A year ago today, Francisco Lindor was recalled. Since (roughly) that day, the position has gone from a dead spot to historically great.
Eleven months ago Alcides Escobar was voted into the All-Star game as the AL’s starting shortstop. Escobar is an oft-praised defender with plus speed on a Royals team that was coming off a World Series loss and headed for a World Series win, but he also ended the first half with a modest .699 OPS and finished the season with a .614 OPS that nearly matched his .636 career mark through age 28. Alcides Escobar, All-Star starting shortstop just seemed a little lofty.
Royals fans stuffed the ballot box so much that second baseman Omar Infante and his .555 OPS nearly got voted into the game as well, but in Escobar’s case the story wasn’t so much about an undeserved selection as no other AL shortstops standing out as clearly deserving. In other words, don’t blame Escobar or Royals fans for his being in the starting lineup alongside the biggest stars in the league. None of the AL shortstops had an OPS above .750 at the All-Star break. The chosen backup was light-hitting Jose Iglesias, another glove-first player whose career OPS is .680.
Eleven months later, the AL’s shortstop landscape has changed so dramatically that the position as a whole has a higher collective OPS (.709) than Escobar had at the time of the All-Star break last year (.699) and Escobar has been the worst-hitting shortstop in the entire league. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .359/.405/.527 for the Red Sox. Manny Machado, who shifted from third base to shortstop following J.J. Hardy’s foot injury, is hitting .308/.376/.600 for the Orioles. Francisco Lindor, who made his debut exactly one year ago today, is hitting .304/.360/.450 for the Indians. Carlos Correa, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is hitting .256/.351/.423 for the Astros.
A play that was almost too close for replay, Ichiro marches on, and the Rangers and Orioles continue to surge.
The Thursday Takeaway
“What is a catch?”—one of the more complex existential questions of our time, albeit usually only in the context of the NFL and the subjectivity of its rules. In Thursday’s Cardinals-Reds game, though, it got a relatively rare turn in baseball’s limelight.
The Red Sox give Pablo Sandoval's job away, the Orioles are in a snit with Hyun-Soo Kim, and the Rangers and Indians might be the best bet for a last-second big-league swap.
Pablo Sandoval Loses His Job To Travis Shaw
After a flurry of moves that included the signing of Pablo Sandoval, the 2014 Red Sox romped to the American League pennant, then swept the World Series. General Manager Ben Cherington received many an accolade for his work, and Sandoval became an instant fan favorite.
Alas, it wasn’t in the cards. The AL Central team that now employs Jackson is not the Tribe but the White Sox, who inked him to a one-year, $5 million contract. And the runner-up in the race to sign the 29-year-old wasn’t Cleveland, but Anaheim, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.
The most unpredictable division in baseball is particularly unpredictable this offseason. Breaking down how each team might (?) see itself.
If you set out to list the five most surprising and the five most disappointing teams of 2015, there’s a good chance you would name at least four of the five American League Central clubs along the way. The Royals, you know about, but don’t forget the Twins, whom Sports Illustrated foresaw losing 100 games, but who were eliminated from the playoffs only on the final Saturday of the season. The same publication also picked the Indians to win the World Series, but Cleveland went 81-80. Personally, I picked the White Sox to win the division on the heels of their aggressive winter—but Chicago won 76 games. And PECOTA’s pick to cruise into October was Detroit, but the Tigers’ competitive window closed a year early, and they went 74-87.
I mention this because, if confounding expectations was the theme of the 2015 season in the AL Central, utter inscrutability might just be the theme of the winter there. I wouldn’t know where to begin forecasting next season’s standings in that division, and the major reason for that is that it’s virtually impossible to tell what any of the five teams are going to do with their offseasons. In most of the other divisions, there are clear favorites or co-favorites, and the objectives of at least three or four teams are very clear. Not in the AL Central. Let’s examine these teams one at a time.
Jason Kipnis was good, then bad, then bad still, and now he's good again. Why?
Streaks are a fascinating thing in baseball. There's an ongoing debate about whether having a hot hand is a fallacy or if there is actually some rhyme and reason to performing better for longer stretches of time.
Frankly, all that stuff is a bit beyond my interest. What I enjoy trying to figure out is why a great player is struggling, how he handles it, and how he attempts to bounce back. A month ago, I talked toAndrew McCutchen about a rough patch he was going through; his OPS was hovering around .600 at the time. He was confident he’d figure things out, and repeatedly talked about how the game is all about adjustments. Well, to no one’s surprise, Cutch has been on fire since, with a .368/.464/.691 line in his last 19 games. I’m not going to say I motivated him, but hey, you can thank me later, Pirates fans.
Kluber, fresh off an 18-K performance, strikes out a dozen; pitchers duels turn into bullpen games, Carlos Gomez bounces back from a pitch to the face, and the best defensive play of the day.
The Monday Takeaway
The last time Corey Kluber took the hill he nearly made history. The Indians ace had 18 strikeouts heading into the ninth inning of last Wednesday’s game against the Cardinals but was pulled after 113 pitches without getting the chance to break the single-game strikeout record. So naturally, Kluber struck out the first five White Sox who took their hacks on Monday.