Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...

Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sports. Show all posts

Sal Frelick

 Sal Frelick is one of those guys that just has to be underrated. He is a small man, but he has the bat skills of a goddess and the speed to go with it. I always feel like there is some notion that "ceiling" is based on tools. I believe it to be the exact opposite. Your floor is based on your tools; if it turns out you can't really process the game at the MLB level very well, then maybe your tools will allow you to run into a pitch every once in a while and make some solid defensive plays. Think of Nomar Mazara: the dude sucks, but he has some pretty big power and solid athleticism. What does this do? It doesn't make him a "boom or bust" player, it makes him a slightly below league average player. 

O'Neil Cruz is the prime example of this. He is considered "boom or bust". Well, what happened in 2022? He hit 233/294/450 for a 106 wRC+, played poor shortstop defense, and ended with a 1.2 WAR in 87 games. Is that a boom? Certainly not. Is that a bust? Certainly not. He was literally league average. (I'm not saying Cruz is a league average player, or that he doesn't have a pretty good future outcome, but the point is that he was neither terrible nor good.) Where is the "boom or bust" part of this? The reality is that Cruz isn't a particularly skilled baseball player, but he is a 6'7" behemoth with a cannon of an arm, historic raw power, and blazing fast speed. These tools increase his floor, because in the flow of the game, they allow him to make enough plays such that he can provide some amount of value. For Cruz to "boom", his tools don't have to click. It's the soft skills that have to click.

Anyways, this is why I think the whole notion that guys like Sal Frelick don't have a high ceiling is just bizarre. Look at Dustin Pedroia. The dude was an absolute midget without much power, but he had a very good feel for the game and played with good effort. He was around a 6 WAR player at his peak, which is absolutely incredible all things considered. Sure, maybe to be among the literal best players ever like Bonds, Mays, Trout, Ohtani, etc., you need insane tools along with great baseball talent. However, you can be one of the top players in all of baseball without the ideal package of tools that scouts look for. 

So, Sal Frelick. He only gets a 50 FV tag on FanGraphs, which basically implies that he is destined to be a league average player on average. The Bat (Always use The Bat for projecting lower level players, Steamer is fucking stupid and trains on a selected sample(I think). Steamer has him at a 111 wRC+, which is astoundingly absurd) has Frelick projected to be a mid 90s wRC+ hitter, which with his center field potential and strong baserunning, would make him around an average player. This is for his rookie season. I used to have my own projection system that could project player's careers, but I lost it, so I can't run his future prognostication. However, from my memory of that system, if you start at a projected 93 wRC+, you will probably peak at around 100-105. This would make Frelick an easy 55 or 60 level player, and this is just the median outcome based on a minimally selected sample. So, just based on his minor league data, Frelick should at least be a 55.

What I will concede is that the scouts tend to not believe that Frelick does have breaking potential in the power department. However, I don't know exactly how reliable this belief is, just because it is very subjective. Maybe there is no impending power breakout for this man, which a system like The Bat can't truly factor, but I just don't know. I'm ending this article on a lazy note because I am bored with it.

One of the best offenses ever missed the playoffs...

 The Houston Astros have transformed themselves into the premier franchise in all of MLB, consistently reigning atop the league since their emergence in 2015 (yes, 2015. They were the 2nd best team in baseball that year. Literally. Look at the SRS rankings for 2015. The Blue Jays were 1st by far, and then the Astros were 2nd. They just had a tough schedule and lost a lot of close games. You could argue the Royals were better because run differential undersold their winning ability due to their excellent bullpen, and they had made the world series the year before, so their success was somewhat sustainable. However, this is completely irrelevant to the article and do not need to turn this into a completely different article.*) Anyways, this was not always the case. Their tanking efforts in the early 2010s are well documented, but the events leading up to those dark days are often ignored. 

From 1997-2005, the Astros made the playoffs 6 times (back when making the playoffs was a challenge), including a 102 win season in 1998 and a World Series trip in 2005. They were led by Hall of Famers and lifelong Astros Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, but they had many lesser known cameos from other star players. The list of these players includes but is not limited to Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Carlos Beltran, Ken Caminiti, and Luis Gonzalez . They also were supported by other more homegrown talent such as Billy Wagner, one of the best relief pitchers ever,  Lance Berkman, Mike Hampton, Octavio Dotel, and Roy Oswalt. In this stretch of consistently great baseball, Houston had just one losing season. This year happened to be their year 2000 season, the first of the new millenium. Let's talk about it.

The 2000 Astros A lineup, in my own opinion, is as follows:

Position: Player, age (triple slash)

C: Mitch Meluskey, 26 (300/401/487)

1B: Jeff Bagwell, 32 (310/424/615)

2B: Craig Biggio, 34 (268/388/393)

3B: Ken Caminiti, 37 (303/419/582)

SS: Julio Lugo, 24 (283/346/431)

LF: Lance Berkman, 24 (297/388/561)

CF: Richard Hidalgo, 25 (314/391/636)

RF: Moises Alou, 33 (355/416/623)

Just from looking at their stats alone, you can tell that this lineup was insane. For those of you who don't know who Mitch Meluskey is, he was an uber talented rookie who ranked 43rd in Baseball America's top 100 prospect list the year before. He also was a massive bitch. For example, he punched his teammate in the face because he didn't want to wait in line for the batting cage. After his excellent rookie campaign, he got injured, played a handful of more games a few years later and then retired. Complete waste of talent. While this might be the case, his rookie season was excellent and, at this point in time, he was an excellent player.

First baseman Jeff Bagwell needs no introduction. He was a bonafide hall of famer, and his excellent 2000 season was arguably one of his weaker years during his prime. As for second baseman Craig Biggio, 1998 likely marked the end of his hall of fame prime and at this point, Biggio was more of a B tier stud having a down year. Former MVP Ken Caminiti, who had returned to Houston after dominating NL West teams in San Diego for many years, was at the end of his rope, but still absolutely raked in around the 60 games that he participated in. Then, at shortstop, we have a rookie Julio Lugo, a very solid but frustrating player that was good but was never very consistent. We can't say the same about Lance Berkman, also a rookie, who absolutely raked and would proceed to have one of the best offensive careers the MLB has ever seen. In center, we have Richardo Hidalgo, a guy who had two absolutely absurd seasons (2000 and 2003) and some decent seasons in between. He likely wasn't as good as his 2000 and 2003, but likely not as poor as the rest of his career. Definitely a great player, on average. And finally, in right field we have Moises Alou, a man who peaked in his late thirties and was one of the most exciting players of the late 90s and early aughts. 

