The Best Hitters Of 2018

Trout Auto

50+ years ago, if a baseball fan was asked who the best hitters were, the only significant resource would have been the sports section of the Sunday newspaper. Somewhere in the back pages, there was a long, slender list in very small type showing all current major league players. And those players were ranked by their BA (Batting Average) because that had historically been the benchmark for position players.


Looking back at 1966, we find that the top five BA’s belonged to Matty Alou (.342), Manny Mota (.332), Felipe Alou (.327), Rico Carty (.326) & Dick Allen (.317). Fine players all, but were they the five best hitters in baseball? Not when you consider that the two MVP winners (Roberto Clemente and Frank Robinson) finished 6th & 7th. Matty Alou, for example, had 2 HR’s & 27 RBI’s in 535 AB’s. Even OBP (On-Base Percentage) would have been a better gauge, as the top five were Ron Santo (.412), Joe Morgan (.410), Robinson (.410), Allen (.396) & Al Kaline (.392).


As modern baseball analytics have evolved, one of the most accepted statistics has become OPS (On-Base % + Slugging %). Not only does it prioritize getting on base, it also adds the concept of moving more runners around the bases. After all, Slugging Percentage is defined as Total Bases /At Bats. Old school fans might question the veracity of the stat but baseball history tells the tale. The five highest lifetime OPS numbers belong to Babe Ruth (1.16), Ted Williams (1.12), Lou Gehrig (1.08), Barry Bonds (1.05) & Jimmie Foxx (1.04). There are only two other hitters with a number over 1.00… Hank Greenberg and Rogers Hornsby.


With Spring Training around the corner, here’s one Duck’s opinion on the top (baker’s) dozen hitters for 2018 based on their projected OPS from a highly respected Fantasy website…


1) Mike Trout, Angels OF, 1.025 OPS – 20 years from now, people will be describing his career as “once in a generation”. His consistency and still youthful age (26) makes him the consensus #1 hitter in Fantasy drafts. His 2017 figure was the best in the game at 1.071



2) Joey Votto, Reds 1B, 1.009 OPS – Still gets criticized for his plate discipline and will probably lead all of baseball in Walks (100+). Like Ted Williams, he won’t expand the strike zone to satisfy writers and broadcasters. Even at 34, he shows no signs of slowing down as he led the NL last season at 1.032


3) Giancarlo Stanton, Yankees OF, .985 OPS – A healthy season fulfilled the expectations with 59 HR’s and a 1.007 OPS. Still in his 20’s, the Bronx Bombers will love him.


4) Bryce Harper, Nationals OF, .962 OPS – Was on his way to a spectacular season in ’17 when he got injured. In 111 games, he had 29 HR’s, 87 RBI’s and a 1.008 OPS. He’s 25 and will be a free agent next year.


5) J.D. Martinez, Red Sox OF, .958 OPS – Tough to go out on a limb for someone who has only played more than 123 games once, but his 1.066 number in ’17 shows the potential.


6) Freddie Freeman, Braves 1B, .955 OPS – His age 27 season in 2017 produced a career-high .989 OPS, so it appears that his performance has reached another level.


7) Charlie Blackmon, Rockies OF, .947 OPS – Finished at 1.000 last season and led the NL in Hits, Triples, Runs & Total Bases.


8) Paul Goldschmidt, D’Backs 1B, .944 OPS – Incredibly consistent performer in the batter’s box and won his 3rd Gold Glove in 2017. Oh, by the way, he also swiped a total of over 70 bases the last three seasons. New action movie…”Goldy vs. the Humidor”.


9) Nolan Arenado, Rockies 3B, .942 OPS – Yes, some of the stats are fueled by altitude, but he won’t turn 27 until after opening day and had a .886 OPS on the road last season.


10) Aaron Judge, Yankees OF, .927 OPS – Can he repeat the breakout season? Hit 33 of his 52 HR’s at Yankee Stadium and led the AL in both Strikeouts & Walks.


11) Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays 3B, .926 OPS – Even geniuses like Billy Beane sometimes make mistakes…33 HR’s in 113 Games



12) Kris Bryant, Cubs 3B, .918 OPS – Rookie of the Year in ’15, MVP in ’16 and some thought ’17 was a disappointment. His OPS the last three years? .858, .939 & .946


13) Jose Altuve, Astros 2B, .908 OPS – The AL MVP had his best season. He has four consecutive 200 Hit campaigns and doesn’t turn 28 until May.


