Kyle Schwarber Bunted With Two Strikes and the Bases Empty

So far, it’s been an exciting season of change for Kyle Schwarber. He showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, and while those stories are typically easy to dismiss, Schwarber has undergone something of a transformation. He’s sitting on what would be a career-high WAR. He’s walking more than he used to, and he’s striking out less than he used to. He’s hitting ground balls more than he used to, but he’s also still hitting for power, because he’s attempting to hit more line drives. Most impressively, Schwarber has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. His range is basically average, and his throwing arm is a weapon. The Cubs always said they believed in Schwarber’s future. We’re seeing the best version of him that there’s been.

There is an entire article to be written about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in general. This article is about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in specific. Because in the ninth inning against the Giants on Wednesday, Schwarber bunted for a single with two strikes and the bases empty. This is one of those plays that just can’t be ignored.

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The National League’s Most Balanced Pitcher

When I think about control artists, I think about pitchers who consistently hit their spots, particularly on the edges of the strike zone. These thoughts are further associated in my mind with low walk totals. So when I look at the National League leaderboard in walk percentage and see Miles Mikolas at 3.9%, I assume, he is good at painting corners. Then I look at his heat maps, and I don’t see that at all.

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Eric Longenhagen Chat: 7/12/18

2:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Mornin’ from Tempe. Only link to plug today is this: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/early-2019-21-draft-rankings/

2:03
Beni and the Betts: Where would Clint Frazier rank on prospect lists if he were still eligible?

2:04
Eric A Longenhagen: A timely question as, while sourcing on NYY players for team list updates, I’ve asked on Frazier, who scouts still think is a 50.

2:04
Eric A Longenhagen: So, he’d be a 50 FV on the lists.

2:04
Chuck: For guys in the DSL and AZL, even GCL, at what point can you tell someone is a legit prospect? Obviously not everyone can see them in person, so much of it is stat line scouting or reading elsewhere.

2:06
Eric A Longenhagen: I see players myself and talk to scouts and front office people who have seen them or have info on them. No statline stuff, no reading elsewhere, all about evaluating the physical tools.

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Descalso and Avila Hurl Their Way into Weird History

Even in these days of bloated, 13-man pitching staffs, it’s not uncommon for a position player to take the mound. With the season roughly halfway done, there have been 30 outings by position players thus far — not including two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who’s in a class by himself — which means we’re almost certain to see what, at the very least, is an expansion-era record (more on which momentarily). Despite that increasing commonality, Wednesday night brought a rarity that’s worth appreciating — a few of them, in fact — in the Rockies’ 19-2 trouncing of the Diamondbacks (box).

Yes, it was a game at Coors Field, where wackiness reigns thanks to the high altitude, and unfortunately, the circumstances were triggered by an injury. Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller, making just his fourth major-league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, was lit up for five first-inning runs via two walks and four hits, the most important coming in the form of an Ian Desmond homer.

Though he completed the inning, Miller needed 37 pitches — a bit extreme given his recent injury, but take it up with manager Torey Lovullo — and began feeling elbow tightness by the end of his abbreviated stint. Reliever Jorge De La Rosa, who knows all about the horrors of Coors Field as he spent nine freakin’ years (2008-16) calling it home, came on in relief and allowed four runs in the second inning and three in the third via homers by Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. He got the hook with two outs and the Diamondbacks trailing 12-1. While T.J. Mcfarland got the final out of the third, Lovullo pulled him due to stiffness in his neck, and then Yoshihisa Hirano allowed four straight hits and three runs after retiring Desmond to start the fourth.