This was their best lineup, and while the team as a whole wasn't quite THAT good, Astros batters ended the year with a collective 288/372/497 triple slash good for an 870 OPS and 938 runs scored (had they been in the American league with a DH, their run total would have been even higher). In comparison, Guardians third baseman Jose Ramirez, who finished 4th in AL MVP voting in 2022, hit 280/355/514 for an 869 OPS. Imagine, throughout an entire season, injuries and all, your average hitter is the equivalent of a top of the line MVP candidate. Then, imagine playing through that entire season, and going 72-90. That's right. A team with an 870 OPS, chock full of hall of fame talent in their prime, won 72 games. How did that happen?

The obvious answer is pitching. The Astros allowed 944 runs and had a 5.42 staff ERA. Remember the pitchers I mentioned earlier? Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettite, Mike Hampton, Octavio Dotel and Billy Wagner? Well, only two of those pitchers were on the 2000 team. Billy Wagner was already established as one of the best relievers in baseball, and he finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 1999. However, kind of like Josh Hader in 2022, he absolutely fell apart for a short stretch of time, posting a 6.18 ERA in 27 innings before getting surgery on a torn flexor tendon. He returned to form in 2001, and remained a premier relief ace until his retirement after the 2010 season. Octavio Dotel, originally called up as a starter, was absolutely horrendous in his first season in Houston. He pitched 91 innings as a starter to the tune of a 5.84 ERA. Of course, the Astros made him their closer late in the year, and he was much stronger the rest of the way, striking out 13 batters per 9 innings and maintaining a very solid for the era 4.24 ERA. Over the next 3 seasons, Dotel was one of the best long relievers the league has ever seen. However, for 2000, his performance still left something to be desired. 

Jose Lima was another massive disappointment for this pitching staff. After an excellent 1999 in which he racked up 246 innings to go along with a 3.58 ERA, 3.76 FIP, and a 125 ERA+ en route to a 4th place cy young finish (tied with his teammates Billy Wagner. Mike Hampton, another Astro, finished 2nd that year before being traded to the Mets in a package that landed Houston Octavio Dotel. What a team. They won 97 games.), Lima was awful in 2000, posting a 6.65 ERA over 196 innings. His career went downhill from there, as he eventually pitched for the Detroit Tigers. 

The rest of the pitching staff was rather insignificant, and this article isn't about them. Dwight Gooden pitched a crisp 4 innings for this team in his final season before heading to the AL East, first joining the Rays and sucking, and then joining the Yankees and actually pitching quite well. He logged some innings in the playoffs, including an inspiring 4 run outing over 1.1 innings in the Yankees 11-1 game 4 loss to the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS. Truly incredible stuff. 

So, the 2000 Astros were quite good, but they also weren't. They did a good job rebuilding their pitching staff after this atrocity. Ironically, their 2005 world series season came with a massively over the hill Biggio and Bagwell duo on a team that scored just 693 runs. Of course, they had Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettite, and Roger Clemens all having incredible seasons, leading to 89 wins and an eventual national league pennant. This old and beat up roster is what caused the Astros to descend into baseball hell, before ascending into baseball heaven where they currently reside. I'm not really sure how I want to wrap up this post so I guess this is it.

*on top of all of this, the 2015 Astros easily had the most sustainable long-term roster, which is very relevant here. This was the year before Altuve truly broke out and became one of the best offensive second basemen ever, but he was still established as a bonafide star. Carlos Correa established himself as possibly the best shortstop in baseball at the modest age of 20. George Springer had broken out as something of a late bloomer. The rest of the supporting cast was a bit unrecognizable but still solid, and then their young pitching staff had finally broken through. The 2016 season was really wacky and in hindsight was one of the most wasted seasons of talent ever, but they were still the 11th best team in baseball despite the horrendous performance from their depth. This is completely irrelevant to this article but I love writing about baseball lore.

Tom Brady did it again

 As the wise old adage goes, "Never count out Touchdown Tom." This is something I, as a massive Tom Brady fan, continue to ignore despite his consistent ability to prove me wrong. As a younger fan, it took me until Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and Seahawks to truly count out Touchdown Tom. This is because my first full experience watching Tom Brady was his historic performance in the Patriots 59-0 blowout win over the Titans in 2009. My second full experience that I remember was his demolishing of the Denver Broncos in the 2011 playoffs to the tune of a 45-10 victory. I think he threw a total of 10 touchdowns in the first half of both games. The Patriots would proceed to play the Giants in the Super Bowl that year. Down 21-17 with just a few seconds to go in the game, Brady and his guys set up for a hail mary. At this moment, I fully expected Touchdown Tom to do what he does best, and throw a touchdown. Instead, his attempt fell incomplete and I was heartbroken. However, at no point in time did I count him out.

When the Patriots were down 24-14 against Seattle in the biggest game of the year, I had experienced enough playoff failure at this point to believe that they might just lose. Of course, Tom Brady simply did not allow this, leading two masterful touchdown drives against the most talented defense of all time en route to Super Bowl MVP and his fourth ring. So, a few years later when the Patriots trailed the Falcons 14-0 in the second quarter of Super Bowl LI, I was not worried. But then, Brady threw a pick six. And then the Falcons led off the third quarter with another touchdown, putting Brady and the boys down 28-3. Feeling defeated, I went home from my grandparents house where I was watching the game. Then, in a moment of great fortune, I decided I had nothing against the Falcons and thought it would be nice to see them wrap up their first Super Bowl win. I turned on the game and it was 28-12. Brady proceeded to hit Danny Amendola for a touchdown, and then followed that up with a successful 2 point conversion. Just a few drives later and the game was tied at 28. In overtime, Brady surgically led his random cast of characters down the field for a game winning touchdown. I had learned my lesson yet again: never count out Touchdown Tom. 

I didn't count him out when he trailed the Jaguars 20-10 in the subsequent AFC championship game. Down 38-33 against the Eagles in the Super Bowl, I fully expected him to lead the game winning drive. When he didn't, I was in shambles, but I ultimately chalked it up to bad luck. When he threw that game losing interception (which wasn't his fault anyways) against the Chiefs in the next season's AFC championship game, I didn't believe it was game losing. The Patriots still had 3 timeouts, and there was still 50 seconds to go. One stop, Brady gets the ball back and leads a quick touchdown drive. Easy. Of course, Dee Ford's goofy ass was offsides, so we didn't even have to go through that mess. The Patriots scored, and then Brady converted three consecutive 3rd and longs in overtime to win the game. Easy.

