With a deep and talented roster, manager Dave Roberts has mixed-and-matched L.A. into first place, with his players all buying in.
*spraypaints Foltynewicz incorrectly on the bumper of my car* “Okay, Cougs, now back this car up over my head. Why are you arguing with me? I see the way you look at me when I burp in public, just back the damn car up over my head! I’m looking for a visual metaphor here!” So, how was your Monday? Mine was just terrific! Not as terrific as Ryan Borucki, apizzarently. On my tombstone it’s going to read, “He died from a miserable September in his fantasy leagues, of course. Dur.” I mean, Jesus Aguilar Christmas Effin’ Christ, what in the holy name! Okay, okay, OKAY! Back to Borucki. Yesterday, he went 8 IP, 0 ER, 4 baserunners, 7 Ks, ERA at 3.86, which is a helluva lot better than Faultywhichwhich! Borucki’s K-rate (6.1), his walk rate (2.8) and his 4.57 xFIP leave piles and piles to be desired. However (throw out everything Grey just said!), the Stream-o-Nator does like his next start a teensiest bit, and I could see streaming him. “Now back up the car!” Anyway, here’s what else I saw yesterday in fantasy baseball:
No MLB team would evaluate a player based only upon his accumulation of traditional, outcome-oriented statistics. But one of the game’s primary mechanisms for determining compensation — the arbitration process — remains rooted in the kinds of numbers that once dominated the backs of baseball cards.
On occasion, that disconnect can boost a player’s arb earning power beyond the valuation of his actual value. Not long ago, for instance, Chris Carter was non-tendered after leading the National League in home runs. More frequently, the good or bad fortune that can skew the arb results simply means more or less money in the pocket of a given player who is good enough that his team will pay up regardless.
MLBTR continues to model arbitration salaries every fall. While there’s always some tweaking, the basic principles remain as they were when the arb projections began back in 2011. For hitters, the key factors — as MLBTR arb guru Matt Swartz ascertained many moons ago — are playing time and power. The accumulation of plate appearances, home runs, and runs batted in are the biggest factors in driving earning power through arbitration, even if those are far from the only things that go into making for a productive baseball player.
While prior years’ performances certainly factor in, we’re focused here on which players have done the most in 2018 to boost their next salaries. It took a few assumptions regarding Super Two qualification to make the list, but they seem rather likely to be correct when that’s finalized.
On to the list:
- Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians: Remember when Lindor was supposed to be an outstanding defender and baserunner with a high-contact profile at the plate? Yeah, he has done all of that and topped thirty home runs for the second-straight season, elevating his game along with his arb earning power in an exceptional campaign. Lindor also has 120 runs and 23 steals.
- Trevor Story, SS, Rockies: Dingers and defense are the calling card for Story, who’s also getting on base at a .340+ clip after a dip last year. Also helping his cause? Story has driven in over a hundred runs and swiped 26 bags, so there are plenty of counting stats for his agents to make into exhibits if it makes it to a hearing.
- Trea Turner, SS, Nationals: It’s a shortstop route at the top. Though Turner has modest power, he’s approaching twenty dingers and forty steals. He also continues to play on a more-or-less everyday basis while hitting at the top of the lineup. Topping 700 plate appearances will be another notable milestone to cite.
- Eddie Rosario, OF, Twins: While he doesn’t deliver eye-popping counting stats and isn’t playing a premium defensive position, Rosario has done plenty in 2018 to boost his arbitration case. Through 589 plate appearances entering play today, he had racked up a .288/.323/.475 slash with a healthy combination of 23 homers, 86 runs, and 76 runs batted in.
- Kyle Schwarber, OF, Cubs: Similarly, Schwarber doesn’t have a gaudy dinger tally for a corner outfielder and has even less to point to in the other counting areas. But he has put the ball over the fence 25 times in just 478 plate appearances.
