The beautiful thing about science — any field of it — is that you start out with a hypothesis and you use data to confirm or reject your hypothesis. You don’t simply accept something as fact because a lot of people believe it or because someone in authority told you it was true. Science does have its flaws, especially when performed by humans, but it’s quite a good system, one that has served us well over the years. Sabermetrics, or more generally the practice of statistical analysis, has brought that into baseball, offering us some sometimes cold truths about what we thought we knew about the game.
For years, we have accepted that Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina has a bunch of intangibles that make him better than any other catcher in the game. And it still may be true that he has them, but perhaps the impact of those intangibles has been overstated. Over at FanGraphs, Jeff Sullivan dug into the numbers expecting to find that pitchers performed much better with Molina behind the dish than with other catchers. He was surprised by what he found:
With Molina, the pitchers averaged a .746 OPS against. With non-Molina, the pitchers averaged a .757 OPS against. That’s a difference of 11 points, and if you just look at the guys who had samples of at least 500 plate appearances instead of 250, the difference is 15 points. There’s a difference that exists, but it’s hardly massive at all, and it might be entirely explained by Molina’s quality framing. For as good as Molina’s reputation is when it comes to guiding a pitcher through a game, these numbers right here suggest he’s hardly a wizard. Or, if he is a wizard, then a lot of catchers are wizards.
But maybe game-calling also just isn’t that big of a thing. By which I mean, maybe there isn’t that much of a spread, once you get to the majors. As in all skills, the majors are selective for elite ability, and calling a game is a big one. There do exist poor sequences, but big-league catchers probably won’t call them. It’s possible they’ll end up with similar approaches, especially given that they tend to work with the pitchers in advance of their games.
Molina was one of the three finalists for the NL MVP award, eventually taken home by center fielder Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates. He was barely edged out of second place by Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Molina finished fourth in 2012’s voting as well, behind Buster Posey, Ryan Braun, and McCutchen.
There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.
It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.
Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.
Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.
It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.
On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.
At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.
If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.
Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.
Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.