Did your favorite player get left off the list? The next five are all over .885…Wilson Contreras, Daniel Murphy, Anthony Rizzo, Christian Yelich & Nelson Cruz.  Or maybe some youngsters take the next step? We’ll all be watching.



Rattling Your SABR Defensively

Arenado Glove

When it comes to baseball, there are casual fans, hometown fans, old-school fans, know-it-all fans, rabid fans and people like me. I’m a 365 day-a-year fan who enjoys all the nuances of the actual game as well as all the minutia of the hot stove season. A day doesn’t go bye when I don’t check the transactions or think about free agent signings or muse about the topic of my next blog. And, I’m not at all apologetic about my passion for the game because it has been a wonderful distraction in my life. As a wise man once said, “Life is more worthwhile when you can be passionate about something trivial.”


For me, being a member of The Society of American Baseball Research (SABR) is a delightful extension of my fandom. The brilliant people who write for the Society always make me think and open my eyes to the endless history of this great game. So, when they recently published their “SABR Defensive Index” (SDI) for 2017, it got me thinking about how far we’ve come in the last thirty years in regards to judging defensive excellence on the field. For many years, I was a critic of the annual Gold Glove awards because they never seemed to based on reality, only reputation. The final straw was in 1999, when Rafael Palmiero only played 34 games at 1B (and 128 at DH) but still won the AL Gold Glove. Of course, he won it in ’97 & ’98, so he must still be the best 1B in the league, right?


Since then, researchers have created defensive metrics that quantify the performance of major league players on the field, so we’re getting closer to the truth. Currently, the SDI ratings are incorporated into the Rawlings Gold Glove selection process and account for about 25% of the results when added to the votes from managers and coaches. So, let’s look at the SDI results and how they compare to the actual Gold Glove winners for 2017. The SDI numbers represent defensive runs saved relative to the league average at the position.


> American League


* C – Martin Maldonado – If you wonder how valuable a .221 hitter can be to a team, look no further.  The Angels back-stop won the Gold Glove and his 14.1 rating was almost double that of the nearest competitor.


* 1B – Here’s where perception and reality refuse to meet. The best DFI was the Indians Carlos Santana with 6.7. Eric Hosmer of the Royals won the Gold Glove with a negative rating and 11 other AL 1B finished ahead of him.


* 2B – Ian Kinsler of the Tigers had the best mark with 5.8 but the second place finisher won the Gold Glove…Brian Dozier of the Twins.


* 3B – Evan Longoria’s 6.5 number was the best and he captured the Gold Glove…Todd Frazier & Kyle Seager were close behind.


* SS – Andrelton Simmons of the Angels won his 3rd Gold Glove at age 27 with an amazing rating of 18.8. Elvis Andrus was a distant 2nd with 10.1.


* LF – Alex Gordon’s offensive woes didn’t impact his defense as he won his 5th Gold Glove with a 11.1 rating. Brett Gardner was close at 10.8.


* CF – In a league filled with quality CF’s, the Twins Byron Buxton stood out with an incredible 20.0 rating and the Gold Glove. Lorenzo Cain’s 10.1 was next best.


* RF – Mookie Betts of the Red Sox won his second consecutive Gold Glove by posting a number of  22.0. No other RF was over 9.


> National League


* C – Austin Hedges and Tucker Barnhart had almost identical ratings (10.7 & 10.4)…Barnhart came away with the award.


* 1B – Brandon Belt had the best results at 10.7 but Paul Goldschmidt was a close 2nd and won his 3rd Gold Glove.


* 2B – DJ LeMahieu nearly lapped the field with his number of 10.2 and the Gold Glove is in his trophy case. Joe Panik won the leather in ’16 but dropped to the bottom of the list in ’17.


* 3B – Nolan Arenado – Five seasons into his career and five Gold Gloves, this time with a rating of 11.0. David Freese was a close second at 9.5.


* SS – Addison Russell has been consistently excellent and topped the list with a 8.3 number, but he lost out on the award, which went to Brandon Crawford for the 3rd straight year.


* LF – Marcell Ozuna will take his skills and a Gold Glove to St. Louis for 2018. He had the best rating at 6.5.


* CF – Ender Inciarte gave more credence as to why Dave Stewart should not have been a GM by winning the Gold Glove again. This was a very close competition as Michael Taylor & Manny Margot were right on his heels.


