The Debate is Over

THE DEBATE IS OVER

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Coke vs. Pepsi.  Hertz vs. Avis.  Budweiser vs. Coors.  Mounds vs. Almond Joy.  The debates can go on and on.

But, for the love of all things holy, can we please put a definitive end to the Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper debate?  This race is so one-sided, Trout is doing his best Usain Bolt impression and looking over his shoulder as he approaches the finish line.

When Harper, coming off his 2015 MVP season, started the 2016 campaign by hitting nine homers in his first 23 games, the baseball world was tripping over itself to determine the value of his first free-agent contract after the 2018 season.  $500 million was being thrown around – as a bargain.  Forget market forces and quality of play, Bryce was making baseball fun again, and he was – from the pundits’ perspective – the best player in the game, worth
every penny.

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It is just so annoying when the facts don’t match the narrative.

During that same period at the beginning of the season, little ol’ Mike Trout hit .291, with five homers and 13 RBI, with a .909 OPS.  Not too shabby.  And yet, the man couldn’t get arrested.

Maybe we have just come to expect that from Trout.  Maybe it was because Trout already signed a big contract – 6/$144.5 million – that takes him through the 2020 season.  Maybe it was because Harper loves the spotlight and sought it out at every turn.  I am not sure the how or why.  I just know Harper was king, and Trout was barely a prince.

And then the Nationals went to Chicago.  Coming off a 2-4 with a dinger at Kansas City, the Harper party was in full swing.  But Joe Maddon made a conscious choice not to let Harper beat the Cubs.  Over four games, Harper came to the plate 19 times, got one hit, and walked 13 times (including four times intentionally, and an incredible six times in a 13-inning game).  And that, my friends, was that.

After that series, Harper hit .237 with 14 HRs and 59 RBI.  He ended the season hitting .243 with 24/86, and a .814 OPS.  For that, Harper was paid $5 million – not much by today’s standards, but I’m not sure Ted Lerner feels like he got his money’s worth.

All the while, Mike Trout trotted out to centerfield, playing for a team out of contention from the Opening Day flyover, with an aging Albert Pujols hitting behind him, and no other protection in the lineup.  And yet, he put up – in a word – ridiculous numbers.  But, again, this is nothing out of the ordinary.  He is a metronome and we have come to expect his greatness.  For $15 million, the Angels got the MVP (again).  But there is more to it than that.

Trout never dogs it; rarely argues with umpires; doesn’t get choked by teammates; and doesn’t invite, encourage, or welcome controversy.

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Trout is just a ballplayer, and the best one on the planet.  And he has been since his first full season.

Still not convinced, take a look at this comparison:

 2012 HARPER TROUT
BA .270 .326
SLUG .477 .564
OPS .817 .963
HR 22 30
RBI 59 83
Awards All-Star/ROY (All-Star/ROY/2nd in MVP)

 

 2013 HARPER TROUT
BA .274 .323
SLUG .486 .557
OPS .854 .988
HR 20 27
RBI 58 97
Awards All-Star All-Star/2nd in MVP

 

 2014 HARPER TROUT
BA .273 .287
SLUG .423 .561
OPS .768 .939
HR 13 36
RBI 32 111
Awards All-Star All-Star/MVP

 

 2015 HARPER TROUT
BA .330 .299
SLUG .649 .590
OPS 1.109 .991
HR 42 41
RBI 99 90
Awards All-Star/MVP All-Star/2nd in MVP

 

 2016 HARPER TROUT
BA .243 .315
SLUG .441 .550
OPS .814 .991
HR 24 29
RBI 86 100
Awards All-Star All-Star/MVP

 

There are two interesting tidbits buried in the above stats:

(1) Trout is the first player in the history of the game to either win the MVP or be the runner-up in each of his first five seasons; and

(2) Even in Harper’s MVP season, he still only had one homerun and nine more RBI than Trout (if you are into those things).  If you are new school, Harper had a 9.9 WAR in his MVP season; Trout had an 8.9 that year.  In fact, Trout’s lowest season WAR is 8.6, and in that season he just won Rookie of the Year and was second in the MVP voting.

