Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XXIX: Bumgarner, Britton, MY Final Awards and LDS)

Written by :
Published on : October 7, 2016

 

 

For this cautiously optimistic Cubs fan, there was something oddly poetic and metaphorical about watching Madison Bumgarner walk back to the dugout after pitching yet another October gem for a team that has been there so many times before. By now you should know the long and torturous history of the Cubs, the 107 years of futility and heartbreak, the billy goats, black cats, Leon Durhams and Steve Bartmans. This version of the team needs just 11 more wins on a season where they’ve already won 103. But in the process of chasing the championship, they’re also surrounded by ghosts, whether they be real or imagined. And so in a year where Cubs fans have never been more hopeful that the wait is over, that this is ‘Next Year’, that they can finally break a curse, of course the first obstacle in their way is a magical team with magical powers in even years, with a magical pitcher whose powers are heightened when they need him the most.

 

To me, Bumgarner symbolizes more than just a star pitcher on the San Francisco Giants. He’s also the poster boy for that magical thinking, superstition and all the other illogical nonsense that will be managed and tamed the further the Cubs get into the postseason. I’ve already seen multiple posts about how Bumgarner now has 23-consecutive scoreless innings in winner-take-all games. Before the Wild Card game, picking Noah Syndergaard to be the ‘winner’ was almost seen as contrarian, even though his numbers strongly suggest he’s the better pitcher. None of that mattered. MadBum was already at legend status. And by the time this is posted, it will have snowballed to godlike proportions. Meanwhile, I’m going to venture to guess that nobody, in their analysis of the Bumgarner vs. the Mets, is going to mention that the Mets were tied with the Milwaukee Brewers for 25th in the Majors in runs scored on the season. And that his next round opponent certainly ain’t that.

 

 

As God as my witness, the Chicago Cubs will eventually go the World Series and win the whole damn thing. It will happen before the sun swells up and swallows the earth or Donald Trump nukes Lakeview. So if a curse was actually a real thing, which I assure you it is not, the Cubs would probably have to break an ‘even year’ spell or whatever else is thrown in their way in the process. Good eventually has to defeat evil. You have to go to Mordor to get rid of the Precious. The 2004 Red Sox had to go through the Yankees to break a curse of their own. Because of course they did. Curses are fiction and fiction should have insurmountable odds right before a happy ending. If this were written by Hollywood, the 2016 Cubs’ storybook ending would go ‘Even Year’ Giants, Daniel Murphy, Boston Red Sox. And all of that can happen. So what better place than here? What better time than now? Who’s ready for some playoffs?

 

The AL Wild Card Game
The Blue Jays defeat the Orioles 5-2 in 11 innings

Oh man. I’d feel bad for Ubaldo Jimenez if I thought anybody was actually focusing on him and not on Buck Showalter’s decision to not use Zach Britton in the game. Jimenez, of course, had that infamous 7.38 ERA in the first half, which basically made him the worst starting pitcher in the Majors. But he’d been better lately, I swear. He had a 2.31 ERA in September. There were real people writing actual articles on ESPN.com saying Ubaldo should be starting the game over Chris Tillman. It’s just that Britton had a 0.54 ERA on the season. He hadn’t given up an earned run since August 24th. And that was the only once since April 30th. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

In the bottom of the 11th, after Jimenez came on in relief with the score tied at 2, he gave up singles to Devon Travis and Josh Donaldson, before Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run walk-off to send Toronto in to the next round. Jimenez threw a grand total of five pitches. Showalter used a grand total of six different relievers after Tillman exited in the 5th. None of them were Britton. Showalter was managing for the save, a made-up statistic for a made-up position that logic should have killed off years ago. And it probably took the strategic failing of a renowned baseball strategist for change to happen. I just hope Joe Maddon and Aroldis Chapman took notice.

 

The NL Wild Card Game
The Giants defeated the Mets 3-0

 

The pitchers duel lived up to the hype, all right. Syndergaard took a no-hitter into the 6th and looked dominant before his pitch count reached its limit at the end of 7. He was aided by a fantastic catch by Curtis Granderson in center. But the slumping Yoenis Cespedes and the mediocre bats of the Mets could get nothing going against Racist Legend Boy and a team that tanked the entire second half and had to sweep the Dodgers to hold off the Cardinals at the end of the season didn’t have to use their garbage bullpen. The game was scoreless until the top of the 9th, when Conor Gillaspie, who had six home runs all season, hit a three-run shot off of Jeurys Familia, who’d only given up one all year. Racist Legend Boy’s 4-hit shutout on 119 pitches and the fact that the year ends in a 6 means something very important to people who get paid money to talk about baseball for a living. Seriously, fuck this team.

 

ALDS Preview: The Rangers vs. The Blue Jays

Well this could be horrifyingly dangerous. The epic rematch that everyone outside of Baltimore should have wanted is actually going to happen. And if drunken Canadians are willing to throw Labatt Blue cans at Hyun-soo Kim, imagine what they want to do to Rougned Odor.

 

I actually think the Jays will take the series. While both teams can definitely score, I like the Jays’ pitching depth a lot more. That Rangers +10 run differential still doesn’t make sense. But why would we talk about any of that? Jose Bautista and Roogie could square off again, you guys!

 

ALDS Preview: The Indians vs. The Red Sox

I don’t think anybody has Cleveland winning this. Boston has the best offense in the Majors. Six of their hitters are at least pretty good. And the Indians’ staff is duct-taped together. Plus, Papi is the Madison Bumgarner of hitting. David Price does have a 5.12 postseason ERA. But Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin haven’t beaten the Red Sox this season. And Corey Kluber can’t match up with Price every game. But mostly, Joey Bats might fight Rougned Odor in that other series, you guys!

 

NLDS Preview: The Cubs vs. The Giants

 

The best pitching in the Major Leagues. The best defense in the Major Leagues. The best offense in the National League, outside of Colorado. The year 1908. The years 2010, 2012 and 2014.
This is the hottest the Giants have been since the All-Star Game, which isn’t saying much. The staff is pretty formidable, especially with Jeff Samardzija pitching well lately. But the team has trouble scoring. So if the Cubs’ deep lineup can heat up, that staff should hold the Giants off.

 

Should and will are two different things, obviously. The Cubs were 7-0 against the Mets in the regular season last year, before getting swept in the NLCS. But the Cubs are the story here. The sports media may be chasing after the Even Year Miracle Hillbilly like a dumb dog chasing a mail carrier. But the Cubs are the best team in baseball. And they’re the favorite until proven otherwise.

 

NLDS Preview: The Nationals vs. The Dodgers

No Stephen Strasburg. No Wilson Ramos. A banged-up Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. And Dusty Baker managing them. This all bodes well for the finally-healthy Dodgers. The only thing is, the Dodgers have pretty mediocre hitting after Corey Seager and Justin Turner. Especially against lefties. And Clayton Kershaw has been pretty un-Kershaw-like in Octobers past. He’s getting matched up with Max Scherzer, who doesn’t quite suck either. I’ll take Washington. Really. I need them for my Daniel Murphy curse storyline and I don’t want to get jumped in Echo Park during the presumed NLCS while forgetting I’m wearing a Cubs hat.

 

Let’s give out some awards.

 

AL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

 

As the Major League leader in WAR, by a pretty decent margin, Trout proved once again that he’s the best player in the game. It’s arguable that David Ortiz was a better hitter this year. But there’s really no other metric to suggest the A.L. MVP could possibly be anyone else.

 

I’ve already talked about this at length. Trout has led the league in WAR his first five seasons in the Majors and has one MVP award to show for it. Willie Mays led the National League in WAR ten times from 1954-1966. And he only has two MVP awards to show for it. Those voters look stupid to us now. And, unless Trout brings home some more hardware, they’re on their way to looking stupid again.

