Surprise, surprise: Runs Above Replacement shows Pujols as baseball's best through June

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Another month is in the books, so it’s time to take a look at the most valuable players in baseball according to Fan Graphs
tremendous Runs Above Replacement (RAR) stat that combines offensive
and defensive contributions while comparing everyone to
“replacement-level” players at the same position.

For example, how many runs would the Cardinals lose if they had to
replace Albert Pujols with a random, freely available first baseman
called up from the minors? RAR has the answer, and while not perfect is
an excellent way to examine all-around contributions that can be used
to determine the top MVP candidates based strictly on their
between-the-lines performance.

Here are each league’s RAR leaders through three months:

Ben Zobrist 41.2 Albert Pujols 45.2
Joe Mauer 38.1 Chase Utley 40.4
Evan Longoria 37.9 Hanley Ramirez 38.3
Jason Bartlett 33.3 Matt Kemp 36.6
Kevin Youkilis 32.6 Adrian Gonzalez 36.1
Ian Kinsler 31.7 Justin Upton 33.9
Ichiro Suzuki 31.6 Ryan Zimmerman 33.8
Brandon Inge 31.1 Ryan Braun 31.1
Carl Crawford 30.6 David Wright 31.1
Marco Sctuaro 29.5 Raul Ibanez 30.9

Pujols takes his rightful place as the NL leader after the bum ranked just third through April and second through May. He finished June by launching a pair of homers
off Randy Johnson to become the seventh player in baseball history with
30 long balls before July 1. The other six are Babe Ruth (twice), Sammy
Sosa (twice), Ken Griffey Jr. (twice), Barry Bonds, Luis Gonzalez, and
Mark McGwire, with all but Ruth’s seasons coming since 1994.

No big surprises in the NL, as the cream has risen to the top with
the usual suspects like Chase Utley, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez,
Ryan Braun, and David Wright. Justin Upton is having one of the best
seasons ever by a 21-year-old, hitting .320/.399/.576 with 14 homers
and 37 total extra-base hits in 72 games after being benched by a since-fired manager
on Opening Day. Matt Kemp has been one of the league’s best players,
yet has batted higher than sixth in the Dodgers’ lineup just 10 times.

Ben Zobrist is the surprise RAR leader in the AL, although as I wrote about last week
he’s actually been putting up big numbers since last season. Tampa
Bay’s infield accounts for three of the four most valuable players in
the league, with Zobrist leading the pack, Evan Longoria ranking third
after being No. 1 through both April and May, and Jason Bartlett
returning from the disabled list to claim the fourth spot. Toss in Carl
Crawford at No. 9 and it’s easy to see why they lead the league in

In between all the Rays’ infielders is Joe Mauer, who while still
lacking enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title after
sitting out all of April has been nearly 40 runs better than a
replacement-level catcher in just 54 games. Hitting .383 with a .455
on-base percentage and .662 slugging percentage while playing the
least-offensive position in baseball tends to rack up RAR in a hurry.

At the other end of the RAR spectrum, the least valuable player in baseball has been Brian Giles at 16.2 runs below
replacement level, followed by Delmon Young (-15.2), Vernon Wells
(-13.6), Alexi Casilla (-10.8), and Gary Matthews Jr. (-10.4). Wells is
the big shocker on that list, as he never produced a negative RAR while
being a combined 204.4 runs above replacement level from 2002-2008.

People are paying tens of thousands to get into the World Series

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 24:  Chicago Cubs fans visit Wrigley Field on October 24, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs will face off against the Cleveland Indians in the World Series beginning tomorrow. This will be the Cubs first trip to the series since 1945. The Indians last trip to the series was 1948.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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Ticket prices for the World Series are always ridiculous, but this year things are heading to a whole new ridiculous level.

Now, to be clear, some of the figures you hear are not what will be paid for tickets. The Associated Press has the de rigueur story of ticket holders asking, like, a million dollars for their tickets and ticket seekers willing to give all kinds of in-kind goods and services for a chance to see the Cubs play in Wrigley. A lot of that noise will never amount to any real transaction and, in some cases, will likely end up with someone getting arrested. It’s crazy time, you know.

But even if those million dollar and sex-for-tickets stories end up being more smoke than fire, people will end up paying astronomical prices to get in. Some already are. ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports that someone paid $32,000 on StubHub for 4 seats in the front row by the Cubs visitors dugout for Game 2 at Progressive Field in Cleveland. The prices in Wrigley Field for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5 will likely go higher. There’s a ton of pent-up demand on the part of both Cubs and Indians fans, after all.

Still: trying to imagine how an in-stadium experience, no matter how long someone has been waiting for it, is worth that kind of scratch. Guess it all depends on whether that kind of money constitutes that kind of scratch for a given person.

World Series Reset: Cubs vs. Indians Game 1

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 24:  Manager Joe Maddon of the Chicago Cubs speaks with the media during Media Day for the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 24, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The Game: Chicago Cubs @ Cleveland Indians, World Series Game 1
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Place: Progressive Field, Cleveland
The Channel: FOX
The Starters: Jon Lester (Cubs) vs. Corey Kluber (Indians)

The Upshot:

After 2,430 (give or take) regular season games and 28 playoff games, we’ve arrived at the World Series. By now the teams should need no introduction, but if you’d like a general overview, by all means, check out or World Series preview from yesterday. The short version: the Cubs may be the best team in baseball this year, but the World Series is a lot more evenly-matched than many believe. Including the gamblers who have caused the Vegas oddsmakers to set this as a 2-1 affair in favor of the Cubs. We don’t think that reflects baseball reality, even if it reflects gambling reality.

On the field in Game 1 is a classic battle of aces. Jon Lester, who has a chance to win the NL Cy Young Award this year, faces off against Corey Kluber, who won the Cy Young Award a couple of years ago and rounded back into Cy Young form in the second half of this season. At the moment manager Terry Francona certainly sees him as an old school ace, with reports that Kluber could get the start in Game 1, Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7 should things last that long. Somewhere Bob Gibson is smiling.

Lester is 2-0 and has allowed two runs in 21 playoff innings across three starts this year. He threw eight shutout innings in Game 1 of the Division Series against the Giants, gave up one run in six innings in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Dodgers and gave up one run in seven innings in an Game 5 of the NLCS. For his part, Kluber tossed seven shutout innings against the Red Sox in the Division Series, six and a third shutout innings against the Jays in the first game of the ALCS and allowed two runs in five innings in a loss in Game 5 of the ALCS.

The Indians are hoping, of course, that Kluber can leave with a lead, allowing them to go long with relief aces Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. The Cubs will no doubt be looking to strike quickly, knowing that coming from behind against that Cleveland pen is a tall order. Not that the Indians can count on late heroics themselves given that Aroldis Champan looms late for the Cubs. Both lineups are filled with potential game-changing bats, but bullpens loom large here.

The runup to this has been all about 1908 and 1945 and 1948 with a splash of 1995 and 1997 thrown in. None of that matters as of tonight. At that point, the game will be in the hands of men who weren’t even born for most of that and who have only hazy memory of some of it. The 2016 World Series will be decided by 2016 players, not by curses or the weight of history.

It all gets underway just after 8pm.