For the first time in years, the New York Mets opened their pockets and brought a big-name free agent to town.
In order to appease rapid sports talk radio participants planning to assemble an angry mob outside of Citi Field, the “cheap” (others could call it “financially responsible,” “logical” or “smart”) Sandy Alderson made his first major splash in the open market by doling out four years worth $60 million to outfielder Curtis Granderson. The New York Post‘s Joel Sherman broke the news on Friday.
On the same day the New York Yankees lost superstar Robinson Cano to the Seattle Mariners, the Mets turned the tables on their cross-town foe, twisting the knife deeper by poaching another one of their big power bats. The Bronx Bombers had no intention of ever bringing Granderson back, but Mets fans tired of playing the jealous little sibling will derive some joy out of landing a lucrative free agent on the same day the Yankees lost their best player.
But does that really make this a joyous occasion for the Mets? After delivering two straight 40-homer seasons in pinstripes, Granderson hit .229/.317/.407 during a season shortened by two fluky, unrelated hand injuries. Can he help the Mets inch closer to their first playoff bid since 2006, or is this just a move to save face among impatient fans yelling for something, anything to invigorate a stagnant organization?
If only life ever contained an easy answer. Granderson has his faults, and any cost-conscious human being will look at every single MLB signing and think, “HE’S GETTING PAID HOW MUCH?!?” But Granderson is also a former All-Star who could become David Wright’s partner in crime amid an offense that desperately needs more pop.
But there’s also a veteran (he’ll turn 33 before Opening Day) that has experienced ample strikeout issues over the past three years.
Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs.com
Can the Grandy Man Stop Whiffing?
Before his career torpedoed in New York, Jason Bay—who received a nearly identical four-year, $66 million deal four years ago—was an offensive stud in the outfield. His one shortcoming that could have foreshadowed his downfall? He struck out in 25.4 percent of his at-bats during his last year with the Boston Red Sox.
So once Bay’s debilitating contract finally exited the books, the Mets found another man with strikeout woes to fill his space.
Even when crushing 43 homers in 2012, Granderson also procured a 28.5 percent strikeout rate, which led to a then career-low .232 batting average. Those troubles continued last season, when he batted .229 with a 28.2 strikeout percentage. There’s plenty of other numbers highlighting his misguided aggression.
From 2008-11, Granderson’s swinging-strike percentage stayed consistently between 8.0-8.5 percent. He looked to have matured from his earlier years with the Detroit Tigers, but his thirst to clear Yankee Stadium’s short porch changed his approach.
In 2012, the mark skyrocketed to 11.8, and it expanded even higher to 13,6 in 2013. His contact rate also dipped to a career-worst 69.5 percent last season, down from his 76.4 percent career average.
Not only did he swing at a higher rate of pitches (45.4 percent) than ever before, he chased bad pitches outside the strike zone. After demonstrating superb patience at the plate in 2008, when he hit .280 with a .365 on-base percentage, Granderson whiffed more and more at pitches out of the zone. Here’s a look at his O-Swing percentages during the past six years.
2009: 20.1 %
2010: 25.6 %
2011: 25.7 %
2013: 31.3 %
Granderson will keep hitting .220 until he lays off unfavorable offerings that would otherwise be ruled balls.
But What About His Power?
Those declining measures are one thing from a guy smashing 40 dingers, but that won’t carry over well in Citi Field. He’ll need to follow Wright’s mold and slash some strikeouts to enhance his on-base percentage, even if it means sending less balls over the fences. Chances are, that’s going to happen anyway.
In perhaps the coolest thing ever invented (I’m just realizing now that I really ought to go outside more), ESPN’s Home Run Tracker allows us to easily view the landing distances of all of Granderson’s home runs in respect to any stadium’s measures. Overlaying his blasts with Citi Field, seven of his 43 round-trippers from 2012 wouldn’t have cleared the fences in Queens. Three of them fell right around the border.
From 2010-12, Granderson produced 47 homers on the road, so his power won’t entirely dissipate. He also hit 30 long balls in Detroit before getting traded to the Bronx, so the Yankees didn’t completely morph him into a long-ball threat.
