Throughout the season I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 10, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 10! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (5-2 last week, 38-24 overall) → Like their Bay Area mates the Giants, Oakland are lapping the field in terms of run differential (their mark of +118 is more than double the next best team, the Blue Jays). Unlike San Francisco however, the rest of their division is looking pretty frisky too, with only the Astros rocking a losing record amongst the other four AL West teams. They might well be the best team in the AL, but the A’s are going to have to be on their game all year long to stay at the summit of their own division with such stellar competition.
- Toronto Blue Jays (5-1, 38-25) ↑ As a starter, Marcus Stroman has pitched 12 innings of 1.50 ERA ball, walking two while striking out 13. As a reliever, he was rocked for 9 earned runs in just 6.1 innings, and had a 2.21 WHIP. A small sample size admittedly, but lets keep handing Stroman the ball to start games, rather than finish them, eh Mr. Gibbons?
- Detroit Tigers (2-4, 33-25) ↓ Three weeks ago, the Tigers looked like they were pulling away from the rest of the AL Central. Having just swept the Red Sox in a three-game series at Fenway Park, getting some measure of revenge for the 2013 ALCS, they stood seven games clear in the division, at 27-12. Since then however, Detroit has gone 6-13, and seen their division lead cut back down to 4. Surprisingly at the forefront of the Tigers’ struggles is their usually dominant pitching; Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer have both been excellent, and Rick Porcello his steady self, but Drew Smyly has failed to live up to expectations since being promoted to the rotation in place of the departed Doug Fister, and Justin Verlander looks to be a shell of his former self. Remember the panic this time last year when the 2011 AL MVP had a 3.71 ERA after 13 starts? Well this year, he’s gotten off to an even worse start – through 13 starts, he has a 4.19 ERA, a heightened walk rate (3.7 BB/9 compared to a career mark of 2.8, and a 2.0 figure in that career 2011 season), and is displaying a diminished strikeout rate (just 6.4 k/9 after averaging 9.0 over the prior four seasons). In return for collecting $20 million in salary this year, Verlander has been distinctly average, as proven by his 101 ERA+. Of course, Verlander rebounded in the second half last season, and might still be getting back into the swing of things after offseason core surgery, but at 31 years old, and owed $28 million per season for the next five years, I’d say there’s significant cause for concern amongst Tigers fans.
- Los Angeles Angels (3-3, 33-28) →
- Baltimore Orioles (4-2, 31-29) ↑
- Seattle Mariners (4-1, 32-29) ↑
- New York Yankees (2-5, 31-30) ↓ New York’s record in games in which Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t pitched you ask? 21-28. First on the list of pointers for improvement, stop playing Brendan Ryan at first base while riding with Derek Jeter at shortstop! If you couldn’t tell, this drives me insane.
- Chicago White Sox (3-3, 31-32) ↑ Just as I was about ready to gush about how amazing Chris Sale had been of late, Mike Trout happened. Oh well. Prior to the eighth inning last night, Sale had allowed just 5 hits in 31 innings, a mere 7 to the last 107 batters he had faced, and owned a 0.72 ERA over his last four starts. Of course, after 93 pitches and seven scoreless innings last night, aided by an error, he allowed all five Angels he faced in the bottom of the eight to score, as L.A. erased a 5-0 deficit in the blink of an eye. Still, as of right now, I’m of the belief that the man known as ‘The Condor’ is the best pitcher in the AL. Mike Trout is the Most Valuable Horse after all.
- Cleveland Indians (5-1, 31-31) ↑ In his second game back off the 7-day concussion DL, Carlos Santana yesterday went 2-2, with 2 walks, a home run and a single, lifting the Tribe to an 8-3 win over the Rangers. No more games behind the plate for Mr. Santana methinks…
- Boston Red Sox (1-5, 27-34) ↓ They lose 10 in a row. They win 7 in a row. They lose 6 in a row. Why Boston, must you make it so incredibly difficult for me to rank you?!
- Texas Rangers (3-3, 31-31) ↓ Just hours after Kendrys Morales, you know, a designated hitter/first baseman type, signed with the Twins, Mitch Moreland, you know, Texas’ designated hitter/first baseman type, who had replaced Prince Fielder, you know, the Rangers’ presumed first baseman/designate hitter type after he went down with injury, was announced to be in need of reconstructive ankle surgery, and out for the next three months. The Rangers now have made 19 DL moves this season. No other team has made more than 12.
