The Rangers needed cheap starting pitching depth with upside. They now have cheap starting pitching depth with upside. Also, does anyone else think that he should have been a police officer? FisterCuffs would make a great nickname.
After a terribly underrated five year stretch in which he was (probably) a top 20 MLB starting pitcher, Doug Fister has spent the past three seasons hopping from organization to organization. Fister was incredibly fun to watch during his prime, due to his elite control and general lack of strikeouts. Once his velocity began to fade over two years ago, Fister was no longer able to dominate with control. He has recently emerged with new results, boasting an increased strikeout rate with an equally ballooned walk rate. This intrigues me immensely. If he can keep the ball inside Arlington, he might give them a 4.3 ERA over 100 innings. I would not expect much more from Fister, given the injury history and his inability to strike guys out. However, we have seen the man dominate this league with mediocre stuff, and I will be interested to see if his approach changes in 2018.
But seriously, FisterCuffs.
In what will likely go down as one of the greatest all-time World Series victories, the Houston Astros defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers to become the 2017 World Champions. It was special. It was dramatic. It was long. It was difficult to watch. It was amazing.
In 2004, I bet $5 that the Houston Astros would win the World Series. This is true. If I remember correctly, I had been informed by a mysterious old man that the Astros would win the Series after acquiring Carlos Beltran, so I made that bet with confidence. Unfortunately, Beltran and the Astros chose the wrong year to win it all.
Obviously, I should have actually read the book. Or read Sports Illustrated three years ago. The 2004 Astros had indeed acquired Carlos Beltran for the stretch run, much like the 2017 team, but their story did not end as well. Despite having Texas icons like Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman, and Roger Clemens on the playoff roster, along with an MVP level performance from Beltran, they were stopped short by the St Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals then ran into the curse-breaking 2004 Red Sox, and that potentially historic Astros playoff team became an easily forgotten footnote. They would return to the playoffs in 2005, sans a healthy Bagwell but with a healthy Andy Pettite, and they actually made it to the World Series!! That team was then destroyed by the Chicago White Sox. Baseball is hard.
Sometimes, great teams earn a window of opportunity but fail to win 11 games in October. The Atlanta Braves were great for ten years. TEN YEARS!!! They only have one championship flag for all that success. That is why the playoffs are special and heartbreaking and awesome and unpredictable and sexy and tense and fun. Did I say sexy? I meant gritty. I always confuse those. You're welcome, David Eckstein and Willie Bloomquist.
My point is this: The Astros truly earned this win, and I hope that Houston fans realize just how special and unlikely it was. The two best teams in baseball made it to the World Series and went at it for seven games. The Astros beat a historically good Dodgers team.
As for the Dodgers, they get to start over in February like everyone else. Nothing is promised. Teams will often come close and never win it. The playoffs are unpredictable. Front offices have little control over the playoffs, so they do their best to create a nice window for success. This Phillies had theirs ten years ago, and got a win. The Rangers had theirs six years ago, and never pulled it off. The 2004 and 2005 Astros are still without a championship flag. The Braves were incredible throughout my childhood, with only one championship flag hanging in Atlanta. The Cubs and Dodgers appear to be right in the middle of their respective windows, along with the Indians and Astros and Red Sox and Yankees. Nothing is promised.
Get ready for an exciting offseason, as front offices throughout the league look to open windows and create opportunity. As you root for your favorite teams to make the big trade or signing, keep all of this in mind. It's all about giving your team a small chance in October.
The rest is up to fate, and the time traveling folks at Sports Illustrated.
The following rankings are based on Tom's observations, his interpretation of advanced stats, his conflicted feelings toward Aaron Judge, and his discussions with the ghost of George Sisler. These rankings are not meant to reflect merely the performance of all 30 teams over the final two months of the season, but instead to reflect likelihood of a playoff berth and subsequent success. Therefore, the great Tom Baird will only be providing a top ten ranking. Here goes...
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: They have now won 43 of their past 50 games and are projected to win 115 games. While they won't reach that number, I do think that they will top 110 wins in 2017. Come October, the team will likely be sending out Kershaw, Darvish, Hill, and Wood, with an outside shot of using Ryu or Maeda as well. This is called depth. It is super nice. Their acquisitions of Watson and Cingrani will likely help very little in October, although I believe Cingrani can be a star reliever in the future. This team is so stacked that they have a backup catcher likely worth 2 WAR, with a 900 OPS.
2. Houston Astros: The past three years have been a roller coaster for the Astros. Jose Altuve is not tall enough to ride roller coasters. This is called irony. Also, this joke has probably been used before and I just don't care.