Just don’t expect him to return to knocking 40 homers out of the park with the Mets. If he can offer 30, great, but 25 is probably a more reasonable goal. That still would have led the team last year.
Will Half Measures Work for Mets?
The MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, who has tried with all his might to bring advanced statistics to the forefront of typical baseball discussion, laid out a blueprint to fix the Mets both on Twitter and MLB Clubhouse Confidential. One of his nuggets recommended the Mets purchasing “half players.”
Rule #4 for fixing the Mets: You can't afford many full players. Buy Half players.—
Brian Kenny (@MrBrianKenny) December 01, 2013
No, he was not suggesting they sign a legless pitcher or a shortstop with one arm. He was advocating they seek out platoons whenever possible, but his thought process also belies the foundation of Moneyball. Teams on a limited budget must locate flawed alternatives that can overcome one of two deficiencies with other skills and high upside.
While Mike Ehrmantraut would bash the concept of half measures, it could work wonders for the Mets.
Although separated by multiple years and millions of dollars, their two outfield signings in Granderson and Chris Young share many similarities. Both bring a mix of power and speed to the table, which showed in fruitful 2011 campaigns.
Granderson’s 2011 stats: .262/.364/.552, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 136 R, 25 SB, 6.7 WAR
Young’s 2011 stats: .236/.331/.420, 20 HR, 71 BI, 89 R, 22 SB, 4.5 WAR
Young delivered better offensive numbers in 2010, but his 20 defensive runs saved earned him a career-best WAR. If these guys come close to returning to those stats, the Mets will be walking on sunshine.
Perhaps the Mets have identified free swingers as the latest market inefficiency. A decade ago, Billy Beane snagged disciplined batters at discounted rates, but those guys no longer sneak beneath the cracks unless truly wretched contact abilities hide the results.
Having seen the horrors done by other major contracts, the Mets are shying away from complete packages. They found power, speed and defense with Young and Granderson at the sacrifice of accruing their decrepit strikeout habits.
Last season, the Red Sox built an assortment of half measures into a full team that won it all. Shane Victorino looked like an overpay at the time after a down year, but he bounced back to become a vital cog in their championship squad. Can the Mets bring about the same good fortune with Granderson?
Will the Mets Contend with Granderson?
No, probably not.
Would Granderson uplifting them from 74 wins to 77 victories really mean all that much in the long run? Not really, which is why Alderson had his reasons to remain a spectator during the influx of winter activities. The Atlanta Braves have built another batch of in-grown stars and the Washington Nationals are gearing up to accomplish what was expected of them last season. Even more important, Matt Harvey will spend the entire 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Granderson does not make the Mets a playoff contender in 2014, but if they can sort out Ike Davis’ early-season woes, build up their young pitching and obtain another impact bat, 2015 might be the year for them to rise from the dead. Listen to WFAN for five minutes, and you’ll discover why they jumped the gun now.
Even in a poor 2012, Granderson amassed a 2.3 WAR. Forget his MVP-caliber 2011; if Granderson can return to 2010 levels, where he hit .247/.324/.468 with 24 homers, solid defense and a 3.5 WAR, he’ll be worth the investment. Shifting to a corner outfield spot should also help avoid waning defensive productivity.
Yet the same fans who cried for the team to pay Granderson will whine about his poor batting average, oblivious to the existence of any stats. Welcome (back) to New York, Curtis!
Meh. It’s not a total game-changer, but there’s more upside there than with Nelson Cruz, a Carlos Beltran reunion or any other realistic target. It’s also not as risky as tossing $100 million at Jacoby Ellsbury (I’m sure a speedy outfielder will hold up just fine until he’s 37) and Shin Soo-Choo, an on-base fiend whose power would not translate well in Citi Field.
Signing Granderson is hardly a reason to break out the champaggin, but it’s also not atrocious enough to decry your allegiance to the Mets and ram your head into the wall.