 

Honorable Mention: Josh Donaldson, Jose Altuve, Mookie Betts, Adrian Beltre

 

AL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

I was surprised too. For me, this came down to the numbers. The narrative of everyone assuming Verlander was done is nice and everything. But that has nothing to do with who was the best pitcher in the league this year. And the numbers pointed to Verlander, Rick Porcello and Corey Kluber.

 

—————————WAR   FIP      ERA

Justin Verlander      5.2      3.48      3.04
Rick Porcello           5.2      3.40      3.15
Corey Kluber           5.1      3.26      3.14

 

That’s about as close as you can get. But it’s that ERA – actual results – that settled it for me. I’d hand Verlander his second Cy. Or his third, since I probably would have given it to him in 2012 too. Just saying.

 

Honorable Mention: Rick Porcello, Corey Kluber, Masahiro Tanaka, Chris Sale, Aaron Sanchez

 

AL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Gary Sanchez, New York Yankees

 

I’d love to be able to give you a great reason. But this came down to Sanchez, Michael Fulmer and Christopher Devenski. Their WARS were essentially the same, regardless of if anybody had Devenski in the conversation or not. And Devenski’s Win Probability Added (WPA) was better than Fulmer’s, as were his FIP and ERA. That’s pitching 2-3 innings at a time, instead of six. But still, that’s a good argument for why Fulmer wasn’t the even best rookie pitcher in his own league. On the other hand, no other American League position player is touching Sanchez. He hit 20 home runs in 53 games, which is a 61 pace. Holy shit.

 

Honorable Mention: Michael Fulmer, Christopher Devenski, Tyler Naquin, Tim Anderson

 

NL MVP FINAL ANSWER: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Like Trout, Bryant led the league in WAR by a decent margin. Unlike Trout, his play contributed to a winning team. Joey Votto, Daniel Murphy and Freddie Freeman were all better hitters. But they can’t hold a candle to Bryant, defensively. The title of best player in the National League has a new claimant.

 

Honorable Mention: Freddie Freeman, Daniel Murphy, Joey Votto, Anthony Rizzo

 

NL CY YOUNG FINAL ANSWER: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

I’m taking Clayton Kershaw out of the equation, since he pitched in 10 fewer games with 34 fewer innings than Thor. But with a full season, Syndergaard led the league in WAR and FIP, while finishing third in ERA. I love Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester (who finished 1-2 in ERA), but they also had that Cubs defense behind them. And I highly doubt Jose Fernandez would want the award handed to him (although he was right up there). Oh, and Max Scherzer is getting hype as a 20-game winner. But this isn’t 1986 and we have better ways of evaluating value.

 

Honorable Mention: Jose Fernandez, Kyle Hendricks, Johnny Cueto, Madison Bumgarner, Jon Lester    

 

NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINAL ANSWER: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

It’s really not even close. Seager is the best rookie position player since Trout in 2012. And I thought he’d be the best National League rookie since Albert Pujols in 2001 or Mike Piazza in 1993, but it’s actually Dick Allen in 1964. That’s not like, bad company.

 

Honorable Mention: Jon Gray, Kenta Maeda, Trea Turner, Trevor Story, Steven Matz, Zach Davies

 

Okay. That’s it for this week. If you need more baseball from me, check me out on ‘Comedians Talking Sports‘ with Joe Kilgallon on the podcast things. In the meantime, the Cubs’ Magic Number is 11. So nervous!

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode XVII: All-Star Selections)

Written by :
Published on : July 8, 2016

 

With the All-Star Game approaching, the big talk this week was who got snubbed (which is probably unfair to Ned Yost and Terry Collins, since every team, no matter how awful they are, has to be represented) and also who should actually be starting. So let’s take a look at that. First up, the American League.

 

AL Starting Pitcher: ????

Should Start: Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians

 Will it be Salazar?

 

I think it should go to Salazar, especially since Jose Quintana didn’t even make the team. And neither did Masahiro Tanaka, who I honestly haven’t heard one person talk about all year, despite some fantastic stats. Anyway, Salazar is the AL leader in ERA. His FIP is better than Chris Sale’s and Steven Wright’s. And I’d guess those two are his only real competition for the start. Sale does have 14 wins and leads in ESPN’s Cy Young predictor. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he was given the nod. But with all the injuries to the Rangers’ rotation, Cleveland is probably the best team in the American League right now. And the main reason they’re so good is because of their staff. They had a 1.83 ERA during their franchise-best 14-game winning streak and Salazar has been the best of all of them. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re up 7.5 games on Sale and the White Sox.

 

AL Starting Catcher: Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

Should Start: Perez

 

Good job, fans. It’s not a strong pool, but Perez leads AL catchers in WAR and wOBA.

 

AL Starting First Baseman: Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

Should Start: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers

 It should be Miggy.

 

You would think that with all these AL Central players I’ve mentioned so far, the division would be a little more competitive. And it probably would be if the Tigers weren’t 1-11 against the Indians. But I digress. If we go ahead and say that Edwin Encarnacion is a DH (which he is), then Cabrera edges out Chris Davis of the Orioles (who didn’t make the team) with slightly better hitting.

 

AL Starting Second Baseman: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

Should Start: Altuve

 

After a horrible start, the Astros actually look like they’re gonna make a run at the postseason, after all. And Altuve is a legit MVP candidate. Too bad he can’t also pitch for them.

 

AL Starting Third Baseman: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles

Should Start: Josh Donaldson, Toronto Blue Jays

 There’s no doubt Manny should be in the game, but maybe not at third base.

 

This race is about as close as it gets (as is the AL East, itself) and Machado and Donaldson are also both MVP candidates. As good as Machado has been so far, Donaldson has been even better. But don’t worry, I have a way to fix this.

 

AL Starting Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox

Should Start: Machado

 

Machado has actually played eight more games at short than at third this season. So that technically makes him the best shortstop in the league. And don’t cry, Red Sox fans. There’s plenty more room on the roster for your offense. And also, you’re a third place team with 6 All-Stars.

 

AL Starting Outfield: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. Jackie Bradley Jr., Boston Red Sox. Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox

Should Start: Trout. Bradley. Ian Desmond, Texas Rangers

 

Trout is still the best player in the league. Bradley and Desmond are right up there. But that starting lineup isn’t bad for a Boston team that has fed-up fans calling for their manager to be fired. It’s not like adding David Price (who didn’t make the All-Star team) and Craig Kimbrel (who somehow did) were going to fix the rest of the team’s pitching woes, even if they weren’t both underperforming.

 

AL DH Selection: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox

Should DH: Ortiz

Papi should continue to praise whichever gods are giving him such power at such an age.

 

We don’t have to talk about the Red Sox pitching for the time being. Ortiz just passed Ted Williams on the all-time home run list. And since Williams died the year before Ortiz got to Boston, we can assume that all of his frozen powers were transferred over to Big Papi in 2003. Just kidding, he totally did ‘roids.

 

Okay, here are the Top 5 AL snubs this year, according to WAR.

 

1. Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox. (3.1)
2. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees. (3.0)
3. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays. (2.9)
4. Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners. (2.9)
5. Ian Kinsler, Detroit Tigers. (2.8)

 

Let’s move on to the National League.

 

NL Starting Pitcher: ????

Should Start: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 They say with great hair comes great pitching.

 

With Clayton Kershaw on the DL (and from this point forward, nobody can complain about pitching injuries unless they’re the 2016 Los Angeles Dodgers), Collins needs to go with his ace. I can see the argument for starting San Diego native, Stephen Strasburg, but unless the Mets are freaked out about potentially losing Matt Harvey for the season, the clear #2 choice (and the best available pitcher) is still Thor.

