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What if Postseason Winners Got to Draft Postseason Losers?

The MLB playoffs had not changed its format for the past 13 years. This season, however, we will see a “minor” change taking place during the World Series. The home-field advantage will belong to the team with the best regular-season record, thus ending the already established tradition of it pertaining to the league that won the All-Star Game in July. As this is not a mind-blowing change, I’m here to propose something much more interesting that will probably never happen, but still.

What if after each round of the postseason, from the wild-card games to the league championships, the players of each losing team entered a pool from which the winning teams could draft some of them for the next round of the playoffs?

First of all, we must recognise that we hate when a player gets injured and misses playing time. Were it in our hands, we’d put our favourite players on the field for the 162 games, make them bat first, get as many plate appearances as possible, and see their numbers grow during the summer and into the autumn with pleasure. Even more, how frustrating it is when one of our favourite players, or just one of the best players of the game (hello, Mike Trout!) is stuck on a franchise that never ever makes it to the postseason, or that every time it does it seems to not be able to advance past the first round?

On top of this, there is the seeding and the way we watch underdogs trying to beat the odds and outplay the best teams of the regular season on a yearly basis, which in all honestly is nothing crazy given how much of a lottery the game becomes once we reach October. Wouldn’t it be great to do something to even the field a little and make the “bad” teams get more on par with the “good” teams during the playoffs?

Enter the Losers-Turned-Into-Winners Draft! Let’s explain the basics and then run some historical simulations based on them.

The idea behind this system is pretty simple. As things are nowadays, the best team from each division of the American and National Leagues automatically makes the playoffs, followed by two wild-card teams that can come from any of the divisions and are determined by their record during the regular season. We can therefore assume that the two wild-card teams from each league, which have a round of the postseason exclusively dedicated to them, are the two worst teams from each side of the bracket. Once a winner is named, that team advances to the Divisional Series and faces the best-seeded divisional champion. Seeds number two and three also go against each other, and after that the Championship Series of each league comes to fruition to determine who will face who in the World Series.

What I propose is to take advantage of the seeds assigned to each team at the start of the postseason, and play a two-round draft after each round of the playoffs is finalised, with the picking order going from worst-to-best remaining seeds. Each team would be able to pick two players, no restrictions applied to their position (so they can pick two batters, two pitchers, or a combination of both), and players from all losing teams would be available at the draft for any team, no matter the league they play for. Once a draft is completed, the players left unselected are removed from the pool, so players not selected during the draft held after the wild-card round are no longer available for the draft held after the Divisional Series, and so on.

This system would solve some of the problems fans need to deal with during each season, and most of all would make the playoffs as exciting and competitive as they could get. Every star player would get far more chances to win the World Series (who is going to pass on Kershaw if the Dodgers fall at any point?) during his career, players wouldn’t mind re-signing long-term deals with the franchises they’ve always played for as they would “only” need to reach the postseason in order to have a shot at the title from multiple angles and not only depending on the success of their team, low-seeded teams (supposedly worse than the rest of the field) would have influxes of talent as long as they progress as they would pick first in those drafts, and fans would have even more events to get excited about during an already exciting time. Don’t fool yourself, this is a win-win master plan!

Let’s take a look at how the 2016 MLB postseason could have changed had this draft-system being in place. To not make this too confusing, we will leave the results of each round as they were without taking into account the players taken by each team after each round’s draft. We would comment on how those picks could have affected the outcome of the playoffs, though.

The wild-card round made Toronto face Baltimore for a place in the AL Divisional Series against Texas. In the National League, San Francisco had to play against New York to stay alive. After those two games were played, the Blue Jays and the Giants made it to the second round. What would this have meant in our loser-draft system? Given the regular-season results, San Francisco (.537 W-L%) would have picked first and Toronto (.549 W-L%) second in a draft with a pool made out of the rosters of both the Mets and Orioles. Without much thinking applied to player valuations, these would have been the best-WAR players available per

  1. Manny Machado, 3B (BAL): 6.7 WAR
  2. Noah Syndergaard, P (NYM): 5.3 WAR
  3. Zach Britton, P (BAL): 4.3 WAR
  4. Kevin Gausman, P (BAL): 4.2 WAR
  5. Chris Tillman, P (BAL): 4.1 WAR
  6. Jacob deGrom, P (NYM): 3.8 WAR
  7. Bartolo Colon, P (NYM): 3.4 WAR
  8. Chris Davis, 1B (BAL): 3.0 WAR
  9. Yoenis Céspedes, LF (NYM): 2.9 WAR
  10. Asdrúbal Cabrera, SS (NYM): 2.7 WAR

With a rotation already featuring Cueto, Bumgarner and Samardzija, among others, San Francisco could have added Manny Machado to replace Conor Gillaspie (1.1 WAR). Toronto may have followed that selection with that of Syndergaard (back up north!) in order to improve their rotation for the Divisional Series, and the last two picks could have gone either way with top-notch players on the board (San Francisco could have gone Yoenis’ way to move from Angel Pagan, and Toronto with Chris Davis to replace Justin Smoak at first). If that is not an improvement, you tell me what is.

