Friday, June 29, 2018
Ted Williams' .344 career batting average is the seventh highest in Major League history
The list of Major League Baseball’s career batting average leaders is heavily weighted with left-handed hitters.
Historically, left-handed hitters have the highest lifetime batting averages, which is uncanny. Take a look at the 20 greatest hitters in Major League history.
1. Ty Cobb, L, .3664
2. Rogers Hornsby, R, .3585
3. Joe Jackson, L, .3558
4. Lefty O’Doul, L, .3493
5. Ed Delahanty, R, .3458
6. Tris Speaker, L, .3447
7. Billy Hamilton, L, .3444
7. Ted Williams, L, .3444
9. Dan Brouthers, L, .3424
9. Babe Ruth, L, .3421
11. Dave Orr, R, .3420
12. Harry Heilmann, R, .3416
13. Pete Browning, R, .3415
14. Willie Keeler, L, .3413
15. Bill Terry, L, .3412
16. Lou Gehrig, L, .3401
16. George Sisler, L, .3401
18. Jesse Burkett, L, .3382
18. Tony Gwynn, L, .3382
18. Nap Lajoie, R, .3382
Quite remarkably, eight of the top 10 and 14 out of the 20 highest career batting averages belong to left-handed hitters.
Yet, lefties comprise roughly 10 percent of the population. That means the vast majority of hitters and pitchers are right-handed. It also makes the presence of all these lefties among the career batting average leaders all the more amazing.
Over the last 60 years, 61 of the 120 batting titles — more than half — have been won by left-handed hitters. Yet, lefties aren’t even close to constituting half the overall population. Again, lefties represent about 1 in 10 people.
Left-handed hitters have a better chance against right-handed pitchers, who are the majority. Conversely, right-handed hitters have a better chance against lefties, of which there are fewer.
From Little League through high school, college and even the minors, hitters are much more likely to face a right-handed pitcher, which gives left-handed hitters an advantage. When left-handed hitters reach the majors, they have a much better chance against righty pitchers, who comprise the majority.
That’s why lefty hitters are historically so successful, and the record books bear this out.
Thursday, June 14, 2018
Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski is third in Red Sox history with 452 career home runs, trailing only Ted Williams (521) and David Ortiz (483). Yaz was in second place for nearly five decades, until being passed by Ortiz in Big Papi's final season.
Yet, Yaz didn’t start as his career as a slugger and, aside from a few freak seasons, he never really was one. Yaz's home run total was the product of consistency and longevity.
In 1961, his rookie season, Yaz hit just 11 homers. He didn't reach the 20-homer mark until 1965, his fifth season. But Yaz regressed the very next year, falling back to 16 home runs.
Look at his home run total by year:
1961 - 11
1962 - 19
1963 - 14
1964 - 15
1965 - 20
1966 - 16
There was nothing remarkable or auspicious about those yearly totals. Actually, for the first six years of his career, Yaz looked like a pretty ordinary home run hitter. He was a line-drive hitter, who hit the ball into the gaps.
That all changed in 1967, when Yaz blasted a career-high 44 homers, while knocking in 121 runs and batting .326, which earned him the rare and illustrious Triple Crown. That year, Yaz also led the American League in runs, hits, OBP, slugging and OPS. It was a season for the ages; Yaz was the total package.
The winter before that famed season, he trained like a fighter, hitting a speed bag and skipping rope. He lifted weights attached to pulleys and swung a lead bat. “It was the first time I really worked out hard during the off-season,” he later said. By sheer force of will and with a purposeful approach, Yaz became a power-hitting pull hitter by putting more of his hips into his swing.
Yaz was not a big man. He had to employ perfect technique in order to launch 40 homers into the stands. Once he reached that mark, he felt tremendous pressure to keep clearing fences around the league. Such feats didn’t come naturally and the stress of it ate at him.
“I wish I could have played for 23 years at Ted Williams’ size [6’3”, 205 pounds],” he told Sports Illustrated 1983, at the end of his final season. "I was 5'11½", about 185 pounds. When I went to hitting home runs in 1967, it took a whole change. It got to a point where I had to be a perfectionist at the game, where I couldn't make a mistake because of my size. Everything had to be perfect. Absolutely perfect. I wish I’d had Williams' ability."
Yaz’s home run total fell back to 23 in 1968, before surging up to 40 in both the 1969 and 1970 seasons. But that was his last hurrah as a raw, home run hitter. Yaz never again reached the 30-homer plateau for the rest of his career, which stretched through 1983, a span of 13 additional seasons.
In fact, Yaz only reached the 20-home-run threshold three times in that span, hitting 21 in 1976, 28 in 1977 and 21 in 1979.
The pursuit of perfection, or at least home runs, seemed to burden him after his historic ’67 season. Sadly, the game was often a joyless pursuit for Yastrzemski, as he lamented in his autobiography, "Yaz: Baseball, the Wall, and Me."
"I never had any fun at the game... I had to work so hard. It's a funny thing to say. I loved the game. I loved the competition. But I never had any fun. I never enjoyed it. All hard work all the time. I let the game dominate me. It ate me up inside. I could never leave it at the ball park. I thought, as I got older, it would be easier, but it got harder as I got older because then I had more to prove...."
First and foremost, Yaz was a true hitter — not a power hitter. The Red Sox famed left fielder won three batting titles (’62, '67, '68), while also leading the league in OBP five times, OPS four times and slugging three times.
While Yaz is often perceived as a slugger due to his 452 career homers — and the fact that from 1970 until 2016, when he was surpassed by Ortiz — he was second only to The Splendid Splinter on Boston’s career home runs list -- the 18-time All Star hit as many as 20 home runs just eight times in his 23 seasons. Captain Carl himself admitted that he wasn’t an elite home run hitter, despite his career total.
“I would say as a hitter, [David Ortiz] is next to Ted,” Yastrzemski told The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy in 2014. “…I would put him ahead of me. He had more power than I had.”
However, Yaz is a member of the 3,000-hit club and is the first American League player in that club to also accumulate over 400 home runs. He is second in MLB history for games played and third for total at-bats. However, it’s the combination of his home run and hit totals that makes him most satisfied.
“I'm very pleased and very proud of my accomplishments, but I'm most proud of that (hitting 400 home runs and 3,000 hits). Not (Ted) Williams, not (Lou) Gehrig, not (Joe) DiMaggio did that. They were Cadillacs and I’m a Chevrolet,” Yaz once said, quite humbly.
One of Yastrzemski’s greatest attributes was his ability, or sheer will, to play through injuries.
“You see, I was a guy who always played with injuries,” Yaz recounted in his autobiography. “When I retired I had played in more games than anyone in baseball history, with the most 100-game seasons… It had always seemed to me that not playing, whatever the reason, was a signal that you didn’t care… All in all, I was on the disabled list only once. I don't know whether it was luck that had kept me off or that I just refused to yield to the pain and injury."
That is the definition of a “gamer.”
Yaz's place in Red Sox history is secure. He the club’s all-time leader in career RBI, runs, hits, singles, doubles, total bases and games played. He was also an excellent defender, as evidenced by his seven Gold Gloves.
The reality is that Carl Yastrzemski was a complete player. He was so much more than just a home run hitter, and that’s how he should be remembered.
Friday, May 25, 2018
At first glance, the designation of Hanley Ramirez by the Red Sox seemed surprising. After all, he is under contract for $22 million this season and had belted 23 homers last year and 30 in 2016.
However, upon further review, Ramirez simply wasn’t living up to his contract or giving the Red Sox consistent production from the N0. 3 spot in the lineup.
The 34-year-old slashed .254/.313/.395, with six home runs and 29 RBI, in 44 games for the Red Sox this year. Boston has played 50 games so far and had given him significant playing time and plenty of opportunities. That’s just not enough production to warrant $22 million.
Yet, there were additional financial considerations for next season as well.
Ramirez’s four-year, $88 million contract (2015-2018) has a fifth-year option that automatically vests if he amasses 1,050 total plate appearances in 2017-2018. Hanley only needed 497 PAs this season for the Red Sox to be on the hook for $22 million in 2019. Ramirez had already compiled 195 plate appearances this season and was well on his way to 497.
Hanley was signed as a free agent to be an offensive spark and a run producer. However, he had mixed results in Boston over parts of four seasons.
2015: 105 games, .249 AVG/.291 OBP/.426 SLG/.717 OPS, 19 HR, 53 RBI, 12 2B, 59 runs
2016: 147 games, .286 AVG/.361 OBP/.505 SLG/.866 OPS, 30 HR, 111 RBI, 28 2B, 81 runs
2017: 133 games, .242 AVG/.320 OBP/.429 SLG/.750 OPS, 23 HR, 62 RBI, 24 2B, 58 runs
2018: 44 games, .254 AVG/.313 OBP/.395 SLG/.708 OPS, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 7 2B, 25 runs
As you can see, the only year in which Ramirez gave the Red Sox what they were expecting, and what they were paying for, was 2016. Last year, Ramirez, a former batting crown winner, posted his lowest batting average ever.
Hanley had surgery on his left shoulder in October and the Red Sox hoped it would help him rediscover the swing that had made him one of the game's premier hitters earlier in his career. That hope never materialized.
Consider what the Red Sox are getting from JD Martinez, at a similar cost:
48 games, .328 AVG/.383 OBP/.645 SLG/1.029 OPS, 15 HR, 41 RBI, 12 2B, 32 runs
Martinez is making $23.75 million this season and next. If there’s a such thing as “earning” $23 million in baseball, Martinez is doing it.
Ramirez certainly isn't earning $22 million this season and there was no way the Red Sox were willing to pay him the same amount again next season at age 35.
Clearly, Ramirez doesn’t come close to Martinez's value and the only way to rectify that was to cut bait now.
