Get A Whiff Of This

Whiff Duo

Would you be a more successful Fantasy player if you were sequestered following the Draft and not allowed to watch baseball during the season? After all, enthusiasts of this endeavor are the lords of statistics, aren’t we? We’re Moneyball as opposed to “Old School”, SABRmetricians first and Scouts second and always in Brian Kenny’s corner when he’s debating Harold Reynolds.

 

As with most questions, there isn’t a simple answer. Can any of us deny that we’ve allowed what we see on the field to impact our opinion of a player despite what the statistical analysis might say? Haven’t we all traded or dropped a player too soon because he looked terrible in a game we happened to be watching? And what could possibly look worse than a member of your team striking out three times in a game (“Hat Trick”), four times in a game (“Golden Sombrero”) or even the dreaded five times in a game (“Platinum Fedora”)? So, let’s take a closer look at what you may call the “K”, the “Punchout” or the “Whiff”.

 

Some baseball statistics are difficult to analyze while others just jump off the page. One easy to decipher trend is that since 2007, more batters are striking out every season for a total increase of 27% over that period. In fact, each of the last ten seasons have set a new record in the history of baseball, with 2018’s number at 8.5 batters per game. Earlier this month, the Cubs & Mets played an extra inning game where one team struck out 24 times and the other 15 times…there were three “Hat Tricks” and two “Golden Sombreros” in the same game! In 1941, Joe DiMaggio & Ted Williams combined for 997 AB’s…and struck out a total of 40 times! There are numerous theories about this increase and most have a persuasive argument. It certainly isn’t a coincidence that strikeouts have gone up and batting average has gone down every year since the Mitchell Report was released and stronger PED testing became part of the baseball landscape. In 2007, MLB BA was .268 and Slugging Percentage was .423. So far in 2018 (through June 16th), the numbers are .245 & .405.

 

An easy explanation is that hitters are compensating by swinging harder in an attempt to hit for power. Another factor is that Pitchers are throwing at a higher velocity than ever before and starters are generally being removed before facing the opposing line-up a third time. For those of us who cling to our memories of the 50’s & 60’s when 300 IP was common, this means that a tiring starting pitcher is being replace in the 6th or 7th inning by someone like Jordan Hicks (100 mph average fastball), Tayron Guerrero (98.7 mph) or Joe Kelly (97.8 mph).   While all this makes sense, the real question is what has happened to plate discipline? And how does this impact your Fantasy team?

 

Intuitively, it seems that there are categories of strikeouts that are significantly different when we watch the game. There’s a great pitch that fools the batter for a called third strike. Or a 95+ mph fastball in the strike zone that the hitter just can’t catch up with. Worst of all, however, is when your Fantasy stud swings at pitches out of the zone and ends up heading for the dugout. If you believe that last example seems to be happening to your team at a higher rate than in the past, you are absolutely correct. A recently developed stat is called “O-Swing %” and it tracks the percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone. In 2005, that percentage was 20.3% and by 2018, it has increased to 30.3%.

 

Even though Ted Williams once said that “Pitchers are dumb”, they are at least smart enough to figure out that if they don’t need to throw strikes to get you out, they won’t throw you strikes. And that leads us to the implications for your Fantasy team. While it appears that the players we draft aren’t going back to the days of making more contact and creating productive outs (that add RBI’s), there still seems to be a number of ways to look at hitters when it comes to strikeouts.

 

First, there are the free swingers who have some semblance of plate discipline. A few years ago, the poster boy for this type of hitter was always Adam Dunn. While he struck out at a very high rate, he also managed to accumulate a large number of base on balls including over 100 walks in eight different seasons. So, his 2,379 K’s were partially offset by his 1,317 walks leading to a respectable On Base Percentage (OPB) of .364 and a On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) of .854. During that time, he also hit over 450 Home Runs and had over 1,100 RBI’s making him a productive member of his actual baseball team and your Fantasy squad.

 

To prove how productive this type of player can be for your team, let’s look at some numbers as we get close to the 1/2 mark of the 2018 season. Aaron Judge of the Yankees has struck out 91 times but also has managed 48 walks while producing a .397 OBP & .963 OPS. Paul Goldschmidt of the D’Backs has been punched out 86 times but also has 39 walks giving him a .370 OBP & .883 OPS. If we own either of these players, are we concerned that they may strike out 150 times this year?

 

Second, there are the free swingers that don’t seem to have a handle on the strike zone. Joey Gallo of the Rangers has 106 strikeouts and 30 walks while Yoan Moncada of the White Sox has 97 strikeouts with only 26 BB’s. Their Home Runs don’t make up for that kind of performance. Chris Davis of the Orioles has 86 K’s and 19 BB’s resulting in an embarrassing WAR number of -2.2. The Marlins keep Lewis Brinson in the line-up because they have no choice but his 78 K’s & 10 BB’s equals almost no value to the team. Despite the athletic ability, Billy Hamilton has put his career in jeopardy with 72 K’s and 26 BB’s…from a player who doesn’t hit the ball 200 feet.

