Every week 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. First up, it’s the NL. It’s The Senior Class – Week 6! (All records correct as of Saturday morning).
- San Francisco Giants (5-2 last week, 23-13 overall) ↑ I’ll leave this one to Tom the Intern.
- Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5, 19-18) ↑ Though the Giants may own them (they’re 2-6 against their NL West rivals this year, after going 8-11 in 2013), and they’re currently behind the Rockies, I’ve a lot of faith in the Dodgers eventually winning their division. Not exactly a bold prediction I know, it’s the freakin’ Dodgers and their immensely deep pockets after all, but I can’t imagine their listless play continuing much longer – especially considering how they’ve now got Clayton Kershaw back. Their lefty ace went seven innings strong in his return on Tuesday, striking out nine Nationals while throwing only 89 pitches, providing some welcome relief for an exhausted bullpen that began the day leading the majors in innings pitched. In other news, Yasiel Puig is still being Yasiel Puig, and it’s glorious.
- Colorado Rockies (4-3, 22-16) ↑ The Rockies are scoring 1.27 more runs per game than anyone else in the National League, and rank first in all of baseball in average (.303), on base percentage (.351), and slugging percentage (.499). Troy Tulowitzki meanwhile, has a 228 OPS+, has already amassed 3.9 WAR in just 35 games, and a heat map that Jonak Keri described as “a nuclear blast that’s threatening to wipe out Western civilization.” With so many crazy offensive stats to keep track of, perhaps it’s a good thing Nolan Arenado had his hit streak ended on Friday night.
- Miami Marlins (5-1, 20-17) ↑ After winning five straight, and nine of their last ten heading into Fridays game against the Padres, it was of great surprise that having sent staff ace Jose Fernandez to the mound the Marlins were crushed 10-1. Of course, this whole Miami season has been a surprise so far – who saw Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Casey McGehee and Derek Dietrich being valuable offensive contributors, or Tom Koehler being the top performer in a rotation containing the aforementioned Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Henderson Alvarez? You would have to think the wheels will fall off this week, with a trip out West to face the Dodgers and Giants on the slate, but these ain’t your normal Marlins anymore.
- Washington Nationals (2-4, 19-16) → Doug Fister finally made his debut against Oakland yesterday, but got shelled for 9 hits and five earned runs in just 4.1 innings as the Nats dropped the first meet of their three-game interleague series. Things will presumably get a little easier in the nation’s capital over the next even days – Washington have favorable matchups against Arizona and the Mets on the docket – but their season is beginning to feel a little 2013-ish; full of injury, unfulfilled promise, and eventual disappointment. New manager Matt Williams seems to have a cool head on his shoulders at least.
- St. Louis Cardinals (3-3, 18-18) →
- Milwaukee Brewers (1-5, 22-14) ↓ They might only be one game out of leading the entire Senior Circuit in record, but boy have things come back down to earth quickly in Milwaukee. Without Ryan Braun, the Brew Crew’s on-field performance has quickly regressed (since losing the Hebrew Hammer, they’re 4-8), each passing day he spends on the DL the club looking more and more like the average team their pythagorean win/loss expectation dictates. Thankfully for Milwaukee fans, Braun is due to return on Tuesday – whether he can singly lift them back to their lofty April perch however, remains dubious.
- Atlanta Braves (2-4, 19-15) ↓ Yes, the Braves have gone 2-8 over their last ten, but their schedule was brutal – a trip to Miami, followed by series against San Francisco and St. Louis at home? No thank you. What that ugly stretch did do was establish that the Braves are in a very similar position to that of the last two years; they’re a good team, but not a great one, and can certainly be pitched too. Predictably, the second base position has become a black hole offensively, with Dan Uggla‘s already tiny offensive value (his occasional power, and ability to draw a walk), completely falling off a cliff thus far in 2014, and Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky little better in relief. How soon will it be until Tommy La Stella‘s phone rings?
