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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.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Indians 4, Rockies 1: Nolan Arenado made a clever play but Yan Gomes won the game with a walkoff three-run homer. This is the baseball equivalent of some smarty pants dropping a droll bon mot over a classmate’s mispronunciation of a word only to walk out of the building at three o’clock and get decked in front of the whole school. Corey Kluber, meanwhile, tossed a complete game, allowing only one run on three hits and striking out 11. Ace stuff, right there.

Red Sox 2, Rays 0: Chris Sale tossed eight shutout innings allowing only two hits and striking out 13. In the American League it’s him and Kluber, then there’s 50 feet of crap, then there’s the rest of the pitchers. OK, there’s, like, Luis Severino and some other dudes too, but I wanted to use that Brad Pitt quote from “Moneyball” for a while and I haven’t had any good chances. Either way: if there’s any justice in the world (spoiler alert: there isn’t, but go with me here) Sale and Kluber will face off in a deciding game in the playoffs this year. It will go eight and two-thirds innings, tied at zero, and then the home team will win on a walkoff inside-the-park homer. Everyone would love that except guys who write gamers on deadlines and their problems aren’t our problems.

Marlins 7, Nationals 3: Giancarlo Stanton hit a three-run shot to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth. It was his 38th bomb of the year, setting a personal record and extending his league lead in dingers. Derek Dietrich also homered and drove in three. The Marlins scored seven runs on only six hits. Earl Weaver was right about three-run homers being awesome. He was also right about Alice Sweet’s tomato plants, but I suppose that’s best left for another time.

Pirates 6, Tigers 3: Chad Kuhl took a shutout into the sixth striking out six and walking one. He also (all together now) helped his own cause with a two-run single in the fourth to give the Pirates a 4-0 lead which they would not relinquish. Andrew McCutchen hit his 23rd homer of the year. The Tigers have lost four in a row.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 2: Josh Donaldson homered twice, each of which were two-run shots. Garrett Cooper hit a sac fly and an RBI single, each of which were good for one run. 2 x 2 > 1 x 2, ergo the Blue Jays won. That’s just math. CC Sabathia left the game after three innings due to a recurrence of his old knee problems. That’s just age.

Padres 7, Reds 3Jose Pirela had four hits and scored three times and Yangervis Solarte had three hits including a homer, driving in three. Luis Perdomo pitched in and out of trouble into the seventh, inducing three double plays. The Padres got a fourth double play on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out with the throw-em-out nabbing Billy Hamilton. That doesn’t happen very often.

Mets 5, Rangers 4: The Mets snap their four-game losing streak. Chris Flexen allowed three runs over five and two-thirds for his first big league win. He was backed by homers from Michael Conforto, Yoenis Cespedes and Travis d'Arnaud which staked him to a 4-0 lead after two innings, so that helps.

Phillies 5, Braves 2: Zach Eflin — one of the increasingly hard to find Zachs in baseball who spell it with an “h” — allowed two runs on seven hits over seven and (all together now) helped his own cause by singling in the go-ahead run in the fourth. Odubel Herrera hit a two-run shot on a 3-for-4 night.

White Sox 8, Astros 5: Kevan Smith hit a two-run homer and a two-run double as the White Sox hand the Astros their fifth loss in seven games. Question: when the White Sox and Astros face off do they do any “remember the 2005 World Series” bits on the local broadcasts, or do we all pretend that never happened now that Houston is in the AL?

Twins 11, Brewers 4: Brian Dozier hit a grand slam and Max Kepler and Eddie Rosario each homered twice. The three of them went a combined 9-for-13, with seven runs and 10 RBI. According to the AP, the last time the Twins had multiple players hit multiple homers in one game was Aug. 3, 2011, when Delmon Young and Michael Cuddyer each went deep twice. Blast from the past. Note: the last time Delmon Young was mentioned on this blog, apart from us talking about him either being released or arrested, was when we posted this:

Cardinals 10, Royals 3Yadier MolinaJedd Gyorko and Randal Grichuk each went deep in the service of the Cardinals’ 14-hit attack. Jason Vargas was beat up for six runs in four and two-thirds for the Royals. In the first half he was Cy Young material. In the second half Vargas is 1-3 with a 6.94 ERA and has allowed 31 hits, has walked 12 dudes and has surrendered six homers in 23.1 innings across five starts. You can’t run away and hide from a 162-game season. It will come and find you eventually and reveal you for who you truly are.

Diamondbacks 6, Dodgers 3: The Dodgers had a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh. Such things have been pretty safe for them in this charmed season, but Jake Lamb‘s grand slam off of Tony Watson flipped the usual script. In Watson’s defense, he’s only been with the team for a little over a week so maybe no one told him how things are supposed to work yet. Hard to fault the matchup of a lefty specialist and a guy in Lamb who struggles against lefties. Stuff just happens sometimes.

Mariners 7, Athletics 6:  The A’s took a 6-2 lead into the sixth inning but the M’s rallied to tie it and Leonys Martin hit a solo shot in the top of the 10th to give Seattle the win. Khris Davis was 2-for-4 with a home run, a triple and four RBI in the losing cause. The M’s comeback was aided by some bad Oakland defense. The A’s lead the majors with 95 errors and 70 unearned runs allowed so, yeah.

