Just a bit outside

Updated AL Awards races


Jose Abreu’s got an effective ‘switch’ that he uses for professional reasons. No one but a dead cow gets hurt. He wields the switch to make money, the new concept of capitalism looking more adaptable by the day. 

Abreu’s rich, and in plain value terms, his then-record deal for a Cuban defector, can be rationalized as well worth it. The Bear leads the majors in slugging and on base plus slugging percentages. He may have struck out 121 times, but he’s hitting .321 BA, with a 173 adjusted OPS. 

So yeah he’ll win the AL Rookie of the Year award, leaving questions as to whether he and Masahiro Tanaka should be eligible in the first place for a later time. 

Until that issue is resolved, we’re left to figure out how valuable Abreu’s been beyond first year players. 

Abreu gets the grudging nod over Tanaka on what should be a non-story by now, but he’s also being undervalued by not being seriously considered for the MVP plume at all. 

In other years, his numbers — the higher batting average really — would run circles over Trout’s MVP bid. WArheads won’t have his back so much as taking on Alex Gordon’s cause. Crackpots are suggesting extending King Felix’s reign to the MVP world, and Robinson Cano’s bid will increase tenfold if the Mariners make the playoffs. 

Michael Nelson Trout will win his first MVP award after being unfairly juked the past two seasons. The only nod against his case is how much higher his batting average and stolen base totals were in the past, but I’d take this version because it hits the ball harder. 

Trout won’t win because of WAR. It’s because he’s clearly the game’s best player hitting second for the game’s best team. The greatest two-hole hitter of all time is doing his victory lap at age 40. The symbolism to usher out Jeter by giving the one closest to him the highest single-season individual award he was denied. 

But underneath all that, we’re still likely to properly credit one man’s pursuit because of his team’s failures. 

The not-a-playoff team card will be indirectly used to suppress Abreu’s arguable MVP numbers.

We can dice and chop Abreu’s slashes and totals to lessen the impact of what could also partly be luck. ESPN does this fancy thing with their home run leader boarding, classifying such things as speed off bat, distance, amount of time it took from batter’s box to landing spot outside the fair zone of play, as well as comparative tools, including how many parks it would have left yard in. But it pretty much all sums up the still arbitrarily determined no doubters vs. just enoughs. Abreu is a just enough kind of guy, his long fly balls having enough carry to plop out of a hitter’s home park. 

Such dicing shouldn’t take away from a great hitting season, in an era where runs are hard to come by. Here’s one example, you already know one of the batters is going to be Abreu, guess the next one:

Batter A: 175 OPS plus

Batter B: 164 OPS plus

Batter A is Abreu, duh. Batter B won an MVP ring, beating out Mike Trout and winning the Triple Crown. 

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The State of WAR

Jeff Passan has written his way into becoming one of the most credible sources of baseball journalism, in the traditional sense, the most (should be the most) trusted byline among national beat writers. 

He is by no means an opponent of WAR, and although he isn’t its most zealous adherent — using it more as a guidepost that informs his analysis. In that even-keeled, open-minded tone, he’s eclipsed crotchery columnists who are to old, tired, mired in formula and entrenched in its role of myth-making.

When he accounts for WAR annd calls for reforming or at least rethinking the stat, he strikes the middle ground of credulity. When he points out what’s wrong with it, you listen. 

In his most recent 10 Degrees column for Yahoo Sports, he outlines the danger of submitting fully to the most controversial stat ever created since, well, OK, on base percentage. 

He points out the limitations of quantifying defense. With what little information he had — because we haven’t yet reached the point of quantifying defense for lack of means — Passan argued how the two different versions of the statistic — found on Baseball Reference and Fangraphs — may have overvalued Mets CF Juan Lagares’ glove. He used crude video analysis that’s yet our most sophisticated tool in presenting a more accurate accounting of a fielder’s ability by assigning values to degrees of difficulty. 

Soon enough, video technology will evolve — it has already began — allowing statisticians to gauge angles, velocity and distance from the time the ball comes off the box until a defender within its vicinity. Everyghint will be illuminated enough. 

