The looming disasters behind the plate in the AL Central.
Disaster comes in many forms. In 2016, one of those forms will probably be catching in the American League Central. There is no other position-division combination which PECOTA projects so poorly in the aggregate: Four of the division’s five teams project to generate 0.4 WARP or less from the catcher position in 2016, and three project to actually lose value (relative to replacement level) from their catchers next year. Cleveland, which has Yan Gomes holding down the fort at the position, is the lone exception to the rule.
In a few weeks, Miguel Cabrera will get the first paycheck under his new contract, an eight-year, $240 million extension that was signed two years ago. At the time, Grantland headlined it “an Unconscionable, Indefensible, All-But-Guaranteed Mistake,” which, yeah, might be totally true. An extension like Cabrera’s can end up being a mistake because the player doesn’t perform as well as the contract supposes, making the player’s value, by a reasonable calculation, less than his compensation. Albert Pujols’ contract with the Angels is a mistake by this standard. Robinson Cano’s with the Mariners, same.
Or: The only way Jake Elmore is going to get this much ink on Baseball Prospectus.
What does it really mean to be a super utility player? I’m not talking about Ben Zobrist or Ryan Flaherty here. I’m talking about someone who can literally play any position the manager might need him to. What does that kind of player look like?
Four players have ever played all nine positions on the field in one major-league baseball game (assuming you ignore Will Ferrell, which we will do here). Bert Campaneris was the original, doing so on September 8th, 1965. A little over three years later, Cesar Tovar would accomplish the same feat for the Minnesota Twins during their final home game of the season. Fast forward more than 30 years and Scott Sheldon would accomplish the feat in a September game where his Texas Rangers got blown out by the Chicago White Sox. Last but not least, Shane Halter played all nine positions for the Tigers less than a month later, even scoring the winning run in the process.
Detroit's baserunning was a major contributor to the club's last-place finish. How they, and other AL teams, will look on the bases this year.
The 2015 Detroit Tigers won just 74 games, and that doesn’t happen to a team without significant flaws. A lot of things went wrong for them, from the prolonged absence of Miguel Cabrera to the catastrophic collapse of Victor Martinez, to yet another impossibly implosive bullpen.
If one thing most stood out about the Tigers, though, it was how old they played, especially offensively. It was back in 2013, when the team was running out (too generous a phrase, perhaps) Prince Fielder, Torii Hunter, Cabrera, and Martinez, that everyone worried the Tigers’ offense would sputter to a stop because of its key cogs’ old, heavy legs. In 2015, though, with Hunter and Fielder gone, it actually happened. Detroit basestealers succeeded at a clip of just 62 percent. They grounded into the most double plays of any team in baseball. They racked up -21.9 baserunning runs (BRR), according to our calculus the second-worst in the league. They batted .270/.328/.420, raw figures that ranked first, second, and fifth in the AL, respectively. They were second in team OPS+ and seventh in TAv in the AL, but they finished 10th in runs scored. Baseball Info Solutions estimated that the team created 736 runs, but they only scored 689. Some of that, to be sure, is just bad sequencing—bad luck. Surely, though, some of it also must be chalked up to their miserable baserunning.
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The Guinness Effect, and why opt-outs are the only way for a true star to get what he's worth.
This offseason is starting to feel like an episode of Oprah. You get an opt-out! You get an opt-out! Yo gets an opt-out too! Opt-outs are the new must-have item this winter, and if you don’t have one, you can’t sit at the cool people table.
Like ballplayers, owners make decisions based on their own needs. Unlike ballplayers, owners are already soooooooooooo rich.
Free agency does a lot to clarify what matters to players. Some will opt for the highest average annual contract or biggest guarantee; others will take slightly less so they might preserve another bite at free agency down the road, before time completely diminishes their stars. Some are able to command both, because of savvy negotiating or some team’s desperate craving for a generational talent. Each outcome is revealing. Mega contracts make for surprisingly boring tales in this regard. The would-be lottery winner in all of us can imagine the satisfaction a nice, round number like $200 million might have as it rolls off the tongue. Many a player will take all the chips ownership will push into the pile and cash out, considering themselves satiated. It’s when those max contracts hit the tape only to be pushed aside by deals with virtues like flexibility or longevity or the promise of a World Series appearance, that we get to say something more interesting about what matters. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with the top of the pyramid drawn in bespoke terms, assuming the shape of the complicated mix of ingredients and tiebreakers that make up happiness. As Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed on Episode 774 of Effectively Wild, those ingredients can be personal and perhaps a bit eccentric.