All posts by danielstudent99

Learn To Love Baseball Episode #5

INTERNET EXTRAS (!) of Episode 5 of Learn To Love Baseball, “The Catcher”, with your host Daniel Student

  • For exact count of Yogi Berra quotes, please go to the bottom of the page…
  • I wasn’t lying about catchers and looks… 
  • Link to that fun Hardball Times article about all the wonderful catcher nicknames!
  • Marty Noble’s article about catchers making great MLB managers from 2012
  • So, these are the hands of Doug Allison, a bare-handed catcher from the 19th century…  Yikes, right?!
  • And last but certainly not least… my mother and SPECIAL GUEST Dr. Sharon Krag

  • Yogi Berra quote total: I counted 12. But tell me if I’m wrong.
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Learn To Love Baseball Episode #4

INTERNET EXTRAS (!) of Episode 4 of Learn To Love Baseball, “Introducing… The Pitcher! (PART TWO)” with your host Daniel Student.

9 Breakout Players of 2017

9 Breakout Players of 2017

I think sports writers who make predictions as soon as one season ends about the next season are absurd. But after my hometown Orioles lost, and I needed something to distract me. And as a reader, I absolutely DEVOUR these columns. Because, what better way to fill the six lonely months between seasons with trying to figure out what will happen in the other six months!

So, I figured I’d give this a try as a shout out to fans of teams not named the Indians, Dodgers, Blue Jays, or Cubs right now, with perhaps the most absurdly hard thing to predict: players that will go from being nobody to somebody.

I mean, speaking of the Cubs, I could go on a limb and say the Cubs will be really good next year, as will the Red Sox, and the Nationals, and the Dodgers, and sure, one or even two of those guesses might end up being wrong, but I’m likely to at least get 50% right. And for posterity’s sake, I have the Tigers and the Astros in the other two divisions. Team predictions are generally safe bets with a couple of horrible ones always thrown in.

I could predict Kershaw for Cy Young and then take a massive leap in the AL, and go with, say, Yu Darvish, despite his playoff disappointment, but again, I like my odds in one of those categories. Trout finally getting another MVP he deserves and Buster Posey returning to form in the NL. But player predictions are pretty easy too, especially with Kershaw and Trout around.

See what I did there?

Anyway, in terms of breakout players, I am trying to be pretty strict and focus on people who did NOT already break out THIS year, even if perhaps you hadn’t noticed. That takes out Christian Yelich of the Marlins who I think will continue to build and become an MVP candidate. No Wil Myers from the Padres, making his first all star team already. Even Alex Bregman, the Astros rookie, doesn’t get a nod because he is already expected to be a star and has been hailed as such. Jonathan Villar already had his 60 plus steals. And you’ve been living under a rock if you are a baseball fan who hasn’t heard of Gary Sanchez.

No, I want a more challenging task. One that can really make me look bad next year.

And let’s get this out of the way. I snubbed Dansby Swanson. I just don’t think he’s gonna break out next year – I think he’s gonna have some growing pains. Which is probably gonna be the stupidest thing I say all off-season.

What I came up with instead was probably a few guys you have never heard of, and some you may have been talking about a lot earlier this year or in years past but you have probably forgotten.

1. Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves

No, I don’t know how to pronounce his last name. And he’s a bit of a flier so I hate to start here but the dude took a big step forward in his second full season in the majors. He managed 123 innings in 22 starts after only 86 in 15 the year before, which means he is primed for a good leap 150/160, enough to be the guy everyone is talking about towards the end of next year as becoming a top tier pitcher. He’s a former first rounder, he will be entering his age 25 season, about when pitchers tend to start putting it together, and his strike out to walk ratio this year alone puts him in Jake Odorizzi, Marcus Stoman, and Dallas Keuchel territory. Not exactly cream of the crop performers, but all guys you want on your team. In other words, I don’t see Foltynewicz as a Cy Young candidate or anything, but emerge as The Braves’ #2 starter next year.

2. Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks

I bet if I asked you who was 4th in the National League in Strikeouts in 2016, you wouldn’t have guessed Robbie Ray. Of course he was also 8-15 with a 4.90 ERA so you definitely had no reason to notice him. In case you don’t think strikeouts are a good qualifier of quality pitchers, Ray was 8th in xFIP (excepted fielding independent pitching) which is one of those fancy new stats that looks at what SHOULD have happened instead of what DID happen that you will just have to trust me is a pretty excellent identifier of a quality hurler. Just ahead of Ray on this list: Archer, Stroman, Cueto. Just behind Ray: Lester, Kluber, Price. Pretty good company.

I also think the Diamondbacks are going to be a LOT better next year, with Pollock back and Greinke back to form. So that will help you notice Ray as their new #2.

3. Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

The guy who never broke out will finally break out, and will be in a season long rat race with Buxton of the Twins (see below) for the stolen base crown. Did you know if Billy Hamilton played in all 162 games this year or last year, he would have had 80 stolen bases in each season. 80. That’s 1980s territory. But here’s the most important stat. He raised his OBP by nearly 50 POINTS in 2016. It was .321, which was not brilliant, in fact, if he had enough plate appearances, it would have put him tied with Chris Carter, Addison Russell, and Marcell Ozuna for 98th place in the majors. All of those guys had strong offensive seasons, but at least in the case of the first two they are all also united by having unnatural home run power for their positions. Hamilton will never have that.

But lets just be conservative here and say he only raises his OBP again by 20 points, as he gets a little better again with another season under belt. Well now he’s 72nd, just ahead of Brian Dozier, and behind people like Jason Kipnis and Brandon Crawford. Throw in that he was 7th in Center Fielders in Defensive War in 3/4 of a season in a position he is still mastering ahead of defensive luminaries like Ender Inciarte, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Jason Heyward and remember that amazing speed and you have an all star on your hands.

4. Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies.

I basically wrote this article for this guy. I am so siked that the Rockies have their first ace since Ubaldo Jimenez (I don’t want to talk about him right now.) I want the Rockies to be good – they have such an odd and hard situation to overcome with the ballpark and developing pitching and it looks like they might be finally turning it around with some great organizational philosophy shifting. Remember that xFIP stat? Will Gray was no Robbie Ray this year, but pitching in Colorado of all places he nestled nicely in at 16th behind Bumgarner, Sale, and Kyle Hendricks and ahead of Tanaka, Arrieta, and Kenta Maeda.

Let’s put it more simply. He actually had a better ERA at home then on the road. That’s like when we praise Arenado for hitting great outside of Coors too, but, you know, the opposite. Gray also seems to have run out of gas in August and September, but if you take his May/June/July, he struck out 102 batters in 101 innings to 32 walks and held batters to about a .210 batting average.

5. Orlando Arcia, Milwaukee Brewers

He is the National League version of Francisco Lindor, a Gold Glover to be, but with a potential for a sneaky good bat. His major league numbers were pretty sad looking this year. But he was the youngest player in the National League when he was called up, so…

Actually, I’m just gonna leave it there. Just look at the guy. When you play defense like that, you get a chance to improve as a hitter, like Lindor has. He’s next.

6. Byron Buxton, Minnesota Twins.

Yes, THAT Byron Buxton. The one that seems destined to be one of the biggest talent busts in baseball history.

Didn’t notice, did you? In September, after coming back from the minors after a SECOND stint, Byron Buxton had a .936 OPS. And that was before he hit two more home runs in the final two games of the season in October.

We know he’s a gold glove outfielder with breathtaking speed (just watch his inside-the-park home run on the final day of the season.) BUT. Extrapolate his final month into a full season in the lead-off spot, and you have a 54 home run, 132 RBI, 144 Run, all time great season. I’m not predicting this. Just saying. You, of course, would also expect over 200 strike-outs from him at this point in a full season. So there’s that. Its gonna be fun to watch, whatever happens.

7. Sean Manaea, Oakland Athletics.

Ack, more pitching.