At that point, Lovullo effectively said, “To hell with this,” and called upon second baseman Daniel Descalso — who had already pitched four times in his nine-year major-league career, including May 4 of this year against the Astros — to take the hill, with Chris Owings coming off the bench to play second base. It didn’t go well at first, Nolan Arenado greeting Descalso with an RBI single and then Gonzalez following with a three-run homer, bringing the score to 18-1. Fortunately, Descalso settled down and wore it like a champ, lasting 2.2 innings and 36 pitches and retiring eight of the next 11 batters he faced, with the only run in that span arriving via a solo homer by pitcher German Marquez.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 7/12/18

12:05
Jay Jaffe: Howdy, folks, and my apologies for the tardiness — my browser, which was bearing the load open tabs from about five different articles (including published ones on Shin-Soo Choo, Noath Syndergaard and Yadier Molina plus forthcoming ones on Daniel Descalso’s pitching and Ken Giles melting down), crashed and needed a reset. On with the show…

12:05
Bob: Should Sheffield really be a dealbreaker for the Yankees getting Machado?  I know his arm is electric, but do you miss out on a HoF’er because you won’t let go of a guy who hasn’t mastered his control problems in the minors?

12:08
Jay Jaffe: Even if Machado may be a future Hall of Famer, the Yankees would be giving up six-plus years of a very good pitching prospect for what amounts to a 2 1/2-month rental to fill a need that they already have covered reasonably well by either Didi Gregorius or Miguel Andujar, plus whatever need might have for Sheffield’s services later this season. That’s a very steep price to pay, and I can’t blame the Yankees for searching for alternatives.

12:09
Bo: Is Dansby Swanson going to hit enough to stay as an everyday player?

12:12
Jay Jaffe: He’ll be able to produce on both sides of the ball — remember, the offensive demands for a shortstop are relatively low — well enough to stay as a regular, yes. Even with an 85 wRC+ this year, he’s been worth 1.2 WAR thanks to above-average glovework (+3.4 UZR, +11 DRS). Based upon his track record, he’s projected to hit better ROS, and as a 24-year-old, can expect some growth in his offensive skill over the next few years. If Andrelton Simmons can become an above-average hitter in time, I don’t think it’s beyond Swanson.

12:12
stever20: how crazy was what Arizona did last night with their pitching?

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The First Sixteenth of the Hosmer Deal Is Complete

The 2017-2018 offseason was not one of the more exciting winters in memory, to put it mildly. A large part of that, no doubt, was the result of a relatively undistinguished free-agent class and the absence of some larger clubs from the market, teams saving their ammunition for the likely more exciting 2018-2019 period. Add into that the hard-to-gauge effects of more unanimity among front offices in how to evaluate veteran players and the whispered rumors of the collusion poltergeist, and it was a formula for not a lot happening. And not a lot happened.

For about three weeks around the holidays, the only news in town was the rumbling surrounding Eric Hosmer’s new home. Now, in most offseasons, Eric Hosmer wouldn’t be one of the marquee free agents, having been a rather up-and-down first baseman with some high points, but also some low ones, enough so that he entered the 2018 campaign having never strung together consecutive years of one or more wins. The 2017 season was one of the highlights, however, with Hosmer avoiding those half-long slumps that doomed 2014 and 2016 to sub-mediocrity. It was a legitimately excellent season, Hosmer hitting .318/.385/.498, to the tune of a 135 wRC+, and reaching that four-win mark that serves as an informal threshold for an All-Star season.

In the end, the Royals attempted to retain Hosmer, though the truth of whether he was actually offered $147 million, as the rumors went, will probably be lost in history unless Scott Boras writes a tell-all book after his retirement. San Diego, a team in the middle of their own rebuild, signed Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract, with an opt-out clause exercisable by Hosmer, allowing him to forgo the last three years and $39 million for free agency. To get an estimate, here are the full ZiPS projections for the Hosmer contract at the time.

Eric Hosmer, ZiPS Projections, Preseason
Year BA OBP SLG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OPS+ DR WAR
2018 .275 .344 .447 155 582 86 160 27 2 23 90 62 116 116 -2 2.6
2019 .277 .349 .452 148 553 83 153 27 2 22 86 62 110 118 -3 2.7
2020 .276 .347 .449 144 537 79 148 26 2 21 83 59 104 117 -3 2.4
2021 .270 .340 .439 138 519 75 140 24 2 20 78 56 99 113 -3 2.0
2022 .267 .336 .428 131 495 69 132 22 2 18 71 52 90 109 -3 1.5
2023 .265 .332 .415 120 453 61 120 19 2 15 62 46 76 104 -4 1.1
2024 .261 .326 .398 104 394 51 103 16 1 12 52 38 62 98 -4 0.5
2025 .259 .320 .386 84 324 40 84 12 1 9 41 29 46 93 -3 0.2

One thing to note is that there is a bit of a discrepancy between the zWAR (ZiPS WAR) and FanGraphs WAR figures, as we haven’t always used the exact same park and league factors for future seasons and have utilized a slightly different methodology. For next year’s ZiPS, I hope to report both zWAR and fWAR to reduce this occasional confusion. But for right now, I’m still figuring out how to not break FanGraphs.