Lagares, valued between four to five wins on his glove alone, isn’t an abnormality. Depending on what formula is used, 3B Josh Donaldson is the league’s most valuable player. If it weren’t for his Beltre-esque work at third being so obvious, WAR would have lost credibility. He’s batting below .250 BA. Then again, he also has 26 home runs and 27 doubles, and relative to his position and universal to the modern game’s aversion to runs, that accounts for much. 

But beter than Mike Trout?

Doubtful, Passan writes. 

A majority will tend to agree, and I’m already bracing for Trout to be used as a case against Wins Above Replacement, after all but creating a schism between baseball observers. 

Passan raised Trout’s flag over Cabrera the past two years. WAR was part of it. But he didn’t lean into the stat as much. 

That kind of dilluted argument was raised when Max Scherzer, he of the sabermetric gold stanard of high strikeout rates, low walk rates and fine-ass FIPs, was made into the enemy. His sin, in the eyes of the zealous egg-head community? He built consensus with the old guard because he won 20 games, on record. 

Like, please. 

It’s silly. 

In a roundabout way, Passan’s column anticipates the venom that will cloud judgement on what he still recognizes as an important measure to evaluate a player’s individual performance. 

There’s going to be some ideas that shouldn’t leave the marketplace, but will. Before that happens, some sobriety is in order.

Defensive values have skewed WAR totals this season. Alex Gordon is an excellent player. This we know. He’s even a good hitter. To suggest that he’s Trout’s equal, mostly through a stat that has overvalued his defense, is insipid. Gordon may be a better defender, but he plays left field, and is compared to his peers in name only. Trout plays center field, a position that has requires more range and offers a higher degree of difficulty, which means his glove is  compared with the best outfield defenders in the game. 

Gordon has to fend off Brett Gardner and Yoenis Cespedes for his position’s gold coins. Trout competes against Billy Hamilton, Lagares, Carlos Gomez and Carlos Gomez. 

And then there’s the bat to contend with. 

It’s a call to look at a player’s individual accomplishments by considering the best tools — numbers, eye-test, awe-factor, yada yada. 

It’s like knowing that X-Factor exists as the sunlight, but not really seeing. You’re awed by it. 

Again, that’s one of many considerations. 

We’ll still go towards our instincts after looking at the best available sources of information. WAR gives us an excellent guidepost, or else just view the all-time WAR leaders and know you’ll be seeing the greatest occupying the first 10 spots. 

Passan’s right, though. WAR is not infallible. Nothing is in baseball. 

Donkey Punch
Adam Dunn collected two hits, including a two-RBI home run off Mariners SP Chris Young on Monday as the Oakland A’s snapped out of a three-game weekend series sweep with a 6-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. 
Dunn was acquired late Saturday from the Chicago White Sox for minor league pitcher Nolan Sanburn. He batted cleanup as a designated hitter in his Oakland debut. 

Donkey Punch

Adam Dunn collected two hits, including a two-RBI home run off Mariners SP Chris Young on Monday as the Oakland A’s snapped out of a three-game weekend series sweep with a 6-1 win over the Seattle Mariners. 

Dunn was acquired late Saturday from the Chicago White Sox for minor league pitcher Nolan Sanburn. He batted cleanup as a designated hitter in his Oakland debut. 

The K King goes to Oakland: Dunn announces impending retirement after the season

Adam Dunn has hit 460 career home runs, but he’s down to his final outs. 

After being traded to the struggling Oakland A’s for minor league Nolan Sanburn* Sunday, in a move that required Dunn to waive his partial no-trade clause, the Big Donkey is calling it quits, reports 670theScore’s Bruce Levin. 

*In the tradition of Balfour, Furbush et. al., effective relievers at one point or the other with unique last names, Sanburn’s upside is drawn not from what he’s done in the minors but what his ancestors decided to call themselves. 

Among active players Dunn ranks third behind Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi with 1,311 walks*, a trait A’s GM Billy Beane salivated on — back in the early ’00s. He’s fourth on the active* home run list, behind Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and David Ortiz.

