Author Archives: Matt Musico
One of the great things about baseball is that it’s always full of surprises. We get reminded of this every single year, and while there have been a handful already in 2017, Washington Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman is a perfect example.
Once a cornerstone of the franchise and an annual offensive force earlier in his career, Zimmerman’s production had taken a nosedive over the years. It seemingly came to a head in 2016 when he slashed just .218/.272/.370 in 467 plate appearances, which led to a .277 wOBA, 67 wRC+ and a -1.3 fWAR.
That’s what we’d like to call suboptimal, guys.
It’s easy to think that the front office was concerned about his future production since they signed Adam Lind to a one-year deal on the eve of Spring Training, which many speculated would lead to a platoon at the corner infield spot.
But here we are, about six weeks into the regular season and no platoon has formed at first base. In fact, Zimmerman’s incredible April performance earned him Player of the Month honors.
The domination all over the league leaderboards hasn’t stopped, either. Entering action on Tuesday, check out where Zimmerman ranks in the following 16 categories.
With each big league ballplayer staring down six months of regular season play on Opening Day, every single one of them hopes for a fast start. However, having a strong month or two doesn’t guarantee that those trends and high levels of production will continue through to September.
As we march toward the dog days of summer, it gets harder to use the “small sample size” argument, but there are still certain statistics that need more time to stabilize before putting a whole lot of stock in them.
Potentially even more important than the numbers displaying a hot start are the underlying stats telling us whether certain trends appear to be sustainable.
The following 10 players have experienced success to start 2017, but landing on this list doesn’t necessarily mean their performance is going to bottom out at some point (some might, though). However, unless some peripheral stats change, it’ll be awfully hard to keep up their current pace.
There are so many things that go on during the course of a 162-game season that it’s usually difficult to pinpoint one situation as the difference maker.
A turning point? Yea, that works, but saying one thing in particular was the reason behind a certain team living or not living up to expectations is hard. After all, baseball involves a ton of variables on any given night.
However, upon looking back on 2016, there’s a good chance the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros wondered what could’ve been if they didn’t struggle so mightily against the Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers, respectively.
Up to this point in the season, though, the narrative has been flipped on its head.
The 2017 MLB regular season hasn’t exactly started how the New York Mets envisioned it. Unless they anticipated an 11-14 record and multiple injuries to impact players, that is.
One of the biggest disappointments throughout the first few weeks was Jose Reyes‘ performance at the plate. An integral part of the Mets’ offense at the top of their lineup, manager Terry Collins was forced to move his third baseman to the bottom third because he was in such a deep slump.
How bad was it, exactly? On April 23rd, he sported an uninspiring .104/.189/.134 triple slash with a .158 wOBA and a wRC+ of -3 (and no, that’s not a typo).
While he hasn’t been installed back into the top of the lineup just yet — Michael Conforto is doing quite fine at the moment — Reyes has caught fire after a couple days away from the field. Since April 26th, the veteran is slashing .391/.462/.913 with a .559 wOBA and a wRC+ of 252.
What’s been the cause of him busting out of his slump? The evidence is pretty clear in his batted-ball profile.
With the 162-game grind that is an MLB regular season, players and teams are bound to go through rough patches. It’s inevitable, and while everyone tries to minimize them as much as possible, the struggles can sometimes wear on for much longer than anyone would like.
Going through a bad month is not uncommon around baseball. It’s just difficult to have it happen to a player or team in April because they’re immediately trying to dig out of a hole in an effort to get back to some level of normalcy.
Unfortunately, plenty of players find themselves in a hole like this once the calendar flips from April to May. We’ve already touched upon the league’s 10 best players so far, but who’s on the other end of the spectrum?
The following 10 players — five starting pitchers and five hitters — have a ton of work to do before they can be happy with what their respective stat lines look like.
There are still five months left in the 2017 MLB regular season, so there is plenty left to be decided. When we look back on this year by the time September rolls around, we may not even remember how certain players or teams played over the first few weeks.
