Bill Baer

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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.

Twins place Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list with shin injury

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The Twins have placed third baseman Miguel Sano on the 10-day disabled list with a stress reaction in his left shin, per the Star Tribune’s LaVelle E. Neal. Sano left Saturday’s game against the Diamondbacks after running out a ground ball double play in the fourth inning and was held out of Sunday’s lineup.

Sano, 24, is batting .267/.356/.514 with 28 home runs and 77 RBI in 475 plate appearances this season. The Twins are five back of the Indians for first place in the AL Central and currently hold a tie with the Angels for the second Wild Card slot.

Ehire Adrianza got the start at third base during Sunday’s win and could handle the hot corner while Sano is out. Eduardo Escobar could also get some time at third.

Buster Posey thinks Hector Neris hit him on purpose

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Giants catcher Buster Posey was hit by a pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning during Sunday afternoon’s series finale against the Phillies. It was a first-pitch fastball from closer Hector Neris, who had just entered the game. The Giants then had the bases loaded, but Pablo Sandoval struck out to end the inning and the Giants went on to lose 5-2.

After the game, Posey said he thinks Neris hit him on purpose, per Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle. Posey thinks Neris thought he couldn’t get him out.

Per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki, Neris said “absolutely not” when asked if he threw at Posey on purpose. The rest of the Phillies clubhouse, per Zolecki, “Say whaaat?!”

Here’s a link to the video of Posey getting hit. Now that we have automatic intentional walks, pitchers don’t even have to risk throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone to intentionally walk a hitter, so if Neris felt he couldn’t get Posey out, there was still no need to hit him. Furthermore, Neris isn’t going to hit Posey to load the bases and put the go-ahead run on first in a 4-2 ballgame. Sandoval has been a much worse hitter than Posey, for sure, but Neris would lose the platoon advantage if he felt like facing Sandoval instead, anyway.

Getting hit hurts, so it’s understandable Posey may have been salty in the moment. But after the game, when the pain has subsided and he’s had time to think over everything, there’s no way Posey should still come to the conclusion that Neris was trying to hit him on purpose.