Angels 3, Orioles 2: Every time I say “Angels and Orioles” to myself I think it sounds like the title of a 1990s art house movie. This should play before the game starts:

After that — and some pretentious, pre-credits sequence in which, I dunno, some British kids in the 1960s lose something in some tall grass — former Oriole Parker Bridwell threw seven innings of one-run ball, outdueling Jeremy Hellickson. C.J. Cron singled in the Halos’ first run and singled in their last run. Then the game ended on a dissonant note with, like, Juliette Binoche looking longingly at something, I know not what.

Giants 6, Cubs 3: Buster Posey hit a three-run homer in the first inning. He’s hitting .322/.411/.485 on the year. He’s one of the few good things going for the Giants in 2017. Ty Blach allowed two runs on seven hits over seven innings and (all together now) helped his own cause with an RBI single.

Winners and losers of the trade deadline

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Winners

Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers gave up what seems like a lot for Yu Darvish – top prospects Willie Calhoun, A.J. Alexy, and Brendon Davis – but the club is clearly primed for a run at the World Series and adding Darvish only helps those chances. You may fight for a World Series in 2022, but a lot can happen between now and then.

Additionally, Calhoun doesn’t have the glove to stick at second, making him a future corner outfielder or DH. The Dodgers’ outfield is spoken for and moving to the American League as a DH may be the best thing for Calhoun’s future. Alexy and Davis are still many years away from the majors such that the Dodgers shouldn’t be banking on them in any significant way.

Darvish, meanwhile, is a time-tested starter and although he’s just a year and a half separated from recovering from Tommy John surgery, he’s shown he is still a fearsome right-hander. He has a 4.01 ERA this year, which seems mediocre, but ERA retrodictor like FanGraphs’ FIP and xFIP and Baseball Prospectus’ DRA all see him as having pitched better than his results indicate. Furthermore, the Dodgers’ rotation is currently missing ace Clayton Kershaw, Brandon McCarthy, and Scott Kazmir. Rich Hill dealt with blisters all of last year and Hyun-Jin Ryu is not a picture of perfect health. Adding a No 1.5, so to speak, in Darvish not only adds production, but stability.

But that’s not all the Dodgers did. The Dodgers also snagged lefties Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani from the Pirates and Reds, respectively. While the Dodgers’ bullpen was already strong – its 2.83 aggregate ERA is second-best in baseball – adding two lefties to the roster never hurts. Watson has held left-handed batters to a .569 OPS over his career, Cingrani .712. Teams have clearly seen the success other teams had had, like last year’s Indians and Cubs, playing match-ups with the bullpen. The Dodgers are looking to emulate that strategy in the post-season this October.

New York Yankees

The Yankees acquired third baseman Todd Frazier and relievers David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle from the White Sox two weeks ago. They added Jaime Garcia from the Twins on Sunday. And ahead of Monday’s deadline, they acquired Sonny Gray from the Athletics. In the White Sox trade, the Yankees gave up No. 3 prospect Blake Rutherford and No. 19 prospect Ian Clarkin along with Tyler Clippard. The Yankees sent Zack Littell (now the Twins’ No. 16 prospect) and Dietrich Enns. For Gray, the Yankees surrendered Dustin Fowler (now the Athletics’ No. 3 prospect), Jorge Mateo (No. 5), and James Kaprelian (No. 11).

Like the Dodgers, it seems like a lot. Due to all of the relatively recent baseball media covering prospects, teams and fans alike had begun to covet potential stars a little too highly. Now, we’ve seemed to reach an equilibrium. Teams aren’t hoarding prospects as much as they used to just a few years ago and are now willing to make a sacrifice in an attempt to win now. It’s a healthymidpoint between mortgaging the future and steadfastly refusing to compete. The Yankees stand at 56-47, just a half-game ahead of the Red Sox in the AL East. They’re only 3.5 up on the Rays. If the Yankees were to slip in the AL East, they’d have to compete with the Royals, Rays, Mariners, Orioles, Twins, Angels, and Rangers who are all within five games of the AL Wild Card.

Frazier provided an immediate upgrade at third base, bringing his above-average bat to the hot corner, replacing Chase Headley’s .715 OPS and the meager .448 Ronald Torreyes put up in 51 plate appearances. Robertson, of course, is familiar to the Yankees, having pitched there from 2008-14. He put up solid but unimpressive numbers over two and a half seasons with the White Sox, but is still a quality right-handed reliever who can handle high-leverage situations and record a couple of strikeouts when necessary. Kahnle has been one of baseball’s hidden gems, carrying a 2.18 ERA with a nice 69/7 K/BB ratio in 41 1/3 innings. The only qualified reliever with a higher strikeout rate than Kahnle is Craig Kimbrel. Add Kahnle and Robertson to a bullpen that already has Aroldis Chapman, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances. The Yankees’ bullpen is not going to be fun to face in a post-season game.