This move will make Gold Glove winner Mitch Moreland the full-time first baseman and give him regular at-bats. That's a good thing. The left-handed slugger is slashing a remarkable .311/.390/.612/1.001 this season. That's the second-best OBP, third-best batting average (min. 100 at-bats) and third-best slugging percentage on the team.
In short, Moreland needs to play everyday and this roster was already jammed.
That’s what this DFA is all about. The Red Sox had to make room for Dustin Pedroia and Ramirez was the odd man out. Given his outsized cost and limited production, Hanley did nothing to prevent that.
Ramirez should never have been expected to be a middle-of-the-order presence because he was never that type of hitter. This failed experiment can be laid at the feet of former Boston GM Ben Cherington.
In the end, the Red Sox are still haunted by Cherington's horrible legacy, which includes Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, both of whom the Red Sox are paying or will pay to play for other teams.
That's nothing short of disastrous.
Friday, May 18, 2018
With five-man rotations, seven-man bullpens and strict 100-pitch limits, many observers have lamented that pitching has forever changed.
Just 40 big-league pitchers made as many at 30 starts last season. Consider that there are 30 major league teams, each of which has a five-man rotation, and that adds up to 150 starters league wide. This means just 27 percent of major league pitchers made at least 30 starts last year. Yet, most teams use additional starters during the season due to injury or ineffectiveness, so there were even more than 150 starters in 2017.
More alarmingly, just 15 pitchers threw at least 200 innings across the majors last year.
Complete games are largely a thing of the past. Last season, Cleveland’s Corey Kluber and and Minnesota’s Ervin Santana led the majors with five complete games apiece — five.
Many observers have concluded that we may never again see another 300-game winner. For perspective, 45-year-old Bartolo Colon, now in his 21st season, leads all active pitchers with 242 wins. He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of reaching 300. CC Sabaathia, at age 37 and in his 18h season, is second at 239. He, too, will fall short of 300. Lastly, Justin Verlander, at age 35 and in his 14th season, has 193 wins, which is presently third most. It's unlikely that he will reach the mark either.
While those pitchers have all amassed commendable totals, in past decades they likely wouldn’t have merited Hall of Fame consideration since they’re all well below the much vaunted 300-win plateau.
That said, wins are an absurd measure of a pitcher’s merit and, thankfully, modern statistical analysis recognizes this.
However, most of the game’s current pitchers are unable to measure up to other traditional hallmarks of a pitcher’s quality — such as innings pitched, which not only indicate durability but also effectiveness.
If a pitcher is able to compile 200 innings a year for 15 seasons — which seems like the stuff of fiction today — he would amass 3,000 career innings. There are 54 pitchers in the Hall of Fame who threw at least 3,000 innings and a total of 136 in MLB history have reached the mark. Moreover, there are 30 pitchers in Cooperstown who threw at least 4,000 innings and a total of 40 pitchers have reached that plateau.
However, one traditional measure of a pitcher’s greatness, strikeouts, is actually on the rise.
Major League batters compiled 6,656 strikeouts compared with 6,360 hits in April, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. That had never happened in any calendar month in the history of baseball. It is the continuation of an ongoing trend.
Last year, batters struck out in 21.6 percent of their plate appearances, a major league record. This season, it has risen to 22.6 percent, which, if sustained, would be the 11th straight year in which the strikeout rate has increased.
Strikeouts have become an epidemic; they plague today’s game. Too many batters swing for the fences in every at -bat and can’t even make contact anymore. A new strikeout-rate record has been set each season since 2008.
A total of 16 major league pitchers posted at least 200 strikeouts last season and four more notched at least 194. Remember, just 15 pitchers threw at least 200 innings. This year, at the quarter mark of the 2018 season, 38 pitchers have at last 50 Ks, which puts them on pace for 200. Not all will get there, but the trend is clear.
Ten active pitchers have at least 2,000 career strikeouts and most of them have a clear shot at 3,000. Here’s where they rank, followed by how many seasons they have played and their age:
1. CC Sabathia (18, 37) 2,874 L
2. Justin Verlander (14, 35) 2,500 R
3. Bartolo Colon (21, 45) 2,486 R
4. Felix Hernandez (14, 32) 2,387 R
5. Zack Greinke (15, 34) 2,294 R
6. Cole Hamels (13, 34) 2,284 L
7. Max Scherzer (11, 33) 2,240 R
8. Clayton Kershaw (11, 30) 2,168 L
9. James Shields (13, 36) 2,116 R
10. Jon Lester (13, 34) 2,077 L
A decade or so from now, a whole new batch of today’s hurlers will have joined the 3,000K club. It’s fairly easy to predict.
Pitchers are overwhelming hitters, who seem content with striking out in a way that would have been embarrassing to past generations of hitters. Batters are no longer satisfied with hitting singles, sacrificing and moving up baserunners. Now, it’s all or nothing — home runs or bust. These days, it’s all about launch angle.
Consequently, batting averages have dropped from .269 in 2006 (the first year of strict PED testing) to .246 heading into Friday night’s games. That would be the lowest in a season since 1972.
A long as hitters (and organizations) emphasize home runs at the exclusion of everything else, and as long as pitchers continue to consistently throw in the mid to upper-90s, this soaring strikeout trend will continue.
Consequently, the 3,000-strikeout club will also continue to grow. Unlike some other pitching categories — such as starts, innings and complete games — strikeouts are surging.
Someday, when we look back on this era, it will likely be remembered for some of the greatest punch out artists in history. However, those pitchers will also be plagued by historic home-runs-allowed totals.
Such is the state of today’s game.
Tuesday, May 15, 2018
When it comes to the catching position, defense usually trump’s offense. Pitch calling, pitch framing and the comfort level of pitchers matter a lot. Additionally, blocking and throwing skills are highly valued. That’s why the offensively challenged Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon keep getting run out there by Alex Cora, day after day.
Meanwhile, Blake Swihart has caught a single inning this season.
But how impactful have Vazquez and Leon been this year?
Chris Sale has a 2.17 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP. However, that’s because he is Chris Sale, not because of the catcher he is throwing to.
Rick Porcello has a 3.28 ERA and a 1.01 WHIP. Maybe it could be argued that Vazquez and Leon are helping him be that good. Then again, they both caught Porcello last season, when he was awful (4.65 ERA, 1.40 WHIP).
On the other hand, all of the other Red Sox starters are struggling.
- Eduardo Rodriguez has a 4.58 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP.
- David Price has a 4.89 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP.
- Drew Pomeranz has a 5.47 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP.
Are we to believe that Vazquez and Leon's game calling and defensive skills are aiding those pitchers or making any sort of meaningful difference?
I, for one, don't buy it.
Yet, Alex Cora insists those are the reasons that Vazquez and Leon must press on as starters, while Swihart continues to languish on the bench.
Then there’s the matter of the anemic offense the Red Sox are getting from their backstops. Boston's catchers have a major league-worst .224 slugging percentage and a .178 batting average, which is the third worst in the majors.
Vazquez is slashing .179/.230/.217 (yes, his on base is actually higher than his slugging), with 0 homers, 5 RBI and just 4 doubles.
Leon is slashing .170/.220/.234, with 1 homer, 5 RBI and 0 doubles. Yes, he has exactly 1 extra-base hit this season.
Swihart, one of the most physically gifted players on the Red Sox roster, has long been touted for his offense. He played shortstop in high school, but the Red Sox converted him into a catcher because of his athleticism and strong throwing arm.
Yet, he can’t find playing time right now. The 26-year-old has played in only 15 of the Red Sox’ 41 games this season and has just 29 at bats.
The Red Sox will have to make a roster move when Dustin Pedroia returns in the next couple of weeks. Either Eduardo Nunez, Brock Holt or Swihart will have to go; the club will be unable to keep all of them as reserves. Swihart seems like the obvious choice, but that would leave Boston without a solid backup if Vazquez or Leon ends up on the DL.
Swihart is out of options and can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers. Another club would surely claim the 2011 first round draft pick (No. 26), which is why Boston has been hanging onto him and stashing him on the bench.
Yet, something has to give.
The Red Sox have kept Swihart on the roster because they don’t have any viable alternatives within the organization, if Vazquez or Leon sustain an injury. However, Swihart needs at bats and he is withering while waiting to play. Over his mere 29 at-bats this season, Swihart is slashing .138/.219/.172. He has too much potential to be wasting on Boston’s bench.
Swihart played first base, third base, catcher and left field during spring training. This season he has appeared, quite limitedly, at first base, left field and designated hitter.
The Red Sox have everything to gain and little to lose by playing Swihart at catcher. To this point, Vazquez and Leon have given them little to nothing.
It’s time to let Swihart play.
Friday, February 23, 2018
With spring training games officially underway, it’s a good time to begin projecting the Red Sox Opening Day roster. Of course, a significant injury could change things between now and then, but otherwise Boston’s staring lineup and rotation are in place.
There are a couple of questions in the bullpen -- such as whether the team can really break camp with just one lefty -- and on the bench, but much of the roster is set. That said, some very interesting decisions remain. Let's take a look.
Starters (five spots)
Chris Sale (L)
David Price (L)
Drew Pomeranz (L)
Rick Porcello (R)
Brian Johnson? (L)
Johnson is out of options. That means he can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers, where he would likely be claimed by another team.
Though the 27-year-old has just 31 1/3 innings of big league action under his belt, he was a first-round pick of the Red Sox in 2012 and is a former top-100 prospect. The team would rather not lose him.
Eduardo Rodriguez is still recovering from major offseason knee surgery and will begin the year on the DL. The lefty underwent reconstruction of the patellofemoral ligament in his right knee in October. At the time, the club said he would not be able to resume pitching for around six months, which would put him on course to begin throwing by mid-April. That means he won’t be ready to join the Red Sox until at least May.
Knuckleballer Steven Wright also had knee surgery last May, in which cartilage from a cadaver was transplanted into his left knee. He is also expected to start the season on the DL. It should not be forgotten that he was an All Star in 2016.
