Mookie Betts Was Robbed of MVP

Most of the baseball world saw the AL Cy Young decision Wednesday as a real head-scratcher. In fact, it’s been a while since America has been content with any kind of election results. On Thursday, Major League Baseball gave them something to be very mad about. For the second time in his career, Mike Trout was named AL MVP, but did he deserve it?

This news really floored me. This surprised me because for the first time that I remember, MVP an MVP was decided because of a reputation, not by statistics or value. Mookie Betts took the baseball world by storm in 2016, but his remarkable season was not enough. Mike Trout clearly won this award based on his reputation, because his numbers certainly did not.

Betts’ MVP Pedigree

As we look at the major offensive categories, Betts stands above Trout in all of them. Trout hit a formidable .315 on the season but Betts’ was .318, with 41 more hits. Trout, however, is seen as more of a power hitter. He had 29 homers this season with 100 RBI. Surely, voters must’ve valued his power over Betts’, right? How? Betts hit 31 homers with 113 RBI, with half the season batting in the leadoff spot. Betts also had the edge in doubles, 42-32. Even in the best part of Trout’s game he was not as good as Betts.

Clearly, Betts was more valuable at the plate. That being said, let’s look at the other facets of the game. Trout had the slight edge in stolen bases, but Betts had 57 more total bases and led the league with 359. Also, Betts not only won the Gold Glove for right field, but was voted the best defender in the American League. Trout, on the other hand, did not win a Gold Glove this year. So while Betts was the best defensive player in the entire league, Trout wasn’t even top three.

So I ask, where is Trout more valuable? All-Star votes? Endorsements? Whatever it is, it’s not on the field clearly. Say all you want about WAR (wins above replacement), but regular wins have to pull some weight too. The Red Sox won 19 more games than the dismal Angels this season. On top of that, Betts did all this in playing in one less game than Trout, playing in the best division in baseball, and winning that division. Mike Trout may be your American League MVP, but to that I ask: how do you measure value?

Gold Glove Winner Hanley Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez move to first base from left field was first met with skepticism from Red Sox Nation. Ramirez was doing so badly as an outfielder that many were sure it would be a contributing factor in Hanley’s trade or release after the 2015 season. But Hanley Ramirez has proven his critics wrong as he carries a .995 fielding percentage with only two errors so far this season. So could potential Gold Glove winner Hanley Ramirez maintain this defensive ability in the future?

There are many factors contributing to Ramirez’s newfound defensive abilities. First, heGold Glove Winner Hanley Ramirez wasn’t comfortable in the outfield. “Going to the infield to the outfield is like going to another house,” Ramirez told WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford last April. “I’m back home. I never lost that feeling, of the infield. Ever. Never did. I’m always going to be an infielder.” So right away, Ramirez went into the position with the right attitude.

Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia: Infield Tag Team

Another factor is the Red Sox infield. The team already has excellent infielders, especially with Dustin Pedroia at second base, who no doubt has had a calming influence on Ramirez. With four Gold Gloves and a Most Valuable Player award of his own, Pedroia has been a big part of Ramirez’s success. This isn’t a fluke either. If you look at the .995 fielding percentage Ramirez is currently carrying, it towers over his previous seasons where it ranged from .954 to .983. In his first three seasons alone Ramirez had 72 errors at shortstop. Given that we’re almost to the All-Star break, it’s amazing that Ramirez has only committed two so far this season.

Of course, Ramirez still has to work on his hitting. He’s batting only .275 with five home runs, although he did hit one against Baltimore on June 15th. It was Ramirez’s first home run in over a month and he hit it so hard and far that I don’t think it’s landed yet. So if potential Gold Glove winner Hanley Ramirez can continue playing great defense and get his batting average up then he could be a serious MVP contender.

Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best

More than two decades after playing his last game for the Boston Red Sox, Wade Boggs had his number retired at Fenway Park last night. The ceremony felt long overdue, as Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters in franchise history.

Boggs Was One of Boston’s Best…

Fans and media tend to overrate hitters who drive runs while underrating those who score themBoggs Was One of Boston's Best. He was destined to be under-appreciated, then, for Boggs was one of Boston’s best table-setters, an on-base machine who often put himself in scoring position via doubles (he clubbed 578 for his career). Batting in front of prolific RBI men such as Jim Rice and Dwight Evans, Boggs averaged 100 runs scored per 162 games and twice led the majors.

Everyone knew Boggs was a tremendous hitter, but few understood his true worth as a ballplayer. His gaudy OBPs and plus defense at the hot corner (which wasn’t recognized until later, when he won back-to-back Gold Gloves in his late 30s) made him incredibly valuable. Baseball-Reference defines an MVP-caliber season as one where a player accrues at least eight wins above replacement, which Boggs did every year from 1985 to 1989, yet never finished higher than fourth in MVP voting. Moneyball was still two decades away, and nobody had WAR to tell them he was the American League’s top position player in 1986, 1987, and 1988.

