Monday, July 16, 2018

Lineup vs Lineup; 2018 AL All-Stars vs NL All-Stars

Both the AL and NL All-Star lineups were announced earlier today along with the starting pitchers, information that has been announced the day before the Midsummer Classic for a while now. Chris Sale will take the mound for the AL for the 3rd year in a row while Max Scherzer starts for the National League for the 2nd year in a row. 

Additionally, the lineup orders for both leagues which consist of J.D. Martinez and Freddie Freeman as cleanup hitters were also made public, prompting me to do something I haven't done in a while. With the exact orders announced, the timing is perfect to do a lineup vs lineup comparison of the AL and NL starting All-Stars, beginning with the DH position. 

Since the NL has no DH, the manager must've decided who would play that position. Anyway, Paul Goldschmidt was selected to play DH for the NL and even though he's been superb, rebounding very well from a dismal first few weeks, his former teammate J.D. Martinez is having an AL MVP caliber season and is arguably the best player in baseball right now. Goldy's .281 average with 21 homers would typically be enough, but not against a guy like J.D.

DH Position; Advantage American League

The lack of stellar AL catchers combined with Wilson Ramos being replaced in the lineup due to an injury makes it almost too easy for Cubs catcher Wilson Contreras to have the advantage at his position. Ramos was replaced with Royals catcher Salvador Perez who is currently hitting a dismal .221, yet will be an All-Star starter tomorrow. Contreras is hitting roughly .280 and although he only has 35 RBI, there's enough power in the rest of the NL lineup that he should be just fine.

Catcher Position; Advantage National League

Although Chicago White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu has done a lot to deserve the starting job at 1st, he has certainly had his fair share of struggles as of late. His .253 average is way down from what it was just a month ago (around .300) and is likely due to Abreu hitting .174 in the last 30 games, truly a significant slump. It's really a shame given how much better he was a month ago. Freddie Freeman is hitting .315 with 60+ RBI and is a candidate for NL MVP. This gives him the advantage over Jose Abreu in a matchup that was supposed to be way closer than it actually was.

1B Position; Advantage National League

Out of all 9 matchups that I had to decide between, the 2nd base matchup between Jose Altuve and Javier Baez would have to be one of, if not the closest of the comparisons. The 2 2nd baseman are both very different from one another. Altuve is more of a contact hitter while Baez does hit for contact as well, but relies more on his power. Nevertheless, they both are incredible defensive players and each has solid batting averages, though Altuve's is 2nd in baseball only to Mookie Betts. Although Altuve hasn't really found his home run swing this year, he doesn't really need to in such a stacked AL lineup. What he brings to the table is extremely beneficial and gives him the slight advantage at 2nd.

2B Position; Advantage American League

The players such as Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa that Manny Machado had to beat out for the AL starting shortstop position is a perfect example as to why the AL has the advantage at the shortstop position this season. The race for starting NL shortstop was not very plentiful and culminated with Brandon Crawford (.292 10 HR 39 RBI) being named the starter. Don't get me wrong, Crawford is having quite a great year so far, but when you're up against someone hitting .325 with 24 homers and 65 RBI who stands out even more because he's on the Orioles, it's hard to come out on top.

SS Position; Advantage American League

Okay, I change my mind. The 3rd baseman matchup of Jose Ramirez against Nolan Arenado is the closest and most highly-contested out of all 9 of the starting lineup positions. Ramirez is hitting .302 while Arenado has an average of .312 which ended up being the deciding factor. They each have a stellar home run total (29 for Ramirez which is tied for the league lead and 23 for Arenado), and they each are some of baseball's best in RBI (Ramirez has 70 and Arenado has 68). In the end, it was Nolan's ability to hit just a bit better than Ramirez that gave him ever so slight of an advantage over the Indians 3rd baseman.

3B Position; Advantage National League

Call me crazy, but I see slightly more value in a guy like Matt Kemp being an All-Star starter than I see with Aaron Judge who's starting in left field for the AL this year. When you look at what Judge mainly brings to the table which is home runs, nearly every guy in the AL and NL lineups respectively can hit homers. However, not every guy can hit .310 like Matt Kemp while managing the same number of RBI as Judge. Additionally, Kemp was able to do all of this with over 50 fewer at-bats than Judge. I'm certain that at first mention, most fans would pick Judge over Kemp, but if you take a closer look, you should be able to see what I'm talking about and why Kemp is a better option.

