Some of this year's great starts are tied to dramatically changed approaches.
Looking at leaderboards in April is a lot like looking at a familiar face reflected in a funhouse mirror: some features are clearly recognizable, but others are badly distorted. Matt Kemp leads the league in almost everything, which makes sense. Look a little harder, though, and oddities start to appear. Jack Hannahan, a career .235 hitter, is batting .308. If Jack Hannahan is still batting .308 at the All-Star break, we’ll have to start paying attention (and possibly packing away survival supplies). Until then, it’s safe to dismiss Hannahan’s hot streak as a small-sample fluke.*
*Very, very safe. When I first wrote that sentence, Hannahan was hitting .364.
Boston's start to the season looks strangely familiar, and Yumania takes the spotlight tonight.
The Weekend Takeaway
Red Sox fans watched the 2011 season come to a close while singing a certain Green Day song, as their team suffered a historic collapse. Well, the calendar says April now, but after a weekend sweep at the hands of the Tigers, it’s as though September never ended.
Detroit walked off with a 3-2 win on Friday, routed Boston 10-0 on Saturday, and finally inflicted the deathblow on Sunday. A 10-7 Red Sox lead in the ninth inning went “poof!” with Miguel Cabrera’s three-run homer off interim closer Alfredo Aceves. A 12-10 Red Sox edge in the 11th inning turned into a 13-12 Tigers victory when Alex Avila deposited a pitch from Mark Melancon over the right-field wall.
Two AL West veterans are feeling the effects of age, but only one seems resigned to his fate.
Spring training is about both bright-eyed and bushy-tailed youngsters and veterans reaching the end of the road. None of us wants to know how much time remains on the clock, whether it be in baseball or in life, but every spring, a class of veterans finds out that the buzzer is about to sound. Teams ease the lucky ones into reduced roles in camp, with the players having two choices: accept it and move on or fight and lose—Father Time is and will forever be undefeated. The American League West offers an example of both options right now. While one veteran is taking his fate into his own hands, another is embracing the change. This is an examination of those two players, their situations, and what lies ahead.
Which outfielders and DHs proved to be the biggest black holes in the majors?
Picking up where I left off on Friday, we continue hunting the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel in search of the positions where teams got the worst production—worse than the Replacement-Level Killers, but without the burden of toiling for a contending team. As with their catching and infield brethren, the following players helped produce tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just soft breezes running through their teams’ bank accounts. These are the Vortices of Suck.
At the dawn of the posting system, the arrival of the unique Ichiro Suzuki would forever change the player market between the U.S. and Japan.
Last month, I traced the early history of Japanese-American player traffic, from the Pirates’ sly attempt to sign Eiji Sawamura in the 1930s to the loophole-leaping of players like Hideo Nomo and Alfonso Soriano in the 1990s. To close that voluntary-retirement loophole and to prevent trading players like Hideki Irabu without their permission, Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and Major League Baseball (MLB) agreed on the current posting system in 1998. The system was designed to allow MLB teams to sign NPB stars without turning the NPB into another minor league, by forcing MLB teams to pay twice for NPB players, with about half of the total fee typically going to that player’s club.
During the leagues’ offseason, NPB teams can choose to post players who want to test the MLB waters. Once a player is posted, any MLB team has four days to submit a bid to the MLB commissioner for the right to negotiate with him. The highest bidding team then has thirty days to sign a contract. If they succeed, the team pays the posting fee to the player’s NPB club, but if they can’t come to an agreement, no fee is paid. The winning club thus pays for a player twice, with a portion going to the team as a non-negotiable sealed bid. This kind of blind bidding can easily lead to overpaying, benefitting the NPB club, but not the player.
PECOTA's strange history with Ichiro Suzuki suggests some areas for improvement.
Were Ichiro Suzuki represented by Scott Boras, the super-agent might be able to make a more convincing case than usual for his client’s singular, once-in-a-generation talent. Actually, Ichiro-types don’t come along even as often as that, especially in PECOTA’s post-World War II player comparison pool; the baseball gods appear to have both made and broken the mold especially for him.