Easily the greatest sport ever…
Only 17 days until live game action…
With 30 days to go, I started profiling a hitter per day highlighting one from each team. I selected my player of note from each team and then randomized them (which was pretty interesting consider who the final two were after the randomization) so that’s the order I’ll be following.
Just under the wire! It’s still Tuesday for me. I went to dinner with my podcast co-host and long-time friend Jason Collette and I was pumping out SP Guide work all afternoon so the Countdown got short shrift until after dinner.
Stupid sidenote: the last four Countdown entrants have first names that start with “A”. Isn’t your life better now?
Drafted with the second overall pick in 2005, Alex Gordon was tabbed as the savior of the franchise almost immediately. He was a mix of George Brett, Ryan Gosling (not yet a mega-star, but he’d done The Notebook so throwing him into the mix was betting on the come back then), and a unicorn. He started his pro career in Double-A and obliterated the league in 2006 vaulting himself to the top of the prospect heap heading into 2007 according to Kevin Goldstein and #2 overall according to Baseball America.
He wasn’t even Gosling circa “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” posting an uninspired .247/.314/.411 line in 601 plate appearances. It got better in 2008, but only because he had set the bar so low. Things actually got worse in 2009-2010 resulting in trips back to the minors in each season where he ended playing 30 and 75 games, respectively, split across a few levels. A hip injury in 2009 cost him three months and that was sandwiched by quadriceps and thumb injuries in 2008 and 2010 that both required time on the disabled list. He was not only failing to live up to the lofty expectations, but through 2010 it was hard not to see him as a bust. He’d had a career 95 OPS+ in 1642 PA.
It all turned around in 2011. He finally stayed healthy again and not only had his best season yet (not a difficult feat given what he’d done to date), but also had a legitimate star-level season. He registered a 7.1 bWAR and 6.9 fWAR in his first full season as a leftfielder, having switched over from third base. He proved to be not only adequate out in left, but exemplary as his 12 kills doubled the next best from a leftfielder (Gerardo Parra, 6) and led all of baseball as he narrowly edged teammate Jeff Francoeur by one.
Last year’s follow was a bit off the pace, about a full win at both sites, but still a star level offering. Gordon has hit .298/.372/.478 the past two years in 1411 PA with 37 home runs and 96 doubles, including an MLB-best 51 last year. Are his 37 home runs a disappointment? When he was expected to become Georygos Brettunicornling, I think many were looking at 30 bombs a year. Brett only averaged 17 during his career with a 162-game average of 20, but he never struck out (career 7.8% K rate) so Gordon was supposed to trade those Ks for more homers. It took Brett 9196 PA to strikeout out 634 times; Gordon has fanned 641 times in 3053 PA. Different eras and Gordon isn’t Brett so I’m not holding him to that standard, just showing the incredible gap.
In the midst of his prime at age-29 with back-to-back seasons of 45 and 51 doubles, some are still expecting a home outburst as there is an adage that believes a player with a ton of doubles could start translating some of them into home runs with some added strength and/or a bit of good fortune. The thinking being that with 45+ doubles, several are banging off the wall and just missing their exit from the yard. It’s not a terrible notion, but it’s not a birthright if you are a big doubles hitter, either.
Looking at Gordon’s 2011 with 45 doubles and 23 home runs, there are 79 players with seasons of 45+ and 23 or fewer, but only 12 others including Gordon to have pulled off the feat more than once.
Hey, it’s George Brett! Gordon is fulfilling the expectation after all! What does this group of players have in common? They never really translated the doubles into an abundance of home runs. Brett’s 30 in 1985 are highest of anyone in that group and he didn’t do it after either of his 45 double seasons. The second name on that list is the one that rings truest when I think about Gordon.
In fact, when I was making my list of which players I wanted to cover for the countdown, I was thinking about Gordon and trying to come up with who he reminded me of after his two big seasons in a row and I kept coming back to Nick Markakis and Shin-Soo Choo. There is nothing with that as both as high quality MLB players. Markakis had run off six straight full season of well above average play (117 OPS+) before being limited to just 104 games last year.