- Michael Conforto, OF, Mets: It’s hard to fault Conforto too much for what has been a relatively disappointing season in light of his outstanding 2017 effort. Given his serious shoulder procedure, it’s probably a success in the aggregate. And from an arb perspective, he has done fine for himself. With 25 long balls and 69 RBI through a hefty 578 plate appearances, all before a big game tonight, Conforto will earn well.
- Max Kepler, OF, Twins (likely Super Two): Though he hasn’t broken out, Kepler keeps putting up solid numbers that’ll play fairly well in arbitration. Despite a poor .228 batting average, he could end the year with twenty bombs and six hundred total plate appearances.
- Chris Taylor, INF/OF, Dodgers: No, this hasn’t been quite the follow-up that might have been hoped for after an out-of-nowhere 2017 season. But Taylor is still hitting at an above-average rate and might reach 600 PAs. He also has 16 homers and nine steals on the year and could get a boost for playing up the middle defensively.
- Tommy Pham, OF, Rays: The overall output for Pham this year has been solidly above-average, but doesn’t jump off the page for a corner outfielder. Still, he’ll earn especially well given his excellent 2017 season. In 2018, thus far, he’s carrying a .425 slug with 17 homers, a dozen steals, and 53 RBI.
- Nomar Mazara, OF, Rangers: He’s over twenty dingers and will likely reach at least 75 RBI, so Mazara has some of the counting stats you like to see. He’ll also top 500 plate appearances. Though he hasn’t yet taken the next step, his volume of work will pay out rather well in the arbitration process.
- Honorable mention: Matt Davidson of the White Sox is a likely Super Two player who isn’t going to get to 500 plate appearances, so he falls short of making the list. But he still warrants mention since he’s a sneaky pick here as a player who many likely did not know was already at arb eligibility. With twenty homers this year, he’s one away from 50 total on his resume, so he should command a relatively healthy salary despite his low plate-appearance tally and less-than-stellar overall performance to this point in his career.
Tracking all of the eliminations and tickets punched as the postseason nears.
An exciting part of September baseball is watching teams clinch their berths in the postseason and seeing the stories of the playoffs begin to form throughout the month.
Another fun part, for the more cynical among us, involves watching as teams officially get mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, with not even a whiff of Wild Card chances. More and more of which are revealing themselves as days pass on the final march to October.
We’ll be tracking teams who have clinched their spot in the playoffs or been mathematically eliminated from the postseason right here throughout September. You can track it all for yourself right here, but we’re breaking it down in full as well.
Teams who have clinched a postseason berth
The Red Sox are officially the first team to clinch a postseason berth after earning their 99th win of the season on Tuesday, September 11. They haven’t clinched the American League East yet, but with 18 games left on the schedule as of this writing and a nine-game lead on the Yankees, they might not have to wait too much longer for that. Barring a historic collapse we would be writing about for years and years, anyway.
For a third straight season, Cleveland is the AL Central champion, and the first MLB team to clinch its division in 2018, wrapping things up on Sept. 15. The Indians are the cream of an otherwise rancid crop in the AL Central, with Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber and the gang putting up stellar seasons to lead Cleveland into October again.
Teams mathematically eliminated from the postseason
The Orioles were always going to be in this section, we knew from the beginning of the season that they would be bad. Maybe we didn’t know they’d be more than 50 games back of the division lead bad but they weren’t playoff bound from the start. Rough times in Baltimore.
Also rough times in Kansas City, although at least the Royals tried a little more than the Orioles in the offseason. It wasn’t to be though, and they barely contended before falling into the Lost Season bin.
The Padres definitely tried, signing Eric Hosmer in free agency and trying to put a contender together in the potentially wide open NL West. Even though four of the five teams in the division were in the race past the halfway point of the season, San Diego pretty much never was.
Even with the added push of motivation that is Adrian Beltre’s potential last year in baseball, Texas couldn’t get to the postseason. They’ll hope he comes back for one more try next season, but in the meantime they’ll have to settle for Joey Gallo crushing baseballs but no postseason appearance.
