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An Exploration of the Longest Home Run of 2016

Eno took some time on Wednesday to talk about last season’s unluckiest changeup. Today, we’re going to talk about a changeup that wasn’t unlucky so much as it was woefully misplaced. It was a first-pitch changeup that was as middle-middle as one can be.

That’s where the title comes in. Let’s roll the film.

You may remember this dinger from a recent article here about Giancarlo Stanton. Statcast says it was the longest blast of the year, at a staggering 504.35 feet. It’s pretty easy to understand how this happened.

Three variables are at work:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton is more machine than man, a T-800 who warped back in time and stole a baseball bat from an innocent bystander instead of boots and a leather jacket.
  2. Coors Field is the Cape Canaveral of baseball.
  3. Chad Bettis missed his spot with a changeup pretty badly.

I don’t need explain the first point very much. You know all about Giancarlo Stanton and what he’s capable of doing. You’ve seen him lay waste to baseballs. His muscles are made of steel rebar. He’s been doing this for years, and if we’re lucky, he’ll do it for a while longer.

I also don’t need to explain point No. 2 very much. Coors is in Denver, and the 20th row of seats in the upper deck at Coors is exactly a mile above sea level. That means the air is thin, which means the ball flies further. This is good for guys like Stanton and bad for anybody who stands on the pitcher’s mound. Unfortunately, that includes Bettis.

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A Year Without the Yankees

The Yankees were trying last year, as silly as that may have been. They lacked the rotation muscle or offensive firepower to truly compete, but damn if they didn’t have a bullpen. That bullpen, combined with a largely mediocre roster, kept them just within spitting distance of relevancy until the very end. Even after trading Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Ivan Nova, the Yankees still managed to hang around and win 84 games.

They didn’t make the playoffs, of course. They did make Gary Sanchez into a national sensation, and they did bring Tyler Clippard and Adam Warren back into the fold for this year’s bullpen. Chapman came back, and then they signed two sluggers (Chris Carter and Matt Holliday) to extremely tradable one-year deals. The Yankees are the Yankees, so they brought back their well-known closer and his 100 mph fastball. They need to have star power at all times and must, at least, give the appearance of trying to compete. Those are the expectations that come with being the Yankees and having an owner named Steinbrenner. According to reports, they came very close to buying instead of selling last year.

An inspection of the team’s roster tells a different story. Last year’s team was brimming with veterans. It was a poor man’s win-now team built around the bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka, and hope. This year, it’s built around a weaker bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka, whatever’s left in Holliday’s bat, and hope that Sanchez can continue to terrorize opposing pitchers while Greg Bird immediately rebounds to 2015 form. That’s all while having an even weaker rotation than last year.

It’s probably not going to happen. Our projections have the Yankees finishing at .500 and tied for last place, and PECOTA foresees an ever-so-slightly better 82-80 finish. Basically, the Yankees appear to be the very definition of mediocre right now. They can try to sell fans on the idea that they’re going to be competitive, and in a way that’s sort of true. The team probably won’t be a total pushover, and if a few things here and there fall the right way, maybe they’re once again on the precipice of being interesting at midsummer’s time. New York would need their many young and relatively untested players all to hit the ground running if they really want to make the playoffs, and they’ll likely need a firecracker of a debut from Clint Frazier, too.

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Randy Levine Makes a Fool of Himself and the Yankees

Here are some undeniable facts.

  1. Dellin Betances was the third-best reliever in baseball by WAR last year.
  2. He has the third-best strikeout rate, all-time, among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 innings.
  3. He has 22 career saves, with 12 of them coming last year.

Betances, eligible for arbitration for the first time, filed for a $5 million salary this winter; the Yankees countered at $3 million. This was the second largest gap for any player that got to the filing stage this year, only $100,000 behind the $2.1 million difference that Drew Pomeranz ($5.7M request) had with the Red Sox ($3.6M offer), and unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees decided to not split the difference and instead head to a hearing.

