September 25th, 2016

I’m not at all sure how to put into context what happened today; everything still feels so raw and I had a hard time decide whether or not to actually write this article. But, today was just such a monumental day that I needed to get my feelings out on paper.

Regardless of the fact that I have never met him, and have absolutely no connection to him at all, I woke up to news that no one should ever have to wake up to.

Jose Fernandez has passed away at the age of 24.

It’s still hard to believe that the sentence I just put down is true. It’s not my place to grieve over Fernandez, I give all of my most sincere condolences to his family, friends, teammates, and anyone else who he impacted over his life. But it’s still hard to sit here and try and wrap my thought around him being gone.

Whenever anyone passes away, all of their good qualities shine through because we, as humans, choose to illuminate the good that we do in retrospection. And, that’s exactly what we are doing with Fernandez.

His light literally could not have shown any brighter. Never have I ever seen a Jose Fernandez frown. That infectious smile is absolutely everywhere today, as it well should be. Countless stories have been recounted of his kindness, from rescuing his mother from drowning while defecting from Cuba to spending joyous time with Casey McGehee’s cerebral palsy-stricken child, Fernandez had as big a heart off the field as he did on the field.

On the field? Jose Fernandez was as good as anyone I have ever seen.

Ever since his rookie season in 2013, that wipeout slider and 100 mph heat made Fernandez one of my favorite pitchers to watch. In the live ball era, no one has had a lower FIP than Fernandez’s 2.32 with at least 700 IP.

Even further, Fernandez will be remembered as a part of the Cuban renaissance in baseball. When he debuted, Cubans were few and far between in Major League baseball. Now, between him, Yasiel Puig, Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Jose Abreu, Aledmys Diaz – and tons others – Cubans are all over the game of baseball, and the United States government has begun negotiating with the former Soviet friend in an effort to mend their relationship.

Now, did Fernandez do this all by himself? No, but he was part of a mini-revolution that may change two countries entirely. And he did all by just being himself.

Jose Fernandez was a star, and he shone as bright as any star has ever shown. It’s almost impossible to hate him because his smile and his joy are just so infectious and genuine, and even on days when he was starting, he would still make time to go sign autographs and talk to reporters.

Baseball lost possibly it’s brightest star today, and I still struggle to find the right words to honor him. But, the game will honor Jose Fernandez by continuing on, and every one of us can honor Fernandez by simply doing his favorite thing.

Smiling.

……….

As heartbreaking as the news was this morning, baseball continued on, but everything just seemed overshadowed by something.

The Mets defeated the Phillies by a massive margin of 17-0 to increase their lead in the Wild Card standings to a full game over the San Francisco Giants and a game and a half over the St. Louis Cardinals. In their dugout hung a Mets replica jersey with Fernandez’s name and his number 16 on the back.

The Los Angeles Dodgers clinched their fourth straight division title with a walk-off home run by Charlie Culberson. Amid all of the joyous celebration was a tearful Yasiel Puig, a fellow Cuban and close friend of Fernandez’s who had also hung a Fernandez replica jersey in the Dodgers dugout.

Combined with all of this was the realization that today was the final home game that the Vin Scully would ever call. A great way for Scully to go out, no doubt, but still a sad day for anyone that has ever listened to Scully and just been amazed by his simplistic greatness.

The greatest broadcaster that there will ever be calls his final game this weekend in San Francisco,  so there are still 3 more opportunities to listen to Scully’s voice before he rides off into the sunset.

But, amid all of the joyous Dodger celebration were Puig’s tears at the loss of Fernandez, and the bittersweet reminder that this was Scully’s final home game.

Every team held a moment of silence before their games in honor of Fernandez. Many players wrote JF 16 on their caps to pay tribute, and close personal friends such as Aledmys Diaz and Jose Iglesias had to be scratched from their respective lineups to collect themselves in such a heartbreaking moment.

There just seemed to be a gray cloud over all of baseball today. In the midst of a heated and chaotic stretch run that has seemingly divided the league, the games didn’t seem to matter today.