- Kansas City Royals (4-3, 30-32) ↓ Eric Hosmer home run alert! I repeat, Eric Hosmer home run alert!
- Minnesota Twins → (4-3, 29-31) The Twins came out of nowhere yesterday to ink Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal, thought to be “in the ballpark” of the $10 million contract that Stephen Drew signed with the Red Sox in May. After the 30-year-old hit .277 with 23 home runs and 80 RBIs with Seattle last season, he’ll likely slot into the DH spot which has preeminently been manned by Josmil Pinto (19 GP) this year. Jason Kubel was designated for assignment in a corresponding roster move.
- Tampa Bay Rays (1-6, 24-39) → The Rays are holding on to 14th place in these rankings by the skin of their teeth, probably because I still can’t comprehend fully how they are three games back of the Astros. Seriously, I look at the standings and think it’s a mistake. Things have got to a point with the Rays however, where Joe Maddon‘s optimistic tweets, have got about as much baloney to them as the sandwiches he makes in the clubhouse.
- Houston Astros (3-3, 27-36) → Not a bad way to get your first hit Jon Singleton.
Throughout the season (minus last week, when I was vacationing at Safeco Field), I’m separately assessing the fortunes of teams in the NL and AL, and ranking them accordingly. Standings aren’t dependent on record alone and factor in such elements as injuries, strength of competition, and acquisitions, amongst other things. Yesterday, in The Senior Class: Week 9, I ordered the NL. Today, it’s the turn of the AL. It’s The Designated 15 – Week 9! (All records correct as of Sunday morning).
- Oakland Athletics (7-6 over the last fortnight, 33-22 overall) ↑ With a run differential of +112, the A’s are lapping the rest of the American League; the four other teams who can boast a positive differential – Detroit, Toronto, LA, and Seattle (Seattle?!) – when combined, have a +98 mark. I would highlight a single player, Josh Donaldson for example, and point to their individual success as fuel to the team’s fire, but everyone – Brandon Moss, Derek Norris, Yoenis Cespedes, even Kyle Blanks since being acquired from the Padres – has been getting it done of late. As usual, the A’s are winning without runaway star contributors, and as usual, no one is batting an eyelid.
- Detroit Tigers (5-9, 31-21) ↓
- Toronto Blue Jays (10-3, 33-24) ↑ Speaking of turning heads, I present the Toronto Blue Jays, and most particularly, Edwin Encarnacion, in the month of May. Perhaps inspired by the Raptors’ #WeTheNorth campaign, The Jays turned up in a big way over the past 31 days, going 21-9 in that span, including a 9-game stretch in which they consecutively swept Boston, Oakland, and Tampa Bay. Plenty has been made of Encarnacion, who in tying Mickey Mantle for the most home runs in the month of May by an AL player launched balls over a mile and a quarter, and the rest of the powerful Toronto offense (they’ve failed to hit a long ball in just two games over the past fortnight), but it will be pitching that will keep the Jays at the AL East summit. Even with Mark Buehrle continuing to defy the advanced metrics, and top prospect Marcus Stroman living up to the hype in his first start (the diminutive righty held the Royals to one run on five hits with no walks and five strikeouts over six innings yesterday), the club remain linked to Jeff Samardzija. One of just two teams not to make the postseason this millennium, and considering the current state of the AL East, pushing all their chips into middle by trading for Samardzija, might not be a bad idea for team GM Alex Anthopolous.
- Los Angeles Angels (7-6, 30-25) ↓ Mike Trout is out of the lineup today with back stiffness. Along with his OPS dropping to ‘just’ .929 this year, I’m beginning to think that maybe he isn’t a cyborg solely designed to break baseball records anymore, and might even have some human flaws.
- New York Yankees (7-6, 29-25) →
- Baltimore Orioles (5-8, 27-27) ↓ Nelson Cruz is being paid $8 million this year. Nelson Cruz has 20 home runs, a 186 OPS+, and a 2.2 WAR value. It’s the first day of June.