 

NL Starting Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Should Start: Wilson Ramos, Washington Nationals

 

This one is close, but Ramos edges Posey out with slightly better hitting. I suppose that since the Giants now have the best record in baseball (RIP Cubs SuperTeam), they should have somebody in the starting lineup. But since they also denied Madison Bumgarner a slot in the Home Run Derby, they also deserve nothing.

 

NL Starting First Baseman: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Rizzo

 Rizzo deserves this one.

 

Maybe with the Cubs sucking so bad the past two weeks, their entire infield shouldn’t be starting the All-Star Game. These guys need rest, not more games. But Rizzo is actually deserving of this, edging out Wil Myers and Paul Goldschmidt by a hair. And since I always seem to make fun of the Red Sox pitching on here, let me just cop to the fact that the Cubs arms are no longer setting the world on fire. Yeah, yeah. They had to regress at some point. But “The Body Issue” of ESPN the Magazine isn’t the only place the Cubs’ pitching has been showing their asses lately.

 

NL Starting Second Baseman: Ben Zobrist, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

Zobrist was great in like, May. But Murphy has been great the entire first half. Plus, I consider the recently-injured Matt Carpenter a third baseman.

 

NL Starting Third Baseman: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks

 Bryant may be getting the start but it’s Lamb who deserves it.

 

Lost in this whole Bryant vs. Nolan Arenado debate is that fact that nobody in the National League has had a better season than Jake Lamb and/or Matt Carpenter thus far. You know, other than the Carpenter injury. And for all of the complaining I hear from Team Arenado, they need to realize that he’s 4th among NL 3rd basemen in WAR and also 4th in wOBA. And Jake Lamb didn’t even make the team. But I guess since Bryant has already equaled his home run total from all of last season, I’ll figure out a way to get him on the starting lineup.

 

NL Starting Shortstop: Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

 

If the Dodgers are going to survive without Kershaw this season, it’s going to be because of Seager. He’s got the longest hitting streak in the National League so far. He’s 1st in WAR and second in wOBA among NL shortstops. And I’d actually say, at this point at least, that Seager, Brandon Crawford, Danny Espinosa, Zack Cozart, Aledmys Diaz, Jonathan Villar and Trevor Story would actually be more deserving of a start than Russell. Ouch, Mike.

 

NL Starting Outfielders: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals. Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets. Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

Should Start: Bryant. Cespedes. Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins

 Ozuna should be out there for the NL.

 

Listen, Bryant plays a lot of outfield. And he’d actually lead in WAR and be second in wOBA among all NL outfielders. He could replace Fowler, who I don’t want to play if he’s not healthy. And it might not even screw up the All-Theo Epstein Game (9 of the 17 starters are Theo acquisitions) too badly. Also, Marcell Ozuna is a sleeper choice for the NL MVP this year. Especially if mounting injuries can move the Marlins past the Mets in the standings. You know by now I’m rooting for that.

 

Okay. Finally, here are the Top 5 NL Snubs, according to WAR.

 

1. Jake Lamb, Arizona Diamondbacks. (3.5)
2. Brandon Crawford, San Francisco Giants. (3.3)
3. Gregory Polanco, Pittsburgh Pirates. (2.8)
4. Danny Espinosa, Washington Nationals. (2.5)
5. Zack Cozart, Cincinnati Reds. (2.4)
5. Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals. (2.4)

 

Okay. See you next week, where I will give a recap of the first half of the season. If you need more baseball, you can check me out on Comedians Talking Sports with Joe Kilgallon, available on iTunes. Until then, Ichiro needs 10 hits and the Cubs’ magic number is 70.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode IX)

Written by :
Published on : April 30, 2016

 

 

This week has been all about the resurgent Mets, the historic disparity of the National League, as well as the semi-real possibility of an October Red Line Series between the Chicago White Sox and Cubs. But it was mostly me going down an internet rabbit hole of Japanese baseball information. Because as I was looking up Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers, the deeper I dug, the more immersed I was into a world of Jewish spies and evil judo masters and the actual Heisenberg. You know, regular baseball stuff. Allow me to ease you in with some basic info…

 

Did you know that Maeda wears #18 because it’s a tradition in Japan for the ace of the staff to wear that number? I didn’t. But you might notice that Hisashi Iwakuma of the Mariners wears #18. And it’s been worn by Daiske Matsuzaka and Hiroki Kuroda and a number of other pitchers from Japan – the same way #10 is usually worn by the best player on a soccer team. Maybe it is a bit presumptuous for a guy on the same staff as Clayton Kershaw to sport the ace’s number, but whatever. We don’t have that tradition. And it’s not like anybody is crying about Matt Cain wearing #18 in San Francisco.

 

 

Maeda actually earned his #18 in Japan as the two time winner of the Eiji Sawamura Award, which actually predates, but is the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young. I’m simplifying things here, but they have a checklist of sorts that a pitcher needs to meet to qualify (25 starts, 15 wins, 10 complete games, a .600 winning percentage, 200 innings pitched, a 2.50 or lower ERA and 150 K’s). And just to give you an idea, if we had those qualifiers here (because of those 10 complete games), nobody would have won the Cy Young since Randy Johnson in 1999. Nevertheless, the Sawamura Award has also been won by Matsuzaka, Iwakuma and other guys who eventually came to the big leagues like Hideo Nomo, Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka.

 

Also, the story of Eiji Sawamura, himself, and the 1934 American barnstorming tour that inspired his legend (as well as professional baseball in Japan) is so good that it’s worth retelling briefly here. In 1934, a group of American league all-stars (including future Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Charlie Gehringer, Earl Averill and Lefty Gomez) came to Japan to play a group of Japanese amateurs. During one of the games, the 17-year-old Sawamura struck out Gehringer, Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx in succession, impressing American manager, Connie Mack, so much that he offered him a contract with his Philadelphia Athletics. The only issue was that, while the American baseball players were greeted as heroes everywhere they went in Japan, relations between the two countries was at a very low point, since, at the time, America was opposing Japan’s expansionist policies in Asia. And Sawamura turned down the contract saying, “My problem is I hate America and I can’t make myself like America.”

 

And this is where it really gets interesting. Because also on that American team was Moe Berg, known around the league as the brainiest guy in baseball. Berg was educated at Princeton, the Sorbonne in Paris, as well as Columbia Law. He is said to have read 10 papers a day and spoke seven languages, although teammates used to joke he couldn’t hit in any of them. The fact that Berg was such a mediocre catcher, and the fact that he later worked for the CIA (with a license to kill Werner Heisenberg if Berg suspected the Germans were close to developing an atomic bomb), has led to documentary shorts like 30 for 30‘s Spyball (I watched it) and books like, Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage & Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (I’m thinking about it). I’m beginning to suspect Berg’s entire reason for being in Japan was to spy on the country. And that sounds to me like the most amazing movie that’s never been made. It’s Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own meets Tom Hanks in Bridge of Spies. I mean, holy shit.

 

Sawamura

 

On the Japanese side, the team was formed by media mogul and (I’m not kidding) judo master, Matsutaro Shoriki. And besides Sawamura, their other star pitcher was Victor Starrfin, “The Blue-Eyed Japanese.” Starrfin was born in Russia, but his family fled to Japan during the Revolution. Anyway, in 1934, his father was in jail on involuntary manslaughter charges and the family was being threatened with deportation back to the Soviet Union. So Shoriki actually blackmailed Starrfin to force him on to the team or else he’d cause a scandal in his newspapers. So Starrfin agreed, Shoriki eventually turned his team professional and they’d become the Yoriumi Tokyo Giants, the New York Yankees of Japan.

 

Starrfin would go on to become the first player in Japan to win 300 games. All with the added pressure of xenophobia surrounding his life and career there. In fact, during World War II, Starrfin was placed in a Japanese detention camp and years later, he eventually committed suicide. Meanwhile, Sawamura went on to pitch the first no-hitter in Japanese baseball history, as well as two more before, in a strange twist of fate, he was killed by American forces in combat during the war. And while Ruth’s playing days were numbered by 1934, the tour made him legendary in Japan and his name became an anti-American rallying cry for the Japanese who would yell, “To hell with Babe Ruth” during battles.

