yasiel puig

2014 All-Star Rosters: Addition By Subtraction

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Imagine that it’s the late innings of the 2014 All-Star Game, baseball’s summertime showcase where all of the best and brightest stars across MLB are on the field together.  The score is close, and the outcome of the game hinges on each pitch.  In from the bullpen comes…Tony Watson????….to face….Kurt Suzuki????

Let me say it simply: the All-Star Game sucks.  It SHOULD be much better.  But it’s been watered-down and dumbed-down to the point where the game itself is a complete farce.  And that starts with the roster selections.  Now, in the past, I’ve advocated for broad, wholesale changes to the game format.  But apparently no one is listening.  So let me take a moment to plead for one simple change: reduce the roster sizes from 34 to 25.

The huge current roster size is one of the reasons why the All-Star Game itself is such a clowncar shitshow.  It also dilutes the value to the player of receiving an All-Star Game invitation: is it really such an honor for a closer to be named an All-Star when 25% of all closers are named to the team every year?  No wonder many players would rather go on vacation than show up.  And yes, while contracting rosters might lead to more deserving players being snubbed, well, a lot of those players are being excluded anyways (e.g. Chris Sale, Ian Kinsler, Stephen Strasburg).

So let’s take this year’s rosters and trim the fat a little bit:

American League 

CUT:  C Derek Norris and C Kurt Suzuki
There’s already a rule that allows a player to re-enter the game to replace an injured or ejected catcher.  So why do we need THREE catchers on a roster, as is the case this year with both the AL and the NL?  Suzuki is still nothing more than a journeyman and Norris has only recently emerged from strict platoon player status.  Let Victor Martinez be the backup catcher for the AL; he can handle it.

CUT:  RP Dellin Betances
While I don’t think it should be impossible for a middle reliever to make an All-Star Game if they are having a mind-blowing season, the bar should be very high.  Generally, middle relievers aren’t even the best relievers on their own teams, so why are they getting All-Star nods?  Betances has been really really good for the Yankees and has thrown a ton of innings for them (over 50), but he has no past track record of this kind of success.  And yeah, he’s racked up a lot of strikeouts, but his strikeout rate of 13.95 per nine innings is only second best on his team, behind closer David Robertson (16.43).

CUT:  RP Sean Doolittle
Even after cutting Betances, there are still three relievers on this team, which is one too many.  I’m going to keep Glen Perkins, since Minnesota (where the ASG is being played) should have at least one representative.  I’d probably take Koji Uehara instead of either Greg Holland or Doolittle, but since I’m just cutting and not adding, I’ll remove Doolittle, who’s only had the closer job for a month and a half.

CUT:  1B Brandon Moss and 3B Kyle Seager
No doubt, both Moss and Seager are having great years.  But there simply isn’t room for Moss with two more deserving first basemen (Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu) already on the roster.  Same thing for Seager, who’s behind Josh Donaldson (he’s been slumping, but I’m honoring the fan vote for now) and Adrian Beltre (longer track record, more star power).

CUT:  OF Yoenis Cespedes
You don’t need three extra outfielders, so I’m cutting one.  To me, Michael Brantley is clearly deserving, so it comes down to Cespedes and Alex Gordon.  Advanced stats love Gordon’s defense, ranking him third overall in FanGraphs WAR largely due to his glove and arm, and I have a hard time stomaching Cespedes’ mediocre .316 OBP.  (The A’s ended up with an insane seven All-Stars (if you count newly acquired Jeff Samardzija) and I’m cutting four of them here.  The thing is, if I were adding players, I’d probably cut Scott Kazmir for Chris Sale or Corey Kluber or Garrett Richards.  And as mentioned above, I’d consider cutting Donaldson as well if he weren’t already voted in as a starter.  And Samardzija’s not going to pitch in the game.  So yeah, the A’s are probably the best team in the majors right now, but they are doing it without any true superstars; they could just as easily have ended up with zero All-Stars.)