- Seattle Mariners (7-6, 27-28) ↑ After my Memorial Day visit, I officially love Safeco Field, which was made even better by the Mariners soundly beating the Angels. Seeing Chris Young throw five innings of no-hit ball was definitely unexpected, as was my mother taking a liking to Justin Smoak simply because of his name. The Mariners, even slow-footed Robinson Cano, victimizing poor Hank Conger on the basepaths for three stolen bases in one inning was pretty darn entertaining too.
- Boston Red Sox (6-7, 26-29) ↓ After enduring a brutal 10-game losing streak, the Red Sox have now amassed a six-game winning streak. In between a pair of walk-off wins, the continued war of words between David Ortiz and David Price, and Clay Buchholz‘s struggles though, perhaps most notably, some of the kids that Boston placed so much emphasis on prior to the season have finally started coming through; since the start of that dreadful losing streak, Xander Bogaerts has stormed his way to a .397/.465/.603 line, and Rubby De La Rosa, acquired in the Dodgers dump, impressively fired seven scoreless innings of four-hit ball yesterday, striking out 8 Rays along the way. Now, if only the Sox could get Jackie Bradley Jr. to improve his ghastly 66 OPS+ too…
- Texas Rangers (8-5, 28-28) ↑
- Chicago White Sox (7-6, 28-29) ↑
- Kansas City Royals (5-8, 26-29) ↓ Reading Rany Jazayerli’s Twitter rants, whether they be concerning Ned Yost‘s latest gaffe, Dayton Moore’s continued incompetence, Kansas City’s punchless offense, another hitting coach being fired, potential James Shields trades, or Mike Moustakas‘ quick demotion/promotion swing, never gets old. Being a fan of the Royals must get stale pretty quickly I’m guessing.
- Cleveland Indians (7-6, 26-30) ↑
- Minnesota Twins (4-8, 25-28) ↓ Struggling center fielder Aaron Hicks has abandoned switch-hitting, and will now bat exclusively from the right side. Sounds like a good idea in theory considering his awful offensive production, minus the fact that Hicks has actually been substantially better from the left side so far this year; the 24-year-old has a .250/.400/.325 line as a southpaw in 2014, compared to a brutal .154/.280/.205 line as a righty. The Byron Buxton Era can’t come soon enough up at Target Field.
- Tampa Bay Rays (4-8, 23-33) ↓ Does much more need to be said? I suppose it could be mentioned that Tampa are in the midst of a 5-game tailspin, and Wil Myers is now on the disabled list too.
- Houston Astros (9-5, 24-33) → Naturally, in the time I was on vacation, and thus not paying attention to my fantasy baseball teams, George Springer went off while slotted in one of my bench spots. In that May 24th to 29th span, in 34 plate appearances Springer had 6 home runs, walked more often than he struck out (5BBs to 4Ks), possessed a .417 average, and accrued a ridiculous 1.767 OPS mark. Even more ludicrously, the Astros went 6-0 and are now no longer the worst team (by record anyway) in the American League. Now excuse me while I go light myself on fire…
Boy, the baseball Gods are in a vengeful mood this year. Anyone have any idea what has upset them? It’s evidently not Yasiel Puig‘s bat-flips like some of the old curmudgeon sports writers would have you believe – he’s still standing after all. Still, they’re smiting down other young, exciting, and crucial players at a depressingly prolific rate right now. It’s getting ridiculous – just ask the poor Texas Rangers, who can barely cobble together a starting rotation anymore. Is there a player we can send as some sort of sacrifice offering to appease them? No one would miss Josh Lueke I’m guessing – probably not even the Rays. Fine, too drastic a measure. Until you come up with something better to end the madness though, here’s a quick rundown of some of the more important figures who were sidelined over the past weekend, and a reason perhaps why the higher powers don’t want them taking the field.
In the case of Gio Gonzalez, the logic of the Gods is easy; in a year in which nearly every team has a starter missing from the rotation, why should one team allowed to be fully healthy? Boosted by the return of Doug Fister (who turned in a very nice seven innings of one run ball in his second start last Thursday), the Nationals had all of eight days with a fully healthy starting staff before Gio Gonzalez was given the special treatment. After being rocked for 7 earned runs in just 4.1 innings in his previous start against the Athletics, Gio was once taken behind the woodshed on Saturday, allowing 5 runs to the Mets of all offenses, lasting just 3 innings to boot. After telling the club he was struggling to find any consistency with his arm slot – a precursor for shoulder trouble – he was given an MRI on Sunday morning. The results came back negative however, so for now the 28-year-old lefty is only on the 15-day DL with slight shoulder inflammation, joining the likes of Bryce Harper, Adam Laroche and Ryan Zimmerman in watching from the bench.