 

Third of course, are the players we all desire. The guys who command the strike zone and give us the categories we need to defeat our evil adversaries.  How about the  Angels Mike Trout with 60 K’s, 60 BB, .328 BA and 1.147 OPS? Or the Red Sox Mookie Betts line of 31 K’s, 26 BB, .340 BA and 1.115 OPS? Is Freddie Freeman a MVP candidate with 53 K’s, 42 BB’s, a .342 BA and 1.012 OPS? Was signing Lorenzo Cain a good move for the Brewers? How about 48 K’s, 42 BB’s, .291 BA & .839 OPS…not to mention Gold Glove caliber defense in CF. Is Jose Ramirez for real? His numbers of 36 K’s, 40 BB’s, .288 BA and .989 OPS gives you the answer. Find players with more walks than strikeouts (Joey Votto is another) and you’ll be in the pennant race.

 

It doesn’t appear that we’re going back to the days of contact hitters anytime soon, but looking at the stats a little more closely will help your team be more successful.

 

 

 

 

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Where Disco Lives Forever – Top Ten Baseball Cards of the 70’s.

'75 Brett 7

It was easy to tell when “Disco” died. In the classic movie “Airplane” (1980), you hear a DJ say “WZAZ, where disco lives forever” just before the plane’s wing shears off the radio station’s tower on the final approach into Chicago. As usual, baseball managed to skirt the social issues of the day and create some classic memories for fans.

 

The decade began with the Orioles (and Series MVP Brooks Robinson) topping the Reds and included three titles for the Oakland Athletics as well as two each for the Reds, Yankees & Pirates. It was the end of an era for many Hall of Fame players and the beginning of legendary careers for others. The Topps company still dominated the marketplace and issued large sets (as many as 726 cards) to satisfy collectors. While some of this writer’s choices may not be the most valuable of the decade, they all have historic significance for baseball fans. As requested by some readers, you’ll also see the current value of each card in Near Mint (NM) condition as defined by a grade of “7” by PSA or Beckett.

 

1) 1975 Topps George Brett (#228) – Topps finally got away from multiple player rookie cards in this beautiful set and the Royals 3B is the key card ($90). For the first (and only) time, Topps also made a “mini” version of their set and the values are slightly lower.

 

2)  1973 Topps Mike Schmidt (#615) – Even though the Phillies star had to share his rookie card with two other players, it is still one of the high-demand collectibles of the decade ($225).

 

3) 1970 Topps Nolan Ryan (#712) – Despite the fact that is the 3rd year card of the “Express”, it is difficult to find because it is part of the scarce “high series” ($150).

 

4) 1973 Topps Roberto Clemente (#50) – The final card of the Pirate legend was actually issued after his tragic death in December of ’72 ($32).

 

5) 1979 Topps Ozzie Smith (#116) – The rookie card of the “Wizard”, it is a tough card to find in nice condition, as many of the cards were off-center due to poor quality control in this set ($55).

 

6) 1976 Topps Hank Aaron (#550) – The final active card for “Hammering Hank”, it is one of two Aaron cards in the set…the other one commemorates his home run record ($22).

 

7) 1971 Topps Thurman Munson (#5) – The best looking card of the Yankee Captain, its black borders make it challenging to find in nice condition ($220).

 

8) 1978 Topps Eddie Murray (#36) – The rookie card of the Orioles great switch-hitting 1B ($45)

 

9) 1975 Topps Robin Yount (#223) – Imagine two Hall of Famers who each played for only one team and accumulated over 3,000 hits having their rookie cards in the same set and only five numbers (see Brett) apart ($55).

 

10) 1974 Topps Willie McCovey (#250) – There were two versions of this card…the Padres were close to leaving San Diego and re-locating to Washington, D.C., so Topps issued an alternate card with “Washington” on the front ($15).

 

Other cards of note included the rookie cards of Don Baylor / Dusty Baker in ’71 ($42), Dave Winfield in ’74 ($35), Jim Rice in ’75 ($25), Dennis Eckersley in ’76 ($27) and Paul Molitor / Alan Trammell in ’78 ($60). As an example of the depth of baseball history streaming through the decade, the 1978 set has over 20 members of the Hall of Fame. Sorry, John Travolta and the Bee Gees aren’t inlcuded.

 

 

Vintage Baseball Nicknames

'12 Brown 2

Spending lots of time over the years with 100 year-old baseball cards has helped me define many of the differences in today’s modern game. From visual aspects such as uniforms and gloves to social issues like players of color being absent, our cherished game has certainly come a long way. It seems, however, that one area where the sport has gone backwards is in the category of nicknames.