The jarring news of Fernandez’s passing serves as a tragic reminder that nothing is guaranteed. Fernandez was supposed to be a long term fixture in the Marlins rotation, a Cy Young contender for years to come, an infectious presence that would lead baseball’s Cuban revolution and make baseball fun again.

I keep finding myself lamenting the fact that I didn’t watch him pitch enough. I didn’t fully appreciate his greatness because I just assumed that he would be there for years and years and years.

Same thing with Vin Scully. I remember when I first heard him and thought he was dry and boring. With age, I learned just how unique and brilliant and special Scully is and, this season, I find myself wishing I could hear him call every game. I’m not even a Dodger fan, but it just will never be right to not hear his voice while watching a Dodger game.

During what was supposed to be one of the most exciting days of the season, baseball endured a heartbreaking tragedy and saw its greatest broadcast of all time call his final home game.

Appreciate what we do have in this great game, because you never know when it might get taken away.

I love you all.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

September 25th, 2016

Mike Trout Should Win the MVP. But He Won’t

Well, the title of this article sure doesn’t leave much of the content up to the imagination, does it? I’m just getting right after the subject before you even open the page. Kinda rude of me, huh. But either way, you read the title, and you know what I’m writing about. So here we go.

Ever since Mike Trout played his first full Major League season in 2012, the American League MVP has become the most hotly contested and controversial award in baseball. So let’s quickly take a look at the recent history of the American League MVP.

2012: Miguel Cabrera becomes the first man to win the triple crown since Carl Yastrzemski in 1967, and was voted MVP in a landslide. The man he beat out? Trout, who posted a mind-boggling 10.8 WAR on the strength of other worldly defense and base running  – compared to Cabrera’s 7.2 WAR – and began the now unavoidable ‘old school vs new school’ debate.

2013: You thought we could escape the same scenario, didn’t you? Nope, we couldn’t. Trout put up another terrific all around season at 9.3 WAR, while Cabrera upped his 2012 numbers, posting a 1.078 OPS and a 7.3 WAR in only 148 games. Cabrera hit more home runs, drove in more runs, had a higher batting average, and his team won more games. You know what happened, Cabrera won again.

2014: Now, the thing that those two previous seasons included was Cabrera’s Tigers making consecutive ALCS’s. Trout’s Angels didn’t make the playoffs until this season, when they happened to lead the league in wins at 98. Trout put up his worst season to date, with career worsts in WAR, (a paltry 7.9), OPS, (.939…….just awful), and a career high strikeout total of 184, (okay, this one is actually pretty bad without my sarcasm). Trout won the MVP in a landslide because his team made the playoffs. MVP voting is stupid – we’ll get to that.

2015: It’s almost getting boring to see Mike Trout post 9 WAR seasons, as he did in 2015 at 9.4. Trout’s OPS was a career high .991, and everything was roses. But, alas, Trout’s Angels only won 85 games and missed the playoffs. Josh Donaldson, on the strength of 41 home runs and an 8.8 WAR, won the MVP. How many games did Donaldson’s Toronto Blue Jays win, you ask? 95, and a division title.

Is that another excuse to name someone other than Trout as the American League MVP? It sure is, let’s do it

That was all of the MVP voters talking right there. And by all of the MVP voters, I mean all of the old writers that still pay attention to batting average as the be all end all statistic and don’t vote Tim Raines into the HOF because he wasn’t as good as Rickey Henderson.

Those guys are the reason that this article isn’t a coronation of Mike Trout, and is instead a complaint as to why he hasn’t been truly recognized as the player he is.

They are the reason Mike Trout isn’t a 4 time American League MVP, soon to be 5; and it’s not like you really have to make an extreme case for him. Trout, in his first 5 seasons in the league – including this one – should have 5 MVP trophies to match.

But, he doesn’t, and he won’t win in 2016……..again.

Now, does Trout really need to win MVP upon MVP upon MVP for us to recognize his greatness? No, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he still deserves them, and has only gotten one when his teammates pulled together and made the playoffs.

Really, how stupid does it sound when you break that down? The best player in baseball can only win baseball’s most prestigious individual award when he plays on a team good enough to qualify for the postseason.

