Author Archives: Matt Musico

Jean Segura Isn’t the Only Hitter Fighting Regression Following a Unique Performance

After being a pleasant surprise at the plate for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2013 season, Jean Segura‘s production completely went down the drain — until he got a fresh start in 2016 with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

He didn’t earn an All-Star selection for his efforts, but it was such a unique performance that the Seattle Mariners acquired him in one of the 1,000 trades they made this winter.

How unique was it, exactly? Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto accurately put the middle infielder’s accomplishments into perspective to Bob Dutton of The News Tribune:

“The year that he had is one of just five seasons in this century where a hitter was able to throw out 200 hits, a .300 batting average, 20 home runs, 40 doubles, 30 stolen bases and 100 runs scored.”

Since he literally doubled his wRC+ (63 in ’15 to 126 in ’16), there’s a lot of attention on Segura with his new team. Is this the type of hitter they can expect to see moving forward? Dipoto said himself that given the rarity of this particular performance, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect it to be sustainable.

While Seattle’s new shortstop is one of just five players this century to produce like he did in the above six categories, he wasn’t the only hitter to do it in 2016 — Jose Altuve also accomplished the same feat.

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MLB’s 10 Best MVP Seasons Since 2000

What makes a player so valuable?

The answer to this question varies depending on the person asked. However, it always becomes a hot-button topic of debate in baseball throughout the latter part of every season when discussing potential National League and American League MVP candidates.

We’re not here to discuss the definition of Most Valuable Player, though. We want to know which players have put together the best overall seasons while earning the award since 2000.

The best way to figure this out is by using Wins Above Replacement (WAR). While the statistics shown below focus on offense, WAR takes a player’s offensive and defensive contributions into consideration before providing an overall value for their performance.

FanGraphs’ version of WAR (referred to here as fWAR) will be the metric used to create our rankings. The definition of “Most Valuable Player” may forever be up for debate, but there’s no debate in figuring out which MVP winners have enjoyed the most success since the turn of the century.

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Is Matt Kemp’s Late-Season Revival With the Braves Sustainable?

Matt Kemp isn’t the MVP-caliber ballplayer he used to be with the Los Angeles Dodgers earlier in his career. Despite that, the Atlanta Braves have high expectations for the right-handed hitting outfielder in 2017.

Those expectations aren’t coming without them getting a glimpse of what he could do for the offense, though.

After the San Diego Padres shipped him to Atlanta at last summer’s non-waiver trade deadline, Kemp was one of the reasons behind the Braves offense going from being historically awful to finishing as a top-performing unit.

His arrival also spurred a personal boost in production — he hit 23 homers in 431 plate appearances with San Diego, but produced just a 102 wRC+. Once the trade took place, that number jumped to 120 in 241 plate appearances (while hitting 12 more homers).

Yes, the Braves are technically still rebuilding, but with a new ballpark opening and their flurry offseason moves, they’re aiming to at least be competitive this year, and Kemp’s performance will play a significant role.

The big question with Spring Training now underway is whether or not his two-month stretch of above-average offensive production is sustainable for an entire season. If it’s going to be, he may need to make a few changes.

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Todd Frazier’s Goal for This Season Should Be Pretty Simple

When the Chicago White Sox acquired third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds last winter, the organization’s goal was to find some lineup protection for first baseman Jose Abreu. Frazier responded with a power surge he hadn’t yet experienced during his young MLB career, but didn’t do much else outside of that, leading to a rather mediocre overall performance at the plate.

Given the lackluster free agent market this winter — especially at third base — one would assume that a player fresh off a 40-homer, 98-RBI season like Frazier would’ve been a hot commodity on the trade market.

That wasn’t the case, though, and the rebuilding White Sox still have him on their roster with the hopes he can improve from the 102 wRC+ and 2.4 fWAR he produced in 2016.

Where exactly can Frazier’s game improve? There’s not always a simple answer to a question like that, but he needs to stop hitting the ball in the air so freakin’ much.

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Can These 11 MLB Hitters Continue Making the Most of Their Fly Balls in 2017?

You’d be hard-pressed to find a baseball fan who doesn’t dig watching home runs. If you indeed dig them, the 2016 season was one of the best years to track the long ball in recent memory.

