito’s season was over and so, too, were his chances of going first overall. As the draft approached and the Astros, who possessed the first pick, shifted their focus toward Correa and other prospects (including Giolito’s teammate Max Fried), the industry wondered when and where Giolito would be selected. There wasn’t much precedent at the time for pre-draft UCL injuries and Giolito’s stock remained volatile until very late in the process. He was still being mocked within the top-five picks into late May.

The Nationals drafted Giolito 16th overall and signed him, at the deadline, for $2.925 million, exactly $800,000 over the pick’s slot value at that time and about $300,000 more than the slot’s value in 2016. Giolito threw two innings for the Nationals’ GCL team on August 14th of that year. On August 31st, Dr. Lewis Yocum fixed his elbow.

Giolito returned 10 months later, especially notable considering that effective Tommy John rehabilitations generally require 12-18 months. It has been almost exactly three years since Giolito made his first post-TJ start and his stuff has returned to pre-surgery levels.

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The Reds’ Pursuit of Historical Ignominy

Last night, Kris Bryant became the first player in Major League history to hit three home runs and two doubles in the same game. His offensive barrage was part of a five homer attack by the Cubs — Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo also went yard last night — in their 11-8 win over the Reds. But while Bryant’s game was indeed spectacular, we also shouldn’t be too surprised that it came in Cincinnati, because the Reds staff is allowing dingers like no pitching staff in baseball history.

Through 77 games, the Reds have allowed 129 home runs, 23 more than any other team has allowed this season. That works out to 1.7 homers allowed per game, a pace that would shatter the all-time record for home runs allowed if the Reds were to keep serving longballs at this rate. The title of the most homer-prone pitching staff in history currently belongs to the 1996 Detroit Tigers, who allowed 241 homers, or a rate of 1.5 homers per game. They edged out the 2000 Royals, 2001 Rockies, and 1999 Rockies, all of whom were attempting to pitch during the height of baseball’s “Steroid Era”, when home run records were falling left and right.

To break the record, the Reds would have to allow 113 home runs over their remaining 85 games, a 1.3 home run per game pace that would be somewhat formidable for most pitching staffs. But for this particular group of hurlers, it’s actually not that hard to imagine them breaking the record.

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An Astros Prospect Overcomes Adversity Times Three

Ben Smith has a 21.21 ERA in three appearances for the Tri-City Valley Cats. All told, the 23-year-old southpaw has allowed 19 base-runners and 15 runs in 4.2 innings for Houston’s short-season affiliate.

There’s a lot more to his story than numbers.

Smith will be watching this week’s College World Series with interest. The school out of which he was drafted in 2014, Coastal Carolina, is a surprise participant in the championship round. Several of the Chanticleers are former teammates, and he expects to be “sneaking into the locker room a couple of times” each night to follow their fairy-tale quest for a title.

The fact that the lanky left-hander is playing baseball is a real-life success story of its own.

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Matt Carpenter and the Greatest Leadoff Seasons of All Time

In 1990, Rickey Henderson came to the plate in the leadoff spot 588 times (out of 594 total plate appearances). He hit 28 homers out of that slot, walking 95 times and striking out just 60, en route to a .326/.439/.579 line as Oakland’s No. 1 hitter. He also stole 65 bases and was caught on just 10 attempts. All told, he produced a 10.2-WAR season that has since been eclipsed by only three position players: Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, and Mike Trout.

Henderson’s 190 wRC+ mark in 1990 has been topped by a small handful of batters in the meantime, too: Bonds a bunch of times, Jeff Bagwell Mark McGwire. Bryce Harper did it last year, and Frank Thomas did, too, in the strike-shortened 1994 season. None of them provided such production out of the leadoff spot, however. By most criteria, it’s the greatest hitting season by a leadoff batter in history.

It will likely remain the greatest season by a leadoff batter after the 2016 campaign, as well. That said, Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter is making a strong case for second-best.

In terms of pure value at the plate, Matt Carpenter is off to a great start. Carpenter’s .300/.419/.585 line has led to a .419 wOBA and a 167 wRC+ that leads the National League and is behind only David Ortiz in all of major-league baseball*. Over the last 365 days, Carpenter’s 154 wRC+ mark sits behind only Ortiz, Trout, Josh Donaldson, Harper, and Joey Votto, and his .277 ISO is the seventh best in baseball. Continued production at that level would give him one of the greatest-hitting leadoff seasons of all time.

*Numbers current as of Monday afternoon.

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