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Mike Trout is better than everyone at everything, even failure.

Sometime soon, Mike Trout will again etch his name atop one of those through age 20-something leaderboards—swallowing up another distinction like baseball prodigy kudzu. This one, though, isn’t going on his eventual Hall of Fame plaque. He’s seven strikeouts away from racking up his 856th K, which would surpass Justin Upton for the most by any hitter through his age-25 season.

Even while posting perhaps the most successful out-of-the-chute baseball career ever, Trout has experienced much failure. The circumstances of his existence—reaching and dominating the majors before his 20th birthday, being the obvious best player on the field, being fast, hitting for power in the 2010s—have conspired in such a way that the strikeouts have piled up despite his rates being below the contemporary league average.

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August 11, 2017 6:00 am

Circle Change: How Many Rings are the Astros Trying to Win?

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Zach Crizer

Houston did surprisingly little at the trade deadline, but will they regret it?

The blackboards, you’d imagine, all look the same. Maybe they’re buried in some dark corner of every spring training facility in Florida and Arizona. Maybe they pock the underbellies of rookie-ball parks. Like a scene out of a '90s movie about mischievous boarding school students, they are covered in a single line, repeated in the wearying handwriting of those submitting to the mantra: We’re taking it one game at a time.

Surely this is the only way a single thought could become so pervasive in the ballplayer and general Baseball Man culture—systematic indoctrination. And just as surely as that bit of language endures in the baseball-bred players and managers, it has become less resonant in increasingly Ivy League-educated front offices.

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July 31, 2017 6:00 am

Circle Change: This Year's Hot Relievers, Next Year

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Zach Crizer

Is Tommy Kahnle the next Grant Balfour or the next Michael Wuertz?

Without the browbeating effect of staring my own written words in the face—whoa, whoa, do you want to say this?—I occasionally release into the world a statement that is, let’s say, not wholly considered. So it was that I boldly questioned a friend—a Yankees fan—about his favorable evaluation of the recent trade for Tommy Kahnle.

The breakout White Sox reliever’s remaining team control may or may not have made him the most expensive part of the deal in which the Yankees also acquired David Robertson and Todd Frazier, while jettisoning human heart palpitation Tyler Clippard.

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Machado is still hitting the ball really, really hard, but is that enough?

Do you think Manny Machado and the Orioles are happy there isn’t a #narrative to go with the worst hitting season of his career? On one hand, no one is propagating wild theories that Joe Maddon broke him with some intentional walks. No one is whispering about mysterious maladies or off-field distractions. No, all they have is a .230/.296/.445 first-half line and assurances that Machado is hitting the ball hard. Really, really hard.

While that makes him a slam dunk buy-low option for your fantasy team, the uplifting outlook probably isn’t raising many spirits in the Orioles' front office—or in Machado’s camp either, for that matter. The team that could contend without starting pitching suddenly can’t, and now their golden parachute—a year-and-a-half of a bona fide superstar—is probably sequestered for the time being by the law against selling low. For Machado, his perplexing down season (a la Bryce Harper’s 2016) could be one calendar fresher in the minds of potential suitors.

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July 11, 2017 6:00 am

Circle Change: The Fate of the Unknown All-Star

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Zach Crizer

Which of this year's All-Stars will be forgotten?

One year ago, when the All-Star game loped into the eighth inning, the National League team trailed 4-2, and then-Yankees terror Andrew Miller came in to face the third wave of Terry Collins’ squad. To spare you the mess of a Midsummer Classic box score: After two outs and two singles, it became apparent that the ultimate destination of the tying runner would be decided by Reds outfielder Adam Duvall and Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz.

Duvall was hitting .249 to that point in 2016—in his first sizeable stretch of major-league action after coming over from San Francisco in the Mike Leake trade—and getting on base at just a .288 clip. But (but!) he’d tallied 23 homers for a team that, by rule, needed an All-Star. When he stepped into the box, you could almost hear the chorus emanating from America’s armchairs. Adam Duvall? Who’s that?

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See that coconut over there?

