Craig Calcaterra

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson stand as MVP favorites

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There are six finalists for the MVP Award, the winners of which will be announced after 6PM this evening. The smart money is on two of them: Bryce Harper in the NL and Josh Donaldson in the AL.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

This is a one-horse race. Indeed, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to bet the exacta: Bryce Harper as the MVP, winning it unanimously.

Harper was far and away the best and most dominant player in the NL in 2015, leading the league in on-base percentage, slugging, OPS+, homers and runs. His line of .330/.460/.649 was outstanding, with his OPS of 1.109 the highest of any player in baseball since 2008 and the 79th best of all time. His OPS+, 195, is the 71st best of all time — tied for Mickey Mantle’s 1962 MVP season — and is the best in baseball since Barry Bonds’ 2004 campaign.

There was no one close to Harper in 2015. Moreover, the two other finalists for the award, Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt, didn’t play for winning teams, neutralizing the only potential reason for someone to vote against Harper (i.e. that the didn’t carry his team into the playoffs).

I honestly hope that an evil, Silver Age comic book criminal with a name like “The Fortune Teller” doesn’t take your family hostage today. But if he does, and if he says he’ll only let them go free if you beat him by correctly predicting some future event, go with Bryce Harper winning the NL MVP tonight.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Things aren’t as clear-cut in the AL, but there is a favorite.

Josh Donaldson hit .297/.371/.568, with 41 HR, 123 RBI and an OPS+ of 155. He likewise led the American League in total bases with 352. While he was snubbed when the Gold Glove was awarded, Gold Gloves are stupid. He’s one of the best defensive third baseman in baseball and flashed great leather in 2015. He had big hits. He was seen as the driving force behind the Toronto Blue Jays’ breakthrough, collecting a number of memorable and game-winning hits along the way. He looked, walked and talked like an MVP Award winner and it’ll be somewhat surprising if he doesn’t take the hardware tonight.

His closest competition is Mike Trout who had another outstanding season in a short career that is already packed with them. He hit .299/.402/.590 with 41 HR, 90 RBI and led the league in slugging, OPS and OPS+. Offensively speaking he was superior to Donaldson by most measures, but hitting in a much tougher park for offense and having no one around him in his lineup getting on base for RBI opportunities harms his case in the eyes of voters who may not look quite as deeply at his value. Not that bypassing Trout would be patently unreasonable. His second half was not as strong as his first and he slumped in August when a lot of people start to pay attention to individual awards races. Those things will hurt him even if he did almost single-handedly keep the Angles in the playoff picture until the very end of the season.

If the question is “who should win the AL MVP Award,” you couldn’t go wrong with either player. If the question is “who will win the AL MVP Award,” the answer is likely Donaldson.

Ex-MLBer Russell Branyan arrested for breaking into his ex-wife’s house

Seattle Mariners v New York Yankees
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Via Deadspin we learn that ex-MLB player Russell Branyan was arrested recently for breaking into his ex-wife’s house in Tennessee while she was sleeping. He stole a number of items from the house and turned the thermostat way down to make it super cold in the house.

While the thermostat part sounds rather prankish, this whole episode is pretty disturbing, especially in light of the fact that in 2008, while he was still married to her, he was arrested on domestic violence for striking her in the face and cutting her lip. Aggressions, major or minor, can escalate quickly in a domestic situation, and that’s even if you ignore the fact that he broke in to her house.

Branyan has been out of baseball for a couple of years now. It sounds like he needs to be removed from his current environment in some way or another as well.

 

Apparently “real fans” are supposed to shut up and be quiet

Braves Fan
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My Braves post this morning struck a nerve, it seems. The nerve belongs to an emailer who apparently believes that sports fandom is an “either you’re with us or against us” proposition and that it’s somehow illegitimate to be unhappy when your team sucks and the people who run it don’t seem to care.

He writes:

The real reason you hate rebuilding is that you were never a real Braves fan in the first place.  You’re a you fan, a navel-gazer, a carpet-bagger and a front-runner.  The Braves don’t care about front-runners, nor should they.