That doesn’t mean someone doesn’t want to see their name on this particular list, though. Right?
Every ballplayer is well aware of the ups and downs that come with the game of baseball — that’s just the way it is. The best thing anyone can do is to minimize the valleys and maximize the peaks in production as much as possible throughout any given year. However, it does make things a lot easier when they can get their respective seasons off to a fast start.
But who has been the best at doing just that? Now that May is officially upon us, we’re going to highlight 10 players overall — five position players and five starting pitchers — that have just experienced a dominant month of April.
In case you missed the New York Mets and Washington Nationals face off in the final game of a three-game weekend series, there’s a pretty good way to describe what happened. All you need to know is that Nats third baseman Anthony Rendon did more at the plate himself than the entire Mets offense.
On a day in which Washington accumulated 23 runs on 23 hits, Rendon was the standout star — which is inevitable when you go 6-for-6 with three home runs, five runs scored and 10 RBI.
It’s hard to escape the spotlight following something like that.
There were a lot of firsts that came with this, as well. He was the first player to record a 10-RBI game since Garret Anderson did it back in 2007, but this factoid pretty much takes the cake.
Just about everything from the 2016 season could be viewed as a disaster for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Looking back now, it was probably a bit of foreshadowing when outfielder — and spark plug — A.J. Pollock went down with an elbow injury on the eve of the regular season.
Instead of taking a step forward from the 79-83 record they posted in 2015, they took a step back with a 69-93 mark.
While the outlook of this club looked more grim heading into 2017 compared to the year before, there was still a lot of young talent to get excited about.
There are another five months to go in the regular season, but here we are, with them competing for the top of the National League West with a 15-9 record.
That looks a lot different from last April, when they finished with a 12-14 record, and the presence of both Pollock and David Peralta in the first two spots of the lineup has been a noticeable and welcome difference.
Fresh off having one of the more disappointing starting rotations in baseball last year, the Baltimore Orioles didn’t do much to change this group in 2017.
Instead, they were hoping their young hurlers would take another step forward to lead the unit as a whole. That included Kevin Gausman, who parlayed a strong second half and impressive performance during Spring Training into an Opening Day start against the Toronto Blue Jays.
The thing is, his strong showing after the 2016 All-Star break hasn’t exactly carried over into this year.
Through 24 innings of work (five starts), the right-hander has posted a 1-2 record with an unsightly 7.50 ERA and 2.04 WHIP. Those looking for some solace in his peripheral numbers won’t find it, with a FIP (5.65), xFIP (5.51) and SIERA (5.39) all north of 5.00.
The Orioles need him to pitch like an ace this year, but he’s done the complete opposite. What’s going on?
There are only three things guaranteed in life: death, taxes and Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper having a huge April.
That’s how the saying goes, right? It’s something like that.
Every ballplayer is wired differently, and that’s usually apparent when looking at how they perform. Some are notorious for getting off to a slow start, while others immediately put the pedal to the floor. Harper has only been in the big leagues since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2012, but he’s already built a reputation on being a fast starter.
Whether it’s his propensity for hitting homers on Opening Day or producing some of the most dominant April performances this decade, it seems like he’s always a top performer in the season’s first month of play.
And that’s pretty much what the statistics say. In fact, there’s no better month of the year for Harper than April.
Last April, Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story made his presence felt in a big way as a rookie. It’s kind of hard not to when you hit seven home runs in your first 12 career games and tie a rookie record for the most dingers in April (10).
There’s really no way for anyone to replicate that performance (.261/.324/.696 line with 10 homers and 20 RBI, good for a 143 wRC+). Even if he mashed once again this month, coming into the season expecting that level of production — especially in the power department — would be entirely unfair.
However, Story has unfortunately seen the other end of the spectrum this year with regard to April performances. He already experienced what it’s like to be on fire, and now he’s realizing what it feels like to start completely ice cold.