 

That whole tour sounds insane to me. And that story doesn’t even include Masaichi Kaneda (aka “The Emperor”), who won 400 games in Japan between 1950 and 1969, even though he played for the Kokutetsu Swallows, who were name-appropriately horrible. Kaneda is said to have thrown so hard that a game he played in his rookie season was stopped so that the umpires could make sure the pitchers’ mound was at the appropriate distance away from home plate. And towards the end of his career, his arm caused him so much pain that he actually developed an underhand change up. Like I said, rabbit hole. But I think it was worth it. Okay. Let’s get to this week’s stuff.

 

AL MVP: Jose Altuve, Houston Astros

 

Well, the Astros might be playing like total garbage right now, but you certainly can’t blame Altuve. Actually, you can’t blame Colby Rasmus either. But Altuve leads the league in WAR, wOBA, slugging and OPS. He’s also the shortest man in baseball. And he’s the only guy to be selected to an All-Star game in both leagues for the same team. I guess I’m trying to put a positive spin on things. The Astros are in big trouble.

 

AL Cy Young: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

 

I love the national attention that Chris Sale is getting all of a sudden. The White Sox have the best record in the American League. Sale is 5-0 and therefore we must assume he’s the early front-runner for this year’s AL Cy Young Award. And he was also my pre-season pick for the award, so I’m almost fine with it. However, if you look at advanced stats, Sale hasn’t even necessarily been the best pitcher on his own team so far this season. And I only say that because Sale’s FIP is a full run ahead of Jose Quintana’s, even though Quintana is merely 3-1. And despite Sale’s undoubtable greatness (and also the fact that I would put him neck-and-neck with David Price as the best overall pitcher in the American League), I’d say his current stats also rank behind Taijuan Walker, Price and Rich Hill as my #5 pick for the early Cy. I still think Sale will win it. But right now he’s already this year’s Zack Greinke.

 

The White Sox, by the way, are still projected to finish behind the Indians in the Central, which is kind of crazy considering Carlos Carrasco is out 4-6 weeks and nobody knows how healthy Michael Brantley is yet. But the White Sox swept the Rangers this week. And then they swept the Blue Jays, shutting out that offense for the first time this season. They also had that wacky 9-3-2-6-2-5 triple play. And they have the best team ERA in baseball. And they moved up to 19th in runs scored. All because of the loving memory of Drake LaRoche bonding them together or something. Even better for the White Sox, I don’t really know what’s going on in the rest of that division at this point, other than the Twins doing nice things for Prince (RIP) and Tyler Collins flipping everyone off in Detroit. Hey, maybe he’ll run in to Byron Buxton somewhere in the minors.

 

AL Rookie of the Year: Nomar Mazara, Texas Rangers

 

So… apparently Shin-Soo Choo is feeling better. And everyone still has huge expectations for Mazara.

 

NL MVP/Rookie of the Year: Aledmys Diaz, St. Louis Cardinals

 

I told you about this guy last week, but now he’s the NL leader in wOBA, batting average, on base percentage, slugging and OPS. So I gotta give it to him over Dexter Fowler and Bryce Harper. I understand that Fowler had been getting overlooked by everybody, but between all the talk about Harper and even Trevor Story and Maeda, I haven’t even heard anybody taking about Diaz yet. Sports Illustrated just did an article on all the young shortstops taking over baseball and didn’t even mention the 25-year-old Diaz once. So few people have talked about him that I don’t even really know how to say his name. Ah-Led-Mees? Uh-Led-Mee? I guess we could all be learning it real soon.

 

NL Cy Young Award: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

It’s been Thor every week so far this season. Except this time, the Mets are hot as shit and somehow knocking on the Nationals’ door for first place. After Tanner Roark struck out 15 Twins this week, Nationals fans were going apeshit about how good they were because he’s only their #4 starter. They were being declared the hyperbolic juggernaut we thought they would be last season. Bryce Harper was going to break Hack Wilson’s single-season RBI record from 1930. Dusty Baker was a goddamn tooth-picked genius. And nobody seemed to mind that the Nationals had only played shit teams so far. Now Neil Walker is the most-talked-about second baseman in Mets history (with apologies to only Edgardo Alfonzo). And Yoenis Cespedes is doing impressions of Kirk Gibson in 1988 out there. The Nats also just got swept by the Phillies. They haven’t scored in 22 consecutive innings. And by the time we talk next week, the New York Mets could have actually crawled out of their early season hole and back into the driver’s seat in the NL East.

 

All that being said, the Cubs are still the best team in baseball. This week, their run differential climbed to +74, which is so insane that fans of opposing teams are starting to claim that Pilates is a PED. Even when Jake Arrieta has an off night, he only gives up one run. And Arrieta doppelgänger, Jason Hammel, might have even better stats than Arrieta at this very moment. And next up the Cubs play the Atlanta Braves, who are truly terrible. As a Cubs fan, I think I can even wear my ‘Try Not to Suck’ t-shirt around L.A. under the radar without some hoodlum Dodger fan knowing what it is and wanting to stab me.

 

Brido cubs

 

Speaking of which…

 

I went to the Marlins-Dodgers game this week. And, for the most part, it was nice. I didn’t get to see any Yasiel Puig circus throws or catches. But I got to see Kershaw pitch. I got to see Ichiro’s 2,944th Major League hit. And I also had a pretty good view of the left field bleachers, where fans were getting into drunken fist fights and aggressively screaming at other fans in opposing baseball caps, indiscriminate of whether that team was in the same division or even the same league as their beloved Dodgers. This was a Tuesday night, mind you. In fucking April. All of which reminded me that this is Vin Scully’s last season in the broadcast booth after 67 seasons. The Dodgers just honored him by renaming Elysian Park Avenue ‘Vin Scully Avenue’. And he’s a man of unequivocal class and greatness. But to see that juxtaposed with the Mad Max/Idiocracy scene in left field is truly bizarre to me and completely unworthy of the man’s legacy or his final season.

 

Plus, it doesn’t even make sense. Most of those dipshit fans were gone by the 7th inning, anyway, with L.A. only down by 3 runs. So you’re telling me you’re willing to fight people and cause physical harm to anyone opposing your favorite baseball team, just as long as you don’t have to hit any traffic? That’s so stupid. And while I used to chalk up the drunkenness at Wrigley Field to the drunken culture surrounding Harry Caray. This just proves that I couldn’t have been more wrong. This is Vin Scully we’re talking about. The only way for my theory to work with Dodger Stadium is if Tuco Salamanca from Breaking Bad was announcing the games (had to throw in Tuco since we already had a Heisenberg). Which, on some level would be pretty entertaining. But it’s not necessarily a place you want to bring your family.

 

Okay. Check back in with me next week. And feel free to listen to me talk baseball on the MLB weekly recap of Joe Kilgallon’s podcast, “Comedians Talking Sports” on iTunes, Soundcloud or www.joekilgallon.com.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode VII: Top of the 1st)

Written by :
Published on : April 17, 2016

 

 

Yeah, yeah. It’s still early. The Orioles have been amazing. The Mets have not. A lot of things are happening in baseball right now that aren’t necessarily supposed to be happening. I get it. There’s also been sub 40 degree weather and even snow flurries in a few games. And you don’t necessarily associate those things with baseball either. So it’s not quite time for most of these teams to freak out about anything just yet. That being said, these games still totally count. And these stats still totally count. Just like everything that happens in the top of the 1st inning of a game still totally counts. And that’s really mathematically how we should think about the first 9 games of the season.