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Clayton Kershaw Pitched Like a Reliever

You might have heard that Clayton Kershaw is good at pitching. He’s Hercules and Sandy Koufax merged together at the molecular level. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to throw over tall buildings with a single curve. He’s SuperPitcher. Much like Mike Trout, Kershaw is the sort of athlete who could easily serve as the genesis of a daily newsletter with interesting factoids about said athlete. The more you dig around on statistical leaderboards and in his ledger, the more ridiculous little nuggets of gold you can dig up.

Take, for instance, this:

2016 WHIP Leaders, Min. 60 Innings
Pitcher IP WHIP
Kenley Jansen 68.2 0.67
Andrew Miller 74.1 0.69
Clayton Kershaw 149 0.72
Zach Britton 67.0 0.84
Ryan Dull 74.1 0.87
Nate Jones 70.2 0.89
Mark Melancon 71.1 0.90
Dan Otero 70.2 0.91
Christopher Devenski 108.1 0.91
Seung Hwan Oh 79.2 0.92

One of these things is not like the other. WHIP isn’t a perfect indicator of pitcher success, because the number of hits allowed by a pitcher is impacted by the defense playing behind him, and walks are affected by the framing quality of a pitcher’s catcher. It is, however, a generally fun statistic and is usually useful when one is in pursuit of a general picture of a pitcher’s ability to limit baserunners. The full leaderboard is here, and as you can see, it generally consists of pitchers who kicked ass in 2016.

Let’s talk about the top portion of that leaderboard, though, which has been reproduced in the table above. Of the 10 pitchers included here, Kershaw is the only one who’s a full-time starting pitcher. (Devenski started five games but had the bulk of his success in relief.) You have to go down to the 16th spot on the leaderboard to find the next starter, Max Scherzer (who’s followed by Kyle Hendricks and Rich Hill). Scherzer’s WHIP was 25 points higher than Kershaw’s. This is largely due to the fact that Kershaw walked just 11 men all year, and would have set the modern record for strikeout-to-walk ratio had he been a qualified starter.

One of the great injustices of baseball is that Kershaw hurt his back last year, because we’ll never know if he would have been able to keep up that sheer lunacy over the course of a full season. His 1.69 ERA in 149 regular-season innings was lower than Pedro Martinez‘s 1.74 in his ridiculous 2000 campaign. Kershaw also bested Pedro’s 2000 in FIP and WHIP, with Pedro taking the edge in DRA. If you look at all starting-pitcher seasons since 2000, set the minimum innings requirement at 140, and sort by WHIP, Kershaw’s 2016 and Pedro’s 2000 represent the top two figures. Four of the top 10 seasons over that timeframe belong to Kershaw. The fact that we’re even conducting a flawed (Pedro threw 217 innings that year, and in a different offensive era) comparison of these two men and not totally throwing the stats out with the bathwater is remarkable.

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Alex Reyes Is the Season’s First Injury Victim

Pitchers and catchers have been in camp for all of a day and a half, and the baseball gods may have already claimed the first pitcher to feed their insatiable hunger for elbow ligaments and heartbreak. Alex Reyes of the Cardinals, a top-five prospect in all of baseball — if not the best (keep an eye out for Eric Longenhagen’s final rankings) — is headed for an MRI after experiencing the dreaded elbow discomfort. According to Jeff Passan, there’s significant worry within the organization that Reyes will need Tommy John surgery.

That’s a massive blow to the Cardinals, who were almost surely counting on Reyes for major contributions in their rotation. The rest of the pitching staff is largely a patchwork of the old (Adam Wainwright), the ineffective (Mike Leake) and the recently repaired (Lance Lynn). Only Carlos Martinez stands out as a real candidate to turn in 190 or so genuinely good innings. Knowing the Cardinals, they’ll probably still get a few prospects to emerge out of thin air and provide value at the big-league level, but Reyes is Reyes.

His fastball is the sort of pitch that’s spoken of in hushed and reverent tones. The curveball isn’t far behind. He’s the prototypical über-prospect in the age of Noah Syndergaard. He’s what they look like. For a Cards team that’s projected to win just 84 games, he was going to be a vital cog. He may be gone for the whole season.