I did count out Touchdown Tom vs the Titans in the next year's wild card game, but I was more just counting out the rest of the morons that played around him, because they fucking sucked. Throughout the Buccaneers struggles in 2020, I never thought they were not the best team in football. And then they won the Super Bowl. When the Buccaneers trailed the Rams 27-3 in the divisional round last year, I did count out Touchdown Tom just a bit. Why? Because Von Miller was being a bastard man. However, Tom still led the fucking comeback and tied the game at 27. 

This year, I've counted him out many times. I counted him out against the Rams, the Saints, and almost the Cardinals (I didn't really believe he would lose to Trace McSorley, but he was pretty damn close). He led clutch drives in all of them. Then, yesterday happened. Brady, at age 45 going through easily the worst season of his career, determined enough was enough. After a year of horrible offensive performance headlined by an awful run game and a depressing lack of big plays, Brady started bombing it to Evans. And it worked. In the most important game of the year, in the NFC South championship, Tom Brady had one of the best games of his career. Why? Because he is the fucking GOAT. That's why. 

All Time "Breakout" Seasons

 What would you define as a breakout? Me, personally, would say a breakout is when a player with a baseline of X performs well enough that he establishes a new baseline, Y, in which Y is significantly greater than X. How would this be measured? I don't know. The best way to do it is probably by taking a reliable projection system and then looking at how a player improves in the eyes of said projection system over the year. That's the easy way out, and it's not what I'm looking at today. I just wanted to establish this before I go ahead and accidentally mislabel these seasons as "breakouts". Which seasons, you may ask? I decided to take every player's back to back season since 1947, and take the difference. So, if a player had 0 WAR in year 1 and 15 WAR in year 2, that would be a 15 win improvement, which is a lot. 

Here's an example as to why I wouldn't necessarily consider these seasons to be a breakout: Manny Machado played 156 games in 2017 and amassed a mere 1.7 fWAR. In 2018, he posted a much stronger 7.0 over 162 games. Does this mean Manny broke out? Well, he put up 6.6 WAR in 2015 and 6.2 WAR in 2016. He was previously a superstar prospect who was very highly regarded throughout his career. In 2017, he had weirdly poor defensive numbers and, at the plate, had significantly stronger statcast numbers than actual results. The fact of the matter was that he was still a truly elite player that just had a freak down season, and that his 2018, while maybe not entirely expected, was more of a pleasant surprise than a breakout. He kind of did the same thing in 2019 and onward, except his excellent 2020 happened over just 60 games. Point is, that isn't really a breakout, but it is still interesting. Let's proceed.

Here are the top 5 "breakouts" since integration. For context, each of these players had over 400 plate appearances in the previous season. This removes guys like Willie Mays and Mike Trout who just entered the league and were immediately amazing, and instead focuses on established starters who improved their on field performance significantly.

Let's start with Norm Cash. While this was just his second full season in the majors, the Tigers first baseman was already 27. Cash followed up a great rookie season with one of the best seasons the league has ever seen. He hit 361/487/662 good for a 1.148 OPS and a 201 OPS+. His 10.2 WAR was second in the league to Mickey Mantle's 10.4. He finished just 4th in AL MVP, as this also happened to be the season that Roger Maris socked 61 dingers. Mantle probably should have won MVP, but in the moment, it would have been hard to give him the hardware over his teammate who just broke the home run record and led the league in RBIs. This isn't about Mickey Mantle, so I digress. The Tigers won a whopping 101 games but missed the goddamn playoffs because those fucking Yankees, led by Mantle and Maris,  won 109. Pre-division series MLB was an unforgiving world. Anyways, Cash never really came close to his 1961 heights for the rest of his career, but he was still a fantastic hitter until the ripe old age of 40. In no small part due to his 385/433/500 world series slash line, the Tigers took home a World Series championship against the Cardinals. His 2 out single to right field against the legendary Bob Gibson sparked the 3 run rally the Tigers rode to victory in game 7 of that series. At age 37, he posted a 149 OPS+ and finished 12th in MVP voting. To be quite frank, he should have gotten a lot more hall of fame consideration than he did.

In fourth place we have Mike Schmidt. In 1973, Schmidt was a small 23 year old child who struggled severely with strikeouts. His strong defense and power output gave him a respectable WAR total, but 1973 Mike Schmidt was a tiny infant compared to what he would later become. Schmidt, who I believe to be the best home run hitter since integration (he led the league in home runs 8 times. Barry Bonds only did it twice. Hank Aaron four times. Steven Kwan has never done it.), followed up a passable rookie season with one of his finest.  He led the league with 36 home runs (this meant a lot more than 36 homers today), posted a 158 OPS+ and played god tier defense at the hot corner. The Phillies won just 80 games, which partially explains why he didn't win MVP. He ended up taking home MVP honors twice later in his career, so it all works out. 

Side rant time: Apparently, this random motherfucker named Mike Marshall pitched 208 innings OUT OF THE BULLPEN in 1974 and ran a 2.42 ERA. What an absolute god. This is why I fucking hate the reliever adjustment in war. Who gives a fuck that he came out of the bullpen? Why does that make him less valuable? It makes no sense. The rWAR calculation for him basically decreases the league average ERA for him by 0.34 just because he was a reliever. This is illogical. Obviously relievers used to have lower ERAs, but they also pitched way less!! Innings are innings! This motherfucker pitched 208 innings and had a 141 ERA+. Why did he only have a 3.2 rWAR?????? IT MAKES NO SENSE!!!! 

Anyways, Mike Schmidt (no relation to Wally) also led the league in strikeouts that year (he did this three other times, what a beast). I hate to compare players to Joey Gallo, because Gallo is something of a buffoon and isn't very good. Schmidt is like the old fashion Fernando Tatis Jr., a god tier infielder who does nothing but slug. Tatis is probably the best non roided (oh wait, nevermind. Whoops!) shortstop ever and Schmidt is hands down the best third baseman ever. I love them both.