The Mets are certainly not fixed yet, but Granderson is better than what they had by a mile, and it’s not like we’re paying his salary. The story on this deal is yet to be written, as this one could easily stray in either direction as a massive dud or smashing success.
For now, let’s give the signing a B.
The St. Louis Cardinals weren’t the only team that made some errors during Game 1 of the MLB World Series.
FOX holding the rights to this year’s fall classic means we’re treated to three-plus hours of Joe Buck and Tim McCarver. After all, what better way to persuade skeptics that baseball isn’t boring than to have two dull broadcasters lull us to sleep with little exuberance and plenty of unrelated, out-of-place anecdotes?
Since the World Series is the World Series, FOX is appealing to casual fans more so than loyal, informed watchers who will still tune in even if Skip Bayless and Justin Bieber provided the commentary. The network made slight progress by at least including OPS along with each hitter’s batting average, but then again, it’d be more helpful to provide their on-base percentage and slugging percentage separately to highlight the two varying skills.
Knowing head-scratching analysis was bound to arise, I took note of some questionable statements made throughout the telecast. Some can be tested by taking a minute to delve into the numbers, but some of McCarver’s inane rambling needs to be pointed out despite a lack of statistical evidence to decry his buffoonery. Sadly, he represents baseball’s predominant “get-off-my-lawn” mindset permeating the game that attempts to wring the sport of any joy, amusement or common sense.
Did the Cardinals’ Best Run-Producer Ever Leave?
After missing seven weeks of action with an injured foot, Allen Craig returned in the nick of time for the World Series’ opening bout. The St. Louis Cardinals plowed through the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers without their starting first baseman, but the squad will surely welcome his bat in the designated hitter slot while playing in Boston.
Craig, who hit .317/.373/.457 during the regular season, is a key bat in St. Louis’ lineup, but Buck oversold his value during the pre-game show by referring to Craig as the team’s “best run-producer.”
Buck merely was referencing Craig’s team-leading 97 RBI, which is all the more impressive considering he generated that high tally despite missing nearly all of September. He was credited with driving in more runs than anybody else on the Cardinals, but does that mean he produced the most scoring?
That oversimplifies the process by ignoring those who actually reached base before Craig cleared them a path back to the dugout. The difference in scoring runs and driving them in is not a matter of skill, but plainly a product of the batting order. Craig reaped the rewards as the team’s clean-up hitter, but Matt Carpenter and Matt Holliday deserve more praise as their most prolific batters.
Carpenter trails Craig by 19 RBI, but the first-year second baseman led all of baseball with 126 runs scored. His .318/.392/.481 slash line trumps Craig’s in every category, and his ability to routinely reach base allowed Craig to receive many opportunities to bring him home.
Holliday recorded 94 RBI batting mostly in the No. 3 spot, but he demonstrated more patience than Craig with a .389 on-base percentage. The traditional model of thinking concludes that Craig is the better hitter for engineering a run rather than passively strolling to first base with a walk, but Holliday’s plate discipline caused him to score 103 runs, with Craig again serving as the benefactor.
FanGraphs tracks a stat called Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), which measures how many runs per plate appearance a player produces on a 100 percentage scale while also adjusting for league and park factors. So a player with a 125 wRC+ is responsible for 25 percent more runs than the average player. If Craig were truly the Cardinals’ top run producer, he’d likely beat out his cohorts in this stat.
While Craig boasts a great 135 wRC+, Carpenter’s rate resides at 147 while Holliday barely tops him at 148. Yadier Molina (134) and Carlos Beltran (132) don’t lag far behind, showing the true depth of this lineup.
Boston Does Exact Opposite of What McCarver’s Suggests
In a common staple of baseball coverage, the color commentator always outlines a key/s to each team emerging victorious. Since it’s of course easier to point out how to win than actually doing it, it usually boils down to a squad’s ability to execute.
Not in this case. McCarver suggested that the Red Sox alter their traditional patient hitting approach and attack ace Adam Wainwright on the first pitch. Should they fail to adapt, they would dig themselves in unfavorable counts and suffer from their inactivity.
