Chris Sale made a victorious return from the disabled list on Thursday evening and in the process he tore thorough a decent Yankee lineup as though it were tissue paper. Sale retired 18 of the 19 hitters he faced, while striking out 10 in just 6 innings of work. The lanky lefty tore through the first 17 hitters he faced before allowing a hit, which actually came as a relief to skipper Robin Ventura, because the manager was prepared to make the unpopular, but intelligent, decision to remove his ace during a perfect game. In short, Sale looked like he hadn’t skipped a beat. This was the dominance White Sox fans have come to recognize in their ace over the past couple of seasons, but the reality is this isn’t the same Chris Sale. This 2014 version has turned into something more.
It’s hard to imagine a player having a better first month in the big leagues than Jose Abreu did in April. He managed to lead all Major Leaguers in home runs (10) and RBI (31) while totaling more bases than any other player as well. His presence in the lineup has been the lightning bolt that electrified the White Sox offense Frankenstein offense back to life and thanks to a brilliantly balanced approach at the plate the Cuban slugger shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Continue reading
After a tedious month filled with plenty of patience and very little news, Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka finally broke the freeze, signing a 7 year/$155 million dollar deal with the New York Yankees. If you’ve been paying any attention at all this offseason, the Tanaka signing should come as no surprise. That much discussed luxury tax number, $189 million, they Yankees were hoping avoid was always a pipe dream and after the big money signings of Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran, New York almost had to sign Tanaka to upgrade what appeared to be a league average pitching staff. Continue reading
The pitching staff for the 2013 Minnesota Twins was positively abysmal a year ago. As a collective, the Twinkies ranked dead last in strikeout rate while simultaneously allowing their opponent’s to rack up more hits than any other staff in the league.
Things were so ugly a year ago that 10 different pitchers made at least 8 starts for Minnesota and just 2 of those 10 finished the season with a sub-4.00 ERA. Twins GM Terry Ryan knows that’s not a recipe for success, which is why he spent most of last week spending upwards of $70 million to shore up his rotation, adding veteran righties Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The real question is, does that $73 million get the Twins any closer to an AL Central title? Continue reading
With our first busy week of the offseason in the books, the 2013-14 Major League Baseball spending spree is on. We’ve seen Jhonny Peralta and Brian McCann reel in buku bucks by signing long-term deals with franchises that historically view themselves as contenders. Josh Johnson and Dan Haren have managed to nab some pretty pennies from NL West ball clubs, the Phillies made some interesting moves, and of course who could forget the monumental Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler swap. Why don’t we take a quick swing through some of last week’s newsworthy notes:
After spending the better part of the past few seasons climbing baseball’s Mount Everest only to run out of steam just shy of the peak, the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers have decided enough is enough. Those 90-95 win seasons and deep playoff runs that don’t quite bear fruit will no longer be tolerated. The time to go for it is now, and no move quite emphasizes that mindset than the Prince Fielder–Ian Kinsler swap.
After dispatching both the Dodgers and Tigers in hard fought 6 game series, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals find themselves on the cusp of a title. And while this World Series match up may not have fans all over the country jumping for joy, the mood in St. Louis and Boston will reach a fevered pitch over the next week. So without further delay, let’s dive right in:
The ascension of the Pittsburgh Pirates, from two decades of losing to 94 wins and the NL Wild Card, was not an easy one. The franchise had to completely revamp everything; from they way they do business on the international market to the way they play on the field. Gone were the frugal Pirates of the past. In 2011, GM Neil Huntington and his mates scoured the high seas, spending a record $17 million in the amateur draft in order to turn the franchise around. And while many of those players (top pick Gerrit Cole aside) have yet to make an impact on the big league level, the message was sent. Pittsburgh was here to compete.
That aggressive front office approach in the draft has bled over into other areas of the franchise as well. After decades of doing everything in their power to avoid spending money on free agents, Pittsburgh opened up the coffers for Russell Martin, who was brought in on a 2-year/$17 million dollar deal to fortify what had previously been an extremely weak catching position. Along with Martin, veterans AJ Burnett, Wandy Rodriguez, and Justin Morneau among others have been traded for in an effort to raise the roster’s overall talent level. And perhaps most importantly, modern-day analytical analysis has been embraced.
Nowhere is that new, modern approach to baseball more evident than in the Pirates’ commitment to the defensive shift. Pittsburgh was one of the shiftiest teams in baseball this season, using one defensive maneuver or another over 400 times. That ranks 2nd among all of the franchises currently in the playoffs, trailing only the original super-shifters, the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s a huge jump from 2012, when Pittsburgh shifted just 105 times and the numbers back up just how effective all those extra defensive movements were. Pittsburgh ranked 3rd in baseball as a team in defensive runs saved and they finished tied for 7th in the league in defensive efficiency, which is the percentage of balls put in play that are then converted into outs.
Take a look at Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement leader board for position players since 2010 and you’ll notice plenty of familiar suspects among the top 10. There’s Miguel Cabrera sitting on top of the pile, followed closely by Robinson Cano and Joey Votto. Andrew McCutchen and his long flowing locks sit in the middle, as do a pair of popular AL 3rd basemen. Baseball’s next legend Mike Trout sits near the bottom of the list of 10, despite having spent what equates to an entire season in the minors. Suspended slugger Ryan Braun rounds out the bottom of the group. Tucked in among those perennial All-Stars and highlight-making machines is one of the last guys you would ever suspect: Ben Zobrist.
The Rays’ super-utility All-Star has carved out a highly valuable, highly important role on Joe Maddon’s roster by acting as the franchise’s Swiss army knife. Do you need someone to cover 3rd base in order to give Evan Longoria a day off? Call on Zobrist. Do you need a right fielder until Wil Myers is good and ready for the big leagues? Zobrist. How about a middle infielder who can make all the plays? Zobrist, Zobrist, Zobrist. He affords Joe Maddon a level of flexibility that few other players in baseball history can match and he’s been doing it for years now.
One of the most frustrating experiences for any pitcher has to be the well-pitched loss. You know the type I’m talking about. It’s the kind of game that occurs when both pitchers are dealing and the smallest breakthrough; a soft single up the middle with a runner on 2nd or a botched grounder by an infielder for instance, can determine the outcome. Unfortunately in those circumstances, somebody has to take a tough luck loss, even if that day’s pitcher struck out 15 while only allowing one hit. Well, without further adieu, I present to you the tough luck losers of 2013: