Welcome to the awards.
All stats are for the period of Monday, June 21 through Sunday, June 27. All season stats are through the 27th. For award definitions, see this year’s primer.
This week’s proof that assigning wins and losses to a pitcher is an archaic practice that must stop
Good luck division
Jonathan Niese allowed six runs in four and two-thirds. He was bailed out by Fernando Nieve, who relieved him and while Nieve allowed a runner that he inherited from Niese, he held the Tigers scoreless for two more frames. Niese also was helped by Justin Verlander, Jay Sborz and Fu-Te Ni, who combined for 13 runs allowed. Niese walked away with a no-decision.
I apologize if I cursed Ubaldo Jimenez when I praised him as my NL MVP a couple weeks ago. He got shelled to the tune of six runs in five and two-thirds. John Lackey wasn’t much better, allowing five runs in six and two thirds. Neither got the loss because of a blown save by Jonathan Papelbon.
Jake Arrieta was fortunate to escape from the loss when Tyler Clippard blew the save for the Nationals. Arrieta had been bombed out by the Nats to the tune of six runs on eight hits in four and a third.
Bad luck division
Stephen Strasburg learned what life was like for most good pitchers on sub-.500 teams. One run in six innings with nine strikeouts and no walks is something that should get you a win most of the time or at least a no-decision. But Brian Bannister had his best start in a while and the pride of D.C. left earlier than usual because he got dinked and dunked with singles, causing him to face more batters than he otherwise would have. He didn’t even allow an extra base hit. So welcome to the THT Awards, Mr. Strasburg.
I will talk more about the game in a moment, but Jeff Niemann was a victim of Edwin Jackson’s moment of glory. Niemann gave the Rays seven and a third innings of one-run baseball with eight strikeouts and two walks.
Fellow Illinois native Luke Gregerson also got the win/blown save combo. Interestingly enough, he faced six batters in the game and had a perfect 100 percent three true outcomes percentage as he struck out four, walked, one, and gave up a solo home run.
The exact opposite of a vulture
After Doug Fister got run out of the game after four innings of 9,00 ERA ball, Brian Sweeney gave the Mariners four innings of scoreless relief, striking out a batter per inning, walking nobody, and allowing only one hit. He got a well-deserved win. I rag on the vultures and the injustices of the archaic scoring system enough that it feels good to give somebody the rhetorical equivalent of applause.
Wes Littleton Award
The Rangers have provided another example of a True Littleton. This time it was Matt Harrison, who entered with a 13-2 lead at the top of the seventh. Three innings later, he walked away with the save.
Please hold the applause
Multiple categories represented
First, Jason Hammel got punished, allowing four runs on seven hits in four innings, yielding three doubles and a home run in his brief time in the game. The Rockies offense getting to Manny Delcarmen and Hideki Okajima let him off the hook. Shortly after that, Joe Beimel allowed two runs in a third of an inning, both runs having been scored after Manny Corpas took the reins. At that point, he was on track to pick up the loss and the hold. He would have gotten that combination, too, if it hadn’t been for Jonathan Papelbon, who blew the save for the Red Sox and got the win because of the home run that Dustin Pedroia hit off of Huston Street. Got all that?
On Edwin Jackson’s no-no
On a certain level, I am still getting used to living in a world in which Edwin Jackson has thrown a no hitter. On another level it isn’t that surprising, given that his particular set of blessings and curses are the reason why he has remained in the major leagues as long as he has and yet has bounced around from team to team as much as he has. He has stuff that can result in a lot of missed bats when he’s on.
But his lack of consistent command can lead to some ugly stretches in which he tries everybody’s patience. This was the third time this season he has gone eight or more innings with no runs allowed. But with those glories, he also has four starts in which he has given up five or more, including eight- and 10-run disasters in back-to-back starts. It seems appropriate that during what should prove to be the most famous start of his career had eight walks, a hit batsman and a wild pitch.
This seems like just part of his skill set and a part of who he is. It doesn’t make me reevaluate my opinion of him the way that the Dallas Braden perfecto or the Armando Galarraga near miss did. He remains what he was before he did this, a reasonable, but deeply flawed starter. If the Royals acquired him in the offseason, I wouldn’t do cartwheels, but I wouldn’t curse Dayton Moore’s name. I would shrug knowing that he is an upgrade on the current Royals model of good stuff guy who mixes patches of success with deep pits of despair, Kyle Davies.