*Technically, Dunn ranks fourth in walks and fifth in home runs because Manny Ramirez is still toiling in the minors as a player-coach for the Cubs. 

Ah, but there is one category where Dunn leads all active players, trailing only the great Mr. October Reggie Jackson and Jim Thome on the all-time list. By retiring after his age-34 season Dunn, he guaranteed not to creep on that record. Without telling you what it is, here’s the total for the top three hitters in said category:

- Jackson — 2,597

- Thome — 2,548

- Dunn — 2.352

Because those numbers are too low for career RBI  numbers, it could only mean one thing — Dunn will avoid leading the MLB for most career strikeouts. It’s an amazing accomplishment, and rates-wise, Dunn blows ‘em out of the water. Jackson took 21 years to get there. Thome took 22. Dunn retires after 14 season.

Dunn’s career retrospective, which puts Dave Kingman’s to shame in both good and bad ways, is by no means a HOF career. Reaching 500 homers would have made him the second to be excluded with finality, and the first perceived drug-free one to do so.

The K’s, of which he’s king, will keep him out. His 16-WAR career is nowhere close to the average for a first baseman and left fielder. Yes, people. Dunn may have sold his last glove on eBay, but he played most of his career playing both sides, which is more than what Paul Molitor could say. But he’s been so bad defensively, offset in the past by the consistent ability to hit 40 or more home runs, that we’ll probably remember him as the designated hitter he was in Chicago. 

Dunn hit 40 or more in five consecutive years, and six times overall. Jackson hit 40 or more once. Thome hit more than 40 four times, one of which was a career high 51 home runs. Never did he string five consecutive years of doing so. ManRam hit 40 or more five times, stringing together back-to-back seasons of doing so. Giambi hit 40 or more three times. Alex Rodriguez did it eight times, six consecutive. Sly King Dave “Fucking” Kingman, Dunn’s closest statistical comparison via Baseball Reference, has hit 40 or more once. Greg Vaughn, who as you might not recall, almost became THAT guy who broke Roger Maris’ single season record, hit 40 or more three times. I only bring Vaughn* up because he’s Dunn’s closest age-related comp at 34-years-old. 

*Vaugn hit 28 home runs for the Devil Rays, after signing a contract that defined Devil Rays baseball. Devil Rays baseball is galaxies away from Rays baseball. 

Dunn will go down in history for more than the K’s. His career epitaph reads “died by the Shift,” that one defensive innovation* that’s been destroying extreme pull hitters that’s left their home run totals intact, but has otherwise destroyed their batting averages, and in the eyes of fans, their usefulness. Dunn isn’t its only high profile victim. Mark Teixeira was once considered a good-all around hitter before the shift turned him into an exclusive power hitter. Chris Davis looked like he was going to beat the shift, but is in danger of finishing below the Mendoza Line this year. And on and on.  

*Hello, Rays baseball!

Dunn will most probably sign the last big contract for an exclusive. I say probably because the White Sox get high on DH’s, and Victor Martinez is set to become a free agent. Still, probably is too much because Dunn inked a four-year $56 million deal that’s paid him $15 million annually for the past two seasons to do three things — walk, strike out or hit one out of the park. 

And there’s value in such swingers. Jack Cust had a pretty good peak that naturally came with the A’s. Russle The Muscle Branyan smashed 31 playing most of his games at Safeco. At 37*, he was signed mid-season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, after plying his wares with Kenny Powers in Mexican baseball. The Milwaukee Brewers found out you can use those guys to good effect, platooning Mark Reynolds with decidedly non power Lyle Overbay. Imagine a platoon of young Dunn and old Olerud. Damnit, why didn’t that happen?

*That’s like, now. Branyan is on a major league roster. 

Dunn won’t play for the A’s everyday. He’ll likely hit against righties, where 18 of his 20 home runs come against. Oakland GM Billy Beane has brought platoon splits back in style. Dunn’s already an upgrade. On a must-win Sunday game vs. the L.A. Angels of Anaheim, Alberto Callaspo filled the DH spot against Matt Shoemaker. 

There are other numbers in play. 