Before making this an attack against McCarver, the thought made sense leading up to the game. Only Cliff Lee posted a lower walk rate than Wainwright’s 1.30 BB/9 ratio this season. When he’s on his game, Wainwright pounds the strike zone ferociously with his vicious cutter, and going down 0-2 puts batters in a precarious position.
But Boston, who led the league with a .349 team on-base percentage during the season, stuck to what propelled it this far. Each batter took the first pitch during his initial turn to the plate, leading the Red Sox to five runs before the second inning concluded. In fact, the first seven hitters waited until the third pitch or later before swinging, and that frame yielded three runs as Wainwright labored with 31 pitches.
Perhaps the Red Sox got lucky that Wainwright was far from his dominant self. Wainwright threw strikes on 62 of 95 pitches, earning first-pitch strikes on 16 of 24 batters faced. Then again, they would have helped him battle through his funk by hacking early in the count.
Wainwright Has Audacity to Show Human Emotion while Playing A Game
In a play that perfectly encapsulated St. Louis’ disastrous evening, Adam Wainwright and sure-handed catcher Molina watched as an nonthreatening pop-up delicately landed in between them, awarding Stephen Drew an infield hit on a ball blooped roughly 50 feet.
Following the blunder, Wainwright—who made the mistake of waving the five-time Gold Glover off—smirked in embarrassment at his miscalculation. Anyone who has ever made a mistake in life (which is absolutely everyone) can attest to feeling so dumbfounded by his or own her foolishness that there’s no course of action other to laugh at the absurdity of what just unfolded.
That justification won’t fly for McCarver, who disgustedly wondered, “How do you have the wherewithal to smile after that?”
Wainwright forgot the most important rule in baseball: There’s no smiling, or any demonstration of feelings befitting a typical human being, allowed. IS THIS GAME JUST A GAME TO HIM?!?
Wainwright should have punched himself repeatedly in the head, because that one botched play makes him a worthless player and person despite posting a 2.94 ERA during his Cy Young caliber regular season that helped the Cardinals last this long. How are we supposed to know he cares unless he breaks down into tears on the field? Wait, if he did that he would receive criticism for being too soft. He could not react at all, but then he’d also look careless in his stoic nature.
This is the same game where Yasiel Puig is subjected to a witch hunt for celebrating his success. Hitters who have the gall to celebrate a home run are frequently plunked in future at-bats, because apparently big-leaguers are 12-year-olds who believe trying to hurt someone is the proper way to avenge their own failure. Writers actually bashed Puig for playing the game too hard and expressing too much joy while making millions of dollars to participate in a league in which he fled Cuba in hopes of joining.
Athletes are people, too. They are prone to ups and downs, and they’re not obligated to live and die by every play because us fans fail to properly categorize sports as games whose outcomes aren’t significant in the grand scheme of life. As someone who would literally take note of that error along with every other misstep I’ve ever taken to keep a running tally of every screw-up, I can attest to that pessimistic, self-deflating mindset being immensely unhealthy.
Should St. Louis’ Defensive Collapse Really Have Generated Much Surprise?
No team fighting for a championship is expected to make mistakes on the grand stage, but the Cardinals committed three errors during an embarrassing loss. That’s not even including the mishap with Wainwright and Molina.
Of course, nobody could have responsibly predicted them to mess up so many times, especially since Pete Kozma, who made two errors, only holds a starting gig because of his plus glove at shortstop. As Buck declared late in the game, poor defense is “not typical for this Cardinal team.”
Yep, well, except that it actually is.
As a team, St. Louis boasted a minus-49.4 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) during the regular season, via FanGraphs. That mark ranks 27th in baseball, ahead of just the Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. According to Baseball-Reference, their defense cost the team 37 runs.
Outside of Molina, Carpenter and Kozma, every regular player on St. Louis rates as a below-average defender. Even former Gold Glover Carlos Beltran, despite yanking a potential grand slam away from Fenway Park’s tiny right-field fence, has lost a significant step in the field in his latter years.
The Cardinals shouldn’t continue to self-destruct throughout the series, but Boston definitely boasts the defensive advantage.