By comparison, with the exception of his MVP season, Harper has never had a WAR above 5.1.  Huh?  How is that possible?  How can the guy everyone said would be the first half a billion dollar player have WAR seasons of 3.7 (2013), 1.0 (2014), and 1.6 (2016) on his resume.  Why are we still discussing, let alone debating, this issue?

Trout will be paid $122 million over the next four years – and he is grossly underpaid.

Bryce Harper is second year arbitration eligible in 2017; according to MLB Trade Rumors, he will command roughly $10 million – and if history is any guide, he may be overpaid.  Harper’s career average WAR is 4.3, which puts him in league with Dexter Fowler and Addison Russell.  Good ballplayers, but not $500 players.

No one disputes Harper is a good player who may, one day, be a great player.  But he ain’t no Mike Trout.

In fact, assuming Mike Trout doesn’t get any better, and over the next five years he actually regresses by 20% (which not single baseball person anticipates as he is just hitting his prime and is getting better every year), this is what Harper would have to average in each of the next five season just to catch (a 20% worse) Trout at the 10-year mark:

H HR RBI SLG OPS WAR
196 35 110 .501 .851 12.16

 

Look at those numbers again. Harper would need to nearly match his MVP levels, and have career highs in hits and RBI every year for five straight years, and would need to average a 12.16 WAR just to match a 20% regressing Mike Trout.

One last piece of context, in case the above isn’t obvious. Harper would need to have the 5th best single-season WAR (just behind 1967 Carl Yastrzemski and 1927 Babe Ruth) every year for five straight years, to catch Trout on a 20% downswing.

The defense rests.

PLAY BALL!!

 

November 9 – The Day After

November 9 – The Day After

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Ed. Note: While this piece was inspired by the events of November 8, 2016, the words and phrases in italics below were taken from Selected Poems: 1965-1975 by Margaret Atwood.

I refuse to look in the mirror, as I know what will stare back is sorrow and sadness.  I cannot allow my kids to see that look; that look that tells them, immediately, instinctively, indisputably, that something is wrong.

It is dangerous to read newspapers.  They are filled with so much negative information, so many opinion pieces about what may come, what may be.  While in some areas, the air is filled with an ether of cheers, not in my house, not in my head.

How did this happen?  Why did it happen?  What will happen next?

This is not order, but the absence of order.  We live in a country where this should not, cannot happen.  This is for banana republics and third world countries where the populace is fooled by con men and flim flam artists.  But not here, not in the grand ol’ U.S. of A.

I wander around my house in the quiet of night.  Whose dream is this?  It must be mine, as it is my footsteps that creak on the hardwood as I descend the stairs, slowly making my way from room to room, checking on my kids, ensuring that no harm befalls them tonight – at least.

Surreal is a word that is bandied about, often improperly.  But tonight it seems only fitting.  This cannot be real.  It is a fever dream.  It is surreal.

I want to climb back into bed and wake up in four years; I want to climb out the window and shout at the moon; I want to climb out of my skin so I don’t have to carry this feeling.  Which is what, exactly? Shock? Horror? Disappointment?  Anger? Frustration? Annoyance?  Fear?  Maybe all of the above.

I am able to get a few hours of restless sleep.  I awake in world I hardly know – a world I don’t want to know.  And yet, here I am.  I cannot help but think that we are all relics of what we have destroyed, and we must now come to terms with a new reality.

After a few more moments of despair, a switch flips.  The sadness has not gone away, not at all.  But my reaction to it is altered.  I begin to think, “was the sky ever that blue?”  Had I got what I wanted, would it have been that different?  Would my life be better in any true, measurable way?

The answers to those questions are now rendered moot, irrelevant to the task ahead.  We must resist.  We must refuse to disappear.  Now, more than ever, we must make ourselves known, and push back against the powers that want to be, but cannot be, without willing acquiescence.  We must circle, confront our opponent.  Let them know we will not be quieted, we will not be defeated.

Some outcomes are immutable, and we should not waste time trying to control matters over which we now have no control.  But we do have the ability to control our reaction.  If we have any agency in this world, it is in our response.  Do we cower and retreat?  Do we stand and deliver?  The measure of a man is how he faces adversity; how he reacts when all is falling apart around him.

