Archive for Red Sox

Projecting the Prospects in the Chris Sale Trade

The Red Sox acquired a second pitcher on Tuesday following their trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg — in this case, receiving talented left-handed starter Chris Sale from the White Sox in exchange for an impressive return (roughly in order of consensus future value): Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.

Here’s how the minor leaguers headed to Chicago grade out by my KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar a methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.

*****

Yoan Moncada, 2B (Profile)

KATOH: 6.2 WAR (36th overall)
KATOH+: 14.0 WAR (4th overall)

There’s no denying that Yoan Moncada was one of the most productive hitters in the minors this year. In 61 High-A games, he hit .307/.427/.496. In 44 Double-A games, he slashed .285/.388/.547. He 45 stolen bases across both levels. Moncada excels in multiple areas: he hits for power, runs like crazy, and plays a semi-premium position. His tools are top-notch, which is why he was the consensus No. 1 prospect last summer.

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White Sox Begin Teardown in Best Way Possible

At least as far as recent history goes, Chris Sale might’ve been unprecedentedly valuable as a trade asset. We just haven’t seen trades with pitchers so good, signed for so long, to such affordable salaries. It’s fitting, then, that the White Sox convinced the Red Sox to make the recently unprecedented decision to move baseball’s top prospect. There’s nothing fun or painless about initiating a rebuild. It can get fun pretty quick, though, when you land a player like Yoan Moncada.

In all honesty, it’s not entirely clear the White Sox got more for Sale than the Braves got a year ago for Shelby Miller. There are two ways you could interpret that. One, you could choose to believe the White Sox didn’t get enough. But, two, no, that’s not right. This is the price of an ace-level starter, and this just further goes to show how badly the Diamondbacks screwed up. I guess that’s not what’s important now. What’s important now is the White Sox have officially decided to pivot, and this is a hell of a first step.

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Scouting the White Sox’ Monster Return for Chris Sale

In what will probably be the blockbuster deal of the entire offseason, the White Sox sent LHP Chris Sale to Boston this afternoon in exchange for two of the highest-upside prospects in baseball, Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, as well as tools-goof outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and arm-strength lottery ticket Victor Diaz. Below are my scouting reports on the prospects involved. I’ll update the White Sox prospect list with these reports later this evening. Moncada will be No. 1 and Kopech No. 2, with Basabe slotting in toward the back of the org’s top 10 and Diaz falling toward the bottom of the 40 FV section.

It’s strange that one of the hardest-throwing pitchers in the minor leagues is involved in this deal and yet somehow not its headliner. Such is the prodigious talent of Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada, who I believe to be the best prospect in all of baseball despite his swing-and-miss issues. A generational talent who possesses one of the most robust collections of tools I’ve seen, Moncada has an SEC running back’s body at an athletic and strong 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. There are very few, if any, comparable physiques across baseball.

He’s also a plus-plus runner, both from home to first and on the bases, scattering large swaths of dirt behind him as he traverses the bases. I think Moncada is going to retain that speed for quite a while despite already appearing to have maxed out physically. Even if he does lose a step with age (and it will probably happen at some point), I expect Moncada to retain impact plus speed into his late 20s or early 30s, even if he’s no longer an elite runner at peak.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Tyler Thornburg Deal

The Red Sox have landed right-handed reliever Tyler Thornburg in exchange for a trio of players: big-league corner infielder Travis Shaw and prospects Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington. Here’s how the minor leaguers headed to Milwaukee grade out by my KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar a methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.

*****

Mauricio Dubon, SS, (Profile)

KATOH: 4.6 WAR (92nd overall)
KATOH+: 3.5 WAR (138th overall)

After hitting respectably in the low levels of the minors, Dubon broke out big time last year. He opened the year by hitting a rock solid .306/.387/.379 at High-A, pairing a 9% strikeout rate with a 12% walk rate. He continued raking following a June promotion to Double-A, but did so a bit differently. His walk and strikeout rates both trended in the wrong direction, but for the first time ever, he hit for power.

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Chris Sale Makes the Red Sox the AL Team to Beat

After years of rumors and speculation, Chris Sale has finally been traded.

Even with David Price and Rick Porcello, the Red Sox always seemed like a potential fit. Dave Dombrowski was brought in to win in the short-term, and he’s always done that by turning prospects into star players; this is exactly the kind of deal that he’s made his name on. He loves frontline starting pitchers. He had a loaded farm system; at least, he did a year ago before he started trading it for veterans.

So, yeah, we shouldn’t be too surprised that Dombrowski was the guy who eventually agreed to pay the price that got Sale out of Chicago. And the price was definitely steep. As of right now, we only know the Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech names, but there will be a couple other guys in the deal as well. When discussing potential packages for Sale this summer, I wrote the following.

Boston Red Sox
This one’s pretty easy; the team could start the bidding with either Yoan Moncada (#1 BA/#2 MLB) or Andrew Benintendi (#9 BA/#7 MLB) and go from there. Top 10 hitting prospects are highly valuable assets because they usually combine upside and proximity to the big leagues, and thus are worth something like $75 million; Moncada may be worth closer to $100 million, since he’s the guy who might be the top overall prospect in the game right now.

So the White Sox would be right to demand either in a deal, but even Sale isn’t worth both, so the Red Sox would have to pick which of the two they wanted to keep around, and then add some additional value beyond giving up a terrific young hitter. If Benintendi was the main piece, Rafael Devers (#41 BA/#25 MLB) would be a reasonable piece to add, putting the Red Sox package on part with a Urias/Bellinger or Urias/Verdugo offer from Los Angeles.

If Moncada is the guy they’re sending to Chicago, though, Devers’ value probably pushes the deal past what Sale is worth; his value gets you most of the way to Sale, so the second piece could be a higher risk guy like hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech (#93 BA/#83 MLB), since back-end Top 100 pitching prospects are worth about $15 million. Toss in some sweeteners on top of that, and the White Sox would at least have to think about it, as Moncada and Kopech could give them a pretty great return.

Hey, look, Moncada and Kopech, plus some “sweeteners”. Sometimes, the things we write don’t end up being too crazy.

But yeah, this is more what we thought Sale would command. He’s worth so much. We’re talking about a guy who would probably get something between $35-$40 million a year on a six or seven year deal as a free agent this winter; instead, he’s going to make $38 million over the next three years combined. If Sale hit the open market right now and said he’d only sign a three year deal to mitigate a team’s long-term risk, the bidding would probably start at $125 million, and I wouldn’t be shocked if someone ended up at $140 or $150 million. Sale has something like $100 million in surplus value, and if you weight present value over long-term value, it’s easy to argue that he’s worth more than any prospect in baseball.

And realistically, Moncada is exactly the kind of prospect that made sense as the headliner in a Sale deal. Quoting myself again, from my piece on trading a stud for Chris Sale last week.

That’s why a Red Sox deal makes more sense centered around Yoan Moncada, who probably isn’t quite ready to help the Red Sox win in 2017. You swap out Moncada for Sale, and all of the sudden, the Red Sox are probably three or four wins better than they are right now. That’s a huge change in expected outcomes, and starts to be worth the long-term value being surrendered.

Moncada is a terrific prospect, but he was probably not ready to help the Red Sox win in 2017. Maybe he could have helped down the stretch, maybe, but it wasn’t anything the team could really count on, so by building a deal around a guy who is entirely future value, the Red Sox maximize their upgrade for 2017. And it’s a big upgrade.

At the back of their rotation, they have Drew Pomeranz and Clay Buchholz, both who project as something like league average starters next year. Both have been better than that recently, but both have also had injury problems and have pitched more effectively in relief, so the team certainly has options. Pomeranz could move to the bullpen and give them a high quality lefty, in which case they’d get roughly a three win upgrade in the rotation, plus whatever value Pomeranz adds in relief over the team’s other lefty relief options. Or they could keep Pomeranz in the rotation and trade Buchholz, freeing up $13 million in salary to spend elsewhere, maybe on an upgrade at 3B or DH.