- Cincinnati Reds (3-2, 16-18) ↓ Literally hours after the discussion that he was too passive was rekindled (He has a .409 OBP thus far, but only a .262 average), Joey Votto belted a huge leadoff home run (437 feet apparently) on a 3-0 fastball from Boone Logan to lift Cincinnati to their second straight win over the Rockies. With Jay Bruce out for a month recovering from surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, the Reds will need their leader more than ever to carry them on offense if they’re to remain competitive in the NL Central; to wit, batting ahead of Votto yesterday were Skip Schumaker, Bryan Pena, and Brandon Philips – not exactly the ’27 Yankees. But hey, at least Todd Frazier has the longest home run of 2014 now, so there’s that at least.
- New York Mets (1-5, 16-18) ↓ Is it time to worry about David Wright? He’s generally been one of the most valuable players in the league when healthy, but in his age-31 season (in which he’s making a cool $20 million), he’s only been marginally better than average (he has a 103 OPS+, and 0.3 WAR value thus far). With only 1 home run, and an uncharacteristic .362 slugging mark, his power looks to have evaporated in the early going. Maybe he’s simply just injured, again, but the decline of their captain is not an encouraging line of thought for Mets fans to pursue.
- Pittsburgh Pirates (4-2, 15-20) ↑
- Philadelphia Phillies (3-4, 16-18) ↓ A.J Burnett had been utterly fantastic through his first seven starts as a Phillie, boasting a 2.06 ERA with his hernia and all. He’d been so good in fact, I even was beginning to come round on Ruben Amaro‘s incredulous decision to hand him such a large contract considering Philadelphia wouldn’t be contending. Naturally, he got blown up by the Blue Jays for six earned runs in his next start, and for hours afterwards I cursed myself for being even partially complementary of Amaro’s management.
- San Diego Padres (3-4, 16-21) → If he keeps up his current pace, Everth Cabrera is one day going to be a fascinating case study concerning the effects of PEDs on a person’s eyesight; after walking at a 9.5% clip between 2009-2013, then subsequently being busted, the 27-year-old shortstop has only drawn five free passes so far this season, good (bad?) for a 3.2% BB rate. Not-so-coincidentally, he’s only on pace for 39 stolen bases this season, after an per-162-game average of 89.5 the prior two campaigns. If I had some knowledge of Biology, I’d be heading the study, I swear.
- Arizona Diamondbacks (3-3, 13-25) ↑
- Chicago Cubs (2-5, 12-22) ↓ The Cubbies may have dropped 3 of 4 to their crosstown rival White Sox last week, but at least the Wrigley faithful had the pleasure of ESPN broadcasters Dan Shulman and John Kruk singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch while broadcasting from the bleachers on Sunday night.
Check back tomorrow for my AL rankings – The Designated 15: Week 6!
Call it the curse of my NL power rankings; in my preseason edition of ‘The Senior Class’, I noted of the top-ranked Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace “Clayton Kershaw’s balky back has landed him on the DL, though the move right now is considered to be more a precautionary measure than anything.” His stint backdated to March 23rd – the day after dominated the Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the newly-minted southpaw was at that point expected to return inflammation free at the earliest possible date, April 8th, for a marquee match-up against the Detroit Tigers. Fresh news today though has indicated that it will actually be a further two to three more weeks before he’s even re-evaluated, a time during which Kershaw will reportedly partake in both a submaximal throwing program and a minor league rehab assignment. Andrew Cashner, who had a similar injury two years ago, missed two months because of it; if the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is out even half as long, it will still be a severe loss to L.A.
Fortunately for PECOTA’s favorite team, the Dodgers possess another lefty starter who’s pretty darn dominant himself – Hyun-jin Ryu – who’s ready to temporarily assume Kershaw’s mantle.
On half the teams in the majors (at least by my estimation), the 27-year-old would be a no. 1, a staff anchor atop the rotation; as part of a roster that not only normally boasts the aforementioned Kershaw and his Sandy Koufax impersonation every fifth day, but $147 million man Zack Greinke too though (who looked decidedly rusty in his outing against the Padres earlier today by the way), the 27-year-old is oft-overlooked. Bumped into a more prominent role than his regular no. 3 slot by means of Kershaw’s extended absence (as well as questions regarding Josh Beckett’s return from major surgery and Dan Haren’s effectiveness both affecting his utmost importance to the rotation), it should quickly become apparent – if you didn’t notice his under the radar performance last year that is – that Ryu is really, really good.