That’s evidenced by his .125/.263/.313 triple slash with 2 homers and 3 RBI in 57 plate appearances. As frustrating as the first handful of games have likely been for him, his results on offense haven’t all been bad. Not a whole lot has been good, though.
Since the 2017 MLB regular season is only a couple weeks old, we still can’t draw concrete conclusions based on player performance just yet. There are definitely certain trends we should be taking note of, though.
After all, don’t tell anyone associated with the Toronto Blue Jays that the first couple weeks can just be shrugged off as no big deal.
Two player trends that have been eye opening for different reasons involve Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox and Byron Buxton of the Minnesota Twins. One barely strikes out, but it seems like that’s all the other one does these days.
The first two seasons of Francisco Lindor’s MLB career couldn’t have gone much better – especially when specifically talking about his individual performance. He’s paired Gold Glove defense with more-than-adequate production at the plate, but if we had to nitpick, his offense did take a slight step back last year compared to his rookie campaign.
Despite getting over 200 more plate appearances to work with, his wRC+, Isolated Power (ISO), wOBA and OPS all dropped.
But still, it’s not like any club wouldn’t take a 6.3-fWAR player that posted a .301/.358/.435 triple slash with 15 homers, 78 RBI, 99 runs scored, 19 stolen bases and Gold Glove defense at shortstop.
Entering his age-23 campaign, we know there’s room for growth as he continues approaching his physical prime. Could we be seeing that already with an early-season power binge?
Through 42 plate appearances, Lindor has hit 4 home runs and produced a .441 ISO. It took him until May 27th (201 plate appearances) to reach 4 homers last year.
Some could obviously look at this hot start and call it just that – we’re dealing with a small sample size, after all. And they’re not wrong – we’ll indeed have to wait a bit to see how sustainable his current performance is.
But what have been the reasons behind his fast start in the power department this year? Is it just a hot streak or could it be a sign of growth from the young shortstop?
As evidenced by their young starting rotation, the New York Mets are a team — and organization, for that matter — built around starting pitching. However, while having a dominant starting staff is awesome, we’ve seen that offense is just as important toward their eventual success.
After all, you still have to score more runs than the other team to win.
For the Mets, it doesn’t really matter how deep the offense appears on paper because it all flows through Yoenis Cespedes. Considering the fact that he’s slashed .154/.267/.308 in 30 plate appearances thus far — good for a 63 wRC+ — it shouldn’t be totally shocking to see New York scuffling a bit out of the gate because their offense hasn’t gotten into a groove yet.
And yes, there’s no possible way we can draw any conclusions from a seven-game sample size, but there are a couple of encouraging trends from Cespedes now that we’re one week into the regular season.
It’s only been a couple days since the MLB made its triumphant return around the country in games that actually count, but a lot of cool stuff has already happened.
As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian says frequently, the beautiful part of baseball is you can head to the stadium every single night and see something that’s never happened before. With all the action taking place, we’ve taken the time to set aside as many tweets as we can find containing cool stats, facts or just a plain old observations of what’s going on.
Since baseball is played on a daily basis, there are tons of opportunities for this kind of stuff to happen, so we can safely assume the the following 21 tweets are just the beginning of something wonderful in 2017.
It’s impossible to draw conclusions from one game out of a 162-game season. Heck, we know that even a strong first month doesn’t necessarily mean the next five are going to be smooth. But what one game can do — especially on Opening Day — is set a tone that a team can start to get behind.
That’s what Chris Archer was successful in doing during the Tampa Bay Rays’ win over the New York Yankees. This was Archer’s third Opening Day start with Tampa Bay, but his first victory. When looking at parts of his pitching line from Sunday compared to the 2016 season opener, though, one may think last year’s performance was more dominant.