At least White Sox fans got to see Michael Kopech pitch? An Eloy Jimenez sighting, and a playoff spot, will have to wait for next year though.
Most Tigers fans could have predicted this at the beginning of the season, but here it is anyway. The team is in a fallow period but hopefully they’ll start spending again soon. Otherwise, another year of this looks likely. The AL Central was woeful but not even the low bar to win the division was enough for the Tigers to make it in.
Given the new ownership’s rocky first offseason, which involved gutting payroll and trading away arguably the best outfield in baseball, the expectations in Miami were super low. At 56-84, the Marlins can avoid 100 losses by winning at least seven of their final 22 games, so that would be some sort of silver lining at least.
With Los Angeles (78-65) and St. Louis (79-64) meeting for four games next weekend, the second NL Wild Card spot is guaranteed at least 81 wins. That’s too rich for Cincinnati, who entered Sunday with 82 losses. Run prevention was the killer again for the Reds, dead last in the National League in allowing over five runs per game, ensuring a fifth straight losing campaign.
Another team who were basically out of the postseason as soon as the season got rolling. With the Red Sox and Yankees all but locking up the top two spots in the division from the jump, Toronto didn’t have much of a chance to make the postseason even if they were good. Which they were not. They also didn’t call up Vlad Guerrero, Jr. despite multiple chances so we’re not not happy about them falling short of the postseason. Justice for Vlad.
After becoming the first team ever to make the playoffs one year after losing 100 games, Minnesota fell back to Earth this season. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton were young pillars of a productive Twins lineup in 2017, especially in the second half. But 2018 has been disastrous for both, with each optioned to the minors, plus Buxton not getting called up in September so the Twins could game the system and get an extra year before he qualifies for free agency down the road.
Mike Trout is still Mike Trout, and Shohei Ohtani has been amazing both at the plate and on the mound. But not much else went right for the Angels in 2018, including Ohtani tearing his UCL and needing Tommy John surgery. Injuries on the pitching staff were killers, putting a damper on the postseason hopes in Anaheim.
The Giants seemingly did everything right at the beginning of the year. They had a solid rotation in place. They traded for Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria to boost their offense without having to give up anything backbreaking in return. And yet injuries and an underperforming offense has them here. Years like this happen, and what’s important is that this proves the binding pact they made with the devil for Even Year Bullshit is beatable.
Raise your hand if you’re surprised. Okay, put your hands down you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The Mets had a promising first month and then were either a farce or a train wreck the rest of the season depending on what day it was. So, a normal year for New York then. It’s unfortunate, and Jacob deGrom and the fans in Queens have our sympathy, but in no way is this shocking.
The Cincinnati Reds will be happy to see the back of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich this season. With a triple in the bottom of the sixth inning Monday night, Yelich completed his second cycle of the 2018 campaign…
Christian Yelich became the first player to hit two cycles in the same season against the same team.
Nationals manager Dave Martinez has drawn his fair share of scrutiny over the course of the season, but Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes that his job appears safe for the time being. General manager Mike Rizzo recently said he hasn’t considered a scenario where Martinez doesn’t return, and Janes reports that Nationals ownership deferred to Rizzo’s statement when she asked the Lerner family for comment on the matter.
More broadly, Janes speaks with more than a half dozen Nationals players (and has lengthy quotes from most) who vouch for Martinez. Shortstop Trea Turner and outfielder Adam Eaton are both adamant in their praise for Martinez, while veteran reliever Sean Doolittle describes the manner in which Martinez’s communication with the bullpen has continually improved over the course of the season. Janes points to the strong praise for Martinez from his players as proof that he has not lost the clubhouse, noting that former Nats manager Matt Williams was unable to maintain this level of support in a disappointing 2015 campaign.