At number three we have Bret Boone, the man who perfectly represents the 2001 Mariners. The Mariners were a great team that year, but should they really have won 116 games? Bret Boone was a solid player, but should he really have had 7.8 WAR? Unlike Cash and Schmidt, Boone was kind of just a random dude who drifted around the league. He was 32 at this point, having only 2 seasons with above average offensive production. Then, all of a sudden, the guy hits 331/372/578 with 37 home runs and leads the league in RBIs. He finished third in MVP, behind Jason Giambi and his teammate Ichiro. As we all know, the Mariners won 116 games off the back of easily the best position playing performance in MLB history (their offense was fantastic, hitting for an 807 OPS and scoring 927 runs, but they also supported their pitching staff with god tier defense). I would say that Boone's breakout season was somewhat legitimate, as he had two more great seasons afterwards (3.9 and 7.4 fWAR, accordingly). Steroid accusations were thrown around by Jose Canseco, and while they honestly might be true, his claims don't hold up under any further examination. He literally claimed that Boone and him had talked during 2001 spring training, despite Canseco having not played in spring training that year. Truly bizarre. Still, this kind of late career breakout is certainly very fishy. I guess we'll never know.

Our favorite political commentator Aubrey Huff, who has me blocked on Instagram, slides in at number 2. Unlike these other guys, Huff had previously established himself as a very good first baseman. He had a plethora of good seasons with the Rays, and then had another excellent 2008 campaign with the Orioles. Then, for whatever reason, his 2009 was truly disastrous. It's rare to see a player bad enough to post a -2.1 WAR also get enough playing time to do so, but it happened. Why? I don't know. Figure it out yourself. Whatever the reason for his regression was, Huff was released by the Orioles and also sucked for the Tigers before becoming a free agent. The Giants proceeded to sign him, and he had far and away the best season of his career. Why? I don't fucking know. Maybe he was drinking adr*nochr*me. (THIS IS A JOKE! I AM MAKING FUN OF AUBREY FOR HIS SILLY POLITICAL VIEWS! I DO NOT SUPPORT THIS CONSPIRACY!!) Whatever it was, it didn't last, as he was awful in 2011 and 2012 before retiring and becoming a based and redpilled Twitter user. 

At number one, we have Matt Kemp. This is a weird one, kind of like Manny Machado but to a much larger extent. Kemp debuted in 2006 at age 21 before breaking out in 2007 and becoming a full time low level star in 2008 for the Dodgers. After an excellent 2009 season in which he led the 95 win Dodgers with a 4.9 WAR, Kemp had a down season in 2010. From a normal fan's perspective, his 2010 wasn't too terrible. His average went down, but he still hit 28 home runs and his OPS was still above the league average. The issue was that his defense, which had earned him a gold glove the year prior, was genuinely atrocious, and despite a 106 OPS+, he was a replacement level player. Then, he flipped this horrible season on its head with a truly incredible 2011 campaign that ended in a 2nd place MVP finish. He hit 324/399/586 in a very pitcher friendly Dodger stadium, played significantly better defense (he won a gold glove, which is a little questionable but I'll let it slide) and stole 40 bases. He was just one homer shy of 40 bombs, which would have put him into the 40-40 club. Shame. Should he have won MVP over Ryan Braun? Maybe. Is Ryan Braun based for taking steroids? Yes. I digress.

So, were these seasons breakouts? Norm Cash and Mike Schmidt's were both very conventional breakout years for second year players. Cash's represented a productive ceiling, while Schmidt's was just the beginning of one of the best careers the MLB has ever seen. Boone's breakout season was a genuine late career breakout that was sustained, while Aubrey Huff's was more of a temporary return to form. Finally, I firmly believe that Kemp was just evening out his awful 2010 and nothing more. He followed up his near MVP season with 3 seasons that were almost a perfect average of his 2010 and 2011 seasons. This fits into my theory that most "breakouts" are just additional information that alter the player's career baseline, rather than establishing a new baseline then and there. 

American League MVP Sleepers

 As I talked about in my national league article, there is nothing more fun than scanning through the betting odds for sporting awards. Sometimes you'll see something really silly (like Kyle Schwarber being one of the top favorites for National League MVP) or sometimes you will find a hidden gem (Steven Kwan was +7500 to win rookie of the year last year. Sure, he didn't win, but he finished third. He probably had something like the 50th best odds. I bet a lot on both him and Julio (along with some on Adley after his midseason breakout) and made a lot of money on Julio. Point is, Kwan +7500 was an all time value.) Let's look at the current preseason odds for 2023 AL MVP and see if there are any goofy lines/hidden gems.

Jose Trevino +30000

There is a zero percent chance that Jose Trevino wins MVP. Not a 0.1% chance, not a 0.01% chance, a 0% chance. He simply does not have the skillset to have an MVP level season. He is a very good player and is arguably better than certain players who do have the skillset to breakout to an MVP level, but he simply does not have the ability to do so on his own. It's crazy that he has better MVP odds than Corbin Carroll.

Danny Jansen +30000

Unlike Trevino, Jansen certainly has a path to win an MVP. It would start with a significant injury to Alejandro Kirk that allows Jansen to maintain full time catching duties. This is not necessarily a likely outcome, but is is certainly a plausible one. I see Jansen as an offensive threat with a very strong all around skillset and a high ceiling. Is he one of the very best catchers in the league? No, but he certainly has that capability for a breakout. He has the defensive chops to at least variance his way into an excellent season, and he would be in the middle of an excellent lineup. Again, these are 300 to 1 odds, and I'm not saying the guy is a superstar. If you're a Blue Jays fan who isn't too fond of Alejandro Kirk for some reason, then this might be a fun little bet to toss a few bucks on.

Steven Kwan +25000

As much as I love Steven Kwan, I think he simply doesn't have the ability to win an MVP. +25000 odds might still be worth it, but it just doesn't seem probable at all for me. Let's put it this way: Steven Kwan has a significantly higher chance of being a hall of famer than being an MVP winner.

Riley Greene +25000

Riley Greene, on the other hand, seems like excellent value at +25000. The guy had a solid age 21 season, good enough that it inspires confidence for me without being good enough that it inspires the oddsmakers to move him the front of the line. The guy is a star center field prospect with all of the skills needed to breakout if he puts things together. Surely he would win once every 250 years.

Randy Arozarena +15000

There was a time that I would be chomping at the bit to throw down money on Arozarena. He certainly has the raw ability to become a true MVP player, but at this point, the guy is 28 and is just as frustrating as ever. He is still an excellent player, but his defensive and baserunning lapses make it hard to believe that he has a true shot at MVP. Still, once every 150 years doesn't seem too improbable. 