Real fans can embrace a rebuild because they’re rooting for the same team that they’ve always rooted for.  A real fan can accept a few years of pain in the name of a solid rebuild.  Given that you don’t really follow the team or spend any significant money on your fandom – why should any Braves fan or any member of the team care what you think at all?  You’re a nu-fan, expressing nu-fan whines.  There’s a place for such expression on the internet and that place is at G.E. on the blog of a network that doesn’t even cover baseball.  Talk about a fart in a dust-storm.

I have no idea who this person is or how old they are, but I’ll observe that I’ve been a Braves fan since the mid-1980s and, unless “nu fan” has some counterintuitive definition, I’m not exactly that. There’s a decent chance, in fact, I’ve been rooting for the Braves longer than my correspondent has been alive.

Not that any of that matters, as how long or how deeply anyone has been a fan is beside the point. Indeed, the very idea that fans are subject to some sort of test of their loyalty or depth of their fandom before they are able to have opinions about the team they root for is one of the lamest, most retrograde notions in sports fandom today. It’s record store hipster elitism imported to sports, purporting to judge who is and who isn’t entitled to be entertained or to voice their opinion.

It’s also the sort of sentiment which institutions, be they sports teams, governments or companies of any kind, count on in order to not be accountable to their fans, citizens or customers. An implicit “you don’t get it” to defend bad behavior, followed up with the enlistment of the super devoted to “correct” the putatively less invested and to get them to accept the institution’s lines. If you criticize our leader, you’re not really loyal. If you don’t like the new product, you’re not one of their preferred customers.  If you don’t agree with the team’s rebuild, you’re not really a true fan. Please. Loyalty tests will only tell you who the first ones will be to drink the Kool-Aid and who the last ones will be to realize they’re dead.

I’m not sure when trusting the plan of a baseball team’s front office, regardless of how it’s carried out or communicated, became a test of one’s devotion to a team. I know it had to be before Dayton Moore famously told Royals fans to “trust the process,” because that was roundly mocked and, eventually, the Royals realized that the proof was in the pudding, not in the words. Maybe it’s from the early “Moneyball” era when A’s fans didn’t have much reason for baseball hope but did see a smart front office doing unconventional things. Worth noting, however, that as far as I can recall Billy Beane never scoffed at fans the way Coppolella did with his interview. Whatever the case, that kind of fandom is weird to me and seems rather unpleasant. I’d rather have fun with the dilettantes in pink hats watching a fun team than sit in misery while swearing loyalty oaths and professing faith in the men in charge.

All I know is this: winning will always be what fans want more than anything else and they should not be ashamed to want it. If that’s not possible, fans should not be ashamed of at least wanting an entertaining product and should not be shamed if they lose interest in a boring, losing team, however temporarily. Rebuilding is something all fans will accept if they are convinced that it is necessary and if it’s carried out in a competent manner. And no matter what the team is doing — winning, losing or rebuilding — fans will bristle if the club condescends to them or acts as if their feelings about the team don’t matter. The Astros may be an instructive example here. They made no bones about the fact that the organization was in chaos and there was no reasonable disagreement with that notion. They were up front that they had to tear it all down. They were up front that the process was going to be painful. And, as the pain endured for several seasons, they didn’t lash out at fans for their lack of patience and loyalty. Fans left when it wasn’t very fun. They came back when it was. No one died.

As I said this morning, the Braves are doing an OK job with this. They never have made a convincing case that the rebuild was the only course of action possible, and to the extent it is the only course of action it’s because of the unreasonable constraints the team’s ownership has put on its baseball operations folks. But, of course, that ship has sailed. They’re doing an OK job on the baseball side of things in terms of the trades they’re making and the talent they’re stockpiling. They’re being pretty damn dismissive, however, of fan sentiment with all of this, and as the pain wears on, they need to do a better job of appreciating their fans.

Even the nu fans, whatever the hell that is.