The Red Sox roster isn’t done yet, but it’s already quite good. With this trade accounted for, here are our current projected standings for 2017.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-1-42-40-pm

We have the Red Sox as almost the equal of the Cubs, and that’s without a DH, and with maybe an upgradeable hole at third base. Sure, they’ll lose some value if they dump Buccholz in order to free up money to add one of those guys, but the point is clear; the Red Sox have made themselves the class of the American League, at this point.

The door isn’t closed on the rest of the league. The Indians could get a real boost if they signed Edwin Encarnacion or some other quality 1B/DH. The Astros could still get a rotation upgrade that pushes them up another few more wins. Nothing is set in stone in December.

But the Red Sox just got a lot better in a hurry. They paid a very high price to do so, and if Moncada turns into what people think he might turn into, there could be some long-term pains watching him play for the White Sox. And Michael Kopech has the kind of velocity that makes it easy to dream on his upside. Long-term, the Red Sox may now be on the Tigers path.

But the Red Sox already had the best young core of position players in the American League. They have a star young right fielder, a star young shortstop, and really good pieces around those guys. And now they have maybe the two best left-handed pitchers in the American League. This roster is beastly.

By getting Sale without moving anything off their big league roster, the Red Sox have made themselves the team to beat in the American League. They paid an elite price to get an elite player, and now, the 2016 AL Cy Young winner is their #3 starter. Good luck to the rest of the AL East; this is not going to be an easy team to take down for the next few years.


Some Undue Optimism for Mauricio Dubon

Any idiot with modest control both over the English language and also Microsoft Excel is capable of writing a weblog post about the implications of Mauricio Dubon‘s statistical record as a minor leaguer on his possible future as a major leaguer. The only idiot prepared to do it for FanGraphs.com, however, is the one composing these words right now.

Who is Mauricio Dubon? A different person to everyone he meets, probably, because this is how humans work. Who he is for the purposes of the current post, however, is one of the players received by Milwaukee in a deal that sent reliever Tyler Thornburg to Boston this morning. Travis Shaw is almost certainly the most well-known player acquired by the Brewers. Dubon, however, is likely the best.

As a professional, Dubon almost immediately joined that class of player who presents a challenge to evaluators. He was drafted in the 26th round, has always lacked a carrying tool, and plays what amounts to probably just a fringe shortstop. At the same time, however, he also possesses nearly elite contact skills and — regardless of the position at which he’s being deployed — profiles as a net-positive defensive contributor.

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Red Sox Get Underrated Reliever for Underrated Return

Last season, there were 129 relievers who threw at least 50 innings. Cody Allen ranked 12th in strikeout rate. Tyler Thornburg was one slot ahead of him. Craig Kimbrel ranked 15th in K-BB%. Tyler Thornburg was one slot ahead of him. Ken Giles ranked tied for 20th in adjusted FIP. Tyler Thornburg was one slot ahead of him.

Thornburg didn’t draw a lot of attention, having a breakout year in a crowded bullpen on a go-nowhere Brewers team. He’s now become professional property of the Red Sox, him and his three years of arbitration eligibility. While Thornburg might’ve been off the general radar, he’s a big addition as a controllable setup guy for a team that wanted to make its bullpen more dominant. In return for an underrated power righty, the Brewers are getting their own underrated package. Dave Dombrowski has dipped into his farm again, and other front offices like when he does just that.

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Reports: Red Sox Might Get Chris Sale

Well, the last 48 hours made it sound like Chris Sale to Washington was the deal we should expect, but today’s winter meetings fun; never count on Dave Dombrowski!

The Red Sox are apparently making a late charge to land the White Sox ace, which would be a significant upgrade for a team that was a bit weak in rotation depth last year. And certainly, the Red Sox have the kind of talent Chicago would want; this summer, I speculated that perhaps a combination of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech could entice the White Sox to move their ace. From that piece.