Gunnar Henderson +10000

Gunnar is the AL's version of Corbin Carroll. Truly excellent player that is already established despite still being a rookie. The oddsmakers respect him a bit more than Corbin, but I still think Gunnar easily wins this award once every 100 theoretical years. A superstar breakout season with plus defense at the hot corner for a blossoming Orioles team is exactly what the MVP voters ordered. 

Teoscar Hernandez +7500

I do NOT think this is a good bet. I'm a little confused as to why Teoscar has better odds than Randy when they are extremely similar players, with the exception that Randy is younger and better. 

Jose Altuve +7500

The dude is coming off of one of his best career seasons and has 75 to 1 odds? Yes, please. The playoffs are a concern but c'mon now. I think Altuve is a guy whose quality as a player exceeds his chances of actually winning an MVP at this stage in his career, (not unlike Steven Kwan), but 75 to 1 for one of the best players in baseball is too juicy to pass up.

Adley Rutschman +2500

This isn't exactly a steal, but the dude has MVP written all over him. One of the best prospects we've seen, has an incredible rookie season, and is poised to follow it up with an exceptional sophomore year. Buster Posey won an MVP very easily, and Adley has a good chance to be on that level. Him winning once every 25 years seems like easy value.

Shohei Ohtani +200

The rest of the guys are solid bets, but Ohtani is the real value here. The dude just put up 9.0 and 9.6 rWAR in back to back seasons, and it just feels like his best is yet to come. His competition isn't nearly as stiff as you would think (Judge obviously took home the award last year, but it's hard to see him performing like that again. No one else is really built like that at the current moment, at least with Trout's massive injury concern.) In my opinion, he should be the odds on favorite every year until we have to ask whether or not he is in his prime. For now, especially with the shift being banned, this should be a no brainer. With the pitch clock and banned shift, Ohtani could easily pitch 150 innings of plus plus ball, steal 50 bases, hit over 300 and hit over 40 home runs. No one is winning the award over him unless they literally break a mainstream record yet again. 

ranking hall of famers

 Discussion over Hall of Fame candidacy is always interesting, but I think things often get a bit subjective. For the sake of simplicity, I will not be ranking these Hall of Fame candidates based on their Hall of Fame merit, rather their pure merit as a baseball player that contributes to winning. I will not be considering factors like playoff performance, general impact on the welfare of the game, etc., despite the fact that I believe that said accomplishments do matter for a hall of fame candidacy. 

The most simple way to rank players is to look at them at their peak. By peak, I do not mean the season in which the player produced the most. For example, in 2010, Josh Hamilton had a fantastic season. He put up a 175 wRC+ in 133 games and played good corner outfield defense, good for an 8.4 fWAR. Was Josh Hamilton really an 8 win player? Of course not. His fantastic 2010 was bookended by some very nice seasons and one very mediocre season in 2009, which is a strong indication that his 2010 output was a result of overperformance in a small sample. A much more reasonable look at his true talent would be his statistical production from 2007-2012, in which he posted a 135 wRC+ and 25.1 fWAR in 737 games. His regression after the 2012 season is much more easily explained by aging (among other things). I won't define a player's peak in some strict window, like looking at a player's best 7 year stretch or his production from ages 24-30. I will try to just use context to identify when changes in production are much more easily explained by genuine drop offs/improvements in player talent. 

Tier 1

Alex Rodriguez

"True" WAR/150 Estimate: 8.4

Probably the best prospect of all time, ARod debuted at age 18.  He struggled a little in his first few stints in the majors, and was sent down to Tacoma where he absolutely dominated. In classic ARod fashion, he came back to the MLB at age 20 and hit a smooth 36 home runs, hitting at 59% above the league average and putting up a 9 win season. ARod really was the perfect baseball player. You can't ask for much more than a shortstop with monumental power, great defense and fantastic control of the plate. 

In order to estimate ARod's true peak, I will have to do some mixing and matching. His defense fell off considerably after being traded to the Yankees and moving to third base. Some of this has to do with age, and some has to do with the fact that he wasn't a natural third baseman. I want to evaluate him as a shortstop, so I will just look at his defensive performance pre-trade. His offense is a slightly different story. While he started off with a bang at the plate, he wasn't quite as good in the next 3 seasons. Don't get me wrong, he was still one of the best players in all of baseball, but he wasn't quite that guy. Given a significant spike in walk rate at age 24, a very reasonable breakout age, I would say that his offensive peak began in the year 2000. He had his final MVP season in 2007 before slightly declining in 2008. However, since I don't want to cherry pick too much, so I will include his 2008 season when I quickly get a snapshot of his production. Combining his defensive and offensive peak will basically be an evaluation of how good he was around 2002.

From 2000-2008, ARod hit 305/401/591 in 6233 plate appearances. Given average defense and baserunning, this would make him a 6.8 WAR/150 guy. Looking at some hazy total zone numbers and more accurate UZR numbers, he was probably a +5 defender at shortstop. With the positional adjustment at short, let's just say he was a +12 defender. He was also a nice baserunner, probably worth around 3 runs annually. 

Post-Roid Barry Bonds

"True" WAR/150 Estimate: 12.1

When Barry Bonds was consuming a balanced breakfast, no other player since integration touches him. Not Willie Mays, not Mike Trout, no one. From 2001-2004, Bonds walked 30% of the time and struck out just 9% while posting a comical 0.460 isolated power in 2443 plate appearances. This was all good for a 232 wRC+. The dude's offensive output was 132% higher than the league average. Despite his old age, he was an above average corner outfielder (still below average overall on defense) and broke even as a baserunner. Everyone knows just how good Barry Bonds was after he started taking steroids, but it is always fun to revisit. Bonds' performance did slow down after 2004, but he was 40 years old and dealt with a lot of injuries, so I think it is fair to say that his 2001-2004 stretch is very close to how truly good he was. He also had probably the best pure playoff run in MLB history in 2002, slashing 356/581/978 in 17 playoff games, almost single handedly carrying the Giants to a ring. 

This will be expanded on. 