3. Washington Nationals: This team is so complete, and yet very few people consider them to be as strong a threat as the Dodgers. While I do not believe they are as good as Los Angeles, I think that they could sweep a playoff series against the Dodgers, because they have fantastic front line pitching, a complete roster, and also the playoffs are not real life. They are better than real life. They are amazing.
4. Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks would be ranked above the Nationals if they were not in the West, and if Robbie Ray did not have headaches. They top the Nationals in run differential, and have looked like the stronger team for much of the season. Also, JD Martinez, whose real name is Just Dingers Martinez, actually hits home runs every 10 plate appearances. That is a good thing to do when you hit baseballs for a living.
5. Cubs: You may be starting to see a trend. I do not think the American League is nearly as strong as the NL this year. It feels weird to write or say those words, because the opposite has been etched in stone for the past twenty years. I honestly like the Rockies more than the Yankees, and I would rank them higher if they were not the third best team in their division. Back to the Cubs... they are still very very good. Yes, the Cubs have been inconsistent. Yes, their pitching has not been as strong as last year. Yes, I have a goat sitting in my backyard and its name is Olivia, and I may use it to curse the Cubs in October. Nonetheless, the Cubs remain a huge threat to repeat. The NL is stacked this year, and anybody can win in the playoffs with well-rounded rosters like these.
6. Yankees: This team actually ranks third in run differential according to Fangraphs, behind the Dodgers and Astros. They have the best bullpen we have seen in a while, rivaling the Royals from 2014 and 2015. They are a very good team with fun, young bats, and have a very real shot at competing in October. The bullpen is the only piece that puts them over the Sox in my rankings, and I likely will change my mind by the time I reach the team at #9.
7. Red Sox: If Price was right, they would be ranked higher. I still think that their starting pitching options are better than the Yankees starters, even without Price, but the Yankees bullpen is so so strong. Sox might move up before September
8: Indians: Kluber is king. If Carrasco gets hot, this team can run through the playoffs. The team ranks sixth in run differential and has the pitching to pull off a strong playoff run. They still have a lot of holes and question marks, but those two starters, along with that bullpen, could lead them right back to the World Series.
9. Rockies: Because the lineup is great, the pitching is improving, and I think the Brewers have no shot. The team sits between the Red Sox and Cubs in run differential rankings, and they have a surprisingly balanced team. If you want to bet on unknown players that could become big names in October, bet on young Colorado pitchers German Marquez, Jon Gray, and Jeff Hoffman. Also, don't bet on things like that because its stupid.
10. Royals: Hey look, they still have a shot at making the World Series for a third time in four years! Wow. Think about that. Incredible right? Now stop thinking about it. Stop it. They likely have no chance in hell. If they get there, they will need some miracles from their pitching staff. But they are better than two thirds of the league, so congrats Royals!
Carlos Baerga's mustache. That was why anybody did anything in the 1990's. It was our reason for living.
Bring back great baseball cards. Bring them back now.
by Tom Baird
This is the first of many posts on player value and the fun surprises that fans may find when they pay attention to advanced stats. It's easy to get one's mind blown. For example, in 2009, Nyjer Morgan was likely more valuable than Ryan Howard and Hunter Pence, or at least similar in value, since defensive stats are difficult to quantify. This was a year in which those two other players were very good. Howard hit 45 homers while batting .279. As you remember, Nyjer Morgan was not often considered their equal. However, he was at times a fine defensive outfielder and made better contact with the bat in 2009. Howard struck out 657 times and Pence wore his socks too high, so their value suffered. Pence might also have had underwhelming defense and walk rate.
I know what you are thinking. This is mind blowing stuff. Your life just changed. And now, we are going to bring you this kind of exciting information ALL THE TIME??!
Probably. This will PROBABLY be the first of many posts on the subject. If you have spent any time at all following this blog, you know that I have promised several times that I will continue to post on a certain subject, but then have proceeded to fail miserably. Because life moves fast and I'm unorganized, plus my toddler breaks things, I have not always lived up to my promises. But this time... this time, I promise to deliver.
In this series of posts, I plan on expounding on player value, focusing on surprising similarities in value among position players that may be significant. This, after all, was the entire premise of that book about Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill changing baseball. They sought to find market deficiencies that would allow teams with less money to find value in unorthodox ways. At the time, on-base percentage was undervalued. That is no longer the case. The so-called sabermetrics movement was never about OBP or defense or exit velocity. It was always about having all the information available in order to find value where other teams do not. We have seen teams value defense, prospects, controllable youth, older players with a history of success (we call these Sabean's Sweethearts), or even former top prospects, among many many others.
This series will focus on players with similar WAR, using both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference metrics. We will discuss the ways in which the players differ, and the perceived value of such players (to fans and possibly GMs alike, although it's pretty difficult to gauge how teams value players until they acquire them through trade or signing).