 

In 2018, as the game has become richer and more corporate, original and appropriate nicknames have begun to disappear. Of the top players in the game, is there a decent nickname among them? Looking at baseball-reference.com, it appears that many of them have nicknames, but even the most ardent fan might not recognize them. Have you ever heard of the “Millville Meteor” or “Bigfoot”? Those are the nicknames listed for Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton. And Clayton Kershaw is “The Claw”? Add this to the weak efforts of “Miggy” for Miguel Cabrera and “Goldy” for Paul Goldschmidt and you can see that the new era of baseball is a wasteland for nicknames. Max Scherzer is “Blue Eye”, Justin Verlander is “JV”, Bryce Harper has three nicknames and they are all boring…”Bam-Bam”, “Mondo” & “Harp”. Maybe you like “Votto-matic” for the Reds 1B?

 

So, as we work our way into June, let’s travel back to a century ago and see what kind of nicknames we find for the players in the 1909-11 T206 tobacco card set.

 

> Frank “Home Run” Baker, A’s 3B – This Hall of Fame member supposedly got the nickname by hitting home runs off both Rube Marquard and Christy Mathewson in the 1911 World Series. To put some perspective on the “dead-ball” era, Baker led the AL in HR’s in three consecutive seasons (1911-13) with totals of 11, 10 & 12.

 

> Charles “Chief” Bender, A’s P – Another Hall of Famer, he was a member of the Ojibwa tribe and dealt with racial discrimination during his career.

 

> Charles “Heinie” Berger, Cleveland Naps P – One of over 20 major league ballplayers of the era that had the nickname, it was popular for German-Americans who played the game.

 

> George “Scoops” Carey, Senators 1B – Mostly a minor leaguer, he was known for his slick fielding around the bag.

 

> “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown, Cubs P – Your guess is correct, as he lost parts of two fingers on his pitching hand in a farm-machinery accident as a child. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1949, he had a lifetime ERA of 2.06. If you’ve been playing Fantasy baseball for at least 20 years, you probably know that Antonio Alfonseca had twice as many fingers as Mordecai.

 

> Josh “Pepper” Clarke, Naps OF – His bother Fred was a Hall of Famer, but most of Josh’s career was in the minors. He once played for the Des Moines Undertakers and later managed the Omaha Robin Hoods.

 

> “Wahoo Sam” Crawford, Tigers OF – Had over 2,900 hits in his Hall of Fame career and played alongside Ty Cobb. He was born in Wahoo, Nebraska.

 

> James “Steamer” Flanagan, Pirates OF – Only played seven games in the majors, but he was on the same team as Honus Wagner.

 

> Miller “Might Mite” Huggins, Cardinals 2B – The diminutive Huggins (5’6″) eventually became the legendary Manager of the Yankees in the 1920’s.

 

> George “Peaches” Graham, Phillies C – His son, John “Jack” Graham, played with the Dodgers & Giants in the 1940’s.

 

> Walter Johnson “The Big Train”, Senators P – One of the greatest pitchers of all-time, he posted 417 Wins.

 

> Ed “Battleship” Gremminger, Tigers 3B – His first major league campaign was with the Cleveland Spiders in 1895.

 

> “Wee Willie” Keeler, NY Highlanders OF – This Hall of Famer was only 5′ 4″, but had a lifetime BA of .341.

 

> Myron “Moose” Grimshaw, Boston Americans 1B – To give you an idea of the size of the players in this era, “Moose” was only 6′ 1″ and 173 pounds.

 

> Christy “Big Six” Mathewson, Giants P – A member of the first Hall of Fame class in 1936, the nickname referred to his height of 6′ 1″.

 

> Charlie “Eagle Eye” Hemphill, Browns OF – You guessed it, he was an outstanding defensive player.

 

> “Iron Man” Joe McGinnity, Giants P – Pitched over 400 innings in two different seasons, winning over 30 games both times.

 

> “Silent John” Hummel, Dodgers Utility – Played in Brooklyn for over a decade and actually wore the uniform of the Superbas, Robins & Dodgers.

 

> Honus Wagner “The Flying Dutchman”, Pirates SS – Another member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class, he is arguably the greatest shortstop in history.

 

> Frank “Bald Eagle” Isbell, White Sox IF – Yes, he lost his hair at an early age.

 

> Denton “Cy” Young, Red Sox P – The most wins of all time with 511 victories. “Cy” was short for “Cyclone”.

 

> “Bad Bill” Dahlen, Giants SS – After his playing days, he  became a Manager and was thrown out of 65 games!

 

> Davey “Kangaroo” Jones, Tigers OF – Batted lead-off for the Bengals in front of Ty Cobb.