Moving onto the Divisional Round, the Dodgers, Cubs, Indians and Blue Jays defeated the Nationals, Giants, Red Sox and Rangers, respectively. In this case, both Machado and Céspedes would become available again, and enter the draft pool for the remaining four teams. This again goes in favour of star players, as they would keep moving onto later rounds if they’re still good enough as to keep being selected round after round, and we all want to watch the best players competing for the highest stakes. These are the second round’s best available players, again per WAR (keep in mind all players from New York and Baltimore, barring those selected by San Francisco – now eliminated from contention – are no longer available):

  1. Mookie Betts, RF (BOS): 9.5 WAR
  2. Manny Machado, 3B (BAL/SFG): 6.7 WAR
  3. Adrian Beltre, 3B (TEX): 6.5 WAR
  4. Max Scherzer, P (WSN): 6.2 WAR
  5. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (BOS): 5.7 WAR
  6. Johnny Cueto, P (SFG): 5.6 WAR
  7. Tanner Roark, P (WSN): 5.5 WAR
  8. Jackie Bradley, CF (BOS): 5.3 WAR
  9. Rick Porcello, P (BOS): 5.1 WAR
  10. David Ortiz, 1B/DH (BOS): 5.1 WAR
  11. Madison Bumgarner, P (SFG): 5 WAR
  12. Cole Hamels, P (TEX): 5 WAR
  13. Buster Posey, C (SFG): 4.6 WAR
  14. Daniel Murphy, 2B (WSN): 4.6 WAR
  15. Brandon Crawford, SS (SFG): 4.5 WAR

By this point, and looking at the regular-season results, the seeding for the draft would make teams pick in the following order: Toronto (.549 W-L%), Los Angeles (.562), Cleveland (.584) and Chicago (.640). Judging by the wild-card draft picks already made by the Blue Jays and the rest of their roster, we may infer their first pick would be Mookie Betts to replace Michael Saunders in left field. Los Angeles would probably look to improve their offense with their first pick, which could have been Dustin Pedroia in order to remove Utley from the lineup. Cleveland, given their not-so-great pitching staff, would have selected Scherzer in a hurry, and Chicago may have closed the first round of selections with that of Buster Posey to get aging David Ross out from behind the plate.

With pretty much every roster spot already stacked for every team, the second round would become some sort of a best-available-pick affair. I’m betting on Toronto getting Manny Machado and finding a spot for him, taking advantage of the designated-hitter slot in the lineup. The Dodgers could improve their pitching rotation with the addition of Johnny Cueto. Cleveland’s outfield would welcome the addition of Jackie Bradley more than anything. And finally the Cubs would close this round by going the pitching route and picking Madison Bumgarner.

Without taking those additions into account and respecting what happened in real-world MLB, after the Divisional Round finished the two teams making the World Series for the 2016 season were the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians, which means every player from Toronto’s and Los Angeles’ rosters (including those being picked in the first two drafts) become available in the final postseason draft event. Let’s take a look at the best players on the board by their regular-season WAR:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF (BOS/TOR): 9.5 WAR
  2. Josh Donaldson, 3B (TOR): 7.5 WAR
  3. Manny Machado, 3B (BAL/SFG/TOR): 6.7 WAR
  4. Corey Seager, 3B (LAD): 6.1 WAR
  5. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (BOS/LAD): 5.7 WAR
  6. Johnny Cueto, P (SFG/LAD): 5.6 WAR
  7. Clayton Kershaw, P (LAD): 5.6 WAR
  8. Noah Syndergaard, P (NYM/TOR): 5.3 WAR
  9. Justin Turner, 3B (LAD): 5.1 WAR
  10. Aaron Sanchez, P (TOR): 4.9 WAR
  11. J.A. Happ, P (TOR): 4.5 WAR
  12. Edwin Encarnación, 1B/DH (TOR): 3.7 WAR
  13. Marco Estrada, P (TOR): 3.5 WAR
  14. Joc Pederson, CF (LAD): 3.4 WAR
  15. Kevin Pillar, CF (TOR): 3.4 WAR

As can be seen, five of the best 15 players available come from teams already out of contention, with Manny Machado being the only one having made it through the first two postseason drafts by going from Baltimore to San Francisco to Toronto, which proves his value among his peers. The Blue Jays, both from their original roster and their picks, provide nine of the 15 players, while the Dodgers only add four original men and two acquired through the draft.