Listing Tier 1 MLB Players

 The goal here is simple: I have a system in which I used to evaluate baseball players. It isn't very well fleshed out, but I have generally figured out things towards the top of the pyramid. Most of the best players in MLB at the moment are tier 2 players: Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., etc. Aaron Judge was a guy that I'm pretty adamant about being tier 2; given his recent performance, that might be subject to change. A tier 2 guy is a bonafide annual MVP contender that could be the best player in the MLB if there is ever a lack of a tier 1 guy. Tier 1 guys are rare; if you read my Chase Utley article, think of the guys that I put him next to. Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Trout, those kinda guys. Yes, Chase Utley was a tier 1 player. Entering this year, I believed there was an unusual amount of tier one guys in the MLB. Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., and Juan Soto. 

Given Trout's depressingly concerning injuries, I might have to drop him to tier 2 in the near future. For the moment, he falls to the bottom of tier 1. I can't let him drop any further. Ohtani can stay where he is, because he is awesome. Tatis also stays, as I'm not as concerned about his injury issues. The shoulder(s) are terrifying, but it's not like he has a "rare back condition". His broken wrist was a matter of him being a dumbass off the field, and should be completely fine pretty soon. Heading forward, Tatis is the best pure position player in the league. I believe that wholeheartedly. Ronald Acuna Jr. is a different story. He is still certainly a cream of the crop talent, but the struggles coming off of a torn ACL are enough of a red flag to drop him. Remember, tier 1 is reserved for all time great talent. I'm willing to excuse Acuna's struggles this year, and if he returns to form in the near future, I'm happy to move him back up to tier 1. For now, he slides to the top of tier 2. Juan Soto is interesting. His corner outfielderness combined with mediocre baserunning make it such that he can't have "slumps" like he had for much of the first half this year if he wants to remain in tier 1. He is easily the most magical hitter in recent memory, and I'm hoping that playing in a more competitive environment in Sunny San Diego will boost the "small stuff" (defense/baserunning) while allowing him to access his god tier power more often. It's a little strange that he doesn't hit better than he has (which is crazy, given his 150ish wRC+), but his ceiling as a hitter is unlimited. This leads me to a caveat about my tiers.

Here's the thing about three of those guys: Tatis, Soto, and Acuna had unprecedentedly good starts to their careers, but said starts happened to coincide with this silly little virus causing some issues. The lack of a full 2020 diminishes the historical dominance of their careers, and it sucks. They were all in the zone that year, and a full season of that performance would inspire more confidence. They all followed that up with incredible 2021 seasons, launching them into the historical stratosphere. Acuna might have been the best of the three(eh, maybe not), but he went and fucked up his knee, and now he is certainly the worst. Tatis' injuries have also lessened his accomplishments. Soto is the only individual with a relatively clean bill of health, and he has suffered through confusing power outages despite his obvious raw power and incredible plate control. My point is that I'm doing a little projecting on these guys, and there is a lot of uncertainty. They (outside of Tatis, who is) aren't necessarily better in the moment than a few of the tier 2 guys, but their potential is too good. 

Now it is time to go back in time, and identify who the tier 1 guys were. Let us begin. Not all of these guys are tier 1, but rather guys that deserve some discussion.

Mookie Betts (Yes, barely):

Entering 2018, Mookie was a high end tier 2 guy who did all of the small things phenomenally well while providing solid offense. He proceeded to have the most prolific (in terms of WAR) season since Barry Bonds, and followed that up with a slightly disappointing but still elite 2019. His 2020 with the Dodgers basically sealed the deal on his tier one status, just before injuries knocked him out of that tier for me. Betts might be making a bid to reenter tier 1 given his incredible performance so far in 2022. Given his injuries/worsening athleticism, it is my belief that we should be patient before adding him back to tier 1. He wasn't exactly a bonafide tier 1 guy when he was in tier 1.

Alex Bregman (No): 

Bregman's power outage is a modern tragedy. He never had great raw power, but he was able to leverage a juicier ball en route to a historic 2018-2019 stretch of dominance. Back to back 8 win seasons is nothing to scoff at. However, given that he might have been a beneficiary of something outside of his control, and that he only lasted for two years before regressing to being just an "excellent" player, I can say with a moderate amount of confidence that he wasn't as good of a baseball player as his production would indicate during the 2018-2019 sample. He deserves recognition for back to back MVP caliber seasons, but he isn't a tier 1 guy.

Aaron Judge (Yes): I've been an Aaron Judge skeptic. His career rate numbers are inflated by the fact that he debuted at age 24, a time in which many players are starting to enter their prime. His 2017 was obviously excellent, but it can be attributed to an unprecedented skillset being poorly handled by opposing pitchers. Pitchers "figured" him out, to an extent, and his performance from the 2017 all star break to 2020 was merely fantastic, and not otherworldly. Combine this with a smorgasbord of injuries, and there was no way in which one could confidently say this guy compares to the all time greats. In 2021, his production was on the level of his 2018-2020, but he was a little different. Judge came up as a super powerful, terrifying figure in the box. This hasn't changed. What has changed is the nuances in his hitting ability. Despite still being pretty erratic in 2021, Judge demonstrated some hope. Then, in 2022, he has done nothing short of blow the league out of the water. This will likely be his second straight fully healthy season, and his improved "hitterishness" has allowed him to incessantly terrorize opposing pitches with his greek godlike power. Combine that with the fact that he has effectively manned center field, and it's hard to not say that he has ascended to tier 1, at least for the moment. Will he age well? I have no idea. Where will he sign? If he ages well, hopefully not the Yankees. If he doesn't age well, hopefully the Yankees. The guy still has a lot of question marks, but that's more about the future. In the moment, he is a tier 1 player. Still not as good as Tatis, though.

Jose Altuve (No): I love Jose Altuve, and he deserved his 2017 MVP. He is one of the best second baseman of all time, and is currently the best second baseman in the league. However, he just isn't a tier one guy. He was a mid 6 win player that has dominated the postseason, he is a first ballot hall of famer, and he is one of the best players of his generation. I'm bringing him up because I am going to name every MVP winner that isn't an obvious no. 

Cody Bellinger (No): Cody's 2019 campaign was one of the most promising seasons in recent memory. After a great rookie season and a disappointing but solid sophomore campaign, Bellinger had one of the best age 23 seasons that you will ever see. He combined his incredible power with fantastic plate control, murdering pitchers with his violent swing. His plus defense and positional versatility didn't hurt. He followed that up with a weak, but still great looking shortened 2020. At that point in time, I was not particularly concerned for him. Then, just one year later, the dude had a negative WAR. His already noisy swing, which was an asset when it worked, was out of wack. Things have improved this year, but he is not exactly Tony Gwynn in the box. His 2019 was tier 1 worthy, but given his wacky mechanics and lack of supporting seasons, and I can't go out and say that he was ever among the best players ever. 

