How did Eric Thames change in Korea? And what do you learn from being Barry Bonds?
The tale of Eric Thames is growing taller by the day. Complete with inane steroid accusations, ballin’ body armor, and mesmerizing one-handed warm-up cuts, the reappearance and ascendance of this exceedingly fit man owes much of its mystique to the time he spent offscreen.
We are told that in this great unknown time, Thames—who, when we last we saw him, was a Quad-A player—did to the Korean Baseball Organization over three years what he’s done to the Cincinnati Reds' pitching staff for the past three weeks. We are told that he so demolished the conventional notions of baseball dominance, especially in his 47-homer, 40-steal 2015 season, that his nickname among KBO fans was simply, “God.”
Bryce Harper is off to a great start, which is business as usual for one of the best April hitters of all time.
I realize, given the Nationals’ lack of October success, that using a “Mr. April” moniker in relation to Bryce Harper may be viewed as criticism of some sort. That’s not my intention. Harper has hit four career playoff home runs—tied with Miguel Cabrera, Jimmie Foxx, Johnny Bench, Chipper Jones, and Jose Canseco for the 10th-most ever through age 24—and I have no doubt that he’ll put up plenty of big playoff numbers in the future. For now, though, his opening-month numbers are the ones worth drooling over, because few players in baseball history have ever hit like Harper in April.
What happens when a player is so good so young that there are no better versions against which to compare him?
Mike Trout is unique. The meaning of that word has expanded somewhat, so that it can mean either a) generically special or b) truly one-of-a-kind, without peer or comparison. Mike Trout is the latter definition.
Trout is closing out his age-24 season--his sixth year as a major leaguer and his fifth as a full-timer--and in doing so, is closing out the best stretch of baseball by a young player, ever. Not in the modern era, or with any other qualifiers attached, by but any player. During his time in the majors, he’s accumulated 48.3 WAR by Baseball Reference’s version of the metric, more than a win greater than Ty Cobb’s 46.7 in second place and nearly a full season above Mickey Mantle’s 40.9 in third.
WARP only extends back to 1950, but Trout’s 46.6 WARP is in first place among players in that period, leading Mantle by nearly four wins. And, just for completeness, Trout also leads using FanGraphs’ fWAR, with 47.4 to Cobb’s 47.2. Nor is it only a matter of playing time; to find a player with a higher WARP per plate appearance, you need to drop the minimum PA threshold to about half a season’s worth. By basically every measure we have, Mike Trout is the best player through age 24 baseball has ever seen.
If you Google “Mike Trout Mickey Mantle” you can see a real progression over time.
In the late 1980s, the MLBPA prevailed in a collusion grievance. Does Barry Bonds have the same evidence on his side?
In 1986 Tim Raines led the National League in batting average and on-base percentage and had 5.6 WARP. He received no free agent offers the following off-season except from his former employer, the Montreal Expos. Eventually Raines re-signed with the Expos, missing all of April but still leading the National League in runs scored in 1987.
In 2007 Barry Bonds led the National League in on-base percentage and walks and had 4.1 WARP. He received no free agent offers the following offseason and never played another game in Major League Baseball.
Raines was one of the prominent players affected by collusion during the mid-‘80s. Last week it was reported that the Major League Baseball Players’ Association was processing a grievance on behalf of Bonds, alleging that the Clubs had colluded against him. To understand the strength of Bonds’ case, it helps to understand what made the case of Raines and the rest of the players who prevailed in the 1980s so strong.
The reasons not to bring in the all-time home run leader [were] little more than tissue-thin fictions.
If Barry Bonds does pursue a collusion case against MLB teams, as was reported Tuesday, he might want to include the following Joe Sheehan column in evidence. This piece originally ran on Feb. 24, 2008.
What would happen if several hitters and pitchers of interest faced each other for full seasons?
As we talked about on Monday, Mike Trout has hit Felix Hernandez very well. After his first-inning home run on Opening Day, Trout is now hitting .441/.447/.794 in 38 plate appearances against Hernandez since being called up to the majors for good in April 2012. The question for the day, then, is this: How well should Mike Trout do against Felix Hernandez?
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Bobby Abreu improbably returned to his longtime team. Why can't these guys do the same?
Since the 1998 realignment—and by the way, it's always nice when your arbitrary endpoint stat starts being interesting in 1947, 1961, 1969, 1973, 1995 or 1998 so you can disguise its arbitrariness—only one National League team has had three position players compile 40-plus wins above replacement (full list here). And now Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and yes, Bobby Abreu are together again in Philadelphia, making this one of the more notable reunions for nostalgia's sake, if not any 2014 on-field impact.
Abreu signed a minor league deal with the Phillies this week and managed to avoid most of the snark that usually accompanies such signings of old players. For one thing, even though we're sometimes bad at this (see Young, Delmon) it was just a minor league deal. Also, the Phillies' standard in the public eye for their old signings is low enough that this one looks okay by comparison, and their outfield had a hole to fill. Mostly, I think, it's that unlike Young and some of the other aged relics, Abreu is somebody we actually like.
Why intentionally walking Barry Bonds was unlike most of baseball's statistical trends.
Ten years ago, we all watched something incredible happen: Barry Bonds was walked intentionally 120 times. He had very nearly tripled the previous non-Bonds record. It was the closest our generation got to seeing Babe Ruth’s home run records, to living in those years when Ruth was doubling previous records, doubling entire teams’ totals.
But Ruth’s records become slightly less amazing with the perspective of time. Imagine seeing Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920: Nobody had hit half as many in the 1900s to that point; the Pirates as a team hit 16 home runs that year; the NL home run king that season hit 15. You can imagine being literally frightened by what Ruth was doing, like hearing the Rite of Spring in 1913. Fifty-four home runs would have certainly seemed like a record that would never be broken. But 10 years later Hack Wilson did it, then Jimmie Foxx, then Hank Greenberg, then Luis Gonzalez. By just 1922, Ruth didn’t even lead the league in home runs; guys in the NL were hitting 40. What Ruth did wasn’t impossible, it was just a few years early.
How to go against the saberballot and without making the internet mad.
You probably don’t have to do much guesswork to figure out what my Hall of Fame ballot will look like when the staff puts out its hypotheticals. You’d probably think that as a Baseball Prospectus writer and general citizen of the baseball internet, my ballot would be predictable down to that last spot or two, and for the most part, you’d be right. I’m not far off from the consensus saberballot.
As such, I get a little annoyed when I see an outlandish outlier ballot. But I really don’t want to. I want to banter in a space where contrary opinions are well thought out and lead to good, respectful debate, not dismissal and name-calling. To be frank and overgeneralizing, I hold the opinions for the undeserving candidates and against the deserving candidates to be bad opinions. And that could be as much on me as it is on the opinions themselves.