Max Scherzer give up zero earned runs, gets ripped for it

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Max Scherzer pitched against the Mets yesterday. He was very good. He allowed zero earned runs. He struck out eight guys. His offense, however, was virtually helpless against Bartolo Colon and his defense was poor. As a result, an ill-timed walk (which came as a the result of a questionable ball two call) and maybe the only sharply-hit ball of the day by a Mets hitter led to a couple of runs. Scherzer took the loss even though he was effective and, at times, dominant. That happens in baseball.

But Thom Loverro of the Washington Times either does not understand or does not care that, on occasion, the outcome of a game can largely be out of the starting pitcher’s hands. After acknowledging that there was bad defense and that the Nats’ bats were silent, he says:

But the difference maker in a game like this is supposed to be Scherzer. That’s what great pitching does — erases miscues and not allow the big hit when they need it . . . Great pitching is supposed to overcome all. The guy on the mound with the ball still has control of the game . . . Max Scherzer pitched well. And he will likely be in control and dominate on the mound as part of this great Washington Nationals pitching staff.

But on Monday, Bartolo Colon pitched better. That can’t happen.

May as well just give up on the season now. And, perhaps, explore legal remedies against Scherzer for theft as a result of that big contract he signed.

Seriously, though, I know that many of you will say that Thom Loverro is not worth paying attention to. That it’s not even worth anyone’s time. Maybe not, in and of itself. But as a new season dawns, I feel it is necessary to note that, while any given column may be dumb, it and others like it are what form the basis of sports discourse. Loverro and many of his columny counterparts double as talk radio hosts. This kind of dumbness feeds that chatter. That chatter, eventually, starts to seep into even the less-dumb columns and takes from the local sporting scene (e.g. references in stories and interviews to “some people are saying  . . .” etc.) It’s not a perfect echo chamber of course, but it is an echo chamber. Eventually, a non-trivial number of fans buy this garbage. Which makes even talking about sports with people in bars and at work a monstrous pain.

A big reason I criticize stuff like this is because I simply won’t surrender to the notion that sports are so unimportant that there’s no harm in sports journalism being bad. Bull. We’ve all seen great sports journalism. We know how edifying and enjoyable it can be. We know how, at times, it can even enhance our enjoyment of the game itself by its very existence. Not everything has to read like Roger Angell, but there’s no reason we shouldn’t at least aim higher.

But I also criticize such things because I hate that so much conversation about sports is dumb and that, as noted above, so many of the conversations we have about sports become monstrous pains. I’d love to sit down in a bar in Washington and have someone say “Scherzer pitched well, but the defense stunk and stuff happens, ya know?” Then move on to other, less-dumb things. We should all want that.

Every other part of media is subject to media criticism, often by dedicated media critics, which everyone accepts. Sports journalism should not be singularly immune. And for that reason, I will continue to point out and critique stuff like this when I see it.

Angels rewarded for playing it straight with Mike Trout

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Tuesday’s big news featured Angels outfielder Mike Trout, who inked a 12-year, $426.5 million contract extension. As the deal replaced the two years and $66.5 million remaining on his previous contract, it is effectively a 10-year, $360 million contract. As Craig argued earlier, Trout’s contract for over one-third of a billion dollars is actually quite a bargain for a player of his caliber.

The Angels got such a bargain and the privilege of retaining one of the greatest baseball players of all time because they played it straight with Trout since they drafted him in 2009. Trout was selected 25th overall in the first round. His talent was immediately obvious, as he hit .360/.418/.506 in 39 games at rookie ball preceding a late-season promotion to Single-A Cedar Rapids. Trout earned a promotion to High-A Rancho Cucamonga the next summer. In 2011, Trout started the season with Double-A Arkansas before earning a call-up to the majors in early July. In roughly two years, Trout went from drafted out of high school to playing in the majors.