What's the point? Well, if your team cannot sign or trade for a bat like Jay Bruce during the offseason, why not trade much less for, say, Jarrod Dyson. The answer to this question likely depends on team need (platoons, defense), personnel (does your outfield defense already suck super bad?), or park factors (are you in Seattle where homers don't exist?). With that said, a team that wants Bruce might not want Dyson, because they might be looking for that power bat. Value is not close to simple. Wrapping up value in a number like WAR does not mean that Dyson is better than Bruce. It means that Dyson holds great value for his defense, and it would be worthwhile for a GM and fans to consider that. Players like Kevin Kiermaier have derived a surprising amount of their value from their defense, and some teams (Rays, Cubs, Athletics, Dodgers) are more willing to pay for that value.
PLAYERS THAT HAVE SIMILAR VALUE, per fWAR:
Jay Bruce and Jarrod Dyson:
Dyson: .246/.328/.370, 7.8% Walk Rate, 15% Strikeout Rate, above average defense, worth 2.1WAR
Bruce: .267/.333/.534, 9% Walk Rate, 22% Strikeout Rate, below average defense, worth 1.9 WAR
Bruce is obviously deriving his 2017 value from power and an increased BABIP (batting average on balls in play). His walk rate is slightly up from last year, as is his ISO, or Isolated Power metric. He is currently tied for ninth in the league with 24 HRs, along with Bryce Harper, and is 18th in the league with a .267 ISO, just above Paul Goldschmidt. These are very good numbers. He is slugging the ball well. He is getting similar contact to last year in regard to exit velocity, but his average launch angle appears dramatically different. His launch angle has increased from around 14 degrees to 19. He is lofting the ball more. Obviously, this has resulted in more homeruns.
Ever since his third season in the league, Jay Bruce has always graded as a well below average defensive outfielder. In fact, FanGraphs places him 15th worst of the Major League Outfielders over the past four seasons, based on their value metric. When he was young, he had one great defensive season and another good one. And then his glove was thrown into a dumpster and set on fire. I'm guessing. He has struggled immensely with defense over the past few years.
As for Dyson, we are actually seeing more of the same from a player that has made a habit of producing stellar defense, average offense, and stellar base running each year for the past five seasons. He has been a 2.5 to 3.0 WAR player almost every year, since the 2012 season ended. His production actually tops that of Bruce over the five year span, by a lot. His power numbers seemed to have ticked up a notch over the past two years (topping out at FIVE HOMERS so far this year), but he continues to essentially be the same player. Dyson does not walk much, but actually walks more than other players with his speed and lack of power. He is not only a fast player, but a skilled baserunner. His base running scores have been positive each year for the past five years, and he has stolen bases with an 85% success rate. In fact, Dyson has scored positively for defense and base running each of the past five years, and has only once scored negatively offensively (in 2014, when he graded only slightly below average). He has actually been a remarkably consistent all around player, like Angel Pagan or a lesser version of Shane Victorino.
He even made the face while hitting. He was so disappointed.
Back to DiMaggio...
The streak ended on Thursday. People were sad. The Heinz family wept. Mustard connoisseurs were happy not to see the game tainted by greed, corruption, red stains and gross aftertaste. The Yankees won the game, and DiMaggio went on to win the MVP award. The Yankees finished the season strong and went on to beat the crosstown rival Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series.
And who knows? Maybe a new Yankee Star is on his way to earning an MVP and World Series berth. Time will tell. In the words of a beautiful elderly red-headed man, let's get back to this one.
Last year, I watched the home run derby live from the right field bleachers. Unfortunately, no left-handers got out of the first round and I never saw a ball come all that close to me. Fortunately, the derby was amazing, and totally worth the ludicrous amount of money I paid to sit there. This year's derby participants are arguably more exciting than last year's. Here are my predictions:
1. Stanton will repeat. I know we all want to believe that Judge and Bellinger will destroy the world, and I think they will, but this world still belongs to Stanton. Last year, I watched the batting practice before the derby (yes, that exists) and saw Stanton hit about ten balls deep into the stands. That was immediately before the derby. I was immediately betting on Stanton, and I still am.
2. Sano will surprise. The top four will be Giancarlo, Sano, Bellinger and Judge. I think that Sano will shine, but he won't get past the hometown homerun hero.
3. There will be a semifinal between Judge and Bellinger, and Twitter might explode and die.
4. The hometown fans will go insane.
5. You will all have creepy dreams of that giant outfield monstrosity chasing you after watching the derby.
Spanning an entire continent, lifelong fans Chris Kubak and Tom Baird take you on a magical, sabermetrically enhanced journey through Major League Baseball.