Now, the argument will obviously be made that Mike Trout has not taken a meaningful at-bat since May because his team hasn’t been in playoff contention since the season opened. But, how exactly do you quantify that?

We could look at WPA, because that certainly factors in situations and the clutch factor. But, take a look at the top of the 2016 leaderboard and who do you see? Mike Trout, leading the way with a 5.93 WPA, more than a full point above the next highest number of Josh Donaldson’s 4.66.

Well okay, so that didn’t work; Mike Trout foiled us again. But what about looking at RE24? This statistic measures the impact that a player has on his team’s run expectancy relative to league average.

Again, Trout’s 68.29 number leads the league by 15 points over second place David Ortiz. In context, the gap between Trout and Ortiz is the same as the gap between Ortiz and tenth place Brian Dozier.

What if we looked at REW? Taking the impact that a player has on his team’s run expectancy and converting it into wins instead of runs. Surely Trout can’t lead the league in another category…can he?

Yeah, he can, and his margins just keep becoming more and more dominant. Trout sits on top of the American League with a 7.57 REW, nearly 2 and a half full wins ahead of second place David Ortiz. Again, for context, the gap between Trout and Ortiz is equivalent to the gap between Ortiz and 17th place Carlos Beltran.

It’s just getting pointless at this stage. Mike Trout passes literally every test. WAR? Yup, Trout leads all of baseball at 8.5 WAR, and second place Mookie Betts is a full win and a half behind him. Weighted Runs Created + ? You betcha, Trout sits at a Major League leading 170 WRC+, with only David Ortiz within shouting distance at 163 WRC+.

phLI – which measures the average leverage index of each plate appearance – is the only seemingly relevant statistic that you might be able to make a case against Mike Trout around. Theoretically, in a playoff chase, the leverage index of plate appearances would mean more, right?

Wrong, 9 of the top 10 players in this category play for the following teams: Twins, White Sox, Twins, Astros, Angels, White Sox, Athletics, Astros. Lot of playoff caliber teams all stacked up in there.

Mike Trout’s shunning by the BBWAA has been historic and disappointing. During his best seasons, he was ousted by players who played for playoff teams. During his worst season – which, for the record, was still a 7.9 WAR campaign – he was rewarded for his team winning 98 games.

Through an age 24 season, no player has ever had more WAR than Mike Trout. He should have 4 MVP awards, but he has 1. In 2016, he should win again, but he will not. And, again, the case will be the same as it has always been. Mike Trout’s teams don’t win, so neither should he.

That insinuation will never fail to disappoint me, and is the reason why I hope all of the old-school baseball writers who still adhere to this approach get phased out very quickly. Because Mike Trout should be winning MVP’s, but he isn’t.

Fix this.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Mike Trout Should Win the MVP. But He Won’t

Brian Dozier and the Ridiculous Offensive Season of 2nd Basemen

Yesterday, as I was walking out of my final class of the day, I got an update that Brian Dozier had hit his 3rd home run of the game against the Kansas City Royals. 3 home run games are always a tremendous accomplishment, but I really thought nothing of it more than Dozier having a nice game. That all changed when I got curious and went to go check in on what kind of season Dozier is having in 2016.

Brian Dozier, all 5’11” and 190 lbs of him, has a mind-numbing 39 home runs and leads the league in ISO. In fact, from the 2nd base position, only Rogers Hornsby has a single season ISO higher than Dozier’s 2016 number in the history of baseball.

Coming into this season, Dozier’s highest single season OPS was a respectable .762, and he’s exploded in 2016 to the tune of a .926 clip, on the strength of a .576 slugging percentage. Now, I could go on and on and on about Dozier’s approach at the plate of pulling fly balls with authority, and how his in zone swing percentages break down, but that’s not the point of this article.

Brian Dozier’s season is just a microcosm for the insane offensive season that all 2nd basemen are having across the majors. From traditional stars like Robinson Cano and Jose Altuve, to surprise stars like Jedd Gyorko and Dozier’s breakout, 2nd base has seen its’ most productive offensive season since 1924.