OK, simply put, if you took away April and May this guy would have won the ERA crown in the AL this year. SO to walk ratio? 3.35, would have been good for 14th in the AL had he qualified just behind Quintana, Archer, and Smyly.

And all this as a rookie. A rookie who, by the way, was a top 50 prospect before the season started, a decidedly under-the-radar one.

Of course, if this guy is right, sorry Oakland fans, Manaea will definitely be a well known name next year.

8. Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates.

This guy wasn’t under the radar before the season as prospects go and there was great anticipation for each of his call-ups, and the results were three starts over two stints in which he failed to get out of the 5th innings and a 6.35 ERA as a starter.

But then, in his final start of the season he one-hit St. Louis over 5 innings. Granted he still walked 4, and his issue remains to be a perceived lack of aggressiveness with dynamic stuff. I will confidently hedge a bet on overcoming that problem for a 6’ 8”, 225 LB guy who was named Minor League Baseball’s Pitcher of the Year two times in the last three seasons, with a 1.87 ERA in 20 starts in 2016, with Ray Searage, the “Pitch Doctor” to guide him through it.

9. Jurickson Profar, Texas Rangers.

Yes, THAT Jurickson Profar. Former #1 Overall Prospect Jurickson Profar.

Its good to go out on a hunch, but with Odor, Andrus, and Beltre blocking Profar in the infield, I think the Rangers let Beltran, Desmond, AND Gomez walk and open next year with an OF of Mazara, Choo, AND… Jurickson Profar. Or, perhaps, something like this guy’s Javier Baez-esque theory. He has completely stumbled down the stretch after looking like he was finally going to pay off on his promise with a .337 batting average through his first 100 or so plate appearances. So really, I have no reason to be positive, I just have a hunch. The Rangers seem to develop position players with the best of them and I think he’s next. Sometimes you have to just go with your gut, against all better judgement.

After all, these prediction articles are complete BS anyway.

Learn To Love Baseball Episode 3

INTERNET EXTRAS (!) of Episode 3 of Learn To Love Baseball – “Introducing… The Pitcher! (PART ONE)” with Daniel Student

  • All these great quotes in this episode come from just a great website all the way around for our purposes, Stephen Ellis’s The Complete Pitcher
  • I can’t imagine doing any of this without the insanely nerdy FanGraphs to dip into time and again, including this great article “Every Pitch Is Bad For You”
  • Here’s Mental Floss’s “6 Theories on the Origin of the Bullpen”
  • And don’t say I didn’t warn you, but here’s a full history of the strike zone from MLB.com (WARNING: Only go here if you feel your inner baseball dork growing at a rapid pace!)
  • I felt I needed some pictures on this episode’s extras, so here are all the pitchers I quoted in Introducing The Pitcher (PART ONE)
    Sandy Koufax, considered by many the best left-handed pitcher of all time, and America’s greatest Jewish athlete
    Dizzy Dean and his notorious high leg kick
    Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale, 1959
    Whitey Ford of the Yankees pitching, 1950
    UNDATED: Grover Cleveland Alexander of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch during a game. Ole’ Pete played for the Phillies from 1911-1917 and in 1930.

    I literally didn’t realize that Tim McGraw was Tug’s sign until I found this photo.

Learn To Love Baseball Episode 2

INTERNET EXTRAS (!) of Learn To Love Baseball Episode 2 – “What Is a Baseball?”

  • MLB official rules, just a good link to have when you have questions you want a specific answer to!
  • Scientific American’s “Inside Baseball: What Gives a Baseball Its Bounce” and Smithsonian’s “A Brief History of The Baseball” gave me much of what went into this episode
  • A couple of random images of people throwing balls at each other in Kickball and Wallball, in case you’d never seen this in action: 
  • Here is some explanation of “coefficient of restitution”, in case you wanted to dive deeper into that science. Ironically, they used a basketball as an example!
  • Here’s A.G. Spalding in all of his 19th century glory. The Spalding website has a nifty little history, which is where I grabbed the picture from.