Last season against the Toronto Blue Jays, the right-hander allowed 3 runs (2 earned) on 5 hits, 3 walks and 12 strikeouts. This year, he allowed 2 runs on 7 hits, 1 walk and just 5 strikeouts. There was one really important difference, though.
Winters are always long without any baseball, but this one seemed especially long.
Thankfully, the moment we’ve been waiting for since the Chicago Cubs clinched a long overdue World Series title last November is finally upon us — Opening Day is literally right around the corner.
Over the next month or so, plenty of assumptions will surely be made despite the “small sample size” caveat. After all, we know it takes a while for certain trends to actually stabilize.
Still, I was curious as to which hitters put together the best performances in April over the past decade. It could’ve been inspired by that insane month of August Gary Sanchez gave us last year, but who’s been the best through the first month of the season since 2010?
We’ve taken the top-five performances from each season and ranked them by wRC+ to see who gave themselves the best start imaginable. To be eligible for consideration, players had to accumulate at least 90 plate appearances during the month of April in each given season.
Here are the most dominant performances we’ve seen from big-league hitters so far this decade.
While there is unfortunately no baseball being played during the winter months, we normally have the Hot Stove to keep us warm with endless rumors and huge contracts being handed out by teams who will inevitably regret it. Until this past winter, that is.
The free agent market just wasn’t any good, and Yoenis Cespedes was the only player on the open market to secure a guarantee above $100 million (four years, $110 million, to be exact). Heck, we saw Chris Carter and Mark Trumbo, who led their respective leagues in homers last year, bring home a collective guarantee of just $41 million despite launching a total of 88 bombs.
This past winter was the first time since 2009 any team didn’t break a franchise record by rewarding a player with a monumental mound of cash. However, there’s been plenty of damage done in this category since the turn of the century.
Here are the players who have signed the richest contracts for each MLB team.
When it comes to the baseball diamond, we hear a ton about the ballplayers who are taking home the most money — whether it’s over the life of a certain contract or a singular season. After all, if we put together a lineup with the highest-paid players at each position, it’d be pretty expensive.
But with the youth movement that’s happening throughout baseball, there are a bunch of players providing top-tier production for just a fraction of the price.
Some teams have already locked up their young talent to extensions — Rougned Odor‘s deal with the Texas Rangers is the latest example — yet there are still plenty stuck in between while waiting to become eligible for arbitration. Until that happens, organizations can get an incredible deal when a player’s salary is compared to their actual on-field production.
With that in mind, we set out to find the game’s best pre-arbitration players at each position. The only criteria: they can’t be eligible for arbitration yet or be signed to a long-term extension. So, is this list somewhat subjective? Yes, it is.
Some 2017 contract figures haven’t been released yet, but we can at least make some rough estimates on what they will be.
Without further adieu, here is the 2017 All-Value Team.
Fresh off two consecutive postseason appearances, the Toronto Blue Jays are primed to compete for a spot in October once again in 2017. They’ll be doing it with some fresh faces, though.
Edwin Encarnacion and his powerful bat were a huge part of those two playoffs runs, but he plays for the Cleveland Indians now. The Blue Jays re-signed Jose Bautista, but have also brought in Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce to make up for the void Edwing has left in the lineup.
While the starting rotation was surprisingly great last year, the offense collectively struggled over the first two months, posting a 90 wRC+ in April and 97 wRC+ in May before finishing with a mark of 102 for the entire season. The offense has to get off on the right foot this year to prevent another slow start (12-14 record on May 1 last year, 29-26 on June 1).
Tulowitzki and Martin will need to be a big part of that.
The 2017 MLB regular season is on the brink of getting underway, which means it’s another chance for team’s to re-write their history by making a deep run into October. Spring Training and Opening Day are the best times to be optimistic about that possibility — no matter how unrealistic it may seem for certain clubs.
But who could really use a fruitful playoff appearance the most?
A lot had been made throughout 2016 about the Chicago Cubs and the 108-year championship drought they finally ended against the Cleveland Indians last November. No professional sports team can come close to that kind of postseason misery, and we’re not going to try and compare anything to it.