 

> “Wild Bill” Donovan, Tigers P – His nickname came from his penchant for walking opposing hitters. While the Manager of New Haven in 1923, he was killed while sleeping in the lower berth of a train during a wreck that killed a total of eight people. Team owner George Weiss was in the upper berth, survived his injuries and went on to become a Hall of Fame baseball executive.

 

> Jack “Schoolboy” Knight, Yankees SS – Signed out of the University of Pennsylvania at age 19.

 

> “Slothful Bill” Lattimore, Naps P – Evidently, he moved very slowly.

 

> Ulysses Simpson Grant “Stoney” McGlynn, Cardinals P – He had more names (5) than seasons in the majors (3).

 

> Harry “Rocks” McIntire, Cubs P – Led the NL in hit batters three times.

 

> Tom “Dearfoot” Needham, Cubs C – His defensive skills kept him in the big leagues for a decade.

 

> Ennis “Rebel” Oakes, Cardinals OF – Not surprisingly, he was born in Louisiana. He was the player-manager of the Pittsburgh franchise in the Federal League (1914-15) and they named the team the Rebels.

 

> Barney Pelty, “The Yiddish Curver”, Browns P – One of the first Jewish ballplayers, he obviously had a great curveball. Of the 117 games he lost over ten years, the Browns were shutout in 32 of them.

 

> Bob “Dusty” Rhoads, Naps P – You didn’t really think the Giants OF of the 50’s was the first one, did you?

 

> George “Admiral” Schlei, Giants C – Named after a hero of the Spanish-American War, Admiral Schley.

 

> “Death Valley Jim” Scott, White Sox P – Born in Deadwood, South Dakota (1888).

 

> Ed “Tubby” Spencer, Red Sox C – Had nine major leagues seasons at 5′ 10″, 215 pounds.

 

> Irvin “Kaiser” Wilhelm, Superbas P – The other Kaiser Wilhelm was the Emperor of Germany from 1888-1918.

 

> Charles “Deacon” Phillippe, Pirates P – He was a church choirmaster in the off-season.

 

> Ed “Batty” Abbaticchio, Pirates P – The first player of Italian heritage to play in the major leagues (1897). Prior to his baseball career, he was one of the first pro football players (1895).

 

> “Strawberry Bill” Bernhard, Naps P – Won 15+ games in seven separate seasons…and had red hair.

 

> Russell “Lena” Blackburne, White Sox IF – His claim to fame in baseball history is that, in 1938, he found the unique mud near the Delaware River that would dull the shine on baseballs without staining them. The product was known as “Lena Blackburne Rubbing Mud” and has been used by organized baseball ever since.

 

> J.J. “Nig” Clarke, Browns C – Sad to say that this nickname was racial in nature due to his dark complexion.

 

> Harry “The Giant Killer” Coveleski, Phillies P – He beat the Giants three times in five days during the pennant race in 1908.

 

> Louis “Bull” Durham, Giants P – Only pitched 29 innings in his major league career and after his last minor league season in 1913, he became an actor in silent films.

 

> George “Pinch” McBride, Senators SS – A very poor hitter, he only seemed to come through in clutch circumstances such as pinch-hitting.

 

> Frank “Yip” Owen, White Sox P – Won 20+ games in three consecutive seasons and was born in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

 

> Charles “Gabby” Street, Senators C – The nickname came from his non-stop talking behind the plate and he is the legendary player who caught the ball dropped from the Washington Monument in 1908.

 

> Luther “Dummy” Taylor, Giants P – Another nickname that tells you much about the times, as he was deaf.

 

With over 500 players in this baseball card set, we could go on for pages and the dozens of guys nicknamed “Dutch”, “Red” & “Doc” haven’t even been mentioned. In fact, two guys named “Rube” (Marquard & Waddell) are in the Hall of Fame. Much of the source material comes from “The T206 Collection” book by Tom & Ellen Zappala.

 

Hope you enjoyed this throwback history lesson.

 

 

The 60-Day WAR

'18 Trout Chrm Refrc

For baseball fans and Fantasy team owners, looking at the standings on Memorial Day reveals a telling statistic – the major league season is almost 1/3 over. 50+ games are in the books and it’s time for an honest evaluation of your team. No more excuses of slumps, shifts, off-season injuries, smoke & mirror performances and the like. As with most real-life situations, it’s all about what you’ve done for me lately and what you project to do moving forward.

 

Some very predictable things have already happened. Jason Vargas & Andrew Cashner aren’t worth $8 Million each, you would rather have Kris Davis than Chris Davis, Joey Gallo is trading Home Runs for Strikeouts, Scott Kingery isn’t quite ready for the Hall-of-Fame, A.J. Pollock is injured and the Rockies gave Carlos Gonzalez $5 Million so they could hinder the development of Ryan McMahon & David Dahl. On the other end of the spectrum, how about the best-of-the-best? Who are really the top MLB players so far for 2018? Not just the obvious stars, but also the underrated contributors that help teams win, but may not get the headlines. Where do we find an objective, unbiased determination to create this list? The answer is…we go to WAR.