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Yadier Molina’s Climb Towards Cooperstown

Yadier Molina was added to the NL All-Star team on Monday, replacing the injured Buster Posey, who’s been slowed by a bout of inflammation in his right hip and recently received a cortisone shot. Molina’s addition is just the first of a wave that will dull some outrage over the most obvious snubs from Sunday’s roster announcement; on the AL side, Jed Lowrie was named as Gleyber Torres’ replacement on Tuesday. As Molina is a Star Player of a Certain Age, his ninth selection to the Midsummer Classic in a 10-year span (he missed 2016) set off another round of everybody’s favorite parlor game, Is He a Hall of Famer?. You know I can’t resist buzzing in for that one.

But first, the selection. Molina, who turns 36 on July 13, is having a pretty good season, particularly for a guy who missed a month due to [crosses legs uncomfortably] emergency groin surgery necessitated by a foul tip. He’s currently hitting 274/.317/.484 with 13 homers in 240 plate appearances, and while his on-base percentage is nothing to write home about — how is it a guy who spends half the game minding the strike zone for his pitchers can walk just 5.4% of the time? — his slugging percentage is his highest since 2012, his best offensive season. His 115 wRC+ is his highest since 2013, and it’s lifted his career mark to an even 100. Of the 23 catchers with at least 200 PA this year, that 114 wRC+ is tied for sixth overall. Both MLB leader J.T. Realmuto (149) and fourth-ranked Willson Contreras (122) are already on the NL All-Star squad, with the latter elected the starter.

While Molina’s offense is in a good place in 2018, his defense appears to be off, and not only because he’s thrown out just four out of 19 stolen-base attempts (21%, nearly half of his 41% career mark). Via FanGraphs’ version of catcher defense (which isn’t UZR), he’s 2.4 runs below average, including two below average in the stolen-base component of Defensive Runs Saved. Via the non-pitch-framing version of DRS, he’s four runs below average, while via the framing-inclusive version, he’s two below average. Via Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average, which includes framing, he’s 2.3 runs above average overall and 3.7 above in the framing component. Via our version of WAR — which, again, does not include framing — Molina’s 1.3 WAR is tied for ninth among catchers overall. Some of that is the impact of his injury; prorate all of the catchers with at least 200 PA to 600 PA and he’s a rounding error out of fifth:

Top Catchers by 2018 WAR, Prorated to 600 PA
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR/600
1 J.T. Realmuto Marlins 290 .317 .368 .551 149 3.5 7.2
2 Francisco Cervelli Pirates 231 .247 .381 .468 132 2.3 6.0
3 Willson Contreras Cubs 332 .279 .367 .453 122 2.5 4.5
4 Yasmani Grandal Dodgers 291 .243 .340 .450 118 1.7 3.5
5 Kurt Suzuki Braves 239 .275 .343 .455 116 1.3 3.3
6 Yan Gomes Indians 258 .251 .314 .447 104 1.4 3.3
7 Yadier Molina Cardinals 240 .274 .317 .484 115 1.3 3.3
8 Wilson Ramos Rays 303 .291 .340 .479 127 1.6 3.2
9 Buster Posey Giants 326 .282 .362 .404 113 1.7 3.1
10 Gary Sanchez Yankees 265 .190 .291 .433 97 1.2 2.7
Min. 200 PA.

Thus it’s fair to say that his selection isn’t just about 2018 performance but about his reputation and bigger-picture productivity, and as I noted in Monday’s reaction piece to the NL starting outfield of Bryce Harper, Nick Markakis, and Matt Kemp, I’m not one to sweat that.