Christian Yelich (No): Yelich's mid 2018 breakout was a sight to behold, and he rode that wave until a broken kneecap cut his MVP worthy (yes, he should have won) 2019 short. His breakout was allegedly caused by a minor swing tweak, but I'm always skeptical of these massive power breakouts that fizzle out. Yet again, I can't say that he was ever one of the best players ever.

Buster Posey(Yes): Catchers are a little different.

This article will be finished later (maybe)

In defense of Derek Jeter

 Derek Jeter is easy to pick on. His quick ascent to prominence, amplified by playing for the Yankees, made him a prime target for whose career to be picked apart. And a lot of the criticisms are valid. Even I was very amused when his hall of fame unanimity fell one vote short of becoming a reality. However, people will tend to go way too far when criticizing the hall of fame shortstop.*

The first thing that needs to be addressed is his defense. It is well known that Derek Jeter has the "worst" defensive runs saved total of all time. Defensive runs saved only spans back to 2002, so "all time" is a bit of a stretch, but you get the point. The next logical jump from hearing that statistic is as follows: if he has allowed the most runs on defense of anyone ever, then he must be the worst defensive player ever. This is a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw. That is, it would be a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw if you were an Irish R&B singer whose knowledge of baseball consists of nothing but the notion that scoring runs is good, and that stopping the other team from scoring is bad. You hear that this player is allowing the other team to score more than anyone else, so naturally, he is the worst defensive player. Again, this is a reasonable conclusion to draw if you know very little about the game of baseball. If you're a fan, someone who watches baseball somewhat generally, you should at least question this notion a little.

Who would you rather have at shortstop: Derek Jeter, or David Ortiz? Derek Jeter, or Adam Dunn? Derek Jeter, or Vince Wilfork? You get the point. Vince Wilfork was actually an excellent defensive player, but unfortunately for the Jeter haters, he played a different sport. Adam Dunn and Ortiz are two guys whose careers spanned the post DRS era, and they both had a higher DRS than Jeter, but were obviously inferior defenders. A lot of this might have to do with Ortiz being the Red Sox full-time DH, but Adam Dunn played the outfield for much of his career. The difference is that Dunn played the corner outfield, a significantly less stressful defensive position with a much lower demand for defensive talent. What a lot of people seem to misunderstand about metrics like DRS, UZR, and OAA is that they are position-based. Jeter's -253 career fielding runs (as measured by total zone pre 2002 and DRS post 2002) are relative to the league average shortstop. The league average shortstop is an excellent defensive player. Jeter was a really bad defensive shortstop, but he was not a terrible defensive baseball player. People used to understand this a lot better, but I think that a fundamental misunderstanding of modern day analytics has lead to some misrepresentation of the game. 

This article is unfinished.

*Around the middle of 2021, I saw someone compare Derek Jeter to Keston Hiura. Keep in mind that this was just some prick on twitter, but I'm sure people have similar ideas about him. 

Brad Hawpe

 Remember Brad Hawpe? If you weren't a devout Rockies fan in the Tulo era, then probably not. But off-brand Marty McFly was a pretty fun little player. He played in a better era of baseball, in which hitters were not blatantly cheating but still had the upper hand of their counterparts on the mound. A late bloomer, Hawpe peaked from his age 26-30 range after limited playing time in his first two seasons. In that stretch, over 585 games and  2338 plate appearances, the sweet swinging lefty hit 288/384/518 for a 902 OPS. Unfortunately, this excellent 902 OPS comes out to just a 124 OPS+ due to the Coors field park adjustment. Coors Field was actually at its "low" in terms of measurable hitter friendliness around this time. There are a few explanations for this, the main one being the humidor installed to increase drag on baseballs after 2004. However, I would also theorize that this might have just coincided with an era of Rockies pitchers that were effectively tailored to suit Coors Field, but that's just me. Hawpe peaked at the same time that the Rockies peaked as a franchise.

Defensive runs saved was not a fan of his work in right field during this stretch. Per DRS, he cost the Rockies -56 fielding runs from 2006-2009 and that is not even counting the hefty positional adjustment penalty placed on corner outfielders. UZR was not any kinder to him. This defensive atrocity prevented Hawpe from being even a league average player despite his consistently excellent offense.

Here's the thing: Rockies outfielders have often been absolutely atrocious by measures of defensive production. Although some of this can be attributed to the Rockies ultimately being a poorly run organization that doesn't develop talent very well, it is reasonable to assume that the comical Coors Field outfield proportions combined with the altitude makes defense at Coors a tricky endeavor. I don't know how much evidence there is to truly support this. The reason one would believe this is just because DRS and UZR are fairly simple measures that track simple batted ball data, but this isn't the case for Statcast's Outs Above Average measure, which very much incorporates fielder positioning and catch difficulty.  I expected the Rockies to rank very poorly in terms of outfield DRS and UZR but decently well in terms of outfield OAA since 2016. Instead, the Rockies are 24th in rPM (plays made, DRS' measure of range), 14th in RngR (UZR's measure of range) and 28th in OAA (statcast's measure of range, since it doesn't incorporate arm performance anyways). So, unless OAA is even more biased against teams with cavernous outfields, then that level of anecdotal evidence doesn't mean much. I could always derive my own OAA using public statcast data, and then compare the Rockies home/road splits in that time, but I'm currently working on something else and am too lazy to do so.

Anyways, Brad Hawpe. Maybe he wasn't that bad of a defender. It is worth pointing out that the data has improved since the late 2000s, and DRS especially is more reliable these days. Hawpe was still a smooth ass hitter who walked a lot and peppered the gaps. He also hit a home run in the world series. Mike Trout has not. Curious. 

What's up with Tom? (Brady)

 As a devout Tom Brady supporter, it goes without saying that this season has been distressing. The Buccaneers offense has been an absolute travesty, and Brady looks as bad as he has ever been. Unfortunately, I don't think this is just a scheme issue. Brady is clearly worse; while he is taking fewer sacks than ever, his pocket mobility is clearly deteriorating to the point that he struggles to buy time to push the ball downfield. Furthermore, he is certainly missing a lot more throws than he used to, and his arm, while still good, is no longer the absolute cannon that he once had.

