Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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As was the case last week and many weeks before, the Yankees rule the roost.  If you have an argument against it, make it in the comments. Then have yourself committed to a mental ward for an acute case of the crazy:

1. Yankees: I gave half a thought to going with the crazy and knocking them down a peg for moaning about not getting Cliff Lee, but no need to punish the players simply because some anonymous whack job in the front office lacks perspective. They obviously didn’t need Lee anyway. They’re cruising and they’ll just get Lee this winter. For now it all looks like cream cheese.

2. Braves: If there was any doubt about who is ruling the roost in the NL East right now, the Braves’ successful road trip through Philly and New York — two of three from the Phils and the Mets — put that to rest.

3. Rays: Nice rebound week (and change) for the Rays, taking three of four from the Twins, sweeping the Red Sox and taking care of the Indians.

4. White Sox: Ain’t nobody hotter than Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox. Coming back from 9.5 down just over a month ago to take over the division is the feat of the year so far.

5. Padres: A weird road trip — all the way from San Diego to Washington for three games and then clear back to Colorado — discombobulated the Padres a bit.  Seeing them in those slug fests in D.C. was . . . odd.

6. Tigers: Trying hard to get the number of the black and white truck that just ran them off the road.

7. Red Sox: Still banged up and now there’s some back and forth in the press between Youkilis and Ellsbury. Nice time for a few days off to clear heads and heal bodies.

8. Rockies: Colorado, in contrast, doesn’t wand the music to stop for four days, because they’re on a roll, serving notice to the Padres that the West won’t be theirs for long. In fact, number eight feels a little low for them.

9. Dodgers: They’re not turning heads like the Rockies are, but they’re just as close to the Padres. Not quite as talented a team, however, so they have to make a deal to hang in there, I think. Unless of course you think Vicente Padilla is going to spin seven shutout innings multiple times over the second half.

10. Rangers: Bad first start notwithstanding, getting Cliff Lee
puts them in the driver’s seat in the West. Heck, they may have been
there anyway, recent stumbles notwithstanding, because the Angels are
stumbling just as much.

11. Mets:  It’s not my anti-Mets bias that has me believing that they’re not the biggest threat to the Braves in the NL East. It’s plain old objectivity.  Mike Pelfrey has struggled recently. R.A. Dickey could have a great second half, but I don’t know how much I’d bet on that. The bullpen looks tired. If Beltran comes back strong or if they make a big trade I think they can hang, but short of that there are reasons for concern.  

12. Twins: Like Aaron said this morning: Free fall. The starters are getting creamed, both Mauer and Morneau are hurt/sick/struggling/whatever. They’re farther back in the Central now than they have been all year and things are looking bleak. Is the break enough for them, or do they need to make a deal?

13. Phillies: Three straight walkoff wins for the Phillies through Saturday, and a couple of pitching gems to close out the weekend. The offense and the non-Halladay portion of the rotation is still a concern, however. How they come out of the break will determine whether last week’s Jayson Werth trade rumors were merely a function of panic or the emergence of a dominant theme.

14. Reds: The Phillies’ series was a pain, but thankfully the Cardinals have been stumbling too.  The Reds need help in the bullpen, though, and quickly if they are to keep setting the tone, because St. Louis isn’t going to be down like this for long.

15. Cardinals, Giants: Identical records and only a two-run difference in run differential. The Giants enter the break on an upnote and the Cardinals on more of downnote, but I like the Cardinals’ chances better simply because they have fewer good teams to contend with and a ton of games left against some really, really bad ones.

17. Angels: An ugly and uninspiring series against the White Sox and the Rangers getting Cliff Lee makes for a pretty dispiriting week in Anaheim. But hey, All-Star Game is in town.

18. Blue Jays: It’s just astonishing to me how big a difference there has been between Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2009 and Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2010. Oh, and if you’re going to have a silly little Home Run Derby anyway, what’s the point of leaving Jose Bautista out of it? I mean, he only leads the majors in home runs and stuff.

19. Marlins: Jeff Loria would like to thank LeBron James for taking the focus off the Marlins for the rest of the season and likely for the next several years.

20. Athletics: Any A’s fans looking for something to cheer them up in this pretty down season should read yesterday’s editorial from Andy Dolich in the Chronicle: “When fans of the Green and Gold are celebrating their fifth world
championship, it will be in Oakland.” Hey, delusion can be cheering!

21. Royals: Optimism is at an all-time high in Kansas City right now. Well, maybe not “all-time” but at least a recent high. I’m not believing that talk about the Royals being playoff contenders — leave that to the Yostafarians out there — but it’s certainly nice for the Royals to not be a laughing stock for once.

22. Nationals: Frankly, having the season descend into crud like it has is the best possible thing for the Nats, inasmuch as it allows them to simply shut down Strasburg when he reaches his innings limit and will give them the flexibility to make some moves. I mean, yeah, I like Adam Dunn a lot, but if he can be flipped for some useful parts, it will be a good for the long term outlook to trade him.

23. Cubs: Owner Tom Ricketts said on Friday that “no one could have predicted the difficulty we’ve had” this far this
season.  Oh really? OK, I was wrong about Zambrano bouncing back and was overly concerned about Ted Lilly, but they looked like a fourth place team to me back on April 1st and at the All-Star break they’re in fourth place.

24. Brewers:  I know the Brewers draw well, but I hadn’t really thought of it in these terms before: “The Milwaukee Brewers play in baseball’s smallest market, but they have
sold more tickets this year than the New York Mets.”

25. Astros: Better play of late, but firing hitting coach Sean Berry and replacing him with Jeff Bagwell is a joke move. Like it’s Sean Berry’s fault the Astros suck. Like Jeff Bagwell will be able to do anything to turn things around. The reason Houston is terrible is because of Drayton McLane and Ed Wade, not because of the coaches. Unless Berry keyed Wade’s car or something, this move is all about making a scapegoat out of someone and is borne of the cynical belief that the identity of the hitting coach will get fans excited about a terrible team.

26. Mariners: Maybe the biggest failure in Seattle this year was the expectations game. So much activity in the offseason — and a lot of “Lee and King Felix a the top of the rotation!” hype — fooled a lot of people into believing that this team would do more than it was truly capable of. Objectively speaking, though, the Lee trade-and-flip worked out for them nicely and they’re a better team today than they were last week because of it. If they hadn’t brought Griffey back and if Jack Z. had said “hey, we’re rebuilding” a few times over the winter, people probably wouldn’t have been so down on the M’s in the first half.

27. Indians: Matt LaPorta and Carlos Santana have been great so far and give the Indians hope for the future. Sadly, however, departed superstars and hope for the future is not the sort of thing that’s going to make Cleveland fans feel good right now. Cliff Lee trade? LeBron James insanity? When does Browns camp start?

28. Diamondbacks: Headline “Dan Haren looking for strong second half for season.” Unspoken context: “for whom?”
 
29. Orioles: Of all the disappointments in Baltimore this year, perhaps the most surprising and the most depressing has been Matt Wieters’ .245/.315/.357 line in the first half. Remember back in the day when he inspired this kind of thing?

30. Pirates: There are a lot of sad comments that could be made about the Pirates, but maybe the saddest comes in the Post-Gazette’s first-half wrap up story in which it lists the season’s “high point” as the second game of the season when they had a big crowd for a game in which a boatload of tickets were discounted to $1.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]