1924?! I wasn’t even born yet, and neither were any of you. So…that’s a really long time ago.

But, such is life in an age where baseball is as weird as it has ever been. I’ve been over how strange and unpredictable baseball has become before, but this just seems to top things all off.

To really understand the context of how incredible this situation is, I want to dive into the history of second basemen. So, let’s start by looking at the body types of the best second basemen our game has ever seen.

Consider the respective heights and weights of the 5 greatest second basemen in the history of baseball – in terms of Baseball Reference WAR.

Rogers Hornsby, 5’11” and 175 pounds.

Eddie Collins, 5’9” and 175 pounds.

Joe Morgan, 5’7” and 160 pounds.

Charlie Gehringer, 5’11” and 185 pounds.

Frankie Frisch, 5’11” and 170 pounds.

Obviously, 175 pounds is a very popular weight among the greatest second basemen of all time, but the common theme here is that the keystone has traditionally been a position of smaller stature. The big, hulking slugger has typically been reserved for a first basemen, or a right fielder, while the second basemen serves as the scrappy dirtbag who gets on base at a high clip and plays good defense.

Home runs from second base, though? Please, don’t mock me with your ludicrous ideas. 1924, the greatest offensive season from second basemen in the history of our game, had a grand total of 106 home runs hit by all parties. The strength of that crop was built on the strength of a contact heavy approach, featuring a K/BB% ratio of 6.2% / 8.8%. The collective wOBA was a sterling .360 while the collective ISO sat at a respectable, but not too good .115.

The second basemen in 2016 have a very different idea of how to hit baseballs.

The old-school, ‘make contact at all costs’ approach has been scrapped in favor of a ‘swing hard, don’t worry about what you don’t hit’ theory. This has resulted in an all-time high ISO of .155 – more than 20 points higher than the next best number – a .426 slugging percentage, and an astonishing 597 total home runs with just under one month left to play.

So far, 2016 second basemen have obliterated the previous single season records for home runs, ISO and slugging percentage, and still have plenty of time to do even more damage. Yet, at the expense of all of this, the 18.1% strikeout percentage is an all time high, while the walk rate is at a decent, but not great 6.7%.

Strikeouts and home runs are up across the board, but this change in approach seems to be taken to the extreme by 2nd basemen in particular. The 2016 K rate of 18.1% is the highest of all time, but the next 6 highest numbers?

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

The gritty grinders of the keystone have decided that making weak contact is not their cup  of tea, and if they can’t hit a pitch 500 feet, they just won’t hit it at all.

To drive this point home even further, the contact rate of 2016 second basemen is 81.2%. Since Fangraphs began tracking contact rate in 2001, this number is more than a full percentage lower than the next worst contact rate – 2002’s 82.4% rate. Combined with this is an all time high swinging strike percentage of 8.8%.

This points towards a very clear approach from second basemen across the board. Swing hard, if you don’t hit it, who cares? Because if you do hit it, the ball is going to fly a long way. As disappointing as lessoning contact rates and higher strikeouts might be for the stagnant, old school baseball fan, you can’t say the approach isn’t yielding dividends.

With a combined WRC+ of 101, 2016 second basemen are having the best offensive season since the 102 WRC+ posted by 1924’s crop of keystoners. They have sacrificed overall contact rate and a lack of strikeouts to be able to post incredible slugging numbers. And just take a look at the seasons being had by some of the heavy lifters in this class of second basemen.

Brian Dozier – .279/.350/.576 39 HR’s 91 RBI’s 141 WRC+ .926 OPS 5.6 WAR

Robinson Cano – .301/.354/.525 32 HR’s 86 RBI’s 137 WRC+ .880 OPS 5.1 WAR

Jedd Gyorko – .243/.304/.506 26 HR’s 51 RBI’s 112 WRC+ .809 OPS 3.3 WAR

Rougned Odor – .280/.304/.515 30 HR’s 82 RBI’s 112 WRC+ .819 OPS 3.2 WAR

Dustin Pedroia – .328/.389/.462 13 HR’s 65 RBI’s 126 WRC+ .851 OPS 5.1 WAR

Daniel Murphy – .345/.391/.595 25 HR’s 101 RBI’s 156 WRC+ .986 OPS 5.2 WAR

The numbers these guys have put up this season are just insane. And they would be insane coming from literally any other position, but the fact that these are second basemen, relied upon to be some of the most agile athletes in the game, makes the power numbers that much more incredible.