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Early 2019-21 Draft Rankings

The 2018 MLB Draft’s signing deadline passed last week, and more teams failed to sign their early picks than is typical. Ultimately, four of the top 36 selections opted not to enter professional ball, all from the prep ranks. Those players are as follows: RHP Carter Stewart (Atlanta’s pick at No. 8), SS Matt McLain (Arizona at No. 25), RHP J.T. Ginn (Dodgers at No. 30), and Gunnar Hoglund (Pirates at No. 36). Scouting details on those individuals can be found on THE BOARD.

This has left those teams with one fewer prospect in their system than anticipated (all four teams get a compensation pick in next year’s draft), but more significantly, it moves a handful of premium talent into future draft classes. This year’s crop of unsigned high schoolers now serves as a preview of the college talent pool for the 2021 draft, but there are also a few 2020 prospects who are eligible early because they’re old for their class. There’s also a possibility that some could find their way into the 2019 draft class if they opt to attend junior college. We’ll reclassify players on THE BOARD as they change.

With that in mind, we thought it reasonable to present snapshots of each of the next three draft classes based on how we have the players graded right now. The industry’s evaluation of the 2019 class is already underway in earnest (Team USA, Cape Cod, and prep showcases are all occurring as we speak), and we’ve lined up a short list of the class’s top names thus far over on THE BOARD. Our 2020 list is mostly composed of the players we regarded as the best college freshmen this year, though we know of a few high schoolers who look like early first-round talents, too. The 2021 list is just a ranking of the high schoolers who didn’t sign in this year’s draft, exactly as they appeared on our 2018 draft board. We’re skeptical of prep players who have popped up this early because it’s often the result of physical maturity, but we don’t think that’s the case for Pennsylvania high school RHP Kevin Bitsko, whom we have evaluated similarly to the lean projection arms who are 40 FVs on the July 2 list.

Click here to see the 2019-21 draft prospects at THE BOARD.

We’re still too early in the process to make conclusive statements about the talent level of the 2019 draft class as a whole, much less the 2020 or 2021 varieties, so all this could change. As it stands now, however, the 2019 class collectively appears to lack the depth of the 2018 crop. By this time last year, we had a rough idea of how deep the high-school pitching was and knew that the Southeast had an overwhelming volume of talent. College hitting is the strength of next year’s draft class, and there’s lots of depth to the college crop in general, but the prep class lacks the quantity of players who are regarded as in-a-vacuum first rounders that one customarily sees at this point. Moreover, the college pitching class lacks a guy who looks like a top-five or -10 selection right now, though Casey Mize didn’t fit that criteria last summer and then ended up going first overall to Detroit in June.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1242: Teams in Glass Houses

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Manny Machado trade precedents, the Astros’ weird walk-off, the A’s as wild-card contenders, Trevor Bauer and an Indians bullpen miscommunication, the Rays’ proposed stadium design, a Mike Trout shirt, and more, then answer listener emails about players and self-preservation, midseason free agents, Mike Trout hobbies besides weather, constructing a star on the scouting scale, the likeliest best active players, baseball with multiple mound distances, tennis players as pitchers, and committing to the Waxahachie Swap, plus a Stat Blast about the shortest All-Star careers.

Audio intro: Alex Turner, "Glass in the Park"
Audio outro: Liam Gallagher, "Wall of Glass"

Link to Jeff’s post on Machado precedents
Link to Astros walk-off
Link to Mike Trout shirt
Link to Rays ballpark design
Link to 2009 Trout article

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The Precedent for a Manny Machado Trade

Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade their best player. Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade one of the best players, period. I’ve seen people worrying that the Orioles might just hang onto Manny Machado through the end of the year, and I understand that, historically, trading with the Orioles has always been complicated, but that would be a bridge too far. There’s just about no way the Orioles would settle for free-agent compensation, here. There’s a blockbuster trade to be made, and there are interesting prospects to be acquired.