After paying a posting fee of $25.7 million to negotiate with the Hanwha Eagles, the Dodgers signed the Scott Boras client to a six-year, $36 million contract (with an out clause that kicks in after the fifth year if he has pitched 750 or more innings) in December 2012. Their investment immediately paid off, as Ryu became the first player to jump directly from the Korean league to the major leagues; breaking Spring Training with the club, the portsider posted a strong rookie campaign, going 14-8 in his 30 starts with a 3.00 ERA (192 IP). Of course, overshadowed by not just his fellow freshman teammate Yasiel Puig, but exceptional first years from Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller too, Ryu fell to fourth in NL ROY voting – the sort of anonymous result which when combined with the spotlight commanded by his rotation mates led to Ryu being somewhat neglected in terms of recognition heading into 2014.
That’s exactly Ryu’s style though – quietly getting the job done without fanfare. The Korean’s stuff will certainly never command gobs of attention; sitting in between 88-92 mph, his fastball isn’t electric in the Stephen Strasburg-like sense, but he can accurately throw it to all four quadrants of the zone. Sure, he boasts an excellent fading changeup and a serviceable slider too, but neither possess the sort of filthy movement that draws both impartial eyes and high strikeout rates (7.2 SO/9 in 2013). He doesn’t even have effectively wild outings (6.10 K/BB rate in the second half last year), nor ever show any emotion on the mound, á la Chris Archer. Nondescript in every facet aside from his numerical performance, Ryu is, well… pretty boring to watch.
Not that the Dodgers mind right now; having started two games already, Ryu has pitched 12 scoreless innings, and was one horrific Brian Wilson outing away from winning twice before most every other starter had even thrown a pitch. In better shape than 2013, and with an improved curveball to boot (presumably to combat the reverse platoon splits he put up last year), Ryu has stepped it up a notch already this year – emerging as a true weapon rather than simply a reliable rotation presence.
With their staff so suddenly weakened, L.A. will be depending on their lesser known southpaw to be their de facto ace for a while; perhaps now with that increased attention upon him too, people will realize that Ryu is legitimately close to such territory already.
As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, and MVP picks of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, 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 to choose some Cy Young award winners. Fair warning, I’m not exactly going out on a limb with my picks.
Entering last season, you could make a justifiable case that either Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez was the best pitcher in baseball, marginally ahead of Clayton Kershaw. 12 months later though, there’s no disputing the Dodgers’ ace is the best in the game.
Still just 26 (his birthday was last Wednesday), Kershaw has already racked up two Cy Young awards and three consecutive ERA titles, while his numbers over the last four years – 2.37 ERA, 2.70 FIP, and 1.02 WHIP – all rank as best in the league. Coming off a 2013 season in which he went 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA, and had 17 games of at least 6.2 innings pitched and allowing one or fewer earned runs, the Texas native is somehow getting even better too; his walk rate has decreased from the 9-13% range he put up earlier in his career to an extremely frugal 5-7% during the past couple of seasons, and whilst doing so, the southpaw with the hammer curve has also maintained at least a 25.0% strikeout rate. Given that he furthermore possesses the power to re-write the BABIP laws (his .270 average is significantly below the typical league-wide .290-.300 range), the seven year, $215 million extension that Los Angeles signed their stud to this past winter could end up being a bargain should Kershaw keep up his current rate of performance – as speculated by Grantland’s Jonah Keri.
After providing yet another example of how Spring Training statistics don’t matter (he had a 9.20 ERA across 14.2 IP), Kershaw is already off to another dominant start – fanning 7 Arizona batters with his typically filthy array of curveballs and sliders over 6.2 innings in the opening game of the 2014 season. Though he finally gave up his first Opening Day earned run in his fourth such start, it’s shaping up to be yet another season in which the normally-charitable Kershaw makes even the sport’s best hitters look helpless – stranding them alone on an unforgiving island of pitching cruelty up in the batter’s box.
Unfortunately for the likes of Stephen Strasburg and Jose Fernandez, barring voter fatigue, or God help us all, injury, the NL Cy Young hardware should be Kershaw’s for years to come should he simply stay on track. Get ready to clear some more room on the mantelpiece Clayton, you’ve got my (unrecognized) vote already.