Boston Red Sox
This one’s pretty easy; the team could start the bidding with either Yoan Moncada (#1 BA/#2 MLB) or Andrew Benintendi (#9 BA/#7 MLB) and go from there. Top 10 hitting prospects are highly valuable assets because they usually combine upside and proximity to the big leagues, and thus are worth something like $75 million; Moncada may be worth closer to $100 million, since he’s the guy who might be the top overall prospect in the game right now.

So the White Sox would be right to demand either in a deal, but even Sale isn’t worth both, so the Red Sox would have to pick which of the two they wanted to keep around, and then add some additional value beyond giving up a terrific young hitter. If Benintendi was the main piece, Rafael Devers (#41 BA/#25 MLB) would be a reasonable piece to add, putting the Red Sox package on part with a Urias/Bellinger or Urias/Verdugo offer from Los Angeles.

If Moncada is the guy they’re sending to Chicago, though, Devers’ value probably pushes the deal past what Sale is worth; his value gets you most of the way to Sale, so the second piece could be a higher risk guy like hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech (#93 BA/#83 MLB), since back-end Top 100 pitching prospects are worth about $15 million. Toss in some sweeteners on top of that, and the White Sox would at least have to think about it, as Moncada and Kopech could give them a pretty great return.

As Rosenthal notes, nothing is done, so this could change again, but the Red Sox with Sale, Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez would be a brutal opponent for teams with left-leaning line-ups. Stay tuned!


The Justin Verlander Issue

In a stunning development, the results of a BBWAA awards vote have generated massive controversy in the baseball world. Who could have seen that coming? A shocker to be sure!

Despite failing to receive the most first-place votes, Rick Porcello has edged out Justin Verlander to win the American League Cy Young Award. The full results of the balloting can be found here. Porcello beat Verlander by just five points, 137 to 132. That’s as tight a race as you’re going to see. It was largely due to the fact that while Verlander got 14 of the 30 possible first-place votes, Porcello received 18 second-place votes, and Verlander was left entirely off of two ballots.

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Prime Ball-in-Play Traits of the 10 Playoff Teams, Part 1

Over time, teams take on the characteristics of some of their key players in the minds of analysts and fans. The Rays are eternally linked with Evan Longoria, known for power taking precedence at the plate, with a focus on defense. Similarly, Ryan Braun is the poster child for the Brewers, a bat-oriented player without a material defensive presence.

This week and next, let’s allow the players themselves to fade into the background, and draw some conclusions from a simple set of numbers — namely, each of the 10 playoff clubs’ team ball-in-play (BIP) statistics, broken down by exit speed and launch angles. We’ll examine what made these teams tick during the regular season and allowed them to play meaningful October baseball.

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Travis Shaw: A Streaky Hitter Addresses Slumps

Travis Shaw was a dangerous hitter early in the season. Heading into Memorial Day weekend, the Red Sox third baseman was slashing .302/.365/.527. He had seven home runs — and a firm hold on a position that opened up when Pablo Sandoval underwent shoulder surgery. Then he began to struggle.

The 26-year-old Kent State product put up a .586 OPS in June, and by the end of the season his slash line had fallen to .242/.306/.421. His power numbers weren’t bad. Shaw finished with 52 extra-base hits, including 16 home runs. He was streaky throughout, though. Prior to an abysmal final two weeks that cratered his numbers — and lost him his job — Shaw was productive. Then, from August 29 to September 14, he went 13-for-35, with three doubles and a pair of home runs.

Shaw had a chance to be a hero on Monday. After coming off the bench and singling in his first postseason at bat, he faced Indians closer Cody Allen with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth inning, his team down a run. He flew out to right field, ending his — and the Red Sox’ — season.

Shaw talked about his mental approach to hitting — including how he goes in and out of slumps — at the tail end of his September hot stretch.

