Tagged: Felix Hernandez

Choosing Cy Young winners – it’s not that hard!

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.

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What’s there left to say about Mike Trout?

Following up on my selection of Bryce Harper as 2014 NL MVP last Friday, today was supposed to mark the occasion of my AL MVP pick. But really how much is there left to say about Mike Trout?

Since arriving in the Majors in May 2012, the Millville Meteor has been the most valuable player in baseball, posting consecutive 10+ WAR seasons in his age 20 and 21 campaigns. He has robbed home runs in spectacular fashion, playing center field with all the grace of a gazelle – a gazelle with a crazy vertical leap. On the basepaths, he’s a terror, using the speed that routinely turns grounders into infield hits to pose a constant threat when on base – which by the way, he generally is. At the dish, he’s been one of the five best hitters in the game, combining a patient approach (he was third in the majors with 110 walks last year), with both a plus hit tool (hitting .326 and .323 in the past two years respectively) and surprising power (he already has 62 home runs). Furthermore, he owns Yu Darvish and Felix Hernandez, the two pitchers he has faced most often so far in his young career, with Darvish recently admitting he has no idea how to pitch to him – high praise indeed, given his position as reigning AL strikeout king. By all measures, Trout is the most valuable player in the sport (hence why his upcoming contract terms are being widely, and wildly, debated). That Miguel Cabrera has beaten him to the official hardware in both the past two years is merely indicative of a voting class that still favors RBI(zzzzzz) over metrics that also take into account fielding and base running – y’know, crucial elements of the sport.

I’m not here to argue about Cabrera stealing Trout’s shine though; as Jonah Keri put it so wonderfully, “Criticizing Cabrera or Trout is like whining about the mole on Kate Upton’s upper lip.” Despite his lack of formal acknowledgment, when it comes to who’s most valuable, we know. The Angels are lucky to have him, and should hold on to their young superstar for as long as humanly possible. Things could have been very different after all…

In making Mark Teixeira a very rich man – signing the prize position player of the 2008 free agency class to a eight year, $180M contract – the Yankees sacrificed their first round pick in 2009’s MLB amateur draft to his former employer, the Angels, as compensation (Los Angeles would also receive a supplemental pick in the deal). Of course, in a rare turn of bad luck for the Yanks, that sacrificed pick later turned out to be a certain high school kid from from South Jersey (the supplemental pick too, if you were interested, was Tyler Skaggs). In an alternate world, Mike Trout would now be in pinstripes – and a whole heck of other things would probably be different too. Let the butterfly flap it’s wings.

Having extended an eight year offer of their own during the Winter Meetings, lets say Teixeira, having enjoyed his three month spell in SoCal so much, turns down the overtures of not only New York, Boston, Baltimore, and the Nationals, and instead re-ups with the Angels.

Having missed out on Teixeira, but already spent a cool $243.5M in bringing aboard CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, the Yankees opt to sign the still-available Manny Ramirez to a two year pact. Though Teixeira amasses 3.0 additional WAR than Ramirez during the season, hitting .292/.383/.565 and finishing second in AL MVP voting, he performs miserably in the postseason, hitting just .180/.282/.311 in what begins a trend of disappointing playoff performances. The Angels fall to the Yankees in the ALCS, who (like in reality) go on to win the World Series over Philadelphia, Ramirez batting a serviceable .281/.324/.469 along the way. With the World Series title in their back pockets, the Yanks also head into 2009 armed with two first round picks, and one very specific target.

At an introductory press conference, New York’s scouting director Damon Oppenheimer speaks first: “He was the second guy on our overall board. It was (Stephen) Strasburg and then Trout.” With the 25th pick in the 2009 draft, the Yankees have of course, snagged Mike Trout, who had fallen into their laps after scouts didn’t pay enough attention to his Northeast high school. Additionally, with Trout already in the bag, the Evil Empire pass on picking up another high school outfielder, Slade Heathcott, and instead select Tyler Skaggs just four picks later. Not even Alex Rodriguez’s and Manny Ramirez’s joint PED admission later in the season can bring down the Yankees, though they eventually fall in the playoffs.

