Toronto's postseason blueprint.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Toronto Blue Jays are in last place. But it's not as bad as it sounds. In a suddenly soft American League East, they're only 2½ games out of first place. So while the team is not off to the fast start that it would like -- and it comes in at No. 23 in ESPN's latest power rankings -- there is still time for the club to get things together and make a run.
They just need to make some adjustments. Here are four that could make the difference:
1. Find a better solution at second base
Ryan Goins was clearly not the man for the job. His .150/.203/.217 line earned him a demotion to Triple-A, and while the bad luck that comes with his .167 batting average on balls in play bears some of the brunt for his poor stat line, there is nothing in his track record that suggests he is a long-term solution.
Chris Getz has put together a nice line in his 15 plate appearances since being given the job, but given his history -- a career .252/.311/.310 line -- that is extremely unlikely to continue. The team overall has a 65 wRC+ at second base, which ranks 24th in the majors. There are a few directions that the Jays could go to find an improvement.
This weekend, they tried playing Brett Lawrie at second and Juan Francisco at third, but this is a bad idea long term. Lawrie is a plus third baseman, but he didn't grade out very well in his limited time at second base last season, and Francisco has been a below-average defender at third base throughout his career as well.
So where do they look? The Cubs are already out of the mix this season, and they have two competent middle infielders on their team in Emilio Bonifacio and Luis Valbuena. Blue Jays fans are familiar with Bonifacio, as he spent much of last season in Toronto. He didn't hit very well during his time with the Jays, so they discarded him, but he has hit much better in Chicago. Even if he hits the same as his first stint with the Jays, it'd be better than what they're getting. In any event, both should be available.
Nationals second baseman Danny Espinosa is someone who might be a little harder to acquire, especially while Ryan Zimmerman remains on the shelf, but he would represent a big upgrade as well. Perhaps the most intriguing option is one Rickie Weeks. He has clearly fallen out of favor in Milwaukee, and his performance has suffered in a part-time role. And perhaps there is a good reason for that. Perhaps Weeks is done. But the guess here is that it wouldn't cost a lot to find out, and sometimes a change of scenery can be beneficial.
2. Colby Rasmus needs a platoon partner
It's not a secret that Rasmus isn't a very good hitter against left-handed pitching. But the Jays have been reticent to replace him in the lineup against southpaws this season -- only four players on the team have hit more against lefties than Rasmus has -- and they've suffered because of it. His 2014 .190/.261/.381 line against them is not that much different from his career .215/.285/.358 line against them. That's deep enough into a six-year major league career to say that Rasmus probably isn't going to get better.
[+] EnlargeMarcus Stroman
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
Marcus Stroman posted a 1.69 ERA with 36 K's in 26 2/3 Triple-A innings before getting called up Sunday.
Bonifacio would also be a fit here, though a better fit would be A.J. Pollock. When Mark Trumbo returns to good health, the Diamondbacks will have more outfielders than they can play, and Pollock has a career 112 wRC+ against lefties. That would be a 36 percent upgrade over Rasmus, and Pollock plays fantastic defense as well. Other trade options could include Alejandro De Aza and John Mayberry, though Mayberry is not an ideal fit defensively.
3. Put Marcus Stroman in the rotation
The team promoted Stroman on Sunday, though it will apparently use him out of the bullpen for the time being. The team is in a bit of a pickle. On the one hand, they have five starting pitchers in R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Drew Hutchison, J.A. Happ and Dustin McGowan available to pitch. In addition, the bullpen has been a tire fire -- only three teams' bullpens have a worse ERA-minus.
Therefore, it's understandable that the team would want Stroman in the pen. On the other hand, Keith Law had Stroman ranked as MLB's No. 58 overall prospect entering the year. Stroman ravaged Triple-A hitters and he just may have the best fastball of any prospect in the game. Stroman can do the most good in the rotation.
Happ has never been worth more than 1.7 WAR in any season, and if the way he has started this season is any indication -- he has more walks than strikeouts -- he isn't going to top that this year. He is not a pitcher who should stand in Stroman's way, and despite his fortitude, McGowan really shouldn't, either.
4. Make some changes in the pen
The team desperately needs closer Casey Janssen (lower back strain) back in the fold. He has been on the disabled list since the beginning of the season, but is expected back during May. Sergio Santos isn't as bad as he has pitched; while he has a 10.61 ERA, he has a 3.50 xFIP, so things should get better for him, too.
But aside from some stellar work from Brett Cecil, this is a bullpen in peril. Neil Wagner, Todd Redmond, Aaron Loup, Steve Delabar and Chad Jenkins are all striking out batters at a below-average level, and aside from Delabar, they don't figure to change their stripes any time soon.
