Exactly what baseball needed

Is this thing on?

Yeah, it’s been a while. Life got busy for a while and it still is, but I want to give this another shot. We will see if I truly get back on track, but here we go.

Baseball season is well underway. Opening Day made headlines earlier when Donald Trump declined to throw out the first pitch for the Nationals, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk about politics. I feel like everyone has had enough of that for a little while.

Cubs Victory Parade
The Cubs became just sixth team in World Series history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the series. (Wikimedia Commons)

Instead, we are going to talk about the high MLB rides into the season on following last October’s World Series. In case you somehow forgot, the Chicago Cubs came back from being down three games to one to beat the Cleveland Indians in a thrilling Game 7 that saw the longest standing championship drought in professional sports broken. It was epic. It was exciting. It was entertaining. It was the best baseball I had watched in a very long time.

And it killed on TV. Game 7 was watched by roughly 40 million people, the most watched game since Game 6 of the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves. The series itself had the highest average viewership since 2004, when the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino. (Note: Breaking curses makes for great television audiences)

This is a huge jump from where baseball was just a few short years ago. In 2014, the Kansas Royals and San Francisco Giants played a Game 7 of their own. That game drew just 23.5 million people watching.

That’s a bit of a drop off. It was part of a much larger trend for MLB though. Four of the five least watched World Series in history have occurred since 2010, and all of them since 2008. The 2012 World Series between Detroit and San Francisco entertained an audience of just 12 million viewers on average. The 2016 edition had 10 million more viewers on average per night.

Overall, MLB got lucky with two fan bases who had not seen their team win a World Series since 1948 when Cleveland beat the Boston Braves. Having two championship-starved cities definitely leads to more interest, something the league cannot control.

It might have just been a one time thing, but that Cubs and Indians series definitely drew a lot of fans back to baseball.

There is no doubt that this is exactly what baseball needed.

 

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Guilty until proven innocent

It is hard to objectively watch sports. There is so much emotion involved, both positive and negative, that drives fans to have slanted views.

Alex Rodriguez
Rodriguez will make his final appearance in a Yankee uniform Friday night. (Wikimedia Commons)

In the case of Alex Rodriguez, there are few people who do not have an opinion. There is a lot of love and hate surrounding him. I can’t say that I know many people who fall somewhere in between.

I will readily admit that I lean more to the side that hates him than loves him. I have my reasons, but that’s not actually what I am interested in talking about here.

A-Rod is one of the most polarizing players ever, and maybe the most in the last 25 years, for baseball. He has hit 696 home runs, won a World Series and been named AL MVP twice. He also has been caught using steroids multiple times, sued MLB and the MLBPA and lied about his use of PEDs. He is a flawed figure no doubt, but one that could really play baseball.

Tonight, this maligned, aging player will likely play in his last game as a professional. Certainly as a Yankee, but I don’t foresee too many teams being interested in him down the road. There has been a lot of talk about Rodriguez’s history and the reasons for the hate. Most of them center around his lack of cooperation when he was accused of using PEDs. He lied, he pointed the blame elsewhere, he threw his doctors and coaches under the bus. It certainly wasn’t a good look.

Rodriguez, with some help from Ryan Braun, has highlighted the development of believing athletes are guilty until proven innocent. And those are just the baseball guys. The cases of Ray Rice, Oscar Pistorious and Jerry Sandusky have contributed to this perpetuating doubt when a player is accused of breaking the rules or the law.

It has become the reality of sports. Tom Brady was immediately assumed guilty in his Deflategate scandal. Whether he was guilty or not, Brady was always in the position of needing to prove his innocence. From the second the question is raised, we all as sports fans jump to the conclusion that the player is guilty and we hold onto our doubt until they are completely cleared. And sometimes we even hold onto it after that.

We no longer will grant athletes the benefit of the doubt. We expect the athlete to complete explain himself or herself right away, otherwise face the wrath of our conviction.

And you cannot really blame the fans for this skepticism after what has happened with Rodriguez. He admitted to using PEDs in 2001 while with the Texas Rangers back in 2009. Then when the Biogenesis scandal was uncovered in 2013, Rodriguez tried to act like he had been duped. In the end, it turned out that Rodriguez was trying to cover everything up, leaving fans furious and with a feeling that they had been played.