There are two major implications here: one for the status of the club this year and one for the status of Reyes and his career. The second is largely an unknown. Every elbow reacts differently. Reyes may not need Tommy John. He may need it, and then another one. The Cards are almost surely praying that he’ll just need rest and rehabilitation, and that the ligament is still somewhat intact. Ervin Santana and Masahiro Tanaka have been pitching with partial tears of their ulnar collateral ligaments. It can be done, but it would likely eat into Reyes’ titanic velocity. We don’t yet know what the damage is.

If he does require surgery, the prognosis isn’t excellent. Research by Jon Roegele suggests that, for pitchers who undergo a Tommy John procedure between ages 16 and 23 (Reyes is 22), the median figure for innings pitched after the surgery is just 221. Only 40% of pitchers in that age group reach the 500-inning threshold. That 221-inning mark is worrisome for someone of Reyes’ age. But again, we’re not yet certain if he’ll need surgery.

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The Calculated Mediocrity of the Atlanta Braves

The Braves aren’t going to go very far this year: that’s an assertion that’s unlikely to bite me six months from now. Both our Depth Charts projections and Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA forecast Atlanta failing to clear the 80-win threshold. The acquisition of Brandon Phillips over the weekend did little, if anything, to change that. Phillips is roundly projected to be just a touch over replacement level this season. The man he’s supplanting, Jace Peterson, is who you see a picture of when you look up “replacement level” in the baseball dictionary. Peterson has taken more than a thousand trips to the plate and played more than 2,000 innings in the field. He’s put up a career WAR of 0.4. Phillips needn’t do much to represent an upgrade.

That’s good, because (as just stated) Phillips probably isn’t going to represent much of an upgrade — a sentiment that basically other every club appears to share. Nor do new additions Bartolo Colon or R.A. Dickey, or Jaime Garcia appear set to turn the club around. The Braves have spent their winter loading up on veterans on one-year deals like these players, using them to round out a roster that has some desirable elements and other pieces that are less helpful. There’s unquestionably value in replacing bad players with somewhat competent ones.

Doing that isn’t enough to make the Braves contenders. They seem to understand this, of course. The Braves don’t appear to be banking on a postseason spot this year. They’re unlikely to compete with the Mets and Nationals in the NL East, and their projected high-70s win total puts them in position to have another nice draft. Even with all the Freddie Freeman in the world, the Braves are no match for the forces of superior baseball and sweet, sweet prospects.

What they do seem to have done is field a team that’s palatable enough to draw people into their new taxpayer-funded stadium. Because of that new stadium, the organization will attempt to pull of a difficult balancing act this year. Fans will need to be sold on the product currently on the field, and on what’s to come.

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Why Extra Innings Shouldn’t Change

We just had a conversation on Monday about the league’s ideas for changing up the game, and about tilting at windmills. Intentional walks aren’t that big a deal. Now extra innings are killing baseball, apparently.

Jeff Passan has reported that baseball is going to start testing out a new policy at Rookie-level ball. Every extra inning will start with a runner automatically standing on second base, with the idea of ending the game quicker. I can see the argument. Extra innings drag, especially if they go on for extended periods of time. This rule would theoretically protect against 19-inning wars of attrition in which position players get to try out their fastballs. Nobody wants to sit around into the wee hours of the morning until someone finally pushes a run across the plate. That’s the rationale behind this, right?

“What really initiated it is sitting in the dugout in the 15th inning and realizing everybody is going to the plate trying to hit a home run and everyone is trying to end the game themselves,” Joe Torre told Passan. And the same is likely true of the fan still sitting out in the bleachers in the 15th inning, no? Is anybody still watching at home in the 15th inning? The sooner a baseball game can end, the better. That seems to be the message here.

Yet this proposed cure may not be any better than the supposed disease.

The Australian Baseball League has this rule, and some other international formats of play employ it. It hasn’t garnered glowing reviews.

As we know, bunts stink. They’re a waste of an out. They work less often than you’d think. It’s not totally uncommon for a runner being bunted over from second to be thrown out at third. Plus, the league just publicly stated its vendetta against old-fashioned intentional walks this week. If MLB is concerned with pace of play, making extra innings even more of a slog through the mud feels quite counterintuitive.