* RF – Jason Heyward was the best at his position with a 12.8 rating…a $184 Million investment should bring something. Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers was next with 9.5.


> In case you’re curious, here’s a list of the defensive players with the worst ratings…in other words their defense was “offensive”.


* AL – Brian McCann C…Yonder Alonso 1B…Starlin Castro 2B…Nick Castellanos 3B…Tim Anderson SS…Kris Davis LF…Adam Jones CF…Jose Bautista RF


* NL – Francisco Cervelli C…Tommy Joseph 1B…Joe Panik 2B…Jake Lamb 3B (a repeat “winner”)…Jose Reyes SS…Matt Kemp LF…Denard Span CF…Domingo Santana RF


What about Pitchers, you ask? Well, Marcus Stromen had the best rating in the AL and won the Gold Glove while in NL, Zack Greinke won his 4th straight award despite finishing only 8th in the ratings…R.A. Dickey was #1.


Don’t forget to take your glove to the ballpark.


A Minor Diversion

'88 Las Vegas Stars

The real difficulty is explaining how much fun it is to be a baseball junkie. For the uninitiated, the game holds endless facts and stories about teams, seasons, games, players and outcomes. The history of the game is what makes it all come together. Who could know that a young Pitcher named Babe Ruth would eventually set a record for hitting Home Runs? Who could imagine that a skinny High School basketball player would turn out to be a Hall of Famer named Sandy Koufax…and did you know that he was born Sanford Braun?


You can never run out of stories when it comes to our national pastime. I was reminded of this vividly when a collection of minor league baseball cards recently came across my desk. One of the team sets featured the 1988 Las Vegas Stars, the AAA affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The team finished the Pacific Coast League season with a record of 74-66 but as with all teams, there are 25 stories beneath the surface. Let’s take a look behind the curtain at the 25 individuals in this beautiful, black-bordered card set.


> #1, Joe Bitker P – The workhorse of the rotation, he pitched 178 innings with a 3.58 ERA and a record of 8-10…he was 11-9 the previous season for the Stars. He pitched briefly in the majors in 1990 & ’91, appearing in only 15 games. His lifetime big league record was 1-0…undefeated!


> #2, Keith Comstock P – A veteran at age 32, he was the Closer and had 5 Wins & 17 Saves. His career included two seasons in Japan and stints with four big league clubs. The left-hander had a lifetime major-league record of 10-7.


> #3, Greg Harris P – One of the Padres top prospects, he was 9-5 at age 24 and made his big league debut that September. Pitched in eight seasons as a major-leaguer with a lifetime record of 45-64 and a 3.98 ERA.


> #4, Joel McKeon P – Was 2-5 for the Stars with a 5.96 ERA. He had pitched for the White Sox in 1986 & ’87 but never made it back to the majors.


> #5, Pete Roberts P – Started 13 games and had a record of 4-6. Pitched three more years at the high levels of the minors but never made a big league appearance.


> #6, Todd Simmons P – Had a true “vulture” campaign as he pitched 54 games in relief and complied a record of 12-5. Completed one more minor league season and was out of baseball at age 25.


> #7, Ed Vosberg P – A very useful swing-man, he started 11 games and pitched another 34 in relief. Finished with a record of 11-7 and posted 2 Saves. His baseball career spanned from 1983-2007 and he pitched in 10 big league seasons before retiring at age 45. The prototypical situational left-hander, he won a total of 10 games in the majors and was part of the 1997 World Series champion Marlins.


> #8, Kevin Towers P – A familiar name that was recently in the news as he passed away at age 56 just last week. 1988 was essentially his last season as a player but he later became a famous front office executive. After starting as a scout for the Padres in 1990, he eventually became their GM, serving in that capacity from 1995-2009. From 2011-2014, he was the GM of the Diamondbacks.


> #9, Joe Lynch P – Was 6-6 with 8 Saves out of the bullpen and had an impressive 3.27 ERA. Pitched two more seasons for the Stars and retired at age 27.


> #10, Shane Mack OF – Got 267 AB’s with the Padres in 1987 and got back up to the big club again in ’88. His real MLB success came during his stint with the Twins from 1990-1994 where he hit over .300 in four of the five seasons. Played in Japan in 1995 & ’96 before coming back to the majors for a few more years. He was a lifetime .299 hitter with a .821 OPS in nine big-league campaigns.