The field of possible contenders among the American League is much wider; Yu Darvish, King Felix, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander all figure to be in the mix, but, as mentioned in yesterday’s gambling related post (when I wasn’t making fun Fernando Rodney actually having odds for the award), I’m picking David Price – he who has averaged 208 innings and a 78 ERA- over the past four years – to pick up his second Cy.
Having won the award in 2012, Price’s offseason regiment back at his alma mater Vanderbilt was disrupted by the bump in publicity he subsequently received. Unable to work out fully with his old Commodores Coach Tim Corbin, the Rays’ ace came out the gate slowly in 2013, allowing eight home runs and an opponent’s triple slash line of .294/.340/.471 in his first 55 innings pitched. By the time he came out of May 15 outing against the Boston Red Sox (in which lasted just 2.1 innings, allowing four runs) with a triceps injury, Price was sitting on a 5.24 ERA with a 1-4 record. He’d be out for six weeks, but would return with a vengeance.
Making 18 starts over the rest of the season (including Game 163 in Texas), Price would author a 2.53 ERA (37 ER/131.2 IP), allowing only 113 hits en route to a 9-4 record. Even more impressive though, was his immaculate control; after returning, the lefty’s velocity was down, but he still struck out 102 batters while only issuing 13 walks. By seasons end, Price paced the Junior Circuit in complete games (4), fewest walks per nine innings (1.3 BB/9), and also had the highest strikeout to walk ratio (5.59) – officially returning to the form that captured him the 2012 award, even despite a velocity drop (he didn’t throw one pitch of at least 97mph in 2013, after throwing more than 250 such pitches in 2012, though his average still sat at a very respectable 93.5mph).
At only 28, manager Joe Maddon believes his no. 1 to be entering “that era of five or six years of the best pitching” of his career, but 2014 will almost certainly be the last year Price spends in a Rays uniform; it was quite the industry surprise that Tampa didn’t move him during December’s Winter Meetings, and instead picked up his arbitration tab for the upcoming year. Consider this season the ultimate trade showcase then, as I expect Price to pick up exactly where he left off in 2013 and then, trophy in hand, be moved next winter in exchange for a veritable bounty. It might be another two years until he’s paid like the ace he is then, but hopefully a second Cy Young for the meantime will be sufficient consolation for Price.
Happy baseball everybody! By the time this has posted, the 2014 MLB season will be one game old, and the Dodgers and Diamondbacks might already have sparked an international incident by taking their ongoing feud to foreign soil; one Yasiel Puig bat flip and the Australian public could have a brawl on their hands. Anyway… With everyone already gambling on March Madness (my two brackets are already busted – S/O to Duke!), what better time to lay some additional baseball-related bets? As a responsible 22-year-old, I’ve picked out a few of my favorite props for the upcoming season – some of which are informed value plays, others simply hunches. Feel free to consider/ignore them at your leisure.
I love, love, LOVE me some Rays action this year. Perennially underrated by the bookmakers in regard to their over/under regular season wins total, Vegas finally seems to have caught on to the fact these guys are routinely good; the over has been a solid bet for the past couple of seasons, but their newly jacked line and stiff AL East competition have me staying away from laying anything on it this year. Instead, I’ll be taking them to win the whole darn thing. With David Price still leading a loaded pitching staff, Wil Myers’ mighty presence in the offense all year, and Joe Maddon’s usual defense/matchup innovation, at +1500 on sportsbook.com, Tampa Bay represent a terrific value to go all the way – especially given how fellow contenders Detroit, Texas, and Oakland have all suffered rough Spring Trainings. I’d also very happily take them over the defending champion Red Sox, who at +1200, somehow have longer odds than the Yankees (+1000).
If I was strictly taking a winner from the NL, I’d pick the St. Louis Cardinals, whose price of +900 trails only the Dodgers (+600) in lowest possible gains. This considered, I’d much rather have the Washington Nationals at +1200, a team much like the Rays in that they boast great pitching (both in terms of talent and depth), complemented by an above-average offense. Their division looks to be a cakewalk, so wagering a few dollars on the Nats to win the NL East wouldn’t be a bad move, just one with little potential. Similar to the AL teams, there are a few curious odds for Senior Circuit teams; the Giants for instance (at +3000), are twice as likely to win than the Diamondbacks (+6000), and also have lower odds than the Reds (+4000). I know it’s an even numbered year again, but c’mon man, the Giants?!