As a result, the difference between their strikeout rate and walk rate (K-rate minus BB-rate) ranks just 21st. In fact, the team is so desperate for solutions in the bullpen that they are now carrying 13 pitchers, which is sub-optimal. Simply put, the team has a lot of replacement-level filler in its pen. Getting Janssen back will be huge, but it won't be enough. Whether the solutions comes internally -- the team could bring up the less-heralded Sean Nolin, Liam Hendriks or Kyle Drabek in relief roles -- or externally, the team needs to be more aggressive.
Putting Stroman in the pen is presumably a measure to improve the team's relief efforts, but he is far too talented to be used as a reliever, particularly when he might be as talented as any starter in the organization.
The Blue Jays are by no means out of the race, but for the most part, the team just pressed the reset button after a lost 2013 season, and that simply isn't cutting it.
Rockies are a true contender.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It has been a long seven years for the Colorado Rockies since their incredible run to the 2007 World Series, which featured a stretch of 21 wins out of 22 games and consecutive sweeps of the Phillies and Diamondbacks in the NLDS and the NLCS. Since then, the Rockies have reached the playoffs just once, and in the past two seasons they finished last in the NL West. With all of the major additions the Dodgers have made since their sale in 2012 and the Giants' affinity for even-year magic, the Rockies were generally written off before the season began. After the first month of the season, it's time to reconsider.
The Rockies finished April with a 16-13 record, good for third place in their division behind the aforementioned Giants and Dodgers. By record, their start to the season fails to stand out the way the Brewers have with their 20-8 record and 5.5-game lead over the defending National League champion Cardinals. However, a closer look at their numbers suggests the Rockies have been the best team in their division so far this season and one of the best in the NL.
Bill James popularized the theory that a team's runs scored and runs allowed better predicted its future winning percentage than its current winning percentage. Because of the similarity of James' formula to the Pythagorean theorem from trigonometry, that calculated won-loss record is commonly referred to as Pythagorean record.
NL Teams with the Highest Pythagorean Records
Team Record RS RA Pythagorean Record
Atlanta Braves 17-9 92 76 17-11
Miami Marlins 13-14 126 105 16-11
Milwaukee Brewers 20-8 114 95 17-11
Colorado Rockies 16-13 157 133 17-12
San Francisco Giants 17-11 120 102 16-12
Washington Nationals 16-12 126 108 16-12
While the Rockies have just the seventh-best winning percentage in the NL, based on Pythagorean record, they would have been expected to end April with the fourth-highest record in the league and the highest record in their division.
Of course, we are still talking about only a month of the season. Pythagorean record may be the better predictor of the Rockies' final win total, but teams routinely over- and underperform their true talent over a single month of play. Fortunately for the Rockies, their early success has not been limited to one aspect of play. In fact, they have been the best defensive team and one of the best offensive teams so far this season.
The key to the Rockies' league-leading 23 defensive runs saved has been the little things. Bill James created a system of accounting for all of the different aspects of defense that are not captured by out rates on balls in play. Baseball Info Solutions combines that into a component of overall defensive runs saved called GFP/DME runs saved, which stands for Good Fielding Plays and Defensive Misplays and Errors. Those cover things such as first baseman scoops on bad throws, bobbles and poor decisions that allow baserunners to advance, missing the cutoff man, and much more.
Between 2011 and 2013, Dexter Fowler had a Net (GFPs -- DMEs) of minus-36, the eighth lowest among outfielders. Wilin Rosario was second worst among catchers with a minus-144 Net, driven by his 33 passed balls (fourth most) and 115 wild pitch misplays (fifth most). Collectively, the Rockies had a minus-71 Net over that three-year period, which put them in the bottom third of all teams. This year, they have made a dramatic turnaround.
Most Good Fielding Plays - Defensive Misplays and Errors, Teams
Team Net (GFPs - DMEs)
Colorado Rockies 28
Toronto Blue Jays 25
New York Mets 21
Kansas City Royals 19
Milwaukee Brewers 16
Through April, the Rockies lead all teams with a plus-28 Net. The Dexter Fowler trade was an addition by subtraction in that respect. Rosario has not been as bad with only a minus-6 Net so far this season. Meanwhile, Tulowitzki, Justin Morneau and Nolan Arenado, in his first full season following a promotion at the end of April a year ago, are all in the top five in Net through April.
Most Good Fielding Plays - Defensive Misplays and Errors, Players
Player Net (GFPs - DMEs)
Eric Hosmer 19
Justin Morneau 17
Troy Tulowitzki 15
Yonder Alonso 15
Alex Gordon 11
David Wright 11
Nolan Arenado 11
Offensively, Tulowitzki is leading a similar charge. He leads all players with a 1.205 on-base plus slugging (OPS) and 3.0 wins above replacement (WAR) according to Baseball-Reference. And while Colorado hitters frequently get a boost in their offensive production because of their hitter-friendly home ballpark, Tulowitzki also leads all batters with a 214 weighted runs created plus (wRC+), which park-adjusts a player's offensive production.