CUT:  SS Alexei Ramirez
There are those who are complaining about Derek Jeter’s inclusion in this year’s game, but there simply aren’t any really worthy candidates at shortstop who are being shortchanged here.  It’s picking the best of a mediocre lot.  We don’t even need a backup here; just let Jetes play the whole game.

Trimmed AL Roster

C Salvador Perez
1B Miguel Cabrera
2B Robinson Cano
3B Josh Donaldson
SS Derek Jeter
OF Jose Bautista
OF Mike Trout
OF Adam Jones
DH Nelson Cruz

SP Mark Buehrle
SP Yu Darvish
SP Felix Hernandez
SP Scott Kazmir
SP Jon Lester
SP Max Scherzer
SP David Price
SP Masahiro Tanaka
RP Greg Holland
RP Glen Perkins

1B Jose Abreu
2B Jose Altuve
3B Adrian Beltre
OF Michael Brantley
OF Alex Gordon
DH Victor Martinez

National League

CUT:  RP Pat Neshek and RP Tony Watson
Again, middle relievers, and neither of these guys have even been as good as Betances.

CUT:  C Devin Mesoraco
Having a good year, but again, don’t need three catchers.

CUT:  3B Matt Carpenter and 2B Daniel Murphy
As above, the team doesn’t need a third 3B or 2B.  Murphy’s having a nice half year for the Mets, but I’d like to see a little more before granting him All-Star status.  (Elimination of Murphy would mean there are no Mets on the NL team.  A necessary result of the reduction of roster size would be the elimination of the one-player-per-team rule, which would be a great thing.)

CUT:  SP Tyson Ross
Ross is the token Padre, but he’s actually been pretty good this year.  Still…not quite good enough and everyone from the Padres has the stink of their awfulness.

CUT:  OF Charlie Blackmon
Blackmon is a result of player and fan balloting starting WAY too early in the season.  After a scorching April, Blackmon has proven he’s nothing special in May and June.

CUT:  OF Josh Harrison
WAAAAAAHAHAHAHA.  Seriously?  Get outta here.

Trimmed NL Roster

C Yadier Molina
1B Paul Goldschmidt
2B Chase Utley
3B Aramis Ramirez
SS Troy Tulowitzki
OF Andrew McCutchen
OF Carlos Gomez
OF Yasiel Puig

SP Madison Bumgarner
SP Johnny Cueto
SP Zack Greinke
SP Clayton Kershaw
SP Julio Teheran
SP Adam Wainwright
SP Jordan Zimmermann
RP Aroldis Chapman
RP Craig Kimbrel
RP Francisco Rodriguez

C Jonathan Lucroy
SS Starlin Castro
3B Todd Frazier
1B Freddie Freeman
2B Dee Gordon
OF Hunter Pence
OF Giancarlo Stanton

Now isn’t that much better?  We were even able to preserve the one-player-per-team standard for the American League.  We can talk about snubs another time; but as you can see, simply cutting down the roster size greatly improves the overall quality of these rosters and would result in a much more interesting game as well.  Unfortunately, I have little to no hope that this will ever change.  So, whatever.  Stay tuned for another rant about All-Star selections next year.

You Can’t Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t If You Don’t Know Where They Are

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“You never hold still when the enemy knows exactly where you are.” – Ender’s Game

More than ever before, baseball teams are employing the shift on defense.  I tried to look up stats to show how this is true, but it’s completely unnecessary.  Just watch any game.  Against righties, against lefties, with men on base, with no one on; teams are shifting like crazy.  I don’t think this is just a fad.  If anything, we may see even more extreme use of the shift in the near future.  But in the evolution of defensive positioning, is the shift the end of all things?