This start also brings to mind the limitations of the concept of no-hitters. This start was not the best performance by a starter this week. All no-hitters and almost all shutouts benefit from a significant amount of luck. But only the fourth, fifth and seventh innings went 1-2-3. Four runners reached scoring position, two batters reached third and he loaded the bases once in the third.
Feel free to editorialize in the comments about how this is a symptom of the reduced offensive environment of 2010 or how weird it is for an offense as good as the Rays’ to be no-hit three times in 12 months. I am leaving it alone for now.
Any sufficiently advanced defense is indistinguishable from pitching
Rangers rookie Tommy Hunter struck out one of 23 batters, but a combination of luck and the Astros being the Astros allowed him to get out with only one run allowed in six frames on five hits, none going for extra bases.
Joe Carter Award
Delmon Young has suddenly upped the power in his game a little bit this year, slugging .478 thus far. And he is making contact a high rate, striking out in just under 12 percent of his plate appearances. Unfortunately he is on pace to draw only 32 walks, which explains his .328 OBP. This week he drew no walks, and his occasional home run power deserted him, leaving him at .174/.174/.261. He still managed to drive in six runs.
Adam LaRoche did hit for power, slugging two home runs and driving in nine runs. He did little else in his 21 at-bats and ended up at .190/.261/.476.
Dan Uggla had a very uncharacteristic week, going homerless and walkless, leading to a .308/.308/.346 line.
Andre Ethier kept Uggla company on the all batting average express with a .308/.321/.385 week of his own.
I might have been a bit rash when I gave up entirely on Alex Rios last year. He is one of the few White Sox hitters who are actually hitting, standing at .313/.369/.538. Still, I don’t know if I would trust him if somebody offered him to me in a fantasy league trade. And his .273/.273/.318 is a classic Sanchez, not to say that that is the reason why I would or wouldn’t trust him.
Elsewhere, Garrett Jones went .304/.333/.304.
Harmon Killebrew Award
Joey Votto did a lot of heavy lifting this week, smacking a pair of doubles and a matching pair of home runs and drawing seven walks on his way to .238/.429/.619.
Brewers backstop Jonathan Lucroy went .235/.350/.529 in 17 at-bats.
Carlos Pena did what Carlos Pena is good at, drawing six walks and launching a home run in 25 plate appearances for a .211/.400/.474 week.
Steve Balboni Award
I am ashamed of the fact that I didn’t get out to see Pedro Alvarez more when he was here. He is still making adjustments and despite 10 strikeouts in 19 at-bats this week being the main culprit in a .158/.200/.211 week, the Pirates should continue to march him out there. You don’t learn how to hit major league pitching by making International League pitchers look bad. This is also a good illustration of why you don’t go crazy for rookies in fantasy leagues, which is a lesson I have learned the hard way many times over.
David Freese has been a nice story this year, but nine whiffs in 22 PA and .190/.261/.190 doesn’t help.
Three true outcomes
Justin Upton had a good week and a good TTO week, posting three home runs, four walks and five strikeouts in 25 PA.
He is missing a category, but Brandon Inge’s zero-seven-five in 21 PA is impressive.
After all of these years, I still try to put a second ‘a’ in Bobby Abreu’s name. I never have to worry about putting too many “BBs” in his stat line, which is a nice thing. One-five-nine in 25 PA is what we are looking at this week.
David DeJesus went zero-zero-two in 25 PA.
Juan Pierre went zero-one-one in 24 PA.
My last draft commentary of the season
With the draft being in our rear-view mirror, there is some talk about the idea that the next CBA will have a hard slotting system in which you really do get paid according to where you get drafted. I have mixed emotions about this given the current landscape.
First off, I would say that I don’t see bonuses as being a significant issue. The Rule 4 draft is still the best value in sports, or at least second place depending on whether you count the idea of signing a couple dozen anonymous Dominican and Venezuelan 16-yea- olds for $20,000 to $50,000 each. Given market prices for major league talent, you can spend extravagantly on a draft, $10 million or more, and as long as you produce one starting-quality major league player, you are coming out ahead in the end thanks to six cost-controlled years. If you hit the jackpot and get a star, you make your money back two, three, even four times over.