> #11, Thomas Howard OF – Played with the Stars in both ’88 & ’89 before making his big-league debut with the Padres in 1990. Ended up with over 2,600 big league AB’s over 11 seasons. Also played for the Indians, Reds, Astros, Dodgers & Cardinals.


> #12, Jerald Clark OF – Hit .301 in 408 AB’s for the Stars. Ended up playing parts of seven seasons in “The Show” with a lifetime BA of .257. His Brother Phil played for three teams in the 90’s and hit .276.


> #13, Randy Byers OF – A .267 hitter in 100 games for the Stars, he only had 26 major league AB’s and was out of baseball before turning 24.


> #14, Bip Roberts 2B – Hit .353 with 29 SB’s and was on his way to the majors. One of the quickest players in the NL during the early 90’s, he had 46 SB’s for the Padres in ’90 and 44 for the Reds in ’92. Leon (his real name) played 12 years with over 1,200 Hits and a .294 BA. Made over $17 Million during his big league career.


> #15, Brad Pounders 1B – A productive bat in ’88 with 14 HR’s & 74 RBI’s but it was his last professional season at age 24. His Son Brooks did make the major leagues and pitched for the Royals in 2016 and the Angels in ’17.


> #16, Rob Nelson 1B – The power hitter in the middle of the line-up for the Stars, he hit 23 HR’s with 77 RBI’s in 388 AB’s. Ended up with only 152 major league AB’s and hit .178.


> #17, Gary Green SS – Had over 300 AB’s and didn’t hit a HR. Eventually accumulated 180 AB’s in the big leagues and didn’t hit a homer there either. His Dad Fred pitched in the majors during the early 60’s and was a member of the 1960 World Series champion Pirates.


> #18, Joey Cora 2B – This diminutive infielder hit .296 for the Stars and only struck out 19 times in 460 AB’s. Spent 11 years in the majors and had over 1,000 Hits with a .277 lifetime BA. His Brother Alex played 14 seasons and is the new Manager of the Red Sox.


> #19, Mike Brumley SS – Hit .315 and swiped 41 bases for the Stars. A switch-hitter, he played parts of eight seasons in the majors before retiring in 1996. His Dad (also named Mike) was a Catcher for the Washington Senators from 1964-66.


> #20, Roberto Alomar, SS/2B – Even though he was only 20 years old, the talent level was obvious and he got called up to the Padres after only nine games in Las Vegas. His rookie season gave a glimpse of what was to come with a .709 OPS & 24 SB’s. One of the best fielding 2B in the history of the game (he won 10 Gold Gloves), he was inducted into Cooperstown in 2011. His Dad & Brother (both named Sandy) were also major leaguers.


> #21, Bruce Bochy C – At the other end of the spectrum from the young players, this was his last season as an active player after playing parts of nine years in the majors. The epitome of a back-up Catcher, his lifetime BA was .239. He managed in the minor leagues for the next four years and became the skipper of the Padres in 1995 and stayed for 12 years including a World Series appearance in 1998. In 2007, he took over the helm with the Giants and three world championships later, he is one of the most respected leaders in the game. After 22 seasons and almost 1,800 Wins, he may be on track to Cooperstown someday.


> #22, Sandy Alomar, Jr. C – A .297 BA with 16 HR’s put him on the radar at age 22. Became the starting Catcher for the Indians in 1990 and made six All-Star teams in his career.


> #23, Tom Brassil IF – This was his 7th minor league season and despite hitting .311, he called it quits at age 28.


> #24, Steve Smith Manager – A minor league infielder form 1976-82, he never made the majors. He managed in the minors for 12 years, half of them at the AAA level.


> #25, Sonny Siebert Coach – An outstanding major-league Pitcher in the 60’s & 70’s, he won 130 big league games with a lifetime ERA of 3.21. Won 16 games three times and made two AL All-Star teams.


Lots of baseball history from a minor-league team that played 30 years ago. One, and possibly two, Hall of Famers, multiple All-Stars and some baseball heritage of families that played the game. If you think this team is the exception to the rule, think about this…we could have chosen the 1988 Richmond Braves and talked about the cards of John Smoltz, David Justice, Lonnie Smith, Jeff Blauser & Leo Mazzone.


As always, the history of the game is what makes it all come together.



Watch Your P’s & Q’s And Those MLE’s


For baseball fans and especially for Fantasy players, prospects are a passion and a plight. This time of year, we scour lists from Baseball America,, magazine annuals and numerous websites that claim to have that crystal ball. The reality is that each season’s top 100 list includes a logjam of bums who will never make an impact on your team or their MLB employer. Do the names Rick Ankiel, Paul Wilson, Brandon Wood, Joba Chamberlain & Jesus Montero sound familiar? They should because over the last 20 years, they’ve each been one of the top three prospects in baseball.


