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Alex Gordon and the M-V-P chants

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Every time Alex Gordon steps to the plate at Kauffman Stadium these days, fans chant, “M-V-P, M-V-P,” which is fascinating on so many levels. Let’s start with the most basic of those.

At the moment, Alex Gordon is hitting .281 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Nothing at all about that looks MVPish. He is not in the American League Top 10 in any offensive category, save hit by pitch. On this Royals team he does not lead the team in batting average, he’s tied with Omar Infante (yeah, Omar Infante) in RBIs, and he has just one more home run than Mike Moustakas, who spent time in the minor leagues this year.

Still, people chant “M-V-P.” And they SHOULD chant M-V-P. Why? Well, I think it really comes down to three reasons:

1. The Royals are having their best season in a generation and what fun is that if you don’t have an MVP candidate?

2. Nobody else on the team is even a remotely viable MVP candidate, save one unusual case.

3. WAR.

We’ll get to WAR in a minute … let’s start with more traditional numbers. Look around baseball these days. Here is a potentially fascinating statistic: There’s a chance this will be the first full season in baseball history without either a 40-home run hitter or a 20-game winner.

Think about that for a second: First time ever. Now, it might not turn out – Nelson Cruz, Chris Carter, Jose Abreu and Giancarlo Stanton all have a shot at 40 homers, and Clayton Kershaw among others might win 20 games. But the fact this is even a possibility as we enter September speaks to how dramatically the game has changed. The numbers that used to define baseball are disappearing on us. There are no more .350 hitters. Twenty game winners are almost extinct. And now, with the dramatic drop in power across baseball, home runs are becoming rare events. The home run rate across baseball is lower than at any point since before the 1994 strike. Kansas City, in particular, is going to have to hustle just to get to 100 home runs as a team.

With those sorts of numbers down all over baseball, we need to look a little deeper to find our MVP candidates. There are players – Abreu, Trout, Stanton and Victor Martinez – who are putting up what you would call traditional MVP type numbers. They’re all hitting in the general range of .300, are on pace for 30-plus homers and 100 plus RBIs. But those are the only four, as of right now, who are good bets to get there, which is crazy.

In 2001, there were TWENTY EIGHT players who hit .at least 290, 30, 100.

In 2006, there were 15 of those players.

In 2011, there were nine of those players.

Last year, there were three.

This year, I’m guessing there will be four – so the very idea of MVP numbers is changing on us. This is one reason why I think Gordon is getting the MVP chant. In another year, his .281, 16, 59 through August would look utterly pedestrian. In a season like this, those numbers are more valuable than you might thing..

And … the Royals have to chant M-V-P for SOMEBODY. When a team potentially breaks through for the first time, there’s just a powerful need to believe that one great player led the way. This has long been true in MVP voting. Zoilo Versalles famously won the award in 1965 with ordinary numbers because the Twins won the pennant more or less out of nowhere. When the Angels reached the postseason for the first time in team history in 1979, Don Baylor won the MVP award as a DH with the 10th best slugging percentage in the league. When the Atlanta Braves went from worst to first in 1991, Terry Pendleton won the award with somewhat drab MVP numbers. The same was true for Jimmy Rollins in 2007, when his Phillies made the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.*

*In all four of those cases, a teammate –  Tony Oliva in 1965, Bobby Grich in 1979, Tom Glavine in 1991 and Chase Utley in 2007 – almost certainly had better years than the MVP. Just kind of interesting.

This is one of the absurdities of  the MVP award – baseball teams do not win because of one player. This is why I have become a pretty strict literalist when it comes to MVP voting – the MVP to me is the best player. Period. I no longer care at all how his team did — not for that individual award. Mike Trout was the best player in baseball the last two years and the Angels were irrelevant. This year, he’s the best player in baseball and the Angels are winning. He should be (and should have been) the MVP all three years.

Still, he Royals are winning, and so they must have someone to shout MVP for, and there really isn’t anyone else, certainly not in the lineup. Gordon has created 17 more runs than anyone else on the team because he leads the team in doubles, homers, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. It should be said his slugging percentage is a somewhat plain looking .455. It is still 40 points higher than anybody else in the lineup.

I mentioned one other player who could (and I suspect will) get some MVP consideration — that’s reliever Wade Davis. There’s precedents for relievers having absurd statistical seasons getting a lot of MVP love (and, in the case of Jim Konstanty, Willie Hernandez and Dennis Eckersley, actually getting the away). Davis is having an absurd statistical season. He went 38 straight appearances without giving up an extra base-hit, which is truly absurd. He has not given up a run since June. The trouble with Davis is that he will probably throw just 70 innings this year, which just isn’t much and (I suspect) willl prevent people from giving him the award. That said, I’m wagering he gets some real MVP consideration, especially if he keeps pitching like this through September. On the sabermetric side, he does lead all relievers in baseball with 3.2 WAR.

Anyway Davis doesn’t pitch enough to get all the M-V-P chants, so the focus is on Gordon even if his basic offensive numbers inspire yawns.

That’s where Wins Above Replacement come in.

Gordon’ is second in the major leagues in Fangraphs WAR – that would be AHEAD of Giancarlo Stanton. He’s fourth in the American League in Baseball Reference WAR. How is this possible? Well, he plays spectacular defense in left field (and it really is special defense). He’s also an excellent base runner. We’ve already pointed out that his offensive numbers, in context, are better than they look. When you add it all up WAR style – you get a legitimate MVP candidate.