Fast forward to the winter of 2011. With Teixeira in Anaheim, free agent first baseman Albrt Pujols turns instead to his biggest offer, signing for ten years and $275M to be the face of the new Miami Marlins franchise, swallowing his request for a no-trade clause to be included in the deal. With no money left to spend, Miami can’t afford their other free agent target Jose Reyes, who agrees to fill the void at shortstop for the Cardinals. Prince Fielder remains available until January, when Texas finally step up and sign him in an pseudo arms race with the Angels for the most bloated 1B contract in the AL West (and yes, the use of “bloated” was very intentional).

The 2012 season begins, and Trout is called up by the Yankees in May. He does Mike-Trout things, posting a rookie season for the ages in which he hits 326/.399/.564 with an 168 OPS+, his play both inspiring comparison to ‘True Yankee’ Mickey Mantle, and John Sterling to come up with two incredibly annoying home run calls by June (I’m thinking “No Doubt! Mike Trout!” or “That one’s Troutta here!”). Quickly realizing the next franchise cornerstone is in the fold, Derek Jeter steps away from the game graciously after the season, having suffered a gruesome broken ankle in the postseason; in his retirement press conference, he speaks of recognizing how his body can’t do it everyday anymore, and jokes about how he’s been overmatched at shortstop for years anyhow. Rebuffing questions about whether he’d have preferred a retirement tour, Jeter says he wouldn’t want to detract from Trout – who will be the next Yankee captain.

After an amazing sophomore campaign, Trout is unanimously regarded as the best player in baseball. His cheap contract too, means that the Yankees have money to burn elsewhere, and instead of signing Jacoby Ellsbury, re-sign Robinson Cano – GM Brian Cashman dismissively amused that the Yankees would ever not lock in the game’s best player at the keystone for the rest of his career. Having signed Yu Darvish in 2011 with the money they saved not signing Teixeira (and the Rangers’ hands tied by the enormous Fielder contract), they augment their staff further with the addition of Masahiro Tanaka, and swing Tyler Skaggs along with a host of other top prospects to Tampa for a one year rental of David Price. With such formidable pitching depth, and Trout and Cano leading the offense, no one even cares about Rodriguez’s season-long suspension for his part in the Biogenesis scandal; the Yankees romp to the 2014 title regardless.

Mike Trout is named the 2014 AL MVP, just as he will be back in reality.

An Ode to Baseball’s Player Union.

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.

Robinson Cano, 2B & part-time GM.

Many internet prognosticators figured it would be at least 12 months before Robinson Cano voiced his displeasure concerning Seattle’s roster construction, projecting a full season of disappointment before any public outcry. Instead, it has taken only 90 days as a member of the Mariners for the star second baseman to provide the front office with some pointers. Though the speed of his ‘advice’ hasn’t earned him much in terms of popularity amongst his new fanbase, it would be wrong to instantly dub Cano and his contract off the mark, and begin the what seems inevitable process of his becoming a financial albatross to the team. He’s probably actually right.

Cano’s signing with the Mariners started the clock of contention ticking for Seattle, a situation succinctly explained by Mike Curto: “The mix of Cano’s age (31) and the financial commitment speeds up the Mariners’ calendar. The team is now pressured to win in the next few years, before Cano’s skills severely decline.” With a clear window of serviceable Cano years to operate in, and armed with an impending $2 billion thanks to a new long-term agreement with DirecTV, the M’s promised to be aggressive on the free-agent market in building a team around their prize in order to immediately contend in a loaded AL West division. What actually happened however… well, they struck out – as my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series detailed. Entering the season, the Mariners are projected to have Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager batting ahead of Cano, with Corey Hart in line for clean-up duty. That’s a problem, one Cano had no issue with immediately highlighting in an interview with CBSSports.com earlier this week:

“I’m not going to lie. We need an extra bat, especially a right-handed bat. We have many left-handed hitters. We need at least one more righty. You don’t want to face a lefty pitcher with a lineup of seven left-handed hitters.”