There were 111 different players who reached the 20-homer plateau, which is a new record and a substantial increase to 2015, where only 64 players slugged that many baseballs over the fence. The most beautiful part of it all? Not all 20-plus homer hitters are created equally, which we’ve touched upon a couple of times this winter.

While they can also happen on line drives, the home runs usually result from fly balls. Obviously, for someone to accumulate a lot of round-trippers in any given season, a healthy fly-ball rate (FB%) is necessary.

So, it makes sense as to why 100 of the above players produced a fly-ball rate in 2016 north of 30% (including 53 with a fly-ball rate of at least 40%). That also leaves us with an interesting group who didn’t put the ball in the air as frequently, and they probably wouldn’t mind it happening again in 2017.

Here are the 11 hitters who managed to enter the 20-homer club last year without a fly-ball rate above 30%.

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Christian Yelich Is an Under-the-Radar NL MVP Candidate in 2017

Making a name for yourself in the Miami Marlins outfield in recent years hasn’t been all that easy, but Christian Yelich has found a way to carve out some attention for himself in South Beach. Probably not enough yet, though.

It’s tough when Giancarlo Stanton grabs headlines every time he punishes a baseball, or when Marcell Ozuna‘s name is either swirling in trade rumors or being called out at the All-Star game.

Yelich quietly goes about his business on a daily basis, and while he may not generate the most headlines, he’s probably the most valuable outfielder on the Marlins’ roster.

After posting a 4.5-fWAR season in 2014, he didn’t progress like Miami hoped in 2015, producing just 2.4 fWAR. He flipped the script back in a positive direction last year, though.

He didn’t earn an All-Star selection, but posted a 4.4 fWAR, won his first Silver Slugger award and placed 19th in National League MVP voting. Climbing up the ranks in this award category won’t necessarily be a walk in the park — after all, that Kris Bryant guy is still pretty good, as is his teammate in Anthony Rizzo, along with other studs like Corey Seager and Freddie Freeman, just to name a few.

Although he’s fresh off a career year, Yelich is exactly the kind of player that can come out of nowhere to be a legitimate candidate for the award in 2017 because there’s still a ton of room for improvement in his game.

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Colorado Rockies Missed a Golden Opportunity With Mike Napoli

The Colorado Rockies haven’t experienced a winning season since 2010 and haven’t participated in the playoffs since 2009, but that hasn’t stopped them from making some bold moves this winter.

Bringing Bud Black on as manager to replace Walt Weiss was the first domino to fall before they did some free-agent spending. Colorado then signed Ian Desmond to a five-year, $70 million deal to further bolster the offense, along with fortifying the bullpen with Mike Dunn (three years, $19 million) and Greg Holland (one year, $7 million).

Combine this with a young core that includes Jon GrayNolan ArenadoDJ LeMahieuTrevor Story and a few others, and the Rockies are indeed set up to attempt making a run at the postseason in 2017. With Spring Training approaching quickly, the heavy lifting of their offseason is done.

However, given the state of this winter’s free agent market, they missed out on a unique opportunity to acquire a veteran player who’d help them both on the field and in the clubhouse.

No, I’m not talking about catcher Matt Wieters — they could’ve really used first baseman Mike Napoli, who finally just agreed to a one-year deal with the Texas Rangers.

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Boston Red Sox Need Consistency From Xander Bogaerts in 2017

The Boston Red Sox had one of MLB’s most potent offenses during the 2016 season, which was made possible because of a relentless lineup.

Anchored by the insane final year of David Ortiz’s career, manager John Farrell also had the joy of having Dustin Pedroia, a resurgent Hanley Ramirez, out-of-nowhere production from Sandy Leon, a full-year breakout from Jackie Bradley Jr. and an MVP-caliber season from Mookie Betts on his lineup card each night.

He also watched a stellar season from his young shortstop in Xander Bogaerts.

After hitting just 7 home runs to go along with 35 doubles in 2015, he tapped into some of that power potential by slugging a career-high 21 over the fence this past year, while his doubles output basically remained the same (34). This was also accompanied by a decent uptick in OPS (.776 to .802).

Despite 2016 serving as a breakout of sorts for Bogaerts, it didn’t come without the frustration of a prolonged slump that began in the middle of June and carried through to the end of the regular season.

So, what happened?