Or do you? This, to me, becomes a more and more interesting question. I’m working on a piece now about the statistical revolution in baseball, and among the statistical people I’m speaking with there seems to be a growing concern that we as a so called “advanced-statistics community” are beginning to make many of the same leaps of faith and broad generalizations that doomed the old statistics. I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but it’s fair to say there’s a growing sense among some that WAR is becoming the advanced version of RBIs or batting average or pitcher wins – that is to say that people, to quote Vin Scully, are using WAR the way a drunk using a lamppost, for support and not illumination. Heck, I might be the Foster Brooks of WAR.

So, I’m not sure of the answer on that one. I’m a huge Alex Gordon fan and have been for some time. I really do believe he has been one of the most underrated players in baseball because he does a lot of things well. I think he SHOULD be an MVP candidate. That said, is his defense in left field SO GOOD that it makes up for the 25 or so more runs that Jose Abreu and Victor Martinez are creating offensively? Can you even BE that good in left field to make up such a gap?

WAR says yes. I want to believe it’s true. So I believe WAR.

That’s definitely support and not illumination.

Anyway, Gordon is the Royals best every day player, and if the Royals continue this miracle he will get a lot of MVP support. I don’t think he will win, but there’s a month yet to go — and he’s in the conversation. He will hear a lot of M-V-P chants. And that’s fantastic because an M-V-P chant at Kauffman Stadium in late August sounds to me a lot like Springsteen live.

READ MORE JOE POSNANSKI PIECES ON HBT

The Potomac Nationals will play a triple-header on Wednesday

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On Monday, the Potomac Nationals were slated to play the Lynchburg Hillcats in a match-up of two Single-A teams. The game, however, was suspended in the fifth inning. The goal was to play a double-header on Tuesday — a nine-inning game followed by a seven-inning game.

Tuesday’s double-header, however, was postponed due to wet grounds. So the Nationals and Hillcats will play a triple-header on Wednesday starting at 3:00 PM EDT. The suspended game will be resumed in the fifth inning and then the two sides will play two seven-inning games, per the Potomac Nationals.

That, well, is something. Minor leaguers don’t get paid enough to play 19 innings (at least) in one day.

Brian Cashman on Yankees’ slow start: “Some leashes might be shorter than others.”

New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman watches live batting practice during a spring training baseball workout Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
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Yankees GM Brian Cashman isn’t exactly thrilled with the way his team has played over the first 23 games. The Yankees were swept by the division rival Red Sox over the weekend, running their losing streak to five games and sending their record down to 8-15, good for last place in the AL East.

As David Waldstein reports for the New York Times, Cashman says he may be forced to make some changes soon. “There’s only so long you can allow it to go on before tinkering. But it just needs to stop,” Cashman said.

Cashman continued:

“I’ve done this job a long time and I put this roster together,” Cashman said. “I feel it’s significantly better than it has performed, and when it doesn’t perform up to expectations over the course of time, I have a history of making changes. I would rather not go that route, but when you are forced to do so, you are forced to do so.”

Who have been the biggest contributors to the Yankees’ demise?

Cashman said, “Some leashes might be shorter than others.”

Headley likely has the shortest leash. Utilityman Ronald Torreyes has hit well, boasting an .875 in a limited sample of 24 plate appearances, but he could cut into Headley’s playing time at third base if Headley can’t figure things out. Outfield prospect Aaron Judge could get called up. Outfielder Aaron Hicks, who has taken only 28 PA thus far, could also be in line for more playing time.

 

Bartolo Colon hit a foul ball with 102 MPH exit velocity on Monday

New York Mets pitcher Bartolo Colon  adjusts his cap after giving up a base hit to Philadelphia Phillies' Cameron Rupp during the fifth inning of a baseball game, Saturday, April 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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Everyone seemed to be able to hit Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz on Monday night. The right-hander served up three home runs to the Mets in the first inning, as David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes, and Lucas Duda each took him yard.

Even Mets starter Bartolo Colon wanted to get in on the action. Colon is not much of a hitter, as evidenced by his .089 career batting average and this swing he took two years ago.

Colon got a neck-high fastball from Foltynewicz and he was somehow able to make solid contact on it, sending a line drive down the left field line. It was foul, but it registered an exit velocity at 101.9 MPH via Statcast. Not bad for a guy whose hitting prowess is often the butt of a joke.

White Sox will designate John Danks for assignment

Chicago White Sox starting pitcher John Danks walks off the field after the third inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Baltimore, Thursday, April 28, 2016. Baltimore scored four runs against Danks in the third. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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CSN Chicago’s Dan Hayes reports that the White Sox will designate starter John Danks for assignment. He notes the move is not yet official. Erik Johnson is expected to draw the start on Thursday as a result, Hayes adds. Danks was scheduled to start on Wednesday against the Red Sox, but Carlos Rodon will move up a day and start instead.

Danks, 31, was off to a bumpy start to the 2016 season. He lost each of his first four starts, compiling a 7.25 ERA with a 16/11 K/BB ratio in 22 1/3 innings. The lefty showed promise early in his career, but put up an aggregate 4.79 ERA since the beginning of the 2011 season. Danks was never able to find his stuff again.

Once Danks’ DFA is made official, the White Sox will have 10 days to find a trade partner, otherwise Danks will likely be released and become a free agent. Expect the latter, as Danks is owed the balance of his $14.25 million salary for the 2016 season, the final year of a five-year, $65 million extension signed in December 2011.

Danks has been in the White Sox organization since they acquired him from the Rangers in December 2006.