So, a Machado trade is virtually inevitable. There is no shortage of suitors. Two factors make this situation unusual. One, Machado is very good. Many good players are traded around the deadline, but few are at Machado’s level. Two, Machado will become a free agent in a matter of months. He’s a rental. Some suitor might think they could win Machado over down the stretch, but that’s unlikely to lead to much of a bargain. Machado’s not signing a contract extension before he hits the market. This should be interpreted first and foremost as a short-term move.

It can be hard to know what would be an appropriate price. How much should someone be willing to give up for Machado? For how much should the Orioles be willing to settle? To this point, the Orioles have asked for more than anyone’s been willing to surrender. That much is self-evident, since Machado is available but there hasn’t yet been an agreement. I think it’s useful to dig into the history. Every trade negotiation is different, conducted under unique circumstances, but there’s value in understanding the precedent. Trades don’t follow precedent in the way that, say, arbitration does, but we can get an idea of what’s going to happen by looking at what has happened. Time to consider a whole bunch of names.

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The Telephone Game in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — This author is all too familiar with cases of identification mix-ups within the confines of Progressive Field, as you might be aware of if you are a loyal listener of FanGraphs Audio.

Earlier this year, I approached Matt Davidson’s locker stall in the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland and asked Matt if he had time for an interview. Seated, Matt agreed. He was pleasant and eager, as if he hadn’t spent much time being hounded by reporters. It was in the midst of the interview, speaking with Matt — Matt Skole — when he mentioned how he played in the Nationals organization earlier in his career. I realized my mistake. I had the wrong 6-foot-4 position-playing Matt. I politely asked another question or two and ended the interview. While a surge of embarrassment struck me, at least the error was realized before, say, publication.

There was another sort of case of mistaken identity in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

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The Trade Deadline Matters Less Than Ever

Among MLB’s calendar of so-called Important Events, one finds a fast-approaching date — namely, the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

Historically, it is a deadline that facilitates action, that forces teams to declare whether they’re contenders or rebuilders, that compels sellers and buyers to stop negotiating and come to terms on a deal. Deadlines often force actors to make “yes” or “no” calls. This date is one of the last periods for teams with postseason aspirations to improve, for rebuilding clubs to retool. The date creates interest in the sport. This very Web site experiences increased traffic during the days leading up to to the deadline.

But the trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.

The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.

Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.

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Brett Gardner, Fines, and Pace of Play

Brett Gardner’s posted a walk rate north of 10% six times in his 11-year big-league career, including each of the last four seasons. He’s racked up 2.5 WAR or better in every full season he’s played, on the back of sometimes elite defense, consistently above-average offense, and the ability to knock a few dingers into the short porch in Yankee Stadium III. In other words, Gardner is a Very Useful Player, the kind of complementary piece every contending roster needs.

That’s not Gardner’s reputation, though. Instead, Gardner is regarded more as a “pest.” Not because of his conduct as a person — I’ve never met him, though I’m sure he’s a lovely human and fine conversationalist — but rather as a leadoff hitter. And the numbers mostly bear this out: this year, he’s seeing 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, 10th best in the American League. Last year, it was 4.23 pitches per plate appearance, seventh best in the American League. In 2016, Gardner saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, 16th best in the Junior Circuit. You get the idea: Gardner is a tough out. Jeff Sullivan wrote about this last year during the playoffs.

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Kiley McDaniel Chat – 7/11/18

12:11

Kiley McDaniel: Kiley is here, live, and wants to chat with you!

12:12

Rick C: On a scale of 1-10, how big of a blunder was it for the Braves to fail to come to an agreement with Stewart?

12:14

Kiley McDaniel: Maybe a 3 or 4? We had 5 players ranked ahead of Stewart that were on the board for that pick. He’s a prep righty that was trending down leading up to draft day, an especially risky class of player. The 2019 class is college bat heavy and would appear to have enough 50 FV types to give the Braves a chance to get a comparable talent at 9 that’s a hitter and closer to the big leagues than Stewart would be, thus eliminating the only real negative: putting off having an elite prospect by a year.

12:14

Kiley McDaniel: Also fans, generally speaking, freak out way too much when a player doesn’t sign.