And then it happened.  The most aggrieved person – more so than the nearly 60 million others, stood at a lectern and spoke from the heart – a heart that could have been nothing less than broken; a heart that must have been shattered like shards of a glass ceiling; a heart that still beat with selflessness and inspiration for the well-being of others.

She cajoled us to get off the mat and face our demons – both inner and public.  No one ever survives by retreating or giving quarter to the powers that shouldn’t be.  The only way to survive in moments like these is to move forward, remembering the past and the pain, using that as fuel for the future.

We owe this to ourselves, to the greater good, and we owe it to our children.  The Chinese proverb implores us to go straight for the heart of danger, for there you will find safety.  That is our true place.  As people, as citizens, as sentient beings who want, nay, demand, more from ourselves and our society, we must confront our would-be oppressors and let them know that we will not be oppressed; that we will not back down; that we will not fade into darkness or the abyss.

The battle may be long, and it may be difficult, and at times, it may seem hopeless.  But that is the true test.  Do we have the gumption to fight for what we believe?  If we don’t, maybe we don’t truly value those beliefs?

The somber day ends and I am reunited with my kids.  They have smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts.  It was their own ignorance I entered, and I could not be more grateful.  They are too young and too innocent to be required to know the task at hand.  One day they will, and one day they will appreciate what it entailed, and one day they will look back with respect and gratitude that a group of right-minded people were willing to put aside whatever differences they might have for the betterment of all.

History, our history, is not written on a single day, nor even a single year.  History is written over prolonged periods when people – against long odds – create change that is lasting (even if only temporarily so).

None of what I feel is mine, it belongs to 60 million people and the countless millions more who voted against their conscience on a hope and a prayer; it belongs to our collective future; it belongs to our children.

So, with sorrow nearly as great as it has ever been, I resolve to move forward and battle back.  I will not go quietly into that good night.  Too much is at stake; too many people will be affected by our choices, and our responses; too much of our tomorrow is riding on decisions made by those of us feeling pain today.

G.O.A.T. (Game 7 Edition)

G.O.A.T. (Game 7 Edition)

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Wow!  Just, wow!  How else to describe what we witnessed Wednesday night in Cleveland?

That game had so much, nearly all of which has been written about – wonderfully, poignantly, emotionally, by Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal, Bob Nightengale, Ben Lindbergh,  Jonah Keri, Rick Telander, Michael Bauman, Jayson Stark, Peter Gammons, and too many more to count.  Hell, 96-year old Roger Angell cracked out the old Selectric to write a short article about the game.

As always, I try to find the nooks and crannies that aren’t being covered by the MSM.  For instance, everyone is discussing Joe Maddon’s use of Aroldis Chapman with a 7-2 lead in the 7th inning of Game 6, and what effect that had on him in Game 7.

Everyone is writing about Maddon’s decision to pull Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the 5th inning of Game 7 to bring in Jon Lester for a “dirty” inning.

Everyone is talking about Maddon’s safety squeeze on a 3-2 pitch with a guy at the plate who had already hit a homerun.

Everyone is praising Jason Heyward, fighting through his struggles at the plate to continue to be the best right fielder in baseball, and the consummate leader by calling an impromptu team meeting under the stadium during the rain delay.

But is anyone talking about Terry Francona’s decision to pull a Little League move by bringing in a new right fielder and shift his right fielder to left, in the middle of an inning?  When was the last time you saw that (outside of a double-switch)?  That decision, defense over offense, would prove costly in the bottom of the 10th.  Haven’t heard much about that.

Winning cures all ills, but can we talk a minute about the disaster that was Javy Baez for the first three innings?  I truly love how he takes a knee to insure he fields ground balls.  But, come on, throwing from said knee?  Sidearm?  How about trying to turn two without the ball.  Memo to Baez, SSK provides you with quality leather – try using it rather than attempting a bare hand catch and throw in one motion.  It looks cool when it works, but when it doesn’t, we get a two-minute replay delay wherein 50 million people repeatedly get to see you look like a hot dog with no mustard.