On to individual player props then, and a few which especially stood out. Though I despise the win statistic’s weight when it come to judging pitchers, betting the over on Sonny Gray’s 12.5 line is one of the few props that will net you more than your original stake (+105). My logic on this one, aside from the value offered, is that Gray’s a potential stud on a good team, and with the recent injuries of staff ace Jarrod Parker and rotation mate A.J. Griffin, will be leaned upon more than ever – eradicating any innings limit fears that might have limited his opportunity to hit the over.
I’m less bullish on Matt Cain. He has the same 12.5 line as Gray, and at even money, playing his under could be a strong move. As I may have given away above, I’m really not sold on this Giants team’s capacity to finish above .500, especially in a division featuring the Dodgers, much improved Padres, and forever #gritty Diamondbacks. Though he rebounded nicely after a couple of disastrous innings during the first half of the season, I’m sufficiently worried about Cain to lay money on a poor 2014 win-loss record.
Equally, I’m not in love with Chris Davis’ (no, not the Khris Davis I focused on yesterday) chances of crushing 50+ HRs once more. Understandably though, he’s favored to repeat as the long ball champ; even factoring in some regression, his awesome power should get him to at least 35. If you’re looking for a dark-horse candidate, Prince Fielder at +1800 offers a nice play. After enduring a rough year off the field during 2013, I’m hoping he’ll respond in a big way in 2014. Additionally, his winter move to the Rangers and the very homer-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington can only be considered another cause for optimism concerning Fielder’s revival.
When it came to odds for awards, I turned to the Bovada sportsbook. I’ve documented my love for Mike Trout, believing his candidacy for AL MVP this year to be little more than a slam dunk; at 5/1 he has the least profitable odds – even over two-time defending winner Miguel Cabrera – but hey, when can you turn down free money? On the NL side of things, although I advocated for Bryce Harper as part of my ongoing award predictions, I also cited Yadier Molina as a strong figure of opposition. At 12/1, Harper isn’t a bad play, but the 16/1 odds you’ll receive on Yadi make him a more appealing prospect. As the heart and soul of perhaps the best team in the NL, should he manage to stay healthy all season long, Molina will have himself a strong case to take home the hardware.
Choosing between potential Cy Young award winners was slightly more difficult. In the NL, I plumped for Stephen Strasburg’s 8/1 number over the heavily favored Clayton Kershaw, but there weren’t really any good value plays – a problem which carried over into the AL. Given my Rays affection, it’s probably not surprising I like David Price to win the Junior Circuit trophy, but the guy is legitimately incredible; after returning from the DL last season, the lefty pitched 131.2 innings, in which he racked up 102 strikeouts while allowing only 13 walks, good for a 2.53 ERA, and a .233/.253/.337 opponents’ line. Price is only 9/1 though, just behind Yu Darvish, so isn’t an especially sexy choice. His teammate Alex Cobb on the other hand, at 33/1 is an attractive outside shot, much more so than fellow rotation member Matt Moore, who is 12/1.
There are so many bets out there that you can always find value in some place. Just remember to observe the only two rules of baseball gambling: 1) Clear your internet history so you don’t look like a complete degenerate. 2) Never, ever, pick Fernando Rodney to win AL Cy Young (66/1). With that in mind, Happy baseball (betting) everybody!
Just putting it out there, but does anyone else find it slightly ridiculous that LeBron James will be paid $19,067,500 for his efforts during the 2013/14 NBA season? Many would say it’s way too much already, considering he plays a game for a living – plus he’s got endorsement deals to go on top of that base figure. Others – Bill Simmons for instance – think that James’ check should be significantly larger, say, in the $75M range. After all, he has been named the NBA’s MVP 4 times, won 2 titles, lost another 2, and been a 7-time All-NBA 1st Team selection – and even that’s cutting his career resumé very, very, short. Either way you look at it, overpaid or undervalued, one thing is clear however; compared to baseball’s salaries, one of the best players in basketball’s history has been truly shafted by his union’s negotiating skills (or lack of).