When Cano signed his 10-year, $240 million contract in December, it was clear he was leaving a bad offense behind in New York; as Baseball Prospectus pointed out in their fantastic annual, “The second baseman accounted for 68 percent of the Yankees’ BWARP” in 2013. At age 31, he quite rightly jumped at Seattle’s offer – purportedly $65 million more than the next-highest bidder – and GM Jack Zduriencik’s promise to build a contender around him during the remainder of his prime. The problem there being that Cano’s prime may already be over – and Zduriencik has so far done nothing.

Mike Bates of SB Nation studied the 20 most valuable players who spent more than half of their careers at second base through age 30 since 1900; his results showed that the group average fell from a cumulative 47.3 WAR through their age 31 seasons, to just 22.3 WAR after. So while Cano has been remarkably durable so far in his cumulating a career 45.1 WAR (he’s currently in the midst of a seven season streak of at least 159 games played), and consistently great at both the plate and in the field, every historical indicator points to those days of healthy performance soon ending. In his study of the unsightly aging curve of offense-minded second basemen, Fangraphs writer Tony Blengino wrote the following about Seattle’s splashy acquisition:

History says that Cano will ride out the end of his peak period in 2014, begin a solid decline phase with some .300ish, 18-20 HR seasons, than begin a deeper secondary decline phase during which he accumulate hits — and outs. By age 35, there will likely be a severe disconnect between Cano’s salary and his production.

Paging Jack Z – 2014 is this year! It has always been acknowledged that the back end of the Dominican native’s contract would be an overpay, but the obliviousness of the Mariners front office to the obvious decline on the horizon is a little frightening for a long-suffering Seattle fan base. Father Time catches up with even the best players in the end – just ask Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels.

All of which is why Cano’s recent lobbying for help (including for the still-available Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales) makes sense; if he is only going to be able to provide front-loaded production, the team should go out and get help now. Per Cot’s Contracts, the Seattle payroll is currently sat at around $74 million, with just Cano and Felix Hernandez as the only large contracts, yet with the benefit of their upcoming TV deal they neither seriously pursued Nelson Cruz or Ubaldo Jimenez in free agency, nor made an aggressive push for a David Price deal despite possessing a suitable return piece in Taijuan Walker (who is now injured, naturally). Cano’s addition alone will not be enough to in one year turn around completely an offense that in 2013 finished 12th in the Junior Circuit with 624 runs scored and ranked 10th in the AL in team OPS (.695), let alone push a 91 loss team to the peak of the AL West and into the playoffs – baseball is the most individual ‘team sport’ after all. One man can only do so much, and that one man is due to decline; (the admittedly conservative) PECOTA has him projected to hit .297/.352/.482 with a .307 TAv and 21 HR in 2014 – and his numbers are only going in one direction from there.

Cano probably knows it. Seattle apparently, does not. Keep talking Robbie, I don’t blame you. If the M’s are serious about contending, maybe they’ll start listening too.

Hello Baseball! The Seattle Mariners are still the Mariners.

It’s Day 27 of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series, meaning it’s finally the alphabetically-determined time of my newly local team! After yesterday waxing lyrical about Oakland’s new star pitcher Sonny Gray, today I look at a fellow AL West club; the 2014 iteration of the Seattle Mariners. After a noisy offseason full of signings, coaching turnover, and postulations of contention, are the M’s actually ready to flourish though? (Here’s a hint: No!)

When God gives you 19 intra-division games against a team as hapless as the 2013 Houston Astros, you are supposed to take fully advantage and sing His praises; unfortunately last years Seattle Mariners said “meh”, and passed over the scheduling gift, going just 10-9 against one of the worst teams in baseball history. Even worse, they were actually lucky to do so averagely, allowing the punchless Astros offense 91 runs in those 19 games while scoring only 81 themselves. Needless to say, the 2013 Mariners (who went 71-91, though their pythagorean win expectation was just 67-95) weren’t especially good.