It’s dubious exactly why, but poor Will Middlebrooks seems to have had the worst of injury luck in his young career. Maybe his two trips to the DL already this year are a form of karmic retribution for taking Jenny Dell away from us on NESN Red Sox broadcasts, but permitting a sixteen-year-old to take her to prom should surely make up for something. Anyhow, after seeing his promising rookie year cut short by a wrist fracture caused by a HBP, suffering through torn cartilage in his rib cage and lower back problems in 2013, and then injuring his calf earlier this year, Middlebrooks will once again be making himself comfortable in the Boston training room for a while after sustaining a non-displaced fracture of his right index finger during Saturday’s game against the Tigers. Ian Kinsler‘s scorching line drive apparently left the digit bent and discolored, and it will now be immobilized in a split for the next five to seven days. No return timetable has been set of yet, but batting .197 at the moment, maybe Middlebrooks needed some extended time off anyway. He gets to spend more time with Jenny now too, so it can’t be all that bad.
Oh, Andrew Cashner… My fingers are sincerely crossed that you aren’t the next young, hard-throwing pitcher to have caught the Tommy John plague, but I’m very concerned. You’ve tempted fate all year with that 2.35 ERA, 143 OPS+ and 2.76 K/BB ratio; we should have learnt by now that as baseball fans, we aren’t allowed nice things (see Harvey, Matt last year). So of course, with the Padres looking like coming around somewhat, the Gods were going to pick you next to reminds us of our cruel mortality. It would have been Nate Eovaldi, but that dreadful mullet you sport, and the fact they’ve already taken Jose Fernandez from the Marlins this year, swung it in your (dis-)favor. Hopefully your sore elbow will require nothing more than the 15-day DL stint set out for you, but with a history of injuries (albeit shoulder ones), you’re not giving us much reason for hope here.
Seriously though, why did you have to take down Jose Abreu though – is leading the major leagues in home runs as a rookie not sacred anymore? I can understand wanting to get Paul Konerko some extra playing time in his final year, but wouldn’t just Abreu having a tight back for a couple of days be sufficient? Instead, it had to be posterior tibia tendinitis in the ankle, a nagging injury that will likely plague the 27-year-old all year long rather than heal completely during his short time on the disabled list. Do you know how important the back foot achilles is to power hitters? Just look at Ryan Howard (though he wasn’t great to start with). Is this all some part of a weird Cuban vendetta? First it was Aroldis Chapman taking a liner to the head, then Fernandez, and now this.
Maybe Puig should be looking out for himself after all…
You certainly can’t blame John Farrell for his post game comment “it’s not been a good night.” He’d just seen his Boston Red Sox get pasted by their AL East arch-rival – the New York Yankees – in an ugly affair that took a marathon 3 hours, 51 minutes to complete. His much-vaunted lineup had seemed disinclined to swing at any of C.C. Sabathia‘s sluggish offerings (seriously, someone get C.C. a feed bag of Captain Crunch quick – he looks horrible right now), Jacoby Ellsbury was lacing hits seemingly every time he came up to bat, and Boston’s starting pitcher Felix Doubront was abysmal; it most certainly was not a good night – at least from his perspective.
But for the objective fan of baseball (like me), woah boy. Never before had the end of a 14-5 game been so exciting, completely because Farrell had actually prefaced his lament with a phrase that is like catnip to an impartial observer: “Any time you end up with a position player on the mound (it’s not been a good night).” Position player + pitching = high comedy. In yesterdays instance, having already used three relievers to combine for 5 1/3 innings, first baseman/occasional outfielder/pinch-hitter/NON-PITCHER Mike Carp was asked by Boston to stretch his valuable versatility even further, and climb the mound for the top of the ninth. And thus, as is always the case whenever a position player is summoned to the bump, an otherwise-boring game suddenly became must-watch (mlb.)TV.
It all started so promisingly – after being cheered voraciously to the mound by the remaining Fenway faithful, and walking Mark Teixeira, Carp (somewhat hilariously) induced a 6-5-3 double play from the second batter of the inning, Brian McCann; Carp would later acknowledge “That was cool right off the bat.” Unfortunately (for him and the Sox at least), that would be the highlight of the inning, because with two outs and none on, the wheels officially came off – and the exceptional performance began.