———

Shaw on seeing the ball and battling slumps: “I was with [hitting coach] Rich Gedman at every single level, and he constantly said, ‘Keep your head on the ball, keep your head on the ball.’ You hear that from the time you’re young, but you don’t really think much of it. But if you look at video when you’re struggling, sure enough, instead of your head being down on contact, it’s pulling out just a tad. If you concentrate on what he said — just seeing the baseball — everything slows itself down and you put yourself in a better position to hit. Rich was constantly on us about that in the minor leagues.

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Clay Buchholz Should Have a Very Short Leash

In a few hours, the Red Sox play their first win-or-go-home game of the season. And with their season on the line, they’re handing the ball to Clay Buchholz.

Yes, the same Clay Buchholz who posted a 4.78 ERA, 5.06 FIP, and 5.32 xFIP this season while getting bounced from the rotation. Buchholz is getting the ball in large part because of how he finished the season, as he ran a 2.86 ERA over his final 10 appearances. But despite some talk of changes in his approach, the Red Sox should not fall victim to overweighting recent performance; most of the evidence suggests that Buchholz is still not a very good pitcher, and shouldn’t be allowed to dig the team any kind of hole this afternoon.

Even if we accept the arbitrary endpoints that allow a focus on just his 10 most recent appearances, Buchholz actually wasn’t even that good down the stretch. Here’s his line from those 10 outings, compared to his 27 appearances prior to that stretch.

Buchholz, Arbitrary End Points
Date BB% K% GB% HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA FIP xFIP
Last 10 Games 8% 19% 42% 0.82 0.262 83% 2.86 3.94 4.88
4/6 to 8/13 10% 15% 41% 1.73 0.264 62% 5.66 5.58 5.52

The walks are down a little bit, the strikeouts are up a little bit, and overall, Buchholz did pitch better in the last 10 games than he did at the start of the year. But really, there’s one column there driving almost all of the difference: his home run rate got cut in half, which led to him stranding a bunch of runners. John Farrell even states this, without using numbers, in his assessment of Buchholz’s improvement.

“Where he was burnt earlier in the season by the big inning, he’s avoided the big inning by virtue of not allowing multiple runners inside of a given inning then a big blow, a three-run homer or something like that, has followed.

The argument for Buchholz as a pitcher worthy of starting an elimination game relies on buying into six weeks of home-run suppression; outside of the 7% HR/FB ratio he put up in those last 10 outings, he still didn’t really pitch all that well. And it’s not like Buchholz has a long history of running very low HR/FB rates; his career mark is 10%, just a tick below the league average over those years. His career FIP and xFIP are almost identical, so there just isn’t any real reason to think that Buchholz is now a guy who give up long fly-ball outs without giving up home runs.

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The Adjustment Clay Buchholz Made

Ever since (and including) a three-inning relief appearance against the Angels on July 31, Boston right-hander Clay Buchholz has recorded some promising numbers. In terms of run prevention, he’s been great: a 2.85 ERA in the American League is about 36% better than league average. By underlying factors, meanwhile, he’s been solid. His strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) has actually been below average. By avoiding the home run, though, his fielding-independent numbers have been better than league average. Maybe he’s made a real change!

Poke around in his pitching mix, look through his pitches, and you might return to those luck factors, though. For one, a big part of what’s been different has been a return to the four-seamer. His worst pitch.

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Corey Kluber and David Price: The Warmup Routines

Corey Kluber and David Price will on the mound later today when the Indians host the Red Sox in Game 2 of the ALDS. Before each faces his first batter, he will go through a warmup routine. The Cleveland righty and the Boston lefty will do so in a similar manner, but with a few notable differences.

Both will begin by playing catch in the outfield approximately 30 minutes before the start of the game. Price specified 35 minutes. Kluber didn’t give a specific time, but he’s no less structured. He told me that everything is mapped out, including when he begins long-tossing on the field. His routine on the road begins five minutes earlier, as he won’t be pitching in the top half of the first inning.

Kluber throws “30 to 35 pitches” once he gets on the bullpen mound. Price throws “40 to 45 pitches,” which he said is “probably more than most guys.” As you’d expect, each begins at a lower intensity — “about 70% effort for the first 10-15” for Price — before ramping up. Fastball command is the primary goal at the beginning of the session.