  • Here’s that article from LiveStrong about how Rawlings now makes baseballs with hand-stitching
  • Here’s the full text of Marc Santora’s beautiful New York Times “Wiffleball” article

Learn To Love Baseball Episode #1

INTERNET EXTRAS (!) of Learn To Love Baseball, “Why Should You Bother”, with your host Daniel Student

  • You should buy Take Me Out, its the perfect inspiration read for a fan new to baseball! And NO, I don’t get a cut, I’m just a fan!
  • I am grateful for Tim Urian, who helped me get this off the ground about a year ago.
  • And last, but certainly not least, the incomparable George Carlin and his routine on “Baseball vs. Football”

The Best Season for Second Basemen… EVER?

There is something happening this year that I feel very few people are talking about in the game I love. It started early on when a journeyman switched teams from one that made it all the way to the World Series last year to its rival that looks to be a heavy contender to do so this year. And he just DESTROYED his previous team, all year (see: “Is Daniel Murphy a ‘cyborg’ built to destroy the Mets?“, a NY Post Headline if there was ever a NY Post Headline.) And did pretty well against the rest too. He’s an MVP candidate. And he’s 7TH in WAR (according to ESPN) this year at his POSITION.

Daniel Murphy did play 20 games at 1B this year. A premium position with names like Cabrera, Goldschmidt, Rizzo, and Freeman all having very good years. But no. That’s not the position I am talking about. The position I am talking about has a legitimate MVP candidate in each league, 5 of the top 8 MLB leaders in hits, the leader and runner-up in Batting Average in EACH LEAGUE (AND the second runner-up in the NL), 10 players with over 20 home runs each including the second half LEADERS in each league, 3 PLAYERS in the Top 10 and 5 in the Top 20 in WAR AND Ben Zobrist, Logan Forsythe, Trea Turner, Chase Utley, and Ryan Schimpf, five additional guys that don’t even qualify for any of these statistical feats but are notable in their own right.

Yes, that old offensive powerhouse position… SECOND BASE.

And OK, its 2016, and offensive juggernauts like Kris Bryant are playing a different position every day, and after Cal Ripken in the 80s/90s, and Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in the 90s/00s, a position historically for the small skinny guy, shortstop, has officially gone into a new era with Correa, Bogaerts, etc. So why not 2B?

But wait. Those MVP candidates? Sure Daniel Murphy is a bit on an anomaly, but Jose Altuve is 5’ 6”. Robinson Cano has middle of the order size, but Dustin Pedroia is 5’9”. Those two guys leading the majors in second half home runs? Brian Dozier is 5’ 11”, Jedd Gyorko 5’ 10”. Of course, there are those giants that really in a more traditional era would have been playing another position. I mean DJ LeMahieu, the NL leader in batting average is 6’ 4”, so its not really fair to compare his power numbers to fifty years ago. He HAS smashed 10 home runs so… wait… did I say 10? So wait, the tall guy is leading in batting average and the short guys are leading in home runs? What the HELL is going on?

OK, so numbers are numbers, but what about the reality of their impact. 2B are typically line-up bottom feeders, the number 8 or 9 hitters, and while 10 of them hitting over 20 home runs so far this season is perhaps unexpected, that still doesn’t impress compared to glamour hitting positions like 1B, 3B, and OF in these home run crazy times. So are they REALLY making significant impact?

Well. Let’s meet our all-time class of 2016, shall we. The Top Twenty in WAR at this position, in order.

THE BEST

#1. Jose Altuve, Astros. MVP Candidate. Most hits, best batting average in majors. 20/20 season in HR/SB (and 2nd in AL in SB.) Top Ten in WAR. Hits THIRD on a team fighting for the playoffs.

#2. Robinson Cano, Mariners. Will be Top Ten in MVP voting. 6th in the league in hits. Over 30 HRs. Gonna have 100 R/100 RBI season.  Top Ten in WAR. Hits THIRD on a team fighting for the playoffs.

THE NEXT

#3. Brian Dozier, Twins. Gonna have 40 home runs. 100 R/100 RBI season. Leads AL in 2nd Half HRs and 5th overall. Top Ten in WAR. Hits lead-off (because its 2016 and up is down.)