 

I mean, everybody is still trying to find hope and meaning and clues in the smallest of things to see what the rest of the way to October will look like. But it’s still just the top of the 1st. Almost anything can and will happen. The bad news for the Twins and the Braves is that no team to lose their first seven games has ever made it to the postseason in the history of baseball. And I think only one team to ever go 0-8 even had a winning season. The good news for both of them is that they play each other at the end of July in a bizarro 25th anniversary rematch of that epic ’91 World Series and somebody will have to win. Okay! Let’s get started.

 

 

Are the Orioles for real? That was the biggest question this past week when the Orioles were the lone remaining undefeated team. And the obvious answer is probably not. But like, maybe. Hear me out. Before the season started, I listened to Tim Kurkjian of ESPN say that only 8 teams could go to the World Series from the NL. But in the American League, every single team had a shot. Then he added, “Even the Orioles.” Which shocked and dismayed the other baseball analysts who all do their best (but fail miserably) to hide their undying love for the Boston Red Sox.

 

But the Orioles almost make sense. Almost, I said. Baltimore isn’t THIS good. But we already knew they would hit a bunch of home runs. And that they play solid defense. And that they have a good bullpen. And that Manny Machado is awesome. So it makes sense that if their starting pitching could hold it together long enough to keep that offense in the game, they would always have a shot. It’s almost the exact same argument everyone made for the Blue Jays before the season started. The main difference is that Baltimore’s rotation is supposed to be terrible. And it hasn’t been thus far. But we shall see.

 

Speaking of terrible, don’t feel too bad for Pablo Sandoval, his mysterious shoulder injury or his exploding belt. Homeboy is owed $70 million through 2019. And I don’t know if David Ortiz watched Kobe go out with 60 points on Wednesday night, but it looks like he’s trying to do the baseball equivalent of the same thing. You know, overachieve for a team that won’t make the playoffs. I keed the Red Sox. They still have the highest projected playoff percentage in the AL I’m just waiting for somebody to explain to me why.

 

Sandoval

 

The most compelling division in the American League remains the AL Central, which arguably has the three best teams in the league right now. It feels like every single pitcher on the White Sox is amazing. It feels like every single pitcher on the Royals is amazing. The Tigers just took 3 out of 4 from the Pirates. And it looks like this whole Jordan Zimmermann thing is working out for them. The crazy thing is, it’s the Cleveland Indians who are still projected to win that division. None of this bodes well for Minnesota. But you probably already figured that out by now. Miguel Sano is about 60 points south of the Mendoza Line. Byron Buxton isn’t much better. And Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies has more RBI than the Twins do as an entire team. If they don’t drastically improve by next week’s column, I’m declaring them officially dead and over.

 

Do you know who the projected winner in the AL West is? It’s still the Houston Astros, who are currently in dead last place in the division. Actually, if the Twins didn’t exist, I might tell you the Astros had been the worst team in the league so far. Tyler White has been great. Colby Rasmus has been great. Carlos Correa has been good. But that staff ERA is north of 5, which is Boston-level terrible. I keed the Red Sox. The only good news for the Astros is that nobody else in the division wants to win that bad so far either. The fortunes of the Rangers might change with Nomar Mazara in right. But until somebody in the Nolan Ryan Division spends more than a day in first place, I’m not willing to trust anything.

 

Week 2 AL MVP & Rookie of the Year: Tyler White, Houston Astros

 

I still have no idea who this dude is. But the idea of considering Brian McCann the best hitter in the American League makes no sense either.

 

Week 2 AL Cy Young: Edinson Volquez, Kansas City Royals

If that is his real name. I really don’t know. He signed to the Rangers as ‘Julio Reyes’ in 2001. Then he went as Edison (with no extra ‘n’) from 2004-2007. He should have changed his name again after that 50 game suspension for PEDs in 2010, but I’ll try to forget that for now.

 

Now for the NL

Since we last spoke, Kyle Schwarber went down for the season with a torn ACL and LCL. And I love Kyle Schwarber. As my buddy, Mike Burns, said last year during the playoffs, “Kyle Schwarber looks like he eats baseballs.”  So I’m really bummed about his injury. That being said, I’m pretty sure this team is going to be okay. As of now, the Cubs far and away lead the Majors in run differential. There’s no glaring weakness in their batting order. And this has all the makings of a really fun summer for yours truly.

 

In the Cubs home opener at Wrigley, Addison Russell’s go-ahead home run made the fans go so crazy that it shook the press box. Cubs’ announcer, Len Kasper, said he hadn’t experienced that happening since Kerry Wood’s home run in Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS. Of course, at the time, Kasper was the announcer of the Florida Marlins. And it was the day after the Bartman game. But I remember that home run well. It tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the 2nd. I jumped up and down screaming like a lunatic, watching by myself in my apartment in Chicago. And while the Cubs ended up losing that game 9-6, at that moment the fans truly believed it was going to happen, if only for that brief moment. And that’s what it’s like right now to be a Cubs fan. Let me have this.

 

Russell

 

It’s also got to be fun to be a Nationals fan right now. Bryce Harper is breaking scoreboards. Daniel Murphy is reminding me of why I hate him. And then Jonathan Papelbon is slamming the door. They were playing the lowly Braves, but still. And if the Braves didn’t exist, we’d really have to talk about the last place New York Mets, who apparently hate to score runs. The fact that Noah Syndergaard has pitched the way he has in his first two outings and still somehow has a no decision is borderline criminal. And other than Thor, it’s almost time to put that ‘greatest pitching staff of all time’ shit to bed. Unless Bartolo Colon’s ‘Fattest Willy Mays Ever’ impression counts for something. I think the word I’m looking for is ‘schadenfreude’. Stupid Mets.

 

If the Dodgers don’t want anyone to notice their middle relief sucking, then they shouldn’t blow the game when Ross Stripling is out there in the rain trying to become the first pitcher since Bumpus Jones in 1892 to throw a no-hitter in his Major League debut. Not necessarily the most fun position for Dave Roberts to be in in his fifth game as manager. Also not fun: Zack Greinke is 0-2 with a 9.90 ERA for the Diamondbacks. And Shelby Miller is 0-1 with a 8.18 ERA. Yuck. But let’s talk about who is doing well…

 

Week 2 NL MVP: Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals

I was actually going to choose Trevor Story just because I hate Murphy so much. But it also makes me happy that the Mets’ anemic offense has to look at the stat sheets and see what it lost. You know, when they’re not buying horses and pigs and tricked out whips and sucking at baseball.

 

Week 2 NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets

 

I think we’d better get used to him in this slot. Greatest one man staff of all time, everybody.

 

Week 2 NL Rookie of the Year: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

Yeah, he’s not done yet. I thought for sure I’d be handing it to Jeremy Hazelbaker of the St. Louis Cardinals this week. But Story leads the Majors in home runs and almost hit two more that would have been gone if the Rockies didn’t raise their fence. Just to be clear, three of the five best hitters in baseball right now are rookies. That’s nuts. The other two are Murphy and McCann. We’ll see how long this lasts.

 

Alright! Tune in next week as we begin the bottom of the 1st.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode VI: Opening Week)

Written by :
Published on : April 10, 2016

 

I love opening week. Everything is possible. Every team has a chance. And we’re already speaking hyperbolically about everybody we’ve seen, even though there are like, 159 games left. “The Red Sox need pitching! They have nothing after David Price!” That was the consensus around baseball this past week. And at that point Boston was 1-1. “The Cardinals have no hitting! Their pitching will have to carry them all season!” That was another one. At that point St. Louis was 0-1. And so forth and so on. I mean, both are probably true. But it’s April. You didn’t even know who Trevor Story was a week ago. You might forget all about him by June. And by the time I write this next week, the Padres might have more RBI than Kenta Maeda. We don’t really know. All that being said, I think it’s about time I put out my official predictions for the season to come for the very last time and also look at the Opening Week that was.