Bullpen (seven spots)
Craig Kimbrel (R)
Carson Smith (R)
Joe Kelly (R)
Matt Barnes (R)
Heath Hembree (R)
Brandon Workman (R)
Robby Scott (L)
This is a pretty solid, young bunch. The Boston bullpen posted a collective 3.15 ERA last season, the second-best in the majors, after Cleveland (2.89). The group's .226 batting average against was sixth-best in the majors. The question is whether or not they need another lefty.
Righty Tyler Thornburg could be a great help, but it's unrealistic to expect much from him after undergoing thoracic-outlet surgery last June. The 29-year-old faces a long road back and may never again be the same. The procedure has derailed other pitchers in the past.
Position players (13 spots)
C - Christian Vazquez/Sandy Leon
1B - Hanley Ramirez/Mitch Moreland
2B - Eduardo Nunez
SS - Xander Bogaerts
3B - Rafael Devers
LF - Andrew Benintendi
CF - Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF - Mookie Betts
DH - JD Martinez
It’s a good bet that Vazquez and Leon will split games 60/40 behind the plate, and that Moreland will play a significant amount of games at first base in a platoon with Ramirez. Marinez will serve as the fourth outfielder, which is a primary reason why the team traded Bryce Brentz to Pittsburgh (the team also needed to open a 40-man roster spot).
So, that accounts for 11 spots, leaving two bench positions up for grabs. Here’s where it gets really interesting.
Brock Holt agreed to a $2.2 million salary in arbitration. Though he still has options remaining, his salary and versatility make him a likely roster addition. However, arbitration contracts aren’t guaranteed until the player makes the 25-man roster out of spring training. That means Holt’s spring performance could decide his future with the team. This will be a time to prove that last year's concussion symptoms are a thing of the past.
Deven Marerro and Blake Swihart are both out of options. Each would have to pass through waivers to be reassigned to the minors and the latter would likely be claimed.
Swihart is finally healthy after colliding with the outfield wall in June, 2016, which required subsequent ankle surgery. The 25-year-old was able to catch back-to-back games in the Dominican winter league, where he hit .407 over 18 games. Though Swihart still sees himself as a catcher, there is a logjam at the position and he has said that he is wiling to play wherever the Red Sox need him. Given his great athleticism, Swihart likely has enough versatility to be a solid utility player, until a spot behind the plate opens once again.
Marerro is a slick fielder, who can play both shortstop and third base. However, he can’t hit a lick. The 27-year-old has slashed .208/.259/.309 through 236 at-bats over the past three seasons. At this point, he probably isn’t going to get much better offensively. This is who he is.
With all of that in mind, it seems likely that Holt and Swihart, if healthy, will get the final two roster spots.
Dustin Pedroia will return some time in May -- barring re-injury to his surgically-repaired left knee -- which will create another roster logjam that will need to be resolved at that time. That’s a good problem to have.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Fenway Park’s left field wall is just 310 feet from home plate. Due to that short distance, the Green Monster was built 37.2 feet tall to keep at least some of the balls coming off right-handed hitters bats in the park.
Yet, that close proximity has always made "the wall" a popular target for right-handed hitters. In fact, Fenway has historically been viewed as a right-handed slugger's paradise.
However, the three greatest home run hitters in Red Sox history — Ted Williams (521 HR), David Ortiz (483 HR) and Carl Yastrzemski (452 HR) — were all left-handed batters. In reality, Fenway could be actually viewed as a left-handed slugger’s paradise. That’s something the Red Sox surely keep in mind when drafting players, and when constructing their roster via trades and free agent signings.
However, Fenway Park can be a challenging environment for a right-handed hitter who goes the other way.
For example, right-handed-hitting JD Martinez hits many of his homers to the opposite field, particularly to right center -- the deepest part of Fenway Park. In fact, over the last three seasons, the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Martinez hit the most opposite field home runs in baseball — 45. Khris Davis, the next closest player, hit 39.
Fenway measures 310 feet down the left field line; 379 feet in left center field; 390 feet in center field; 420 feet in deep center field; 380 feet in deep right field; and 302 feet down the right field line.
As noted, Martinez drives the ball the other way a lot — 43.2 percent of his home runs were to right field last year. In fact, Martinez hit 19 opposite-field home runs last season, the most of any hitter in the Majors.
Consider this: Only nine left-handed hitters in all of baseball hit more homers to right field than Martinez did in 2017. He had more opposite-field home runs than nearly every lefty had pulled home runs.
Martinez’s ability to hit the ball all over the park should be viewed as a strength. However, he has to be able to consistently hit balls over, and off, the Green Monster to be truly successful in Boston.
While his all-field ability is desirable, right-center is the deepest part of Fenway, which will present a challenge to Martinez’s outstanding home-run hitting ability. What worked for him in Detroit and Arizona might not work as well in Boston.
Here is MLB.com's analysis of how Martinez might fare at Fenway:
"Despite the enticing 302 feet to Pesky's Pole in the right-field corner, Fenway Park might present some trouble to a hitter with Martinez's spray profile because the fence quickly moves out to 380 feet. A few of Martinez's 2017 homers might have trouble getting out to right at Fenway. As far as the Green Monster, Martinez’s average home run launch angle was a middle-of-the-pack 29 degrees.”
Martinez has gradually morphed from a pull hitter into one who uses the entire field.
In 2014, he knocked 45 percent of his batted balls to left field and only 22 percent to right. However, last season, Martinez hit 38 percent of his balls to left, 33 percent to center and 29 percent to right field.
It will interesting to see what sort of adjustments Martinez makes to hitting at Fenway Park, where the Red Sox play at least 81 games each season. That will be a critical factor in whether or not he is ultimately successful in Boston.
Saturday, February 17, 2018
Hanley Ramirez was never a true power hitter, so don't expect him to become one this season.
Hanley Ramirez eschewed heavy-weight training this offseason in favor of using bands. As a result, Ramirez has dropped 15 pounds and says he has much greater flexibility.
Now 34 years old and coming off shoulder surgery, Ramirez hopes he can return to the player he was in 2016, when he hit 30 homers and had a career-high 111 RBI with Boston.
The Red Sox also hope the first baseman/designated hitter can help carry the offense this season. But here's the thing: Ramirez was never a true power hitter. Before joining the Red Sox, Ramirez had hit as many as 30 homers just once in nine seasons.
Hanley's game was built around speed and hitting. He led the majors with 125 runs in 2008 and won the National League batting title in 2009 with a .342 average. He also stole 51 bags in back-to-back seasons (2006, 2007).
That player is long gone.
After scoring at least 100 runs in four consecutive seasons, 2006-2009, Ramirez has never done it again. The closest he's come in the last seven years was in 2016, when he scored 81 runs for Boston.
Ramirez batted at least .300 in four consecutive seasons (2007-2010) and he hit a stellar .345 in 2013. However, sandwiched around that outstanding season, Ramirez has posted batting averages of .243, .257, .249 and .242. Having your batting average decline by 100 points is like falling off a cliff.
Lastly, while Ramirez was once a genuine stolen base threat, he has't swiped more than 14 bags in the last five seasons. Hanley's speed has gone away, as it generally does for most players as they age.
However, his on-base skills have also declined measurably, right along with his batting average. Hanley has posted an on-base percentage of at least .350 just once in his three seasons with Boston and just three times over the last seven years. Players who don't get on base a good clip don't score regularly.
Power is usually the last thing to go for a big league hitter, yet Hanley has never been a genuine power hitter. Since 2011, he's gone entire seasons with just 10, 13 and 19 homers.
This is the reality the Red Sox are facing as Ramirez is set to begin his fourth season in Boston. All of the 34-year-old's greatest skills have severely declined and the one skill the Red Sox want from him, power, is something that was never his strong suit from the beginning.
Unless band work proves to be the fountain of youth for Ramirez, the Red Sox will do all they can to make sure that he doesn't make 497 plate appearances this season.
That's the magic number that automatically vests his $22 million contract for 2019.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
JD Martinez is said to be “fed up" with the Red Sox and their skimpy, little $125 million, five-year offer. At this point, it’s likely that the Sox are equally fed up with Martinez. The club has reportedly been looking into alternatives all winter long.
Could Miguel Cabrera be one of them?
Dave Dombrowski used to be the General Manager of the Detroit Tigers and was at the helm when the club signed Cabrera to a massive extension in March, 2014.
Cabrera's eight-year, $248 million contract with the Tigers runs through 2023. The pact has an annual average salary of $31 million. There are still six years and $184 million remaining on that deal, plus options in 2024 and 2025. Those options vest with a top-10 finish in the MVP voting the year prior, but include an $8 million buyout.
The terms of the contract stipulate that Cabrera enjoys full no-trade protection. However, being part of a non-competitive team that will be engaging in a long-term rebuild may not be all that palatable to the two-time MVP. Over the past seven months, Cabrera has watched the Tigers trade away J.D. Martinez, Justin Verlander, Justin Upton and Ian Kinsler.
With the bulk of the team’s veteran leadership having left town, Cabrera might not need all that much coaxing to accept a trade to a highly competitive team. The Red Sox might fit the bill.
But would Boston be interested in trading for the 11-time All Star if Detroit made him available?
At age 34, Cabrera has likely peaked and begun his inevitable decline. Last season was undoubtedly the worst of his 15-year career. Playing in only 130 games, Cabrera slashed just .249/.329/.399, numbers that were way off his stellar career averages. After all, he won the Triple Crown in 2012, becoming the first player to achieve the illustrious feat since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.
Furthermore, the first baseman has topped 30 home runs just once in the last four seasons. That said, Cabrera won a batting title as recently as 2015, when he hit .338, and he batted .316 just two seasons ago. In fact, excluding his disastrous 2017 campaign, when he posted a -0.8 WAR, Cabrera batted at least .300 for eight consecutive seasons and 11 of the previous 12. In that span, Cabrera won four batting titles.