Some more stray notes from around the league…
- Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire announced to reporters today that his entire coaching staff would return for the 2019 season (Twitter link via MLive.com’s Evan Woodbery). That’ll include Rick Anderson returning as the full-time pitching coach — a position he assumed after the Tigers abruptly dismissed Chris Bosio earlier this season in the wake of allegedly racist remarks toward an employee. Anderson, who was Gardenhire’s pitching coach in Minnesota, had previously been the team’s bullpen coach. Lloyd McClendon (hitting), Phil Clark (asst. hitting), former Tigers player Ramon Santiago (first base), Dave Clark (third base), Steve Liddle (bench), A.J. Sager and Joe Vavra (quality control) round out the Detroit coaching staff. Their returns aren’t entirely surprising, as owner Chris Ilitch recently expressed his pleasure with the current direction of his team’s rebuilding efforts.
- Mets infielder Jose Reyes acknowledges that it has been a trying season, but says he’s still not sure he’ll hang up his spikes this winter, as Enrique Rojas of ESPN reports (Spanish language link). It sounds as if Reyes still has the desire to keep going, but also the appropriate perspective on his situation. “When you spend 15 years in the big leagues,” he said, ” it’s obvious that you start thinking about retirement, because we’re not eternal, but right now my physique is one hundred percent. It’s something I’ll think about with my family after the season.” There’s little question that the veteran switch-hitter would be a candidate for a minor-league pact, despite his ugly .196/.268/.332 slash in 235 plate appearances this year, though his prior suspension for alleged domestic abuse could well keep many organizations from showing interest and it’s not evident whether the Mets will ask him back.
- For some, the decision to step away from the game isn’t a permanent one. That may be the case for former MLB reliever Frank Francisco. Per MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez, via Twitter, the righty is at least weighing a Dominican Winter League return. Though he recently turned 39 and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2014, Francisco says he’s already working in the lower-nineties with his fastball. It remains to be seen whether the ten-year MLB veteran will even try to make it back to the bigs, but we’ve seen plenty of unlikely stories in the past.
The Dodgers have activated a trio of relievers to augment their bullpen down the stretch. Lefty Tony Cingrani and righties John Axford and Yimi Garcia will all head onto the active roster, as Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times tweets.
Though the Los Angeles bullpen has actually been quite good of late as a unit, it had some notable struggles before that point and still features a fair bit of uncertainty. With work still to be done to reach the postseason, and playoff roster spots potentially at stake thereafter, the returnees will be most welcome.
In particular, Cingrani looks to be an intriguing (re-) addition to the relief unit. The southpaw has only a 4.84 ERA in his 22 1/3 innings, but has compiled an impressive 36:6 K/BB ratio. He also owns a career-high 13.9% swinging-strike rate, carrying over the leap he exhibited in 2017.
As for Axford, a summer trade pick-up, his first game with his new club was a complete mess but he came back for two effective appearances thereafter. Unfortunately, he has been on the shelf now for over a month. But there were obviously reasons that the Dodgers targeted him — his still-speedy heater and typically hefty groundball numbers perhaps chief among them — so the club still has cause to hope they’ll get some value.
As for Garcia, he had been on optional assignment after struggling with injuries and performance for much of the season. The 28-year-old has still not gotten back to the impressive form he showed as a rookie way back in 2015, with health problems — in particular, Tommy John surgery — limiting him to just 44 1/3 professional innings since that campaign. Garcia has thrown 17 2/3 minor-league frames without allowing a walk and while recording 18 strikeouts this year.
All of these hurlers will be pitching for their own benefit as well, of course. Cingrani and Garcia are both eligible for arbitration. For the former, padding his innings totals will help boost his payday; for the latter, it’s still unclear whether he’ll be tendered, though cost won’t be a factor since he’ll be extremely affordable. As for Axford, who’ll return to free agency at season’s end, his showing will be of particular importance.
Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong is disappointed that his younger brother, Kean, didn’t get called up by the Rays this season, calling Tampa Bay a “bad organization which doesn’t give chances to guys who deserve chances.”
Starting with Ronald Acuna and Juan Soto, who’s in the midst of a historic season, Jim Callis ranks the top rookie players under 25.