The bottom is that the home runs aren’t coming, not at the quantity that was expected of him as a prospect. He’s going to live in the 15-20 range and may have another season or two where he pushed 25, but barring a major change in his approach, 30 just isn’t happening. He is the prototypical line drive hitter with gap-to-gap power. His line drive rate hit a career-high at 25 percent last year and has lived at or north of 20 for his entire career save that 2009 washout. His flyball rate is on a four year decline hitting a nadir of 32.7 percent a year ago, a far cry from his career-best 47.6 back in 2008.
After spending 172 of his last 312 games as a leadoff hitter, he is currently slated to hit third again with Lorenzo Cain leading off. Hopefully this switch doesn’t prompt Gordon to unnecessarily change his approach thinking he has to be “the man” and go for power in that spot. His work in the 3-hole has been 101 points worse from an OPS standpoint than his leadoff work (883 to 782) and 64 points worse in slugging percentage (.501 to .437).
He needs to stick with his approach from 2011-2012. The move to third in the batting order puts 100+ RBIs into play even if he only hits 14 home runs again. That would be a career high by 13 RBI (2011). Meanwhile he could still score 100 as he did in 2011 (101) provided he maintains or improves his 10 percent walk rate. I think he still viewed as an overall disappointment by some which depresses his fantasy price. Current NFBC draft data has him as the 94th guy off the board, inexplicably behind teammate Eric Hosmer. Don’t be afraid to pay for Gordon, especially at this current discounted rate, but even for a little more should your league price him higher. What he lacks in home run power, he makes up in batting average and runs scored, the two most underrated categories in standard 5×5 leagues.
Last Friday night, MLB Network unleashed their Top 10 Leftfielders Right Now along with input from host Brian Kenny, co-host Eric Byrnes, and special guest to the series Bill James. There is no real consistency with these lists and that part has been a bit annoying. I’m specifically referring to deciding where to list guys. Why are they listing Martin Prado and Josh Hamilton as leftfielders and Justin Upton as a rightfielder when they will not be playing those positions in 2013?
By their own admission, these lists are also supposed to be projecting the 2013 season so it makes zero sense to do this, especially since they set that precedent with their first episode and listed Shin-Soo Choo in center. I know these lists are for s’s & g’s and despite how it may read, I’m not getting that worked up over it, I’m just trying to have some fun as we move closer toward real baseball.
Here are all four lists from MLB Network-related folks and then I’ll address them separately:
Technically, I only had one difference with The Shredder because had I know they were counting Hamilton and Bryce Harper as leftfielders I’d have done the same. I talked about them in the centerfielder list with Harper actually making the top 10. Since I hadn’t ranked Hamilton in the CF list and realized that the lists were supposed to be a ranking of where they were slated to play, I included him with the rightfielders. With that out of the way, I don’t really have any major problems with The Shredder’s list. I obviously like Carlos Gonzalez quite a bit more, but it seems The Shredder dings him hard for his road stats, as does Brian Kenny which is pretty silly because he still plays in Colorado. If the list is supposed to be about who they are right now and how they’ll do in 2013, how does his poor road work matter when he more than makes up for it at home?
My inclusions they didn’t list: Alfonso Soriano, Brett Gardner, and Justin Upton
Similarly to The Shredder, if you remove the Harper/Hamilton issue then I’m almost in lock-step with Byrnes. In fact, apart from a major difference on Alex Gordon, we about matched on every pick. He seriously underrated Gordon’s defense, but also made a big point out of the fact that Gordon isn’t a 30-home run guy. Neither was Byrnesie in his best year, 2007, during which played left predominantly. Another point he stressed repeatedly was that he felt Cargo was definitely the best defensive leftfielder in the game. It’s Gordon for me, but his claim isn’t outlandish. Oh, and Byrnes seemed to have played WITH EVERYBODY ON EVERY LIST IN THE SHOW.
My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, and Upton
More of the same as we only have one disagreement beyond his ranking guys who aren’t actually leftfielders anymore and Harper. I was really surprised with his ranking of Harper and Hamilton, but I guess he was leaning heavily on the track record differential between the pair. Some of James’ lists during this series have really surprised whether it was a shocking inclusion or questionable positioning of a player. David Murphy had his first 500 PA season last year in what was easily his best season and now he’s a top 10 LF? I don’t see it, Bill.