Mixing a genuine 66 to 70 mph knuckleball with what appeared to be both a four-seam and two-seam ‘heater’ (offerings that apparently ranged from 79 to 84 mph), Carp would walk the next four hitters – pushing across a run – before getting pinch-hitter Kelly Johnson to pop-up to David Ross for the final out. Though he didn’t cede a hit, Carp would face seven batters, and throw a total of 38 pitches – only 15 of which were strikes*! The resultant plot graph of his pitch location was a masterpiece in horrible command/beautiful entertainment:
More than simply that analytical equivalent to the Mona Lisa though, Carp’s outing provided additional entertainment value thanks to the trolling tweets, inspired trivia questions, and exquisitely tongue-in-cheek scouting analysis that followed. Furthermore, though Carp was quoted post-game in saying “Obviously, I’m not taking it too seriously out there,” the shaking off of his catcher at least once and look in at the umpire when he disagreed with a non-strike call suggested otherwise – only adding to the mirth-factor of his pitching debut.
Now this is not intended to bash Carp – he actually looked incredibly comfortable in an otherwise tough spot, and admirably saved an already-taxed Boston bullpen from further embarrassment – but his appearance last night was brilliant in its exceptionally farcical nature. The Yankees looked genuinely unwilling to swing in fear of inciting a brawl (or just couldn’t reach that far outside the zone). It wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a position player seen on a mound this year either, nor will it likely be the last, but Mike Carp’s outing may well be the funniest come seasons end.
Only if you’re not John Farrell that is.
As a recent inductee into the much-fêted Torn ACL Club, (there’s only one membership requirement, but I wouldn’t recommend it), a subdivision of the Busted Knee Alliance, I’ve a fairly new appreciation of professional sportsmen who come back from serious injury. Mine was fairly innocuous all things considered, and yet still, after one day of rehab work, already my quadriceps have fallen out with me. So whether it be Yasmani Grandal, Tyler Pastornicky, Scott Sizemore, Corey Hart, or even (hopefully) Manny Machado – really anyone who has ever had knee problems – I’m rooting for you to succeed this year regardless of the laundry you wear. Hence why I’ll be crossing my fingers in sincere hope that Grady Sizemore’s health permits him to stick in the Boston outfield mix for the whole of 2014.
I’ve only ever known Sizemore as an injury prone player; that’s how long his various afflictions have plagued him. After all, he’s undergone seven surgeries since 2009 alone, including (amongst treatment for his left elbow, a pair of sports hernias, and in 2012, a herniated disk in his lower back) microfracture procedures on both knees. When he last appeared in a regular season game on Sept. 22, 2011, an 11-2 win for his Cleveland Indians over the Chicago White Sox, Sizemore was apparently a shell of his former self – not that I noticed. My newly-acquired baseball fandom knew nothing of his time as perhaps the most dynamic player in the game.
I’ll leave it to Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs to point out just how good Sizemore was back in the days in which he once played 382 straight games:
Between 2005 and 2008 — Sizemore’s age-22 and age-25 seasons — only Ichiro Suzuki played in more games, and only Ichiro and Jose Reyes batted more times. Between 22 and 25, Sizemore was worth 26.8 WAR, 20th in baseball history. Names around him include Evan Longoria, Barry Bonds, David Wright and Andruw Jones. He was worth 5.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances, 58th in baseball history. Names around him include Hank Greenberg, Hanley Ramirez, Frank Robinson and Reggie Jackson.
By the end of his age 25 season in 2008, Sizemore already had 111 home runs, 117 stolen bases, three All-Star Games, two Gold Gloves, a Silver Slugger award and three top-12 MVP finishes… After 2008, Sizemore owned a career .279/.370/.491 over 3,109 plate appearances. His 127 OPS+ made him just the ninth center fielder since integration to post a 120 OPS+ or better in at least 2,500 plate appearances by age 25.
By all measures – entertaining video highlights included – Sizemore was one of the five best position players in baseball, at just the tender age of 25 looking set to be an MVP candidate for years to come. And yet if it weren’t for his Spring Training play for the Boston Red Sox over the last couple of weeks, I’d never have known.