Tulowitzki has been an elite player for years, but he has enjoyed some unexpected company from one of his teammates this season. Charlie Blackmon, who has seen a major boost in playing time because of the Fowler trade, has made the most of his opportunity. Like Tulowitzki, Blackmon has been exceptional both offensively and defensively. His 1.034 OPS is fourth in the majors, and his six runs saved across the three outfield positions trail only Alex Gordon (9 DRS) and J.B. Shuck (7 DRS) among outfielders. Per Baseball Reference, Blackmon has been worth 1.9 WAR, fifth highest in baseball. That makes the Rockies the only team with two of the top 10 players in WAR, let alone the top five. And collectively, the Rockies are first in baseball in OPS and third in wRC+.
MLB's Best Offenses
Team OPS wRC+
Oakland Athletics .763 117
Los Angeles Angels .767 116
Colorado Rockies .824 114
Minnesota Twins .745 110
Chicago White Sox .764 108
The big question is whether Blackmon can keep up his pace. There are positive signs that he can. His strikeout rate has declined from 19 percent in 2013 to 7 percent this year, which could point to skill improvements. In addition, his batted ball profile has remained fairly steady. His home run-to-fly ball rate is up 6 percent from last season, but 16 percent is not too unusual for a player in Colorado.
Regardless of Blackmon's fate, the Rockies seem primed to contend all season. With a couple of early-season MVP candidates and a dramatically improved defense, perhaps this will be the year they make their next great run.
Taveras could be the key for St. Louis.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
CHICAGO -- Yadier Molina was part of the St. Louis Cardinals team that was repeatedly within a strike of losing the 2011 World Series, and so were Matt Holliday and Jon Jay and Daniel Descalso and Allen Craig and others. They know what a crisis is, and the early-season offensive funk for the Cardinals isn’t that.
A six-game deficit in the NL Central in the first week of May isn’t a five-alarm problem, and besides, the collective personality of the Cardinals isn’t prone to overreaction. They know how challenging their early-season schedule has been, and how cold it’s been. As some of the St. Louis hitters took their turns in batting practice, they spoke confidently about the turnaround to come, because Craig is not a .220 hitter, Jhonny Peralta isn’t going to hit under .200 all year, and they’re sure they’re better than this.
But they lost again to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday; they were shut down again, and shut out. The Cardinals rank 26th in runs, and Lance Lynn will try to salvage the final game of the series on "Sunday Night Baseball" (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN).
This is not a crisis, but this has gone on long enough to prompt more change. From Derrick Goold’s story Sunday:
The Cardinals won a pennant by stringing together hits last season, building an offense around an uncanny -- and likely unrepeatable -- .330-batting knack with runners in scoring position. The sentiment in the clubhouse after Saturday’s loss was, as [Jon] Jay expressed, “We know we have good hitters on the team and guys are going to hit.” They can cling to their hitting history as an indicator of future success. In the meantime, the manager and general manager have sought different ways to spur the offense.
[Mike] Matheny has used 26 different lineups in 31 games. He has called off batting practice. He has changed how hitters orbit around No. 3 hitter Holliday. He’s replaced starters.
“This is the stuff I ask every day: What are we missing here?” Matheny said. “It comes down to creating some confidence. It can be personnel. It can be how we go about playing.”
The Cardinals may well recall Kolten Wong soon, and Matheny might continue to juggle the lineup. But the big card that St. Louis has yet to play is the promotion of star outfield prospect Oscar Taveras, who is hitting .301 with power in Triple-A.
If the Cardinals make that move, it would create a whole different set of complications. Somebody would have to sit. Taveras is not regarded by rival evaluators as a strong defender, but with Craig in right field and Holliday in left field, Taveras would need to play center field. Peter Bourjos is an elite defender, but he has struggled at the plate and is on the bench; Jay is hitting .257 with a .329 on-base percentage.
First baseman Matt Adams is hitting .333, so if the goal becomes improving the offense, it probably wouldn’t make a lot of sense to shift Craig to first base to open up right field for Taveras.
Matheny told Goold the other day that Taveras has been checking off all the boxes in his preparation for the big leagues, and when asked about that Saturday, Matheny replied, “He can hit.”
This much they know, and they know they need to start hitting better and playing better. Soon.
Hammel's big turnaround
Jason Hammel would feel good for two or three innings in his starts last season, but then the fatigue would start to set in. He had knee surgery in 2012 -- on his right knee, which he uses to drive off the mound -- and as he compensated for that weakness last season, his elbow ached. Nothing ever felt quite right.
