Wagner close to rejoining Mets' bullpen

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Adam Rubin of the New York Daily News reports that Billy Wagner is expected to return from the disabled list and rejoin the Mets’ bullpen Sunday, assuming that his final minor-league rehab outing goes smoothly Friday at high Single-A. Wagner is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery last September and has thrown five scoreless innings with six strikeouts and zero walks during his rehab stint.
Wagner is making $10.5 million this season, but because the Mets are all but guaranteed to buy out the final year of his contract for $1 million rather than exercise their $8 million team option for 2010 the 38-year-old will likely be auditioning for a new team. In fact, there’s some speculation that the Mets could look to pass Wagner through waivers and trade him before the end of the month.
While in Washington, D.C. last month for the annual Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) convention, my dorks friends and I had a debate about the greatest left-handed relief pitcher in baseball history while eating sushi one afternoon. Lots of names were tossed into the mix and compelling cases were made for a handful of guys, but at the end of the day the consensus was that Wagner reigns supreme.
If that strikes you as unlikely you’re not alone, but it turns out that the vast majority of elite relievers throughout baseball history are right-handed, whether because of random chance, platoon effects, or teams being less likely to convert an effective southpaw to the bullpen. Whatever the case, here are the top adjusted ERA+ marks from left-handers who totaled at least 600 career innings and worked primarily as relievers:

                        IP     ERA+
BILLY WAGNER           818     180
John Franco           1246     137
John Hiller           1242     134
Steve Howe             606     129
Sparky Lyle           1390     127
Jesse Orosco          1295     125
Gary Lavelle          1085     125
Steve Kline            682     124
Ron Perranoski        1175     123
Randy Myers            885     122

No one even comes close to Wagner on a per-inning basis, but perhaps a decent argument could be made for guys like John Franco, John Hiller, Sparky Lyle, and Jesse Orosco based on their throwing significantly more innings. Still, it would be tough not to pick Wagner, who checks in with a 180 ERA+ while the rest of the top 10 are bunched between 122 and 137, ranks sixth all-time in saves, and has six All-Star appearances. Now we’ll see if he can add to that resume.

Reds acquire Darnell Sweeney from the Dodgers

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The Reds acquired utilityman Darnell Sweeney from the Dodgers in exchange for cash considerations, J.P. Hoornstra of the Southern California News Group reports.

This is the second time that the Dodgers have traded Sweeney. The club sent him to the Phillies along with John Richy in August 2015 for Chase Utley. The Phillies sent him back to the Dodgers this past offseason with Darin Ruf in exchange for Howie Kendrick.

Sweeney, 26, made his major league debut in 2015 with the Phillies, hitting a meager .176/.286/.353 in 98 plate appearances. With Triple-A Oklahoma City this season, he hit .227/.290/.412 in 131 PA. While Sweeney’s bat hasn’t proven to be anything special, he has played second base, third base, shortstop, and all three outfield positions, so his flexibility will make him useful at some point.

Bryce Harper to Little League players: “No participation trophies, first place only”

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Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper had some words of advice for a local Little League team on Saturday, telling a crowd of young players and their parents that winning matters far more than any participation trophies they might receive for their efforts on the field.

“As much as they might tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you guys lost…’ No, Johnny, no,” Harper explained. “No participation trophies, okay? First place only. Come on.”

The panic over participation trophy culture has swelled over the last few years as studies continue to suggest that children are happier when they’re praised for their accomplishments, rather than rewarded for simply trying their best. The general idea is that kids aren’t motivated to succeed when they know they’ll receive a ribbon or medal celebrating their efforts at the end of the day — regardless of whether they win or lose. (Granted, it stands to reason that every kid can feel the difference between winning a championship trophy and receiving a participation ribbon.) Some have taken the idea to an extreme, claiming that when a child receives too many accolades for mediocre or poor performances, it can warp the way they view the world by generating a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Harper kept his tone light during the Q&A session, however, drawing cheers and applause from the majority of parents and a few of the kids. The 2015 NL MVP has routinely taken his own advice over the years, earning Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star nominations and a Silver Slugger award since he broke into the major leagues in 2012. Next on his list? A World Series championship.