In our ongoing quest to find talent, we look at pedigree (in terms of draft position or contract), athleticism, roster opportunity, scouting reports and statistics. One of those statistics should be Major League Equivalents (MLE’s). Originally outlined in 1985 by Bill James, the concept is to evaluate minor league statistics and create a reasonable expectation of how they would correlate to major league performance. A number of analytic sites have formulas in place to determine these outcomes and while no one statistic is carved in granite, it’s another item for your prognostication toolbox.


Looking back at some of the surprising players from 2017, it’s interesting to see what their MLE’s looked like from 2016. It’s a reasonable guess that some of these guys weren’t highly valued in your Fantasy Draft last Spring, but they turned out to be the kind of bargains that help win leagues…


> Albert Almora, Cubs OF – Buried behind lots of more-hyped prospects, his ’16 MLE’s showed the possibility of a .270+ BA at the major league level. Of course, platooning helped, but a .298 BA and 8 HR’s in 299 AB’s was a positive contribution.


> Josh Bell, Pirates 1B – Experts were somewhat skeptical about his impact, but the ’16 MLE’s showed a .270 BA and double-digit HR’s. 26 HR’s and a .255 BA for the big club in ’17 shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise.


> Alex Bregman, Astros 3B – Success was expected after his debut in ’16 but check out these numbers…’16 MLE’s projected a .274 BA with 17 HR’s and the MLB ’17 performance was .284 with 19.


> Matt Chapman, A’s 3B – His ’16 MLE’s predicted a low BA but some significant power. In 290 AB’s for the Athletics, he hit .234 with 14 HR’s.


> Mitch Hanger, Mariners OF – The ’16 MLE’s showed a .270+ BA with 19 HR’s & 9 SB’s. Despite being limited to 369 MLB AB’s due to injury, his line in ’17 was .282, 16 & 5.


> Rhys Hoskins, Phillies 1B/OF – Almost unknown a year ago, he burst on the scene last August with record-setting power. Guess what? His ’16 MLE’s from AA equated to 34 HR’s.


> Manny Margot, Padres OF – At AAA in ’16, his MLE’s were a .258 BA with 21 SB’s. His rookie season in San Diego had real numbers of .261 & 19.


> Hunter Renfroe, Padres OF – Also at AAA in ’16, the equivalent was a .248 BA & 21 HR’s. His ’17 numbers with the parent club were .231 & 26.


> Bradley Zimmer, Indians OF – His ’16 MLE’s predicted a .229 BA with double digit HR’s and a bunch of steals. In 299 AB’s for Cleveland in ’17, he hit .241 with 8 HR’s & 18 SB’s.


Some of these guys might have been had at single-digit prices in an auction or late round picks in a snake? Of course, we’re not reviewing the opposite end of the spectrum, but MLE research can be another stat to consider. As we head toward the 2018 season, let’s look at some top prospects with solid MLE’s along with a few that might be flying under the radar. The number represents where they are on the current top 100 prospect list.


> Miguel Andujar, Yankees 3B (#65) – Only 22, he’s a potential .300 hitter with power.


> Jake Bauers, Rays 1B/OF (#64) – Also 22, his BA needs work (.245) but double digit HR’s & SB’s are part of the profile.


> Bobby Bradley, Indians 1B (NA) – The #3 prospect for the Tribe, he 20 projected HR’s at AA and he’s only 21.


> Lewis Brinson, Marlins OF (#27) – Should play everyday in Miami and his MLE’s show a .284 BA with power & speed.


> Willie Calhoun, Rangers OF (#53) – Built like a fire-hydrant, he projected 24 HR’s at AAA. If he’s in the line-up at that ballpark, the ball could fly.


> Thairo Estrada, Yankees SS (NA) – Added to the 40-man roster in November, he hit well at age 21 in AA.


> Dustin Fowler, Athletics OF (NA) – #8 on their organizational list, The A’s are hoping he’ll be ready for Spring after a horrific leg injury. His ’17 MLE’s at AAA included a .273 BA with double digit HR’s & SB’s.


> Zach Granite, Twins OF (NA) – A .315 comp BA at AAA with SB potential.