Colorado Rockies

Dark horse winner here. Could’ve gone with the division rival Diamondbacks just as easily for adding J.D. Martinez. The Rockies are 60-46 but 14.5 games behind the Dodgers for first place in the NL West. They are clearly focused on the Wild Card, where they hold a 5.5-game lead over the Brewers for the second slot and are only a half-game back of the D’Backs for the first. The Rockies added Jonathan Lucroy from the Rangers, upgrading their weakest position. While Lucroy was having the worst season of his career, hitting .242/.297/.338 in Texas, Rockies catchers weren’t any better as Tony Wolters musterd a .642 OPS in 67 games, Ryan Hanigan .673 in 24, Dustin Garneau .613 in 22, and Tom Murphy .236 in eight. At least Lucroy has a long track record of hitting and it’s reasonable to expect him to get out of his funk before the season is over.

The Rockies also acquired Pat Neshek from the Phillies. Neshek was the Phillies’ lone All-Star, compiling a 1.12 ERA with a 45/5 K/BB ratio in 40 1/3 innings, emerging as one of few bright spots on the roster of baseball’s worst team. Moving to Coors Field from Citizens Bank Park is not nearly as bad as it would be moving from most other ballparks. Plus, Neshek is striking hitters out at a 30.5 percent clip while walking them 3.3 percent. His average of 9.4 strikeouts per walk is baseball’s fifth-best rate among qualified relievers. Missing bats and rarely putting base runners on for free are two great traits to have if you’re going to pitch at Coors Field.

Losers

San Diego Padres

The lowly Padres, 47-58, were expected to be among the more active sellers leading up to the deadline, but only managed one trade. They sent pitchers Brandon Maurer, Ryan Buchter, and Trevor Cahill to the Royals for Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Esteury Ruiz. Ruiz barely snuck onto the Padres’ top 30 prospects list. Strahm is out for the rest of the year with an injury, and Wood is a veteran swingman.

Most prominently, lefty reliever Brad Hand remained untraded. Hand was the Padres’ lone representative at the All-Star Game and took over the closer’s role when Maurer was traded. He compiled six saves with a 2.00 ERA and a 70/14 K/BB ratio in 54 innings. Not trading him by today’s 4 PM ET deadline means the club will either have to move him through waivers between now and August 31 or trade him in the offseason. While there were a handful of solid relievers that changed addresses within the last week, few threw from the left side with Hand’s rate of success.  He could’ve been this year’s Andrew Miller. Instead, he’ll close out meaningless games for the final two months of the season most likely.

Boston Red Sox

The Red Sox didn’t stand pat going into the deadline. The club acquired third baseman Eduardo Nunez from the Giants and reliever Addison Reed from the Mets. The addition of Nunez is solid insurance in case prospect Rafael Devers doesn’t live up to the hype. Nunez had a .752 OPS in San Francisco before the trade, helping upgrade Boston’s most problematic position. Reed put up a 2.57 ERA in 49 innings of relief with the Mets.

It would have really helped if the Red Sox were able to add a starting pitcher, though. Right now, the rotation is still fearsome as it features Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz. Sale has a 2.37 ERA and could be the AL Cy Young Award winner when all is said and done. Rick Porcello is still the defending Cy Young winner despite an unimpressive 4.55 ERA. Pomeranz has stayed healthy through 21 starts with a 3.46 ERA and Rodriguez has been solid with a 4.16 ERA. David Price will help when he’s healthy.

Pomeranz, though, is no perfect picture of health as he battled a forearm injury after the club acquired him from the Padres last summer. Price may not be reliable coming back from his elbow injury. Rodriguez has been solid but unspectacular through parts of three seasons. Adding a Darvish or Gray would’ve gone a long way towards helping the Red Sox keep pace with the Yankees in the AL East, but after the moves the Yankees made, they’re the clear favorites in the division for the final two months.

Miami Marlins

The Marlins are in a tough spot right now. Ownership is in flux as Jeffrey Loria is still in the process of selling the team. Trade rumors have swirled around most of its standout players, including Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Martin Prado, Brad Ziegler, and Dan Straily. The club only made two trades, however, sending David Phelps to the Mariners for a handful of minor leaguers, as well as A.J. Ramos to the Mets for two prospects. They got their No. 6 (Merandy Gonzalez), No. 8 (Bryan Hernandez), No. 20 (Brandon Miller), No. 23 (Pablo Lopez), and No. 24 (Ricardo Cespedes) prospects in the deals.

If the Marlins got those players from Phelps and Ramos, imagine what they could’ve gotten for the others. The Marlins already have $95 million committed to the roster for next season, $84 million in 2019 and $74 million in 2020. That means that new ownership will have significant financial obligations to account for when taking over from Loria. Trading those expensive veterans is not only best for them, taking them out of a confusing situation, but helps with the transition. Everyone is tired of the Marlins holding a fire sale, but in this case, it would have made a lot of sense.

Trading Stanton would’ve been the most difficult thing to do as he is signed through 2027 to a $325 million contract. But trading the others was very realistic, even if it meant taking less than perfect value in trades. Prado, Gordon, Straily, and Ziegler almost certainly won’t be part of the next great Marlins team, so keeping them around is a loss, but at least the club still has the next month to work out deals via waivers.