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Rougned Odor’s 2016 Performance Was Awfully Unique

The 2016 season was a fascinating one for Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor, and contrary to popular belief, it has nothing to do with punching Jose Bautista. What actually made it fascinating was the connection between his power production and plate discipline (or lack thereof).

Through 632 plate appearances last season, Odor hit 33 home runs while drawing just 19 walks, giving him a HR/BB ratio (1.74) that has an interesting spot in history.

While that in itself is impressive, it’s only the beginning. When looking through his FanGraphs page, a few things caught my eye:

— His 47.3% pull rate was one of the highest among qualified hitters in 2016.

— His 35.4% hard-hit rate was also among some of the best in the league.

— His minuscule 3.0% walk rate was the lowest among all qualified hitters last season.

Considering how he arrived at his numbers (.271/.296/.502 with 33 homers, 88 RBI and a 106 wRC+), I was curious as to whether or not the above profile was a common one in recent years. Using FanGraphs’ splits leaderboard, I set out to find all the hitters who had at least 400 plate appearances with a walk rate less than 5.0%, a hard-hit rate greater than 35%, pull rate of at least 45% and 20-plus homers in a single season.

As it turns out, these results have been produced just three times since 2002: Khalil Greene in 2007, John Buck in 2010 and Odor in 2016. That’s it.

How do these performances compare to one another? And, more importantly, how did Odor arrive in this exclusive club after his third big-league campaign?

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2017 All-Money Team: The Highest-Paid MLB Players at Each Position

While it may not feel like spring is on the way in certain parts of the country, it’s closer than you think. Why? Well, the start of Spring Training is less than three weeks away, and we all know that the mere sight of players on a baseball field gives people the warm and fuzzies — no matter what the thermometer says.

Another year of MLB action means there will be lots of money earned by the league’s best players. But who gets the honor of being the top earner at their position this season? That was a question we wanted to answer with the 2017 All-Money team.

Thanks to Spotrac, it was easy to check out the payroll salaries at each position to see who is bringing home the most bacon over the next few months. Here’s a squad that would be pretty darn good overall, but just a tad bit expensive.

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The Los Angeles Angels Have Had a Great Offseason

Outside of watching Mike Trout dominate on a nightly basis, there wasn’t much else to be happy about in 2016 with regard to the Los Angeles Angels.

They went a disappointing 74-88 and missed the playoffs for the fourth time since 2012, which was Trout’s rookie season. To make things worse, it’s also been hard to feel optimistic about the organization’s future in recent years.

It’s getting better, though.

ESPN’s Keith Law (subscription required) no longer views them as baseball’s worst farm system, but coming in 27th out of 30 teams isn’t anything to party about. On the big-league level, big contracts to C.J. Wilson and Jered Weaver have come off the books, leaving just one more year of paying Josh Hamilton and another five years (womp womp) of Albert Pujols.

Without the financial means to throw money at a free agent or the farm system to offer a boatload of intriguing prospects in a trade, general manager Billy Eppler had to get creative this winter, which is exactly what he’s done.

Are the Angels now playoff contenders? Probably not, but they look better on paper for 2017 than they did in 2016.

Let’s see how much of a lift the roster could have with a series of moves that haven’t grabbed a ton of headlines over the past few months.

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The Texas Rangers’ Outfield Has a Ton of Questions With 2017 on the Horizon

If the general premise of this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve talked about this before.

On the heels of the Texas Rangers returning to the playoffs in 2015, I noticed they had similar roster uncertainties in advance of 2016. All they did once Opening Day rolled around was win the American League West with ease by posting an AL-best 95-67 record.

While they proved to be masters of winning one-run games, having just a +10 run differential made some wonder if they’d be able to hang in the playoffs. And before there was an answer, they were packing up for the winter after getting swept by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALDS.

The 2017 season is fast approaching, and the AL West will be interesting to follow. After all, Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto won’t stop making trades and the Houston Astros are doing whatever they can to make Sports Illustrated look like a bunch of geniuses.

The Rangers still have some roster questions to answer ahead of Spring Training — like, is this Mike Napoli reunion happening or not? — but one area that’s set is the outfield.

Texas will go to battle with 21-year-old Nomar Mazara in left, Carlos Gomez in center and Shin-Soo Choo manning right. This looks good on paper, but it’s far from a sure thing judging from each player’s recent history.