My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, Upton, and Melky Cabrera
Kenny’s lists have really shocked me, too. I watch Clubhouse Confidential daily so I think I’m pretty well versed in Kenny’s mindset about the game, but then he goes and drops Carlos Quentin seventh on his list after an 86-game season. In fact, Quentin has never topped 131 games and he’s now four years removed from his best season.
My inclusions he didn’t list: Soriano, Gardner, Upton, and Cabrera
Tonight MLB Network will continue the 2013 iteration of their “Top 10 Right Now” series at each position capped off with a “Top 100 Overall***”. They will air both the left and right field shows on Friday evening. I always enjoy this series and generally look forward to it after the New Year since I eat up just about any fresh baseball content I can as we wait for pitchers & catchers to report. Instead of putting up my lists after they air their selections, I’ll post mine ahead of time and then compare notes after the shows air.
***I will not be doing a top 100
I felt I was getting a little verbose on these lists given that they’re really just about having some off-season fun, so I’ve cut the explanations down a bit on these.
The leftfield list was one of the easier ones as the 10 came pretty easily to me. Mike Trout and Bryce Harper will not be included because they were included on the centerfielder list. We saw MLB Network put Shin-Soo Choo on the centerfielder list as well, so they’re going with where guys are expected to play in 2013 thus you won’t see Martin Prado on the list, either, as he will now play third base for the D’Backs. Nor will you see Desmond Jennings as he shifts over to center to replace B.J. Upton. Oddly enough, MLBN was counting new position for guys like Choo and Aroldis Chapman yet they still included Trout with the CFs and he is slated to play left with Peter Bourjos in center.
Jason Kubel (ARI) is the only leftfielder who was close for me. His NL debut was impressive, but he just missed out as he lags a bit behind defensively and his bat was good, but not overwhelmingly so.
10. Alfonso Soriano (CHC) – A punching bag for many fans, Soriano hasn’t been the 40-40 guy from his Washington season, but he’s not exactly Vernon Wells, either. In fact, by fWAR he’s earned $98.5mm ($5mm/WAR) on the field while being paid $97mm. Even if you don’t buy the defensive gains, he’s been a plus-hitter for five of six seasons with the Cubs.
9. Melky Cabrera (TOR) – How much do you think PEDs helped Melky? And do you think he’s taken them consistently for two years? Those are the two questions to be asked when analyzing him. I lean toward “some, but not overwhelmingly so” and “no”, so he makes my list. I doubt he’d be the 2012 version of himself even if he kept using, so look at 2011 as a guidepost for his performance.
8. Brett Gardner (NYY) – Speculating a bit here since Gardner missed most of 2012, but when he plays he does everything except hit for power. He plays incredible defense, has game-changing speed, and he’s the Van Gogh of walks—he draws ‘em like crazy!
7. Josh Willingham (MIN) – Staying on the field has been the only real issue with Willy during his career and he’s improving in that avenue improving his games played from 114 in 2010 to 136 and 145 the last two years. Regardless of how often he plays, he’s always raked at the dish and done so enough to cancel out his below average defense.
6. Yoenis Cespedes (OAK) – What an incredible debut! I don’t think anyone saw that coming. He was the commensurate five-tool player hitting .292 with a .505 slugging percentage, playing elite defense in left using his arm to terrify runners into staying put, and stealing 16 out of 20 attempts while also taking extra bases at an above average clip. Imagine if he tops 130 games this year.
5. Justin Upton (ATL) – New to both his team and his position, Upton was finally traded after approximately 212 years of speculation. The potential is overwhelming, but we need to see it more consistently and since we don’t yet, he lands lower than you probably would’ve expected to see him.
4. Matt Holliday (StL) – Only two LF, both regarded among baseball’s best, have topped him with the bat at the position. He pairs the first-rate bat with better defense than you think. Unless you think he plays good-not-great defense boosted by his solid arm and ability to freeze runners.
3. Carlos Gonzalez (COL) – He’s failed to repeat that stunning 2010, but he hasn’t exactly been a slouch in the meantime and his rising walk rate bodes well for his late-20s. He’s yet to play more than 145 games in a season which only make his three straight 20-20 (all w/22+ HR) seasons that much more impressive.
2. Alex Gordon (KC) – The unquestioned best leftfielder in the game defensively speaking whether you trust the metrics or simply use your eyeballs. Mind you, that’s not the only reason he rated this well, he’s also come around big time with the bat including an MLB-best 51 doubles last year. Took him a while, but he’s finally paying dividends on the savior tag that was slapped on him before the ink dried on his contract in 2005.