In terms of what Chicago and Cleveland could do in order to create the best possible rosters with the World Series in mind, multiple approaches could be taken by them. Both teams made the finals without playing in the wild card, so they only have two draftees each between their players – not that they need much more. As Cleveland finished the season with a worse record, the Indians would pick first, and they’d probably take Clayton Kershaw because you just simply don’t pass on the best pitcher of his era. Chicago’s pitching is already stacked, so they would probably look at the outfield and bring Mookie Betts in. Jose Ramirez had a great season for Cleveland in 2016, and it would be hard for the Indians to leave Donaldson on the board, although they may look at the outfield options and pick someone like Pillar or Pederson to get Lonnie Chisenhall out of the lineup. Let’s go Joc Pederson here. Finally, Chicago would close the draft by taking Johnny Cueto, as they don’t even have holes to fill in their offense at this point.

And with this third and final couple of draft rounds, the postseason would end in a World Series win for the Cubs over the Indians in a series that would feature two incredibly great teams that through the course of the playoffs would have added the names of Betts, Scherzer, Cueto, Kershaw, Bradley, Bumgarner, Posey and Pederson to their rosters. Are you telling me those eight players wouldn’t make the final meetings of the season much more exciting than they could ever be? While I haven’t applied much thought to each selection and I’ve based them mostly on each player’s WAR or flagrant team needs, the process could turn into a really tough war between teams at the time of picking players not only for their benefit but also to block other franchises from taking them, and improving spots where they may lack a player of certain quality, be it in their hitting lineup or in their pitching rotation.

This winners-draft-losers type of draft will probably (definitely) never happen. There would be much trouble implementing it and a lot of collateral implications that make it impossible to be a real thing. But hey, at least we can dream of a parallel world where Mike Trout could reach the World Series each and every seas– oh, yes, I forgot he plays for the Angels…

A Baseball World Without Intentional Walks

There are at-bats. And the possible positive outcomes of those come down to three: hits, walks and batters hit by pitches. Hits can be separated in singles, doubles, triples and home runs. Hits by pitch are pretty much what they sound like. Walks, on the other hand, are bases on balls awarded by the pitcher to the batter either unintentionally due to lack of control or intentionally to supposedly prevent the hitter for inflicting more than single-valued damage by giving him the first base for free.

The intentional base by balls have always been present in baseball. They have been tracked, though, since 1955. From that point in time to 2016 (the last complete season with data available), a total of 73,272 IBB have been awarded to batters, for an average of around 1,182 per season. If we look at the full picture, though, there have been more than 11 times more BB than IBB in the same period of time. Obviously, hitters are not awarded a base for free if they have not gained a certain status in which pitchers “fear” the possibility of them being punished by a bomb to the outfield that holds high value and could turn into runs for the opposing team.

Even with that, IBB rates are at their lowest since 1955 due to strategical improvements and the study of the game, which has led to the conclusion that awarding bases to hitters for free is more than probably not the best approach. But with more than a thousand instances per season on average, we have a big enough sample size as to have some fun with the numbers and try to think of a baseball world in which IBB had been somehow vetoed by the MLB and therefore not awarded to hitters from 1955 on. What could have this meant for batters during this span? How much could have it impacted the hitting totals for some of the already-great hitters of baseball history? Let’s take a look at the data.

Counting from 1955, only five players have had careers in which they have posted an IBB/PA larger than 2% in at least 10,000 PA. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz. Those are some scary names to have at the home plate staring at you while playing the role of the pitcher. If we lower the threshold to 1% IBB/PA, we end with a group of 39 players, more than enough to get some interesting testing. The first thing that jumps out and we could expect is that only one of the 39 players fell short of the 100 HR mark (Rod Carew, with 92) and that all of them surpassed 2223 hits during their careers (for that matter, only 110 MLB players since 1955 have got to that mark, so players from our group make for 34% of them).

So, back to our group, the correlation between IBB and HR yields an R-value of 0.256, which is more or less significant. This means that power hitters have historically tended to be awarded more bases by balls than any other type of batter. If no IBB had been allowed in baseball, we would only have hits, unintentional walks and hits by pitch left as our possible plate appearance outcomes. By making a simple set of calculations we can come up with how many extra hits, home runs, etc. each of our players could have ended their careers with had they not being walked on purpose during their playing time. It is just about knowing the rates they hit singles, doubles, triples and homers per PA (subtracting IBB outcomes from the total number of PA) and then multiplying those rates for the IBB each of them were awarded in their careers. This way we can have a simple look at how much better numbers those hitters could have reached based on their pure hitting ability.