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Rating All of the (Remaining) Playoff Teams

Come playoff time, you tend to see a lot of team-to-team comparisons. And when you see team-to-team comparisons, the people doing the comparing frequently lean on regular-season statistics. And, you know, in theory that makes plenty of sense. Those numbers are readily available all over the place, and, isn’t the regular season a hell of a sample? Doesn’t the regular season pretty adequately reflect the level of talent on a given roster?

I’m not going to argue that regular-season numbers are or aren’t more important than, say, postseason numbers. The regular season obviously has the biggest and therefore the most meaningful sample. But as should go without saying, things change come October. Rosters are optimized, and usage patterns shift. For example, during the year, Rangers hitters had a 98 wRC+. Rangers hitters on the roster today averaged a weighted 106 wRC+. During the year, Rangers relievers had a 100 ERA-. Rangers relievers expected to relieve in the playoffs averaged a weighted 75 ERA-. The Rangers aren’t what they were for six months. No team is, entirely. So what do we have now? What does the actual, weighted playoff landscape look like?

Time for some tables of numbers. That’s almost as fun as actual baseball!

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The Most Important Red Sox Might Be the Middle Relievers

On the surface, the Red Sox and Indians series is somewhat evenly matched. The Indians won 94 games, the Red Sox won 93, and that one-game difference gives Cleveland home-field advantage for the ALDS. But if you look at our Playoff Odds page, our forecasts give the Red Sox a 60% chance of winning this series, because the Red Sox are quietly a monster in waiting.

They had the best offense in the AL this year, and by a laughable margin.

offensive-runs-above-average

With an offense that dominant, the pitching staff just needs to be okay, and that’s mostly what the Red Sox staff was this year. They weren’t great, but they were solidly above average, and that’s why the Red Sox outscored their opponents by 184 runs, the second-best total in baseball. The Sox pitching staff was strong up front but weak at the back end, as their collection of No. 4 and No. 5 starters all struggled, but that’s the kind of weakness that is downplayed in the postseason. And with more emphasis on bullpen usage in the playoffs, a couple of those struggling starters could turn out to be incredibly valuable for the Red Sox this October.

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How Should We Evaluate a Manager?

I’ve got a vote for American League Manager of the Year this season and I’m terrified. My first vote as a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association, and it’s the impossible one.

Maybe impossible is too tough a word. I’m sure I’ll figure something out in time to submit a vote. But evaluating the productivity of a manager just seems so difficult. We’ve seen efforts that use the difference between projected and actual wins, or between “true talent” estimations for the team and their actual outcomes. But those attribute all sorts of random chance to the manager’s machinations.

I’d like to instead identify measurable moments where a manager exerts a direct influence on his team, assign those values or ranks, and see where each current manager sits. So what are those measurable moments?

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Players’ View: Farewell David Ortiz

David Ortiz was feted at Fenway Park yesterday. The 40-year-old slugger will retire following the postseason, and he’s deserving of any and all accolades that come his way. “Big Papi” finished the regular-season portion of his career with 541 home runs, 4,765 total bases, and a .931 OPS.

His October exploits are legendary. Ortiz has 17 home runs and 60 RBI in postseason action, many of which have come in key situations. The Red Sox have captured three World Series titles — their first since 1918 — since he joined the team in 2003. His slash line in those Fall Classics is .455/.576/.795.

The Dominican Republic born-and-raised slugger is a Boston icon for more than his on-field accomplishments. His charitable endeavors have been exemplary, his engaging personality omnipresent. His larger-than-life persona has captivated his adopted home. Ortiz will long be remembered for his words following the Boston Marathon bombing: ‘This is our f-ing city.”

Myriad people throughout the game have shared their thoughts on the soon-to-retire superstar in recent weeks. I collected quotes from 15, including players, managers, executives and broadcasters.