Cabrera will turn 35 in April, yet it is unlikely that he's suddenly washed up. The careers of great players don’t usually go off a cliff; they suffer a more gradual, prolonged decline.
Still, having a 35-year-old under contract for at least six more seasons is a very bad business decision. Having that player under contract for six more years at the cost of $184 is a nightmare.
Listed at six feet, four inches and 240 pounds, Cabrera has a body that already isn't aging well. Have you seen him run? He looks like he’s 60.
There is not a GM in baseball that would sign Cabrera this winter to a six-year, $184 million deal. That would blow away what JD Martinez will eventually get and Martinez is more than four years younger. In short, former Tigers’ owner Mike Ilitch made an emotional, and regretable, decision when he extended Cabrera four years ago. Ilitich is now deceased and doesn’t have to live with the aftermath of that ill-advised choice.
Few players should be under contract at age 38; Cabrera will be under contract through at least age 40, even if his two option years do not vest.
That’s the Tigers’ problem right now, despite the fact that Cabrera is a fan favorite and has been a franchise cornerstone. The question is whether they can make his albatross contract someone else’s problem.
Quite clearly, Detroit would have to kick in a substantial amount of money to move Cabrera off their payroll. How much? A lot. Last season, Cabrera literally had negative value. The Tigers could have found a replacement player at league-minimum salary. That’s a bitter pill.
As I’ve said repeatedly, the problem with long-term contracts is that they are backward looking, rewarding players for they did in the past. While Cabrera may have been worth $30 million per season from ages 26-31, he is certainly not worth that much today and he surely won’t be at any time over the next six seasons.
Cabrera may, perhaps, be worth half that much. At this point, he can only play first base and his range there already more limited than it used to be. His slipping defense will eventually relegate him to a DH spot, and that time is likely sooner than later. Yet, Cabrera is already so slow that he can clog up the base paths and that will only worsen in the coming years.
So, would the Tigers kick in half of Cabrera’s salary to get the Red Sox to take him off their hands? To be sure, there are few teams that would be able, much less willing, to take Cabrera even at that price. Would the Red Sox be willing? They surely have the resources, but would such a move make sense?
Boston seems unwilling to offer Cabrera’s former teammate, JD Martinez, a six-year deal and he’s just 30. Based on that alone, it seems unlikely that Dombrowski has reached out, or would reach out, to his former team to swing a deal for Cabrera.
The reality is that the Tigers never should have offered Cabrera the deal he gladly accepted and now they are living with the regrettable aftermath. It’s a cautionary tale for all teams considering long term contracts that would take players into their late 30s, much less age 40 — even if they are superstars and the face of their franchise.
Monday, February 12, 2018
The Red Sox won 93 games in each of the last two seasons and back-to-back AL East crowns for the first time in club history. Yet, they won just a single playoff game in that span. Most of the blame for the team’s playoff struggles last year was placed on the offense; Boston was outscored 24-18 and bounced in the first round.
The retirement of David Ortiz after the 2016 season left a gaping hole in the middle of their order. Yet, even though the Sox didn’t replace Big Papi, they still scored the sixth-most runs in the AL with Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez all having less productive seasons than they did in 2016.
Those five players combined for 41 fewer home runs last year than in 2016. We can only hope that offseason shoulder surgery will make Ramirez productive and consistent once again. The same can be said for Pedroia’s offseason knee surgery.
It’s likely that most, if not all, of the above hitters will perform better this season. However, Boston would really benefit from a genuine middle-of-the-order threat in its lineup. How much do the Red Sox need to secure a power hitter this offseason? Consider this: Boston’s cleanup spot was No. 25 in the majors in OPS last season and their No. 5 spot had the lowest OPS in baseball.
Though the Boston offense should still be potent this year, it would certainly benefit from the presence of JD Martinez.
Martinez mashed 45 home runs last season, despite playing in only 119 games. The 30-year-old outfielder also hit .303, while adding 104 RBI. But here's the weird part: Martinez hit just 26 doubles last season. That's really odd for a guy with so much outfield power. The vast majority of Martinez’s extra-base hits are home runs, which is strange.
Not every swing will clear the fences. A batter needs to not only knock in runs, but consistently put himself in scoring position and then score. Oddly, Martinez doesn’t do that nearly as much as I had imagined. He has never scored 100 runs and over the last two seasons has scored just 38 and 47, respectively.
There are legitimate concerns about Martinez, who missed significant time in five of his first six seasons, including 85 games the past two seasons. That raises reasonable apprehension about his ability to stay on the field. Over seven seasons, Martinez has played in more than 123 games just once.
Martinez is by far the best hitter available in this free agent class, but there are major flaws in his game.
Due to his poor defense and base running, which both rank negatively in terms of metrics, Martinez has a career 14.6 WAR, which puts him in line with Todd Frazier (14.8 WAR) and Edwin Encarnacion (14.5 WAR).
Frazier, 32, just signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Mets. That deal surely has fewer years and dollars than the third baseman was expecting. However, the free market determines a player’s worth.
Last offseason, the then 34-year-old Encarnacion saw his market plummet and he eventually settled for a three-year, $60 million deal, with a $5 million buyout on a fourth-year option worth $25 million.
The 30-year-old Martinez has a reported five-year, $125 million offer from Boston awaiting his signature, yet he won’t budge from his demands, reportedly for a seven-year contract in the neighborhood of $30 million per season.
Though Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past four years, his poor base running and below average defense are dragging down his value. Martinez’s WAR is not nearly as high as one would expect from a player with his hitting capabilities.
That's because baseball is about more than just hitting or slugging. Defense really matters, as does base running. Martinez’s overall value, as represented by his 14.6 WAR, is comparable to players like Frazier and Encarnacion, who got significantly less money in free agency.
With all of this in mind, the Red Sox reported five-year, $125 million offer to Martinez seems quite fair, even generous. If the Red Sox can get him at that price, it would be worth their while. He could certainly help lift the offense.
The Yankees finished one game shy of the World Series and they responded by beefing up their potent offense even further by trading for National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
Last season, the Red Sox were last in the American League, with 168 home runs.
Meanwhile, four current Yankees -- Stanton (59), Aaron Judge (52), Gary Sanchez (33) and Didi Gregorius (25) -- combined for 169 homers.
The Bronx Bombers’ offense got a whole lot better on paper this offseason, but the battle for first place should still be a dogfight.
Martinez would help, but this shouldn’t be a ransom negotiation.
Dave Dombrowski is playing it smart. If some other team wanted Martinez at his asking price, he would already be a member of that team. Dombrowski is wise not to bid against himself.
Saturday, February 10, 2018
Much has been made about the glacial pace of free agent signings this offseason. Some observers have even wondered aloud if team owners are engaged in collusion, actively deciding not to sign players in an effort to drive down their price tags. It makes for a good conspiracy theory, but the facts tell a different story.
In fact, eight of MLB Trade Rumors top-10 free agents this winter have either signed or been offered generous contracts. The same can be said for 12 of the top-14 and 16 of the top-20 free agents.
Clearly, large offers have been made and many of the top free agents have, in fact, signed contracts.
The most interesting aspect of this slow free agency period is the number of top free agents who have declined lucrative offers. For example:
The Red Sox have reportedly offered JD Martinez a five-year deal in the neighborhood of $125M. To this point, no other offers have been reported. The number of teams that both need and can afford a $125M hitter this offseason is quite limited.
Despite this, Martinez thinks Boston’s offer is not good enough and refuses to accept it. He is said to be “fed up” with the very team that has offered him the highest annual value of any player this offseason. Go figure.
Eric Hosmer reportedly has a seven-year, $147M offer from the Royals and a seven-year, $140M offer from the Padres on the table. Apparently, neither offer is good enough for Hosmer, who has so far refused to sign.
Yu Darvish has been given a formal offer by the Twins, reportedly 4-5 years in length. According to various reports, Darvish has received multiple offers worth $100M-plus, including several five-year offers. Still, Darvish refuses to sign because none of them are good enough for him.
The 31-year-old is believed to be seeking a deal in the range of $150M-$175M. That would necessitate a contract of at least six years, which is unjustifiable.
Reliever Greg Holland reportedly rejected the Rockies' offer of three years and $52 million. He also rejected the Rockies' $17.4M qualifying offer at the start of the offseason.
Righty Alex Cobb reportedly rejected a three-year, $42 million contract from the Chicago Cubs. He also rejected the Rays' $17.4M qualifying offer at the start of the offseason.
The Cubs are reportedly willing to bring back Jake Arrieta on a four-year, $110 million deal and the Brewers are believed to have made a similar offer in length. Arrieta also rejected the Cubs’ $17.4M qualifying offer at the start of the offseason.
The other remaining top free agents, Lance Lynn and Mike Moustakas, also rejected $17.4M qualifying offers.
Are we supposed to feel bad for these guys?
What do Martinez, Hosmer, Moustakas and Arrieta all have in common? Scott Boras is their agent. This log jam, then, is little surprise. Boras likes to drag negotiations late into the offseason, extracting every last million.
Boras has a history of getting his clients long-term contracts, spanning seven or eight years, which those players almost never live up to. The thinking seems to be: Pay these players for their past accomplishments and don’t be concerned if they can’t perform well enough to justify their rich, long term deals.
However, team owners and GMs have finally come to their senses and realized that long term pacts are horrible business decisions that clog up rosters and leave them searching for replacements when the players cannot fulfill their long-term deals.
If players truly believe they are worth seven and eight-year contracts, they should sign four-year deals this winter and then seek new three or four-year deals when their contracts expire. Inflation will have only driven up the annual value of their future contracts. Why won’t the players do this? It’s because even they don’t believe in themselves over that length of time. They know they are likely to become injured or otherwise decline. So, if the players don’t even believe in themselves, why should the owners and GMs?
The problem with this free agent market is that the top players have lost touch with reality and become deluded by greed. It’s not that there aren’t good offers out there for the top talent available; it’s that those players think the existing offers just aren’t good enough.