The Angels did not try to manipulate Trout’s service time, something that has become increasingly common among teams holding the game’s top prospects. The Cubs held Kris Bryant down in the minors longer than necessary in 2015 in order to gain an extra year of contractual control. The Braves did the same with Ronald Acuña Jr. last year. Despite an injury, the Blue Jays were going to keep No. 1 prospect Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. in the minors to start the 2019 season anyway, at least until they gained their extra year of contractual control.

Trout, though? The Angels called him up to debut on July 8, 2011 against the Mariners, replacing the injured Peter Bourjos in center field. At the time, the Angels were just one game out of first place behind the Rangers. Trout hit an abysmal .163/.213/.279 in 14 games. The Angels, understandably, sent him back to Double-A once Bourjos came off the disabled list. Trout was called back up in mid-August, sharing the outfield corners with Torii Hunter and an underperforming Vernon Wells. Trout put up a healthier .768 OPS the rest of the way.

Of course, we all know what Trout would become from that point on. Trout won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, also finishing second in AL MVP Award balloting. He likely would have won the award if Miguel Cabrera hadn’t won the Triple Crown. In 2013, Trout again finished second in AL MVP voting (again, to Cabrera, who did not win the Triple Crown this time). Though the Angels could have renewed Trout’s salary for not much more than the $510,000 he earned in 2013, the club chose to pay him $1 million for the 2014 season, a record one-year salary for a pre-arbitration player. One month later, the club inked him to a six-year, $144.5 million contract, covering the 2015-20 seasons — Trout’s age 23-28 seasons. Trout accrued a ridiculous 36.6 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference. The only other players in that neighborhood over that same span of time are Mookie Betts (32.9), José Altuve (26.0), and Nolan Arenado (25.3).

Prior to Tuesday’s extension news, many were already looking towards the free agent market after the 2020 season, when Trout would have become a free agent. Bryce Harper, who signed a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies earlier this month, openly talked about recruiting Trout to the Phillies. Trout is from Millville, New Jersey, which is roughly an hour away from Philadelphia. Trout grew up a Phillies fan and is commonly seen at Eagles games during the baseball offseason. It made sense to think Trout would test free agency and come back home. The Angels have made the playoffs once during Trout’s career: 2014, when they were swept out of the ALDS in three games by the Royals. The club has averaged an 84-78 record during Trout’s career. The Phillies are on the come-up. Why would Trout want to hang around the Angels, mired in mediocrity?

Trout, however, has been deeply invested in the Angels’ future. The New York Post’s Joel Sherman tweeted, “Something that stood out to me while in #Angels camp: how invested Trout was in LAA’s improving farm system. Eppler told me Trout would sometimes call and ask if he had noticed something in a minor league boxscore. To me a sign he was in with LAA’s future.” What are the chances that Bryant and Acuña, for example, share a similar feeling of devotion to their respective teams after having their service time shamelessly manipulated?

One benefit of not treating players as disposable labor is loyalty, a feeling of “we’re in this together.” The Angels didn’t jerk Trout around like teams have done with so many other top prospects. They willingly gave a pre-arb Trout a raise when they could have nickel-and-dimed him to save $450,000 in 2014. They invested nearly $150 million in him as a 22-year-old. That paid dividends down the road, as Trout is now so invested in the Angels’ success that he has foregone a chance at free agency, when he possibly could have become baseball’s first half-billion-dollar man. Having Trout secured at a relative bargain through the 2030 season, and currently holding players like Shohei Ohtani and top prospects like Jo Adell, makes the Angels an attractive landing spot for free agents, international and domestic alike. Current players will want to stay in Anaheim. Angels fans will get to see one of the best baseball players of all time in an Angels uniform until his late-30’s. He will go into the Hall of Fame wearing an Angels cap. The Angels will have another decade of Trout drawing fans to TV broadcasts as well as Angels Stadium where they’ll spend money on concessions, t-shirts, and jerseys. Trout is a once-in-a-lifetime player, but other teams should take note: treating your players with dignity and respect may cost a few extra bucks up front, but the long-term gains can be bountiful.