Rodriguez tried so hard to beat the system and avoid the suspension associated with the actions he committed and that more than anything else has left sports fans jaded. It is one thing to break the rules or the law if you own up to it. It is another to break the rules or the law and then deny it ever happened and avoid the consequences. For all sports fans, that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.

Now, it probably isn’t fair to blame this all on A-Rod, but the reality is that he is the pinnacle point of this idea. Fans can no longer give players the benefit of the doubt, because of how far from the truth the athlete can be.

The Yankees were smart to sell

I’m baaack. And I’m talking about something that usually does not come up much on The Aftermath. It’s time to talk some baseball.

The MLB trade deadline has come and gone. There were some major moves in the week leading up to the deadline and one deadline day itself.

Brian Cashman
Yankees GM Brian Cashman restocked the farm system with his series of moves. (Wikimedia Commons)

One team found themselves in a very unfamiliar position and that was the New York Yankees. After two plus decades of being in the hunt and contending for titles, the 27-time champions decided to be sellers at the deadline.

We all know how Yankee fans feel. They should be in the World Series every year, winning every other. So this was a real shock to the system.

New York moved fireballer Aroldis Chapman and reliever Andrew Miller, gutting the bullpen. It also shipped off its most consistently productive bat in Carlos Beltran. And just went you thought Brian Cashman was done, he dealt Ivan Nova to Pittsburgh.

So the Yankees moved their closer, their 8th inning man, a solid starter and their best hitter. That is 100 percent waving the white flag in surrender for this season. However, this one year of selling could have New York as one of the top teams in the league by 2018.

Cashman converted those veteran pieces into at least 11 prospects all 25 years old and younger. That’s how you replenish your farm system in a short period of time.

For the last few years, the talk has been that the Yankees needed to find a way to reload. Jeter retired. So did Mo. A-Rod was suspended then saw his production slip. Texeria couldn’t shake nagging injuries. Neither can Ellsbury. The one thing all of these guys have in common is that they are or were at the tail end of their careers.

Aroldis Chapman
Chapman had 20 saves in 31 appearances for New York this season. (Wikimedia Commons)

Rodriguez will be gone soon and Texeria will be soon to follow. They need to replace each of them in the lineup and Tex at first base. They have some younger talent to build around in the form of Masahiro Tanaka, Dellin Betances, Starlin Castro and Didi Gregorious.

Then you have some of the really young guys like Luis Severino and Greg Bird, this team starts to have a decent core. Add in the likes of Justus Sheffield, Clint Frazier, Dillon Tate and Gleyber Torres and suddenly the Yankees have one of the top farm systems in the majors. If these highly-touted prospects reach the potentially many expect of them, we could be looking at another long string of pennant-winning, playoff-bound, championship-caliber Yankee teams in the next few years.

For a team that almost never likes to sell, this was absolutely the right move. Baseball is very different from football, basketball or hockey. The draft is not a surefire way to build to success. There are so many prospects that come out every year in baseball and so many rounds to the draft that it is hard to build that way. Gathering up prospects around the league is the best way to do it.

New York likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years, an unprecedented run for the boys in pinstripes, but it comes in a year where the Yankees weren’t a lock to make the postseason anyway. At best, they were a wildcard team that likely would not have made it any further than the ALCS.

Bryce Harper
Rumor has it that Harper is high up the Yankees wishlist. (Wikimedia Commons)

On top of that, they had no future. They had two guys in Severino and Bird that they expected to come up soon and make an impact. Now they have close to a dozen. The future for this Big Apple squad is bright now.

 

So no, the Yankees are not changing their ways and becoming a middle of the road team, content to just compete for the playoffs every year. This franchise still wants to win titles. And now they have the means to do so.

Look out for those 2018 Yankees. And then when Matt Harvey and Bryce Harper become free agents in 2019, New York will truly be back to where it used to be.

The best staff in baseball

It is probably a little premature to start referring to the Mets as having the best pitching staff in baseball but it isn’t that much of a stretch. You hear constantly about how good these young stud pitchers are but until you look at the numbers, it is hard to understand just how good they truly are.