And so the offseason began with drastic change promised. First out the door was manager Eric Wedge, who reportedly felt the incredible foulness of Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik’s, president Chuck Armstrong’s, and CEO Howard Lincoln’s dissatisfaction with yet another losing season. Amidst the damning accounts of front office dysfunction, former Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon was hired to right the ship – Zduriencik’s third manager of his tenure, and the team’s seventh since 2007.

Faced with a wave of negative press while simultaneously attempting to improve their lackluster offense, the Mariners threw money overboard in an attempt to right the ship, inking 31 year old second baseman Robinson Cano to a ten year, $240 million contract (a contentious subject to be discussed in a later post). In securing free agency’s biggest prize early, Seattle headed to baseball’s Winter Meetings ready to spend further in order to alter the public’s perception of their tolerance for losing.

The additional deals promised never materialized though. With incumbent DH Kendrys Morales and his associated compensatory pick lost to free agency (at least so far – he remains unsigned), and in need of a power outfield bat to replace Raul Ibanez (… I know – you can’t be good if Ibanez is playing the field), the Mariners were strongly linked to Nelson Cruz, but couldn’t work out a deal with the righty slugger. Instead, the M’s settled for Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, who will split time in between the outfield, first base, and DH. Hart it must be added, who is expected to play 145 games and bat cleanup behind Cano, is already listed as day-to-day with knee tenderness – this after having missed the entire 2013 season recovering from surgeries on both knees. It appears then, that Seattle will be relying on significant improvements from former top prospects Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley (Jesus Montero seemingly out of the mix given his still-awful receiving and just incredible winter weight gain) to ignite an offense that has produced the least runs of any team over the last half-decade. Given their respective longstanding struggles, such a sudden reversal in fortunes seems unlikely.

With an enviable stable of young impact arms on the way to join Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in the rotation, Seattle’s lack of urgency in regard to acquiring additional starting pitching was more understandable. Already though, the Mariner’s presumed biggest strength is hurting; Iwakuma will miss a further 3 weeks and the start of the season after catching his finger in some protective netting, whereas top prospect Taijuan Walker has himself a worrying case of shoulder soreness. With Danny Hultzen too already out for the season, suddenly the back end of Seattle’s rotation looks set to feature the relatively unproven James Paxton and Erasmo Ramirez, veteran Scott Baker (returning from elbow surgery that kept him out of 2012 and most of 2013), or (gulp) Hector Noesi. With just Ervin Santana left available on the free agency market – who is apparently demanding a multiyear deal – it seems for now that Seattle will once again be pinning their hopes for respectability on the continued existence of King Felix’s healthy right arm.

Where the Mariners did make a splashy signing however, was probably at the least needed position; in giving former Ray and ‘proven closer’ Fernando Rodney a two year $14 million deal, they not only managed to antagonize sabermetricians everywhere, but blocked the more than capable Danny Farquhar from the role. With Farquhar having saved 18 of his 20 opportunities towards the end of last season, Tom Wilhelmson waiting in the wings, the proven volatility of closers, and the 36 year old Rodney’s horrific peripherals, the contract seems questionable at best; but hey, it’s not like the ultra-savvy Rays know anything about extracting value from unreliable relievers before letting other teams overpay for them.

After pledging change, Zduriencik has somewhat misguidedly delivered then. Even after his expensive capture of Cano though, and subsequent signaling of Seattle’s willingness to open the checkbook (quite rightly so too, given the TV money boom the team will soon enjoy), Cot’s Contracts pegs their opening day salary at just $73,994,643, the Mariners’ lowest payroll since 2000, and $32,342,136 below the ML average. With the perennially underrated defending AL West champions Oakland going nowhere, a re-tooled Texas squad, and the Mike Trouts too, their division would have looked plenty daunting even if Seattle had aced this past offseason; as it is, a fourth-place finish again looks likely. The Mariners are still the Mariners, dysfunctional as ever.

Perhaps next winter, it will be Zduriencik’s ass getting hit by the door on the way out.