 

WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a new-age metric developed by SABRmetricians to gauge the value of an individual player to his team. It creates a number that represents how many wins the player adds to his team’s record above what a replacement player (AAA or AAAA) would add. A one-season figure of 8 or better is MVP caliber, while 5 or better is All-Star level. Some “old-school” fans don’t always buy into the stat, but the results tell you that it is very much on-target. The major league leader in three different seasons (2012, 2013 & 2016) was Mike Trout and the lifetime leader is Babe Ruth. The all-time top five also includes Willie Mays, Ty Cobb & Hank Aaron. AL MVP Jose Altuve was the best in ’17 with a figure of 8.3. So, with the help of baseball-reference.com and fangraphs.com, let’s see where we are for the first third of 2018.

 

As your humble essayist is from the school of thought that hitters should win the MVP and pitchers should win the Cy Young, we’ll list the offensive players first and then the hurlers.

 

> Position Players

 

1) Mike Trout, Angels OF 4.4 WAR – It’s always interesting to see the reaction when a great player has a short-term slump like he did a few weeks ago. The media made it out to be a big deal and then last weekend, he had 14 Total Bases in one game against the Yankees.

 

2) Mookie Betts, Red Sox OF 4.1 WAR – Better get used to this, he’s a year younger than Trout.

 

3) Jose Ramirez, Indians 3B 3.4 WAR – After a breakout season in 2016, the Indians locked him up with an extension. Of course, Harold Reynolds opined on the MLB Network that he wasn’t sure the Tribe made a good decision. Now he’s a top-ten player after posting a 6.9 WAR in ’17. Harold may have an Emmy but I’ve got Jose on my Fantasy team.

 

4) Francisco Lindor, Indians SS 2.8 WAR – At age 24, he’s coming off a 5.5 WAR season in ’17. Just think about all the young players in the game who are All-Star caliber…it is amazing.

 

5) Manny Machado, Orioles SS 2.6 WAR – He’ll be 26 in July and a free-agent next off-season…how do you spell Ka-Ching?

 

T6) Brandon Belt, Giants 1B 2.5 WAR – With a succession of injury plagued seasons, people have forgotten how good a player was hiding under the surface. He just turned 30 and has a lifetime OPS of .830.

 

T6) Andrelton Simmons, Angels SS 2.5 WAR – His appearance on this list is usually because of his Gold Glove defense, but in 2018 his OPS is .851.

 

T6) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF 2.5 WAR – No sophomore slump for this young slugger.

 

9) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B 2.3 WAR – Casual observers thought 2017 was an off-year but the underlying numbers (including a 6.2 WAR) told a different story…this 26 year-old is a great player.

 

T9) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B 2.3 WAR – The 2018 Braves are a surprise, but this player shouldn’t be…he had a 4.5 WAR last year in only 117 games.

 

 

> Pitchers

 

1T) Max Scherzer, Nationals 3.1 WAR – Could be on his way to a 4th Cy Young Award.

 

1T) Justin Verlander, Astros 3.1 WAR – Houston doesn’t have a 2017 championship without him…a marvel at age 35.

 

3) Gerrit Cole, Astros 2.7 WAR – Growing from a good to great Pitcher before our eyes.

 

4) Luis Severino, Yankees  2.5 WAR – Never underestimate a young Pitcher with great “stuff”…had a 5.83 ERA in 2016, a 2.98 last year and 2.28 in ’18.

 

T4) Jacob deGrom, Mets 2.5 WAR – A 1.54 ERA with 77 K’s in 58 IP.

 

6) Chris Sale, Red Sox 2.0 WAR – Had a 6.0 WAR last year and led the AL in Innings, but seemed to wear down in September…watch to see if the workload is monitored more closely in 2018.

 

We’ll check back around the trade deadline to see if the 120-day WAR is significantly different.

Staying Too Long

Billy Chapel

Branch Rickey has an esteemed place in the history of baseball and his quotes are intelligent and insightful. One of the most famous is a microcosm of his General Manager philosophy…”Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late”. That may seem somewhat cold and heartless but the GM’s job is to win games, not make friends. Athletes in general and baseball players in particular, usually have to be dragged away from the game kicking and screaming. It is easy to say that the primary factor is money, but that would be much too simple an answer. In the days before free agency and guaranteed long-term contracts, players almost always played well past their prime and in numerous cases, embarrassed themselves and tarnished their reputations. The reasons are varied, but it comes down to just wanting to be a ballplayer. It is what they’ve always done and leaving the lifestyle is never easy. Very few players went out “on top” and many of those didn’t really do it voluntarily.