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Robinson Cano’s 2016 Season Was a Flashback to His Yankee Days

Handing out a lucrative, multi-year contract to a player is always risky for an MLB organization, no matter how much of a no-brainer it appears to be. That risk factor goes through the roof when it’s a 10-year, $240 million deal, like the one Robinson Cano signed prior to the 2014 season.

Outside of a dip in power, his first season in Seattle was a success. He hit .314/.382/.454 with 14 home runs and 82 RBI, producing a wRC+ of 137 and a 5.2 fWAR – the fifth consecutive year he surpassed 5.0.

It was the first half of 2015 when people likely started to freak out, to a degree.

He limped into the All-Star break with a lackluster triple slash of .251/.290/.370, accompanied by just 6 home runs, 30 RBI and an wRC+ of 86. Providing power as a second baseman had always been one of his best attributes, but a .118 first-half ISO showed that the only thing his power was doing was continuing to deteriorate.

Cano did start to look like himself again following the midsummer classic — he hit .331/.387/.540 with 15 home runs, 40 RBI, a wRC+ of 157, and most importantly, his ISO jumped back up to .209.

That second-half performance ended up being a sign of what was to come.

Were there any similarities between 2016 and his prime years in the Bronx from 2010-12 when Cano’s ISO never dipped below .214 while posting a .311/.370/.539 line with a combined 90 homers and 321 RBI?

Yes, but there are also some interesting differences showing how his game has transformed over the years.

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Who Were the Top-Performing Hitters at Each Lineup Spot During the 2016 MLB Season?

All baseball players – whether they’re amateurs or professionals – are creatures of habit. When you have a game to play every day, routines form (some on purpose, some by accident) and once a player notices those routines, they typically like to keep them as they are.

Advanced statistics have helped organizations and coaching staffs justify tinkering lineups on a daily basis, but one thing is for certain – most hitters like coming to the ballpark knowing exactly where their name will be penciled into the order.

It makes mentally preparing a lot easier, and they don’t have to wonder when they’ll get their first plate appearance of the night.

With that in mind, I was curious as to which hitters performed the best in 2016 at each particular lineup spot. The only criteria was sample size – 1-5 hitters needed at least 400 plate appearances to qualify, but it dropped to 250-plus for the six-hole and 200-plus for the bottom-third to generate players to choose from.

Here are your most dominant hitters at each lineup spot from 2016, ranked by wRC+.

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Carlos Correa Is the Most Important Part of the Houston Astros Offense in 2017

After ending their excruciating rebuilding process a year earlier than many expected with a playoff appearance in 2015, the Houston Astros were supposed to take another step forward in 2016, but it didn’t happen.

Jose Altuve put together an MVP-caliber performance, but Houston experienced regression from some of its young core and ultimately couldn’t overcome a 7-17 start. Their 4-15 record against the Texas Rangers didn’t help, either.

One of those young players who experienced a bumpy year was shortstop Carlos Correa.

Now, it’s tough to say a player who posted a 122 wRC+ and a 4.9 fWAR had a bad year, and Correa didn’t have a bad year – it just wasn’t what the organization was likely hoping for.

After an active offseason (which still may not be finished), expectations are high for the Astros to return to October. There are plenty of important offensive contributors on the roster, but Correa just may be the most important of all.

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MLB’s Best Hitters in Each Inning During the 2016 Season

According to Earl Wilson, the game of baseball is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings. Regardless of the team you root for, just about every fan can relate to that in some way.

While it takes a full nine innings – or, nine nervous breakdowns – for a game to be complete without suboptimal weather sabotaging it, there are countless moments within each inning that can alter the eventual outcome, whether it’s in the top of the first or bottom of the ninth.

With that in mind, I was interested in finding out which hitters mashed the most in each inning throughout the course of 2016. Thanks to FanGraphs’ Splits Leaderboard, it was pretty easy to do.

Using the very arbitrary benchmark of 80-plus plate appearances for the first through sixth innings, 50-plus plate appearances for the seventh through ninth innings and 20-plus plate appearances for extras, below are the top three hitters from every inning in 2016, based off wRC+.

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It Shouldn’t Be Surprising That J.D. Martinez Is Still on the Detroit Tigers

Talking a big game and actually backing it up with action are two very different things. Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila has certainly learned that lesson throughout this offseason.