> Danny Jansen, Blue Jays C (NA) – Hit an equivalent.295 in the low minors at age 22 and is the #15 prospect in the system…we’re always looking for Catchers with decent BA.


> Ryan McMahon, Rockies 1B (#41) – A spot might be open and his MLE’s are .340 BA with power.


> Jurickson Profar, Rangers IF (NA) – Once the top prospect in baseball, now forgotten at age 24. At AAA in ’17, he had a 9% walk rate and a 89% contact rate…maybe a fresh start somewhere?


> Luis Urias, Padres SS (#36) – If you love players who put the ball in play, here’s your guy…a .294 comp hitter with a 13% walk rate at AA…at age 20!


Hope you find a few sleepers for your squad.






The Cincinnati Kid

Votto Debut

No, not the 1965 movie where Steve McQueen loses that last poker hand to Edward G. Robinson after rolling around with both Ann-Margret and Tuesday Weld. This is the nickname for Reds 1B Joey Votto that should replace “Votto-matic”. The logic is the connection between the current star and the original “Kid”, Ted Williams.


In 1938, Williams honed his batting philosophy under the tutelage of Rogers Hornsby at the Spring camp for the Minneapolis Millers. The 19 year-old phenom soaked up everything “Raj” had to say, especially the idea to “get a good ball to hit”. That became Ted’s personal quest and he decided that a walk could be as a good as a hit and that getting on base helped your team in the long run. His SABRmetric approach at the plate also created the impression with both Pitchers and Umpires that if he didn’t swing at a pitch, it couldn’t be a strike. In his first two seasons in a Red Sox uniform, he would often be put in the position of defending his hitting to the members of the Boston press. There was even a profanity-laced tirade in the locker room toward one of the writers who criticized him taking a base-on-balls when there was a runner in scoring position. By 1941, when Ted hit .406, even the scribes came to realize that he was the best hitter in baseball and they moved on to find other topics of aggravation.


In the evolving debate between stats and scouting, Joey Votto seems to be a lightning rod at the center. A few years ago, Reds broadcaster Marty Brennaman took the old school position when he said, “Votto will take a 3-0 pitch an inch off the outside, when he could do some damage. I believe in expanding the strike zone when you have guys on base”. The fact that Votto had only 73 RBI’s in 581 AB’s for 2013 and 80 RBI’s in 545 AB’s in 2015 drove people like Brennaman crazy. In 2013, Reds 2B Brandon Phillips had 103 RBI’s in 606 AB’s, but many of those were accumulated because Votto was getting on base in front of him. In 2015, Todd Frazier was the recipient with 89 RBI’s in 609 AB’s. So, the scout half of the debate will criticize Phillips (and his .310 OBP) and Frazier (.309 OBP) for not being more like Votto after criticizing Votto for not being more like Phillips & Frazier. The other thing Brennaman has in common with those Boston newspapermen from 70+ years ago is that he’s never stepped into a big league batter’s box and tried to hit a 95-mph fastball.


Fortunately for the Reds organization and their fans, Votto doesn’t care about the negative comments. With a contract that extends until 2023, he isn’t focused on personal stats, only on the team’s success. In 2017, the Reds won only 68 games, but Votto took his game to an even more elite level. In 559 AB’s, he hit .320 and led the league in both OBP (.454) & OPS (1.032). Oh, and he added 100 RBI’s.


From a stat guy’s perspective, Joey Votto might be the most under-rated player in baseball. His performance over the first ten years of his career is on a secure historical path. In terms of old-school stats, it looks really good. A lifetime BA of .313, OBP of .428 and a slugging percentage of .541 with an average of 25+ HR’s & 80+ RBI’s despite missing parts of two seasons with injuries. When you start to break down the SABRmetrics, it looks even better.


OPS (On-Base & Slugging) is a relatively new stat that is widely accepted in the baseball community as a benchmark for offensive excellence. Votto’s career number is .969, which is 15th best of all-time, ahead of Jim Thome, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Mel Ott, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays & Hank Aaron. An even newer stat is OPS+, which actually adjusts for the offense produced in the league each year and the ballparks. With the baseline being 100, Votto’s career OPS+ is 158, which puts tied for 16th place all-time, ahead of Frank Thomas, Joe DiMaggio, Frank Robinson, Albert Pujols & Miguel Cabrera.


WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a single number that presents the number of wins a player added to the team above a replacement level player. Since joining the Reds in 2007, Votto has accumulated a number of 54.8 at age 33. Four or five additional seasons at this level would put him ahead of Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and numerous other Hall-of-Famers on the all-time list. He’s already ahead of Reds Hall of Fame 1B Tony Perez.


“Win Shares” is a Bill James contribution that relates a player’s individual statistics to the number of wins he contributed to the team. Generally, 30 or more Win Shares indicates an MVP-caliber season. Votto’s average for his last seven full seasons is 31.7.


“Runs Created” is an additional category now being examined by analysts and Votto’s number of 155 in 2017 was better than Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton & Jose Altuve.


Another fairly recent analytic is “Offensive Win %”. That gauges the percentages of games a team would win with nine of this player batting…assuming average pitching and defense. The two best in 2017 were Mike Trout (.817) and Joey Votto (.797). 129 Wins in a 162 season would probably get your squad into the post-season.


As for the “Old School” opinion versus the “Stat Guy” analysis, the debate will continue and it is always interesting. One school of thought from baseball writer Paul Daugherty is that if Votto batted second in the line-up, there would be no discussion because both sides would agree that he’s the best two-hole hitter in the game. However, as long as he’s batting third, the old school fan will say, “he’s not paid to walk”. Just for the record, Ted Williams hit third.


Clyde McPhatter & Barrett Strong

McPhatter Money

For those of you under a certain age, the answer is no, these aren’t two sleeper prospects for your 2018 Fantasy Baseball roster. In 1953, Clyde McPhatter was the lead singer of the Drifters when they recorded “Money Honey” (later covered by Elvis Presley). Not to be confused with the Lady Gaga song, it’s lyrics include…


Well, I learned my lesson and now I know–


The sun may shine and the wind may blow–


Women may come, and the women may go,


But before I say I love ’em so,


I want–money, honey!


Money, honey


Money, honey,


If you wanna get along with me.


The fledgling Motown Records was provided with important capital when Barrett Strong hit the charts in 1960 with “Money, That’s What I Want” (later covered by the Beatles).


The best things in life are free–


But you can keep ’em for the birds and bees,

Now give me money, (that’s what I want), that’s what I want.


As this off-season seems to be slow for free agent signings and there are even whispers of collusion, a look at the landscape tells you that clubs are wary of long-term deals. Five free agents have signed contracts that some may feel are slightly above market…Carlos Santana ($20 Million), Wade Davis ($17 Million), Tyler Chatwood ($13 Million), Zack Cozart ($13 Million) & Jay Bruce ($13 Million). The one thing in common, however, is that they are all 3-year deals. So, let’s give you an opportunity to once again be a General Manager. Based on some minimal research, it appears that there are about 20 current major league players who are already under contract to make at least $15 Million for the 2021 season. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to determine which of these players you would really want on your roster in 2021 at these prices. The figures represent the average salary of a long-term deal. The player’s age for that season is listed to help with your analysis. As you read the names and think, “This guy is on the downside of his career”, remember that three more full seasons need to be played before these salaries come due. And when you wonder why the 2018 market seems soft, this history may certainly be a factor.



> Zach Greinke, age 37, $34.4 Million


> David Price, age 35, $31 Million


> Max Scherzer, age 36, $30 Million


> Miguel Cabrera, age 38, $29.2 Million


> Stephen Strasburg, age 32, $25 Million


> Giancarlo Stanton, age 31, $25 Million


> Albert Pujols, age 41, $24 Million


> Robinson Cano, age 38, $24 Million


> Chris Davis, age 35, $23 Million


> Jason Heyward, age 31, $23 Million


> Joey Votto, age 37, $22.5 Million


> Justin Upton, age 33, $22.1 Million


> Johnny Cueto, age 35, $21.7 Million


> Buster Posey, age 34, $18.6 Million


> Aroldis Chapman, age 33, $17.2 Million


Also above the $15 Million threshold are Freddie Freeman, Dexter Fowler, Kenley Jansen & Elvis Andrus.


OK, GM…how many of these paupers are on your team in 2021? More than five? Of course, it’s an easier commitment when you don’t have to write the check. One of the other key considerations (if you’re still the GM three years from now) is how your budget will look in January of 2021. Why? Because the following players will be free agents at that time…


> Clayton Kershaw, 2020 salary of $35.5 Million


> Mike Trout, 2020 salary of $34.1 Million


> Yoenis Cespedes, 2020 salary of $29.5 Million


> Masahiro Tanaka, 2020 salary of $23 Million


> Justin Verlander, 2020 salary of $22 Million


> Justin Turner, 2020 salary of $20 Million


> Jon Lester, 2020 salary of $20 Million


> Jeff Samardzija, 2020 salary of $19.8 Million


Others available include Yadier Molina, Edwin Encarnacion, Ryan Zimmerman, Jay Bruce, Matt Carpenter & Jason Kipnis. Would you rather have the money to spend on the free agent class?