 

Some of the best final seasons that weren’t actually by choice include…

 

> Joe Jackson, 1920 White Sox – “Shoeless Joe” hit .382 with 121 RBI’s and led the AL in Triples with 20. For you stat geeks, his OPS was 1.033. Even at age 32, he was at an elite skill level before being banned from baseball due to his involvement with scandal of the 1919 World Series.

 

> Roberto Clemente, 1972 Pirates – At age 37, the Bucs legend still hit .312 and won a Gold Glove despite being limited to 102 games. It seems clear that he could have made a positive contribution for a few more years if not for the tragic plane crash on December 31st.

 

> Jackie Robinson, 1956 Dodgers – After 50+ years, the perception seems to be that this pioneer was washed up at age 37. A closer look, however, shows that his .275 BA with a .382 OBP included double digit HR’s & SB’s. Not bad for a player who also appeared at four different defensive positions during the season. The Dodgers did win the pennant and took the Yankees to seven games, so in retrospect, his retirement may have had more to do with being traded to the Giants after the season.

 

> Sandy Koufax, 1966 Dodgers – The premiere example of a player going out on top, this Hall of Fame Lefthander completed a season that included 27 Wins, 27 Complete Games, 323 IP, 317 K’s and a 1.73 ERA. Imagine what might have happened if more modern methods were available to fix his elbow. He was only 30 when he retired.

 

>  Kirby Puckett, 1995 Twins – Another player impacted by injury, his final season at age 35 showed very little regression. The All-Star appearance was his 11th in a row and he hit .314 with 23 HR’s & 99 RBI’s.

 

> Lyman Bostock, 1978 Angels – Not really remembered by fans under the age of 40, this budding star was shot and killed at age 27 in September of ’78. He had just completed his first season with the Angels after hitting .323 & .336 for the Twins the previous two years. In over 2,000 major league AB’s, his BA was .311, but the prime of his career never materialized.

 

David Ortiz is an exception to the rule, as he had an excellent season (127 RBI’s) at age 40 before hanging it up. Many players have tried to accomplish this feat, but more often than not, the attempt was futile. Not everyone can be like Ortiz or Ted Williams, who after hitting .254 in an injury-plagued 1959 campaign, came back at age 42 to hit .316 with 29 HR’s in his final year.

 

This season’s baseball landscape has Francisco Rodriguez signing with an independent league team at age 36 despite the fact that he’s made over $83 Million in his career. Jose Bautista hit .203 last season at age 36 and was just released by the Braves after hitting .143…he’s made $103 Million. Albert Pujols has an OPS under .700 for the last two seasons and is still owed over $80 Million.

 

Too often, we painfully watch great players hang on to the dream as their performance deteriorates…

 

> Mickey Mantle – His last two seasons (’67 & ’68) produced batting averages of .245 & .237, which dropped his lifetime figure under .300. That statistic scarred him emotionally and he once said, “My biggest regret was letting my lifetime average drop below .300. I always felt I was a .300 hitter, and if I could change one thing that would be it.”

 

> Willie Mays – Hit .211 for the 1973 Mets.

 

> Hank Aaron – Played his final two seasons with the Brewers (’75 & ’76) compiling BA’s of .234 & .229.

 

> Pete Rose – Even the “Hit King” wasn’t immune, hitting .219 with the Reds in 1986.

 

> Duke Snider – His last two years (’63 & ’64), he hit .243 & .210.

 

> Steve Carlton – Pitching for a succession of teams in his 40’s, he had ERA’s of 5.10 & 5.74 in ’86 & ’87.

 

> Ernie Banks – Hit .193 in his age 40 season…he didn’t have the energy to “play two”.

 

> Reggie Jackson – Went back to Oakland at age 41…and hit .220.

 

> Harmon Killebrew – Played his final season in Kansas City as their DH and hit .199.

 

Of course, Billy Chapel pitched a perfect game to end his career…oh, wait, that was a fictional story. Even on that magical night, Billy said, “I don’t know if I have anything left”.

Speculation : June # 1’s

'09 Harper

With the convergence of multiple baseball card manufacturers and the Internet in the 90s’, many collectors turned into speculators and, therefore, investors. Major League Baseball’s Amateur Draft has taken place every June since 1965, but the attention on the players has intensified ten-fold during that time. If you were a baseball fan in 1966, you probably didn’t know that Steve Chilcott, a High School Catcher from Lancaster, California was the first overall pick in the country (by the Mets). And, even if you did, it wasn’t anticipated that he would have a baseball card until he (someday) reached the Majors. The end result was that he had a seven-year minor league career, never had a baseball card and the Mets could have had Reggie Jackson instead.

 

Bryce Harper, the #1 pick in 2010, was the hottest card in the industry in 2011 and he’s proved his worth ever since with a career that includes a MVP award. The same phenomenon took place in 2010 with Stephen Strasburg but he ended up on the operating table before the 2011 season was over.