1. Ryan Braun (MIL) – Duh-doy!
Here are this week’s MLB Sunday Twidbits which is something I’ll be doing every Sunday throughout the baseball season. It’s a simple exercise whereby I tour the league giving a statistical tidbit per team on Twitter feed (@sporer). Sometimes a team or two will get more than one if I have more than one nugget I really want to share, but every team will be represented at least once.
Sea – Michael Pineda has faced 3 tms a 2nd time w/a 4.66 ERA & 1.19 WHIP, yet still a 10 K/BB. ERA elevated by DET start. Don’t worry.
Det – Austin Jackson starting to drive the ball more w/2 2B & 4 3B since being given a June 1st off-day: .372/.426/.605 during the stretch.
Det2 – Protection or coincidence? Brennan Boesch hitting .307/.350/.551 w/all 8 of his HR & 25 of 34 RBI in 3 spot ahead of Miggy.
Ari – Willie Bloomquist = old Sam Fuld. This is why you don’t buy into these guys & sell em ASAP: .190/.227/.214, 0 SB since return from inj.
Flo – Chris Volstad has a 4.29/7.56 Hm/Rd ERA split, but has only allowed >3 once at home. 6.9 K & 2.4 K/BB = worthy home spot-starter.
Cle – 5/22 I said: J.Tomlin has largest ERA-FIP diff in MLB. He will implode bc .175 BABIPs & 85% LOB%s don’t last. Trade now… for anything.
Cle2 – Since 5/22: Josh Tomlin has 8.61 ERA, 1.78 WHIP in 23 IP allowing 6 ER in last 3 starts & 8-9-10-12 H in the 4 start stretch. Hope you sold.
NYY – A-Rod was hitting .259/.359/.463 a month ago w/5 HR. Since 5/12: .310/.355/.569 w/8 HR, 18 RBI & 3 SB… stop writing him off, folks.
Chc – The Chicago Empty Batting Avgs: Fukudome-Castro-Barney-Aramis all hitting .286 or better. All are pacing 10 or < HR & <75 RBI. Sell.
Phi – Top 3 SP (Halladay-Hamels-Lee) continue to lead Philly (5-0 in Jun) as finally whole lineup has struggled (.639 OPS-24th rk’d) so far.
Bos – The Red Sox have scored more runs in 10 June gms, 87, than Seattle scored in 26 May gms. Bos 9-1 in June despite 1 SP w/sub-4.50 ERA.
Bos2 – Dustin Pedroia sure isn’t playing like he’s injured: .389/.522/.583 w/10 RBI & 7 R in June. Only 1 hitless gm, 4 multi-hit ones.
Tor – Not even sure how Kyle Drabek is in the majors at this point. Has 3+ BB in 13 of 14 starts & more BB than K in 73 awful IP.
Tor2 – By the way, Brad Mills has a 2.87 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in hitting-crazy Las Vegas w/8.3 K/9 in case you’re looking for obvious replacement.
Tor3 – Eager to see how many K lovers hold strong w/Brandon Morrow. ERA now 5.63 w/boom or bust season: 4 4+ ER starts; 4 2< ER starts.
TB – On April 28th DH, Ben Zobrist had 2 HR, 10 RBI. Since: 2 HR, 11 RBI in 38 G. Hitting .386/.460/.591 in June. Another HR surge upcoming?
Bal – Mark Reynolds is a must-own. 3B is paper thin & power is light league-wide. On pace for 30-90-10(sb), you eat the .203 avg for that.
NYM – Hope you got Angel Pagan when he was reco’d in 5/29 Twids. His own rates were ESPN 35%, CBS 65%, Y! 36% then.
NYM2 – Pagan (cont.) Rates are way up as he’s remained on fire since return: .349 avg, 5 sb, 9 r, 7 rbi in 15 g. Big help to middle of Mets lineup.
Pit – Horrid start buried James McDonald‘s ERA (10.12 after 4 GS), but 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 7.6 K/9 & 2.0 K/BB in 51 IP (9 GS) since. Buy.