That might not have been the case had he played elsewhere, however. He was helped immensely by Fenway Park, whose Green Monster allowed him to wait back on pitches until the last possible second, at which point he would flick his wrists and stroke another double or single off the wall in left. Nobody did this better than Boggs, who holds the highest Fenway average of all-time at .369. He was most proficient at this before the EMC Club–then called the 600 Club—was erected in 1989, altering the wind currents within the park and making it much less favorable for hitters. It’s no coincidence that Boggs never won another batting title after 1988.

…And Baseball’s Best

Age and the 600 Club caused Boggs to tail off a bit in the early ’90s, but his final year in Boston—1992—was the worst of his career. He slumped to .259/.353/.358 as the Sox sunk to last place. His contract was up and Lou Gorman, Boston’s general manager at the time, let the 34-year-old walk, even though he was just one year removed from a .332/.421/.460 campaign worth 6.4 bWAR.

That proved to be a terrible mistake, as Boggs found a second wind with Boston’s arch-rivals, the New York Yankees. Boggs batted .313/.396/.407 in his five years in pinstripes, making four All-Star teams and helping the Bombers to a championship in 1996—10 years after his previous World Series bid ended in agony. Following his New York stint he returned home to finish out his playing days in Tampa Bay, where he ended his career on a high note by batting .301 and notching his 3,000th hit on his 118th, and final, home run.

Boggs retired in 1999 as one of the five best third basemen in baseball history. His .328 lifetime average is the second-highest of anyone who debuted after World War II, while his .415 OBP ranks fifth among players who have debuted since 1945 and appeared in at least 2,000 games. He was an eight-time Silver Slugger winner, a five-time batting champion, and an All-Star every year from 1985 to 1996. His most impressive accomplishment, however, was batting .401 over a 162-game span from June 9th, 1985 to June 6th, 1986.

Boggs was one of Boston’s best hitters—perhaps second only to Ted Williams—and top third baseman. It’s a good thing he was finally recognized for it.

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Details Catcher’s Life (pt.1)

Doug Wilson’s Pudge explores the life of Boston’s Carlton Fisk, born in Vermont, raised in New England, and grew up to play twenty-four seasons of baseball, first with the Boston Red Sox then with the Chicago White Sox. Fisk is best known for hitting a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park. The win kept the Red Sox alive to play Game 7, but they lost to the Cincinnati Reds. Doug Wilson's PudgeFisk was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000, entering as a Red Sox.

Wilson’s well-written biography (the first one written about Fisk on a large scale) goes into great detail about the catcher’s disciplined upbringing. His tough but caring father taught his son the true meaning of integrity and hard work, which helped Fisk reach the major leagues in 1969 at the age of 22 for two games. After playing in the Red Sox farm system for a few years, Fisk’s break out year in 1972 saw him win Rookie of the Year Honors as well as his first (and only) Gold Glove at Catcher Award.

Doug Wilson’s Pudge portrays Fisk as a quiet but well-determined player who wanted nothing more than to play the game with honor and integrity. Nicknamed “The Human Rain Delay,” Fisk often took his time walking to the mound to talk with pitchers, which frustrating his teammates to no end. In Fisk’s mind though, communication between teammates as well as having a solid plan for the next batter was all a part of winning.

While Doug Wilson’s Pudge goes into great detail about Fisk’s walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Wilson’s extraordinary story-telling abilities extend to his description of Fisk’s rivalry with the New York Yankees’ catcher Thurmond Munson. Fisk and Munson, whose devotion to the game was just as intense, got into a brawl during a game in 1973. Munson crashed into Fisk at home plate in an effort to advance the Yankee runner on base. The fight that followed was the height of long rivalry between the two that had been fueled by Munson’s jealousy of Fisk, who he thought got more attention from the press. Fisk and Munson’s fight, told well by Wilson, will always be known as one of the most intense brawls between the two teams (which says a lot of you consider the long rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees).

Doug Wilson’s Pudge Details Much More About Fisk

Most Red Sox fans probably don’t think about Fisk’s career after leaving Boston to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1981. Doug Wilson’s Pudge, however, keeps it interesting by detailing the prickly yet interesting relationship between Fisk and the ownership that led to his departure in the first place, describing it as one of the most insulting points in Fisk’s career (you’ll have to read the book to find out what happened). Fisk would play for another fourteen years with Chicago before retiring in 1993, being one of 29 players to have played in four different decades. Fisk’s Chicago years included another post-season appearance, as well as a confrontation with NFL and MLB player Deion Sanders at home plate.

Doug Wilson’s Pudge shines best when it expands on the in-depth interviews with many of Fisk’s family members, teammates, and coaches. While Fisk declined to assist Wilson in any way, as he’s a very private individual, Wilson took what he had to work with to craft one of the best biographies of the year.