12:15

Larry: A lot of Braves fans saying that not signing Stewart isn’t a huge deal because of the compensation pick. Is that true though? The GCL/DSL levels of that system are extremely bare right now.

12:15

Kiley McDaniel: But what if you pick a guy that never plays at those levels? Also, missing one prospect from rookie ball doesn’t matter. There aren’t championships for most loaded rookie ball team.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Craig Counsell on Probabilities and the Big Picture

Craig Counsell spent time as a special assistant to then-GM Doug Melvin before taking over as the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in May 2015. That experience has proven to be valuable. Gifted with a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, the cerebral former infielder can better go about the job of leading a team on the field — not so much in terms of the Xs and Os, but rather the ability to see the big picture.

That doesn’t mean strategic decisions, or the statistical probabilities that go with them, don’t matter. They matter a lot, and Counsell approaches them with care. Even so, knowing that something has a slightly better than 50/50 chance to work doesn’t mean it’s an obvious choice. One can embrace analytics — which Counsell certainly does — and still let the gut play a role.

———

Craig Counsell: “It was a little scary, frankly, to go into the office every day. It was something that had never been a part of my life. As a player, you felt like you were lucky that you never had to go into an office and sit behind a desk. But I’m so glad I did that, because I learned a lot about different people’s perspectives and about how everybody is trying to help create an organization that wins baseball games.

“I worked for Doug Melvin. Is he [an old-school baseball guy]? I wouldn’t say it like that. What I learned from Doug is how he put a staff together, how he created a culture, how he treated people, how he treated his team — ‘his team,’ meaning everybody that worked around him — and how he welcomed opposing views and allowed them to be heard. And his patience as far as making decisions and letting things play out, which was probably a trait of experience… It was really valuable to watch him use that to his advantage.

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There’s No Ignoring Jesus Aguilar Anymore

Among qualified hitters this season, Jesus Aguilar is tied for fourth in wRC+. He’s the current National League leader in home runs. He homered yesterday against the Marlins. The day before that, he homered twice against the Braves. At last update, he’s the leader in the NL for the All-Star Game’s Final Vote. Every player in there is good, but Aguilar is perfectly deserving.

Don’t like half-year samples? Since last season began, Aguilar has batted 596 times. He’s put up a 136 wRC+, which matches the wRC+ put up by Anthony Rendon. Mookie Betts is at 135. Nolan Arenado is at 133. Looking at first basemen, Aguilar has been out-hit by only Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt. Last season proves that Aguilar is no random flash in the pan.

It’s a bit of a funny coincidence that the Brewers are hurting for a second baseman, because late in the spring in 2017, they dropped Scooter Gennett, who’s turned into an All-Star. Gennett, in a sense, is exactly what the Brewers could use. Just a couple months earlier, though, the Brewers claimed Aguilar, who’s also in the process of turning into an All-Star. There was no room for Aguilar in Cleveland, and then he was in part responsible for there being no room for Gennett in Milwaukee. So as far as second base goes, the Brewers can be only so upset. Aguilar fought for opportunities to prove himself. He’s seized the few chances he’s had.

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American League First Basemen Aren’t Good

Debates about All-Star selections are generally pretty fleeting. The selections are announced, there’s maybe a week’s worth of complaints, then the game, then the sport is overwhelmed by the trade deadline and ensuing pennant races. That said, one of the complaints that pops up is that every team gets an All-Star and more deserving players are left home while less-deserving players on bad teams are selected for the game. This year, Salvador Perez might be one such selection. Perhaps Yan Gomes might have been more worthy. It isn’t just teams needing to send at least one player that can result in potentially deserving candidates failing to make the squad. The nature of the game itself, pitting the American League against the National League, brings about a similar issue.

Take Mitch Moreland, for example. Moreland has a 134 wRC+ and a solid 1.5 WAR in 269 plate appearances on the season. He’s arguably the best first baseman in the American League this year and therefore deserving of his place at the All-Star Game. On the other side of the coin, here are the top qualified first basemen in baseball this season ranked by WAR.

