Mike Trout

A time to be young

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I didn’t realize it at the time, but the late 1970s was an amazing time for young baseball players. I’m arbitrarily choosing 23-and-younger as “young” — but with that age in mind, the late 1970s gave us Hall of Famers Eddie Murray, Andre Dawson, Paul Molitor, Gary Carter, Robin Yount, Ozzie Smith and some pretty awesome players like Lou Whitaker, Willie Randolph and the rather outspoken Jack Clark.

All of those players, as young men, posted good seasons in the late 1970s. In 1978 alone, 14 young players posted a 3.0 WAR or better. That remains the record for a single season. You just don’t have seasons when THAT MANY young players are playing that well.

This year, though, there are 13 or 14 young players who COULD, with a nice finish, post a 3.0 WAR. It probably won’t be quite that many in the end — but it certainly could be 10. There are already seven players with a better than 3.0 WAR.

Anyway, we should celebrate the time. Here’s a quick look at the top 12 young players in WAR:

1. Obviously Mike Trout (6.6 WAR).

2. Obviously, Manny Machado (5.3 WAR), who finally stopped hitting doubles like he was Tris Speaker but is still having a fantastic year.

3. Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons (4.6 WAR) is hitting just .239 with a 74 OPS+ — but his defensive statistics at shortstop are not just good but tilt-the-pinball-machine good. Right now, the Dewan Plus/Minus has him at PLUS-FORTY, which is, well, more or less unprecedented. That means — and remember, there is still six-plus weeks left in the season — the stat estimates he has made FORTY MORE PLAYS than the average shortstop can make. That’s like two per week. According to Baseball Reference’s “WAR — Fielding Runs” he has saved 34 runs — already the second-highest total in the archives.* Fangraphs has a slightly more moderate reading of his defense, but still has him as the best defensive player in the National League.

*In 1975, Baltimore’s Mark Belanger saved 35 runs.

4. Milwaukee’s 22-year-old shortstop Jean Segura (4.3 WAR) leads the National League in hits, has stolen 35 bases, hit 12 home runs and seems to be playing very good defense. He came over from the Angels in the Zack Greinke trade — and I’m thinking that will be one they regret in Anaheim for a long time.

5. We’re 62 games into this now, and Yasiel Puig (3.9 WAR) is still hitting .373 and he’s still slugging .589 and the Dodgers are an absolutely obscene 44-18 with him in the lineup (Making them 25-32 when he’s not in the lineup). I realize there’s no way Puig can keep this up, and I also realize that he IS keeping it up.

By the way: It is SO much fun to hear Vin Scully talk about Yasiel Puig. It’s worth a nightly check-in.

6. Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (3.8) is probably more famous at this point for hugging people, but he’s getting on base, hitting with at least some power and seems to be a at the center of the Atlanta mojo.

7. Colorado third baseman Nolan Arenado (3.5) is not hitting much at all. So he’s posting most of his value with apparently spectacular defense. His Dewan Plus/Minus is a spectacular plus-30. Here is an amazing play. Here is another. This might be his best one. Here is a noble effort.

8. Jason Heyward (2.5 WAR) has already been up and down and over and out — it’s his fourth full-season in the big leagues. But he’s still just 23 and he still a solid contributor. Don’t know if he will ever become the big star that seemed certain after his 20-year-old season. You know who he kind of reminds me of? Von Hayes. Tall left-handed bat with some power, some speed, loads of talent, lots of charisma — Hayes was famously traded to Philadelphia for five players in the 1980s. He did have a handful of really good years for the Phillies.

9. I kept waiting and believing that Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer (2.3 WAR) would figure things out after a dreadful sophomore season and an even worse start in 2013. On June 5 — my 15th wedding anniversary, thanks for asking — the Royals did something startlingly smart — startling for those of us who have followed them closely for the last 15 or 20 years.They moved Hosmer into the No. 2 spot in the lineup. There are many studies that show lineup strategies make very little difference when it comes to scoring runs, but they do figure in a player’s head. By putting Hosmer in the No. 2 spot (at least this is my theory) they were telling him: Relax. You don’t have to hit home runs. You don’t have to crush the ball and drive in a million runs. Just put a good swing on the ball, keep things going.