Dozier is within 3 home runs of tying Davey Johnson’s single season record of 42 bombs from the second base position. Hell, he might just end up leading the league in home runs and ISO. And we’ll all have to look back on 2016 and go, “wow, Brian Dozier lead the league in home runs and ISO, must have been a down year for power.”

But we’ll be wrong.

Power numbers are up across the board in baseball, this has been well documented, but they are especially high from the second base position. Baseball is weird, and this perfectly exemplifies it.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

All numbers courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference

Brian Dozier and the Ridiculous Offensive Season of 2nd Basemen

Colin Kaepernick Deserves Your Sympathy

At the start of this year, if you had told me that Colin Kaepernick would be relevant again by the end of August, I would have figured that the man had gotten his mojo back and won a starting job in San Francisco. Mostly an NFL afterthought/has-been over the course of the past year or so, Kaepernick is not only relevant again, he has just become the most important athlete in the world.

In case you haven’t heard about the incident yet and were just wondering why in the world I would say such a thing about Colin Kaepernick, here’s a cliff notes version.

Last Saturday, before a home preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the NFL was having their traditional national anthem festivities. Big flag unveiled on the field, military personnel, the whole 9 yards that they do before every game – the organization actually collects checks from the U.S. Army to do such things. Everyone rose to honor the stars and stripes, except one man.

Kaepernick purposefully chose to stay seated on the bench.

In all my years of attending live sporting events, never have I ever seen a player not stand for the national anthem. It’s just not something that you would normally think to do. Protests are usually reserved for wearing a symbolic shirt during warm-ups – like the LA Clippers did last year – making a symbolic gesture – like the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture that 5 Rams players made when making their entrance from the tunnel last year – or posting something on social media – like everyone does.

By not standing for the national anthem, Kaepernick has taken an often protested topic, and thrust it directly into the spotlight in a not subtle way. And that, right there, is why this is so important.

Everyone is talking about this. From local sports outlets and podcasts to CNN, Kaepernick’s actions have incited widespread opinion and attention from literally anywhere you can think of. If you are an American, and you have seen what he did, you have an opinion on it. Finally, the issues that this country so desperately needs to address are thrust into the limelight in a way that doesn’t involve violence.

There are so many sides and questions about Kaepernick’s protest, though, and I’m just going to try and knock them all out one by one.

First off, the fact that Colin Kaepernick is, well, Colin Kaepernick plays a vital role in this. While people are talking about Kaep’s protest, most of everything I’ve heard has been extremely negative – Saturday on Twitter was possibly one of the most depressing Twitter days ever. But, ask yourself this, if Aaron Rodgers had made this same protest, would we be viewing it in a more positive light? Or at least attempting to sympathize with him more?

Kaepernick’s likability and relevance play a role here. The fact that he is all but certainly on his way out of the NFL has led anonymous GM’s to comment things such as, “I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my team. He’s a traitor.” And the fact that when Kaepernick was relevant he alienated himself and was often perceived as a selfish diva doesn’t help either.

When irrelevant people do relevant things, those relevant things become somewhat squandered and crushed under the weight of irrelevancy. Instead of lauding Kaepernick’s bravery or even remotely attempting to sympathize with his cause, we look at his stupidity, disrespect and view him as a “traitor.”

If LeBron intentionally sat for the national anthem, millions would be lauding him, publicly praising his courage, calling him a hero, all that jazz. But, LeBron didn’t sit for the anthem, and he never will.

But Colin Kaepernick did, and I’m going to put my neck out on the line here by saying that his protest was courageous and needs to be sympathized with.