Almost immediately following the conclusion of Detroit’s regular season schedule, Avila was clear that “changes are coming” in the way the organization conducts its business. Also, since they have been working “way above” their financial means for a while, the goal was to start getting younger.

Obviously, that meant being open to potential trades for just about anybody to clear some payroll. The selling started by shipping Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels, and then… things halted.

Detroit’s biggest stars – Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlandersaw their names briefly pop up in the rumor mill, but they died down quickly. One available player who seemed all but traded was J.D. Martinez, and it wasn’t hard to see why.

But here were are, with the holidays over and 2017 officially upon us, and he’s still a member of the Tigers. It doesn’t look like he’s leaving anytime soon, either.

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New York Mets, Cleveland Indians Traveling Similar Paths in Search of a World Series Title

Like most professional sports, Major League Baseball is a copycat league.

When the San Francisco Giants and Kansas City Royals displayed how crucial a dominant bullpen can be en route to winning championships, other teams tried to duplicate their strategy in hopes of finding similar success.

Now, after seeing what it took for the Chicago Cubs to end their excruciating 108-year title drought, even their most bitter rivals are taking notes for the future.

Although they haven’t yet won a World Series, the Cleveland Indians and New York Mets have rebuilt their respective rosters in such a way that many opponents are likely jealous of. There aren’t many organizations around baseball with the type of top-flight and mostly homegrown starting pitching these two have.

That’s not where the similarities end, either.

In fact, Cleveland recently signing Edwin Encarnacion to a three-year deal on the eve of Christmas further strengthens the similarities between these two teams, and it’s much more than just reaching the Fall Classic one year apart.

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Todd Frazier, Chris Carter and the Most “Average” 40-Homer Seasons Since 2002

An MLB hitter posting a season with at least 40 home runs is never not impressive, but is there a time when it’s not as impressive as it should be?

The answer to that question is yes.

Upon seeing players at the top of home run leaderboards for any given year, there could be a tendency to automatically think they’re some of baseball’s best. With regard to 2016, only eight sluggers surpassed 40 homers, but there are four that stand out: Mark Trumbo, Khris Davis, Chris Carter and Todd Frazier.

Despite mashing taters with the best of them this past season, their overall numbers – we’re talking about fWAR, in particular – don’t follow suit. Davis’ 2.5 fWAR is the highest, which just barely squeaks into the top-75 in 2016.

Obviously, this metric brings defense into the equation, but it intrigued me enough to investigate how their homer-rich performances rank against others in recent memory.

Using FanGraphs’ new splits leaderboard, I went all the way back to 2002 to see how the 40-homer seasons from these four stacked up, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture for a couple of sluggers.

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Gary Sanchez’s Insane Month of August Is Among the Best This Decade

Making a good first impression is something many people aim for in various areas of life. MLB rookies will now have to chase the ultimate first impression made by New York Yankees catcher, Gary Sanchez, this past summer.

Yankees fans knew Sanchez was expected to be the future for this franchise behind the plate, but had to do quite a bit of waiting before it actually happened. Sanchez accumulated two plate appearances in 2015, followed by another four in May of this past season before getting any kind of consistent opportunity.

But then, it happened – general manager Brian Cashman executed New York’s first sell-off at the non-waiver trade deadline this century, which paved the way for Sanchez to finally get everyday at-bats at the big league level.

Did he take advantage of it? I’d say so.

He immediately endeared himself to Yankee fans eagerly awaiting his arrival, rewarding their patience by providing a historic month of offense – especially considering he entered it with just six big-league plate appearances to his name.

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The 20 Least Powerful MLB Hitters Who Slugged 20-Plus Homers in 2016

There aren’t many better ways for a ballplayer to display their power than by sending an incoming pitch over the outfield wall. That happened plenty this past season, which was one of the best cumulative power performances we’ve ever seen.

There were a grand total of 111 players who surpassed the 20-homer plateau. Not only is that an increase from the 64 players who accomplished it in 2015, it’s a new record.

However, as we detailed last week, there are other ways to determine how powerful a hitter actually is.

So, going off our idea to find the most powerful players who didn’t hit 30 homers, we’re now looking for the opposite. Below is a table displaying the 20 least powerful players who collected at least 20 round-trippers last year.

To figure this out, we limited the search to qualified hitters, sorting them by their ISO (Isolated Slugging Percentage).

