Cody Bellinger and Aaron Judge are having two of the best rookie seasons of all time

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Earlier, Craig wrote about the Dodgers having the best 50-game stretch in 105 years. The club has many players to thank for that, starting with Clayton Kershaw and including Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and Corey Seager. Also included is 1B/OF Cody Bellinger.

After homering in Sunday night’s win over the Mets, Bellinger is currently hitting .264/.344/.608 with 32 home runs, 75 RBI, and 61 runs scored in 381 plate appearances. He didn’t make his major league debut until April 25, but he’s still third in the majors in homers, third in slugging percentage, 15th in RBI, and 16th in OPS (.952). The Dodgers have 51 games left. At Bellinger’s current rate, he will tack on 18 more home runs, 42 more RBI, and 34 more runs. For those keeping score at home, he’s on track to finish with 50 homers, 117 RBI, and 95 runs scored.

Only one rookie has ever hit more than 38 home runs: Mark McGwire, who hit 49 in 1987 with the Athletics. He also had a .987 OPS with 118 RBI and 97 runs scored. 33 rookies have knocked in 100-plus runs, but only 10 have knocked in 117 or more. Albert Pujols was the last to do it, putting up a 1.013 OPS with 37 HR and 130 RBI in 2001 with the Cardinals.

Going by OPS, only 16 rookies have posted a better mark than Bellinger has currently. A handful have happened this millennium, including Pujols in 2001. Mike Trout had a .963 OPS in 2012, Jose Abreu put up a .964 OPS in 2014, and Aaron Judge currently owns a 1.051 OPS. Fred Lynn, who won the MVP and Rookie of the Year Awards in 1975 with the Red Sox, posted a .967 OPS.

If it weren’t obvious, everything said about Bellinger applies to Judge, who’s having an even better rookie season. He just doesn’t have synergy with his team making headlines for enjoying the best 50-game stretch in 105 years. Judge is batting .299/.424/.627 with an AL-best 35 home runs, 78 RBI, and an AL-best 85 runs scored. He’s also drawn an AL-best 79 walks. He’s on pace to finish with 52 homers, 115 RBI, 125 runs, and 116 walks. Perhaps the altered baseballs are to thank in some part, but it has been fun to watch two of the best rookie seasons of all time.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.