But after an offseason of feeling completely healthy, he is off to a great start with the Cubs, with a mere seven walks in 34 2/3 innings, and a 2.08 ERA. He’ll pitch against the Cardinals Sunday night, in what figures to be his latest audition for another team.
Last year, the Cubs signed Scott Feldman to a one-year deal, and after some intense core conditioning work in spring training with pitching coach Chris Bosio, Feldman started strongly with Chicago -- and was flipped to Baltimore on July 2 for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and money. Feldman finished the season as Hammel’s teammate, before signing a three-year, $30 million deal with Houston, and when Hammel sought advice during the offseason, Feldman endorsed Bosio’s work and encouraged him to sign with the Cubs.
Hammel, 31, signed a one-year, $6 million deal with Chicago and dived into Bosio’s regimen with the med ball. He explained Saturday that he feels much stronger. He appears destined to follow Feldman’s path into the trade market, but Hammel said that his mindset is to work to convince the Cubs to keep him, to help them win, and to not think about a trade that is probably inevitable.
Around the league
• Apparently, John Kruk can sing really, really well. I’ve never heard it before, but I will Sunday night, when he is set to sing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at Wrigley Field; he and Dan Shulman will be doing their broadcast work from the right field bleachers.
• Mark Ellis said with a smile, as he waited for his turn in the cage here: “Dee is playing well.”
As in Dee Gordon, and yes, he’s right. Gordon had a great Saturday, as the Dodgers roared back for a comeback win. So far this season, Gordon has been one of the best second basemen in the majors.
• Derek Jeter has three extra-base hits in the first month of his final season, and in his past 52 plate appearances, he has 12 hits, all singles, and four walks. His OPS is .606, at a time when his offensive production needs to be the best of what he does, given his defensive range.
Offense is down all over the place, as written here yesterday, and Jeter has played a lot of his games in the cold of the Northeast. He’s also 39 years old. The key question that Yankees manager Joe Girardi and his staff need to be asking is this: Do we believe he’s going to get better?
If the answer is "yes" or "we’re not sure," then Jeter should continue to play, batting second. There are a whole lot of other veterans who started slowly, including Miguel Cabrera, Allen Craig and Prince Fielder.
If the answer is "no, we don’t think he’s going to get better," then, as Girardi said recently, he’s not paid to run a farewell tour, and there should be conversations about moving Jeter down in the lineup and giving him more time off. If the answer is no, then change is necessary, because this is the beginning of May and the Yankees must have five months of plate appearances (and five months of defense) from their shortstop in an extremely competitive division. Jeter is Plan A as the No. 2 hitter, and Plan B is pretty good: Brett Gardner. Jeter is Plan A at shortstop, and Plan B is Brendan Ryan, a light hitter and exceptional defender.
Of course it’ll be an uncomfortable conversation, because Jeter is one of the greatest shortstops of all time and in a perfect world, he would exit the way that Mariano Rivera walked away last season, still doing what he’s always done at the highest level. But the reality is that mostly, that does not happen. In Willie Mays' final season in 1973, he hit .211 and played in 66 games. Hank Aaron hit .229 with 10 homers in 85 games in his last year. Babe Ruth batted .181 and retired early in the 1935 season.
Jeter vs Pitches 91+ MPH in 2014
Stat Jeter MLB Avg
BA .220 .261
Slug pct .244 .405
Well-hit avg .098 .163
Source: ESPN Stats & Information
Jeter has seemed to struggle particularly against pitchers who have at least decent fastballs. Mike Bonznagi of ESPN Stats & Information dug out the data displayed in the chart at right.
Some other data points:
• Jeter has seen the third-highest percentage of fastballs among all qualified hitters, presumably because pitchers are challenging him -- probably less afraid of damage than in the past -- and just want to make sure they don’t walk him.
• He’s generated the 10th-highest percentage of ground balls in the big leagues. There are two players, among all hitters qualified in the batting race, who score lower in isolated power: Ruben Tejada and Ben Revere.
Percent of Jeter's at-bats ending in a well-hit ball (well-hit average)
* 156th out of 192 qualified batters this season
Jeter didn’t play Saturday, when a groggy set of Yankees bounced back behind Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is the Yankees’ salvation.
• Kevin Towers is realistic about his situation, Barry Bloom writes.
• Ryan Braun landed on the disabled list.
• Jon Lester was crazy good on Saturday, striking out 15 and allowing one hit and no runs in a game he didn’t complete; he’s only the third pitcher in history to do that, joining Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson (the Big Unit did it twice).
