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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Major T.J. "King" Kong's Definitive Guide to Future Free Agency

Recent Winter Meetings have already begun to cultivate a pretty specific yield 

Baseball has seen a varied plurality of economic trends come and go. Right now, early extensions are in vogue. The strategy behind those contracts is obvious, but the results aren't always the proof of a GM's meditative genius. In any event, it's becoming more and more common to lock up players that have distinct roles in their GM's designs on the future -- whether they are "superstars" or not. The Royals locked up Alcides Escobar, the Angels extended most of their infield, the Brewers hooked Jonathan Lucroy, the Rays had their Wade Davis cake and made the Royals eat it too. There's ALEXEI!, Frankie Guitars (Franklin Gutierrez), Gavin Floyd, etc. Then there are the mega-deals like Votto's and Kemp's. Clearly there's a pattern. And it'll probably be rather effective, especially for smaller markets. But the frequency of these deals is beginning to affect one contrasting market's future, one that used to be all the rage itself -- Free Agency. 

The market has already seen a few runty crops because of this, but it's going to become even more diminutive in the near future. 

That's where dudes like Chris Davis and Jose Bautista are going to have to tip the scales. Guys that don't learn to hit until they are legitimate grown ups (well, as grown up as a costume-wearing bro playing a game can be).

The Cardinals will probably always be better at developing talent than, say, the Royals, but -- with draft slotting, international budgets, and the luxury tax -- the playing field is leveling to some extent. For teams looking to improve through free agency, the pickin's'll be slimmer. So teams will need to do their best to identify the late bloomers. The Bautistas. The Davises. Guys that Keith Law missed. Or that simply weren't good enough to warrant his celebrated attention in their late teens/early twenties. 

These guys may be the only prizes left. Of course, if you get a late bloomer of Davis or Bautista's stature, that's a pretty badass prize. But for every Chris Davis there are about three dozen Casey Kotchmen

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rosencrans and Phillipsturd

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason,
how infinite in faculties, in form and moving,
how express and admirable in action, how like an angel in apprehension,
how like a god, but for his OBP!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ESPN: A Brothel

Henri de Toulouse-LautrecSalon at the Rue des Moulins, 1894

If you haven't noticed yet, these guys will do anything for a click. Today on the front page of their MLB coverage, an article by ESPNChicago's Bruce Levine is featured. I have no prior experience reading Mr. Levine's work, and he may not have written the headline for his otherwise reputable story about Ernie Banks and his recent musings on President Obama.

This is just the most recent hook. They've been slinging it for a while now and most of their readers probably realize what they're getting themselves into. No one goes there for their integrity, come on, Colin Cowherd is employed by this behemothic, conglomerated void of journalistic tact. That's what it is. A black void that swallows all sport. 

Mr. Cub may not care for the side of Chicago baseball loyalties of Obama, but he clearly wasn't advocating the President to abstain from the office 5 years ago because he thought he was incapable. The title of the article is an effort to lure in readers who may have some interest in reading that Banks, a black man, didn't think Obama could cut it as commander-in-chief. Of course, Banks would've probably have been right to say that, seeing that Obama is a politician and those folks are pretty much the last sort of people that should be making important decisions. But the thing is, Banks just asked if Obama "was sure" he wanted to run, because it was an historical (and somewhat dangerous) thing to do. Before you start huffing about your coin-flip political views, remember: Just talking about ESPN here. 

The Entertainment and Sports Programming Network cannot be faulted for being the best or even having the most resources. But at a certain point, enough is enough. This is a thing that has outgrown its usefulness. There are plenty of places to read about sports, and not all of them have created an environment that breeds bait-and-switch hit-mongering propelled by the goals of their writers, clambering over each other to reach the summit - Rick Reilly territory. In other words, complacent success that is devoid of all value.

The Banks story isn't close to the height of ESPN's unscrupulous and foundationally anemic clicks-racket. They thrive in the perils of fame. When a young man or woman slips in the spotlight, ESPN makes sure no one can resist throwing tomatoes. They burn them in an unstirring effigy. Think about the boardroom meeting when the news broke about Jovan Belcher. There must've been brawl over who got to write that up - think of the hits! 

The truth is: It's almost impossible to avoid ESPN. But recognizing their ignominy seems important, even if it's simply a reiteration. 


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Beyond Your Sight

He should be praised for climbing; yet
The other man comes always from a height
And lives where praise can never get --
Beyond your sight.
Higher Men by Friedrich Nietzsche

At first, I thought Nietzsche was talking in generalities about his theory of the √úbermensch. Turns out, he was talking specifically about Clayton Kershaw. Actually, the subject of this quote is "He." Which, in this new revelation of the meaning of these words, is quite clearly a role that can only be played by Andrew McCutchen, the likely NL MVP. Kershaw is a virtual lock for the Cy Young. It would be his 2nd such award, but a very valid argument could be made that it should be his 3rd. Last year, R.A. Dickey won the NL Cy Young with a higher ERA & WHIP, a lower K/9, and a lower rWAR simply because of the weight still placed on the antiquated "wins" column. But no need to beat a Turin horse.

This year, Kershaw has been extraordinarily better than he was in 2012. And Dickey...well, he's in the AL now. As for McCutchen, he's "climbing" his ass off. He and Kershaw have both been worth 6.2 WAR, according to Baseball Reference (McCutchen has the edge in fWAR). But if Kershaw can maintain a sub-2 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP, he is the Most Valuable Player. No question about it. That kind of season has only graced the transitory hearts of spectators a handful of times in the history of baseball, and only a quarter-of-a-handful of times since the mounds came down in 1969. Sorry Mr. Gibson (Bob Gibson very appropriately won the NL Cy Young and MVP awards in 1968, pitching from a mound 10" higher than he would the following season).