Best First Basemen of the First Half
Name Team PA HR wRC+ WAR
Freddie Freeman Braves 399 16 152 3.6
Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 394 20 148 3.3
Brandon Belt Giants 323 13 146 3.0
Jesus Aguilar Brewers 285 23 162 2.8
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 356 17 137 2.8
Joey Votto Reds 398 9 140 2.7
Cody Bellinger Dodgers 364 17 119 2.0
Matt Olson Athletics 373 19 117 1.7
Carlos Santana Phillies 381 14 114 1.3
Jose Martinez Cardinals 339 13 129 1.1

Freddie Freeman is having a great year, with Paul Goldschmidt, Brandon Belt, Jesus Aguilar, Matt Carpenter, and Joey Votto all relatively close. We could remove Carpenter given that he’s started more games at third base, but it doesn’t change the overriding theme of National League superiority at first base. Of those top five players, just two have been named to the All-Star Game. Jose Abreu is a good player having a bad year and was voted in the by the fans. Moreland isn’t even on this list because he hasn’t qualified for the batting title because he was splitting time with Hanley Ramirez early on and gets some days off against lefties.

The only AL player on the list above is Matt Olson. The A’s first baseman has a 117 wRC+, which is solid, but it is lower than the average of all NL first basemen this season. The list of first basemen in the AL only includes two players (three if you count Niko Goodrum) on pace for above-average seasons.

AL First Basemen
Name Team PA HR wRC+ WAR WAR/600 PA
Matt Olson Athletics 373 19 117 1.7 2.7
Mitch Moreland Red Sox 269 11 134 1.5 3.3
C.J. Cron Rays 351 17 119 1.1 1.9
Justin Smoak Blue Jays 340 12 123 0.9 1.6
Niko Goodrum Tigers 256 8 112 0.9 2.1
Yonder Alonso Indians 315 13 107 0.9 1.7
Yulieski Gurriel Astros 310 6 116 0.8 1.5
Ronald Guzman Rangers 228 8 104 0.7 1.8
Joey Gallo Rangers 345 21 95 0.6 1.0
John Hicks Tigers 248 8 109 0.6 1.5
Joe Mauer Twins 251 2 100 0.4 1.0
Jose Abreu White Sox 378 12 105 0.2 0.3
Ryon Healy Mariners 295 18 104 -0.1 -0.2
Logan Morrison Twins 291 10 77 -0.3 -0.6
Albert Pujols Angels 355 13 89 -0.3 -0.5
Luis Valbuena Angels 254 9 67 -0.4 -0.9
Neil Walker Yankees 202 2 51 -0.8 -2.4
Chris Davis Orioles 300 9 38 -2.0 -4.0

As a whole, first basemen are having their worst season in the American League in more than 50 seasons.

The 99 wRC+ for AL first basemen is perfectly acceptable as an average offensive player, but because first base is generally the easiest position to play on the diamond, the standards are generally higher for the bat. American League first basemen haven’t finished a season below average at the plate since 1957, and the only other time it has happened in the last 100 years was in the 1948 season. As the graph above shows, they are generally comfortably above average, with only the 1982 season getting close. As the season wears on, first basemen should start performing a bit better than they have, but right now they are nowhere close to the top of the pecking order by position.

First basemen are actually in the bottom half of the league. The caliber of shortstop play is tremendous and third basemen are doing great as well, but first basemen really shouldn’t be this bad. It’s clearly not an MLB-wide issue, as their NL brethren are having no such problem carrying up the average enough to be pretty close to historical norms. It might be fun to lay the blame on Chris Davis, but first basemen would still be only slightly above average on the season without Davis’ contributions, if you want to call them that.

I checked among the designated hitters to see if the league was missing some good ex-first basemen that might be skewing the results, but all the top DHs this season — J.D. Martinez, Nelson Cruz, Shin-Soo Choo, Giancarlo Stanton, and Khris Davis — are converted outfielders. The converted first basemen are either barely above average (Edwin Encarnacion) or well-below (Albert Pujols, Logan Morrison). A quick look at last year’s AL first basemen shows some drain over to the NL, but mostly these are just poor performances from good players mixed in with a bunch of players not expected to do all that well.