There’s an old baseball aphorism that says “hit ’em where they ain’t.”  But shifting, no matter how extremely you do it, still allows a hitter to assess the fielding landscape prior to each pitch (i.e. figure out “where they ain’t”) because the fielders, despite having shifted, become static prior to the time of the pitch.  So what about putting the fielders in motion prior to each pitch?  The Amazing Coco Crisp (yes, he is a superhero now) has said that he doesn’t like to attempt steals in certain situations because he doesn’t want to distract the hitter.  Can you imagine how distracting it would be to a hitter if every fielder just started sprinting in a random direction as the pitch was thrown?  Even if hitters eventually adjusted to this, wouldn’t this be highly entertaining to watch?  Wouldn’t you pay to watch Yasiel Puig running random spirals in right field?

Moreover, couldn’t being in motion be a wise strategic choice for outfielders in certain situations?  This is like putting a player in motion prior to the snap in football (I’m thinking Canadian football for a better example, where the receiver can actually start running forward pre-snap).  Standing still, an outfielder needs to accelerate from zero; but if the outfielder were running at the time of the pitch (and in the generally correct direction), the amount of distance he could cover would be drastically increased.  Obviously, this would also increase the amount of time it would take for him to stop and turn around if he’s running in the completely opposite direction of the ball.  But if all three outfielders are in motion, could there possibly be an arrangement of their starting vectors that provides superior field coverage?  I’m thinking something like the right and left fielders both start in the center fielder’s normal position and the center fielder starts at the center field wall.  While the pitcher is in his windup, the left and right fielders sprint towards the left and right field lines respectively, while the centerfielder runs straight in towards the infield.  This could create a lot of field coverage, while also creating the most chaos right in the hitter’s field of vision.

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I’ve attempted to test my theory using this Web Gems game on ESPN by starting my fielder at the wall and then running towards the batter before the pitch is thrown.  I think this was an extremely scientific way to test this, but yet my results were somewhat inconclusive (though I did rack up almost 4000 points, which is a pretty good score, I think.  I get lots of girls).

This one time, I was playing centerfield during a softball game, and the other team had this guy who was just hitting lasers wherever he wanted.  He was hitting them where we weren’t; if I shaded over to left-center he would hit it to right-center and vice-versa.  Finally, I deliberately shaded far over to left, tantalizing him with a huge gaping hole in right-center field.  But as the pitch was in the air, I started to run over to right-center.  Sure enough, he laced a rocket to right-center, but I was perfectly positioned to easily catch it.  From center field, I could see the look of confusion on his face.  Wasn’t there a gap there?  Wasn’t that guy just in left-center?  Yeah.  I just destroyed you with my mind.  I am a softball ninja.  You can’t hit ’em where they ain’t if you don’t know where they are.  That’s the title of this article!

But seriously, I’m serious.  This idea isn’t as nuts as it sounds. Baseball already has fielders in motion in certain situations, specifically bunts (where the 1st/3rd basemen charge) and stolen base attempts (where the 2B/SS is running towards second base).  All I’m saying is that I think it’s highly likely that we can identify significantly more situations where putting fielders in motion is beneficial.  Now is that so crazy?

Yasiel Puig Sets Record For Longest Bat Throw

I’ve got to say something about Yasiel Puig. This kid has been ridiculous. Even the legendarily unflappable Vin Scully, who has seen everything over all his years of broadcasting, has gone from skeptical to ebulliently incredulous in a matter of days. Puig has singlehandedly changed the entire feeling around this Dodgers team; everyone has become the best versions of themselves over the past week. I can’t believe that a fantasy manager in my league had the foresight and the patience to have rostered him since day one; well done!

Puig also brought with him from Cuba a pretty awesome bat flip:

I love the way some lefties like Cano and CarGo just fluidly drop the bat after their home run swings; Puig’s righty hammer throw reminds me of Carlos Quentin’s massive bat tosses. I’m not sure if he still does this because he changed his batting stance, but Quentin used to throw his bat astronomically long distances after making contact, it was very amusing. I have a feeling that Puig’s tosses may get longer and longer; if this becomes a major story line or an on deck batter is injured, remember that you saw it here first.