Draft picks are all risks taken by the team. And each individual pick is a longshot to pay off, but like a casino, the house is in a position where it will almost always come out on top when all of the accounting is done. With this in mind, I tend to regard any team that cuts corners on amateur bonuses as one that is kneecapping itself for no good reason. (Unless there is a good reason like every dollar of spending cash you have is locked up in probate until the owner’s messy divorce is finalized or the owner has no cash flow due to losing his shirt in the mess that is the commercial real estate market of 2008-2010.)
That all being said, I can overlook these objections and accept a hard slotting system. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, making the draft less of a bizarre mess of priorities and guesses than it currently is will make it a better product. It wouldn’t make a magical land where talent is always the only factor in who gets picked where and it won’t save everybody from all of their lesser instincts, but it would take at least one excuse out of the bag of excuses that some teams carry around for why they don’t take player development seriously. More meritocracy, less chess game is almost always good.
The other reason is that there will almost certainly be some kind of flexibility for players who warrant that kind of thing. You will probably still have the ability to get Matt Wieters a bit more cash by going with the major league contract and dictating a bigger salary. Given tax rates, I wonder why players on major league contracts opt for bonuses at all when they keep a bigger percentage of salary earnings anyway. But that’s getting slightly off topic.
My one request in the deal would be that there be some kind of available but rare exception system for unique talents who have other options. When a player is a premium talent in two sports and genuinely needs to be “bought out” of another sport, you should be able to get a dispensation, permission to get the kid what he needs. It is probably in the sport’s best interest if it didn’t lose special athletes to football or basketball because the kid would be leaving a million bucks on the table. Let a panel of independent evaluators set a target in a particular case if more than a couple of teams request such a thing. Have it happen in private before the draft.
Neither here nor there
Like many, I have been closely following the World Cup. It has probably been a bigger part of my Twitter feed and Facebook updates than even baseball for the last couple of weeks. One of the common themes you get every four years is the debate over whether soccer will ever be a major sport in the U.S. This time around it seems to be a one-sided conversation as the soccer detractors are loud and the soccer fans are being reasonable.
You would be hard-pressed to find people willing to come out and champion the idea of the sport overtaking or even joining baseball, basketball and football as a major American sport. And this is for good reason. It is unlikely. Inertia is picking up for the sport with this World Cup getting record ratings in the country and with the MLS graduating into a reasonably stable business that is expanding into new territory and doing well in quite a few markets.
I am not arrogant enough to claim to be able to tell the future in such a complicated issue as the American taste. I am still a bit puzzled about the nation’s taste for bad reality TV and tabloid media. But I do think there is a devil’s advocate argument based on the very unpredictability of the public’s appetite that makes me wince at the thought of making predictions.
I was surprised to read that soccer at one time was very popular in the U.S. and had a relatively successful league. In conversations with friends and family, I usually point out that tastes have changed dramatically in the recent past. Sixty or 70 years ago, you would have put baseball as the runaway No. 1 money-making sport followed by boxing and horse racing. Now boxing and horse racing are cultural backwaters and basketball and football are where they are after a long, slow climb from relative obscurity.
If you have a male relative over 75 years old, ask him about his boxing experience as a kid and about his dad’s taste for betting on the ponies. Chances are there will be a story there. If you ask him about watching professional basketball or football in the 1940s, there probably won’t be a story. You were still a decade or two away from Wilt versus Russell, Gale Sayers, Jim Brown and John Wooden’s domination of the NCAA.
Things change. Some sports have brief spikes based on personalities and moments in time. Some have a slow build over decades that come from a growing familiarity and shared history. Soccer has grown over the last two decades and can be safely placed in the second tier with open wheel racing, NASCAR, hockey, tennis and golf, where there is an established pro league and certain events that draw the public’s attention, but can’t match the big three’s appeal in pretty much every major market and in every demographic.
Maybe one of those will join that A-list. Maybe they won’t. I’m not going to say it is impossible because to paraphrase Gregg Easterbrook, there is no law mandating that the big three remain popular. And weirder things have happened with this subject.
This week’s MVP
AL: I have mentioned fantasy sports way too often in this column, but I genuinely was happy to see that Alex Rodriguez is finally coming back to life, going .381/.481/.905 this week.
NL: Justin Upton helped the Snakes this week, going .571/.654/1.095, enough for me not to bash him for getting caught stealing twice in three attempts.