Now, to be clear – none of these hitters are “below average.” They’re actually all above average in the ISO department, according to FanGraphs.

Check out who made the list:

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The 19 Most Powerful MLB Hitters Who Didn’t Hit 30 Homers in 2016

One of the biggest displays of power on a baseball field includes a hitter stepping into the batter’s box and mashing a pitch over the outfield wall. A lot of fans enjoy watching home runs more than anything, and posting a gaudy number in that department can help a player land a huge pay day.

But in today’s game, we all know there are more ways to value a player’s power than by simply seeing how many homers they’ve hit in a given season or career. We displayed that in a recent article when talking about New York Yankees rookie sensation, Gary Sanchez.

FanGraphs’ Isolated Power (ISO) metric is one of my favorite advanced stats because it shows a player’s raw power. Those who posted 30-plus homers dominate the 2016 ISO leaderboard, but the presence of a few players got me thinking…

Which hitters had the highest ISO without reaching the 30-homer plateau? FanGraphs says an “excellent” ISO is .250, while a “great” one is .200 or above.

So, I sifted through the leaderboard for all the qualified hitters with at least a .200 ISO to see which ones were the most powerful from this past season.

Here is that list. The bolded and italicized numbers indicate they led this group in that particular category. Below the table, I provide one takeaway for each player.

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Signing Ian Desmond Is Just as Risky This Year as it Was Last Year

Chances are Ian Desmond regrets a decision or two on the business side of his MLB career. He could be in the midst of a seven-year, $107 million extension with the Washington Nationals, but instead bet on himself and paid for it dearly.

Desmond hit the open market last winter for the first time following a lackluster 2015 campaign, and finding a new home wasn’t easy. Having draft-pick compensation attached to him didn’t help, either.

It got to a point where Desmond, an All-Star shortstop in 2012, settled on a one-year, $8 million at the end of February with the Texas Rangers to play the outfield. You don’t see many shortstops having to do that in advance of their age-30 season to facilitate finding a job.

Unlike the first time, Desmond’s second bet on himself to rebuild value and re-enter free agency the next winter appears to have worked. He turned into the Rangers’ everyday center fielder, hitting .285/.335/.446 with 22 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 86 RBI and 107 runs scored in another All-Star campaign.

A Different Story This Time Around?

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These 6 MLB Hitters Have a lot To Prove in 2017

Now that it’s been about a month since the Chicago Cubs won the World Series and we’re assured there won’t be a work stoppage related to Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations, baseball’s full focus can officially shift to 2017.

With MLB’s Winter Meetings on the horizon, we’ll soon be engulfed in countless rumors as front office executives attempt to improve for next season.

While that’s all taking place, players — who are obviously the subject of these impending rumors — are likely at home watching it all happen as they mentally and physically prepare for 2017 themselves. Some are feeling confident after a solid showing over the past several months, but others are looking to regain their old form.

Just as we recently pointed out a handful of starting pitchers who are entering next season with a lot to prove, we’ve chosen six hitters also feeling that same kind of pressure. However, unlike those hurlers, not all of the below hitters are coming off disappointing campaigns. 

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Manny Machado’s Lack of Stolen Bases Cost Him a Top-3 AL MVP Finish in 2016

Major League Baseball is full of young superstars, and Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado deserves to be included in such an elite group. After all, he just earned his second consecutive top-five finish in the American League MVP race.

Finishing fifth behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Josh Donaldsonis nothing to be ashamed of, but was there a way he could’ve further distinguished himself to become a finalist?

The answer to that question is yes.

Looking at Machado’s 2015 and 2016 statistics, it appears he experienced nearly identical performances, except for one glaring difference.

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5 Advanced Stats That Show The Best Could Still Be Ahead For Mike Trout

After bringing home the American League Most Valuable Player award for the second time in his young career, Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is in elite company. But is there reason to believe the best is yet to come for the 25-year-old?

It doesn’t seem like he could actually get any better at this point, but some advanced statistics show that’s not an entirely crazy statement. Which is pretty crazy in itself.

With five full years in the big leagues under Trout’s belt, he’s already accomplished plenty:

The years he didn’t win the AL MVP? He placed second in the voting, which is the first time any player has done that to start their career. He also joins Barry Bondsas the only players to finish in the top two of voting for five consecutive years…ever.

