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: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

As
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

White Sox 7, Twins 6; Twins 10, White Sox 2: The Sox and Twins cancel each other’s win out in this twin-bill. Yolmer Sanchez homered and drove in four runs and Jose Abreu went deep in the first game, as Jorge Polanco hit a three-run homer in a losing cause. In the nightcap Jorge Polanco hit a three-run homer in a winning cause. Brian Dozier hit a three-run homer as well, while  Byron Buxton and Jason Castro each added a solo shot. The Twins have won five of six.

Orioles 7, Athletics 3: Adam Jones hit a pair of solo home runs, scored three times and went 4-for-4 on the evening while Jonathan Schoop added a three-run homer. Boog Powell hit a homer for the A’s. It was the first homer of his career, but the 134th time any Boog Powell hit a homer in Baltimore. The last time: September 28, 1974.

Dodgers 6, Pirates 5: Curtis Granderson hit a grand slam in the Dodgers’ five-run seventh — it was his second salami in the space of a week, one with the Mets, one with the Dodgers — and Yasiel Puig hit a solo homer in the 12th inning that put the Dodgers over. The Pirates have lost seven of nine.

Indians 5, Red Sox 4: Cleveland wins on a walkoff bunt from Roberto Perez + a Brock Holt throwing error trying to get the runner at third. That led to a celebration for Cleveland, but there was much to worry about too, as ace reliever Andrew Miller flashed low velocity before leaving with patella tendinitis in his right knee.

Diamondbacks 3, Mets 2: It was 1-1 after regulation but A.J. Pollock hit a two-run homer in the top of the tenth, which was better than Michael Conforto‘s solo shot in the bottom half, giving Arizona the win. There were 12 pitchers used in this game, obscuring the fact that Arizona’s Taijuan Walker (5.1 IP, 7 H, 0 ER) and New York’s Robert Gsellman (6.1 IP, 5 H, 1 ER) pitched pretty darn well.

Mariners 6, Braves 5: Andrew Albers got the win — his second in a week after going four years since his last one — and he also (all together now) helped his own cause with an RBI on an infield single. Two sac bunts too, which is a pretty dang good day for an AL pitcher in an NL park. All the nicer that he did it against Atlanta, whose minor league system he had been in all season before an August 11 trade to Seattle. He pitched well there too, so you can imagine he wanted to show them.

Rangers 5, Angels 3: Cole Hamels allowed two runs on three hits over seven and Adrian Beltre hit a three-run homer. The loss dropped the Angels a half-game back of Minnesota for the second AL Wild Card. The Rangers are in the mix too, and they closed to within two games of the final spot. It’s pretty much chaos, however, as eight teams are within four games of each other in Wild Card contention. It’s gonna be a cluster for a good three weeks I suspect. Maybe longer.

Giants 2, Brewers 0: Chris Stratton and three relievers — one of which was Matt Cain, which is hard to get used to seeing in a box score — shut out the Brewers. Stratton’s six shutout innings added to six and two-thirds shutout innings in his previous start to give him a nice little streak. He only struck out one, however, which seems like a violation of the laws of physics in 2017.

Andrew Miller left Monday’s game due to reaggravation of patella tendinitis

Jason Miller/Getty Images
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Indians reliever Andrew Miller lasted only six pitches in Monday night’s appearance against the Red Sox. He walked Mookie Betts on six pitches before being relieved by Dan Otero. Per MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian, Miller reaggravated the patella tendinitis in his right knee.

Miller, 32, missed a couple of weeks earlier this month with patella tendinitis. He was activated last Friday and got two outs in a scoreless appearance against the Royals that night.

Bastian pointed out that Miller’s velocity has been lower than usual. He averaged 92.1 MPH on his fastball on Friday and 90.1 MPH on Monday, well below his normal average around 94 MPH.

The Indians should have more on Miller’s status after Monday’s game or on Tuesday. The lefty is carrying a 1.65 ERA with a 79/16 K/BB ratio in 54 2/3 innings on the season.