 

AL East

Stroman

 

I’m going with the Toronto Blue Jays. But mainly because I’m buying in on Marcus Stroman. I like the swag. I like that he beat Chris Archer head-to-head on opening day. And he looks like he’s going to help an otherwise so-so rotation (except for Aaron Sanchez, apparently) from ruining that great offensive output. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are playing for contracts. Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki are also going to hit. And Kevin Pillar is trying to out-Kiermaier Kevin Kiermaier in center field. I think they’ll repeat as the division champions.

The Orioles and Yankees may lead after a few games (and I have no idea what’s going on with Starlin Castro, other than he likes to make huge debuts and then slowly let you down over time), but I’m still not sold on the Orioles’ pitching (even though, WOW! so far) or the Yankees’ collective age. Didi Gregorius and Castro may only be 26. But they also both hit .265 last year, so let’s not act like this is Derek Jeter and Tony Lazzeri quite yet. And I love the Rays’ pitching. I just don’t think Steven Souza Jr. is going to head up that offense. And I’ve never been sold on the Red Sox. We honestly didn’t need Clay Bucholz to suck to know that rotation has no depth past Price. At least Papi seems to be hitting. And maybe Mookie Betts will eventually warrant all the overblown hype. We’ll see.

 

AL Central  

Volquez

 

I’m picking the Royals to win the division, even though I really don’t want to. And I’ve got the Indians in the Wild Card. Edinson Volquez looked great in his debut. And we know that the Royals just do whatever it is that they do to win. I do feel like they’ve been extremely lucky with their lack of injuries the past two seasons and that the whole thing could be derailed. Because honestly, I think this division should be wide open.

I’m taking Cleveland because of their pitching. But the White Sox have that in spades too. And if they keep hitting with Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton and Todd Frazier in that lineup, I’ll completely forget about Drake LaRoche’s shitty homeschooling. I already gave my picks on a podcast before the season started, or I might go back and retroactively pick them. And as I type this, the Tigers are also 3-1, beating Jose Fernandez in their second game. And the 0-5 Twins need to show me something. Other than that they can lose to the Orioles.

 

AL West

Correa

 

I’m taking the Rangers to win the division and the Astros to win the Wild Card. Even though right now, it looks like Robinson Cano is going to hit 200 home runs and the Mariners will walk away with this thing. Hey, everybody seemed to pick the Mariners for the World Series last year until Cano had his worst season since 2008. He hit three bombs (one to each field) in the spring training game I saw on Easter, so who knows?

I just feel like the Rangers have too many weapons. And people are already arguing whether or not Carlos Correa is the best player in baseball. Because a rookie season and three games in 2016 trump everything Mike Trout and Bryce Harper have ever done. It’s April, like I said. This is what we do. So let’s already give awards while we’re at it…

 

Opening Week A.L. MVP: Starlin Castro, New York Yankees
In Castro’s debut with the Cubs in 2010, he became the first Major League player born in the 90’s. Then he homered in his first at bat. Then he set a record with 6 RBI in his debut game. Long story short, he made a lot of errors and wasn’t very good after 2011. Cut to 2016, and Castro is making the most of his Yankees debut, where he leads the league in RBI, SLG , OPS and WAR. And I don’t know if he still has the same walk-up song as he did with the Cubs, but that was THE jam.

 

Opening Week AL Cy Young: , Toronto Blue Jays

 

Advanced stats tell me it’s Jake Odorizzi of the Rays or Chris Tillman of the Orioles for striking out almost everybody he saw in those two innings, but I like the story of a guy who fought for the 5th spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation in spring training and emerged big in his first start of the season with the club. I don’t even know if he’ll end up in that rotation or in the bullpen, but whatever, man. Dude was good in the first go-round.

 

Opening Week A.L. Rookie of the Year: Tyler White, Houston Astros
I don’t know anything about this guy other than that he’s 25, he was a 33rd round draft pick and that he currently leads the American League in batting average and OBP. You know, after those three games.

 

Let’s do the National League.

 

NL East

Harper

 

I’m picking the Nationals with the Mets in the Wild Card. And that’s about exactly how things look as I type this. I’ve already written way too much about both teams. But what I didn’t know was that new acquisition and known homophobe, Daniel Murphy, would look every bit as good as Bryce Harper through the first three games for the Nationals. Also, I hate him.

 

NL Central

Arrieta

 

I’m picking the Cubs to win it all. You already knew that. I’m not changing my mind. And after a lot of internal debate, I decided not to take the Cardinals or the Pirates in the Wild Card. And I think I might be regretting that after Pittsburgh’s three game sweep of St. Louis to start the season. If Juan Nicasio can be that #3 starter after Cole and Liriano, they’re going to be hard to put away. Not to mention Tyler Glasnow showing up in July. Plus, didn’t they start off slow last year? Ugh. The good news for me is that the Cubs are fucking ridiculous.

I was there opening day in Anaheim. There is no Jake Arrieta regression to speak of. Then Lester looked great the next game. And he seems to be getting more comfortable in the National League, pickoff moves or not. Then there’s the fact that the Cubs have scored 29 runs in three games, which is somehow second to the Dodgers, who’ve played four. The only damper was the Schwarber injury which is a sobering reminder that, while embracing the bullseye, anything can happen. As I knock on wood nervously. But the sky really is the limit for that team. And the Reds are also 4-1, but somebody does have to play the Phillies after all.

 

NL West  

Seager

 

I like the Dodgers to win the division and the Giants in the Wild Card. And I said that before the Dodgers destroyed San Diego in the first three games. I expect a lot from Corey Seager and just assume they’ll buy away whatever their weaknesses are by the trade deadline. Conveniently for my choice, Clayton Kershaw (obvs), Scott Kazmir and Kenta Maeda looked great in their first starts. And Yasiel Puig could have finally decided he wants to be awesome. Inconveniently for my choice, the Giants might be even better.

They’re really deep and that park is only going to help Johnny Cueto. Who I never liked was the Arizona Diamondbacks, and they’re trying desperately to prove me right. It’s a shame AJ Pollock is out. And while Jean Segura and David Peralta seem like they’re trying to pick up the slack, it looks like that pitching staff is a dud. You know, four games in.

 

Opening Week N.L. MVP: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs.    
You may think I’m still high from Fowler’s surprise return to the Cubs in spring training. But he’s also been killing it in the first three games (and almost killing Kyle Schwarber in the process) going 7 for 12 with a double, a triple and a home run. And with that tiny sample size, he’s tied for the Major League lead in WAR and 4th in the Majors in wOBA. And Schwarber really had no chance at that ball.

 

Opening Week N.L. Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets.

 

Of all the great one game pitching performances in the past week, Syndergaard’s was probably the best. The Royals can play “American Woman” when he takes the mound all they want. Thor doesn’t care. And either does that nasty slider.

 

Opening Week N.L. Rookie of the Year: Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies.
Eventually we’ll all get over his last name. But in the past week, Story became the first player in Major League history to hit home runs in his first three games. Including two off of Zack Greinke in the opener. His first four big league hits were also home runs. And he hasn’t even played in Denver yet. He may not be the best hitter on his team thus far (that would be DJ LeMahieu), but if you want to forget all about Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes, he’s your man.

 

Okay, we did it. One week in the books. And there’s a long way to go. Check back next week, where everything will be thrown out the window and we’ll start all over. You gotta love April.

 

 


Angelino in the Outfield (Episode III: The Greatest Pitching Staff of All Time)

Written by :
Published on : March 14, 2016

 

Ah, the Dog Days of March, am I right? The days when the initial excitement of Spring Training has probably started to wane and, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot going on in the game of baseball. I was going to use this week’s column to bash the kid in the ‘Dad Saves Son From Flying Baseball Bat’ photo for being on his fucking iPhone during a live baseball game. But then I realized the kid was nine-years-old, celebrating his birthday with his dad and adorably sending photos of the game to his mom back home. And I don’t want to sound like Goose Gossage telling Bryce Harper to get off his lawn or watching a Jose Bautista bat flip and wanting his country back. So this week, I’m going to do a continuation of a theme I’d touched on the previous week, and that’s hating on the New York Mets.