Left Field Position; Advantage National League

Although this was by far the easiest decision for me, it's still weird to see that Bryce Harper and Mike Trout have nearly identical home run and RBI totals, yet Trout is hitting .310 and Harper is hitting .214. If I had my way, Harper wouldn't even be an All-Star with such a terrible batting average. Yes, it is impressive that he's still managed 23 dingers with a .214 average, but he should not be allowed to be an All-Star, let alone start, if he's only getting hits off of 21.4% of the pitches he sees. Not the kinda batting average you want in the year you're expecting to become a free agent and receive the largest contract in baseball history.

Centerfied Position; Advantage American League

It's all tied up at 4-4. It all comes down to the right field matchup of Mookie Betts vs Nick Markakis to see which lineup will edge out the other.

Although Markakis has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2018 season, it's gonna take some truly exceptional numbers to beat Mookie Betts and his .359 batting average. Markakis is hitting .323 with 10 homers and 61 RBI this year. Even though those numbers are incredible, especially given Markakis was never expected to reach such incredible totals, Mookie has been killing it all year. In 70 fewer at-bats than Markakis, Betts has 23 homers and 51 RBI. The fewer at-bats are due to an injury which has not stopped Mookie Betts from producing incredible numbers all season. I give Markakis the world of credit, but I give Mookie Betts the advantage as well as the win for the American League.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Top 5 Cards: Hank Aaron

With the All-Star Game taking place in just a few days, I thought I'd finally pay tribute to my favorite baseball player of all-time who also happens to hold the all-time record for All-Star Game appearances at 21 throughout his career, missing the game in only his 1st and last years. 

Henry "Hank" Aaron was the very first player I ever collected cards of if I'm not mistaken. Even though Barry Bonds passed him in home runs, many people, including myself, recognize Aaron as the true home run king due to his pure and undisputed talent. This was made better by Aaron's sheer perseverance despite being the victim of racism and hate throughout his career.

Despite all that, Aaron persisted and cemented himself as a top 5 player in baseball history. Moreover, my most recent trip to the card shop and my Stadium Club purchase landed my player collection of his at 99 total cards. He, along with Brooks Robinson currently stand at that number, and I definitely expect to get both of those guys to 100+ cards at the National.

Out of the 99 options I had, here are my personal 5 favorite cards of Hammerin' Hank.

#5 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter
Along with Ernie Banks who will appear on a card with Aaron later on the list, I have more vintage cards of Hank Aaron than nearly any other player. This is likely due to my Dad buying a huge lot of vintage cards from the 50's and 60's when he was in his a teenager and before the value of these cards was believed to be high. Therefore, I went for mainly vintage cards on the list, but I couldn't ignore this 2012 Allen & Ginter card and the fantastic photo that goes with it. While A&G can sometimes become a bit stale, I appreciate the unique image and red color chosen for this card, made better by the fact that the 2012 set is one of my favorites in brand history.

#4 2002 Topps Archives
Hank Aaron, like his fellow superstar from the 60's Willie Mays, spent the last year of his career with a different team than he had spent all the years before with. His 1976 season with the Brewers was not his finest as he missed the All-Star game for the first time in 2 decades. However, it did yield some fantastic cards of him in the light blue and yellow Brewers uniforms. I don't have any originals of Aaron with the Brewers, but I do have this 2002 Topps Archives card which is modeled after the 1976 Topps record breaker card where he set the all-time RBI record which still holds today.

#3 1963 Topps Power Plus
People opening packs back in 1963 must have been incredibly star struck to see 2 of the greatest hitters in baseball, Banks, and Aaron, together on one card. Since I have one of this card and am quite committed to collecting both of these guys at a high level, I often go back and forth between whose collection I should count it towards. I had decided on Banks until today when I realized adding this to the Aaron collection, would put it at exactly 100 cards which is something I've always strived for, so the card might have to go towards Aaron's collection, or it could always stay with Banks. I'm not too certain of what I'll decide.

#2 1959 Topps The Sporting News '59 All-Star
One of Aaron's 21 career All-Star appearances was in the 1959 All-Star Game held in Pittsburgh. In fact, '59 was one of the few seasons where there were 2 different All-Star Games. For a number of years beginning in '59, MLB had the All-Star game be a doubleheader in order to "boost the players' pension fund." Even more bizarre, the '59 doubleheader games were more than a month apart and while the first game was in Pittsburgh, the 2nd took place in LA. Therefore, I wonder which All-Star game actually counted since a. you can't have 2 All-Star appearances in 1 year and b. how would they decide (back then) which league had home-field advantage in the World Series?