Let’s take James’ current 2013/14 salary, $19,067,500, and see where it would land him amongst baseball’s highest (total salary) earners in 2014; 22rd, behind not only top players like Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano, but the slightly less desirable likes of Ryan Howard ($25,000,000), Mark Teixeira ($23,125,000) Carl Crawford ($21,107,142). He’s barely ahead of Mark Buehrle ($19,000,000), and will likely fall further behind as soon as Mike Trout puts pen to paper. Now admittedly, LeBron famously took less money to sign with the SuperFriends in Miami, so is only tied for the 8th highest salary in his own sporting field (with teammate Chris Bosh as it happens; Dywane Wade is no. 10), but even the very top NBA earners are overwhelmed in number by their baseball-playing peers. In fact, Only Kobe Bryant’s (egregiously awful – I’m a Suns fan) $30,453,805 2014 salary would crack baseball’s top 11 for the current calendar year – Dirk Nowitzki, if anyone’s interested, would check in at no. 12 – just behind Felix Hernandez – if such a joint rich list formally existed.
Now I’m not saying that baseball players don’t deserve their money (well, maybe in the cases of Howard, Teixera, Crawford et. al), but when looking at the similar revenues generated from the two sports, one thing is drastically apparent; one union clanked iron at the negotiating table, and the other smashed their labor deal out of the park. If the puns didn’t make it apparent, the MLBPA might be the strongest professional sports union in existence, whereas the NBPA, well, it blows.
Since 2000, NBA revenue is up 120 percent, from about $2.5 billion to $5.5 billion, while MLB revenue has also seen a significant, but similarly proportioned boom; it has increased from about $3.4 billion in 2000 to about $8 billion in 2013, good for a 135 percent jump. But while the MLBPA have long fought off a salary cap on players earning power, the NBPA famously agreed to maximum thresholds for the sport’s top stars in order to end the 204 day lockout which nearly nixed the league’s 1999 season. And in doing so, they preserved basketball’s middle class, but screwed the big stars. In the word’s of super-agent Art Tellem, “They are really stealing from LeBron.”
Per Sports Business Journal, and spotrac.com, in 1999-2000, of the 20 players whose contracts had the highest average annual value, 11 were NBA players, led by Kevin Garnett at $21 million a year. Baseball made up the other 9, but Kevin Brown was the sport’s highest earner at only $15 million a year. By 2002-03 the distribution became a little more even; of the top 21 (three NBA players tied at No. 19 averaging $15 million a season), 11 were NBA and 10 were MLB, with Alex Rodriguez’s first 10-year deal significantly entering the fray. Fast forward to 2007-08, and the numbers had flipped – nine of the top 20 highest-paid players were in the NBA and 11 were in MLB, who in A-Rod and Johan Santana could boast sport’s top two highest earners. And finally, 2013, where of the top 21 highest-paid athletes in America (two players were tied for 20th place), 13 were MLB players, and only 6 NBA athletes (the other two were NFL quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Drew Brees). Furthermore, 8 of the top 10 deals belonged to baseball players – and this was all before Cano, Masahiro Tanaka, Clayton Kershaw or Jacoby Ellsbury signed new contracts this winter.
The discrepancy between the two sport’s top salaries really is remarkable, and even more so when you consider the proportional importance of individual players to each game; with only 5 players a side, a star in basketball can have much more impact than the one of the 9 players in a baseball lineup. Mike Trout being taken away from the Angels would cost them around 10 wins a season. When LeBron left Cleveland, the Cavs went from a league best 61 wins in 2009/10 to a conference-worst 19 the following season – a 42 win differential – and along the way also tied the longest losing streak in any American professional team sport (26). And you’re telling me Masahiro Tanaka, who has yet to throw a pitch in an MLB regular season game and will likely appear in 50 fewer games than James, will make $2,922,500 more than him in salary during 2014?
Seriously, well played MLBPA.
In yesterday’s installment of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series, I covered Colorado’s worthy gamble on a pitcher seemingly made to overcome Coors Field, should he be able to stay off the trainer’s table – Brett Anderson. As the snow surrounds me in Eugene, OR, it seems unjust that the alphabet demands I focus on the team enjoying more considerably more balmy conditions 852 miles to the south. Alas, it’s necessary; the Los Angeles Dodgers are PECOTA’s prohibitive favorites, projected to win 98 wins despite the standard conservatism built in to the forecasting. But it’s not their Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm I’m concentrating on – luckily for you. Instead, my subject is the much more entertaining Hanley Ramirez. Enjoy.