———

Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals manager: “I’d have loved to have had David Ortiz on my teams. The postseasons he’s had… he’s carried them by himself, through sheer willpower. David Ortiz is one of the best that’s ever played this game. To me, he’s one of the best leaders that’s played this game. People gravitate toward him. That’s what being a leader is about. If David Ortiz wants it… what Big Papi wants, usually Big Papi gets.”

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The Actual Difference Between Mike Trout and Mookie Betts

With postseason awards ballots due in a few days, we’re getting a bunch of writers publishing their hypothetical votes today, including national writers like Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman. As has become an annual custom, one of the primary points of contention is whether to give the AL MVP to Mike Trout, far and away the best player in the game.

Rosenthal, who definitely ascribes value to playing on a contender, stumps for Trout anyway.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I prefer my MVP to come from a contender. A preference, though, is not an absolute. Trout has been the best by such a wide margin — his OPS is nearly 100 points higher than Betts’, thanks to his league-leading .441 on-base percentage — it would be foolish to deny him.

Heyman takes the more traditional path, arguing for Mookie Betts because he had better teammates, even though he puts Trout second, ahead of plenty of other good players on winning teams. In support of his belief that it’s close enough to give the edge to the guy was fortunate enough to get drafted by the well-run organization, Heyman puts for this argument.

Some say his age-23 season has been comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s. I’m not sure about that. But it’s good enough to take the AL MVP in a tight, tough, interesting year. He gets the nod over David Ortiz for playing defense (and an outstanding right field), and he gets it over Trout as he was almost as brilliant as Trout (9.5 WAR compared to Trout’s 10.2). That 0.7 extra WAR (based mostly on more walks) isn’t enough to disregard how Betts helped his team win baseball’s best division, and dominated games in the division, especially against the Orioles.

In the blurb on Trout finishing second, he repeats the claim that the difference is just some walks, saying “But his numbers are almost identical to those of Betts, except for the walks.”

Now, sure, that’s one way to look at it. If you just look at the traditional baseball card numbers, they are very similar.

Trout and Betts, Outdated Numbers Analysis
Player BA HR RBI R SB
Trout 0.318 29 99 123 27
Betts 0.320 31 112 119 26

But just for fun, let’s add another traditional baseball number to the column. It’s not going to be anything scary. It’s not a formula. It’s a counting stat, just like home runs and RBIs.

Trout and Betts, Outs Made
Player Games Outs
Trout 156 386
Betts 155 472

Heyman framed the difference as just some walks, and because walks are easy to dismiss — they’re not driving in runners, the guy didn’t really do anything to earn them, it’s just the pitcher being wild, etc… — it’s a good way to pretend that Betts and Trout have had similar offensive seasons. But instead of talking about walks, what if we just called them something else; non-outs. Because we know outs are bad, right? When a guy on the team we’re rooting for makes an out, we’re sad, because that means that our team’s offense has fewer chances to score the rest of the inning.

Mookie Betts has made 86 more outs than Mike Trout this year; in fact, Betts is sixth in the AL in outs made. Now, certainly, some of that is because he’s just hit a lot; his 718 plate appearances are second most in the AL, as the Red Sox offense has turned over the lineup frequently, allowing Mookie to come to the plate 49 more times than Trout, despite playing in the same number of games. But even Trout magically batted 49 more times than Betts this weekend, and made outs in every single one of those plate appearances, he’d still be almost 40 outs behind Betts on the season.

Betts has made three full games — plus a few leftover — worth of outs more than Trout has this season. That is an enormous difference, and can’t just be hand-waved away as “some walks”. And that’s why Trout is crushing Betts in any kind of calculation of offensive runs produced this year.

Trout and Betts, Offensive Value
Player wRC wRAA BAT OFF
Trout 135 59 58 67
Betts 122 37 31 41

wRC is closer than the rest because, as a counting stat with a base of zero, it isn’t accounting for opportunities, so Betts’ extra trips to the plate help him rack up some more value. In the other three, where an average hitter is the baseline, Trout pulls away, as he produced more raw offensive value while using many fewer outs to get there.

