Jose Bautista

First-third awards: 2011 AL MVP

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Closing out the selections with the one no-brainer in the bunch.  Still., there’s a good race for second place.

First, the OPS leaders:

1.276 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR): .360/.502/.773, 20 HR, 40 RBI, 5 SB in 172 AB
1.064 – Matt Joyce (OF TB): .364/.423/.642, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 4 SB in 173 AB
1.001 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET): .311/.432/.568, 11 HR, 40 RBI, 0 SB in 190 AB
.964 – David Ortiz (DH BOS): .313/.382/.582, 13 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB in 201 AB
.960 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY): .278/.348/.612, 17 HR, 41 RBI, 8 SB in 209 AB
.918 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS): .329/.377/.541, 10 HR, 46 RBI, 1 SB in 231 AB
.908 – Jhonny Peralta (SS DET): .314/.373/.535, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 0 SB in 172 AB
.901 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA): .322/.388/.520, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 4 SB in 177 AB
.901 – Mark Teixeira (1B NYY): .257/.367/.535, 16 HR, 38 RBI, 1 SB in 202 AB
.899 – Mitch Moreland (1B TEX): .307/.384/.515, 7 HR, 18 RBI, 2 SB in 163 AB
.897 – Paul Konerko (1B CWS): .310/.381/.516, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 1 SB in 213 AB
.896 – Carlos Quentin (OF CWS): .258/.351/.545, 13 HR, 37 RBI, 0 SB in 198 AB
.875 – Asdrubal Cabrera (SS CLE): .299/.352/.522, 10 HR, 39 RBI, 7 SB in 224 AB

A couple of shortstops and a second baseman find their way into the the top 13 here. A few other notables:

.877* – Alex Avila (C DET): .281/.349/.527, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 2 SB in 146 AB
.852 – Kevin Youkilis (3B BOS): .254/.377/.475, 8 HR, 34 RBI, 1 SB in 181 AB
.839 – Robinson Cano (2B NYY): .284/.324/.514, 11 HR, 37 RBI, 5 SB in 208 AB
.809 – Russell Martin (C NYY): .242/.352/.458, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 6 SB in 153 AB

Avila falls short of qualifying for the batting title, hence his placement in the second list.

Now we’ll see what WAR has to say about it. Baseball-Reference first:

4.9 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.4 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
3.2 – Denard Span (OF MIN)
2.4 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS)
2.3 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.2 – Kevin Youkilis (3B BOS)
2.1 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET)
2.1 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA)
2.0 – Alex Gordon (OF KC)
1.9 – Alex Avila (C DET)
1.9 – Asdrubal Cabrera (SS CLE)
1.9 – Jacoby Ellsbury (OF BOS)
1.9 – Yunel Escobar (SS TOR)
1.9 – Maicer Izturis (INF LAA)

I left the pitchers off the list. Josh Beckett, who ranked third at 3.3 WAR, is the only one I’d consider worthy of a down-ballot vote right now.

B-Ref thinks Span has been the AL’s best defender by a huge margin. He’s credited with 1.8 WAR defensively. The next highest are Alcides Escobar and Brett Gardner at 1.0 WAR.

The Cabreras are taking big defensive hits. Miguel and Asdrubal rank third and fourth here with 2.6 and 2.4 offensive WAR, but both lose half a win with their gloves.

On to Fangraphs’ WAR:

4.9 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.2 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
2.9 – Howie Kendrick (2B LAA)
2.9 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.7 – Alexei Ramirez (SS CWS)
2.6 – Denard Span (OF MIN)
2.3 – Ben Zobrist (2B-OF TB)
2.2 – Alex Rodriguez (3B NYY)
2.2 – Jhonny Peralta (SS DET)
2.1 – Miguel Cabrera (1B DET)
2.1 – Alex Gordon (OF KC)

Fangraphs also rates Span as the league’s top defender. The shocking thing is that Kendrick comes in second. Zobrist and A-Rod are also getting big points there.

One last list: WPA. Yesterday, I used only the positive component in discussing the NL MVP race, but I’ve reconsidered and will go actual WPA today.

3.52 – Jose Bautista (OF TOR)
3.02 – Miguel Cabrera (OF DET)
2.60 – Matt Joyce (OF TB)
2.19 – Curtis Granderson (OF NYY)
2.09 – Adrian Gonzalez (1B BOS)
2.00 – Michael Young (INF-DH TEX)
1.93 – Justin Smoak (1B SEA)
1.79 – Adam Jones (OF BAL)
1.54 – Bobby Abreu (OF LAA)
1.24 – Michael Brantley (OF CLE)

So, yeah, that’s four lists and Bautista tops every one of them. It gets more complicated after that.

WAR favors Joyce for the second spot, but he didn’t play against lefties early on and he’s started just 47 of the Rays’ 56 games. Consequently, he’s tied for 17th in the league in RBI. I think those factors knock him down a bit.

Granderson looks like a pretty strong choice for the second spot despite the middling .348 OBP. Hitting lefties for the first time in his career, he’s second in the league in homers and fourth in RBI while playing a quality center field.

I really want to put Asdrubal up near the top, too. He’s the biggest reason the Indians have ranked as the game’s surprise team for two months. Peralta has been just as good offensively, but I’m not buying into the idea that he’s really the superior defensive shortstop.

AL MVP
1. Bautista
2. Granderson
3. A. Cabrera
4. Joyce
5. A. Gonzalez
6. M. Cabrera
7. Peralta
8. Beckett
9. Young
10. Gordon

That’s the list. I gave some thought to sneaking Avila on, as he’s easily been the league’s best catcher to date, yet three Tigers seemed like overkill. Instead, I went for the guy who has been far and away the top left fielder, Gordon.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT

The Phillies are seeing to it that their minor leaguers eat well

Crop of vegetables. Potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables.
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For years we’ve talked about how odd it is that baseball teams are in the extraordinarily competitive business of developing highly-trained athletes yet, for whatever reason, it pays minor leaguers virtually nothing and all but forces them to subsist on junk food and other cheap options.

As Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, however, the Phillies are changing that. Indeed, they’re plowing serious money into nutritious food options for their minor league players:

The Phillies are teaching their minor leaguers how to play baseball, so why not teach them how to eat well, too?

“We want them to not have to worry about anything other than baseball,” assistant general manager Ned Rice said. “When they’re playing for the Phillies, they’ll have that stuff taken care of for them.”

 

That this is a news story — and it is a good and novel one — is kind of sad in some ways. How teams haven’t been on board with this approach for decades is beyond me.

Tracking baseball’s “Naturals”

The Natural
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Rob Neyer has a great column in today’s New York Times in which he tracks the real life players who, at one time or another, were dubbed “The Natural.” A la Roy Hobbs in the book and movie of the same name.

There are some that a lot of people probably remember: Jeff Francoeur and Ken Griffey, Jr. as “The Natural” come to mind easily. There are some who I don’t ever recall being called “The Natural” but were, apparently, like Terry Pendelton and Karim Garcia. There are also some whose stories were far odder and far more tragic than any version of Hobbs’ tale (oh man, a Toe Nash sighting!). Then there’s Rick Ankiel, whose path may be the closest one to Hobbs’ of them all, at least broadly speaking.

Fun stuff that, in addition to being a walk down memory lane, is also an instructive lesson about how the power of narrative works in sports.