From ESPN Stats & Information, how Lester dominated:
A. He threw 27 called strikes, the most he’s had in a start since the start of the 2009 season.
B. Seven strikeouts in at-bats ending with his fastball, tied for the most he’s had in a start in the past six seasons.
C. Eight strikeouts in at-bats ending with his cutter, tied for the most he’s had in a start in the past six seasons.
D. Nine called strikeouts, the most he’s had in a start in the past six seasons.
Somebody is going to pay Lester a whole lot more than $70 million (which was offered by the Red Sox and rejected by Lester last month) when he eventually signs, whether it's Boston or another team. At some point, Lester will reach the tipping point in the season’s calendar when it’ll makes sense for him to test the market rather than re-sign. In other words, if the Red Sox know what their best offer to Lester is going to be, they would be better off firing it sooner rather than later.
Afterward, Lester said that Randy Johnson was "my guy."
• The Rockies’ Charlie Culberson had a really great moment.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Braves feel like they’ve locked up Chris Johnson in his prime, Mark Bowman writes.
2. Alfredo Aceves got the call up.
3. Abraham Almonte was benched.
Dings and dents
1. Brandon Morrow went on the 60-day disabled list, and Marcus Stroman is being called up.
2. Edward Mujica feels a pinch.
3. Doug Fister's start may be moved back to Friday, writes Adam Kilgore.
4. Freddie Freeman says his eye issues haven’t worsened.
5. A bunch of Angels are working their way back.
6. Jaime Garcia could speed his way back to the big leagues.
7. Nate Jones needs back surgery.
8. The White Sox are already missing the injured Adam Eaton.
1. A.J. Burnett was the man for the Phillies.
2. Johnny Cueto shut down the Brewers.
2. The Pirates had a big comeback.
3. The Blue Jays blew another big lead.
4. That’s five straight losses for the Braves.
5. The Astros rallied, but lost. At their current pace, they would lose 108 games and finish with a run differential of minus-291.
6. Ryan Vogelsong fired six strong innings.
7. C.J. Cron had a great debut for the Angels, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
8. Justin Masterson had his best game of the season.
• Felix Doubront could be in jeopardy of losing his spot in the rotation.
• Jackie Bradley Jr. played right field.
• Manny Machado continues to get comfortable.
• Dellin Betances is getting a whiff of success.
• Mark Teixeira has his groove back.
• Brett Lawrie is unhappy with a temporary shift to second base.
• Bullpen exhaustion showed for the Rays.
• Nick Castellanos is displaying some big league confidence.
• John Lowe explained why the Tigers got Joel Hanrahan now.
• Drew Smyly showed no rust.
• Royals fans expect more out of this team, writes Sam Mellinger.
• Kevin Correia helped turn it around.
• Elvis Andrus' slump raises questions about his spot in the lineup. Ron Washington says Andrus hasn’t been playing with energy.
• Collin McHugh is proving himself in the big leagues, Jesus Ortiz writes.
• Fernando Abad has been pitching great.
• The Mariners almost wasted a solid outing by Hisashi Iwakuma, but as Lloyd McClendon says, a win is a win.
• Juan Lagares is entrenching himself as the Mets’ center fielder.
• May will be a telling month for the Phillies, given their health.
• Garrett Jones likes hitting in the Marlins’ home park.
• Anthony Rizzo is swinging great against lefties.
• Wong is gone but hardly forgotten.
• Miguel Montero's bat makes it tough to rest him.
• Chris Owings has been a bright spot for the Diamondbacks, writes Nick Piecoro.
• Tyler Matzek is pitching for a call up from the Rockies.
• Sergio Romo's contract drive has started strongly, Henry Schulman writes.
• Scott Van Slyke has been playing well.
• Bud Black is concerned that his hitters are pressing.
• There have been mixed reviews from the recipients of a letter from the Mets to their fans.
• Jason Grilli's message is to not give up, writes Rob Biertempfel.
And today will be better than yesterday.
Is pitching now the cheaper commodity?Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
CHICAGO -- The Cubs are loaded with position prospects but don’t have much in the way of pitching prospects. The New York Mets are stacked with great young pitching, but they don’t have much in the way of position prospects.
“Which would you rather have?” one longtime evaluator mused.
It’s an interesting question now, in 2014, in a way that it hasn’t been for many years. Because for the last few decades, the pitcher-to-position player exchange rate -- much like the U.S. versus Canada money exchange rate -- has generally skewed to one side; pitching has generally gotten you more in return than position players.
For that reason, rival evaluators were stunned a few years ago that Seattle would swap elite young pitcher Michael Pineda in a deal for catcher/designated hitter Jesus Montero; it smashed against the grain of recent history. For that reason, the Rays were able to get outfielder Wil Myers in return for James Shields and Wade Davis; the Royals desperately needed pitching to ascend.
But as we move within three months of the July 31 trade deadline, is the exchange rate of pitching and position players the same?
It’s difficult to attach precise numbers on it, but some executives believe the weights and measures are moving in the direction of position players.