We already know that teams like the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals rule their respective leagues when it comes to all-time World Series titles, and even just playoff appearances in general. But since we’re well into this century, it’s a perfect time to take a quick look back at recent postseason history.
Below is a table ranked by a team’s number of postseason appearances. It also shows the year of their most recent postseason appearance, along with their number of trips to the World Series and whether or not they’ve brought home any titles.
It appeared as though the Detroit Tigers were going to strip their squad down as much as possible this past winter. And after shipping Cameron Maybin to the Los Angeles Angels at nearly the first chance they could, he seemed to just be the first domino to fall.
Until he wasn’t. More or less, he was the only domino to fall.
Now that Maybin is gone, it leaves a void in the second spot of manager Brad Ausmus’ order. That’s always an important spot, but it’s even more important when it’s followed by hitters like Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez.
J.D. Martinez was reportedly the early favorite to take that spot, but he’d rather hit lower in the lineup. One person who does want to hit second, though, is Nick Castellanos. He’s not a prototypical no. 2 hitter, but he’s the perfect fit for this club.
The 2017 season is a critical for not only the Kansas City Royals, but also for first baseman Eric Hosmer. It’s his final year prior to hitting free agency, and he’s already built an impressive resume with his seventh big league season on the horizon.
After all, not many players can say that they’ve won three Gold Gloves (in consecutive years), appeared in an All-Star game (and took home MVP honors) and played in two World Series. Oh, and one of those trips to the Fall Classic ended with a bunch of champagne in his eyes.
While Hosmer claims to have never mentioned wanting a 10-year contract, it sounds an awful lot like something his agent, Scott Boras, would be asking for. He’s notoriously been one to set an exorbitant price for his clients, and someone eventually buckles more times than you’d think.
But will an organization buckle for someone like Hosmer? He’s put together a great resume thus far, but the journey into free agency this past winter for two reigning home run champions in Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter showed us that teams aren’t quite valuing players the same anymore.
And honestly, if one concerning trend continues into this season, it’d be surprising if Hosmer gets offered anything close to a 10-year deal.
What’s the key to an MLB team beating out their competition en route to securing a division title? There are a lot of variables that go into a potential postseason run, but it’s almost always centered around pitching — both effectiveness and relative health.
Something that gets overlooked from last year was the incredible continuity the Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays had in their respective starting rotations — they were both top five in fWAR thanks to finishing first and second in total innings pitched. They accomplished that because each squad boasted five hurlers with at least 29 starts.
Virtually no teams can depend on that kind of consistency throughout the regular season.
Every division race has questions about pitching, but it seems like the American League West is just oozing with uncertainty in each of the team’s starting rotations — whether they’re a contender or not.
Like a fine wine, Seattle Mariners designated hitter Nelson Cruz has gotten better with age.
He had consistently been a force in the middle of the Texas Rangers’ lineup since becoming an everyday player in 2009, but he’s gone to another level in recent years.
The slugger never collected fewer than 22 homers or 76 RBI in a single season with Texas, but also never hit more than 33 dingers or drove in 90 runs while playing over 128 games just once.
Things have taken off since leaving the Lone Star state, though. Between his age-33 and age-35 campaigns, he’s enjoyed three straight 40-plus homer and 90-plus RBI performances.
While entering 2017 as a 36-year-old will raise some eyebrows with what we know about aging power hitters, he’s still expected to be a major run producer in the middle of Seattle’s lineup.
Besides age, have there been any signs of decline that we can see?
While there’s a certain amount of joy in watching two baseball teams slug it out for nine innings, not much can beat a good old fashioned pitcher’s duel.
The game hums along at a nice pace (the commissioner definitely likes that) and every play — whether it’s someone collecting a base hit, stealing a bag, executing a hit-and-run, making a play in the field or something else — gets magnified along the way.