Wow, this is almost as difficult as owning a Fantasy team. My dilemma in March is deciding how many contract years to extend Corey Seager.






Watch For The Dips

'17 Scherzer

For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.


If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.


In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to determine a pitcher’s skill based on those three factors and once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB’s run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.


The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the DIPS numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 20+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at DIPS results for 2017 reveals the following tidbits.


> For the season, only eight (8) major league starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, while just four (4) had a DIPS under the same threshold. The members of the exclusive club that land on both lists are Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg & Max Scherzer.


> Let’s look at the other four sub-3.00 ERA hurlers and see how their performance matched up when teammates were taken out of the equation. Clayton Kershaw’s DIPS number of 3.02 was significantly higher than his 2.31 ERA (2nd best overall). Could it be that his season wasn’t quite as good as it looked on the surface? Luis Severino’s 3.06 DIPS number was very close to his actual 2.98 ERA, so that performance looks solid. The other two posted numbers that make you think twice on their Fantasy (and real-world) value. Gio Gonzalez had a DIPS figure (3.87) almost a run higher than his ERA (2.96) and Robbie Ray was in a similar category with a DIPS number of 3.59 compared to a 2.89 ERA. While these are certainly two very good Pitchers, the question is, are they as good as they seemed in 2017?


> So, if you’re a Fantasy owner or a real-world GM, how can these new statistics help your cause? Let’s start with free agent SP’s still on the market (as 1/7)…


* Yu Darvish, 3.86 ERA / 3.73 DIPS – Looking for a six-year deal?

* Jake Arrieta, 3.53 ERA / 4.04 DIPS – In his 30’s looking for a nine-figure contract?

* Lance Lynn, 3.43 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Is this worth four years and $50-$60 Million?

* Alex Cobb, 3.66 ERA / 4.12 DIPS – A contract similar to Lynn’s?

* Andrew Cashner, 3.40 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Should be represented by Penn & Teller because this is smoke & mirrors.


> What other rotation members might be slightly over-rated or over-priced? In other words, you might want to temper your expectations.


* Drew Pomeranz, 3.32 ERA / 3.82 DIPS

* Marcus Stromen, 3.09 ERA / 3.90 DIPS

* Sonny Gray, 3.55 ERA / 3.86 DIPS

* Zach Davies, 3.90 ERA / 4.19 DIPS


> How about the hurlers who might have had some bad luck in 2017?


* Chris Archer, 4.05 ERA / 3.34 DIPS

* Jeff Samardzija, 4.42 ERA / 3.52 DIPS

* Jose Quintana, 4.15 ERA / 3.57 DIPS

* Michael Wacha, 4.13 ERA / 3.58 DIPS

* Jon Lester, 4.33 ERA / 3.97 DIPS

* Tanner Roark, 4.67 ERA / 4.00 DIPS


> And, of course, every team wants stability on their staff.


* Aaron Nola, 3.54 ERA / 3.23 DIPS

* Zack Greinke, 3.20 ERA / 3.27 DIPS

* Jacob DeGrom, 3.53 ERA / 3.36 DIPS

* Michael Fullmer 3.83 ERA / 3.70 DIPS

* Carlos Martinez, 3.64 ERA / 3.81 DIPS


You’ll notice that Win-Loss records aren’t part of this analysis. Fantasy players have long understood the cruel category of “Wins” but the real game has begun to catch up. With starting pitchers going less innings and teams spending $8 Million on middle relievers, the concept of a 20-game winner is a thing of the past. In 2017, no big-league Pitcher even won 19 games…Yu Darvish won 10 games! MLB teams are no longer concerned with starters going deep into games because they’ve got lock-down guys in the bullpen. What they want is quality innings.


> Who’s the worst when it comes to DIPS? 2017’s bottom five are Jeremy Hellickson (5.64), Jose Urena (5.11), John Lackey (5.06), Ricky Nolasco (4.89) & Julio Teheran (4.81).


As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe DIPS has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my DIPS”.