Here’s one big reason: Teams can understand and consider the impact of defense far better than they used to, which is why the Orioles targeted outfielder David Lough in a deal for third baseman Danny Valencia. Lough’s offensive numbers didn’t jump out -- he had a .311 on-base percentage in 96 games last season, with 26 extra-base hits in 335 plate appearances.
In defensive metrics, though, he rated in the same neighborhood as Shane Victorino and Carlos Gomez. This increased precision means that more precise value, whether it augments or diminishes, can be attached in a way it would not have five or 10 years ago.
But it’s the decrease in offense in the sport that's having the most impact on the scales; as baseball changes, so does the assessment of particular skills, much in the same way that left tackles gained additional value in the National Football League in the 1980s.
Drug testing seems to have had a major impact on MLB offenses, given the decline in production since 2006.
“I think in some ways we have underestimated the impact of amphetamine testing on offense,” the evaluator said. “A starting pitcher gears his whole schedule toward that one day he pitches, and most teams will fly the starter into a city the day before his game, to have them rested. But the position players can’t do that. They have to go day after day, and if they're exhausted, they stay exhausted. They don’t have the juice [PEDs, like amphetamines] anymore.”
Through the dramatically increased use of sabermetrics over the last decade, there has been a greater focus on specific matchups, exploiting weakness and identifying more efficient defenses, through shifts.
Runs aren't an endangered species, by any means. But they have declined a whole lot.
“I remember when the goal used to be to build an offense that could score 1,000 runs in a season,” one NL official said. “The best teams in the American League -- the Yankees, the Red Sox -- might have a shot at 1,000 runs. Now if you score 800 runs, you’ve got an unbelievable offense.”
During the 2000 season, 17 teams scored more than 800 runs. In 2006, 13 teams scored more than 800 runs. Last year, the Red Sox were the only team in the big leagues to generate 800 runs.
A decade ago, in the 2004 season, 37 players accumulated at least 30 homers. Last year, there were just 14.
In 2004, 28 players posted an OPS above .900, from Barry Bonds to Aaron Rowand.
In 2013, 11 players achieved a .900 OPS.
On the other hand, pitching achievement is being watered down in a way that offensive production was in the 1990s.
During the 2000 season, there were three pitchers with ERAs under 3.00 -- Pedro Martinez (1.74), Kevin Brown (2.58) and Randy Johnson (2.64).
At the start of play today, there are nine different pitchers with an ERA better than 2.00, and there are 39 pitchers with ERAs under 3.00. At the end of the last full season, in 2013, there were 14 pitchers with ERAs of 3.00 or better.
More and more, general managers can feel as though they can get some pitching, just as a decade ago, you could go and find hitters readily; there’s pitching to be found these days.
What are increasingly scarce, on the other hand, are good offensive players.
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports
Jed Lowrie's hitting ability will make him a highly sought-after free agent next year.
This is really good news for Jed Lowrie, who has an .839 OPS for the first five weeks of the season, as he heads into free agency. It means that the White Sox look like they might have landed one of the great bargains in recent times in their $68 million signing of Jose Abreu. It means that if the Diamondbacks ever decide to wave a white flag on contending in 2014, catcher Miguel Montero and his .370 on-base percentage could be really, really interesting to other teams in the trade market. It means that a good-but-not-great offensive player such as Chris Johnson is going to get paid: His new deal with the Braves is for $23.5 million over three years.
And it means that if you have a system teeming with position prospects, as the Cubs do -- from third baseman Kris Bryant to shortstop Javier Baez to outfielders Jorge Soler and Albert Almora -- then you might possess greater value relative to the market than you did a decade ago.
Consider the question at the top of this story again: Which would you rather have, a farm system loaded with pitching, or a farm system loaded with position players?
A decade ago, the answer was obvious. Pitching ruled.
The exchange rate has changed, significantly.
Around the league
I have an early-morning assignment, so I can’t get to the links today. Here are a couple of notes from ESPN Stats & Info on Friday’s games:
• Wily Peralta threw eight shutout innings and drove in both of the Brewers’ runs in their 2-0 win against the Reds on Friday.
From the Elias Sports Bureau, Peralta is the first player to throw eight or more shutout innings and drive in all of his team’s runs since Tim Hudson did it for Atlanta on June 20, 2011. It was Peralta’s 12th consecutive start allowing three or fewer earned runs, the third-longest active streak in the majors.
Most Consecutive Starts with three or fewer earned runs
Tony Cingrani -- 20
Zack Greinke -- 18
Wily Peralta -- 12
• How Brewers starter Wily Peralta beat the Reds:
A) He threw 78.2 percent fastballs (86 of 110 pitches), his highest percentage in a start this season and third-highest in his career. His average fastball velocity was 95.9 mph, his fastest in a start this season and tied for the second-fastest in his career. Reds hitters were 2-for-21 in at-bats ending with a fastball Friday.