This market is slow because the top free agents refuse to accept generous offers. They keep waiting for some mystery team to come out of nowhere and blow them away with an even bigger, longer offer. It’s a combination of greed and overvaluing themselves. A free market will always tell you what you or your product is really worth.
If these players would just get over their delusions of grandeur and accept reality (as well as some very generous offers), this market would quickly thaw and get moving for the mid-level players.
Spring training opens next week.
Thursday, February 01, 2018
Coming into last season, the Red Sox were widely viewed as having perhaps the best rotation in baseball. They had just obtained Chris Sale in a big, offseason trade with the White Sox; former Cy Young Award winner David Price was approaching his second year with the club (meaning his assimilation and adjustment period to Boston was supposedly over); and Rick Porcello was the reigning AL Cy Young winner.
Sale was almost other worldly for most of the 2017 season. Price, injured for much of the year, was shifted to the bullpen to lessen the burden on his left elbow. Porcello, however, remained healthy, but still took a huge step backward.
In 2016, the righty had posted a league-best 22-4 record, with a 3.15 ERA and a miniscule 1.00 WHIP. Over 223 innings, Porcello gave up just 193 hits while striking out 189 batters. He also led the AL with a 5.91 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The performance earned Porcello the Cy Young Award, for which he beat Justin Verlander by just five votes.
It was an odd season for a pitcher who had posted a 4.92 ERA just the year before and who had posted an ERA well above 4.00 in five of the previous six years. In fact, over seven seasons, Porcello had a career 4.41 ERA. That made 2016 a freak year for him and, unfortunately, gravity (or reality) pulled him back to earth in 2017.
In 2016, Porcello had an OPS against of .635; in 2017 it was .826. In virtually every way, Porcello’s 2016 season was a statistical outlier; the rest of his career has been marked by mediocrity.
The veteran finished the 2017 season with an 11-17 record (the most losses in the AL and the most of his career) and a 4.65 ERA. Porcello also gave up 38 homers last season, tying the club record set by Tim Wakefield in 1996.
In short, Porcello went from being the best starter in the American League to one of the worst in the span of just one year.
So, who is the real Rick Porcello? Well, he’s a lot closer to the pitcher we saw in 2017 than the one who shined in 2016. The career stats prove it.
Prior to 2016, Porcello had thrown 200 innings just once in his seven-year career. His ERA had also been below league average in five of those seven seasons. Furthermore, in an era dominated by strikeouts, Porcello still hasn't fanned 200 batters in any season.
The Red Sox were persuaded by Porcello’s age (26) and his potential when they obtained him from Detroit in exchange for Yoenis Céspedes in Dec. 2014. They thought the righty was just coming into his own and still had tremendous upside. Boston liked him so much that they gave him a four-year, $82.5 million extension in April, 2015, before he had even thrown a single pitch for the team.
Quite simply, Porcello didn’t earn his $12.5 million salary (from his Detroit contract) in 2015, a season in which he went 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP. Wins have certainly fallen out of favor in modern statistical analysis, but they’re quite revealing when a pitcher has an ERA nearing 5.00.
However, in 2016 Porcello earned every dollar of $20 million salary. The Red Sox won 93 games and the AL East, which earned them a playoff spot.
However, Porcello was shelled in his lone start against Cleveland in the ALDS and took the loss. He set the tone in Game 1, when he surrendered 5 runs (which included 3 homers) on 6 hits in just 4.1 innings. Boston lost the next two games as well and were summarily bounced in the first round.
The poor performance was an omen of what was to come for Porcello in 2017.
So, what should we expect from him this season?
Well, at the least, most of us have wisely tempered our expectations. It’s likely that we will never again see the pitcher that Porcello was in 2016. That was a unicorn performance. It’s not likely that he will earn his $21 million salary this season or next.
Porcello has a career 4.25 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. He pitches to contact and puts a lot of guys on base. When that happens, a pitcher relies heavily on his defense to keep those baserunners from scoring. That’s a gamble and it’s usually a losing proposition, as we saw last season.
The reality is that Porcello is among the worst starting pitchers to have ever won the Cy Young Award and he’s really a No. 3 pitcher, at best. We have to look past the $21 million salary and the Cy Young Award and just accept that.
Tempering our expectations is the best way to avoid any further frustration and disappointment.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
There are a number of borderline members in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many times, these players have been inducted by the Veteran’s Committee because they could not get the requisite 75 percent of the votes to be elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Less than 2 percent of the 19,000 players who have ever played in the big leagues have a plaque in Cooperstown. That’s how it should be. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the best of the best — the very greatest players to have ever taken the field.
Unfortunately, that standard is not always maintained. When borderline candidates are granted induction into the Hall, they lower the bar for entry to other borderline or marginal candidates.
No one should ever be able to argue, “Well, he’s as good as that guy and he got in,” as an excuse for a borderline candidate’s entry.
One of those borderline candidates who still managed to become immortalized in the HOF is Richie Ashburn.
Ashburn had a fifteen-year career in the majors, spent largely with the Phillies, though he also played two years with the Cubs and spent his final season with the Mets. Ashburn was named to the All-Star Game six times in that span.
The left-handed hitter collected 2,574 hits in 8,365 at-bats. However, he had at just three 200-hit seasons and averaged 172 hits per season, the vast majority of which were singles. In fact, Ashburn led the NL in singles four times. All of that is nice, but not particularly remarkable.
Ashburn hit a grand total of 29 homers in his career (that's not a typo) and amassed a total of 317 doubles, an average of just 21 per season. He notched a career-high 32 doubles in 1955. It’s safe to say that Ashburn was not an extra-base machine. In fact, he had a career-best 274 total bases in 1951 and averaged just 213 per season. All of that is quite pedestrian and not Hall-of-Fame-like.
The Nebraska native totaled a mere 586 RBI in his career and scored 100 runs just twice in 15 seasons. In fact, Ashburn averaged just 88 runs per season and, while nice, that's not the stuff of a Hall of Famer whose strong suit was getting on base.
In short, Ashburn didn’t create many runs. The whole point of an at-bat is to either drive in a run or to get on base and score. Starting in scoring position helps a lot with the latter. But Ashburn didn’t do either very often. It’s hard to score from first or to drive in a run with a single, which represented a disproportionate number of his hits.
Ashburn stole 234 bases over the course of his career, with a career high of 32 in 1948, his rookie season. However, he averaged less than 16 steals per season. Oddly, Ashburn was considered a very fast player, yet he was not a big stolen base threat. So, the issue isn't just that he didn’t generate many extra-base hits; he didn’t steal many bases to get himself into scoring position either.
The center fielder did post a very healthy .308 career batting average (highlighted by NL batting titles in 1955 & 1958) and had an impressive .396 career on-base percentage, finishing first in four seasons. However, his career slugging percentage was a meager .382, which is really weak.
Ashburn never won an MVP Award and he finished in the top-10 just twice in fifteen seasons. He had a career WAR of 63.6, while the average career WAR of a Hall of Famer is 69.
Yet, somehow, the Veteran’s Committee still elected Ashburn to the Hall of Fame in 1995. It’s really puzzling.
Ashburn had a nice career, but in most respects he was pretty average to slightly above average. There is nothing about his career that befits the Hall of Fame. Yet, he has been immortalized in Cooperstown anyway.
If it seems that I’m picking on Ashburn, I’m not. He had a fine career and was a very good hitter. But he just isn’t worthy of the Hall of Fame and neither are 98 percent of the players who have ever put on a uniform. It’s not an insult; it’s the norm.
There are dozens of players not enshrined in the Hall of Fame who had better, in some cases much better, careers than Richie Ashburn. They have a right to feel confused or even bitter.
Richie Ashburn epitomizes the problem with putting borderline candidates in to the Hall; they lower the bar for everyone and make marginal candidates seem like reasonable candidates.
In reality, Ashburn wasn’t even borderline or marginal. He had a good, solid career, but never did anything to warrant a place in Cooperstown. The fact that he has a plaque there just isn’t right.
Friday, January 26, 2018
When the Red Sox drafted Nomar Garciaparra in the first round of the 1994 draft, they knew they were getting a special player. Garciaparra had batted .427 in his final season at Georgia Tech, was an Atlantic Coast Conference All-Star and a first team All-American in 1993 and 1994. He had also helped the Yellow Jackets reach the College World Series title game in '94, though they lost to Oklahoma.
Garciaparra excelled in the minors and moved quickly through Boston's farm system, making his Major League debut on August 31, 1996.
The next season, Garciaparra launched himself onto the national scene, when he batted .306 and posted a 30-game hitting streak, setting an American League rookie record.
The 23-year-old also smashed 30 home runs (a rookie shortstop record), collected 209 base hits (a Red Sox rookie record) and drove in 98 runs, setting a major league record for a leadoff hitter. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Garciaparra also stole 22 bases and led the league with 11 triples.
That extraordinary performance earned him his first All Star selection, the Silver Slugger Award and the American League Rookie of the Year Award.
Garciappara looked like a budding superstar. His potential seemed boundless.
The next season, 1998, he found a way to improve on his stellar rookie campaign. After moving up in the batting order to third or cleanup, Garciaparra belted 35 homers and drove in 122 runs, while batting .323, which was sixth-best in the league. As a result of his stunning sophomore performance, he was the runner-up for the AL MVP Award.
Garciaparra finished off the year by having an outstanding postseason, in which he batted .333 with 3 homers and 11 RBI, though Boston lost to Cleveland in four games in the ALDS.
Nomar's rookie season was no fluke; this guy had the goods. He was the real deal.
Yet, somehow, Garciaparra still managed to take a step forward in 1999, winning the batting title by hitting .357. He was still a solid run producer too, hitting 27 homers and driving in 104 runs, despite appearing in just 135 games. Nomar also started his second straight All Star Game, which took place at Fenway Park.
