KANSAS CITY — Let’s start with this: Wins Above Replacement – that famous WAR statistic that has inspired so much war in the baseball community – has been manna for Mike Trout fans the last two years. It utterly confirmed what they (me among them) knew about Trout.
1. He was the greatest player in baseball.
2. He was one of the greatest young players in baseball history.
3. He absolutely, entirely and thoroughly deserved to win the MVP award over MIguel Cabrera, despite their differences in the three boring statistics that had been the lifeblood of baseball for too long: Batting average; home runs; RBIs.
KANSAS CITY – Every time Alex Gordon steps to the plate at Kauffman Stadium these days, fans chant, “M-V-P, M-V-P,” which is fascinating on so many levels. Let’s start with the most basic of those.
At the moment, Alex Gordon is hitting .281 with 16 home runs and 59 RBIs. Nothing at all about that looks MVPish. He is not in the American League Top 10 in any offensive category, save hit by pitch. On this Royals team he does not lead the team in batting average, he’s tied with Omar Infante (yeah, Omar Infante) in RBIs, and he has just one more home run than Mike Moustakas, who spent time in the minor leagues this year.
Still, people chant “M-V-P.” And they SHOULD chant M-V-P. Why? Well, I think it really comes down to three reasons:
1. The Royals are having their best season in a generation and what fun is that if you don’t have an MVP candidate?
2. Nobody else on the team is even a remotely viable MVP candidate, save one unusual case.
KANSAS CITY – Some years ago, guess it’s been almost 20 years by now, I wrote one of those columns that I suspect just about every young columnist writes … and later regrets. I’ve written many of those kinds of columns, of course — I believe that comes with the territory of always trying to be as honest as you can. This particular column happened in Cincinnati back in 1995. The Reds had reached the postseason. And those October games were not sold out. There were thousands of empty seats.
So, I ripped the fans.
I mean I ripped the fans good. How could they not sell out an October baseball game? This was supposed to be a baseball town? How could this happen? I don’t remember much of the column because I have repressed it, but I do remember the gist of the ending. It was something charming like, “Cincinnati is where professional baseball began. That’s good because it died here last night.”
You probably know that one of Bud Selig’s big objectives as commissioner of baseball was to even the playing field – that is, to give the small-market teams a chance to contend. A luxury tax was instituted. Wildcards were added to the playoffs. The amateur draft had numerous rules changed. Sure, many people thought it was all a ploy to take money from the players and give it to the owners – and let’s not be naïve, I’m sure some of it WAS a money grab – but I always thought that competitive balance really was an issue close to his heart. Selig had been a small-market owner. He had grown up a small-market baseball fan. He will talk passionately and often about how every fan should have hope on Opening Day – he borrowed that from me, by the way — and I feel sure he believes that.
Funny thing: Here at the end of his tenure, baseball is closer to Selig’s nirvana than perhaps ever before. As Brian McPherson writes in the Providence Journal, the correlation between money spent and winning is at its lowest point in a long, long time. McPherson writes that the correlation right now between wins and money is actually smaller than the correlation between wins and alphabetical order.
Here’s another video essay, this one about tennis.
Almost a year ago, I went to see the doctor for my annual physical – what I have started to call my “’OK, so what medicines do I have to take now?’ visit” – and the nurse took my blood pressure and said five words that you probably don’t want a nurse to say after taking your blood pressure: “Oh, this can’t be right.” It is possible, I suppose, that ‘Oh, this can’t be right,” could be GOOD news, as in “Oh, this can’t be right because it’s so great.” But somewhere along the way, doctor’s visits stopped providing good news, at least in my experience. The best I could hope for was neutral news like, ‘Well, you’re no worse than last year.”
Anyway, she took my blood pressure again, and she looked at the numbers, and she didn’t say anything at all but her face said, “Oh, this can’t be right.” And her feet said, “Um, I need to go get the doctor this instant” because she bolted out of the room at about the speed of ER nurses on television. Within a minute or so, the doctor was in there, and this time HE wanted to take my blood pressure.
Two thoughts clanked around in my head:
1. It’s possible that my blood pressure is high.
2. Man, this is the fastest I’ve EVER seen a doctor, including the time I had kidney stones. High blood pressure seems a pretty good strategy to avoid that annoying and interminable wait in the examination room where there’s nothing even to read.