Kershaw is elevating himself to Pedro-Maddux territory with this campaign, but sadly, he may not win the MVP award along with pitching's highest honor. ESPN projects him to finish with a 14-10 record this season, a figure that will severely injure his chances at doubling down like Justin Verlander did in 2011. For the sake of comparison, Andrew McCutchen has added 3.10 WPA according to FanGraphs. Kershaw has added 4.05. WPA is a counting stat that takes into account the circumstances of the game. And as a counting stat, it favors hitters to some extent. There are about twice as many hitters with a 3.0+ WPA this year, which is to say, those players have improved their teams chances to win in increments totaling >300% over the course of the season. McCutchen is playing exceptionally well also, but his 2013 isn't one of the best seasons ever by a center fielder by any means.

Regardless of the stats surrounding Kershaw, his own are historical. That is what should be recognized when MVP votes are being cast, because even a superhuman can't literally control his teammates' performance. Even Nietzsche would have to agree with that. 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Mr. 4,000

Danny Farquhar earned his second career save on Sunday, but that probably won't be the highlight of his career. Farquhar will probably tell his grandchildren one day about the time he was traded for one of the best all-around players the game of baseball has ever witnessed. 

Ichiro Suzuki is currently 64th on baseball's much revered all-time hits list. He needs just 12 more to pass the one-and-only Lou Gehrig, and it's conceivable that he may pass Babe Ruth (at 2,873) before his career comes to a ceremonious close. The Yankees have him under contract for 2014 and, although he isn't playing at an All Star level anymore, he's done some game-changing in his tenure as a Major Leaguer. He was named an All Star in his first 10 seasons, something only Johnny Bench has done. He also hit the only inside-the-parker in ASG history. He is one of only 5 outfielders to win a Gold Glove in 10 consecutive years. He led baseball in hits seven times. And the profundity goes on like that. 

But what isn't quantifiable is Ichiro's oeuvre. By my count he is 13 hits from 4,000 for his career in Japan and the US combined (2,709 in MLB and 1,228 in Japan). Only Pete Rose and Ty Cobb have recorded 4,000 or more hits in MLB, so he will be the first outwardly normal human being to reach that milestone. There's no way to tell how his JPPL numbers from 1992-2000 would translate to Major League numbers, but he made a pretty damn good argument for being able to dominate whatever league he played in. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Pythagoras Smiles

The Royals are an apple right off of the Pythagorean tree. In other words, they are perfectly following their mathematically probable path dictated by their run differential. It's not a profound thing to have done. A few other teams are currently in good standing with the old Ionian as well. Still, since Kansas City is being so deferential to their differential, why not assume they will do so with their paramount probability? 

According to ESPN, the Royals have a 10.2% chance of reaching the postseason. That's not great. It's a hell of a lot better than it has been. And it's been a lot more fun to watch as well. But the fact remains: The Royals are a long shot for the 2013 playoffs. And who knows if they can get anywhere close to the same results in their other window year. That would be the only other year James Shields is under the Midwestern constraints of a KC contract for Dayton Moore's devil-may-care chip-pushing. Although, he may or may not be around for it, but that's another story altogether. 

That 10.2% may have been aided by the team's 22-17 record in one run games and their 8-2 record in extra innings. When the margins for error shrink, so does the team's capability to influence them. That is to say, luck has to go your way, to some extent, to end up on the sunny side of those games. They also have 25 games remaining against teams above .500 and a record of 28-33 against such teams. Not to mention the fact that that number up there drops to 7.9% when only considering the Wild Card, which is their only true chance at a meaningful October.

Kansas City can disregard those isolated records when it comes to Pythagoras, but they should not overlook the fact that, no matter who is running the show, they are at their proudest moment in the last decade - while sitting in 3rd place in the average AL Central. Just because mathematics indicates they aren't a farm team for the coasts right now doesn't mean they can't end up right back there if they rest on their hot little laurels.

El Caballero de la Noche Ascienda

It may not be happening in "Gotham," but Miami's Jose Fernandez is a hero in his own right. In fact, if it weren't for Matt Harvey, Fernandez would be the most sensational new bad ass on the NL East's schoolyard. And Fernandez is doing it at age 20. A lot of 20 year-olds can't even watch an entire baseball game. This guy is mowing down the best hitters in the world. At the same age, Harvey was pitching to hitters from the Cape Cod League, albeit rather well. Fernandez joins a pretty elite list of 20 year-old All Stars (Al Kaline, Frank Robinson, Johnny Bench, Bryce Harper and ahem...ARod, amongst others) by making the NL squad this season. This is not meant to detract from Harvey in any way, of course, as his first full season has been absolutely epiphanic. But Fernandez deserves a Christopher Nolan nod, too.

Their "bane" is the same, though. Somehow, they both have 8 wins to their name despite playing for two pretty atrocious teams, but give JFern the most credit as far as that goes. He pitches for the worst offensive team in baseball. In fact, the Marlins (a name that has become synonymous with satire) are the worst offense through August 2nd since the Mariners failed to score 350 runs in 2010. Even this year's punchlining Astros team has Miami topped by 60 runs. That's baaad

Harvey has his fellow righty whipped in a few categories, though. Namely, WHIP. But these two pitchers appear to be set up to face off in the NL East for some time, as both are under team control until 2019. The Marlins may have another firesale before then, but this dynamic duo could rival the Kershaw-Bumgarner antagonism as the best divisional toe-to-toeing over the next 5 years. It's going to be fun to watch, but Fernandez seems destined to play the role of the bad guy, since Harvey plays for a team that actually has at least a handful of fans.