Let’s look at it this way. The Mets on the whole have very good pitching. They are second in baseball with a 3.18 ERA as a team and they lead the majors in quality starts with 78. They have walked the second fewest batters and they have the third best batting average against (BAA). Those numbers are obviously impressive, especially when you consider that New York has pitched the fourth most innings in baseball this season.

Breaking it down even further though, the Mets simply dominate. They rank second in opponent’s OPS and first in opponent’s OBP. On top of that, the Amazins boast the best WHIP in the league and own the third best strikeout to walk ratio. The numbers continue to show that the Mets rival both the Cardinals and the Dodgers for the best staff in baseball.

Matt HarveyIt begins with the elite group of young starters. At the forefront is 25-year old Matt Harvey. He owns a 2.61 ERA and a sub 1 WHIP. Those numbers rank twelfth and eighth respectively among pitchers who have thrown at least 140 innings* to this point. Harvey has been close to unhittable as well, allowing the sixth fewest hit of any starter and posting the tenth best BAA. He is also consistent with a quality start in 77 percent of his appearances, good for ninth in the league.

Jacob DeGromHowever, if Harvey is almost unhittable, Jacob deGrom is definitely unhittable. In only his second major league season, deGrom has become a star. He owns a 2.03 ERA, which ranks second among all pitchers and his 0.89 WHIP places him third. As if those weren’t impressive enough, he also has allowed the fewest hits and is tied for the seventh fewest walks. deGrom’s quality start percentage is even better than Harvey’s at 82 percent. His strikeout to walk ratio sits at eighth overall and he ranks eleventh in strikeouts per nine innings. When players do get a hit on him, they are lucky to get past first as deGrom has allowed the fewest extra base hits this season. Considering that DeGrom ranks third in batting average against and OPS, deGrom’s resume speaks for itself.

Noah_SyndergaardNoah Syndergaard could probably be the number one pitcher in most other team’s lineups with the numbers he has put up this season. On the Mets though, the rookie is playing third fiddle. Depending on the week, it might even be fourth or fifth. Syndergaard has a polished 3.07 ERA in 17 starts this season and an impressive 1.10 WHIP. Considering that he has had 11 quality outings in his 17 appearances, it is fair to say that he has hit the ground running. He compares well to the rest of the league too as his ERA ranks twenty first among starters who have pitched 100 innings and his WHIP is twentieth. Not bad for a player just getting his feet wet. With a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.63 and a strikeouts per nine innings rate better than deGrom, it is easy to see why the Mets are high on this kid.

Even the back end of the rotation is relatively strong for New York with Bartolo Colon and Jon Niese manning those roles. Colon has struggled a bit this season, especially since the All Star break, but Niese has been on fire. In his last five starts, Niese has a sub-three ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. When that is the type of production you are getting from your number four arm, you know you have a really good rotation.

Steven MatzThe crazy thing is that the talent doesn’t stop there. Bartolo Colon will likely find himself being skipped occasionally once Steven Matz returns from the disabled list. The 24-year old Matz made two starts before suffering a lat injury. In those pair of starts, he fanned 14 batters and posted an ERA of 1.32 and a WHIP of 0.88. He also had a .156 BAA. Obviously it is a small sample size but the fact that those starts exist gives the Mets rotation even more potential.

Zack_WheelerThen there is Zack Wheeler. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery at the moment but before that he showed signs of being an ace for New York as well. In 49 starts, he had an ERA of 3.50 and a WHIP of 1.34. His strikeouts per nine innings ratio was also a healthy 8.55. Wheeler will need to be eased back into baseball but once he does, he could be another very talented arm.

That means that the Mets have seven quality starters on their roster at the moment, which is mind boggling. Wheeler was reportedly up for sale at the trade deadline this year and New York will likely move at least one of them this offseason. But the Mets legitimately have an embarrassment of riches. Colon is the old man of the group at 42 but Niese is the next oldest and he is only 28. deGrom is 27 which makes him old on this staff when you consider that Matz is 24 and Harvey and Wheeler are 25. And Syndergaard is only 22.

The Mets have a fantastic young core to build around right now. They desperately need to bring in an extra bat or two during the following offseason. If the Mets manage to do that, they might become the team in New York with legitimate title aspirations.