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In Defense of the Old-Fashioned Intentional Walk

Commissioner Rob Manfred has clearly made a priority of improving baseball’s “pace of play.” The theory goes that, since today’s youngsters supposedly have shorter attention spans than ever and aren’t all that inclined to watch players stand around between bursts of actions, the game should move at a brisker pace and the bursts of action should feature less time between them. This theory has already led to some practice, including the introduction of a between-innings clock and a rule requiring hitters to keep their feet in the batter’s box. Baseball is an old game with an old audience, and Manfred would like to see a younger audience consuming his product.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark reports that the league has submitted two new proposals to the league: one which would raise the bottom of the strike zone and another that would eliminate the need to throw four lob pitches to intentionally walk a batter. The strike-zone proposal aims to create more balls in play, while the intentional-walk proposal would simply speed up the game. These things make sense in a vacuum. Of course, baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, but in real time and with human beings, and that makes the game a very interesting collection of circumstance, accidents, and general madness.

We won’t touch on the strike-zone proposal now, although it certainly merits discussion. Stark says in his report that it’s less likely to get a green light for the coming season than the intentional-walk proposal. So, about the intentional walk, then.

It’s a trivial part of the game, really. Barry Bonds has come to the plate, and you, in your wisdom, do not wish to pitch to Barry Bonds with a man on and two outs. You present Bonds with first base instead of a potential home-run ball, and then you work to get the next batter out. All you have to do is play catch with your catcher for a few moments. If Baseball with a capital B wants to speed up the game, why not eliminate the game of catch? It’s dead weight.

Because, once again, baseball is played by human beings. The man on the mound isn’t a robot, but a pitcher. Intentional walks almost always go off without a hitch. When they don’t, it’s impactful to the game.

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The Remaining Free Agents vs. the Padres

Look, over the horizon. You can just barely make it out with the naked eye. Can you see? It’s baseball, just coming ’round the bend. Sunday marks the end of football, and then we’ll have pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona. We even get a treat in the form of the World Baseball Classic this year. Real, competitive baseball, and then Opening Day. It’s so close that you can taste the sunflower seeds and Big League Chew.

That doesn’t mean that everyone has a job yet, though. There are still some fairly notable players on the free-agent market. Not all of them are that great, but there are always a few February stragglers. So, like any self-respecting baseball fans, we’re going to arbitrarily put the best of them (based on MLB Trade Rumors’ list of remaining free agents) into a lineup, and then we’re going to see how they stack up against the Padres, using our Depth Chart projections. Why the Padres? Because we’ve currently got them projected for 66 wins, fewest in the league as of today. I’m not going to put together a whole 25-man roster out of these guys, because I value my sanity and, to a slightly lesser degree, yours as well. At least, though, we’re going to find out how a lineup of misfit toys looks against that of the San Diego Dads. Why the hell not? Buckle up.

First, I’ve identified the top free agent at each position. Below that, I’ve included a table featuring a head-to-head comparison between the top free agent and Padres likely starter at each position.

Catcher: Matt Wieters

Wieters is the clear option here, which isn’t saying much. The former future “Mauer with power” has seen his career degrade and his bat erode. Baseball Prospectus’ framing metric wasn’t fond of his work last year, or the year before that either, so his 1.9 WAR projection is probably a bit generous. That being said, it’s him and a bunch of aging career backups, so Matt Wieters it is. He’s projected for an 89 wRC+, though, so let’s not get too excited just yet.

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Is Giancarlo Stanton Going to Hit 500 Homers?

First, some data.

Home Runs Through Age-26 Season
Player Games Played Home Runs
Alex Rodriguez 1114 298
Jimmie Foxx 1109 266
Eddie Mathews 1029 253
Albert Pujols 933 250
Mickey Mantle 1102 249
Mel Ott 1288 242
Frank Robinson 1050 241
Ken Griffey Jr. 1057 238
Orlando Cepeda 1062 222
Andruw Jones 1137 221
Hank Aaron 1039 219
Juan Gonzalez 817 214
Johnny Bench 1094 212
Miguel Cabrera 1040 209
Jose Canseco 853 209
Giancarlo Stanton 827 208

This is quite an illustrious list! We have quite a few Hall of Famers, we have a few slam-dunk future members of that group, and we have Jose Canseco. There’s also one Giancarlo Stanton there, and that’s who we’ll be discussing herein.