Oakland’s offense seemingly died in the second half, ranking just ahead of the Phillies for the least runs scored in the month of August. The trade that sent Yoenis Cespedes to Boston is an easy scapegoat. In a small sample size, Cespedes has been slightly worse in Boston, so whatever advantage his .277 BA / .299 OBP / 112 OPS plus in 26 games since the trade is minuscule at best. 

And throughout 2014, Dunn may have been the better hitter. At worst, acquiring negates Cespdedes’ loss. Cespedes had a 115 OPS plus in Oakland. Dunn has a 117 OPS plus. Forget overall value, because no one’s crying about losing Cespedes’ glove in left, aside from the run-preventing highlight plays and Best Throw Ever putouts at home plate. 

Oakland needed a bat. In theory, the last month of Dunn’s career could help account for whatever was lost when Cespedes got traded for two months of Jon Lester. In reality, Beane’s still got to worry about the eight other guys who’ve stopped hitting. 

Dunn OK’d the trade because he’s never been in the postseason. Through no fault of his own, he might miss it again. On the bright side, Oakland’s the closest he’ll get after playing for terrible incarnations* of the Reds, Nationals, Dbacks and White Sox. 

*Cincinnati, Washington and Arizona made the playoffs post Dunn. The White Sox may not be far behind. 

The UTIL merry go ‘round: O’s acquire INF Kelly Johnson from Red Sox for Weeks, De Jesus


Kelly Johnson had a cup of unleaded coffee for the Boston Red Sox, seemingly spending more time on the DL than on the active list a month after the New York Yankees bartered him for Stephen Drew at the non-waiver deadline. 

And now he’s gone, most probably for good. 

The Red Sox engineered a late night waiver deal, sending the infielder along with corner infielder Michael Almanzar to the Baltimore Orioles for 2B Jemille Weeks and infielder Ivan De Jesus. 

Hey, remember De Jesus? Boston got him in the Nick Punto package. No worries if you don’t*. De Jesus was shipped to Pittsburgh along with Jerry Sands before the 2013 season even began. Boston won that trade because it acquired Brock Holt. Close to two seasons later, GM Bein Cherington got DJ Jr. back.

*He played eight games for Boston, slashing nothing.  

Which goes to show how we shouldn’t dismiss so-called “depth pieces*,” because ultimately, that’s what Weeks and De Jesus are. At the time of the trade, both are crappy versions of Holt, stuck in the minors most of the season, and not even competent enough to be young versions of Johnson, which Holt appears to be, minus the power. 

*i.e. Triple A filler, because the PawSox are in the playoffs.

Holt’s Boston’s lord and savior, giving a sour first-to-last season a glimmer of hope after playing in every defensive position but catcher. I’m pretty certain he can pitch, too. I like his upside over Allen Webster*. Holt leads the team in batting average, a cute stat, we’re all aware, but he’s also the team’s lead-off hitter, which says a lot considering how lead-offs are chosen. 

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Coco B.Ware

Coco B.Ware

Can’t touch this.

Can’t touch this.

After Richards’ season ending injury, hope glimmers for Angels’ WS aspirations


   Garrett Richards was by far the Angels’ best starter before a gruesome Wednesday night knee injury ended his season.

   One night after Richards was carted off Fenway Park, and on the same day the team announced that he was undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a torn patella that will sideline him for six to nine months, the Angels secured a two-game lead over idle Oakland for the best record in the Majors. 

   Still, the team and its fans are on panic mode. There’s almost no way the Angels don’t make the postseason, Even if Oakland catches up — no sure thing given its dry offense and under-performing starters — the Angels won’t likely lose a grip on one of two wild card spots. 

   But after signing Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and with Mike Trout still baseball’s best player despite his recent struggles, playing in October for the first time since 2009 isn’t enough. 

   Even before catching up to the A’s, the Angels had World Series aspirations. That seemingly crumbled when Richards’ knee buckled while trying to cover first base.

   Don’t stop dreaming. 

   Richards isn’t just the Angels’ best pitcher. He’s among the best in the league, arguably a Top Four arm in the American League with a dominant 2.61 ERA / 2.61 FIP (not a typo), a career high 4.4 fWAR in 168.2 innings. If it weren’t for Felix Hernandez, Richards would have had a clear path at winning the Cy Young award. 