The case of Barry Bonds is truly unique. The all-time home run leader not only lead the IBB leaderboard with 688, but the difference between him and the second ranked player (Albert Pujols, 302 IBB) is a staggering 386 IBB, more than doubling him. The difference between Pujols and third-ranked Hank Aaron is of 9 IBB, just for comparison’s sake. In order to get a comprehensive list of the most improved players in this alternative world, we can sort them by the number of extra hits (no matter the type) they would have got had they not received a single intentional base on balls. The next table includes the 20 players with the most expected extra hits to gain in this scenario.

Unsurprisingly, Bonds comes out first – and by a mile. Again, Barry doubles the EEH of second-ranked Pujols and would have finished his career with over 3,000 hits, at a 3,104 mark. That would make him the eighth player in terms of hits among those analyzed, while Pete Rose (not in the table above) would have gained 45 hits to surpass the 4,300-hit mark and reach exactly 4,301.

By breaking the hits by category the outcome at the top is the expected, with Barry Bonds always topping the simulations. Clearing him from the picture, Hank Aaron would have hit the most extra singles with 49, followed by Pujols and Tony Gwynn with 48. Speaking of doubles, Pujols would have got an extra 18, and three players would have 13 more than what they reached in their careers. Triples are much less frequent and only two players, Roberto Clemente and George Brett, would have batted for three extra triples. Finally, in the home-run category, Bonds would have hit for an extra 44 homers, followed by Pujols and Aaron (13 plus) and Ken Griffey.

Had all these numbers been real and IBB cleared from the face of Earth, historical career leaderboards would have not changed a lot, at least at the highest positions, but some records would be seen as even more unbreakable than they are now. Someone would have to break the 4,300-hit barrier again to surpass Pete Rose. Bonds’ new mark of 806 HR would be unimaginable to reach by anyone nowadays (Pujols, still active, would be almost 200 HR away while entering his age-38 season next fall).

It may not had been a critical change, but baseball would have been (and be) way more fun to watch. Just looking at our starting 39 guys, we would have seen the ball being hit 1,928 more times (out of 7,423 IBB, which is a 26% more than we have), witnessed 300 more home runs being called and annotated a couple of unthinkable numbers in MLB’s history books. Now just imagine how much baseball-fun we’ve lost if I remind you that there have been 73,272 walks awarded during the past 61 seasons (yes, your calculation is correct, around 19,000 extra hits by our group’s measures).

Gallo’s Season Is Unique and Unrepeatable

At this point, we all know Joey Gallo. We know what he can and what he can’t do on a baseball field. We know his tendencies. We know his unidimensional approach to hitting. In short, we know Gallo is one of a kind and the true definition of an outlier, if anything. Drafted by the Texas Rangers in 2012, he’s been part of the Major League roster during various stints of the past three seasons, having played in just 157 games (as of August 13) since he made his debut, yet it feels like he’s been around forever probably given his uniqueness.

Gallo’s finally found a place in the Rangers’ lineup during this season. Playing most of games at third base thanks to an Adrian Beltre injury that kept him out of action for the first weeks of the season, then moving to first base and currently splitting time between the latter and the left outfield position, Joey is an irreplaceable piece of Texas’s roster at this point. He’s the second-most valuable player of the team by means of bWAR at 2.8, only trailing Elvis Andrus (3.4), while having stepped to the plate 108 fewer times, and all of this at just 23 years of age.

Anything of what has been introduced already may sound interesting and paint a good picture of a prospect, which – still – Gallo is. But it is looking at his numbers for the season when we truly find a gem of a player, or at least a unique one given his performance and how he’s achieving it. To the point, actually, that we can consider Joey Gallo’s 2017 season an unrepeatable one in the past, present and (maybe) the future of baseball. We have always had great players putting huge margins in different statistics between them and the field, but we have yet to see anyone accrue the overall stat line Gallo is putting together as a whole.

In order to try and find comparables to Joey’s season, I used batting data from 2002 to 2017, extracted from FanGraphs’ leaderboards. The timespan was selected due to batted-ball data being available at the site from the 2002 season on, giving us a finer grain of detail at the players and their batting profiles during the selected seasons. Just to kick things off, we can introduce Gallo as a not-so-good hitter by looking at his PA/H ratio, which ranks as the 11th worst (5.5 PAs per hit) among the 2413 player seasons contained in the subset. Basically, Gallo suffers to get a hit every time he goes to the plate, and not by little (the average PA/H sits at 4.1). What starts to make things interesting is that of the 11 worst PA/H hitters, Joey Gallo is the only one with more HR than 1B/2B/3B, with home runs making up 47.4% of his hits (the next guy of those 11 is 2012 Adam Dunn with a 37.2% percentage).