He led the Red Sox back to the postseason, where they took revenge on the Indians in the ALDS, beating them in five games. Garciaparra hit .417 in the series and followed that by batting .400 with two homers against the Yankees in the ALCS, which Boston lost in five games.
In 2000, Garciaparra, who was batting .403 as late as July 20, won his second batting title by hitting .372. It was the highest batting average by a right-handed batter in the post-war era and Nomar became the first right-handed batter to win consecutive titles since Joe DiMaggio. Garciaparra also homered 21 times and drove in 96, as well as drawing a career-best 61 walks.
Nomar finished in the top 10 in MVP voting for the third-consecutive year. There was now a legitimate argument across baseball as to who was the best shortstop in the game: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Garciaparra.
Agent Scott Boras ran a statistical analysis of Garciaparra which predicted that, by age 40, Nomar would have totaled 513 home runs, 3,581 hits and a .336 career batting average. The shortstop’s career was clearly on a Hall of Fame trajectory.
If there was one weakness evident in Garciaparra’s game at that point, it was that from ’98-’00, he played in only 135-143 games per season. Nomar seemed prone to injury. Some said he was fragile. But he was fantastic, nonetheless.
In 2001, Garciaparra suffered a split tendon in his wrist, exacerbating an injury he'd sustained during the ’99 season. As a result, the 27-year-old had to start the season on the disabled list and did not play in his first game until July 29. The injury plagued him through August, at which point the Red Sox finally shut him down for the year. Nomar played in only 21 games that season, a significant derailment for such a brilliant, young superstar. His average fell to .289 and he hit just 4 homers with 8 RBI.
Nomar’s wrist injury, which required surgery and would trouble him for the rest of his career, was an omen of bad things to come.
In 2002, however, Garciaparra remained healthy enough to play in a career-best 156 games. He rebounded nicely, batting .310 (which was still low, by his standards) with 24 homers, a league-best 56 doubles and 120 RBI. Garciaparra made his fourth All Star team and in September he became the fastest Red Sox player to record 1,000 hits, reaching the milestone in his 745th career game.
The real Nomar was back.
Garciaparra made his fifth All Star team in seven seasons and finished the year with 28 home runs and 105 RBI. He had enough speed to steal 19 bases, hit a career-best 13 triples (second-most in the majors) and score 120 runs (second in the AL).
However, he batted “just” .301. That was a bit worrisome, given that his career average was .326 entering that season, which included the .289 average he posted in his injury-shortened 2001 season.
The good news, however, was that he tied his career high by playing in 156 games for the second-consecutive season.
Nomar batted .300 against Oakland in the ALDS, but didn’t drive in a run. He then hit .241, with an uncharacteristic 8 strikeouts, against the Yankees in the ALCS.
In an era of extraordinary offensive output, Nomar had not only solidified his position as one of the best shortstops in baseball, he was widely viewed as one of the premier players in the game.
Little did anyone know, 2003 would be the last elite season of Nomar’s career. The wheels were about to come off his wagon at age 29.
Due to a contract stalemate and, perhaps, concerns about Nomar's health, the Red Sox were ready to move on. The club attempted to send Manny Ramirez to Texas in exchange for A-Rod, who would have supplanted Garciaparra at short. Boston was working on a simultaneous deal that would have sent Nomar to the White Sox in exchange for outfielder Magglio Ordóñez. Of course, the MLB Player’s Association nixed the A-Rod trade, which scuttled the planned trade of Nomar to Chicago. Consequently, the bridge between Nomar and the Red Sox had been burned.
Entering the 2004 season, Garciaparra suffered an Achille’s injury that kept him out of the lineup until June. He returned to play in 38 games for Boston, batting .321 with 5 home runs and 21 RBI. However, the Achille’s problem limited his range at shortstop, thus hurting the team’s overall defense. Despite the Sox being in a pennant race, the injury forced Nomar to take regular days off to facilitate the healing process.
Boston grew weary and finally traded their star shortstop, the face of their franchise for the previous seven seasons, to the Cubs at the trade deadline. The "Nomar era" in Boston had come to an unfortunate and uneventful end.
Garciaparra wrapped up his Red Sox career at age 30, with a .323 average, 178 home runs, 690 RBI and a .535 slugging percentage over parts of nine seasons.
Nomar’s Hall of Fame trajectory was suddenly derailed. He was never again the same player. Though he was an All Star with the Dodgers in 2006, a season in which he slashed .303/.367/.505/.872, with 20 homers, 31 doubles and 93 RBI, it was the last, great hurrah of his career. The performance earned him NL Comeback Player fo the Year honors.
Nomar hadn't hit more than 9 homers in any of the previous four seasons and he would never again hit more than 8 in any of his final three. Furthermore, his batting averages after leaving Boston, a period spanning 2005-2009, ranged from .264-.303. Nomar slugged .500 just once in the five seasons of his post-Red Sox career. Additionally, he never played in more than 122 games in any of those years and averaged just 85 per season.
Garciaparra was haunted by his Achilles’ injury, as well as a torn left groin injury that occurred in 2005. Though he continued to play for the Cubs, Dodgers and Athletics, he was a shadow of his former self and never again the extraordinary player he had been in Boston.
In 2014, Nomar was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame, along with former pitchers Pedro Martínez and Roger Clemens. It was a well-deserved tribute, but it raised some lingering questions.
Just how great would Nomar’s baseball legacy have been had he remained healthy and in Boston for the duration of his 14-year-career? Nomar retired at 35, an age when he still should have had a couple productive seasons remaining.
These are question that we're all left to ponder, as we wonder what might have been. After all, for seven seasons, Nomar was one of the elite players in the game and on the path to the Hall of Fame.
Instead, he will only visit that hallowed hall like the rest of us: as a tourist.
Friday, January 19, 2018
Rangers' slugger Joey Gallo epitomizes the all-or-nothing approach that plagues baseball today.
More and more, baseball is becoming a “three true outcome” game, ruled by home runs, walks and strikeouts. Hitters have taken an all-or-nothing approach, becoming almost entirely focused on the long ball.
Last season, MLB set a league record with 6,105 total home runs, which was 26 percent higher than the average from the previous five years. Clubs encourage hitters to create loft and swing for the fences.
MLB Home Runs Last Four Seasons
2017: 6,105 (MLB record)
Look at that -- the number of home runs hit across the majors rose by nearly 2,000, or 50 percent, in just a four-year span!
The problem with this go-for-broke approach is that it often leads to a whole lot of nothing on the field.
League-wide, average fastball velocity has increased every season since 2009, a span of nine seasons, from 91.8 mph to 93.6 mph, according to FanGraphs. This had led to a lot more swings and misses.
There were 40,105 strikeouts in 2017, surpassing the record of 38,982, set just the previous season. The league-average strikeout rate has risen every year since 2006, and set a new all-time record every year since 2008.
The Red Sox, for example, set a franchise record last season with 1,580 strikeouts, led by Chris Sale’s league-leading 308.
Yes, more pitchers now throw in the high-90s than ever before, but batters also swing and miss an awful lot.
Last season, 140 hitters stuck out at least 100 times and 26 of them struck out at least 150 times. Whiffing has become an epidemic.
Strikeouts are different from other kinds of outs because the ball is not put in play and cannot result in a run scored. A sacrifice fly or a ground ball in the infield can score a run. Batters can reach base on an infield hit or an error, but unless there is a wild pitch or a passed ball, a batter who strikes out cannot reach base. Simply put, striking out is an unproductive at bat.
The problem with the three true outcomes is that the ball is not put in play often enough to make the game as interesting, or as fun, as it should be. There were 9.1 percent fewer balls put in play last year than just two years earlier. Meanwhile, players across baseball recorded a 33.5 percent three-true-outcome rate last season, surpassing 2016’s record of 32.3.
This means a third of the plays involved only the pitcher, the catcher and the batter. If that’s not boring, it’s certainly a lot less exciting and a lot more predictable.
Last season, 58.3 percent of Texas slugger Joey Gallo’s plate appearances ended in one of the three true outcomes. Aaron Judge was second, at 55.2 percent.
The 6’ 5”, 235-pound Gallo typifies all that is wrong with three-true-outcome baseball. Though the Rangers' masher hit 41 home runs last year, he batted just .209 (in other words, he didn’t even bat his weight), while striking out 196 times, which amounted to whiffing in 37 percent of his plate appearances.
The over-reliance on home runs for scoring has come at the cost of small ball. There is now less emphasis on bunting and base stealing (which is at a 45-year low), for example. With so many strikeouts and walks, fans aren’t witnessing many of the things that have traditionally made baseball so exciting, such as the squeeze play, the double steal and the hit and run. With the ball in play less frequently, it also eliminates the chance for great defensive plays.
The three true outcomes have taken fielding, and fielders themselves, out of the game. It would be hard for Brooks Robinson or Ozzie Smith to look so otherworldly while fielding their positions in today's game. Furthermore, they’d likely be bored by having so many fewer opportunities.
In short, the three true outcomes have led to a more boring and predictable brand of baseball. Instead of trying to get runners on base, methodically advancing them into scoring position and then bringing them home, the game has shifted to a jackpot style of baseball where everyone relies on the instant bonanza of the home run to score and win.
One of the results is that hitting is becoming a lost art.
While 117 players racked up 20 or more home runs last season (the most in history), only 25 hit .300 or better. Hitting ability is now the rarest offensive skill.
Last season, Judge, the New York Yankees’ right fielder, broke Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record and finished the year with 52 long balls.
Judge led the American League with 127 walks (also a rookie record). However, he also led the big leagues with 208 strikeouts.
Judge embodies the all-or-nothing approach of today’s major league sluggers. His high walk total is a by-product of pitchers fearing his extraordinary home run power. It’s safer to issue him a free pass than to take the chance that he’ll clear the bases with one swing.
It’s worth repeating that Judge had 208 whiffs last season. He also had a record-setting streak of 37 consecutive games with at least one strikeout.