Is anyone wondering what happened to John Lackey?  With all of the talk about Jon Lester coming out of the bullpen for his first relief appearance in nine years, where was Lackey?  He had three days’ rest (Lester had only two), threw 84 pitches in his last outing (Lester threw 90), and came out of the pen in Game 4 of the 2013 World Series, and Game 2 of 2002 World Series.  He had done this before.

No one is mentioning how silly it is to just give a runner second base.  Brandon Guyer worked a two-out walk in the bottom of the 10th, bringing the tying run to the plate in the person of Rajai Davis.  Anthony Rizzo played behind Guyer, allowing him to take second without a throw.  Yes, I know his run “didn’t matter” as the Indians were down two.  But…but, three things happened with that seemingly inconsequential defensive indifference: (1) It denied the left-handed throwing Mike Montgomery an opportunity to pick off Guyer; or, at a minimum, keep him close; (2) It denied the slick Cubs infield the ability to go the “short way” on any ball hit into a hole; and (3) It allowed Guyer to make it a one-run game when Davis dropped a single into center field.  How much better would Cubs’ fans have felt being up 8-6, with runners on first and second and Michael Martinez coming to the plate?

Another thing that got overlooked was Dexter Fowler’s poise in not attempting to throw out Guyer at the plate.  Had he done so, which seemed like a possibility based on the trajectory and speed of the hit, Davis would have been standing on second base instead of first; with the tying run now in scoring position.  A lesson for our kids watching at home, note how Fowler understood the circumstances and made the heady play, not the heroic one.  (Said differently, “what do I do if the ball is hit to me?”)

And while we are on the topic of Fowler, it was he who started the game by “cutting the Russian”.  He showed the entire Cubs organization that Corey Kluber was mortal and could be scored upon.  Putting aside all of the reasons that was important, it is incredible to think that Fowler shouldn’t even have been there – he was supposed to be the starting right fielder for the Orioles.  How did the Fox crew not mention this?  Check out what I wrote about this deal back in February.  It looks like Fowler made the right call.

Just a few more . . . I promise.

Everyone is talking about Rajai Davis’ 8th inning homerun.  That hit had the third highest WPA in the history of the game.  Think about that.  But few are talking about the actual at bat.  Davis went down 1-2, took a ball (99.8 MPH), and then fouled off two 2-strike pitches (98.1, 99.6) before depositing his liner into the lens of the left field camera.

The only thing better than Game 7 dramatics are Game 7 dramatics with two strikes.

And not nearly enough is being made of Albert Almora, Jr. tagging up and going from first to second on Bryant’s flyball in the 10th.   Sitting on the bench for nearly four hours, he had the presence of mind to read the ball, the fielder, the moment, and take an extra 90 feet. That set up the intentional walk of Rizzo, which set up Zobrist’s tie-breaking double. If Almora stays put, who knows what kind of at-bat this guy would have given the Cubs.

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What I haven’t heard a single person mention is that Kris Bryant slipped on the wet grass as he made the final throw.  I saw it.  I am sure legions of Cubs fans saw it.  I am quite certain that generations of Chicagoans registered it and assumed that the ball was being airmailed over Rizzo’s head, setting up the tying and winning runs in scoring position with Tyler Naquin (looking for redemption) coming to the plate.

Maybe the dramatics of the moment overwhelmed that detail.  Maybe Bryant’s ear-to-ear smile Image result for kris bryant smile
as he fielded the ball rendered his ice skates meaningless.  But, for me, let’s just say my heart skipped a beat.

 

And last, and maybe – in light of outcomes – least, how soon we forget that Jason Kipnis’ foul ball with one out in the bottom of the 9th certainly looked like Aaron Boone, Joe Carter, and Bill Mazeroski all rolled up into one.  Kipnis, the Chicago kid, eventually struck out, so the at bat became a footnote in the “I cannot believe Chapman came back out for the ninth and got a 1-2-3 inning” story.

But, for a nanosecond or two, it seemed like Joe Buck was about to parrot his father with an “I don’t believe what I just saw” call to end a 68-year drought.  Alas, it was not meant to be, and only baseball nerds like me even made note of an ultimately harmless foul ball down the right field line.