We already know Gallo struggles to get hits. We know that most of his hits – almost half of them – end up being home runs. But, has Joey Gallo been just unlucky when making contact with the ball? It doesn’t look like it. There have only been five players with a K% of 35%+ in the past 15 seasons. Joey Gallo leads the pack at 37.8%, followed by 2013 Chris Carter and 2017 Trevor Story (both at 36.2%), 2017 Miguel Sano (35.6%) and 2010 Mark Reynolds (35.4%). Sadly for Gallo, his BB/K ratio doesn’t look like anything great at 0.34, so he comes out pretty much as a hit-or-miss guy.

His BABIP sits at .238 right now (26th-lowest among 2413 player seasons) and combined with his power and the percentage of his hits that go over the fences, that’s pretty low production when his hit balls don’t go the distance. The good thing for Gallo, again, is that he barely hits grounders, nor even liners. His GB/FB ratio is 0.43, trailing only a couple of Frank Thomas (who was like a monster truck turned into a mountain turned into a human being) seasons when he put up values of 0.42 (2006) and 0.40 (2002) GB/FB. That may lead you to think that we have seen other players like Gallo during the history of the sport, and indeed we have if looking at isolated statistics. But what if we add the percentages of line drives, ground balls and fly balls into the equation, plus a couple more metrics?

Gallo’s hitting profile just hasn’t existed prior to this season and will probably never be replicated. It is weird. It is unique. It is just in its own universe. Not only does Joey posess the lowest LD% of the past 15 years; he also has some of the lowest marks in GB% and IFFB% at the same time, while posting the highest FB% and – by far – HR/FB ratio of that timespan. No one has ever reached a 30%+ HR/FB ratio while maintaining a FB% of batted balls over 44% except Gallo. That’s something insane, at the minimum. Just in case there was any doubt left about what hitting profile Gallo represents best, I think he is a clear go-big-or-go-home advocate.

So Joey Gallo is a strikeout machine, that’s taken for granted. But he makes up for it with an otherworldly approach to hitting and some power not seen to this point in time, even after more than a hundred seasons of baseball have been played. As of August 13, Gallo ranks 26th in’s oWAR/PA among players with at least 350 PA, and while he’s nothing out of this world in terms of defensive production, his offensive performances have been vital for the Rangers. Added to his ridiculous age, he’s one of the most promising and offensive-minded players in baseball, and one that truly stands out from the field of players that can be seen each day at the majors’ ballparks.

It all comes down to a simple two-option question with Gallo. You either hate him or love him. But most of all and on top of that, what we should do is appreciate it, because we have not seen and will probably never see something quite like what he’s doing any time soon.

Is It Too Soon to Start the Willson-Mania?

A little more than 36 years ago, a pitcher by the name of Fernando Valenzuela, from Mexico, completed his first game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Up to that point he had pitched 17.2 innings in 10 games, all of them during the 1980 season, giving up 10 hits, no earned runs nor homers, and accruing 16 strikeouts. But it was in 1981 when Valuenzuela would see his first start against Houston in a game that ended being a five-hit shutout for the Mexican, starting what became to be known as “Fernandomania.

Fast-forward to 2016 and turn your eyes to Chicago. The Cubs had a season for the ages and won the World Series after one of the largest droughts you could imagine. At the catcher position, three players: Miguel Montero, David Ross and Willson Contreras. Montero and Ross ate virtually all of the games from the start of the seasons up to mid-June, the moment Contreras made his first major-league appearance for the Cubs after being acquired by the club in 2009 as an amateur free agent. Since he started his first game on June 20 against the St. Louis Cardinals, he became the go-to catcher for Chicago and established himself as the next big thing at the plate, given the expected retirement of Ross and the unexpected words of wisdom by Montero earlier this season that would end with him out of the clubhouse.

But let’s not get lost in the context of this story, and focus on our guy, Willson Contreras. The Venezuelan had a great stint in 2016, posting a more than respectable .282/.357/.488 slash line with a slightly high BABIP of .339. He walked and struck out above average, but was able to get up to 12 home runs to make up for it, while reaching a 126 wRC+. Definitely not a bad start of a career. The thing is, Contreras is having an even better second season with the Cubs in 2017, and the Willson-mania is starting to get – or should be getting – traction, with the catcher being named the National Player of the Week in early August.

Projection models expected Contreras to keep his pace during this campaign in most of the statistics, and none forecast a huge jump in his numbers from last year to this one. It could even be said that a little, even by a hair, regression was actually expected after what he did in 2016. The problem these projections are facing today is the same as always: Willson is killing them and outpacing the expected numbers they proposed when calculated over spring. Just for starters, and looking at FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projection system, it fixed Contreras at an expected 117 games, played with 490 plate appearances. As of August 10, he has already played 101 games and appeared 374 times at the plate. Yes, he’s been given the reins of Chicago’s catcher slot and his knees and holding out.