OFF is the combination of park-adjusted batting and baserunning value, and here, Trout has a 26 run lead. Twenty-six runs is almost three wins. The idea that it’s a close race when you look at their batting lines is simply factually incorrect. The 86 out difference makes it entirely clear that Trout trounced Betts as a hitter this year. That’s nothing against Mookie, who I continue to love; Trout trounced everyone as a hitter this year.

So while I appreciate Heyman looking at WAR in determining his ballot, the reality is that the argument that it’s a close race depends entirely on the acceptance of an enormous gap in defensive value as measured by Defensive Runs Saved, which is the fielding component used in Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which Heyman is citing. DRS gives Betts credit for 32 runs saved — 10 runs more than the next best player, Adam Eaton — which is almost double his +17 UZR.

Betts is clearly a fantastic defensive player, and he deserves credit for his all around game, but the reality is that the argument that Betts and Trout have had similar 2016 seasons is an argument for accepting the validity of single-season DRS at face value. We’ve probably done more to advocate for the acceptance of stats like UZR and DRS as anyone, but even I wouldn’t look at Betts’ 2016 defensive numbers and argue that we should accept that he was the best defender in baseball this year, and far more valuable defensively than Trout, who still plays the more demanding defensive position.

And unlike single-season defensive metrics, which continue to have some noise influencing their results, we can very easily identify the offensive difference between Trout and Betts. It wasn’t just “some walks”; it was 86 outs made. And those 86 outs are why, with all due respect to Betts as a great player who had a great season, it isn’t really all that close this year.

Trout was the best player in baseball, by a lot. If you want to give the award to Betts because he plays on a winning team, we can’t stop you, but let’s not pretend that Betts and Trout had similar offensive seasons. When it comes to offensive production in 2016, it’s Trout, a huge gap, and then everyone else.


Weak Contact and the American League Cy Young Race

Over in the National League, differing philosophical differences could shape the voting for the Cy Young award. Unless voters choose to embrace a closer like Zach Britton or look at only wins, however, we don’t have the same type of arguments over which to rage in the American League. In the AL, for example, there’s no pitcher with a massive, Kyle Hendricks-like difference in ERA and FIP. There’s no Clayton Kershaw-size innings gap between most of the contenders. Rather, the AL offers a large group of deserving candidates. To decipher which candidate is the most deserving, we’re going to have to split hairs. Let’s start splitting by discussing weak contact and its role in the candidates success.

To determine potential candidates for the Cy Young, just as I did for the National League, I looked at those in the top 10 of both RA/9-WAR as well as the WAR used on this site. If the pitcher appears among both groups, he’s included below. I also included J.A. Happ because he has a lot of pitching wins, and whether you agree or disagree with the value of a pitching win (I honestly had no idea Happ had 20 wins before beginning to write this, if you want to know the value this author places on them), some voters will consider them, so he’s on the list. A few relevant stats, sorted by WAR:

American League Cy Young Candidates
Team ERA AL Rank FIP AL Rank WAR
Corey Kluber 3.11 3 3.19 1 5.2
Chris Sale 3.23 7 3.38 3 5.2
Rick Porcello 3.08 2 3.44 4 4.7
Masahiro Tanaka 3.07 1 3.50 5 4.7
Jose Quintana 3.26 8 3.52 7 4.6
Justin Verlander 3.22 6 3.61 10 4.4
Aaron Sanchez 3.12 4 3.57 9 3.6
J.A. Happ 3.28 9 3.92 17 3.1

Those top four candidates seem to have the most compelling cases. Of those candidates, only Sale doesn’t appear among the top five of both ERA and FIP, but he also leads the AL in innings pitched this season. Rick Porcello has presented a strong argument for his candidacy in recent weeks, Tanaka leads the league in ERA, and Kluber looks to have best combination between FIP and ERA. There probably isn’t one right way to separate these candidates, but one aspect of the season at which we can choose to take a look is the impact that weak and strong contact has made in turning batted balls into outs.

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