- With runners on first and second base and nobody out in the bottom of the second, McCarver wondered whether Jacoby Ellsbury would bunt. Luckily he didn’t, because that would have been incredibly dumb for a hitter with a .355 on-base percentage to give away a free out with Wainwright in a jam. Especially after scoring three runs during the first inning. Why would Boston play for one run rather than trying to put the game out of hand?
- Can Mike Matheny really complain about the umpires avoiding a catastrophe by overruling Dana DeMuth’s miscall on Kozma’s phantom transfer? “How dare you all do your job and collectively get together to make the undeniably right decision?”
- Many analysts wondered why Matheny did not remove Wainwright in the second inning, thus giving him a chance to use Wainwright on shorter rest in Game 3. Wainwright is their ace, and he settled down with three scoreless innings after a slow start. Such a premier starter deserves some benefit of the doubt here, as you’re not yanking Carmelo Anthony from an NBA playoff game after missing his first few shots. Matheny also can’t assume the game is over at 5-0 behind the National League’s top offense.
- If you’re wondering why there’s a need for Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), take a look at the bottom of the second inning. Four straight Red Sox reached base on a pop-up right in front of home plate, a blooper that went right over Carpenter’s glove, a Kozma error and a liner that evaded a lunging David Freese. Meanwhile, David Ortiz hit a ball over the right field fence and has an out to show for it thanks to Beltran. Many outs are much more impressive than base hits when you watch the game, which illustrates the fickleness of batted balls, mostly from a pitcher’s perspective. Baseball is weird.
Fresh off snatching his MLB-best 17th win, Max Scherzer prompted ESPN to examine the current American League Cy Young race during Friday morning’s SportsCenter. This quickly revealed that the Mothership still has no idea how to evaluate pitchers.
Although Scherzer’s 17 victories would not be possible without receiving a league-best 6.17 runs per game from the Detroit Tigers’ potent lineup, he’s surely earned his Cy Young candidacy with a 2.84 ERA and 0.90 WHIP while striking out five batters for every walk issued. If the season ends today, Mad Max would likely run away with the vote, appeasing the old-school win chasers and the sabermetricians floored by his ability to simultaneously possess a 9.95 K/9 rate alongside a 1.95 BB/9 ratio.
The SportsCenter segment, however, erred in improperly identifying Scherzer’s competitors for the honor. A graphic highlighting the top contenders featured Bartolo Colon and Joe Nathan as Scherzer’s biggest threats.
Nope. Not at all.
With all due to respect to Colon and Nathan, neither deserves praise above Yu Darvish, Chris Sale, Derek Holland and above all the one man who sits well in striking distance of Scherzer: Felix Hernandez.
Colon, who has certainly shattered all reasonable expectations for a soft-tossing 40-year-old, has a shiny 14 wins and 2.75 ERA to his name. Despite posting a microscopic 4.79 K/9 ratio with an average fastball velocity of 89.8 miles per hour, Colon has excelled by only walking 24 batters though 23 starts.
But is that enough to propel him into the conversation for the AL’s top hurler? Here’s how the top pitchers compare, with stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
Max Scherzer: 17-1 IP, 17-1, 2.84 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 175 K, 33 BB, 2.69 FIP, 4.8 WAR
Bartolo Colon: 150.1 IP, 14-4, 2.75 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 80 K, 24 BB, 3.41 FIP, 2.8 WAR
Felix Hernandez: 165.2 IP, 11-5, 2.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 169 K, 32 BB, 2.56 FIP, 4.8 WAR
Derek Holland: 155 IP, 9-6, 3.02 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 145 K, 44 BB, 2.97 FIP, 4.5 WAR
Chris Sale: 149.1 IP, 7-11, 2.77 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 161 K, 35 BB, 2.93 FIP, 4.0 WAR
Yu Darvish: 145.2 IP, 11-5, 2.72 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 192 K, 50 BB, 3.17 FIP, 3.7 WAR
Anibal Sanchez could also warrant inclusion, but he missed time with a trip to the disabled list. Justin Verlander, Hiroki Kuroda, Justin Masterson and Doug Fister all sport higher WARs while little-known commodities Jose Quintana and Felix Doubront are even with Colon at 2.8 wins.