Here's some perspective:
Joe DiMaggio struck out 39 times in his rookie season, which was the highest total of his career. In 1941, he struck out just 13 times!
Babe Ruth’s highest strikeout total in any season was 93. Despite his historic home run totals, Ruth never whiffed 100 times in any season. In 1931, the Babe had 199 hits, 46 of which were homers, posted a .495 OBP and fanned just 51 times.
Lou Gehrig topped out at 84 strikeouts in 1927 and had just 31 in 1934. The Iron Man had seven full-time seasons with less than 50 strikeouts.
Ted Williams had a career-high 64 strikeouts in his rookie year. He fanned fewer than 50 times in almost every other season.
While viewed as great sluggers, the above players were all pure hitters, who also happened to possess great power.
Those kinds of hitters are a relic of the past. Today’s players are, for the most part, either hitters or sluggers — not both.
Judge looked like the perfect combo in the first half of last season. Though he finished the year batting a very respectable .284, he may ultimately prove to be just another slugger, with a high OBP (.422) and a ton of Ks.
Fans have always loved the long ball, so perhaps MLB is unconcerned about the rise of the three true outcomes. But perhaps it should be. Walks and strikeouts are boring to most fans, especially the casual variety. If fans stop coming to games and tune out of local broadcasts, MLB will take notice.
As it is, there is already a concern that younger fans — millennials — are less interested in baseball than previous generations. Their main complaint: baseball is too slow. The three true outcomes have to be viewed as a primary culprit.
It’s pretty widely accepted that the baseballs used over the past 2-3 seasons are juiced. MLB could reduce the number of home runs by returning to the previous baseballs, which weren’t wound so tightly. But it won’t; fans love the long ball too much.
However, organizations, instructional leagues and coaches could certainly preach and teach the art of hitting, while shaming the absurd amount of strikeouts that now plague the game. There is no reason that home run hitters can’t hit for average or that great hitters can’t also hit for power.
If they could see today’s game, DiMaggio, Ruth, Gehrig and Williams would all be shaking their heads. They’d wonder how so many of these guys still have jobs... and massive paychecks.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
The short list includes Boggs, Brett and Schmidt. How about Molitor?
There are 319 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Do you know how many of them were third baseman?
Remarkably, the answer is just 16 -- and only seven of them were elected by the Baseball Writers' Association of America (BBWAA).
From 1984-1998, a period of 15 years, just one full-time third baseman was enshrined in Cooperstown: Mike Schmidt.
Third base is such a demanding position that many players are eventually moved off the hot corner to a less challenging spot on the diamond.
I did some research into the best third baseman of the 1980s and was surprised by the dearth of talent. After Mike Schmidt (105.5 WAR), Wade Boggs (91.1 WAR) and George Brett (88.4 WAR), the quality really falls off.
According to the Subjective Baseball blog, Boggs was the best third baseman of the ‘80s. The writer makes a pretty good argument, which you can read here.
Paul Molitor (75.4 WAR) also makes many lists as one of the best third baseman of that era, which made sense to me. After all, he's a Hall of Famer.
However, Molitor played just 791 of his 1,495 career games at third.
While looking at Molitor’s career stats, something really jumped out at me: his numbers are relatively unimpressive for a Hall of Famer. He amassed over 3,000 career hits, so he always seemed like a no-brainer inductee… until I closely looked at his career.
Molitor played more than half of his 1,495 games at the hot corner and also DH’d quite a bit. Both are premium power spots in any lineup. Yet, Molitor had relatively little power, homering just 234 times over 21 seasons. That’s an average of 11 long balls per season. It’s not that his power faded as he got older either. HIs career high was 22 homers at age 36. His next best season was 19 HR at age 24.
However, power is just one facet of the game. Clearly, there are other important factors too.
But here’s where it gets really weird:
Over Molitor's 21 seasons, he scored 100 runs just five times; had 200 hits just four times; posted a .400 OBP just three times; had 40 doubles just twice; and drove in 100 runs just twice.
When I view Molitor’s numbers in sum total, his career was very good, but not elite. His greatest offensive asset was his batting average. Molitor posted a lifetime .336 average and batted at least .300 12 times, which is very impressive.
Molitor was a seven-time All Star and won four Silver Sluggers, which is nice. But he played 21 seasons, which suggests that he wasn’t often the best player at his position. Additionally, Molitor never won an MVP.
None of that seems like the stuff of a Hall of Famer.
But defense is really important too, right?
Here’s the clincher: Molitor never won a Gold Glove. In fact, in 1982, he led the AL with 29 errors at third. As a third baseman, he had four seasons in the top 10 for errors and as a second baseman he had two seasons in the top 10.
Molitor did win one World Series, with Toronto in 1993, and was the MVP.
Yet, the real reason Molitor made the Hall of Fame was longevity. He was a very good hitter, whose excellent batting average allowed him to stay in the game for an extended period (the average career of a Major League Baseball player is just 5.6 years).
The strength of Molitor’s HOF argument was this: he is one of just five players in major league history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 lifetime batting average and 500 stolen bases. The other four are Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins and Ichiro Suzuki.
But get this: Molitor stole 40 bases just four times and had 10 seasons in which he stole 20 or less. He wasn't Rickey Henderson; he just exhibited consistency at base stealing over a very long career.
The conclusion is that Molitor is a borderline HOF candidate in every sense. Yet, I never knew that until I carefully analyzed his numbers.
That means there were even fewer truly great third baseman in the ‘80s than I had realized.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
MLB is trending younger, which is why so many veteran free agents remain unsigned
The average Major League Baseball salary increased for the 13th consecutive year in 2017, reaching $4.47 million, though the rate of growth is slowing, according to USA TODAY Sports’ annual salary survey. Meanwhile, industry revenues topped $10 billion.
While player salaries are increasing, the average age of MLB players is falling.
At 30.4 years, the Atlanta Braves had the highest average player age in 2017. In a change from previous decades, MLB rosters are now driven by a youth movement and tend to be filled with players in their mid to late-20s.
The average age of the oldest Major League Baseball player for every team is now 37 years. The numbers show that the game is skewing younger. In fact, this is a Golden Age for players 25 and younger.
The All Star team is now populated by young stars in their 20s, rather than players in their 30s. Players age 25 and under made up more than a quarter of the two All Star teams in 2015. The game’s biggest, brightest stars are relative youngsters.
Among position players in their age-25 seasons or younger, nine of the top 11, in terms of Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, were on the two All Star teams in 2017. On the pitching side, six of the top seven were under age 25.
Another indication that All Stars are trending younger is this: of the 68 players named to the 2017 All-Star Game, 28 were first-timers.
In 2016, Kris Bryant was the National League MVP at age 24, while Mike Trout won his second American League MVP at 25. Last season, Jose Altuve and Giancarlo Stanton each won their league’s respective MVP Award at age 27.
The age of the best hitters in baseball fell to 26.8 in 2012 from 30.1 in 2002, a decline of over three years in just a decade.
The use of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other PEDs once allowed players to extend their prime years into their mid and late-30s. However, stringent testing no longer allows older players to artificially extend their careers. Their declines now come earlier and are more pronounced.
During the Steroid Era, a 34-year old player might have been viewed as still in his prime; not any more. Now he’s considered over the hill or, at the least, in decline.
There are still some good 35-year-old players; there are just fewer of them these days. There are even less great 35-year-old olds at present and there are hardly any great players from the ages of 36-40.
Teams see older players as riskier; in other words, likelier to be injured and to decline precipitously.
This is why so many older free agents remain unsigned. It’s the reason why teams are reluctant to grant expensive, long term contracts to players in their 30s. Most clubs would prefer to overpay a player for three or four years than to be constrained by a six, seven or even eight-year deal.
This is why the Red Sox, for example, are hesitant to give JD Martinez the seven-year contract he desires at age 30. Such a pact would take him through his age-36 season, when he will surely be in decline.
Front offices across baseball are now populated by highly-educated, young executives who are obsessed by statistics, especially sabermetrics. There is no chart, graph or diagram that agent Scott Boras can present them about a player that they don’t already know. These execs are fully aware that players peak in their late 20s, as they have for many decades.
For organizations, a player’s 30s are a decade of risk, at best, and of uncertainty, at least. In fact, the only certainty is that players in their 30s are in a steady decline. That’s why baseball executives are very cautious about giving them the guaranteed, long term contracts that often make them the highest paid players in the game.
Smart franchises — which means all of them these days — draft and develop their own players, creating a core, and then hang onto them until they reach free agency, which is often around age 30. As I noted previously, it’s a bad system for the players too. A merit-based system would not only be more equitable; it would make more sense.
In time, the player’s union will push the owners to be both more equitable and more sensible. It will be good for baseball.
Saturday, December 16, 2017
Red Sox fans are freaking out right now. We’re approaching Christmas and the club still hasn't signed the middle-of-the-order power hitter that they’ve been missing since David Ortiz retired following the 2016 season.
Fans are often reactionary and impatient. They are passionate and want what they want right now. They don’t want to be composed, even-tempered and accommodating. It’s not their money that will be spent this offseason; it’s John Henry’s money and he’s a billionaire.
However, team president Dave Dombrowski has to consider the long-term interests of the Red Sox, not just the most immediate. As I’ve noted previously, most players enter free agency at around age 30, like JD Martinez, for example. The problem is that players begin to decline in their 30s and their aging bodies are at greater risk for injury.
The holdup with Martinez, who is by far the best free agent slugger available this winter, is that his agent, Scott Boras, is touting him as a $200 million player. Such a suggestion is absurd and entirely without merit. To reach $200 million, Martinez would have to receive a seven-year contract, with an average annual cost of $29 million.
Simply put, Martinez is not worth that much annually and, most importantly, he is not worthy of a seven-year investment. Few players are. Such a contract would take him through his age-36 season.