Dwight Evans’ Number Should Be Retired Too

I was happy when the Boston Red Sox announced that they would retire Wade Boggs’ jersey number 26 this year. Boggs played in Boston for ten years but departed in 1993 for the  Yankees in New York before finally being inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005 with 91.9% of the vote on the first ballot. There’s no question as to whether Dwight EvansBoggs’ number should be retired, but it will only be the ninth number ever retired by the Red Sox (excluding Jackie Robinson’s number 42, whose number was universally retired across Major League Baseball in 1997). When you look at the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals have retired twelve numbers, and the New York Yankees have retired eighteen, it makes you wonder if the Red Sox are being too conservative in choosing whose numbers to retire, especially Dwight Evans’ number 24.

The Boston Red Sox have three requirements for a player’s number to be retired: be in the Hall of Fame, have played at least ten years in Boston, and finish their career with the Red Sox (though that rule has been relaxed in recent years). Only five of the current players whose numbers are retired meet these requirements; Johnny Pesky isn’t in the Hall of Fame, while Pedro Martinez didn’t play a full ten years in Boston and, along with Carlton Fisk, finished his career elsewhere. These exceptions should pave the way for Dwight Evans.

Dwight Evans By the Numbers

Let’s take a look at his numbers. While Dwight Evans isn’t in the Baseball Hall of Fame, his numbers reflect a career worthy of induction. He was a three-time All-Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner, led the league at least once in on-base percentage, runs, total bases, home runs, and walks. He ranks in the top 50 all time in games played (2,606), home runs (385), and walks (1,391). Evans also hit four home runs on opening days in his career, including one on the very first pitch of the season. What Evans might best be remembered for is the unbelievable catch he made in right field during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. Evans robbed the Reds’ Joe Morgan of a possible home run, leading the stunned Cincinnati Reds’ manager Sparky Anderson to say, “It was an outstanding catch. The best catch I’ve ever seen.” Given his offensive numbers, his exceptional defensive skills, and his overall dependability, Evans’ number 24 should be retired alongside Boggs’.

The Red Sox should take a closer look at what numbers they are overlooking for retirement, starting with Dwight Evans. He played his heart out every day he wore a Red Sox uniform and the man deserves no less.

Relying Less on Analytics Will Benefit Players Like Bradley Jr.

John Henry’s recent comments about the team’s reliance of analytics came as a shock to many, especially since the team has employed Bill James since 2003, the father of saber metrics who was made famous by the book Moneyball and its subsequent film.
analytics
The Boston Sunday Globe quoted one scout who, after hearing Henry’s declaration said, “Finally, someone who realizes that human beings play the game, not numbers…” While in many cases analytics has proven to be a very useful tool that owners have used to build championship teams, focusing less on the numbers could bode well for players like Jackie Bradley Jr., whose own numbers do not capture his talent and potential.

Many saw Bradley Jr.’s performance in the 2014 and 2015 seasons as promising but inconsistent. But if you set his numbers aside for a minute, you see a 2014 Gold Glove nomination. In fact, Bradley Jr.’s defense led Red Sox great Bill Lee to say in August 2015 that he reminded him of Willie Mays from the waist down. That same month, Bradley Jr. became one of only eight players to accumulate five extra-base hits in one game. In a match against the Seattle Mariners, Bradley Jr. hit two home runs and three doubles in six at bats as the Red Sox won 22-10. So does Bradley Jr.’s 2015 .249 batting average represent his abilities? I think not. Now that the Red Sox are taking a step back from analytics, there will be opportunities for people to focus more on what qualities Bradley Jr. does posses that can’t be categorized using analytics. This step back will be good for other players like Brock Holt and Rusney Castillo, players whose true potential may be unfairly overshadowed by analytics.

Should We Toss Analytics Aside Altogether?

I’m not saying that analytics should be completely discarded. After all, it played a role in the Red Sox winning the World Series in 2004 after an eighty-six year drought. But focus on numbers, statistics, and projections has done a lot to drain the humanity and excitement out of the game. When I see Bradley Jr. take the field next season, I won’t be thinking about the previous season’s batting average, or what Bill James’ thinks his batting average will be. I’ll be thinking about whether I’ll be lucky enough to see Bradley Jr. make an outstanding defensive play.

Analytics remind me of a story about my time in graduate school. One of my professors told me that the best indication of how well a student will do in graduate school, is to see how well they actually do in graduate school. In other words grades, GPA, and test scores can only do so much to predict how someone will do. Seeing how they actually do in a graduate class is the true indicator of someone’s abilities. With that said, we should follow John Henry’s lead and step back from analytics so that we can focus more on what we see on the field, instead of what we read in a statistical analysis. After all, it’s possible that Bradley Jr.’s performance this upcoming season could blow the lid off any predictions anyone’s made using analytics.