While my Reds were also supposedly in on him, the now 31-year-old Sizemore was lured to the reigning champion Red Sox by a one year, $750,000 major league deal (plus incentives that can take him past $6 million). Even with Jacoby Ellsbury departed to the Yankees, it seemed an odd decision, Boston not only having Jackie Bradley Jr. on the way up to play center, but a gluttony of players for every other outfield spot too – a stellar group consisting of Shane Victorino, Mike Carp, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes. A lottery ticket without a clear opportunity to begin with, the underwhelming performance of Bradley (batting .189 thus far) in combination with flashes of the old brilliance – including two spectacular grabs made in the field against the Cardinals on Monday – have not only assured Sizemore sticks with the club, but may well have pushed him up through the once-presumed clogged depth chart into a starting role.
Even if he will forever struggle to remain fully healthy, Boston, with their considerable outfield depth, will give him the best opportunity to showcase the offensive skills that once put him in such elite company. As evidenced this Spring, when healthy, Sizemore can still contribute, and could potentially be another monumental bargain for the Sox. Much like former Indians teammate CC Sabathia, I’ll be pulling for Grady Sizemore all year regardless of his performance. Just getting back out onto the field healthy is achievement enough.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Billy Beane saw value where few else did.
Drafted in the 8th round out of high school way back in 2002 by the Boston Red Sox, as an infielder and pitcher, Brandon Moss was slowly transitioned to the outfield and eventually made his ML debut in 2007. With Boston’s strong positional depth though, the lefty never caught on with the club; by 2008, he was packaged to Pittsburgh as part of the Manny Ramirez to L.A. deal. The Pirates however, saw nothing to their liking either, and designated for assignment the Georgia native in 2010. Moss cleared waivers without a claim and found himself outrighted to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. Attempting to catch on elsewhere in 2011, he signed a minor-league free agent deal to play in Philadelphia, but would receive just 6 at-bats with the Phillies. Then, in 2012, with the 28 year old a free agent once again, Oakland came calling.
Since then, well, I’ll leave it to David Fiers of Fangraphs to explain the colossal bargain Oakland (typically) acquired: “among first baseman with at least 750 plate appearances, Moss’ .381 wOBA ranks fifth and his 146 wRC+ rates as fourth best. Socking 51 dingers over that time frame places Moss eighth and his 139 RBIs come in at 15th.” Again, the Phillies only gave this guy 6 at-bats in 2011, nor did Moss ever receive more than 250 in his time with either Boston or Pittsburgh. What the hell happened then, for Brandon Moss’ production to spike so dramatically as soon as he shrugged on an Athletics jersey?!
Though it’s by now common knowledge that many hitters perform far better against opposite-handed pitchers, many teams still either choose to ignore, or don’t possess the necessary positional flexibility to fully take advantage of, platoon pairing. Thankfully for Moss, Beane’s Athletics are not one of those teams – in fact, along with Tampa Bay (it’s not a coincidence both are low-budget organizations), they consistently wring offensive production from small investments by forming platoons. But while Matt Joyce remains the long-time poster boy of the strategy in Tampa, Brandon Moss might just be the biggest platoon beneficiary of anyone currently employed in the league.
After racking up 21 HRs, 52 RBIs, and a slash line of .291/.358/.596 (*cough* .359 BABIP *cough*) in 84 games in 2012, Moss received a career-high 505 plate appearances as the Athletics’ primary first baseman in 2013. Of those, 417 were against right-handed pitches, and boy, did the lefty crush ‘em;
As shown in the table above, Moss was a full 68 points better in batting average and 164 points better in slugging percentage versus right-handers, against whom he slugged 26 of his 30 home runs. Additionally he walked more and struck out less when facing righties, his platoon use alleviating concerns about the slugger’s plate discipline.
Credit where credit’s due, given consistent playing time for the first time in his career, Moss did make strides in regard to his approach at the dish; his walk rate reached almost 10% and, although still very high (27.7%), he cut his strikeout rate by almost 3% over the season – an improvement made almost entirely over the second half of the season (his K% went from 30.8 to 23.2. after the All-Star break), helped by both his declined proclivity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and also by a raised contact rate. His power too, despite the offense-supressing reputation of Oakland’s home ballpark, the O.co Coliseum, was legitimate rather than fluky; his ISO of .267 ranked third among qualified hitters, while according to ESPN’s home run tracker, the average true distance of his home runs was 403.7 feet – 20 of his 30 dingers were judged “Plenty” or “No Doubt” (meaning they cleared the fence by at least 20 feet).