   Looking at Richards’ stats and thinking of what could have been hurts, for sure. Subtracting Richards from the team’s rotation makes it look awfully ordinary, and before Matt Shoemaker’s 7.2 innings of one-hit ball, the team’s starters minus Richards have a collective 4.04 ERA. In other years that would have been good enough. Not so this year, when runs have been suppressed as ever.

  Elite starters are valued, especially in the playoffs, because they have the most control over any defensive position in preventing runs. Stacking up on high-strikeout, low-walk arms is an attempt to reduce luck and random variance from the equation. And because we’re at an age where runs are suppressed like the ball was made of concrete and rhinoceros hide, there’s a tendency to put too much importance on starters. Which, in truth, is a valid point, despite the Lemmings-like approach to evaluating starting pitching’s trumpeted virtues.

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Red Sox win Castillo derby, sign Cuban import to record $72.5 million contract


Meet La Potential. 

Not satisfied with acquiring LF Yoenis Cespedes — La Potencia, The Power — the Boston Red Sox may have upgraded its outfield yet again after agreeing to a record seven-year $72 million with Cuban CF/SS Rusney Castillo, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports.

In replacing Jacoby Ellsbury, the third time’s the charm. Maybe. Quite possibly. The Sox and 28 other teams seem to think so. We’ll see. Sooner rather than later.  

The heavily back loaded deal begins in 2014, with little guaranteed money this season that allows Boston to spread Castillo’s cap hit to just above $10 million a year, offering a rich team luxury tax relief in the next six years.

The chase for Castillo, who hasn’t played organized baseball in 2012 but wowed contending teams in his workouts, including the Giants, Tigers and Yankees, with an ability to hit the ball for power in all fields. He’ll likely see action in the majors as soon as possible*.

*Castillo, currently on a visiting visa, needs to apply for a work visa to start playing. He had until the end of August to secure the visa and be eligible for playoff rosters. By signing with Boston, grossly out of contention at this point, he can still play and not worry about missing the August deadline, though he could have beaten the August deadline anyway. For an extra $20 million (initial estimates had Castillo signing a $50 million, six-year deal), he’s not going to miss October play too much. 

Unlike his contract, which blew past the deal 1B Jose Abreu clinched with the Chicago White Sox for the highest ever given to a Cuban defector, Castillo’s bat, speed and glove aren’t guaranteed. 

Baseball American’s Ben Badler compares him to Detroit CF Rajai Davis*. Scouts agree on his attributes — good speed, a line-drive stroke and a playable glove, though they disagree on assessing his Major League potential. Per the scouts Badler spoke with at the University of Miami workouts, some say he’ll be an everyday regular, while others believe he’ll be a fourth outfielder.

*Castillo’s also compared to Brett Gardner, but with more power. We’ll see. Gardner is an elite defender, and I’m not so sure “more power” becomes much of a difference after Gardner’s home run outburst this year. One thing’s almost certain — despite owning what’s reported to be uncanny bat speed, Castillo will likely take a hit on his batting average (and his on base percentage) if he decides to swing big for 15 to 20 homers. Why? Because Major League pitchers throw harder, and they’re throwing harder with movement.  

Castillo, 27, is built like a compact Humvee at 5’9” and 205 pounds, adding muscle, Badler noted it to be about 20 pounds, since coming stateside. In 360 games in Cuba he slashed .319 BA / .383 OBP / .516 SLG, mashing 51 home runs and stealing 76 bases. 

The combination of speed and power is all too alluring for the Red Sox front office, which lately has concentrated on drafting athletic types like Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. The former is a natural center fielder, the latter a converted second baseman.

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Coco Crisp has had better days. 

Crisp lost track of a ball that turned into a ground rule double for Chris Johnson, watched as 1B Freddie Freeman and 2B Phil Gosselin smashed one over the fence.

The Braves hit four home runs, tagging A’s SP Jason Hammel three times, to defeat the A’s, 7-2.