Back in 1975, Joe Torre played out his last season as a third baseman, Pedro Guerrero toiled in the Dodgers’ farm system, and a researcher named Ellen J. Langer published a study that would become a staple of the as-yet-unpopularized field of behavioral economics.

In the study, researchers allotted one group of participants lottery tickets with pre-assigned numbers. They gave another group blank tickets, asking them to fill in the numbers themselves. Then, they attempted to buy the tickets back. The result, since replicated and disseminated in more readable forms by the work of Daniel Kahneman, revealed an illogical human bias: The participants who wrote down their own numbers were more reluctant to sell back their tickets—exhibiting far greater confidence in their choice (despite the absence of any reason to feel that way) and far more motivation to see it through than those who had their numbers handed down.

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Every major-league career path is unlikely. Some are unbelievable.

Let’s start here. In the now. After a shellacking at the hands of the Dodgers on Sunday, the ever-honest, 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo admitted that persistent shoulder pain might force him to call it a career.

The guitar-strumming beanpole who forced us to consider the term crafty righty has made a habit of outrunning the jaws of obsolescence. He’s been toughing out a return to the majors with the rebuilding Reds this year after completely missing the past two seasons due to injury (an absence that did not prevent him from being traded twice and signing two free agent deals).

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Is the "leadoff hitter" tag preventing Kyle Schwarber from making a much-needed adjustment?

Most people figure out what they're good at when other people tell them what they're good at.

Some of us have high school English teachers praise our papers, say our writing is promising, encourage us to use that frustrating but addictively cathartic skill to … make almost no money. Others have the whole wide world tell them that they're great at baseball. Sigh.

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Two sluggers, linked by nothing but some time to kill on a Tuesday night in May.

It’s about 9:05 on a Tuesday night in May.

Last Tuesday, May 30, to be exact. The Marlins are playing the Phillies. When it started, 16,241 people had paid to enter Marlins Park and watch in person. Some other, harder to discern number of people had come home, from work or school or the airport, and flipped to the game on television. Some portion of those—fewer than half, to be sure—had found the Marlins’ broadcast wherein Rich Waltz and Todd Hollandsworth would guide them through some low-stakes action.

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June 2, 2017 6:00 am

Circle Change: Three Catchers Walk Into a Casino

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Zach Crizer

Baseball players look less lucky and more skilled than ever.

We’d all like to think that we learn as we go along. Certainly, we are better and more efficient at unlocking our front door than the day we moved in, right? We must be better at making our coffee just right. At this point, we should be able to tie our shoes from a comatose state.

If we, speaking hypothetically, were the type of folk who frequent Las Vegas and the many establishments for which it is internationally renowned, we would hope to continually, perennially increase our prowess, or at least better wield what skills we do possess.

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The push and pull between hitters and pitchers is changing.

Unique pitching lines typically don’t tell us anything about baseball, not in the sense of helping us understand the current state of the game anyway. They might tell us something about the expanse of possibility within the confines of the game, or about nature of the individual pitcher making that small bit of history. But very seldom are these lines worthy of including in a hypothetical time capsule.

Carlos Martinez’s start against the Yankees on April 15 doesn’t seem likely to offer a representative picture of any version of baseball—past, present, or future. It does, however, allow us to spend a moment in that unlikely—but possible—world where real, familiar phenomena progress to their illogical extremes. Like an episode of Black Mirror that edges too close to the realm of the believable.

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The framing advantage is shrinking, but Martin Maldonado is a perfect fit with the Angels and that isn't an accident.

The en vogue way to play Marco Polo among baseball nerds is to yell “pitch framing!” and listen for “no longer offers a significant edge!”

There isn’t anything wrong with that statement. As a denizen of this generally useful, insightful echo chamber, I’m not disputing the overarching point: The worst (employed) pitch framers are substantially closer to the best pitch framers than they were even three years ago, and the gap might continue to shrink. Gaining a thousand-strike leg up on outwitted competition simply isn’t happening now. It was and is a smart observation, thoroughly borne out by the numbers on a league-wide basis and reinforced by the transparent actions taken when the final bastions of stat-averse talent evaluation fell this offseason.

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