#1 1973 Topps
The 1973 Topps set yielded multiple iconic cards that are still recognized today, including this one of Hank Aaron attempting to make a catch in the bright sun during a game. he sunglasses are a nice touch, but blue Braves jersey, a personal favorite of mine, is what really makes the card for me. It could be difficult, especially with 1973 camera quality, to capture an image of a player at exactly the right time for a card like this, yet the photographer did just that for Aaron's '73 Topps card. Add in a little touch of blue and pink at the bottom of the card and there you have it, my favorite card of Hank Aaron, and there were a lot of cards to choose from.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The Decline of the Derby

When MLB announced the 8 Home Run Derby participants the other day, it occurred to me that the once much-anticipated event is not what it used to be. I realize baseball's changed since the days where David Ortiz and Albert Pujols graced the Home Run Derby field, but it's a known fact that fewer and fewer of MLB's greatest sluggers are participating in the derby.

If you take a look at the top 10 MLB leaders in home runs, only 2 of them (Aguilar and Harper) will be taking the field in the derby Monday night. Moreover, only 4 of the top 20 home run leaders will complete as Max Muncy and Alex Bregman join the group.

A lot of this can be traced back to the struggles of last years' Home Run Derby champion Aaron Judge who scuffled in July and August after winning the title. That's the main reason why he and his new teammate Giancarlo Stanton opted not to participate this year and likely why the 2 power-hitting Red Sox Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, among others, also chose not to compete.

So, we ended up with a derby consisting of 8 guys who can definitely hit home runs, but not the cream of the crop. Still, last years' derby generated the 2nd most views ever, so the event clearly still attracts many fans. Therefore, I thought I'd make my home run derby bracket predictions on this post, beginnings with the Jesus Aguilar vs Rhys Hoskins matchup.

Round 1:

#1 Jesus Aguilar vs #8 Rhys Hoskins

Winner: Jesus Aguilar
One of the more unexpected successes of 2018, Aguilar is a key part of the Brewers' .579 win percentage through the first 95 games this season. For me, this is an easy choice not just because Aguilar has 10 more dingers than Hoskins, but because of his exit velocity. Jesus not only knows how to hit the ball far, but he can hit it fast as well which is key in the Home Run Derby due to the rounds being timed instead of measured by outs like they used to be. 

#4 Alex Bregman vs #5 Kyle Schwarber

Winner: #5 Kyle Schwarber
My first but not final upset comes in the well-contested 4 seed vs 5 seed matchup. In this case, it Cubs star outfielder Kyle Schwarber who has done well to bounce back from his lackluster 2017 season. He will face the stellar defensive and offensive 3rd baseman for the Houston Astros, Alex Bregman. While Bregman has more homers and has a better average, Schwarber's dingers are incredibly impressive due to the incredible distances they travel. This will definitely help him out as he looks ready to smash some dingers in D.C. on Monday. 

#2 Bryce Harper vs #7 Freddie Freeman

Winner: #2 Bryce Harper
Although Freddie Freeman is on pace for an MVP season as well as the first 30 homer and 100 RBI season of his career, it can't really be disputed that Harper is a better home run hitter. Although Harper has struggles (big time) to hit for contact this season, the 25-year old definitely knows how to hit for power. As I mentioned before, Harper is one of 2 players in the top 10 in home runs to participate in the derby. Even though I realize Freeman will give it his all, I just don't think it'll be enough.

#3 Max Muncy vs #7 Javier Baez

Winner: #3 Javier Baez
Even though Baez is a Cub and has fewer homers (18) than Muncy (22), I still feel he has an excellent shot at advancing past Dodgers phenom Max Muncy and making it to the 2nd round. Nothing against Muncy, but I haven't really seen enough from him to choose him over Baez. Muncy has been hot this year, but he doesn't have the career numbers that Javier Baez has. Javy has had a breakout season so far, culminating in an All-Star starting spot. If he brings everything he's got to the derby, he'll make it to round 2.

Round 2:

#1 Jesus Aguilar vs #5 Kyle Schwarber

Winner: #5 Kyle Schwarber
Unfortunately for Jesus Aguilar, this is where his lack of big league experience is going to cost him. He currently sits at 40 career home runs while Schwarber has 63 plus the experience of playing on a big stage. The pressure may not get to Schwarber the way I could see it get to Aguilar. Plus, Aguilar has the All-Star game to play in the next day while Schwarber doesn't and if that's not enough, there's still the valid argument that Schwarber's power is nearly unparalleled by the rest of the derby participants. 

