This week's bunts, a chat with Chip Hale, and a new trend in defensive shifts. Plus: Ted Williams.
Last month I started a season-long series (continued here, here, here, here, and here) devoted to tracking bunts for base hits with the infield shift in effect; this is the seventh installment. To bring you up to speed on the series’ premise and methodology will take but two brief excerpts. Excerpt one:
Jason Kipnis, Carlos Santana, and Danny Salazar headline a roster whose complementary players could be appealing in deeper formats.
Coming off their first playoff appearance since blowing a 3-1 lead in the 2007 ALCS, the Indians will look to get back to the Promised Land (if you can call a one-game playoff the Promised Land). And they’ll have to do it with two of their three best pitchers from last season, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, potentially departing. The lineup remains intact, though they have added underrated outfielder David Murphy so that they don’t have to give nearly 500 plate appearances to Drew Stubbs again.
Yes, the Indians are a better franchise now than they were 25 years ago when they had Ricky Vaughn and Jake Taylor in uniform, but that element that causes us not to take them seriously as a World Series contender still exists. They have a couple of strong, underrated players about to enter their primes in Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana, but they’ll need others to step up and join them on that stage to make a deep playoff push. With the Tigers improving their roster (and flexibility) by trading for Ian Kinsler and the Royals possibly on the rise, the Indians will have their hands full in the AL Central.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
Why timing is everything when it comes to buying big free agents.
You know what they say: The key to comedy is timing. Consider the following three jokes:
Joke 1. In December 2011, three men were wandering through the countryside in search of a place to sleep for the night. They came upon a large farm. The farmer said they were welcome to spend the night, so long as they didn’t touch his beautiful daughter. To make a long story short, one of them—the Angels—snuck out and signed Josh Hamilton for five years and $125 million, Hamilton went on to hit 43 home runs (including four in one game!) and drive in 128 for his new team, and he received multiple MVP votes after the season. The last four years didn’t work out as well after that, but that’s how these things go. The Angels, thanks to Hamilton’s contributions, made the postseason in 2012 for the first time in three years. The farmer's wife made pancakes for them all the next morning and the three men went on their way.
The Mets' ace improved his pacing and stamina to blank the Rockies on Wednesday night.
The Wednesday Takeaway Matt Harvey has enjoyed a rather spectacular first year in the majors, but somehow, the Mets ace had never shut out a team before Wednesday night (though he did throw nine scoreless on May 7 in a game it took the Mets 10 innings to win). He emphatically ended that drought against the Rockies, puzzling hitters throughout nine innings as New York earned a 5-0 victory. Though the National League’s current strikeout leader didn’t put up his usually gaudy total in that category, fanning just six batters, this performance was a real gem.
The right-hander never looked uncomfortable as the Rockies struggled to muster anything offensively, failing to get a runner into scoring position until the ninth inning. Harvey can be excused for that, too, considering the only reason Charlie Blackmon got to second base was fielder’s indifference prior to the game’s final out. Needing to get that last batter to complete the shutout, Harvey forced Troy Tulowitzki to pop up to second base.
A league-wide decrease in stolen bases has left some fantasy owners, like Paul, scrambling for help in that category.
I’m not big on mantras. Catchphrases are way cooler. But if there is one mantra/axiom/adage/proverb I espoused this draft season, it was, “Focus on power, there is tons of speed available in smaller chunks.” In 2012, there were 1.33 steals per game. That was down slightly from 2011’s 1.35, but both were up markedly from the 1.22 that held steady from 2009 through 2010. In 2011-2012, there were about 300 more steals in the league than there were in 2009-2010. Plus, they were more evenly distributed.
The 2009 season saw Jacoby Ellsbury lead baseball with 70 stolen bases, and Juan Pierre was just two off of that mark when he led the majors the following year. Michael Bourn and Carl Crawford joined Ellsbury at the top with 61 and 60, respectively, in 2009, before dropping to a trio of 42s (Nyjer Morgan, B.J. Upton, and Matt Kemp). Pierre was the lone member of the 60-steal club in 2010, but Bourn (52) and Rajai Davis (50) were still great, followed by Carl Crawford and Brett Gardner at 47, and then another trio of 42s (Upton again, Ichiro, and Chone Figgins) bringing up the rear of the 40-plus club.
Given the Indians' early-season propensity to tattoo starters, fantasy owners should be wary of using pitchers that are facing them.
With the completion of Monday’s slate of games, we are officially one-sixth of the way through the season, as every team has played at least 28 games, or 17 percent of its allotted 162. Exactly half of the league has actually hit the one-fifth mark, having played 20 percent of its games, but the Twins and Royals finished off the first sixth of their seasons on Monday. We have also turned the calendar on the season’s first month, and the accumulation of data from that month is giving us some useful information.
For example, did you know that the Oakland Athletics lead all of baseball with 174 runs? They have 10 more runs than the Detroit Tigers and Colorado Rockies, who sit tied for second with 164 (because 174-10 = 164!). The A’s also have three more games played than the Tigers and two more than the Rockies. That doesn’t diminish their runs-scored achievement, but it does send them to the bottom of that trio when you look at runs per game: The Tigers have 5.47, the Rockies 5.29, and the A’s 5.27. Sitting eighth in total runs scored are the Cleveland Indians.
Mike Trout stands alone at the top, and two White Sox appear in the group of value picks.
Today we continue our positional tier rankings. Last offseason, Derek Carty tackled the tiers by himself; this spring, we've decided to attack them as a team. Players at each position will be divided into five tiers, represented by the number of stars.
Five-star players are the studs at their respective position. In general, they are the players that will be nabbed in the first couple of rounds of the draft, and they'll fetch auction bids in excess of $30. Four-star players are a cut below the studs at the position. They will also be earl- round selections, and they're projected to be worth more than $20 in most cases. Three-star players are the last tier in which players are projected to provide double-digit dollar value in auctions, and two-star players are projected to earn single digits in dollar value in auctions. One-star players are late round sleepers and roster placeholders. As was the case with our positional rankings series, the positional tiers aren't simply a regurgitation of the projected PECOTA values.
The market for Michael Bourn has been tepid, and there are few teams that provide a natural fit.
Michael Bourn turns 30 today, but barring a buzzer-beating offer, he won’t get the gift of a new contract until after his birthday. Bourn, the highest-ranked free agent remaining on the market, hasn’t attracted the widespread interest that he and agent Scott Boras had hoped for. Some teams may be concerned that the center fielder’s speed-based skill set could suffer once he loses a step; others might be reluctant or unwilling to forfeit the draft pick Bourn would cost them because of the qualifying offer he received from the Braves. Regardless of their reasons for looking elsewhere, several potential buyers for Bourn have already removed themselves from the running by making other moves: the Nationals, Phillies, Reds, and A’s have landed center fielders via trade, while the Giants and Braves have invested in other free agents, re-signing Angel Pagan and bringing in B.J. Upton, respectively.
It’s still too soon for Bourn to panic or consider seeking new representation. While it’s possible that he’ll have to settle for the so-called “pillow contract” that some Boras clients have had to swallow when their expected megadeals never materialized, Boras has often wangled the biggest possible payday by waiting until late in the offseason, when some teams are desperate for an upgrade and there are few attractive alternatives to his high-profile clients.