2017 AL First Basemen
Name Team PA HR wRC+ WAR
Jose Abreu White Sox 675 33 138 4.2
Eric Hosmer Royals 671 25 135 4.1
Justin Smoak Blue Jays 637 38 132 3.5
Logan Morrison Rays 601 38 130 3.2
Carlos Santana Indians 667 23 117 3.0
Joey Gallo Rangers 532 41 123 3.0
Yonder Alonso – – – 521 28 132 2.4
Joe Mauer Twins 597 7 116 2.2
Chase Headley Yankees 586 12 104 1.9
Yulieski Gurriel Astros 564 18 118 1.7
Trey Mancini Orioles 586 24 117 1.7

Hosmer and Santana are now in the NL, though Hosmer isn’t playing all that well. Smoak is having a decent season, but the rest of the players are not, nor are they expected to do well the rest of the year. A quick look at our projections will tell you, it isn’t just first-half performance that seems to indicate the balance of power is in the NL, as our best estimate of talent says the same thing.

First Baseman Projected wOBA
Name Team PA wOBA
Joey Votto Reds 288 .395
Freddie Freeman Braves 293 .392
Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 288 .386
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 294 .375
Brandon Belt Giants 242 .363
Matt Carpenter Cardinals 284 .362
Eric Thames Brewers 241 .361
Carlos Santana Phillies 282 .360
Cody Bellinger Dodgers 268 .357
Steve Pearce Red Sox 76 .353
Jose Abreu White Sox 283 .351
Justin Smoak Blue Jays 290 .347
Matt Olson Athletics 279 .345
Jose Martinez Cardinals 284 .345
Matt Adams Nationals 80 .343
Yonder Alonso Indians 290 .343
Joey Gallo Rangers 266 .342
Jesus Aguilar Brewers 241 .342
Justin Bour Marlins 259 .341
Mitch Moreland Red Sox 239 .338
Blue=NL, Red=AL

American League first basemen aren’t always going to be this bad, but they have been so far this season. This is just a weird time in the cycle for the position, probably not helped by the lack of competition for playoff spots in the league compared to the NL. Many might be up in arms over Jesus Aguilar or Brandon Belt not making the All-Star team. It isn’t that they aren’t deserving of a spot as one of the top-60 or so players in baseball, or one of the top six players at their position. They just happen to play in the wrong league.


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game. Read the rest of this entry »


The Prospect of a Trade Looms over Rehabbing Syndergaard

It’s been awhile since something went right for the Mets, but on Sunday, Noah Syndergaard traveled the 20-odd miles from Citi Field to Coney Island and didn’t gorge himself on 74 Nathan’s hot dogs in 10 minutes. Nor did he suffer a sword-swallowing mishap, or have his hair charred by a fire-eater with questionable control. In his first competitive outing since May 25, a rehab start for the Low-A Brooklyn Cyclones, the 25-year-old righty singed Staten Island Yankees hitters with fastballs that sat at 98 mph and touched 99 during a five-inning, 71-pitch outing that could pave the way for his return to the majors later this week, and perhaps an audition for a blockbuster trade later this month.

Syndergard hasn’t pitched in the majors since being scratched from his May 30 outing due to a strained ligament in his right index finger. Unsurprisingly, he had a bit of extra adrenaline early in his return, beginning with six straight balls. He issued a four-pitch walk of leadoff hitter Alex Junior, who followed with a steal of second. Junior took third on a single by Josh Breaux and scored on a wild pitch, the first of two that Syndergaard uncorked on the afternoon. That run was the Yankees’ only one of the day, however, and after Breaux’s single, Syndergaard retired nine of the next 10 hitters and allowed just one additional hit, a fourth-inning single by Frederick Cuevas. That single was followed by another steal and a wild pitch on a strikeout that put Syndergaard under pressure, but he escaped by getting Eduardo Torrealba to line into an unassisted, inning-ending double play. Syndergaard then completely overwhelmed the Baby Bombers in a 10-pitch, two-strikeout fifth. Read the rest of this entry »