 

At some point last week, I heard Karl Ravech of ESPN say that he really thinks the young Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest pitching rotation of all time. My immediate reaction was to think, “Okay great. Now I know I never have to listen to anything Karl Ravech says ever again.” But the more I thought about it, the more I decided I should probably know which staffs in baseball history are currently in that conversation to begin with. I can’t just be some derpy politician claiming Hillary Clinton is the worst Secretary of State of all time if I can’t name anybody else who did the job. I mean, I assumed the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz Braves teams of the nineties had to be in there somewhere. But I didn’t know if there was some rockstar Philadelphia A’s team in the 1920’s with Flippo Gumslaw and Pud Hayseed or some shit.

 

 

So I decided to look into it. And yes, it turns out the nineties Braves are the greatest pitching staff of all-time. I can go ahead confirm that for you right now. That’s based on the combined WAR of each team’s top four starters. And yes, I know everybody has a five man rotation now. And yes, I know the Mets might go with a six man this year. But I had to stay with four to keep things fairly even across eras. We good now? Okay. Let’s get back to the Braves. I could have just said “Seven Cy Youngs, 873 wins and three first-ballot Cooperstown plaques” and dropped the mic. But again, what about the Flippos and Puds of the world?

 

What I found is that, for the top four starters on any given team, a combined WAR of 15 means a staff is pretty good. An 18 means they’re really good. And anything above a 20 is basically all-time great. Last year’s Mets staff (where the best four were Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard and Bartolo Colon) got a 15.2 combined WAR. Their projections for 2016 (with Steven Matz replacing Colon as the #4) are also between a 15 and 16. Just so we’re all clear, let’s look at what those nineties Braves staffs did.

 

1993. Maddux. Avery. Smoltz. Glavine.         19.8
1994. Maddux. Glavine. Avery. Smoltz.         15.6*
1995. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Avery.         19.3
1996. Smoltz. Maddux. Glavine. Avery.         23.9
1997. Maddux. Smoltz. Neagle. Glavine.       23.5
1998. Maddux. Smoltz. Glavine. Milwood.     20.8
1999. Maddux. Milwood. Smoltz. Glavine.    20.7

* Strike-shortened.

 

That’s insane. But when I looked through all the stats, I also realized just how rare it was for a team to have that many quality starters to get to a 18-20 WAR. Especially after the Dead Ball Era. For a pre-Babe-Ruth Era team (when the players were white, but the balls were not) to be in the ‘best of all time’ running, they usually had to revolve around a Hall of Fame-level super-ace like Christy Mathewson or Walter Johnson. And while there have been plenty of amazing individual single-season pitching performances over the years, the idea of a dominant staff is a much more recent phenomenon. In other words, aces come and go. That part is fairly easy. The hard part is getting yourself a Steve Avery – the Braves’ #4 pitcher, not the beloved Manitowoc County murderer from the Internet.

 

So who’s the second-best rotation ever, you ask? Surely it must be the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960’s or the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling Diamondbacks of the early 2000’s or that 2011 Phillies team with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt. Nope, Nope and Nope. While those teams are up there near the very top, I’d say the second-best staff of all-time and the placeholders before the Braves came around were the 1969-1970 Chicago Cubs. Seriously. Well, I guess it’s hard to be a placeholder, when nobody back then had advanced stats and everybody would have just been looking at stuff like win totals and then slobbering over overrated teams like the 1971 Orioles, who had four 20-game winners, but a combined WAR of 14.8. But that Cubs staff anchored by Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands put up a crazily-impressive 23.4 in 1969 and a best-ever-in-history 24.7 in 1970.

 

 Ken Holtzman

 

And while it may be easy on the surface of things to poo-poo a Cubs staff led by a 3rd-ballot Hall of Famer and some other dudes you’ve never heard of (especially when the 1969 Cubs are synonymous with curses, black cats and choking) just realize that Jenkins is one of the more underrated pitchers of all-time, Holtzman threw TWO no hitters in his career and also the cold hard fact that no other team in the history of baseball besides the ’96-’97 Braves ever put up those kind of combined WAR numbers. Like, ever. Not the Christy Mathewson-led New York Giants. Not the Walter Johnson-led Washington Senators. Not the Flippo Gumshaw/Pud Hayseed Philadelphia Athletics of the pretend 1920’s. Not even even those ’72-’74 Oakland teams where Holtzman ended up winning three World Series rings. And they did it all in Wrigley Field, which isn’t necessarily known as a pitching-friendly park. The numbers are there, whether you’ve Googled these guys or not (and fun fact: Googling ‘Bill Hands’ in 2016 gets you some equally interesting results on both Bills Cosby and Clinton).

 

All of this is probably why people like Karl Ravech think they have a point. A staff as deep as the current Mets are on paper is a rare sight in baseball history. And we don’t celebrate many of the other great staffs in history besides Glavine, Smoltzie and the Professor. Individual pitchers, yes. But great staffs, not so much. So it seems easier to spout off about ‘greatest ever’ without some asshole like me with the free time to do some basic fact checking. And since we’re dealing with the entire history of baseball here, the 1990 Mets had Dwight Gooden, Frank Viola, David Cone and Sid Fernandez. Their combined WAR was 20.8. There’s also three Cy Young Award winners, 14 All-Star Games and 10 World Series rings among them. Call me when this Mets staff even approaches that level. In fact, call me when they approach the 1976 Mets (19.0 WAR) with Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Jon Matlack and Mickey Lolich. And know that just because you don’t know something, it doesn’t give you the right to spout off about it with confidence.

 

You really think this Mets staff is going to go down as the greatest of all-time? Keep checking your iPhone for it to happen. Maybe your dad will save you seconds before a bat smashes you in your stupid face.

 

 


Great Expectations: A Spring Training Preview

Written by :
Published on : February 23, 2016

 

Oh no. This is a really weird feeling for a Cubs fan to have. For the first time that I can ever remember, the Lovable Losers on the North Side of Chicago seem to be both the unanimous pick to win their division and also a trendy choice for the 2016 World Series. And on paper it even makes sense. Last year, they proved that their young squad was ahead of their projected timeline, won 97 games and then went deep into the playoffs until they ran into a freakishly overachieving Daniel Murphy and a young Mets pitching staff that seems to remind everyone of the nineties Atlanta Braves. And then they went out in the offseason and got the best healthy pitcher and the best position player from their hated Cardinal rivals, and also added a guy who led the majors in WAR in 2009. Oh, and the rest of their seemingly-all-rookie lineup from last year is back and probably better than ever and still way too young and dumb to comprehend how a jaded, cynical asshole like me can still hesitate to be bullish on the prospects of a Thousand Year Cubs Dynasty.

 

This has to be too good to be true, right? There’s too much pressure. The Cubs never follow up a good season with another good season. Look at 1985, 1990 and every other year since The Year That Shall Not Be Named. And Jake Arrieta has to regress. Because he just has to. And John Lackey is 137 years old. And their bullpen isn’t quite there. And Jason Heyward isn’t a natural center fielder. And because they’re the fucking Cubs. Right? Like, why should I get my hopes up just to have them crushed again and again like I have my whole life? Why? Well… Because of Theo Epstein. And because of Joe Maddon. And because of that offense. Oh, that offense. And Kris Bryant. And Addison Russell. And Kyle Schwarber. And Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward is actually younger than Anthony Rizzo. And the fact that Heyward could win a Gold Glove in center. And because Arrieta may have pitched an assload of innings last year, but he famously stays in excellent shape. And because of how great of a story it would be if they actually did do it. And because, on paper, the Cubs just so happen to have the best team in baseball by a decent margin. Oh no, indeed.