The value of a healthy Hanley Ramirez was never more apparent than in the 2013 NLCS, in which Los Angeles took on the St. Louis Cardinals. Against Atlanta in the NLDS, Ramirez had batted .500, posting an OPS of 1.618 in his amassing of 17 total bases in only 18 PAs. Hanley was en fuego, his performance as the hottest batter of the postseason indisputable entering Game 1 in St. Louis (David Ortiz‘s planet-devouring World Series effort obviously came later). Then in the first inning, with one on, one out, and a 1-2 count, Joe Kelly landed a 95mph in Ramirez’s ribs, breaking one. The scorching was over. Though he stayed in the game through all 13 innings, the Dodger’s no.3 hitter would miss Game 2, and be hobbled both at the plate and in the field for the remainder of the series; in 19 PAs, Ramirez would hit .133, have an OPS of .449, and accrue 2 TB. The Dodgers would score only 13 runs in the 6 game series, losing 4-2.
By virtue of some deep bedroom analytics then, we’ve deduced that a Hanley Ramirez with a full quotient of intact ribs is valuable, perhaps to such an extent to swing a LCS result. How valuable however, is the question the Dodgers now must seriously face. After locking up star pitcher Clayton Kershaw this past offseason, they must now open their checkbook to extend their most pivotal position; in the final year of the 6-year $70 million contract the then-Florida Marlins signed him to in 2009, Hanley is owed $16 million in 2014. And while it’s highly unlikely that the Dodgers let Ramirez reach free agency, the size of his next contract is far from a sure thing.
Since coming to Los Angeles as part of the 2012 Marlins fire sale, Ramirez hasn’t disappointed. Last year, Hanley posted a .345/.402/.638 slash line, with only AL MVP Miguel Cabrera topping his 191 wRC+, while also returning to barely average levels in the field (for the first time since 2008, Ramirez had a positive UZR: 0.2). In all, Ramirez was worth 5.1 WAR – the second highest value among shortstops in the majors behind Troy Tulowitzki – and finished 8th in MVP voting.
He did this all in just 86 games, totaling 336 PAs.
Therein lies the main obstacle in assessing Ramirez’s worth – he has an uneven history with injuries and performance. In 2013 he played only 4 games before June 4th, his season delayed by first a torn thumb ligament sustained at the WBC, then a hamstring strain mere days after his return. Previously there was the 2010 shoulder surgery, in addition to back pain that requires daily treatment. Then there was the mysterious decline in 2011-12, a span in which his batting average fell to .252, his on-base percentage to .326, and Ramirez averaged only 17 HRs and 62 RBIs, all the while playing well below-average defense. And while aside from those down two seasons – which can in part be attributed to the lingering effects of injury and a terrible situation with the Marlins – Ramirez has legitimately been one of the best hitters in the majors, does offering a multi-year deal to a player turning 31 this season make sense for the Dodgers?
Magic Johnson et al so far haven’t been averse to opening their checkbooks to secure talent, the Kershaw deal joining the acquisition of Zack Greinke last winter as prominent examples of the fiscal resources available to the Dodgers. Neither however, have they completely overwhelmed the market buying everything in sight; Josh Hamilton, Robinson Cano and Masahiro Tanaka have all gone elsewhere, while management has expressed a desire to build from within via their financially-strengthened scouting and development. The starting price for Ramirez is presumably established, and it isn’t cheap; the final six years (age 30-35) of the aforementioned Tulowitzki’s contract is worth $118 million. One year older, Ramirez will probably ask for at least the same – perhaps more in the region of $125 million.
Undoubtedly a team would pay up should Ramirez reach free agency next winter. With a payroll well in excess of the repeater tax threshold anyway, the Dodgers would be wise to be that team. Regardless of his age and history, and with top SS prospect Corey Seager on the way (Han-Ram would potentially slide over to third and replace Juan Uribe when the time comes), Hanley gives the Los Angeles lineup an MVP-caliber hitter when healthy. The sort of hitter the club sorely missed against the Cardinals last October, capable of pushing the Dodgers to their first World Series appearance since 1988.