B) Reds hitters were 0-for-5 in at-bats ending with a slider, including four strikeouts. The Reds swung at 12 sliders and missed eight (66.7 percent), the highest miss percentage with the pitch in his career.
C) He threw 46 of his 110 pitches (41.8 percent) on the inner third or frther in, his highest percentage in a start this season. Reds hitters were 1-for-11 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.
D) He held the Reds to 0-for-9 in at-bats with men on base, including 0-for-8 with RISP.
• How Arizona’s Bronson Arroyo beat the Padres:
A) The Padres left-handed hitters were 1-for-17 against Arroyo. He threw 81 percent of his pitches to lefties to the outer half or further away, and lefties were 1-for-15 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location.
B) Padres hitters were 1-for-12 in at-bats ending with a fastball, including 0-for-9 by lefties.
C) He threw 60 of 91 pitches (65.9 percent) in the lower half of the zone or further below. Padres hitters were 1-for-16 in at-bats ending with a pitch in that location, including five of his six strikeouts.
Longest Hit Streaks in Rockies History
2013 -- Michael Cuddyer, 27
1995 -- Dante Bichette, 23
2014 -- Nolan Arenado, 22 (Extended on Friday)
1997 -- Vinny Castilla, 22
• On Friday's podcast, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch discusses the timing of the promotion of outfielder Oscar Taveras, Dan Shulman provides a scouting report for John Kruk's seventh-inning stretch Sunday night, and the Fireball Express of Karl Ravech and Justin Havens breaks down Sonny Gray's early performance.
• We're probably not that far away from the conversation about Derek Jeter's spot in the lineup, with his OPS now barely above .600. There have been times when he looks overpowered at the plate, and he's got three extra-base hits in the first month.
And today will be better than yesterday.
The 'legend' of Sonny Gray is growing.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Oakland Athletics pitcher Sonny Gray is off to a strong start in 2014, with a 1.76 ERA in six starts, and his next scheduled outing is against the Boston Red Sox on Sunday. Because he's really confident and competitive, and because he's really not that tall, stories and anecdotes tend to follow him the way they do Dustin Pedroia.
Tim Corbin, his former coach at Vanderbilt, wrote that he has "many" stories about Gray, including these two:
1. "He invited Maggie, I and the girls [Corbin's wife and daughters] to his high school Christmas play his senior year [in Smyrna, Tenn.] How he invited us was a story unto itself because he said, 'I want you to come and bring my three girlfriends.'
"He was the lead in the play -- the auditorium was packed, and there was no way he could see us -- and I was messing around with my phone reading messages, then put the phone back in my pocket. About a minute later, my phone vibrates. I take it out of my pocket and it says, 'Dog, you're ugly, pay attention.' He had texted me from the stage while he was in the middle of the play. I showed Maggie the text right away and she said, 'He's going to be really, really good.'"
2. "When Pedro Alvarez came back to Vanderbilt in the fall after his first pro season, I introduced him to Sonny for the first time. He walked up to Pedro with that twangy Tennessee voice and without cracking a smile and said, 'I'm Sonny, I can't wait to strike you out in the alumni game.'"
There's also this, sent along by Bob Rose of the Athletics: "It is confirmed that while he was at Vandy, he heard about JaMarcus Russell throwing a football 70 yards from his knees. So I guess Sonny did the same thing with a football the next day on the football field."
There will be many, many more stories on Sonny Gray to come in the years ahead.
Around the league
• On Thursday's Baseball Tonight podcast, Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski talked about Max Scherzer's strong start and what Detroit saw in Robbie Ray, and Keith Law discussed the projected picks at the top of the draft and how the calendar may compel teams to wait on signing Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew. There are 34 days until the draft, and as each day goes by, the odds that individual teams won't consider Morales or Drew until after the draft -- when those teams won't surrender a draft pick in compensation -- increases.
• Aroldis Chapman was dominant in his first rehab outing.
[+] EnlargeCarlos Gomez
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
Carlos Gomez robbed Reds slugger Joey Votto of a home run on Thursday.
• In case you missed it: Carlos Gomez robbed Joey Votto of a home run. Again. And Votto certainly remembers the first time.
Speaking of Gomez, John Fisher of ESPN Stats & Info sent this along: "Carlos Gomez had a breakout season last year, and it's continued in 2014. Gomez has always been a prospect with tons of ability, but he's showing that he's a legitimate 5-tool player."
* His .294 batting average would be a career high.
* His .356 OBP would be a career high.
* His line-drive rate of 21 percent would be a career high.
* His walk percentage of 8 percent would be a career high.
* He's fifth among center fielders in batting average since the start of last season.
* His .571 slugging percentage would be a career high.
* He's hitting a home run every 17 at-bats this season, which would be a career-best rate.
* He has hit 31 home runs since the start of last season, second among center fielders.