Stanton is something of a mythic figure in today’s game. Seen only in bursts, and sequestered away with an under-followed franchise at an ill-attended park, Stanton often only reveals himself to the average fan in highlight reels and on magazine covers. Stanton is the strongest man in the league, a demigod among mere mortal dinger-hitters. He makes the cavernous stadium in Miami look tiny. He breaks scoreboards.

Imagine what we’d see from Stanton if he stayed healthy.

Stanton just completed his age-26 season. He’s played in just 827 games so far. As you can see above, that’s the second-lowest figure of the group, 10 games more than Juan Gonzalez. His seasons have a habit of being derailed by injury: only once has he reached the 150-game mark. Even still, he’s never hit fewer than 20 homers — not even when he played just 74 games in 2015. That was the year Stanton hit 27 bombs, played his final game in June, and still finished 10th in the National League in home runs.

That’s the kind of talent and raw power that Stanton possess. It’s the sort of prowess on which you can dream, and has already produced more than 200 home runs and 27 WAR. How many home runs can Stanton tack on? Is he going to reach 500 before his career is over? 600?

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A New Jose Quintana Idea

We’ve been waiting for Jose Quintana to get traded for a while now. Chris Sale‘s move to Boston signaled the start of a fire sale for the White Sox, and Adam Eaton soon followed him out the door. There were many rumors about a possible trade with the Astros, or perhaps a move to the Bronx. Yet Quintana still currently projects to be the man taking the ball on Opening Day for Chicago. There’s still a few weeks left before camp starts up, and it’s even possible he could move during spring training, as unlikely as it is.

At this rate, however, it looks more and more like Quintana will be moving sometime around the trade deadline. He’s going to be one of the best (if not the best) pitchers available, and he most certainly won’t come cheap. He’s been the seventh-best pitcher in baseball since the start of the 2013 season, and the White Sox are hungry for even more young talent. Anybody looking to acquire him, especially with a trade-deadline surcharge, should be prepared to pony up. The Astros certainly fit this description, but so does another team — a team that hasn’t been bandied about as a possible destination, but certainly has the need and means to trade for him. I’m talking about the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Cardinals are in great position to make a run this year. While the Cubs likely have the division sewn up, St. Louis subtracted Dexter Fowler from Chicago and added him to their squad. They’ve also added Brett Cecil to beef up their bullpen, and they’ll be rolling out most of that same strong lineup. The one suspect area is their rotation. Adam Wainwright isn’t getting any younger, and Michael Wacha‘s streak of bumps and bruises isn’t inspiring. Lance Lynn will be coming back from elbow surgery. They’ve added some depth in John Gant, and still have Luke Weaver waiting in the wings as well, but it’s depth that could be chewed through relatively quickly. The Cards are going to want to do everything they can to secure a Wild Card spot, and beefing up their rotation is one of the best ways to do it. We project them for 84 wins, and a little luck could have them on a better trajectory than that come deadline time.

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The Mystery of Yasiel Puig

There may be no more confounding player in baseball than Yasiel Puig. His natural talent seems boundless. For bursts of weeks and months, Puig will look for all the world like a demigod in a Dodgers uniform, mashing and running and throwing like he was put on this planet to torture pitchers and baserunners.

Those stretches of time have grown scarcer, however. Every year since his blistering 2013 debut, Puig’s wRC+ has steadily fallen. It wasn’t as apparent in his five-win 2014, and frankly nobody expected him to keep up the 160 wRC+ he’d notched the year before. The last two years, though, have been rough. Puig has been limited to just 183 games since the start of 2015. He’s been sidelined by a variety of injuries, and that’s affected both his playing time and (likely) his production. Puig was even sequestered away in Triple-A for a month this year.

The question of who Puig really is as a player might be an easy one, but it feels complicated. Is he still going to be a star? How many offseasons in a row have we had this conversation now? Why do we care so much about a man who may just be a good-but-not-great cog on a great team? There have been plenty of blue-chip prospects who have developed into merely average players before, and there will be again. Puig may be the latest in that long line. It’s a simple answer, and it’s an acceptable one. What is it about Yasiel Puig that captures your attention and imagination?