To paint a clearer picture of how Willson’s season is going in relation with what was expected from him, here is a simple fancy table.

Projection systems were right in that regression will make a living out of Contreras this season, not that it wasn’t to be expected, though. His AVG and OBP, along with his BABIP, have decreased to more average-ish values, true. But there are numbers that call for a great progression in the catcher’s game. He’s almost already doubled his home-run production from 2016, and will have a chance to even double his DC projection from now to the end of the season. He’s been able to accumulate 0.9 more points in WAR, and his wRC+ has lowered but is still on point, much higher than projections put it at at the start of the campaign, when they saw Willson as an slightly better than average hitter at best.

Moving onto other metrics not included in the table above and to put his improvement in context, what he’s doing this season — he’s doing it with a WPA/LI of 1.35 instead of the 0.6 he had in 2016 (this is, he’s producing more on toughest situations while giving his team more chances of winning games). Moreover, his Clutch value is 0.72 (1.6 points over his past season’s minus-0.88), midway between what we could consider an above average-to-great clutch player.

His batted-ball statistics are also worth looking at. In order to do it, I combined the data from 2016 and this season as of August 10. Here are the top ten players in terms of HR/FB over this period of time.

Contreras is a ground-ball hitter. There is nothing to discuss about that, and that is something he may want to change in order to improve his production on the long run. Of the ten players included in the table above, he has the third-highest GB/FB value at 1.79, the highest GB% at 53.4% and the second-lowest LD% at 16.8%. What is helping him, though, is his high HR/FB ratio, which is making is deep and high batted balls go over the fence over one quarter of the times he hits them. It is also interesting to see how his BABIP is still at a good .325 while having such a high ground-ball percentage and putting up hits to the infield 11.4% of the time.

All in all, Contreras is the third-best Cub by wRC+ this season, only behind Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, while having considerably fewer plate appearances than those two. Chicago seems to have found a potential gem in their system after eight years of waiting, and the catcher position sure seems covered at Windy City. If only Contreras could hone the little things that may be holding his production back a hair, we would definitely experience the Willson-mania on full swing.

Altuve Is Defying the Evolution of Baseball

In 1912, the now-known as International Association of Athletics Federations recognised the first record in the 100 metres for men in the field of Olympics’ athletics. Donald Lippincott, on July 6, 1912, became the first man to hold an official record on the discipline with a time of 10.2 seconds from start to finish. He measured 5’10’’ and 159 lbs. It wasn’t until 1946 – 34 years later – that a man broke the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters. James Ray Hines did it at 6’0’’ and 179 lbs. Now fast-forward to 2009 and look up a name: Usain Bolt. There is no one faster on Earth. The Jamaican set the 100 metres world record (9.69 seconds) in Berlin holding a size of 6’5’’ and 207 lbs. I don’t think it is hard to see the evolution of the athletes’ bodies here. We, as human beings, are becoming taller and stronger, physically superior each year. At least some.

While we can’t compare the MLB and baseball as is with Olympic athletes and the demands of track and field, the evolution of sportsmen have been parallel to some extent between both fields. Look at this season’s sensation Aaron Judge. He’s huge. He’s a specimen of his own, truly unique in his size and power. Basically, he’s what we may call the evolution of the baseball player made real. Given that we have height and weight data from 1871 to 2017 provided by we can plot the evolution of both the height and weight of MLB players over the past 146 years. Here are the results.

Unsurprising, if anything. As we could expect, small baseball players populated the majors during the XIX century and the first third of the XX one, only to get reduced to a minimum that has never got past three active players of 67 inches or less for the past 61 years. On the contrary, players taller than 78 inches started to appear prominently in the 60’s and 70’s to reach their most-active peak in 2011 with 72 players spread over multiple MLB rosters. A similar story can be told about the weight of ballplayers, who tended to be lighter in the early days of the game than from the 70’s on, starting to be overcome in presence by heavier players at around the mid-to-late 90’s.

But even with as clear a trend as this is, there are always outliers out there. And in this concrete case of player size, Jose Altuve is defying the rules of evolution by no small margins. At 5’6’’, the Venezuelan is the shortest active MLB player, and he started painting his path to the majors by signing with Houston for a laughable $15,000 international bonus after being rejected earlier by the Astros due to him being too short. This happened in 2007, and by 2011 Jose Altuve was already playing in the MLB and finishing his rookie season with an 0.7 bWAR (good for 5th-best among 21 years old-or-less rookies, tied with RoY Mike Trout). By his second season, Altuve made the All-Star Game, became a staple at Houston’s second-base position and posted a 1.4 bWAR. From that point on he’s had seasons valued at 1.0, 6.1, 4.5, 7.6 and 6.2 bWAR. The next table includes the 20+ bWAR – during their first seven seasons playing in the majors – players of height 5’6’’ or smaller the MLB has seen since 1871.