In a brilliant piece posted on the MMQB, Robert Klemko looked at Kaepernick’s upbringing to go inside the reasoning of how this protest came about. To summarize, Colin was raised by two white parents in a very white area of Northern California; but he was not raised to believe he was white. The Kaepernicks raised their son as a black man, and as a black man in America, Colin Kaepernick has faced all of the injustices that are simply ingrained in our society and glossed over as non-issues.

He’s had enough, and we should all feel the same. Pay attention to Colin Kaepernick’s protest and take a stand of your own. If you simply dismiss it as just another black man crying out for special treatment, you are contributing to the problem we need to solve.

I have never not stood up for the national anthem, and I believe that when times are hardest, the national anthem simply needs to be sung louder and prouder than before. Not to drown out the problems and pretend they aren’t there, but to yell in the face of the error and show that we are stronger and will not back down.

I also believe in the principles that the American flag stands for, and will always respect those principles in any way that I can. But, at the same time, as a straight white male, I haven’t had to face a lick of oppression in my entire life. It might as well be nonexistent to me. So I have no reason to believe that America isn’t perfect the way it is right now.

Colin Kaepernick – along with any black, LGBT person, or woman – does, and Kaepernick stands up for all of them by not standing. He stands up for all of them by not blindly accepting a perfect America, because America isn’t perfect, and everyone needs to recognize that and work together to solve that problem.

This is true activism, taking a huge risk for a cause you believe in; something Kaepernick touched on when he told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, “I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I took up for what is right.”

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick, most people don’t, but you must sympathize with him. Everyone has a cause they believe in, a cause that many people disagree with, a cause that they would potentially put themselves out on the line for. Kaepernick is a black man in America who has seen enough violence and heard enough politicians undermining minorities as helpless that he felt strongly enough to protest in such a way that he knew would get the country’s attention.

And, the beauty of his protest was exactly what it was. Kaepernick staying seated during the national anthem hurts literally nobody; not a single person was harmed by what he did. Yet everyone is talking about it and everyone is addressing the issue at hand. That is beautiful, and that is vital.

Too often, protests are either too simple, or too violent to actually accomplish any good. Kaepernick fought back against both of those preconceived notions, and in doing so, has people talking. Is his career on the line? Yes. Is his life potentially on the line? From what I’ve seen on Twitter, yes. But that’s what it takes to get a point across in today’s day and age, and Kaepernick deserves to be applauded for his courage.

The last thing I want to bring up is a point that my dad made while we were talking over dinner the other night. He felt that Kaepernick’s protest not only disrespected the American flag, but also all of the people who had put him in such a position of power to be able to have his protest reach so many people. He disagreed with the protest because he believed it was an abuse of power to get out an opinion.

To me, Kaepernick’s stature makes this protest all the more effective. As I mentioned earlier, maybe you’ve seen the guy next to you in the stands or some other guy in the stands not stand for the national anthem, but you probably haven’t thought anything of it other than, “wow, what an idiot.” The fact that this is Colin Kaepernick making this statement, he of significant fame for being an NFL quarterback of one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, puts this in the rarified air of protests.

This is a legitimately large figure taking an authentic stand and literally putting everything on the line; something we haven’t seen since the days when Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown would hold press conferences to address social injustices. As I mentioned earlier, no figure with any legitimate stature has really been willing to put their neck out on the line to address America’s inherent ‘ism’ and ‘phobia’ problem – racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.

This protest, however seemingly small in stature it may be, is a pivotal turning point for our current America. We can either brush it off as just another black guy crying foul, or we can seriously address it and make some change. We’ve had plenty of other opportunities, but will this finally be the one?

In a presidential election that is as racially charged as any in the history of ever – and that includes 2 with a black guy running for president, mind you – all candidates will be asked about this. NFL players will be asked about this; from Cam Newton to Bill Belichick, and front office executives too. This issue expands far beyond just an ‘on his way out the door’ NFL quarterback deciding not to stand for the national anthem and extends into the very fabric that our society is currently made up from.

These issues can’t be ignored any longer, so let this be a turning point and not just another empty protest falling on deaf ears. This isn’t a black or white issue, and it isn’t just an NFL issue, it’s a people issue.

Let it be your issue too.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Colin Kaepernick Deserves Your Sympathy