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:

AMERICAN LEAGUE        RAR          NATIONAL LEAGUE        RAR
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
runs.

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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Cubs 4, Giants 1: Jon Lester tossed a complete game with 10 strikeouts and needed only 99 pitches to get it done. That’s not a “Maddux” — that requires a shutout — but in terms of efficiency it’s almost more impressive given that, you know, you need at least three pitches to strike a dude out. Schwarber, Heyward and Rizzo homered for the Cubbies.

Twins 2, Orioles 0: Ervin Santana did, in fact, shut out his opponents and he did it with a complete game two-hitter. He needed 105 pitches to do I think he’s fine with that.

Indians 8, Reds 7: If you’ve talked to Indians fans much in the season’s first couple of months the thing you hear most often is disappointment in Edwin Encarnacion‘s performance. There was no problem with it here, as he hit two homers and drove in three. Worth noting that Encarnacion’s big league debut came in a Reds-Indians game. That was on June 24, 2005, when he was playing for Cincinnati in a series up in Cleveland. I’ll always remember it because earlier that day I was checking into a hotel there and Encarnacion was in front of me in line, having just made it to town from Louisville. When he gave his name the Marriott lady handed him a big envelope with maps and parking instructions and a wad of cash and all kinds of other things left there for him by the Reds. He seemed confused and overwhelmed. He also went hitless in his first six games. No matter how much he accomplishes in his career, I always think of him as that confused guy at the Cleveland Marriott and I’ll always root for him a little bit.

Braves 6, Pirates 5: Matt Adams is quickly making friends in Atlanta. He homered in the sixth to bring the Braves to within a run and then he hit a walkoff single in the bottom of the 9th to give them the win. In between those events came a three-hour rain delay. The game ended just before 2AM and, rain delay included, meant for a 6 hour, 15 minute evening. There were probably only 200 fans in Sun Trust Park when Adams hit that game winning single, but every one of those 200 people started a band.

Nationals 10, Mariners 1:Anthony Rendon homered twice and drove in five and Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth each went deep as well. Joe Ross got ten runs to work with but he didn’t need ’em, as he allowed only one run over eight innings of work. Rendon was asked how the Nats scored all those runs and said “I don’t know, I guess we were swinging at good pitches.” The reporter’s response:

Rockies 8, Phillies 2: Charlie Blackmon went deep twice, both two-run shots. He leads all of baseball with 40 RBI. He’s played in 46 games. He’s led off 45 times and batted ninth the other time. Take that, people who care about batting order.

Red Sox 11, Rangers 6Xander Bogaerts had three hits and three RBI but the stat I find most impressive is that he scored on wild pitches twice, once from Andrew Cashner, once from Jeremy Jeffress. The Sox had 11 runs on 12 hits and drew eight walks from Rangers pitching. This box score looks like it came straight out of 1999 or so.

Royals 6, Yankees 2: New York had a 2-0 lead heading into the seventh but then the Royals put up a three-spot in the next two frames. All eight runs in this one came via the longball: Cain, Bonafacio, Merrifield and Moustakas for Kansas City, Hicks and Carter for the Bombers. Danny Duffy got the win after striking out seven over seven. It was his second win over the Yankees in a week.

Mets 9, Padres 3: Michael Conforto homered twice and had a career-high four RBI. Three of those RBI came in the Mets’ seven-run first inning as New York jumped all over Jhoulys Chacin. The Mets romped, but this play by Padres catcher Austin Hedges may have been the highlight:

Angels 4, Rays 0: Matt Shoemaker tossed shutout ball into the seventh. He had a 2-0 lead six pitches into the game, as Cameron Maybin and Mike Trout went deep in the first inning. The Angels have won seven of nine.

Blue Jays 4, Brewers 3: The Jays had a 4-0 lead,thanks in part to a Kendrys Morales homer. Milwaukee pulled close, however, chasing Jays starter Joe Biagini with three runs in the fifth inning. The Jays pen then shut things down with four Toronto relievers combining to shut out the Brewers over the final four and two-thirds.

Astros 6, Tigers 2: Brian McCann is on the concussion DL, but Juan Centeno, making his big league debut, homered in his place last night. Lance McCullers allowed a one hit in five shutout innings to extend his scoreless innings streak to 22. He had to leave early, though, as he was less than efficient. Jordan Zimmermann allowed four runs — only two of them earned — on five hits while pitching into the seventh. It was his birthday. Maybe the Tigers defense will get him something better today to make up for it.

Diamondbacks 5, White Sox 4J.J. Hoover came into the game with one out and the bases loaded in the eighth inning, the Dbacks clinging to a one-run lead. Then he struck out Kevan Smith and Yolmer Sanchez to preserve that lead and, ultimately, the win. That wasn’t even his best performance of the day, however. Earlier he won a dang cow milking contest:

 

He’s from Western Pennsylvania so, you know.

Dodgers 2, Cardinals 1: Clayton Kershaw pitched well enough to win — he went nine innings, striking out 10 and allowing only one run on a ninth inning wild pitch — but so too did Lance Lynn who went eight innings, striking out ten and allowing only one run on a first inning homer. So this one went to extras. It ended in the 13th when Jonathan Broxton issued a two-out walk to Kiké Hernandez and followed it up by allowing a walkoff double to Logan Forsythe.

Marlins 11, Athletics 9: Miami had a five-run lead heading into the bottom of the ninth. The gave up three to Oakland, but that’s it. Justin Bour had four hits including his fourth home run in five games. Giancarlo Stanton and Dee Gordon had three hits each. Every Miami player had at least one by the third inning.

Joe Maddon: “I have a defensive foot fetish.”

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The Cubs’ defense — or lack thereof this year — has been a topic of conversation as it could help explain why the team hasn’t played at the elite level it played at last year.

Manager Joe Maddon tried to go into detail about that but ended up channeling his inner Rex Ryan. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney.

Well then.