Aaron Hicks

Handicapping the AL Rookie of the Year race

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Bringing back something I used to do each year for fun, here’s a look at the American League Rookie of the Year possibilities, with odds posted for several of the favorites. I’ll follow suit with the National League tomorrow.

Please note: Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin is ineligible for Rookie of the Year honors. He spent too much time in the majors last season. Otherwise, he’d likely be the second favorite.

Mike Olt (1B-3B Rangers) – 25:1 – Olt was being considered for a bench spot entering spring training, but a poor showing (.194/.324/.419 in 31 AB) got him sent down to play everyday. Since he’s 24, that’s the right move anyway. Olt would be starting at third base for a few teams right now, and he’s also an option at first base and maybe in the outfield corners in case injuries begin piling up in Texas. Alternatively, he could be the team’s best trade bait if it needs help in July. If he has to wait until then, it’ll probably be too late for a ROY bid.

Projection: .241/.327/.408, 12 HR, 40 R, 42 RBI, 3 SB in 316 AB

Dylan Bundy (RHP Orioles) – 20:1 – Bundy would have gotten better odds if not for the presence of Orioles 2012 first-round pick Kevin Gausman, who might have taken his place in line for a May callup. Bundy remains the game’s No. 1 pitching prospect, but Gausman is closing in on a spot on the top five, and Gausman is probably the more polished of the two, having been drafted out of LSU. Bundy, a high school product drafted fourth overall in 2011, went 9-3 with a 2.08 ERA and a 119/29 K/BB ratio in 103 2/3 IP in the minors last year, topping out in Double-A. He’s a phenomenal talent, but since he’ll be limited to around 150 innings this year, he’ll only have so much of a chance to show what he can do.

Projection: 8-5, 3.88 ERA, 1.321 WHIP, 112 Ks in 109 IP

Carter Capps (RHP Mariners) – 20:1 – Seattle closer Tom Wilhelmsen was shaky towards the end of the spring, giving up six runs in his final six innings. Capps, on the other hand, was just about untouchable, allowing one earned run and striking out 13 in nine innings overall. I fully expect him to emerge as the Mariners’ long-term closer, and while that might not happen at any point during this year, he’s a sleeper candidate here. Rookie of the Year voters love their saves.

Projection: 4-3, 7 Sv, 3.16 ERA, 1.200 WHIP, 79 Ks in 68 1/3 IP

Chris Archer (RHP Rays) – 15:1 – The Rays are always thinking long-term with their rookies, and that usually means keeping them on the farm for a couple of extra months, even when they look ready. Archer allowed just one hit in seven scoreless innings during the early part of the spring, but the Rays quickly sent him down and proceeded with Roberto Hernandez and Jeff Niemann as their fifth-starter candidates. It’s Hernandez’s job now, but Archer should be the answer come June. If he were up now, he’d be my ROY pick.

Projection: 7-4, 3.82 ERA, 1.334 WHIP, 94 Ks in 96 2/3 IP

Wil Myers (OF Rays) – 12:1 – As soon as the Rays traded James Shields to the Royals for Myers, it was a given that the slugger wouldd spend that he’d spend this first month or two in Triple-A to limit his service time. Myers doesn’t really have much left to prove in Triple-A after hitting 24 homers in 99 games there last year. Overall, he hit .314/.387/.600 with 37 homers in 134 games at two levels. Still, it would be nice to see him cut back on the strikeouts a bit; he fanned 140 times last year. He figures to take over as the Rays’ right fielder in June.

Projection: .240/.312/.429, 15 HR, 47 R, 56 RBI, 2 SB in 366 AB

Brandon Maurer (RHP Mariners) – 12:1 – Supposedly behind Taijuan Walker, Danny Hultzen and James Paxton in the Mariners chain, Maurer pulled off a stunner in securing a spot in Seattle’s rotation this spring. The 22-year-old showed a strong slider in striking out 25 in 24 innings during the Cactus League season, and he’s always had very good command. He may not have the upside of Walker or Hultzen, but it looks like he’ll be a solid choice to put behind them come 2014 and ’15.

Projection: 9-10, 4.19 ERA, 1.366 WHIP, 126 Ks in 161 IP

Jurickson Profar (2B-SS Rangers) – 9:1 – Now that the Rangers have reportedly chosen to commit to Elvis Andrus for a whopping eight years, Profar’s future appears to be at second base, with Ian Kinsler moving to first base or an outfield corner. It will be interesting to see if the Rangers try to pull that off during the season; asking an All-Star to suddenly switch positions in May or June isn’t something that happens often. Profar, though, will force the Rangers to make a move soon enough. He’s one of their nine best players right now, and the Rangers have too much competition in the AL West to not use their best players.

Projection: .263/.330/.412, 8 HR, 51 R, 42 RBI, 11 SB in 376 AB

Bruce Rondon (RHP Tigers) – 8:1 – Last year was the first year since 2008 that a Rookie of the Year award was not won by a closer (Andrew Bailey in 2009, Neftali Feliz in 2010, Craig Kimbrel in 2011). Rondon was demoted to Triple-A following a very shaky spring, but the Tigers are still hoping he’ll run away with the ninth-inning gig at some point this season. If it happens by May 15, he’d still be a candidate for 30 saves, which would likely lead to at least a top-three finish in the balloting.]

Projection: 2-2, 11 Sv, 3.86 ERA, 1.393 WHIP, 50 Ks in 46 2/3 IP

Jackie Bradley (OF Red Sox) – 6:1 – Arguably the breakout star of the Grapefruit League, Bradley hit .419/.507/.613 in 62 at-bats to make the Red Sox as their left fielder with David Ortiz out. If he hits, he’s going to have to stay when Ortiz returns; it’s not like Jonny Gomes was ever a good plan as a starting left fielder anyway. However, if he doesn’t get off to a fast start, the Red Sox will probably return to the original plan of giving him some Triple-A time. Such a move would push back his free agency an extra year. My guess is that he does wind up back in the minors, at least for a month or so.

Projection: .267/.340/.407, 9 HR, 54 R, 45 RBI, 11 SB in 378 AB

The field – 5:1 – Trevor Bauer (RHP Indians), Kevin Gausman (RHP Orioles), Dan Straily (RHP Athletics), Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS Athletics), Martin Perez (LHP Rangers), Nick Tepesch (RHP Rangers), Jonathan Schoop (2B-SS Orioles), Kyle Gibson (RHP Twins), Danny Hultzen (LHP Mariners), Mike Zunino (C Mariners), Nick Castellanos (OF Tigers), Brandon Guyer (OF Rays), Avisail Garcia (OF Tigers), Austin Romine (C Yankees), Nate Freiman (1B Athletics), Jonathan Singleton (1B Astros), Grant Green (2B-OF Athletics), Taijuan Walker (RHP Mariners), Allen Webster (RHP Red Sox)

Aaron Hicks (OF Twins) – 4:1 – As the lone AL rookie set to get 550 at-bats, Hicks is the safest of the Rookie of the Year picks. The 23-year-old is jumping from Double-A to the majors after hitting .370/.407/.644 with four homers and three steals this spring to beat out Darin Mastroianni and Joe Benson for the Twins’ center field job. Hicks hit a modest .271 in five minor league seasons, but he offers a strong walk rate, emerging power and a strong glove in center field. I don’t see him wowing as a rookie, but I’m also not sure anyone will overtake him.

Projection: .257/.334/.392, 11 HR, 83 R, 48 RBI, 23 SB in 544 AB

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]