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.

The Cubs acquire Rex Brothers from the Rockies

Rex Brothers Rockies

The number of people who, if you held a gun to their head, would say that “Rex Brothers” was a game show host and/or local TV news personality from the late 1970s or early 80s is not insignificant. But if you’re a Rockies fan or if spend all day thinking about baseball you know that he’s a reliever who has played in Colorado for the past five years. Now you know him as a reliever for the Cubs:

Brothers — a former Best Shape of His Life All-Star — was pretty good until he hit a brick wall in 2014 and spent most of 2015 in Triple-A. He had something of a bounceback after being called up when rosters expanded in September, but that’s not the sort of thing to excite anyone. He could be useful for the Cubs or just spring training cannon fodder and organizational depth.

Cabrera just turned 18 a couple of weeks ago and pitched a grand total of 14 games in the Dominican Summer League. He’s young and was a $250,000 signee from the Dominican as a 16-year-old so, by definition, he’s a project. Worth giving up Rex Brothers for him if you’re the Rockies, worth risking for some depth in the pen if you’re the Cubs.

Diamondbacks hire Dave Magadan as hitting coach

Dave Magadan Rangers
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Steve Gilbert of reports that the Diamondbacks’ new hitting coach is Dave Magadan, who “parted ways” with the Rangers last month after three years filling the same role in Texas.

Magadan also previously was the Red Sox’s hitting coach and his teams have generally done pretty well, including the Rangers scoring the third-most runs in the league this year.

He’ll have plenty of talent to work with in Arizona, as the Diamondbacks scored the second-most runs in the league led by Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, and David Peralta. Turner Ward, who had been Arizona’s hitting coach, chose to leave the team two weeks ago.

A’s reacquire Jed Lowrie in trade with Astros

Jed Lowrie

Jed Lowrie, who was traded from the Astros to the A’s in 2013 and then re-signed with the Astros as a free agent last offseason, has now been traded back to the A’s.

Lowrie got a three-year, $23 million deal from the Astros with the idea that he’d play shortstop in the first season and then move to another position whenever stud prospect Carlos Correa arrived. Instead he got hurt right away, Correa became an immediate star, and the Astros weren’t so keen on paying him $15 million over the next two seasons.

He could resume playing shortstop for the A’s, who watched rookie Marcus Semien make an absurd number of errors there this year. Lowrie hit .271 with a .738 OPS in two seasons in Oakland, which is similar to his career totals and makes him a solidly above-average offensive shortstop. There’s a decent chance the A’s will have a Lowrie-Lawrie double-play duo in 2016.

In return the Astros get minor leaguer Brendan McCurry, a 24-year-old right-hander who split 2015 between high Single-A and Double-A with a 1.86 ERA and 82/17 K/BB ratio in 63 relief innings. He was a 22nd-round draft pick in 2014 and doesn’t have exceptional raw stuff, but McCurry’s numbers are incredible so far.

White Sox sign catcher Alex Avila to a one-year deal

Detroit Tigers' Alex Avila, right, is congratulated by third base coach Dave Clark after his solo home run in the third inning in the second game of a baseball doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox, Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

There have been a lot of articles published in the past few days about how to navigate awkward Thanksgiving conversations with your relatives. Heck, we even wrote one.

But there’s always room for more! Such as “How to talk to your father at Thanksgiving dinner about the fact that he let you walk away from the only team you’ve ever known to sign with a division rival.” Which is what Alex Avila will likely be talking about with his father, Tigers GM Al Avila:

The older Avila can’t even say he did it because he’s opposed to nepotism. After all, he just hired his other son — who has had his law degree for just over a year — as the Tigers assistant legal counsel for baseball operations. Though I’m sure that wasn’t nepotism. He probably just aced the interview and impressed everyone more than the other candidates did.

OK, those are jokes. In all seriousness, this is a good move for Alex and Al and, probably, the White Sox. With the emergence of James McCann, there really is not space for Alex Avila in Detroit in anything other than a backup capacity. In Chicago, he’ll get more playing time. At least if he can (a) stay healthy; and (b) not hit .191/.339/.287 again like he did in 2015.