*All rankings for Harvey and deGrom were of the pool of pitchers who have thrown 140 innings this season.

Red Sox didn’t learn the first time

The Boston Red Sox suffered for a very long time. Maybe not as long as the Chicago Cubs but still for over eight decades. The Curse of the Bambino finally broke in 2004, when Boston made its long-awaited return to the series  . The Sox won in spectacular fashion, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in what was expected to be a seven-game series.

Three years later, the Sox were back in the World Series, this time facing the Colorado Rockies. Boston once again looked dailed in and downed the Rockies in just four games. Manager Terry Francona became the first manager to ever win his first eight world series games and the Red Sox had their second title in four years.

When 2013 rolled around, the Red Sox once again found themselves back in the World Series with a chance to win its third title in nine years. Boston met a familiar foe in St. Louis once again and actually failed to sweep their opponent. However, the Sox still went on to win the series in six games and became something of a dynasty with three titles in nine years.

Rick Porcello
Porcello’s 5.44 ERA would mark a career worst.

Following their 2013 World Series victory, Boston seemed to hit the reset button. Jacoby Ellsbury left in free agency. Jake Peavy, Felix Dubront, Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes, John Lackey, and Andrew Miller away in the waning days of July for various prospects and draft picks. This was two seasons after the Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett away to Los Angeles in return for a bunch of prospects and some salary relief. The Red Sox went from having a top three payroll entering 2012 to have some room to spend. The Sox were very lucky to have been able to escape some of those torturous deals by dumping them on the Dodgers.

It seemed like the Red Sox had turned a corner. With Ben Cherington, a disciple of saber metrics guru Theo Epstein, as the general manager, many thought the Red Sox would begin to search for more affordable deals that avoided any massive inflation to the salary cap. 2014 rolled around and Boston struggled as expected with all of its young talent trying to work itself out.

Pablo Sandoval
Sandoval, a career .291 hitter, has only hit .260 this season with a career worst for on base percentage and slugging.

The next offseason though, Boston seemed to ditch the prolonged rebuilding effort and wanted to make a splash. They spent a combined $180 million to bring in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Cherington also brought in Rick Porcello from the Tigers and by early April had given an $82 million dollar contract over the next four years. By opening day, the Red Sox had managed to commit $262 million over the next five years for only three players.

Boston was spending money on these players as if they were sure things that couldn’t possibly fail. Meanwhile, Porcello has a 5.81 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP at this point in the season. Porcello has also given up more runs than any other Red Sox’s pitcher this season, third most among all pitchers in MLB. On the offensive side, Sandoval and Ramirez have only hit 23 extra base hits combined. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts have more on their own. Ramirez and Sandoval also have the 90th and 94th best averages in the bigs. Ramirez has been redeeming at least with his 19 home runs but Sandoval has only managed to hit 8. That would be his lowest total since his rookie year where he only played 41 games.

Hanley_Ramirez
Ramirez has a history of missing extended amounts of time due to injury but has been a very capable homerun hitter for Boston this year.

All three players have been mediocre this season. Each of them is putting up career worsts in multiple categories. And it only cost Boston $48.5 million for this season. It just goes to show that trying to buy your way back into contention barely ever works. The crazy thing though is that Boston seemed like they had figured that out already as they begun moving the massive contracts on their books. Baseball is a spenders game but the spending has to come wisely.

The Red Sox also had perfect examples of value contracts on their roster already. Betts and Bogaerts, Boston’s two best hitters, are costing the Sox just over a million dollars for both of their contracts. If that isn’t maximizing players on rookie contracts, I don’t know what is. And we’ve seen that spending big doesn’t always work. Obviously the Yankees have had unparalleled success but that’s the exception. Boston has success buying championships with a top-five payroll before but since the year 2000, only 5 of the 15 World Series Champions were teams with a top-five payroll. It is far from a guarantee.

Boston is headed for a second straight season at the bottom of the AL East with several of expensive disappointments on the roster for years to come. It would be more acceptable if Boston’s pay roll was down and the team was testing young players. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and this team is now just even more disappointing.

John Farrell will likely have a little bit longer that he can ride the success of 2013 before it starts to wear off. If Boston continues to strikeout on a big contract players though, him and Cherington could be out of a job soon.