* He stole a career-high 40 bases last season.
* Only seven players have more bunt hits than he does since the start of last season.
* His .359 BABIP this season would be a career high.
* He has stolen 44 bases since the start of last season, second among center fielders.
* He has six home run robberies since the start of last season (nobody else in the majors has more than two).
* He has 39 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of last season, most among center fielders (and second-most in MLB).
* He has 4.7 Defensive Wins Above Replacement since the start of last season, most among center fielders (second in MLB).
* He has 13 outfield assists since the start of last season, tied for second among center fielders (and tied for eighth among all outfielders).
Some additional notes:
* Two of his six robberies have come in the ninth inning, both against the Reds last season:
1. July 8, 2013: Gomez robs Votto with two outs in the top of the 9th of a one-run game.
2. Sept. 15, 2013: Gomez robs Jay Bruce with two outs in the top of the 9th of a tie game. (The Brewers won on a walkoff homer in the bottom of the inning.)
* There have been 51 home run robberies the past two seasons, meaning Gomez has almost 12 percent of them by himself.
* Gomez is signed for this season and the next two for a total of $24 million, and he's only 28 years old.
Most home run robberies (since start of 2013 season)
Carlos Gomez 6
Carlos Gonzalez 2
Starling Marte 2
Endy Chavez 2
Aaron Hicks 2
Colby Rasmus 2
• The Marlins finished a tremendous series against the Braves, coming back, again, in the final game.
• The Red Sox wanted to play two games, so the Rays gave them two games -- and a doubleheader sweep.
• From Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info: Roenis Elias (pronounced eh-LEE-uhs, not eh-LIE-uhs) is the third rookie left-hander in MLB history to strike out 10-plus hitters as a visitor at Yankee Stadium.
Most strikeouts by visiting rookie left-handers at Yankee Stadium
2011: Matt Moore, 11 K's
Thursday: Roenis Elias, 10 K's
1925: Lefty Grove, 10 K's
Source: Elias Sports Bureau
How Roenis Elias answered the call (and won): He had an unhittable curveball. Elias threw 41 curves, netting him 11 outs, eight by strikeout, while yielding only one baserunner with it (via walk). The eight curveball strikeouts are the most by any pitcher in a start this season.
• The Dodgers pulled off a sweep of the Twins, as Kevin Baxter writes. From Elias: Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers reached base eight times in a doubleheader. He's the first Dodgers player to do that since Bill Buckner against the Giants in 1976. Jeff Keppinger and Alejandro De Aza of the White Sox and Jason Kipnis of the Indians are the last major leaguers to do that. They all did it in the same doubleheader last season.
• The Orioles had the pleasure of walking off a doubleheader sweep against the Pirates.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Braves are closing in on a multiyear deal with Chris Johnson.
2. Danny Duffy might get a start in place of Bruce Chen, writes Andy McCullough.
3. The Jays' Anthony Gose is getting another shot.
4. Kevin Gausman is going to miss a start.
• The Nationals need to toughen up, writes Thomas Boswell.
• The Phillies' rotation is not what it used to be, writes Bob Brookover.
• The Cubs and Cardinals are set to renew their rivalry. We've got them on Sunday Night Baseball, and Dan Shulman and John Kruk will be calling the game from the Wrigley Field bleachers.
• Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are early risers.
• Matt Adams says he's OK hitting anywhere, writes Rick Hummel.
• Zack Cozart is battling baseball's head game, writes Paul Daugherty.
• The Cubs have watchful eyes in their dugout.
• Juan Nicasio was The Man for the Rockies on Thursday.
• These are rough times for the Diamondbacks, as Dan Bickley writes.
• Giants bench coach Ron Wotus has stood the test of time.
• Hiroki Kuroda struggled, again.
• The Red Sox had a really, really bad day, as Alex Speier writes.
• Tom Gage has a pretty incredible stat about Victor Martinez: He's closing in on a full year without being called out on a third strike.
• The Indians have been bad, but it's still early.
• The White Sox have done just about everything right offensively.
• The Astros' bullpen has its share of problems.
[+] EnlargePrince Fielder
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Prince Fielder is hitting just .206 and is on pace for 12 homers.
• Prince Fielder is really, really struggling, as Gerry Fraley writes.
• Here's what Ron Washington thinks about Fielder.
• It might be time for the Rangers to panic about Prince.
• Craig Gentry has been really valuable for the Athletics.
• Major League Baseball shook up its investigative unit.
• Could there be an unwritten rule about the challenge system?
• The 1951 New York Giants and the 2014 Miami Marlins may or may not have something in common: The Braves couldn't confirm the sign-stealing suspicion, writes Carroll Rogers.
• The Red Sox are really, really unhappy about instant replay.
• Here is some haunting footage from the 1919 World Series.
And today will be better than yesterday.