Like most players, Martinez will have begun an inevitable decline by age 35 and the Red Sox would still be paying him like he was a 29-year-old superstar.
Five years, $125 million seems reasonable for Martinez. That would give him an average annual cost of $25 million.
The 30-year-old slugger is a defensive liability in the outfield. The major defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating -- grade him unfavorably. When in right field (where he has played 439 of his 674 games in the field), Martinez has trouble getting to relatively catchable balls. Simply put, he has poor range and costs his team runs. That matters… a lot. Defense is a critical, though often overlooked, aspect of the game.
Putting Martinez in left field would require trading Jackie Bradley, one of the game's premier defensive outfielders, and shifting Andrew Benintendi to center. The Red Sox defense would undoubtedly suffer in that scenario and it would cost them runs.
However, Martinez sure can slug. In fact, he posted a .690 slugging percentage last season, which was higher than Giancarlo Stanton’s .631 slugging. However, Martinez only had 489 plate appearances, while a player needs 502 to qualify. He also belted 45 homes in just 119 games. Clearly, his power is not in dispute.
Offensive production aside, part of Martinez's free agent appeal is the fact that, since he was traded from Detroit to Arizona at midseason, there is no draft compensation attached to his services.
Yet, nothing in Martinez’s first three seasons with Houston suggested that he would become a premier slugger. Take a look at this rather underwhelming stint with the Astros:
2011: 53 games, 226 plate appearances, 13 2B, 6 HR, 35 RBI, .274 BA/.319 OBP/.423 SLG
2012: 113 games, 439 plate appearances, 14 2B, 11 HR, 55 RBI, .241 BA/.311 OBP/.375 SLG
2013: 86 games, 310 plate appearances, 17 2B, 7 HR, 36 RBI, .250 BA/.272 OBP/.378 SLG
It’s easy to see why Houston gave up on Martinez and tough to see what Dombrowski, as Detroit’s GM, saw in him. After all, 252 games and 975 plate appearances are a pretty good sample size.
It’s hard to understand Martinez’s breakout season in 2014, after Dombrowski took a flier on him. It’s also hard to claim that Dombrowski viewed Martinez as some sort of reclamation project since he had no solid history to reclaim.
Yet, Martinez posted the following that year: 30 2B, 23 HR, 76 RBI, .315/.358/.553
Most remarkably, Martinez has gotten markedly better, offensively, since then. He epitomizes the term “late bloomer.”
Now he wants a $200 million deal. If I was Dombrowski, I wouldn’t be buying at that price. The Red Sox president is too savvy to bid against himself. Who are the other bidders at that price?
At this point, Martinez is much better suited to the American League and everybody in baseball knows it. He’s a defensive liability, meaning his greatest value is as a DH. At present, the Red Sox are just about the only club in the AL with the resources and the need for a DH who makes $25 million a year.
That’s why patience should prove to be a virtue. Dombrowski should play the waiting game with Martinez and Boras, until the asking price comes down to a more reasonable five years, $125 million.
Boston has lots of experience with high-priced, long term contacts that went bad and never should have been signed in the first place: Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo are all position players from recent Red Sox history that should serve as cautionary tales.
Stay the course and be patient, Dave. Let sanity and wisdom prevail. Get your man at your price.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
This offseason, free agents Eric Hosmer and JD Martinez are being promoted as $200 million players. Quite plainly, they are not.
From the advent of professional baseball in 1869, players had few rights and were poorly paid. Players were essentially the property of team owners, unable to ply their trade for whichever team they preferred, including the highest bidder. Baseball contracts contained reserve clauses, which forced players to stay with one team in perpetuity, unless traded.
However, St. Louis Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood became the first professional athlete to fight for free agency rights in 1969. When Flood found out that he was being traded from the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies, he wrote a letter to baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn protesting the trade and asserting that he was entitled to consider contract offers from other teams. Commissioner Kuhn denied the outfielder’s petition, so Flood sued Major League Baseball for antitrust violations.
Flood challenged Major League Baseball’s reserve clause, claiming it violated antitrust laws and his 13th Amendment rights. His case made it all the way to the US Supreme Court, where the justices ruled against him, 5-3. The majority determined that baseball was a sport and not a business, and therefore exempt from anti-trust law (imagine that).
In December, 1975, an arbitrator reversed the Supreme Court’s verdict and declared that Major League Baseball players had the right to become free agents upon playing one year for their team without a contract.
With the ruling, the reserve clause was forever terminated from sports, allowing free agency to begin. Major League Baseball also implemented federal arbitration for salary demands, allowing players to negotiate their salaries when their contracts expire.
These changes shifted control from team owners to the players, giving the athletes freedom to block trades and request higher salaries.
In 1976, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association signed an agreement which allowed players with at least six years of experience to become free agents.
These were watershed moments. I am all for players being fairly compensated and having the freedom to play for whichever team wants them. After all, they are the ones the fans come to see. In essence, they are the ones putting asses in seats at ballparks all across the country. They create enormous revenues from live attendance, television ratings and from the sales of hats, jerseys and other paraphernalia. Simply put, the players should be well-paid.
I also understand that it must be very difficult for a player to be traded, especially in-season, which also affects a player’s family. Players have homes, put down roots in their adopted cites and often have kids in school. This is why free agent veterans sometimes fight to have no-trade clauses inserted into their contracts.
Having said all of that, we have reached a time when too much power has shifted to players.
Top free agents are now insisting on opt-out clauses, as well as no-trade clauses, in their contracts. Why do owners agree to such excesses? If the player performs well, he can opt-out and walk away, under no obligation to honor the remaining years on his contract. On the other hand, if the player is injured or otherwise underperforms his contract, his team is obligated to pay him in full for the contract’s duration. If the team wants to rebuild, or unload the player’s contract for any reason, that player can also refuse to be traded.
This is insanity and the owners need to make it stop.
Giancarlo Stanton is just the latest example of this extreme power shift to star players.
Stanton had a no-trade clause and an opt-out clause inserted into his mammoth, 13-year, $325 million contract. The contract was so long, and so expensive that it was far too cumbersome for the Marlins, as well as for the vast majority of major league teams.
Point in case: the Marlins recently sold for $1.2 billion to Derek Jeter and a group led by New York businessman Bruce Sherman. So, Stanton’s ridiculous contract represented more than a quarter of the team’s price. The MVP of the league is so grossly overpaid that his contract was a liability to the organization that gave it to him, as it would be to all but a handful of teams in baseball.
Former Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria signed Stanton to that deal knowing it wouldn’t be his burden for long. Loria had every intention of selling the club, which is why he backloaded the pact for the next owners to deal with.
The Yankees were among a handful of clubs that could financially absorb Stanton’s contract and they still got $30 million from the Marlins (which will only kick in if he refuses to opt out after the 2020 season) to help pay Stanton.
Stanton has been on the disabled list in four different seasons and averaged just 117 games over his first seven years in the majors. He may be just 28 now, but players don’t get healthier in their 30s and most don’t get better either.
That speaks to the insanity of long-term contracts. They almost never work out for the team that signs them. Players typically hit free agency at around age 30, the decade in which they become more susceptible to injuries and begin their inevitable decline.
As history shows, massive, long term contracts are only good for the players who sign them. The teams that agree to such deals are usually left holding the bag, and with many regrets.
Alex Rodriguez, Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Jayson Werth, Troy Tulowitzki, Carl Crawford, Jose Reyes, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Hamilton, Matt Kemp, Ryan Howard, Shin-Soo Choo, Albert Pujols and Jason Heyward, for example, all vastly underperformed their expensive, long term contracts and the teams that signed them would surely love a do-over.
This offseason, teams seem to think that keeping top free agents in limbo for as long as possible will drive down prices. We can only hope they are right. Teams believe that players will eventually worry about getting a job, which will result in a discount from the original asking prices.
Most teams can’t afford to spend huge sums in free agency, only to have the decision blow up in their faces. They cannot afford to have a high-priced player fail spectacularly on their watch. The smart GMs are perceived as the ones who spend wisely and win with low to moderate payrolls.
Organizations see free agency as a big, risky gamble. Huge sums of money will be wasted on players who will eventually get hurt or underperform. Guaranteed contracts are a game of roulette for the owners. Such terms don’t exist for almost any other workers in any industry.
In short, free agency is widely viewed by clubs as inefficient and wasteful. Yes, there are rosters to fill and needs to address, but teams need to spend their money wisely, not foolishly. The reality is that almost all long-term, big-dollar contracts ultimately prove to be a mistake for the teams who sign them.
Players such as JD Martinez and Eric Hosmer — both Scott Boras clients, not incidentally — are being promoted as $200 million players this offseason. Such a claim is without merit; neither player is worth anything near that amount. We can only hope that sanity prevails.
A player will get whatever the market will offer. However, if owners were smart, or had any guts, they would stop paying players in their 30s for past performance.
Any contract of at least six years, and certainly of seven or more, can be deemed long term, and they are a minefield of risks. There are few teams that can afford to fail spectacularly with players such as Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury, for example.
The entire system is backwards and geared toward failure. Young players are under team control for six years and only become arbitration eligible after three. Breakout rookies and young stars in year-two or three shouldn’t have to wait be among the highest-paid players in the game.
Players such as Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger should have been among the game’s highest paid players last season. Instead, Judge was paid a mere $544,000, while Bellinger earned just $468,000.
On the other hand, Ellsbury was paid over $21 million for slashing 264/.348/.402, with 7 HR, 39 RBI, 20 doubles and 22 steals. Crawford was so awful that the Dodgers paid him $21 million to simply go away in 2016 and then they paid him another $21 million to not play for them again in 2017. It’s madness.
Aging, underperforming veterans should be paid like first and second-year players, while young stars should be able to cash in right away. Baseball earnings should be a merit-based system, related to current performance, not past performance or the fact that a team controls a young player.
The current system isn’t working, and the repeated failure of large, long-term contracts proves it.