It’s clear by the numbers however, that Moss was helped most in breaking out during 2013 by Bob Melvin’s line-up writing ability – put in the best position to succeed by his manager, the lefty did just that. Hitting on a situational basis, Moss is clearly among the best power bats in the game, and a bargain at his 2014 price of $4.1M if he can replicate the 2.2 WAR he accumulated in 2013. Alongside the performance of fellow oft-overlooked contributors Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick, Moss’ continued righty-crushing will go a long way towards Oakland defending their AL West division crown.
Let’s just hope he won’t have to face too many lefties come playoff time.
As previously detailed in my case for Noah Syndergaard, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time for an AL ROY pick. Let’s just say it isn’t quite the dark horse equivalent to my NL selection…
Brian Cashman only projects his Japanese import to be a third starter, despite Masahiro Tanaka’s Spring Training so far. Jose Abreu might hit 30 home runs, but he may also struggle to just make contact. Houston’s stud outfielder George Springer will similarly come up with nothing but air far too many times. Taijuan Walker already has shoulder soreness. Kyle Zimmer may not get an opportunity to crack the Royals’ rotation, especially if Ervin Santana returns. I briefly flirted with the idea of Nick Castellanos, but let’s face it – there can only really be one AL ROY. It’s obviously Xander Bogaerts.
It’s not often that a player can boast about being a key cog on a World Series champion one year while still retaining his rookie eligibility for the next, but the no. 2 prospect in all of baseball can. The fact that Bogaerts only flashed his potential in his major-league cameo too, yet still drew rave reviews for his performance, should have the rest of the AL East on notice. As assessed by Marc Hulet of Fangraphs, the Aruba native “could be a perennial all-star at either shortstop or third base for years to come in Boston.”
The then-20 year old earned his one-way ticket to Fenway Park on the back of his combining to accrue an .865 OPS between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. He played sparingly during the regular season however, appearing in only 18 games and hitting .250/.320/.364 over 50 plate appearances. Then came October. Despite his youth, Bogaerts was asked to take over as Boston’s starting third baseman in the middle of the ALCS, and took full advantage of the opportunity; as put by Baseball Prospectus “he looked like a veteran of huge, high-leverage, bright-spotlight moments when it counted, drawing key walks and scoring runs when the Red Sox needed them most.” And if their testimony to his precocious ability to belie his years weren’t enough, just ask Max Scherzer about his already incredible approach at the plate.
At 6’3 and 185 lbs, Bogaerts is bigger than the traditional shortstop, but with Boston’s apparent lack of interest in re-signing Stephen Drew, that will be the position he plays everyday in 2014, with Will Middlebrooks back manning third. By all accounts, his defense will be at least average for the position, with his offense primed to set him apart from his shortstop peers. Dubbed by Keith Law to be “Troy Tulowitzki with a little less arm”, Fangraphs judged his approach to be advanced for age. Similarly, in their Top 100 Prospects write-up, MLB.com assessed of Bogaerts’ offensive skills “He uses his smooth, balanced swing to make hard contact and drive the ball to all fields. He has big raw power and already knows how to use it.” So while it may be hard for him to replicate the .893 OPS he put up during the postseason, it’s neither an unattainable target for the young star to strive for in his first full season. To put it plainly, such a mark will likely be the regulation mark for Bogaerts in the future should he continue adeptly handling the heightened competition – an adaptation he has made successfully at every stop of his professional career so far.
Projected to begin the season hitting seventh in a potent Red Sox lineup, and with no competition (yet) for his position, Bogaerts has a great opportunity to accrue the sort of counting stats (RBIzzzzzz!) ROY voters traditionally love. His being on a nationally recognized, winning team too will only further bolster his case, setting him apart from most of his fellow junior circuit rookies. The award is his to lose at this point, at least in my opinion. Now, if we had to choose where Bogaerts will rank among Boston’s best hitters by seasons end – that’s a question worth debating. For the record, give me somewhere among David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia on the Red Sox podium.
Did I mention this guy is 21?