Hitters are forced to face a lot of failure on any given night, and the chances of coming up empty always skyrockets when one of the league’s top hurlers toes the slab. Especially when they’re in the midst of a Cy Young season.
Every award-winning performance is a special one for pitchers, but they’re not all created equally. Since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve been blessed with some truly dominant pitching performances, but which ones have been the most dominant?
Using FanGraphs’ version of WAR (referred to as fWAR here), we ranked the 10 best Cy Young seasons since 2000 (there was a tie at no. 10, so we handed it to whomever compiled their respective fWAR in the fewest number of innings).
Every successful big-league hitter goes down their own path toward becoming productive at the plate, but the method in which that happens is normally rooted in plate discipline.
It takes certain players longer than others to make improvements in that area, but when the light switch goes off, everything falls into place — they start hitting the ball hard with more frequency and see a rise in multiple offensive categories. Or, if they were already an established hitter, something unexpected could result from it, like an increase in power.
However, a lack of plate discipline can also prevent some from potentially taking their game to the next level, and that’s what’s happening to Baltimore Orioles second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
Compiling a career-high 647 plate appearances in 2016 enabled him to set a few personal highs in various offensive categories, like in home runs (25), doubles (38) and RBI (82). But despite ranking amongst the top-7 among qualified hitters at his position in each of those categories, his wRC+ (97) and fWAR (2.0) don’t even rank among the top 15.
The key to watching his offense kick it up a notch is by improving that plate discipline.
The 2016 season was one Wil Myers and the San Diego Padres had been waiting for.
After failing to play in more than 88 games during each of his first three MLB seasons, the outfielder turned first baseman suited up for a career-high 157 ballgames and earned his first-ever All-Star selection last year. It seems as though this kind of performance took forever, but that happens with top prospects — we hear about them for so long that we forget how young they actually are.
Myers is a perfect example — he’ll be just 27 years old on Opening Day with the sky being his limit as he prepares to embark into the physical prime of his career. San Diego is very much in the midst of a rebuild after selling off most of their MLB talent, but the front office wants to build around their first baseman.
At least, that’s what it seems like after the two sides agreed on a six-year, $83 million extension this past winter instead of going through the arbitration process.
But while his overall stats from 2016 make it appear as if he’s arrived, it wouldn’t be telling the whole story.
By the time each MLB season comes to its conclusion, there are only certain things we remember. Our thoughts are mostly dominated by who just won the World Series or how our favorite team performed. Unless it directly impacts us, we rarely remember who exactly was the worst team in baseball for any given year.
Win-loss record and winning percentage are what’s mostly used to determine who takes home this dubious honor — along with the top overall pick in the following summer’s draft — but it should go a little deeper than that.
So, while taking this particular trip down memory lane, we felt it was more appropriate to use run differential as the determining factor, which is the number of runs a team allows subtracted by the number of runs they score. After all, the whole point of baseball is to score more runs than you allow each night.
More often than not (11 out of 15, actually), the worst record in baseball was accompanied by the worst run differential, but there were a handful of times when a team didn’t accomplish both.
Below are the worst teams in terms of run differential from each season since 2002, ranked from least to most soul crushing.
With Grapefruit and Cactus League games officially underway, everyone in baseball gets that coveted clean slate. The 2017 season presents endless opportunities for players and teams, no matter how good or how bad 2016 was to them.
Some are taking the field with the hopes of completely changing the narrative surrounding them, while others simply want to continue showing the progress they displayed just a few months ago is indeed the new normal.
The MLB regular season is a grind — as if 162 games in about 180 days doesn’t say that enough — and quick starts don’t always mean certain performances are sustainable over the long haul. The same also goes for poor starts, too.
The five starting pitchers below each saw their respective 2016 campaigns start on the wrong foot, but that didn’t stop them from having a strong finish in the second half.
Now, they’ll each try to use that momentum to produce from start-to-finish this season.