Archive for August, 2014

Why Young Prospect Bats Struggle Early

Early in the 2014 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates were getting criticized from all angles over their treatment of prospect Gregory Polanco. The 22-year-old outfielder carried a .400 average into May for Triple-A Indianapolis, while Travis Snider (82 wRC+ over the first two months) and Jose Tabata (84) struggled in right field for a Pirates club that at one point sank to 9.5 games out in the NL Central.

While Pirates general manager Neal Huntington indicated that he felt Polanco needed more time in Triple-A, the team was accused of being cheap — for reasonably wanting to ensure that they delayed Polanco’s free agency by a year — or overly conservative, watching the division slip away a year after making the playoffs for the first time in two decades. When Polanco finally came up in June and promptly set a Pirates rookie record by collecting at least one hit in each of his first 11 games, it seemed as though perhaps the dissenters had a point.

On Monday, Polanco was optioned back to Triple-A. He’d struggled so badly after his hot start that his wRC+ now sits at 88, 12 percent below league average and barely better than what Snider and Tabata had done. It’s a valuable lesson: No matter what the minor league stat line says, hotshot-prospect hitters often struggle in their first extended look in the majors. So why is that? Read the rest of this entry »


Washington’s Path To The World Series

Even before the Washington Nationals ripped off 10 wins in a row and counting, they were extremely well-positioned to win the NL East, if only due to the lack of competition. The Mets, Phillies and Marlins aren’t serious contenders this season, and the Braves have played losing baseball (50-54) for months since getting off to a 17-7 start. Before their winning streak started, FanGraphs had the Nationals’ odds of winning the division at 92.4 percent. Now it’s 98.2 percent. Barring a calamitous collapse, this race is over.

Of course, the Nationals don’t have their goals set simply on a division title. After bowing out in the first round of the 2012 playoffs and missing October entirely in 2013, their mandate is to win the World Series — and it might be the best-positioned National League team to get there. Here’s why. Read the rest of this entry »


Hanley Ramirez Should Play Third

Hanley Ramirez will be activated from the disabled list in a week, which means the Los Angeles Dodgers have a big decision to make. While the Dodgers are likely to cruise into the postseason, they haven’t exactly locked down the division just yet. To do so, and then get to the Fall Classic, the team will need to keep Ramirez healthy. And that leads to the question: Which position should he be playing? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for putting Ramirez at shortstop or third base.

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The Wild, Messy NL MVP Race

By just about any measure you care to use, Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has been the best player in the National League this year. Before he dropped off the leaderboards earlier this week, he was leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. You can say “yeah, but Coors Field …” because those stats are not park-adjusted, but wRC+ is, and his 173 mark was still the best. Add in some very good defense at an important position, and Tulowitzki was worth every bit of the league-leading 5.1 WAR that FanGraphs has him down for.

You’d think that such credentials would make him an easy MVP leader, but it isn’t going to happen. Even if a disappointingly high percentage of voters didn’t still cling to the outdated notion that MVPs can come only from winning teams — the Rockies are, of course, awful again this year — the recent news of Tulowitzki’s season-ending hip surgery essentially ends his candidacy.

Now our attention turns to the other MVP options in the NL, and you realize … wow, what a mess. Five of last year’s top eight NL vote-getters are either on the disabled list right now or have spent considerable time there this year. Between the fact that there are 11 non-Tulo players who already are worth more than 4.0 WAR, and the fact that almost all of them have some sort of perceived issue that can easily be pointed to, the 2014 NL MVP race may end up being the most debated — and fractured — we’ve seen in years, especially when compared to the AL, which has a pretty clear-cut favorite in Mike Trout.

With about six weeks left before votes are due, who will pull away? Can anyone? Let’s have a look: Read the rest of this entry »


The Curse Of The Unnecessary Contract Extension

When the Phillies gave first baseman Ryan Howard a five-year extension worth $125 million in April 2010, the deal was roundly ridiculed throughout baseball. Howard was a one-tool player, and older than most people realized — thanks to the presence of Jim Thome in Philly, his first stint as a full-time major leaguer came at 26. By the time GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gave him that suspect extension, Howard was already 30 years old.

Making matters worse, the deal didn’t even start immediately; instead, it was tacked on to the end of his contract. Starting in 2012, or almost two full seasons after it was signed, Howard’s new contract would run through the 2016 season, just shy of his 37th birthday.

If two seasons doesn’t seem like that long, think about what Major League Baseball looked like exactly two years ago. At this time in 2012, David Wright was coming off a monster first half, and Chase Headley was in the midst of a monster stretch run; both third basemen were arguably among the top five players in the game. Over in the American League, Derek Jeter was on his way to leading the majors in hits. Justin Verlander was a year removed from being the league MVP and Cy Young winner. Nobody had ever heard of Yasiel Puig. The Houston Astros were still in the National League.

In baseball, a lot can change in a short period of time.

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Four Young Pitchers Showing They Belong

Not all great pitchers are picked at the top of the draft, like Clayton Kershaw or David Price, or imported expensively from overseas, like Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish. As we all know, young, quality arms often sneak up on us, emerging from under the radar to provide an unexpected boost.

For these four young pitchers, there’s hope that what they’ve shown in 2014 is just the start of things to come — that soon, despite fairly modest pedigrees, they could prove to be an irreplaceable part of a big league roster for years to come. Read the rest of this entry »