So there you go.  I have tens more, but we can save them for coaching clinics and backyard BBQs down the road.

The greatest Game 7 of all time.  The only downside: it is 150 days until we hear . . .

PLAY BALL!!

There Could Be No Other Way

THERE COULD BE NO OTHER WAY
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On June 19th of this year, on the morning of Game 7 of the NBA Finals, I wrote this. In the article – if you haven’t read it – I predicted the Cavaliers would beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA finals to win the NBA Championship. I compared the 2016 Cavs with the 2004 Red Sox, and explained that in order to “Exorcise Demons”, they had to take the toughest road. In order to quench a multi-generational drought, a team needs to overcome not just its opponent, but the longest of odds.

The ’04 Red Sox had to go down 0-3 to the hated Yankees to storm back, win four in a row to win the pennant, and then sweep the Cardinals to bring home their first World Series Championship in 86 years. The ’16 Cavaliers had to go down 1-3 to the record-setting, ridiculous shooting, reigning world champs, just to win three in a row to bring the first title (of any kind) to Cleveland in 52 years.

I hope, by now, you see where I am going. The Chicago Cubs entered this season the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series (Vegas had them at 5/1). They then ran away with their division, won 103 games, and made the prognosticators look like geniuses. They dispatched the Giants in four games, and the Dodgers in six, setting up our current World Series showdown.

The Cubs did face some adversity this season: They lost one of their best hitters (never mind he didn’t have a defensive position) in their third game; they rallied to overcome a one game deficit back on April 8th; and they lost a whole five in a row in July, reducing their NL Central lead to 6.5 games. You might say that 2016 was pretty much smooth sailing for Lovables…until October.

So when the Giants won Game 3 of the NLDS in 13 innings, and had Madison Bumgarner lined up for Game 5, the folks back on Clark and Addison were starting to get the stench of Billy goat.

When the Dodgers won Games 2 and 3 of the NLCS, and had Clayton Kershaw lined up for Game 6, the diehards sitting on stools at Harry Caray’s and The Cubby Bear were gripping their Old Styles a little tighter.

And when the Indians won Games 3 and 4 of the World Series (at Wrigley Field, no less), to put the Cubbies in a backs-against-the-wall, 1-3 hole, you could feel the tension through the television, two times zones away. Fans who had been primed to sing “Go Cubs Go” were resigned to two consecutive slow walks down the concourse, out the gates, through Wrigleyville, and up to the “L” for long, late, and painful rides home.

This is how it had to happen.

A sweep? Win in it five in front of 41,000 delirious Cubs fans? Take it in six to the dismay of the denizens of Believeland? No. That would have been too easy, too trite, too according to plan.

Like Andy Dufresne, the Cubs will have to crawl through 500 yards of shit – through Kluber, Bauer, Tomlin, Kluber (again), Shaw, and Miller – to come out clean on the other side. I tell my kids, nothing worth having comes easy. The first championship in 108 years is  worth having. The Cubs had to have obstacles, they had to have roadblocks, and impediments, and nearly the longest odds possible, to get to the promised land.  There could be no other way.

Theo Epstein designed it this way. Joe Maddon managed it this way. The players had no choice but to play it this way. Because the Baseball Gods fated it this way.

So I’m sorry, Cleveland, you got one title this year. Two would have been a bridge over the Cuyahoga too far. It is the Cubbies’ time.

Or, Kluber throws another gem; joins the likes of Jack Morris and Curt Schilling; and becomes the World Series MVP with his third win. Maybe there is a Party at Napoli’s and he launches one into the Ohio night. Maybe the Northbrook Kid actually hits for the cycle (he came damn close in Game 6) to lead the Tribe. Maybe Francisco Lindor put the icing on his coming out party cake, gets three more hits, and smiles the Indians to the title.

What the hell do I know? I do know that we get baseball for another day.  Two teams with a combined 176 seasons of futility have nine innings to exorcise their demons.

Is there anything better in sports than a Game 7?  Twenty hours until we hear…

PLAY BALL!!