So, you might know, I work for NBC Sports. And NBC Sports is a television operation. I don’t think I need to go through the amazing roster of broadcasting talent at NBC — you know all the names. Costas. Michaels. Emrick. On and on.
Point is: They sure as heck don’t need me doing television.
But, what the heck, I’m doing some anyway. They have me working with production talent way above my level, and we’re producing some things together. This is all in line with some of the changes I mentioned in the last post — for now I’m doing some 90-second essays that NBC is producing into cool little pieces (the cool part being the excellent work of the producers).
As part of the transition, I’m going to post these videos here on the blog. I’m posting one I did last week on Wrigley Field. Comments are … thoroughly unnecessary. When it comes to my video work, I tend to work out of the George McFly playbook: “What if they don’t like them? What if they tell me I’m not good. I couldn’t take that kind of rejection.”
I’ll just assume the best.
And, oh yeah, there will be another Poscast. I believe.
So, you may or may not (or may) have noticed that production on this site has gone way down. There is a reason for this – well, actually there are a lot of reasons. The main reason is that we have some pretty cool things brewing at NBC Sports that will come out over the next couple of months (well, I think they’re cool) and so things are a bit jumbled right now. This blog will probably undergo a couple of changes in the process – changes for the better, I believe. You’ll see. Anyway, that’s one reason. Once we get through the numerous changes, productivity should return to the previous insane pace.
Another reason is that I’m now working on my book about Tom Watson’s rivalry and friendship with Jack Nicklaus. The book doesn’t have an official title yet (note to self: Come up with a title) so that is taking up a lot of my time and will for a while.
Another reason is that I have started playing tennis again with some urgency. I’ll explain when I get a chance.
Another reason is that … well, hey, you know, there are a lot of reasons.
I do have some things coming – huge piece on the first-place Royals (of course), something Pixifoods, something about my tennis inspiration, something about my the Surface Pro 3.
Oh, and as for the Top 100 – I was going to post a list of the remaining 40 players in my Top 100 but I heard from a bunch of you that you didn’t want me to do that and would rather wait for me to write the full essays on them. So, that will have to wait for a while. I might even take some of your suggestions and build my next book around it. We’ll see where it goes.
When the Detroit Tigers traded Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals back in December for a a middling left-handed pitching prospect and some change, it was, well, baffling. Here we are a few months later, and it’s no longer baffling. Yes, it’s self-destructive. It’s ruinous. It’s loony. It might be the trade that changed the entire face of baseball for 2014. Baffling just isn’t nearly a big enough word now.
Let’s do a quick review:
Last year: The Nationals were sixth in the National League in runs allowed, gave a struggling Dan Haren 30 starts and finished second in the National League East and out of the playoffs.
This year: The Nationals lead the NL in ERA (more than a half run lower than last year), they are six games up in the in the National League East, and Fister is their best pitcher.
Last year: The Tigers were third in the American League in ERA, Fister made 32 starts for them (the Tigers went 18-14 in those starts), and the team won 93 games, won the American League Central and reached the ALCS.
This year: The Tigers are 10th in the league in ERA, Fister’s starts were mostly taken up by since traded Drew Smyly (team went 6-12 in his starts) and the player acquired in the deal, Robbie Ray (1-4 in his starts). Detroit finds itself one and a half games behind the Kansas City Royals.
Before we began talk about why Thursday felt like SUCH a disastrous day for the Kansas City Royals – and, possibly, your hometown team too — we should probably offer two qualifications. One, Major League trades are hard things to pull off. They sound so easy on talk radio and fantasy leagues. But in real life, a thousand things have to come together, enthusiasm has to be spread all over the teams, momentum has to drive forward. Any tiny blip can nix the whole thing. A thousand trades are talked about for every one pulled off … and that ratio goes up exponentially when talking about major trades. Teams may really, really try to pull off a trade and for any number of reasons it just doesn’t happen. So that’s one.
Two, the Royals might not have been able to change their fate no matter what they did. The Royals, it seems to me, are the very essence of an eh-not-bad team. The lineup is average-conscious and cannot score runs. The pitching staff is pretty good but bullpen heavy and it relies heavily on a No. 1 starter who, best anyone can tell, will not be around after this season. A move, even a bold one, might not alter that at all.