 

 

The Rest of the NL Central

The Cubs may have kicked their ass and stolen their girlfriend, but the Cardinals are still the Cardinals. You just kind of assume they’ll be playing in October, no matter what. But even with Adam Wainwright back, the mystique feels like it’s gone, with a bad offseason and Yadier Molina needing to grow another thumb. Maybe their insane luck will finally run out. I also thought that about the Alabama football team back in September. Not that I should talk about football in the same breath I talk about St. Louis. Anyway… Then there’s the Pittsburgh Pirates. It’s not like they sucked last year either. But nobody likes to talk about them because they’ll probably just get to the Wild Card and lose again, if they do anything at all. And the only fun thing about that is if Sean Rodriguez goes HAM on another water cooler. This division will inevitably be drowned out by the tidal wave of Cubs expectations. And the Reds and Brewers have probably already
drowned in it.

 

The NL East

According to EVERYONE, the Mets have the greatest pitching staff of all time, ever. And, yes, it’s horrifying. Matt Harvey is another year removed from Tommy John surgery. Jacob deGrom is a floppy-haired pitching monster. Noah Syndergaard actually is Thor. Big fat Bartolo Colon doesn’t age. Steven Matz would be a #1 starter on every other non-Mets team. And Zack Wheeler will be back in July to seal the already-done deal. Plus, all of them except Colon are 19 years old or something. The only problem is that nobody knows what type of hangover these guys will have from all those innings they ate up against Kansas City in the World Series. Or if they’ll even stay healthy. But if they do all bounce back, holy shit. Plus, they re-signed Yoenis Cespedes, which all makes for an excellent case for them to go back to the World Series. No matter how much I hate that.

 

 

Overall this division is horrible. But Bryce Harper and the dysfunctional Nationals should contend. Even though Dusty Baker is their new manager. And nobody knows what to make of the Miami Marlins quite yet. Don Mattingly is their new manager. Barry Bonds is their new hitting coach. Giancarlo Stanton will be healthy. So will Jose Fernandez. But we’ll have to see what all that means, if anything. Or if those guys can even stay healthy in the first place. And anyone looking to make a bold prediction on the division a la the 2015 Cubs and Astros might want to keep their eye on the Atlanta Braves, who are building a monster farm team, even though they’ll most likely be just slightly less shitty than the Phillies in 2016.

 

The NL West

I hate to say it, but 2016 is an even year. So we can probably throw all the analytics out the window and just hand the San Francisco Giants their fourth world title seven years. Their pitching staff picked up two possibly-great/possibly-hugely-disappointing acquisitions in Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija. And that could give them an edge in what everybody seems to think will be a three team race with the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks.

 

The Dodgers lost Zack Greinke. To the Diamondbacks. They also have a rookie manager in Dave Roberts. In a market that wore out Mattingly and sent him to Miami. They also didn’t do anything with their gigantic payroll in the offseason. And any time you need to rely on Yasiel Puig for anything other than drama, it’s a pretty scary predicament. But this is a deep team with a crazy-good farm system. And they’ll probably be in enough contention by the time the trade deadline rolls around to throw money at whatever problems they have (that don’t involve lack of team chemistry). Plus they still have Clayton Kershaw. At the end of the day, as a resident Angelino, I just want to see Vin Scully go out in style. And if that means the Dodgers have to be good for that to happen, I can accept that.

 

 

Yes, Arizona got Greinke. And Shelby Miller. And they still have unrecognizable superstar, Paul Goldschmidt and equally unrecognizable AJ Pollock. But their projections aren’t too high as of now because of a lack of offensive depth (sup, Yasmany Tomas?). And it seems more likely they could be this year’s Padres and/or White Sox. As for the 2016 Padres and Rockies, I’m not wasting my time. It is an even year, after all.

 

The AL East

Every team in the division not named the Baltimore Orioles seem to have a chance this year. But the overall consensus comes down to the rebounding Boston Red Sox and the reigning division champion Toronto Blue Jays. Personally, I don’t know how acquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel turns a 78-win last place team into a division favorite, but that’s just how the east coast media bias works. But it will be fun to see how fat Pablo Sandoval is. And if Hanley Ramirez can play first base. And it’s also the swan song for Big Papi. Plus, David Price is actually really fucking good. So I don’t know.

 

 

The Blue Jays have the best offense in baseball. And reigning MVP, Josh Donaldson. And their offense might be even better than last year since Troy Tulowitzki never got comfortable in Toronto in 2015. They’ll just have to stay healthy. And hope somebody on their team can pitch. As for the Yankees, they’re really old. And look how that worked out for them last season. Plus, you never know about that staff. And as good as their bullpen looks right now, we still don’t know what’s going to happen with Aroldis Chapman’s domestic abuse suspension. And the Rays have Chris Archer and the rest of their great starting five, but they’ll basically need everybody else on the lineup to be awesome to compete. Oh, and also the Orioles are in this division too, I guess.

 

The AL Central

The Royals won the World Series last year, no big deal. And they were one Madison Bumgarner away from being back-to-back World Series champions. Yet for some reason, Baseball Prospectus has them projected to be in last place in the Central in 2016. What gives? Maybe you can’t project things like ‘putting the ball in play and its positive consequences’ or ‘playing with a chip on their shoulder’, but whatever they did the past two seasons worked, so I don’t know why it wouldn’t work again. They have the defense. They have the bullpen. It’s just so hard to make a good enough argument for or against a team with relatively zero stars, that’s this mediocre on paper, going to three straight Fall Classics.

 

 

The hot pick in the AL Central continues to be the Cleveland Indians because of an extremely good pitching staff. Add Francisco Lindor’s defense behind them and they could be a powerhouse. Or Michael Brantley could be hurt and their offense could struggle and they won’t have the money to make acquisitions at the trade deadline to compete. And while I have a soft spot for the Detroit Tigers, they’re also getting a little long in the tooth. They got Justin Upton to aid a pretty good, but aging offense. And they picked up Jordan Zimmermann and K-Rod to help out a healthy, but aging Justin Verlander-led group of arms. Health is the key here. And if they have it, they might compete. The White Sox might also compete, even though nobody outside of Bridgeport is talking about them. They got Todd Frazier. They have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a full season from Carlos Rodon. It’s just that everybody is distracted by the heat of a thousand suns ™ on the North Side. And the Twins have Miguel Sano, who is going to hit 40 dongs this year. Even though they were so terrible last year, that even when they were in first place for a while nobody bought it. If that makes any sense. Not that it should. Why would anything in this division make sense? I mean, Royals went to the World Series the past two years.

 

The AL West

Even though the Astros are the unanimous choice to win the division, everybody would rather talk about the Texas Rangers. Their 2015 playoff run was nothing short of a miracle. And now they’ll have full seasons from Cole Hamels and a healthy Yu Darvish. It’s just that nobody really expected the Astros to be where they were last season either. And now nobody expects them to regress. And the former hot choices in the division seem like yesterday’s newspaper. Mike Trout has no talent around him in Anaheim. Nobody wants to get fooled by the Mariners ever again. And the A’s need too much to get anything done.

 

 

So there you have it. Now you’re ready for the baseball season. And now you know why your team probably sucks and why you should switch allegiances to the Chicago Cubs. Or at least that’s how everything looks right now. Spring training, when nothing counts. And before the actual season comes with all its shitty reality to break hearts, launch new stars into the stratosphere and ruin every expectation, rendering long-winded predictions like the one I just spent way too long typing on a nice afternoon completely worthless. But hey, that’s baseball.

 

What else were we gonna talk about, Donald Trump?

 

 

 


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