Holland, whose ERA and WHIP are highest among the bunch, is a tough sell who would need a spectacular finish to remain in the hunt. But every other pitcher on the list is clearly touting an all-around brighter resume than Colon, whose spacious home in Oakland has locked down fly balls with fervor. In 80.2 innings, the veteran has only surrendered four homers in the Oakland Coliseum. Overall he has maintained a 5.9 percent home run-fly ball ratio well below his 10.3 percent career average.
While pointing out Colon’s fortuitous fly-ball tendencies and his 3.41 FIP are not meant to completely discredit his commendable production this season, they are harbingers that it won’t last forever. He finally broke down in the much less forgiving Great American Ball Park, allowing five runs before he could complete the third inning.
That poor outing ended a phenomenal streak of 15 straight quality starts, nine of which lasted seven or more innings with only two or fewer runs relinquished. Pitchers who muster as few swing and misses as Colon simply do not sustain that type of production, and those who don’t mind low strikeout totals have a better poster child for their cause in Kuroda, who holds a more impressive 2.45 ERA and 1.05 WHIP despite playing half his games at Yankee Stadium and amassing a so-so 6.32 K/9 ratio. Expect a couple more starts like his last one against the Cincinnati Reds to sour Colon’s season and eliminate him from the Cy Young running.
As for why ESPN thought he belongs there now, it of course all comes back to wins. You’d think everyone would know better by now, but they don’t,
Has Colon doubled Sale’s win total because he is twice the pitcher as the Chicago White Sox southpaw? By Sale’s nearly equal ERA, lower WHIP and FIP and higher strikeout rate we know that sentiment is false. It all boils down to circumstances completely out of the pitchers’ control, mainly the run support.
Colon’s 5.43 runs per start afforded to him by Oakland ranks sixth in baseball. Sale, on the other hand, receives an MLB-worst 2.57 runs per stat from an anemic lineup that will only get worse now that the White Sox jettisoned Alex Rios. Colon is not twice the pitcher, rather Oakland is twice the offense as Chicago when these two take the mound.
Don’t worry Nathan, you have not been forgotten, The veteran closer’s 33 saves ranks fourth in baseball, and the 38-year-old has a shiny 1.58 ERA and 0.90 WHIP to complement them. Great, sure. Cy Young caliber? Not even close.
For starters, no closer should suck up any Cy Young votes, as they simply do not work as many innings as starters to generate the same value. Each the owners of a 4.8 WAR, Scherzer and Hernandez easily trump Nathan’s 1.5 WAR. At this juncture of the season, a one and a half win starter looks like Jeremy Hellickson, who has battled his ups and downs with a 4.77 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. The young Rays starter has performed better than those stats indicate, as evidenced by his 4.04 FIP, but nobody will mistake Hellickson for an ace.
There’s also one more problem: Nathan isn’t even the AL’s finest reliever. The closer has benefited from a .211 BABIP (below his career .253 mark) while only allowing two home runs despite a 48.6 percent fly-ball rate. His 2.63 FIP should cause Nathan to take a back seat to other prolific relief aces, even if they don’t garnish the same name recognition.
Greg Holland has registered a 1.64 ERA, 1.28 FIP and 14.32 K/9 ratio to earn the highest WAR (2.1) among all relievers. While Koji Uehara never needed save opportunities to validate his positioning as a top-notch reliever, his presence in the ninth inning now draws attention to his 1.38 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 8.22 K/BB rate.
Not that he deserves it either, but it’s surprising the mainstream seal of approval has not been brandished on legend Mariano Rivera, who combines the tingly narrative of closing out his Hall of Fame career with capturing 35 saves for the overachieving New York Yankees.
Even middle relievers such as Drew Smyly, Jesse Crain and Ryan Cook have pitched just as well, if not better than Nathan.
Final Verdict: Here’s how the AL Cy Young ballot should look as of Aug. 10.
9. Hisashi Iwakuma