Trout has played at an elite level since 2012 – the lowest fWAR he’s produced in a full season of play was 7.9 back in 2014. Him getting better sounds preposterous, but that’s exactly what Buster Olney said he’s doing last week on the Baseball Tonight podcast.

After looking at his year-by-year progression in the following five areas, it’s not hard to believe the best is yet to come for Trout.

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Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano Need to Fix The Same Problem For 2017

The Minnesota Twins aren’t your run-of-the-mill 103-loss team. Yes, the starting rotation is a mess and new chief of baseball operations Derek Falvey has a lot of work to do, but he inherited what should be a nice core at the MLB level.

Two players getting the most attention in this regard are Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano. While they boast vastly different skill sets on the diamond, there was one aspect of the game in which they both struggled with equally in 2016: striking out way too much.

This isn’t exactly a new problem for either of them, though.

In a disappointing 46-game stretch in 2015 as a rookie, Buxton struck out 31.9 percent of the time. He then watched his strikeout rate balloon to 35.6 percent in 331 plate appearances this past season in multiple stints with the Twins.

On the other hand, Sano broke out in 2015 by hitting 18 home runs in 335 plate appearances. His 35.5 percent strikeout rate wasn’t great; but that number was easier to swallow with a 15.8 percent walk rate and 150 wRC+. Since his strikeout rate didn’t improve (36 percent) and both his walk rate (10.9 percent) and wRC+ (107) took nosedives in 2016, it’s something worth being concerned about.

In order to be the cornerstones this organization wants them to be, they must cut down on the strikeouts. And they can do that by taking back control of the strike zone.

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Neil Walker Accepting Qualifying Offer Should Have Matt Wieters-Like Impact on Mets’ Offseason

It’s only the middle of November, but the New York Mets just gained a whole lot of clarity to their offseason plan. And while the fan base is still upset about Bartolo Colon heading to the Atlanta Braves, they have reason to be excited about what’s to come.

Second baseman Neil Walker was one of just two players out of a possible 10 to accept a qualifying offer on Monday, meaning he’ll be returning to the Mets on a one-year deal for $17.2 million. That’s a lot of money for a middle infielder, but Sandy Alderson is clearly confident in Walker making a full recovery for Opening Day.

Some may feel this could hamper New York’s ability to re-sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, but it should actually have the opposite kind of impact. Call me overly optimistic here, but watching Walker accept the qualifying offer was exactly what the front office needed in order to operate under a “win now” mentality…even more than before.

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Diamondbacks Gaining New Vision for 2017, But With The Old Regime’s Players

Dave Stewart, Tony La Russa and the Arizona Diamondbacks stunned baseball last winter with a handful of bold moves in order to win in 2016. Unfortunately for them, instead of improving from a 79-83 showing in ’15, the club regressed to 69-93 this past season.

The organization will now take a more conservative approach this offseason. Not necessarily because new Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Hazen believes that’s the proper course of action to begin turning the Dbacks around, but he doesn’t have much of a choice.

Hazen made the most impactful move of his first offseason in Arizona by recently hiring Torey Lovullo as manager. It was an important hire because the organization’s 2017 results will already hinge significantly on the success or failure of players the previous regime brought in.

The Dbacks’ new executive is familiar with this kind of situation, though.

With the Boston Red Sox, he watched Dave Dombrowski inherit a roster that was also basically set. But he at least still had the flexibility to make impactful acquisitions, like signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel.

The situation out in the desert is different, and for three major reasons.

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Jose Abreu is a Perfect Example Why Traditional Stats Don’t Tell The Whole Story

To evaluate the effectiveness of a baseball player, statistics have evolved into much more than wins and losses or home runs and RBI. Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu is the perfect example as to why perception isn’t necessarily reality with regard to offensive production.

On Monday, FanGraphs published a piece detailing how the White Sox could run this offseason depending on which direction the front office wanted to take the organization. In that article, Dave Cameron said this about Abreu:

“Abreu has lost some value by going the wrong way offensively the last few years, but he finished the second half on a big upswing, and remains vastly underpriced relative to what it will cost to sign an inferior player like Mark Trumbo.”

As important as traditional stats are, we all know they’re not the be-all, end-all in today’s game. Actually, they probably don’t mean a whole lot to quite a few executives and talent evaluators.

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