 

Let’s look at the top picks over a 20 year span and see how the hype turned out…

 

> 1997 – Matt Anderson, Tigers P…a tall pitcher with a triple digit fastball, he never had any real success at the major league level.

 

> 1998 – Pat Burrell, Phillies OF…got to the majors in 2000 and had a fairly productive career that included over 300 HR’s, but never a star.

 

> 1999 – Josh Hamilton, Devil Rays OF…lost his way to drugs and personal issues and was actually out of baseball before resurrecting his career with the Reds in ’07…eventually established himself as a  star with the Rangers and won the AL MVP in 2010…however, the last few years of his career are remembered mostly for injuries.

 

> 2000 – Adrian Gonzalez, Marlins 1B…two teams gave up on him before he established himself with the Padres in ’06…signed a huge free agent contract with the Red Sox in 2011 and has had a successful career that is winding down in 2018.

 

> 2001 – Joe Mauer, Twins C…the face of the Twins franchise since his debut in ’04, he has won three AL Batting Titles…despite 2000+ hits and the ’09 MVP, he’s never been a superstar.

 

> 2002 – Bryan Bullington, Pirates P…an example of why the Pirates weren’t relevant for so many years.

 

> 2003 – Delmon Young, Devil Rays OF…was a productive player for a few years including finishing 2nd in the ROY voting in 2007, but his career was over before he turned 30.

 

> 2004 – Matt Bush, Padres SS…a complete bust, he ended up in jail before resurrecting his career as a relief Pitcher with the Rangers…Justin Verlander was picked next in this draft.

 

> 2005 – Justin Upton, D’Backs OF…now on his 4th team, his 266 lifetime HR’s show the potential, but he’s good, not great…and inconsistent.

 

> 2006 – Luke Hochever, Royals P…out of baseball, his lifetime ERA in nine seasons was 4.98.

 

> 2007 – David Price, Devil Rays P…with 130 career Wins, a Cy Young award and a $200+ Million contract, you’d think he’d be thought of as an elite SP…not to collectors or Fantasy players.

 

> 2008 – Tim Beckham, Rays SS…didn’t have a decent major league season until 2017 at age 27…hitting .179 this season.

 

> 2009 – Strasburg

 

> 2010 – Harper

 

> 2011 – Gerrit Cole, Pirates P…finally realizing his full potential in his 6th big league campaign.

 

> 2012 – Carlos Correa, Astros SS…only 23 and already a star on a World Series championship team.

 

> 2013 – Mark Appel, Astros P…has given up the game at age 26 after five minor league seasons…his lifetime ERA is 5.06…Kris Bryant was the next pick.

 

> 2014 – Brady Aiken, Astros P…didn’t sign with Houston and was drafted as the 17th player by the Indians in 2015…in “A” ball last year, he was 5-13 with a 4.77 ERA.

 

> 2015 – Dansby Swanson, D’Backs SS…essentially given away by the D’Backs to the Braves in a trade prior to the ’16 season, he’s still trying to prove his worth with a lifetime .253 BA…Alex Bregman was the #2 pick.

 

> 2016 – Mickey Moniak, Phillies OF…still only 20 but his minor league BA of .244 in over 800 AB’s doesn’t look impressive…Nick Senzel was taken right behind him.

 

So, if you “invested” in the initial baseball cards of these 20 players, what kind of success would you have realized? Harper & Correa would be blue chips while some others might still be in your portfolio. The sage advice is to collect, not speculate.

 

April Showers & BABIP

Santana Phillies

As the calendar turned to May last week, there were at least two types of Fantasy Baseball team owners in the audience. There was the one with a sore elbow from throwing Cheetos at the TV screen while the MLB highlights were being shown. And then there was the one with a partial tear of the rotator cuff from patting himself on the back. April can be a cruel month for Fantasy aficionados, as your players are either in the penthouse or the outhouse with 1/6 of the season in the books.

 

In the 1927 version of “The Jazz Singer”, Al Jolson told us that April showers bring the flowers that bloom in May. For the position players on your Fantasy team, April success or failure will probably bring regression to the mean in May…or June…or July. If you’d like to have a sneak preview of what the immediate future holds for these hitters, maybe studying BABIP would be of assistance.

 

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) measures how many of a batter’s balls in play go for hits. The formula is (Hits-Home Runs) / (At Bats – Strikeouts – Home Runs + Sac Flies) The average BABIP for hitters is in the range of .290 to .310. Players that deviate from that average to an extreme are usually due for a regression. Don’t be confused into thinking that “regression” is a negative term. When discussing statistics, a move from .400 to .300 is a regression but so is a move from .200 to .300. Another important factor is a player’s individual BABIP over a large statistical sample. Fast base runners who hit more groundballs will have a higher BABIP…Ichiro’s lifetime number is .338. Flyball hitters create the other end of the spectrum…Joey Gallo’s lifetime number is .257.