For the next two and a half weeks, Hosmer hit .328/.387/.537. He just LOOKED different. The Royals moved him back to the No. 3 spot for a little bit, he’s hitting second again, but his swing has basically clicked back into place. He’s hitting .292/.336/.432, which isn’t All-Star stuff, but he’s slugging about .500 since the switch to the No. 2 slot, and the numbers climb, and he’s a big reason the Royals are playing their best baseball in decades.

10. Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo (2.2 WAR) just turned 24. He’s hitting just .234, but he’s drawing more walks, he will probably hit 25 homers, and he is EXACTLY the sort of guy (powerful lefty-handed hitter with developing plate discipline) who can develop into a big star more or less overnight. That’s what happened to David Ortiz and Chris Davis among others.

11. I love watching Kansas City catcher Salvador Perez (2.2 WAR) play. His offense has dwindled which is not unexpected — he’s never shown any plate discipline and the offense he flashed his first couple of years was a surprise. But he should improve as a hitter. And defensively — I think he’s the best defensive catcher in the American League.

12. Bryce Harper (2.0) was having the sort of follow-up season everyone expected when he ran into the wall and missed a month. He has looked pretty lost ever since, hitting .235/.331/.417 since his return at the beginning of July. Well, more or less everything has gone wrong in Washington. He’s too talented and too determined to be down for long.

Two other young players worth mentioning are Jose Iglesias, who figures to be Detroit’s shortstop for a good while now, and Tampa Bay’s Will Myers.

Ah, Myers. What is that Fitzgerald quote? “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

1. I think the Royals made a bad trade when they dealt Wil Myers to the Rays. He’s already hitting for average and power, he’s just 22, I think he will be one of the game’s really good hitters for the next decade. I think the Royals will regret the trade many times.

2. I think the Royals made the trade because they felt it was time to start winning — and it is working. Maybe the trade is a big reason. Maybe it isn’t. But, again, it is working. They have starting winning. Their surge has energized a great baseball town that was sunk by 20-plus years of incompetence and awfulness. The main pitcher in the deal, James Shields, has pitched well enough, and the Royals lead the American League in ERA. And so, the trade has been good for Kansas City.

I don’t know if those are exactly OPPOSING ideas, but I believe both.

Yasiel Puig benched after he failed to run hard out of the box

Yasiel Puig
Associated Press
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On Sunday Yasiel Puig made a pretty significant base running blunder, failing to advance to third base on an bunt which, in turn, led to the Dodgers playing eight extra innings of baseball. Last night the Dodgers right fielder made another mental mistake, also involving lackadaisical base running, and it bought him a seat on the pine.

Puig hit a deep fly to right in the sixth inning. He clearly thought he got all of it and began slowly walking to first base out of the box. The ball didn’t go out, however. It hit the wall. For anyone showing even a bit of hustle that would’ve been a double but Puig’s lack of effort held him to a single. He would come around to score — ironically because of hustle on the base paths, reaching home from second on a headfirst slide — but it was too little too late for manager Dave Roberts who was upset at the earlier loafing and removed Puig from the game.

Roberts after the game:

“He needed to be on second base. We talk about playing the game the right way.”

Puig:

“I thought it was a home run, and then I didn’t run out the ball, obviously. It was [Roberts’] decision to take me out of the game. It was a decision well made, because all my teammates are out on the field working hard, and I should have run out that ball.”

Those are the right words to say in that situation, but it’s a situation that shouldn’t come up and words that should go without saying. Especially in a year where Puig has tried to recast himself as a hard worker. And especially in a year in which he’s been struggling at the plate overall.

Here’s Puig after the game:

Here’s Roberts:

Somewhere, Don Mattingly is nodding.

 

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

SEATTLE, WA - MAY 24:  Leonys Martin #12 of the Seattle Mariners reacts after hitting a two-run, walk-off homer to defeat the Oakland Athletics 6-5 at Safeco Field on May 24, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Rays 4, Marlins 3: The Rays won and guys did cool things and all of that but my favorite part of the game was how Kevin Cash brought in a lefty to face Giancarlo Stanton, who promptly homered off of him. Obviously Stanton has been struggling and obviously it didn’t matter to the outcome of the game but I do want to know what the thought process is to “I’m going to bring in a lefty to face the most powerful right handed hitter in baseball in this spot.”

Cubs 12, Cardinals 3: Jason Hammel allowed one run while pitching into the eighth and had a two-run double in the six-run first inning as Chicago ends a three-game losing streak. Michael Wacha gave up eight runs in four innings and has lost five consecutive decisions. Which isn’t really good.

Yankees 6, Blue Jays 0: The Yankees are back to .500 for the first time since April 14, which was the eighth game of the season. Carlos Beltran homered and drove in two and Nathan Eovaldi tossed six shutout innings. Only two hits in the whole game for the Blue Jays, who are near the bottom in the AL for runs per game this year. Last year they ran away with the Best Offensive Team in Baseball title. So yeah, there’s that.

Nationals 7, Mets 4: Yeah, so the Matt Harvey situation is getting pretty dire. The Mets’ erstwhile ace was lit up for five runs on eight hits in five innings. One of those hits was a Daniel Murphy homer. Two others were gopher balls given up to Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon. Meanwhile, Stephen Strasburg struck out 11 in six and two-thirds. Terry Collins on Harvey:

“We’ve got to think what’s not just best for Matt, but what’s best for us moving forward at the moment. There are a lot of things to consider. We’re not going to make any rash judgments tonight. We’re going to sleep on it.”

Sounds like someone has either a DL stint or a trip to Las Vegas in his future.

Pirates 12, Diamondbacks 1: Gregory Polanco had three hits including a three-run homer and drove in five. Dbacks starter Shelby Miller was lit up for six runs on eight hits in five innings and saw his ERA climb above seven. Even Matt Harvey looks at that and goes “damn.” Pittsburgh reliever Arquimedes Caminero was ejected in the eighth after hitting a pair of batters in the head, one of whom — Jean Segura — was sent to the hospital with concussion symptoms. Dude seems to have no idea where the ball is going and has no business pitching right now.

Red Sox 8, Rockies 3: Jackie Bradley Jr. extends his hitting streak to 28 games or, as we say in the business, .5 DiMaggios. OK, we don’t say that in the business. I’m not even sure what “the business” is, actually. I sit on a couch with my cats all day. Pretty good business but I’m not sure if it’s representative of a professional class into which I can even plausibly shoehorn myself. David Price won his seventh game, allowing three runs over seven innings. David Ortiz went 2-for-4 and drove in four. No that does not entitle you to ask him if he is going to reconsider his decision to retire.

Tigers 3, Phillies 1: Justin Verlander struck out ten over eight shutout innings. Francisco Rodriguez notched his 400th career save. Miguel Cabrera stayed hot, driving in two. When your ace, your closer and your slugger are the three dudes who get mentioned in a short game description, it’s pretty much the Platonic ideal of a winning baseball game.

Brewers 2, Braves 1Scooter Gennett hit a tiebreaking single in the eighth to put the Brewers over. Julio Teheran struck out 12 while allowing one run in seven innings but got the no-decision and his team lost because such is the hellscape that is the Atlanta Braves 2016 season. For what it’s worth, he’s got a 0.89 ERA over his last six starts while striking out 42. He’s 1-2 in that span.

Rangers 4, Angels 1: Martin Perez tossed six shutout innings and Nomar Mazara hit a two-run homer in the sixth. The Rangers got an insurance run when Mazara was caught stealing and stayed in the rundown long enough to let another runner score, so give him an assist or something.

Indians 6, White Sox 2: Chris Sale lost. I repeat: Chris Sale lost a baseball game. The Indians got to him for six runs in three and a third innings, in fact, which seems damn nigh impossible this year, but box scores don’t lie. Heck, Sale had allowed only six runs in his previous five starts combined. Josh Tomlin, meanwhile, remains undefeated after tossing eight innings and allowing two runs.

Royals 7, Twins 4Salvador Perez stayed hot, hittting a two-run homer, and Lorenzo Cain had four hits and two RBI. Wade Davis got the save despite loading the bases with nobody out in the ninth. That’s an interesting way to do things. Maybe he’s just lacking excitement in his life and is looking for ways to make the adrenaline surge.

Astros 3, Orioles 2: Carlos Correa hit a walkoff single in the 13th, ending the Astros’ four-game losing streak. It was set up by Tony Kemp hitting a leadoff triple over Adam Jones‘ head. Astros pitchers struck out 19 Orioles batters. Sixteen of those strikeouts came from the Houston bullpen, which didn’t enter the game until there were two outs in the sixth inning.

Giants 8, Padres 2: The Warriors are bringing everyone in the Bay Area down but at least they still have the Giants. Brandon Crawford drove in four runs and Jarrett Parker homered as the Giants win their fourth in a row and 12th of 13. The Padres have lost all eight meetings with the Giants this year.

Mariners 6, Athletics 5: The Mariners were down 5-2 after the A’s batted in the eighth inning but then they rallied for four over the next two frames, topped off with a Leonys Martin two-run walkoff homer. Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer of his own in the eighth. Brutal loss for the A’s.

Dodgers 8, Reds 2: Nine losses in a row for the Reds who continue to be a great opponent for struggling contenders to face. Eight straight for the Dodgers over the Reds. Mike Bolsinger got the win after allowing two runs in a little under six innings. Your Aunt Tilly could get a win against the Reds right now, even if she was having trouble locating her offspeed stuff.

Yu Darvish will be on 85-90 pitch count in 2016 debut on Saturday

FRISCO, TX - MAY 1:  Pitcher Yu Darvish #11 of the Frisco RoughRiders warms up in the bullpen before taking on the the Corpus Christi Hooks at Dr Pepper Ballpark on May 1, 2016 in Frisco, Texas. Darvish is on Major League rehabilitation assignment with the RoughRiders, the Double-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.  (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Yu Darvish will be limited to 85-90 pitches when he makes his 2016 debut for the Rangers against the Pirates on Saturday, MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan reports. Darvish hasn’t pitched since August 9, 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Pitching coach Doug Brocail said, “That would be a good pitch count. It all depends on how he looks during the game and how many pitches he has. We’re not going to have him go out there and throw 150 pitches. Hopefully he gets out there and uses his fastball to get early outs and uses his pitches wisely and keeps us in the game.”

Darvish has made five minor league rehab appearances beginning on May 1. Over three starts with Double-A Frisco and two with Triple-A Round Rock, the right-hander yielded four runs (two earned) on nine hits and six walks with 21 strikeouts in 20 innings.

Francisco Rodriguez becomes the sixth to join the 400-save club

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 15:  Francisco Rodriguez #57 of the Detroit Tigers pitches in the ninth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 15, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Detroit won the game 6-5. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
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Tigers closer Francisco Rodriguez protected the Tigers’ lead in the ninth inning for what turned out to be a 3-1 victory. In doing so, he notched his league-leading 14th save of the season and the 400th save of his 15-year career. Rodriguez gave up a leadoff double to Freddy Galvis followed by a Maikel Franco single. However, he was able to retire Tommy Joseph on a sacrifice fly, Ryan Howard on a 4-3 ground out, and Carlos Ruiz on a strikeout to end the game.

Rodriguez is the sixth member of the 400-save club, joining Mariano Rivera (652), Trevor Hoffman (601), Lee Smith (478), John Franco (424), and Billy Wagner (422).

Rodriguez blew a save opportunity on Opening Day, but has gone 14-for-14 since. He carries a 3.57 ERA and a 16/6 K/BB ratio in 17 2/3 innings on the year.