It’s this.

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Who’s Going to Close for the Nats?

That’s a heck of a title for a FanGraphs article in 2017, isn’t it? Modern sabermetric discourse doesn’t give much credit to the traditional ninth-inning closer’s role. It focuses, rather, on deploying the right man at the right time, about Andrew Miller parachuting into the game at Terry Francona‘s leisure to throw multiple innings of comedy. Closers? Who needs a set closer?

Well, most teams do, if for no other reason than a lot of players and managers aren’t quite ready to do away with the closer’s role just yet. One of those teams would be the Washington Nationals, who don’t need a closer as much as they need at least one more good relief pitcher. Mark Melancon did an admirable job finishing out games for the club following a trade-deadline deal that sent him to Washington, but he’s now employed by the Giants. The Nats haven’t replaced him just yet. In fact, they haven’t added any relievers to the big-league roster. Mike Rizzo has acquired some spare arms in Austin Adams and Jimmy Cordero, but they’ll likely be opening the season in Triple-A. One has to imagine that the current incarnation of the bullpen won’t be the one in place on Opening Day, right?

They’ve certainly made an effort to change the relief corps so far. They were in on Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen before the former returned to New York and the latter went back to Los Angeles. Free agency is a fickle thing. So here we are, at the tail end of January, and the Nats have yet to make a significant upgrade to their bullpen. With a team that’s looking to win a World Series before their last two years of Bryce Harper are up, that’s something that needs to be addressed.

But who? Who’s going to close for the Nationals?

Shawn Kelley

He’s the man who currently has the job. Kelley’s been a fine reliever for years now, and in theory, there’s nothing wrong with him being the guy who closes out games. He’s as good a candidate as anyone left at this stage. However, it also wouldn’t be bad if Kelley and his excellent strikeout tendencies were free to be used in the eighth or earlier. Of course, if Kelley does end up closing, it could behoove Rizzo to sign…

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The Jays Get Joey Bats Back

A Blue Jays team without Jose Bautista feels a bit dirty. It’s theoretically possible — and, given the fact that the Blue Jays existed before Bautista donned their uniform, it’s verifiably possible, too. Yet fate seems to have conspired to reunite the bearded bringer of dingers with the Jays. Bautista is reportedly going back to Toronto after finding that his age and rejection of the qualifying offer have dampened his market far more than expected.

After at one point reportedly seeking a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $150 million, Bautista is signing for one guaranteed season at an $18 million clip, with two options that could bring the total of the deal to $60 million. Regardless of whether or not those two years get picked up, he’s beaten the initial $17.2 million qualifying offer. Mutual options are almost never exercised, of course, but Jeff Passan did mention yesterday that Bautista is turning down bigger money to come back to the Jays.

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The Mets Haven’t Done Enough

Over the 50-plus years since their inception, the Mets organization has established a tradition of drama. When they win, they seem to win big. When they lose, they self-immolate in spectacular fashion. If I were to tell you a team were Metsing themselves, you’d probably know what I mean. There are likely many reasons for this — the local media, the size of the market, the team itself — but it seems true, nevertheless.

Despite their penchant for theatrics, the Mets have made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. They’ve done it despite an avalanche of injuries and all sorts of extracurricular nonsense. They went all the way to Game Five of the World Series in 2015, and had the bad luck of running into the buzzsaw of Madison Bumgarner‘s left arm in the 2016 Wild Card game.

They’re by no means done, of course. The Mets still have a dynamic young rotation, and they still have Yoenis Cespedes. That’s a great place to start when building a contender. They’ve also got good secondary players in guys like Asdrubal Cabrera, Lucas Duda, and Neil Walker, and a young bat with a bright future in Michael Conforto. Grizzled veteran? Have some Curtis Granderson. Local hero who’s also a capable utility bat, and can crush lefty pitching? Everybody loves Wilmer Flores. If you believe in miracles, they may even have David Wright (remember him?) back for a game or two. The Mets can play ball.