 

Obviously, BABIP can have a direct impact on a hitter’s batting average (BA). If a player has an extremely high or low BABIP early in the season, it means that whether it is good defense, bad luck, cold weather or a slight change in skills, there is high probability that the player will regress back to their career BABIP figure. With the help of charts from FanGraphs.com, let’s look at some of the early-season results (through May 4th) on both sides of the equation.

 

Top 12

 

1) J. D. Martinez, Red Sox OF/DH .434 – This has led to his .342 BA and lots of production, however, his lifetime BABIP over 7+ seasons is .344.

 

2) Dee Gordon, Mariners OF OF .415 – He’s doing just what Seattle hoped by batting lead-off and being a catalyst…this type of hitter usually has a high BAPIP but he may trend toward his lifetime number of .348.

 

3) Yoan Moncada, White Sox 2B .407 – This shouldn’t be a big surprise if you recall that his exit velocity is one of the highest in baseball…not enough of a track record at this point.

 

4) Jorge Soler, Royals OF .406 – If he’s on your Fantasy roster and you’re excited about his .309 BA, you might want to temper those expectations moving forward.

 

5) Jed Lowrie, A’s 2B .402 – If you’ve been wondering how a 34 year-old veteran can have the best month of his career, this is part of the answer…his lifetime figure in over 3,500 AB’s is .298.

 

6) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF .400 – This isn’t really that much of an outlier…his number as Rookie of the Year in ’17 was .357.

 

7) Mallex Smith, Rays OF .400 – With his speed, he’ll have a good number (maybe .340) but this stat isn’t sustainable.

 

8) Daniel Robertson, Rays 2B .396 – Who? Are we really sure which Daniel Robertson this is? Last season in 212 AB’s, his BAPIP was .282.

 

9) Tommy Pham, Cardinal’s OF .391 – In case you thought last year’s break-out was smoke & mirrors, think again…the 2017 number was .368.

 

10) Ryan Flahery, Braves 3B .391 – Every year, there’s a player like this early in the season. Even the Braves don’t believe it, as they’ve already handed his job to Jose Bautista.

 

11) Rhys Hoskins, Phillies OF .391 – This number is 150 points higher than his amazing 2017…maybe somewhere in the middle is reality.

 

12) Dansby Swanson, Braves SS .388 – His Fantasy owners have been encouraged, but don’t lose sight of last year’s figure that finished at .292.

 

 

Bottom 12

 

174) Carlos Santana, Phillies 1B .169 – If you’re wondering why a hitter might have a BA that is 80 points below his lifetime number, this could be part of the reason.

 

173) Aledmys Diaz, Blue Jays SS .173 – Batting .210 but has 6 HR’s in 100 AB’s…there might be some upside for 2018.

 

172) Adam Duvall, Reds OF .176 – The power is still there (5 HR’s) and last year’s BABIP was .290, so this should get better.

 

171) Dexter Fowler, Cardinals OF .176 – Too much of a track record for this to be real…his lifetime number in 11+ seasons is .334.

 

170) Anthony Rizzo, Cubs 1B .179 – A slow start and a DL stint has his Fantasy owners in a snit…this might be a reason not to panic.

 

 

169) Gary Sanchez, Yankees C .194 – 9 HR’s & 28 RBI’s with this number? Imagine the results when he starts tending toward 2017’s figure of .304.

 

168) Matt Carpenter, Cardinals IF .197 – Watch for significant improvement, as his lifetime number is .318.

 

167) Logan Morrison, Twins 1B .197 – Maybe some improvement but his lifetime number is only .270.

 

166) Yonder Alonso, Indians 1B .198 – The poster-child for launch angle, he’s off to his usual slow start…he has 8 HR’s & 21 RBI’s, so when he begins creeping back toward a .300 BABIP, the results will be worthwhile.

 

165) Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals 1B .203 – Still has top-rated exit velocity, so don’t write him off just yet…his BABIP last year was .335.

 

164) Ian Desmond, Rockies 1B/OF .208 – The good news is his .325 lifetime number…the bad news is that in today’s baseball environment, some age-32 players start to slip.

 

163) Edwin Encarnacion, Indians DH .208 – A smart Fantasy player would have traded for this slugger in April…he’s already started to come around with 9 HR’s.

 

What’s interesting are the results since these profiles were written on Sunday, May 6th.

 

> Santana has thirteen (13) RBI’s in four games.

 

> Duvall had a walk-off HR on Wednesday.

 

> Rizzo had three extra-base hits and 5 RBI’s on Wednesday.

 

> Desmond hit two (2) HR’s on Sunday.

 

The highest lifetime BABIP in the live-ball era? Ty Cobb & Rogers Hornsby both come in with a figure of .369.