#4. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. Third in hits. Fourth in average. Top Twenty in WAR. Hits lead-off for the best offense in the major leagues.

#5. Ian Kinsler, Tigers. 7th in runs scored. Top Twenty in WAR. Hits lead-off for a team tied for the 2nd wild card in the AL.

#6. DJ LeMahieu, Rockies. Leads NL in Batting Average. Tied for 3rd in the NL in Runs. Hits second on his team.

#7. Daniel Murphy, Nationals. MVP Candidate. Second in the NL in Batting Average. Second in the NL in RBIs. Hits THIRD on the second best team in the National League.

#8. Jean Segura, Diamondbacks. 1st in the NL in hits, Third in the NL in Batting Average, Third in NL in SB. Hits leadoff.

THE VERY GOOD

#9. Jason Kipnis, Indians. Hits 2nd for the second best team in the American League.

#10. Logan Forsythe, Rays. Hits lead-off. 10th in WAR for 2B even though only playing in 3/4 of a season.

#11. Ben Zobrist, Cubs. Hits CLEAN-UP for the Best Team in Baseball that may break the oldest losing streak in sports.

#12. Jedd Gyorko, Cardinals. Most home runs in second half in National League. On pace to hit around 40 home runs in a 162 game season. Hits 2nd for the would be 1st Wild Card in the National League.

#13. Devon Travis (and Darwin Barney, #17), Blue Jays. Their combined WAR in their platoon would put them just outside the Top 20 in the majors this year for ALL offensive positions. Travis does only hit 9th on a loaded line-up for the AL East leaders.

#14. Neil Walker, Mets. At 23 home runs, one away from career year for journeyman and only has played 113 games this season. Hits CLEAN-UP for playoff contender.

#15. Trea Turner, Nationals. Only player in top 29 in WAR for 2B that has under 200 at bats. IF had played full season would LEAD THE MAJORS in triples by a large margin, in SBs, and 4th in runs. Hits lead off on 2nd Best Team in NL and is second player on this list from that team with the majority of his starts at second base.

#16. Rougned Odor, Rangers. Will have 30 hr/90 r/90 rbi season while hitting fifth for the best team in the American League.

#18. Jonathan Schoop, Orioles. 20+ home run season jumping around line-up for team tied for the 2nd wild card in the AL.

#19. Chase Utley, Dodgers. Decent offense, better leadership for future hall-of-famer in the twilight of his career for NL West leaders. Hits LEAD-OFF.

#20. Ryan Schimpf, Padres. Has only played about half a season, but would LEAD all 2B in HOME RUNS if he had played all year and would be 3rd in the NL. Hits 5th.

To sum up. Of these 20 players, only TWO players (who have platooned at their position this year) regularly hit anywhere out of the top five line-up spots. In 2016, 2B means you are going to be in impactful situations for your team in nearly every game. And these guys have come through.

OK, OK, but won’t next year just be better than this one? Maybe. But this is such a diverse group, it feels like it may just be a special year. Why?

  1. They are diverse. Guys just emerging as potential stars: Turner, Odor, Schoop. Guys entering their prime: Altuve, Segura, Gyorko, Travis, Schimpf. Guys smack dab in the midst of their prime: Dozier, LeMahieu, Murphy, Kipnis, Forsythe, Walker Guys at the end of their prime: Cano, Pedroia, Kinsler. Guys near the end of great careers: Zobrist, Utley. And Darwin Barney.
  2. Guys arguably having career years, not counting rookies: Altuve, LeMahieu, Murphy, Segura, Forsythe, Gyorko, Travis, Walker, Odor, Schoop. SO… HALF.
  3. Future hall of famers in the bunch: Altuve, Cano, Pedroia are sure things. Kinsler and Utley will make their cases. And the future seems pretty open for Turner and Odor to end up there with their amazing starts.

Up and down, every division in every league (with multiple representatives to this list from each), this crop of 2B may never be beat. And nobody seems to be talking about it.