Look at the debut season of all those players. Of the eight that made the list, two are from the XIX century and five from 1908 to 1941. That is, the closest “small” player with a 20+ bWAR during his first seven seasons of play to Jose Altuve is from more than 75 years ago – and Altuve’s yet to finish the 2017 season, which will probably enlarge his bWAR total.

Focusing on the 2017 season, a total of 1105 position players and pitchers have generated offensive statistical lines and accrued bWAR values by Here’s how they are distributed in terms of height/bWAR.

It is not hard to see how the average MLB player holds a height of around 72 inches (6’0’’), varying from 69 to 76 in most of the cases. There way taller (Chris Young, Alex Meyer, Dellin Betances) and way smaller (Tony Kemp, Alexi Amarista) outliers, and if we add bWAR to the equation, then there is Jose Altuve. Yes, Altuve is the blue dot in the chart, at the bottom right part of it. Not only is he the shortest player of the league, but he’s also the most valuable at this point (6.2 bWAR by Sunday, August 6) and by a good margin over his closer rivals Andrelton Simmons (5.7), Paul Goldschmidt (5.5), Aaron Judge (5.1) and Mookie Betts and Anthony Rendon (both 5.0).

Not just happy with that, Altuve is leading the league in hits (151, with just an 11.9 K% – 16th-best among qualified hitters), batting average (.365), OPS+ (176) and total bases (238). He has improved in virtually every statistical category during the current season, participated in his fourth consecutive All-Star Game, led the MVP race in the AL, and he’s on pace to get also his fourth Silver Slugger award at the second-base position. Even with all that, the likes of Judge and Trout are coming and finishing the year strongly, and there are no guarantees for Jose to become the first Venezuelan to win the MVP since Miguel Cabrera did it five years ago in 2012.

All in all, and looking at how his top rivals stack up in terms of size and production, their numbers could be somehow expected. What Altuve is doing at his size, though, not so much. We have been told that we’re living in the era of the strikeout and that of that of the home-run resurrection, but Jose is determined to turn back the clock and make us all appreciate the wonders of small ballplayers roaming the majors’ fields. Appreciate it while you can, because what he’s doing is truly unique in the history of the sport and its evolution expectations, although it doesn’t seem like anything will be stopping Jose “Gigante” Altuve any time soon.

Newcomers Find Their Way at Home

The Boston Red Sox have been tightly related with highly-touted prospects during the past months and even years. Taking a quick look at’s Top 100 Prospects rankings from 2015 to 2017, we find two names come up fairly consistently. Those belong to infielders Yoan Moncada and Rafael Devers. The former entered the 2015 ranks as “the best teenage prospect to come out of Cuba since Jorge Soler in 2011” and signed with Boston for $31.5 million, which smashed the biggest amount to date registered by the Reds’ signing of Aroldis Chapman for $16.25 million. While Devers’ price ($1.5 million) was nothing close to Moncada’s, he was also praised as “the best left-handed bat on the 2013 international market.”

Multiple names from the 2015 class of prospects have already seen large major-league play time (Byron Buxton, Corey Seager, Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge), and the time has come for Moncada and Devers to start writing their full-time MLB stories. In the case of Moncada, Boston opted to trade him to the White Sox for Chris Sale during the past off-season while keeping Devers in town. Anyway, and as things have turned out, both have practically debuted in parallel during this season for their franchises, being called up for quite different reasons. In the midst of a complete rebuild, Chicago will count on Moncada to take on the third-base position from now on. Boston, on the other hand, wanted to improve their infield a hair and seem to have opted for Devers as an in-house solution to their woes.

As the date of the writing of this article, this is, Tuesday, July 25 (better known as National Rafael Devers’ Day given his major-league debut with the Red Sox), Moncada will have the chance to play as much as 65 games and Devers 60. They will probably not reach those numbers — at least not Devers, knowing Boston’s contender status and probable use of platoon hitters during the rest of the season. Another fact of interest is that Yoan Moncada is 22 years old and Rafael Devers is just 20. So, those numbers will make for a baseline on what to look for during the rest of this article, which will focus on how call-ups perform in their debut seasons, both home and away.

Prospects made huge jumps just going from the minors to the majors, change cities and clubhouses, meet new teammates, and much more, but you would guess that after settling in they’d produce more at home than far away from it. In order to actually know if this holds true, I ran a set of queries on to find out. I’ll be looking at rookie-season splits from 2000 to 2017 in which the players debuting were between 20 and 22 years of age (such as those of Moncada and Devers). A total of 87 players within those parameters have seen major-league action during the selected time span. So we’ll be working with 174 home/away splits in order to know if rookies of ages 20-22 have historically played better at home or away from it as we may expect.

First of all, I’ve looked at “playing time” stats, this is: games, games as a starter and plate appearances. As much as we could expect players to perform better at home than away over their first few games, we could expect teams to “protect” their rookies and deploy them more frequently at home than on the road. As it turns out, though, the statistics for the home and away splits are virtually the same for the three mentioned categories. First myth debunked.

Moving on to what really matters, production, we can try and see how well players have hit in their ballparks compared to other venues, and whether there are or not big differences in this aspect.

Subtle differences start to appear between the games played at home and those played away in terms of runs scored and hitting. There are no big differences between the splits, surely, but it seems that home performances have edged away ones by a hair during the past 17 years on average. The biggest different in any of the studied statistics comes in both the doubles and home-run categories at 0.3 points each in favour of the home split.

Another interesting set of statistics to look at are those related with base-stealing. By logic, players would be expected to feel more comfortable, confident and willing to steal bases at home rather than in other parks. Again, that preconception seems to be wrong. Between the 87 players studied, the average of steal attempts was higher away than at home, and even the success was five points higher when stealing in other ballparks rather than in their own one.

Finally, we must turn our attention to the game of percentages and look at the slash line of the analyzed players in terms of BA, OBP and SLG. On top of that, I included the average tOPS+ and sOPS+ values. The former of those last two is meant to represent the player’s OPS in the split relative to that player’s total OPS during the full season (not accounting for the home/away split), with a value greater than 100 indicating that he did better than usual in the split. The second one is the OPS in the split relative to the league’s split OPS (again, a value greater than 100 indicates the player did better than the league in this split).

And here is where our home/away splits, once for all, truly separate themselves. Not one, not two, not three, but every percentage value posted at home by the average 20-to-22 year-old rookie from 2000 to 2017 has been better than the number registered far from it, and not by little. The difference in BA is of 15 points, in OBP of 23, in SLG of 23, in tOPS+ of 13 and in sOPS+ of 4. That yields an average difference of 20.3 points in the slash line and of 8.5 in the OPS+ metrics, which is huge. It is interesting to see how the average rookie performance is under the league-average level (under 100 sOPS+) both at home and away, but how said average was able to put up much better numbers at home (106 tOPS+) than away (93 tOPS+).

Just in case the rest of the data didn’t make it clear, which it actually didn’t, this leaves no doubt or case for equity open. After all, rookies probably prefer to play at home, sweet home.

But now that we know that newcomers not older than 22 years when they play their first major-league games tend to perform better at home, it is just a thing of curiosity to explore some of the unique cases that have occurred during the past 17 seasons to the 88 players of our study. We have been looking at the average rookie during the past few paragraphs, but as expected, each case is unique in itself and would make for a complete study on its own. Next is a table containing the rookies with a 45+ point differential in tOPS+ (with at least 60 games played), so we can measure how different their production was at home and on the road. Players are ordered by the absolute difference, with negative values meaning their production away was better than that at their home ballpark.

As it turns out, only 16 of 72 players had differences of 45+ points in tOPS+ between their games at home and those played away. Of those 16, though, seven were better far from their team’s stadium, something not really expected, much less in the case of Stanton and his minus-94 differential.

Just for fun, let’s look at Giancarlo’s case, whose split numbers are radically different while having played almost the same amount of games home and away during his rookie season. In 180 PA at home he hit 29 balls, including 7 home runs, for a BA/OBP/SLG line of .182/.272/.599 and 52 total bases. In 216 PA away he hit 64 balls with 15 home runs, posting a .320/.370/1.020 slash line and getting 130 total bases. What could be seen as a terrible entry year by looking at just the production at home (league-relative sOPS+ of 60) turns into a monster season while considering what Stanton was able to do outside of Miami (183 sOPS+). Something similar happened to Jay Bruce, Logan Morrison or more recently Miguel Sano, only in opposite venues.

As a final note, it can also be seen how only six of the 16 players in the table above had a big differential while debuting prior to 2010. The other 10 players made their debuts from 2010 on, which could mean that the trend is for rookies to have much more variable productions in different venues that the average historical newcomer.

We still don’t know how Moncada and Devers will perform during the rest of the season, but if that last supposition holds true, then White Sox and Red Sox fans just can hope for their players to at least do more damage at home than away, so they get to watch their jewels explode in front of their own eyes instead of between different ballparks around the nation.