And yet, they still have so much work to do. The Mets are still on track to go into 2017 with real uncertainty behind home plate and a bullpen that leaves much to be desired — especially once you consider that they’ll probably be without Jeurys Familia for a month or so due to a likely domestic-violence suspension. Jay Bruce still doesn’t really fit onto the roster, especially since the re-signing of Cespedes and the need for Conforto to get consistent plate appearances, and the fact that the National League has yet to adopt the designated hitter.

There are still weeks to go before spring training gets into swing, and there are still plenty of free agents out there. A large number of them are relievers, and good ones at that. The Mets have time to make themselves better and ready for a true contention run. We’ll see if they do that.

We’ve not yet been blessed with Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the kings of Queens, nor for that matter have we asked Kevin James for his feelings on the subject. In lieu of these, we’ll turn to our Depth Charts assessment of the Mets, and to their official depth chart. Because there are so many balls in the air with their position players (the health of Wright, whether or not Jay Bruce will be on the team, etc.), let’s focus on the bullpen for now. It’s pretty good at the top! Familia, Addison Reed and Hansel Robles can hold their own. It gets fuzzy after that.

The official Mets chart lists Josh Edgin, Josh Smoker, Erik Goeddel, and Sean Gilmartin. The Mets can do better.

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Your Mike Trout Hall-of-Fame-Chances Update

Because we’ve been here for every moment of his career, we may have somehow lost track of just how good Mike Trout is. Obviously we know he’s the best player in the show right now, but it’s a not as easy to wrap your head around his historic greatness. Trout’s excellence isn’t the kind that lends itself to flashy highlight-reel plays, except for his trademark leaping home-run robberies. He isn’t a high-intensity player. His home runs aren’t moonshots, and he’s not a disciple of the Bryce HarperJose Bautista school of flare. He plays for a bad team, so we don’t often get to watch him on national television. Looking at WAR leaderboards and seeing his name at the top of the chart has become a mundane fact of baseball since 2012.

Let’s look at it another way, though. Consider Moises Alou. Had a pretty good career, no? He played his first big-league game in 1990 and his final in 2008. During that time he appeared in 1942 games and accumulated 47.7 WAR. He made the All-Star team six times. A fine career.

Mike Trout has played in 811 games. During that time he has also been worth 47.7 WAR, or roughly the value of Alou’s entire career. Take that with a grain of salt, of course, as the defensive metrics for Alou only go back so far, but yeah. We can somewhat confidently say that Trout has provided a similar amount of value in the span of 811 games that Alou, a pretty darn good player in his own right, provided in nearly 2000.

Trout is the sort of player who generates fun facts like this. You could easily do a recurring series of Mike Trout Fun Facts and not run out of material for a good while. Generational talent leads to statistical madness, and Trout is nothing if not a generational talent, perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime talent. He’s 25, and has already put together almost 50 wins. Only two players in history have compiled greater WAR totals through age 25, and they’re both inner-circle Hall of Famers. One of them is Mickey Mantle, to whom Trout is so often compared. The other is Ty Cobb.

Trout has yet to play his age-25 season.

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The San Francisco Left-Field Question, or Something

The Giants aren’t a bad team. They just made the playoffs, and they signed a closer in Mark Melancon who (hopefully) won’t make the citizens of San Francisco tear their hair out. Hunter Pence should be healthy! That makes things fun. Fun baseball is good baseball, and the Giants are locked in to a pretty fun team at this point. Every position is accounted for, for the most part. Only left field offers a little room for finding something to write about pondering, so let’s ponder, shall we?

Currently, it looks like the Giants are going to deploy a platoon of Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson there. Surprisingly enough, no, Parker and Williamson are not tertiary characters from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but actual baseball players. They’ve both seen some playing time since 2015 in fits and starts as depth players.

The Parker/Williamson combo package could, in theory, be fine. The Giants likely aren’t expecting more than league-average production here, after all, and they don’t necessarily need more than that. Parker also has some serious pop in his bat, and frankly, there’s always room for some highlight-reel bombs.

That’ll do! That kind of power works in San Francisco, and if he can meet his ZiPS WAR projection of 1.4 as the big side of the platoon, maybe they don’t need to go get Saunders after all. Parker is also out of options, and may have a hard time making it through waivers to Triple-A.