Atl – A modest hot streak for most could be a start of something for Dan Uggla after big wknd: 4-6, 3 BB, 4 R, 2 RBI, 1 HR in the #2 hole.
Hou – How good has SP been in ’11? Bud Norris‘ 3.67 ERA is 100 ERA+. With a 9 K/9, he’s a must-start even on cusp on below avg ERA, though.
Oak – Not yet an all-format must-start, but Scott Sizemore adds depth to ugly 3B wasteland & he’s hitting early on w/OAK: 6-19 in 5 G w/HR & 4 RBI.
CWS – Phil Humber‘s value gets a major boost if recent K stretch is at all legit. 5.5 season K/9, but 7.0 in 22 IP across last 3 GS. Monitor.
Tex – Derek Holland has skills worth betting on despite modest season-long #s. 3 ugly, 3 great in last 6 incl. 7.9 K/9 & 2.9 K/BB in 40 IP.
Tex2 – Holland (cont.) HRs killing him in latest 6 starts having allowed 2 in ea. of 3 blowups & 0 in 3 gems. 24 y/o so more ups & downs coming.
Min – Francisco Liriano‘s last 4: 26 IP, 29 K, 1.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 2 W. Still leery, but confidence growing as 3 were rd starts, 4th was v. TEX.
StL – Jon Jay hitting .309 w/some pwr & speed (pacing 10 hr/12 sb). Held .350 BABIP for 105 G in ’10 so maybe .353 this yr can hold. 50%+ avail.
Mil – Prince Fielder has been insane the last month: .330/.458/.742 w/11 HR, 29 RBI, 23 BB to 11 K… SO locked in. Mil 22-7 during stretch.
LAD – Why is Rod Barajas owned so scarcely across all 3 major outlets? On pace for 19 HR. Doesn’t have enough AB for his .233 AVG to hurt much.
Col – CarGo hitting .452/.485/.710 in 7 gms as leadoff hitter incl. 4 straight multi-hit gms in LAD series. Perhaps the jump-start he needs.
LAD-Col – 63 runs scored in 4 gm LAD-Col series, yet just 11 scored in first 4 inn. of all 4 gm. Sweet lives, relievers… 2.6 R/IP in 20 IP from 5th on.
KC – Alex Gordon still on pace for career yr, but it’s built mostly on hot April. Might be getting going for June: .273 AVG & .377 OBP.
LAA – Mark Trumbo has flaws (.299 OBP), but pacing for 27 HR & 15 SB w/potential OF elig. based on lg (6 GP). His value lies in OF, not 1B.
Was – In 13 GS, Jordan Zimmermann has re-faced opp. 4x. Just an oddity. Has allowed >2 ER once since May 1st (3 ER @ ATL, but also 11 K).
SD – It’s a whopping 4 gms, but what stands out about Anthony Rizzo early on is the patience. 5 BB & 4.6 pit/PA in first series ever.
SD2 – Rizzo (cont.) He also went 3-for-10 w/a 2B, 3B and HR. Great debut, hope it lasts for the highly touted prospect.
Cin – Scott Rolen carrying an ugly .240/.291/.380 line in 150 AB. Still nice leather, Juan Francisco toting .309 AVG, .819 OPS in AAA.
SF – Twidbits Curse? Touted Tim Lincecum in 5/22 ST’s. Since: 7.66 ERA, 1.59 WHIP in 22 IP. Still 19 K, 2.7 K/BB & 93 MPH FB velo. intact.
Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim) outfielder Bobby Abreu has long been known for his tremendous plate discipline. From 1999-2006, Abreu strung eight straight 100+ walks seasons which stands as tied for a major league record with Frank Thomas. On Sunday, he pulled off an impressive though not entirely unique feat involving walks. His boxscore was 0-0-0-0-4-0-0. He went 0-for-0 with 0 runs, 0 runs batted in, 0 strikeouts and 0 left on base. His afternoon consisted of four free passes!
As I mentioned, this not a unique feat nor is it the record for walks in a game with 0 at-bats. The record is 5 achieved by 19 different players include Alex Gordon just last year. All told, 10 of the 19 instances have happened since 2000 and all but two have occurred since 1975. Barry Bonds, not surprisingly, is the only repeat achiever on the list. Teams for guys that have done this are 12-7. Here is a look at the list of those currently sharing the record as copied from Baseball Reference.com: