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.

Mike Piazza, Ken Griffey, Jr. inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame

COOPERSTOWN, NY - JULY 24:  Mike Piazza (L) and Ken Griffey Jr. pose with thier plaques at Clark Sports Center after the Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on July 24, 2016 in Cooperstown, New York.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
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As Craig previewed on Friday, catcher Mike Piazza and outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday. The Hall’s official Twitter account tweeted photos of each player’s plaque.

Junior, of course, should’ve been depicted with a backwards baseball cap in his plaque. He did put his cap on backwards during his speech.

Craig covered the analysis angle on Friday, so I’ll share my personal perspective.

As someone who grew up watching Piazza and Griffey, it’s cool to see them inducted into the Hall of Fame. As I’m not yet in my 30’s, I only recently got used to seeing my childhood favorites getting inducted into Cooperstown. Looking at the list, Barry Larkin was probably the first player inducted whose career I completely remember following. Since then, this time every July has made me feel pretty old, even if that’s not actually the case. It’s like, “It’s been six years since he retired already?”

If you were a kid growing up in the 1990’s and you played baseball, you mimicked Griffey’s swing. I was terrible at hitting, so it didn’t help me any, but it was a cool feeling when you did Junior’s signature waggle at the plate and connected with a pitch. And if you grew up with video games in the ’90’s, you probably also played his self-titled Super Nintendo Game:

Piazza is a special case, as I’m from southeast Pennsylvania. He was from nearby Norristown and Phoenixville, and as such was the pride of the state even if he spent most of his time across the country and, later, with the rival Mets. It wasn’t uncommon to see people hate the Mets’ guts but still cheer when Piazza homered, as long as it wasn’t against the Phillies. There was one particular home run which had everyone cheering, no matter their affiliation:

Congratulations to Griffey and Piazza for being immortalized into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, a well-deserved honor.

The 2017 Hall of Fame ballot will bring back Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Trevor Hoffman, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Lee Smith, Fred McGriff, Jeff Kent, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield, Billy Wagner, and Sammy Sosa. First-timers will include Ivan Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero, Javier Vazquez, Mike Cameron, J.D. Drew, Jorge Posada, Magglio Ordonez, Derrek Lee, Tim Wakefield, Edgar Renteria, Melvin Mora, Carlos Guillen, Jason Varitek, Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Rowand, Pat Burrell, Freddy Sanchez, Arthur Rhodes, Julio Lugo, and Danys Baez.

White Sox suspend Chris Sale five games over Saturday’s clubhouse incident

HOUSTON, TX - JULY 02:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox pitches in the first inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 2, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images
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White Sox starter Chris Sale was scratched from Saturday’s start against the Tigers due to a clubhouse incident. It turns out Sale wasn’t happy that the White Sox wanted to use throwback uniforms that featured collars. Sale reportedly cut up his uniform and got into a heated argument with front office staff.

The White Sox released a statement on Sunday, announcing that Sale has been suspended five games. White Sox senior vice president and general manager Rick Hahn said, “Chris has been suspended for violating team rules, for insubordination, and for destroying team equipment.”

Hahn continued, “While we all appreciate Chris’ talent and passion, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to express concerns about team rules and organizational expectations.”

Matt Albers made a spot start in Sale’s place on Saturday against the Tigers. He gave up one run on one hit with one strikeout in two innings of work before giving way to the bullpen.

Sale, 27, has been mentioned in trade rumors lately with the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline approaching. The White Sox reportedly turned down a “king’s ransom” for Sale recently, but one wonders if the clubhouse incident might motivate the club to make a trade.