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Players having great seasons under the radar

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Yesterday, I watched a myriad of defensive highlights from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (who also homered). Curious, I looked up his stats and found him among the leaders in Wins Above Replacement. And then I found a handful of other players having great seasons and realized I’ve hardly heard anything about them. Let this be my contribution towards raising them into the spotlight.

Andrelton Simmons (Angels): The 27-year-old is having the best offensive season of his career. He posted a .751 OPS in his rookie season, but that spanned only 49 games. From 2013-16, he had an aggregate .664 OPS. His defense never wavered, of course, which is why he kept getting regular playing time and why the Angels were eager to trade for him in November 2015. This season, however, he’s been a terrific hitter, batting .292/.345/.451 with 13 home runs, 57 RBI, 62 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 502 plate appearances. He’s four home runs away from matching a career-high. Simmons is 11th in baseball in FanGraphs’ version of WAR, heavily predicated on the valuation of his defense, but it’s not too outlandish for me to believe Simmons has added nearly two wins above replacement on defense alone. While Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, and Mike Trout will fight for the lion’s share of AL MVP votes, Simmons could get some down ballot consideration.

Gio Gonzalez (Nationals): Gonzalez nearly threw a no-hitter earlier this season against the Marlins, which brought some eyeballs to his stat line. Still, he hasn’t been talked about much somehow. He’s 12-5 with a 2.39 ERA and a  150/62 K/BB ratio in 162 innings. It’s nothing new for Gonzalez, as he won 21 games with a 2.89 ERA en route to finishing third in Cy Young balloting in 2012. There’s also some reason to believe Gonzalez’s performance is in some part due to great fortune as his batting average on balls in play is about 50 points below league average and his rate of stranding runners on base is more than 11 percent higher than his career average. Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have had better seasons and will be the first and second place finishers in this year’s balloting, but Gonzalez is looking at likely finishing third again, which is no small feat.

Aaron Nola (Phillies): After a dismal June 16 start against the Diamondbacks, Nola stood with a disappointing 4.76 ERA. After the first two innings of last Thursday’s start against the Giants, he briefly brought it under 3.00. Currently, it’s at 3.26 along with a 128/38 K/BB ratio in 124 1/3 innings. Since that June 16 start, he’s made 11 starts with a composite 2.21 ERA across 73 1/3 innings. The right-hander out of LSU showed promise in his rookie year in 2015, then struggled last year before succumbing to injury. Finally, it’s appearing that Nola is showing the promise the Phillies believed in when they took him in the first round (seventh overall) in the 2014 draft. Perhaps more importantly, he looks like a pitcher the Phillies can build around. If there’s one thing the Phillies have lacked since trading Cole Hamels, it’s a starter capable of throwing seven or eight innings and holding the opposition to one or two runs.

Chris Taylor (Dodgers): On a team that features Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Alex Wood, and recently added Yu Darvish, it’s understandable that Taylor would slip under the radar. He’s played five different positions this season — left field, second base, center field, third base, and shortstop — while batting .311/.383/.549 with 17 home runs, 58 RBI, 69 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases in 413 plate appearances. He’s played average to above-average defense at most of those positions, which is why his 4.6 fWAR ranks 13th in baseball and 10th in the National League. Before the Dodgers acquired him from the Mariners last June in a very little talked about trade, Taylor had been a weak-hitting utilityman. Now, he’s the starting center fielder for baseball’s best team.

Felipe Rivero (Pirates): The Pirates acquired Rivero from the Nationals last year in the Mark Melancon trade. It worked out well for the Buccos. Though the club sits at a disappointing 60-64 in fourth place in the NL Central, Rivero has been a bright spot, owning a major league best 1.31 ERA with 14 saves and a 73/16 K/BB ratio in 61 2/3 innings. The lefty took over the closer’s role when Tony Watson began to struggle in the first half. While Rivero has been terrific against right-handed hitters, limiting them to a .547 OPS, he’s been death to lefties (.227 OPS). After the season, Rivero will be eligible for arbitration for the first of four years, so it wouldn’t be shocking if he got traded at some point, but for now, they’ll enjoy his outstanding 2017 campaign.

Robin Ventura, other familiar names come up in Mets managerial search

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Terry Collins is still the manager of the New York Mets, but all signs point to that state of affairs ending some time soon after Sunday afternoon. To that end, the New York Post reports a handful of familiar names being mentioned in connection with their impending managerial search:

Early persons of interest, according to industry sources, all have ties to the organization: Robin Ventura, Alex Cora and Kevin Long. Two others with ties to the organization — Bob Geren and Chip Hale — are also in the conversation, according to sources.

By the way: can we talk about how great it is that a term that is normally associated with criminal suspects — “persons of interest” — is being used in connection with potential future New York Mets managers? OK, we just talked about it.

These names, with the exception of Cora, all belong to former managers with Mets connections. Hale was the Mets third base coach and was passed over for the managerial gig when Collins was hired and eventually managed the Diamondbacks. Ventura, of course, played for the Mets for three seasons before retiring and becoming the White Sox’ manager. Geren was the Mets bench coach when they won the 2015 pennant but moved to the Dodgers to be closer to his family in California. He’s formally a manager with the Oakland A’s. Cora played a season and change with the Mets and has served as the bench coach for the Astros in the 2017 season.

In the recent past, as recently-retired players with little or no coaching or managerial experience were hired to manage teams, some people may have referred to these candidates as “retreads.” With Dusty Baker’s success in Washington after a few years of semi-retirement and with a number of inexperienced managers showing that they were not all that they were cracked up to be, however, the pendulum seems to be swinging back toward looking for experienced candidates.

Obviously the whole offseason will determine if I’m imagining that or if it does, in fact, becomes the trend. And, of course, the Mets actually have to formally let Collins go before hiring someone else. Not that I would put it past them to mess that up.

Pete Mackanin doesn’t know if he’ll be back as Phillies manager next year

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Back in May the Phillies gave Pete Mackanin a contract extension covering the remainder of 2017, all of 2018 and created a team option for 2019. Yesterday, however, Mackanin said he had no idea if the Phillies were going to bring him back as manager next season:

“I assume I’ll be here, but you never know. You never know what they’re going to do. So you just keep moving on. I just take it a day at a time and manage the way I think I should manage and handle players the way I think I should handle them. That’s all I can do. If it’s not good enough then … fine. I hope it’s good enough. I hope he thinks it’s good enough.”

Maybe that’s just cautious talk, though, as there doesn’t seem to be any signals coming from the Phillies front office that Mackanin is in trouble. If anything things have looked up in the second half of the season with the callups of Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams each of whom have shown that they belong in the bigs. The team is 33-37 since the All-Star break and is certainly a better team now than the one Mackanin started with in April. And it’s not his fault that they don’t have any pitching.

I suspect Mackanin will be back next year, but Mackanin has been around the block enough times to know that nothing is guaranteed for a big league manager. Even one under contract.