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In Appreciation of Chris Davis Home Runs

The home-run swing comes in many forms. It ranges from the artistic whip-like movement exemplified by Ken Griffey Jr. to the panicked marionette impression favored by Hunter Pence, the muscled uppercut of Prince Fielder to the paintbrush stroke of Carlos Gonzalez. All of them are impressive and beautiful in their own way. (Yes, even Pence’s. The fact alone that he can hit a ball that far with mechanics like that probably means he deserves no fewer than 20 awards.)

The prospect of a Chris Davis home run has become a mundane event. The big man is paid to hit dingers, and lots of them. He does just that. He is Paul Bunyan, and he plays in a stadium that was probably bought at Toys “R” Us and came with Matchbox cars. It helps that he can hit the ball out anywhere, but has taken up residence in Baltimore. Davis home runs are like Billy Hamilton steals and Max Scherzer strikeouts. They happen early and often, and therefore it’s easy to lose sight of just how damn cool they are.

“Cool” perhaps isn’t the first word to pop into one’s head when seeking to describe Davis. “Big,” “strong,” “gargantuan”… these are all good and sound adjectives. But make no mistake. Davis is cool on the field.

Let’s watch him hit a home run.

See. That’s what cool looks like. That’s a cool home run.

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Mike Mussina Should Be in the Hall of Fame

Mike Mussina never won the Cy Young Award. He made the All-Star team only five times over his 18 years in the big leagues. He won 20 games just once, in the final season of his career. His career ERA mark is closer to 4 than it is to 3. In other words, it’s not difficult to see why Mussina hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame yet, given the traditionalism of the electorate. There have been many worthy candidates who’ve accompanied Mussina on the ballot since he first appeared there, of course. Nine players have been elected since Mussina first became eligible, all of them slam-dunk candidates.

Whatever the arguments against him, though, Mike Mussina is almost surely a Hall of Famer. Hall of Fame voting has already technically concluded, so this column serves less as an appeal to voters and more of a general appraisal of the situation, if nothing else. Also, have you seen baseball news lately? I haven’t either, so here we go.

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Ender Inciarte Is Staying in Atlanta a Little Longer

The pieces are starting to come together for the rebuilding Braves. Though they’ve spent their winter stocking up on veteran starting pitchers and piratey-looking utilitymen, it’s been a winter spent with an eye looking to the future. None of the players whom Atlanta has added are standing firmly in the way of a young prospect, and they all make the team just a little bit better for their debut at their new taxpayer-funded stadium.

The extension of Ender Inciarte is a different matter. This isn’t a move that allows the future to happen, it’s one that shows what the future is going to look like. Inciarte has been given $30.525 million to stick around for an extra two years, and the Braves hold a $9 million option for an additional year after that. If that sounds cheap for a young, three-win center fielder, it’s because it is. Here’s how the deal breaks down.

Inciarte Extension Breakdown
Year Age Earnings (Millions)
2016 (Signing Bonus) 25 $3.5
2017 26 $2
2018 27 $4
2019 28 $5
2020 29 $7
2021 30 $8
2022 (Club Option) 31 $9, $1.025 Buyout

MLB Trade Rumors’ arbitration projections pegged Inciarte to earn $2.8 million this offseason, and assuming he’d been his usual productive self this year, he would’ve gotten a good raise next winter. Still, this seems like a real steal. Even if you assume Inciarte will record only the 2.4 wins for which Steamer projects him in 2017 and also assume that wins are going for $8 million a piece this offseason (when $8.5 million is more likely), it’s still likely that Inciarte will produce more than $100 million in on-field value over the next five years.

Ender Inciarte’s Contract Estimate — 5 yr / $115.1 M
Year Age WAR $/WAR Est. Contract
2017 26 2.4 $8.0 M $19.2 M
2018 27 2.6 $8.4 M $22.3 M
2019 28 2.6 $8.8 M $23.4 M
2020 29 2.6 $9.3 M $24.5 M
2021 30 2.6 $9.7 M $25.8 M
Totals 13.0 $115.1 M

Assumptions

Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)

As you can see, this deal saves the Braves a lot of money in the long run, and it gives Inciarte some immediate financial security. Atlanta will now have more money with which to play in free agency and in acquiring players in trades as they look to morph into a contending club.

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