#6 Javier Baez vs #2 Bryce Harper

Winner: #2 Bryce Harper
Even though Javier Baez is playing better than anyone has ever seen the 25-year old play before, Bryce Harper is a seasoned veteran compared to him. While Javier Baez currently sits at 65 career dingers, Harper is likely to reach 200 home runs early next year, whatever team he may play for by then. Harper currently sits at 173 career dingers and has had derby experience before. Do I think it will be close? Yes, but Bryce Harper will be the one to come out on top. 

Final Matchup: #5 Kyle Schwarber vs #2 Bryce Harper

2018 Home Run Derby Champion: #5 Kyle Schwarber
Even though all those power swings could leave Kyle Schwarber tired by the end of the night, he has nothing to lose, so he'll definitely give it his all. He doesn't have to take the field Tuesday, but Harper does. Additionally, Schwarber has been hitting for better contact than Harper this year which will eventually help him out. In the derby, balls that are usually hit for doubles can become homers due to the speed of the pitches thrown. Well, Harper has 23 homers and 14 doubles while Schwarber has 17 dingers, 10 doubles, and a swing that could turn almost any pitch into a home run. Even though he's the underdog up against Harper, I'm going Schwarber all the way in the 2018 Home Run Derby.

Friday, July 13, 2018

WAR Doesn't Make Sense; 2018 Topps Edition

Beginning in the 2014 Topps set, the WAR or Wins Above Replacement statistic became a big thing not just for baseball cards, but for baseball as a whole. The statistic serves as a way to evaluate how good a player is while compared to the average player at that position. Case and point; Albert Almora and his 1.2 WAR in 2017 which brings me to my problem with WAR in general. 

Not only do I have no clue how Wins Above Replacement is calculated, but there are numerous examples of how faulty it can be. Maybe it's the home run-heavy era of baseball that we're currently living through, but I found multiple examples of WAR undervaluing some players while overvaluing others which I will show today. 

I'll start by comparing 2 closers; Roberto Osuna and Edwin Diaz. If you look at each player's 2017 stats (particularly innings pitched, ER, strikeouts, and ERA) they have basically identical stats. They each pitched roughly the same amount of innings, have very similar ERAs, and both gave up 24 earned runs. With that being said, Osuna's WAR in 2017 is almost 3 times greater than Diaz's. If the gap between the WAR was around .5 or lower, I'd understand. But such a drastic difference between the WAR of 2 players who put up almost the same numbers proves that WAR isn't always reliable. 

Additionally, when you look at a player like Dylan Bundy's ERA, it doesn't make you think of a very good WAR. Granted, there are more dingers being hit now than ever so a 4.24 ERA isn't considered as bad as it used to be. But with that being said, a 2.7 WAR is very generous for a guy with a slightly above-average number of strikeouts for his innings pitched and 152 hits given up. In my opinion, he still had a pretty good year, as well as he could do as a decent Orioles starter in 2017, so I'd give him a WAR closer to 1.7 than 2.7.

I'm sorry, but Greg Holland wasn't just a guy who started a couple games in 2017. Holland was a routine starter with 135 innings pitched for the White Sox and a 7-14 record. He likely had a spot in the rotation for most of the season, so there's no excuse for a ridiculous 6.20 ERA. Which leads me to my point about WAR. How is his WAR only -0.9? Nothing against Greg Holland, but how is it not much lower. I've seen position players and pitchers who've put together far superior seasons whose WAR is barely higher than Holland's in 2017. It really should be at least -1.5, maybe even -2.0.

For my final point as to why WAR isn't a very reliable statistic, I present to you Gerardo Parra's 2017 stats through his 392 at-bats. Not only did Parra have a .309 average in his limited playing time for the Rockies in 2017, but he had 71 RBI which is incredibly high for such few at-bats. Despite putting up very strong numbers, his 0.8 WAR certainly does not reflect what he did last year. Like I said before, I'm not sure of everything regarding WAR, but it seems like it doesn't do a good job at representing player's who didn't have very high at-bat totals and that's an issue. 

However, despite the points I've made against WAR thus far, I will say that it's not all that bad. Michael Taylor is one of MLB's most underrated players, especially due to his speed which is very undervalued nowadays. Last year, Taylor hit a respectable .271 with 19 dingers and 53 RBI and 17 stolen bases through 399 at-bats. While I do feel his 3.1 WAR is slightly excessive, I appreciate that a player of his caliber, often overlooked in today's game, is given the recognition he deserves because of the WAR statistic. 

Maybe WAR isn't too bad after all, but I'm still not too convinced.