However, not all of this is on him. The Buccaneers passing offense is actually 11th in total expected points added per pro football reference, which absolutely shocked me when I looked that up. Their issue is an utterly abysmal run game, one that is somehow the worst on a per rush basis despite also having the fewest rushes in the league. This is truly incomprehensible. The run game is ultimately still on the quarterback to some extent, and Brady's inability to open up the lanes with his deadly passing ability that he used to have is certainly an explanatory variable for all of this nonsense. However, it could also be concluded that a lot of this is more of a scheme/coaching issue.

The "nerds" have often posited that "establishing the run" is not a truly impactful strategy that alters the efficacy of a passing game. I would counter to this, having not actually read the backup to their claims in quite a while, that although it might not be measurably obvious, an effective run game can certainly open up the passing game. Do I have any proof of this? No. However, it is still true. If Brady does go to the 49ers next season, which seems excitingly likely, I would fully expect him to thrive. Of course, I expected him to do much better in Tampa than he has. Sure, he won a ring, and sure, he should have won an MVP, but I was thinking that the Buccaneers offense would be unrivaled. Instead, they were simply elite. Some of this has to do with the fact that Tampa Tom simply wasn't as good of a QB as late career Patriots Tom, but a lot had to do with coaching as well. Byron Leftwich, bless his heart, is not a good offensive coordinator in any form.

I'm not really sure what my point is. Brady is leading the league in attempts by a comical margin, and is still mustering some passable efficiency. The Bucs issue, outside of Tom not being the motherfucker he once was, lies more within the 1.5 yards per carry they're getting from their run game. It's weird to say that a team's issue is their run game (it probably still isn't, it's probably still Tom's fault) but it might just be true. I find it interesting that, whenever it is crunch time, the Buccaneers offense is an unstoppable force. Brady has led at least 100 different game tying TD drives late in the 4th (although they were often punctuated with failed two point conversions that were quite necessary) this year, and the offense always looks deadly when it matters. However, it fucking sucks otherwise, and it confuses me to no end. Whatever. Yet another blog to add to my resume. 

Corbin Carroll MVP? Early examination of the odds

 Scanning through preseason betting odds is a truly entertaining way for me to spend my time. Juan Soto is the favorite at +600, meaning that he has probably around a 10% chance at the award (the break even rate is 14%, but I'm assuming there is a lot of juice here). Second place is Mookie Betts at +800, and then Fernando Tatis Jr., despite being sidelined until April 20th because the MLB is not based, is third at +1200. I believe that Tatis should probably be the favorite every year until he dies, but I understand why he isn't this year. For one, he won't be playing shortstop; the lack of defensive opportunities diminishes his chances of racking up a really high war. For another, he won't be active for all 162 games. This is arguably not a huge deal for a guy like Tatis, who would probably get injured at some point anyways and could use the lessened workload. My concern for him is rust, but still, at +1200 I think that is an easy bet. He is far and away the best player in the national league when he is actually on the field, so he should certainly win over 8% of the time in this economy. This isn't about Tatis, though.

This is about Corbin Carroll. The Diamondbacks rookie is +40000 to win MVP, meaning that he would have to win once every 400 years in a theoretical simulation in order to break even. In comparison, Ryan McMahon of the Colorado Rockies is +25000. So is Nick Madrigal. And Miguel Rojas. I digress.

Carroll was, in my opinion, last year's top prospect when he was called up. All he did was rake, as he hit something like 260/330/500 with truly excellent defense and baserunning. A lot of his offensive success was due to his fantastic speed, and the batted ball data isn't as promising, but that isn't really too important to me at this stage. The solid production he posted in his limited debut is just a launching pad for a true age 23 breakout that could shock the league.

I'm not saying that Carroll should be one of the favorites to win the award. Obviously there is not a huge record of success for rookies in the award; only two have won it, with one being Fred Lynn in 1975, and the other being Ichiro in 2001. I would point out that the sample is really small, and the voting is way different now than it was back then. A breakout rookie in the olden days was likely to be completely ignored by reporters, but things are obviously changing. Voting is becoming more and more objective as sabermetrics brainwash the average MVP voter. If the voting were done today, I don't see how Mike Trout's excellent 2012 rookie season doesn't take home MVP honors. Even though Aaron Judge didn't really deserve MVP in 2017 due to his atrocious clutch performance, he still probably wins it if the voting is done today.

There are also rookies that very certainly could have won if the context allowed for it. Albert Pujols' 2001 rookie campaign could have definitely taken home some hardware in weaker years, but he had to deal with Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa at their peaks. The only player at that level in the national league right now for me is Tatis, but he is obviously a massive wild card this year. Obviously guys like Soto and maybe Mookie or Acuna could ascend to that level in a fringe scenario, but the point is that the field is relatively weak at the moment. Corey Seager finished third in his ROY campaign in 2016, although that was a fairly weak field and he wasn't a genuine threat to supplant Kris Bryant for the award. Fernando Tatis Jr., if his fielding was more refined, could have definitely won the 2019 award had he stayed healthy and led the Padres to a wild card spot (this is something of a fantasy world stretch for me, but like, it's certainly conceivable). Carroll is already a super refined fielder, and already put up 112 plate appearances under his belt, so he is more of a super rookie than a rookie. He is also 22, which is older for a rookie of his caliber, which should be to his advantage. 

Carroll could have a superstar level season on an up and coming team in a relatively weak NL. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the pitch clock will allow Carroll to steal as many bases as he wants. Imagine if the exciting rookie hitting 330/400/550 while playing elite center field defense also has 100 stolen bases? (again, this is a bit of a fantasy and it assumes that the shift ban and the pitch clock significantly boost offense) That is an MVP right there, a perfect storm. For 400 to 1 odds, that is one of the easiest bets you can make. I currently have $5 on it, and I might throw down just a bit more because of how juicy it is. 

Why are NFL teams scoring more?

The National Football League is the most popular professional sports league in the United States and has a strong grip on American culture. Due to its immense popularity, many statistics and other various pieces of data have been meticulously collected since its inception. Said data has gotten more and more detailed over the years as technology and fan interest have both improved. Simultaneously, the game of football itself has, at the highest level, changed immensely over a very short period of time. This is best reflected in the alterations in league wide offensive success, also known as the scoring environment. The scoring environment of a league is best defined as the ease at which an average offense can score points. The changes seen in the NFL are often controversial amongst fans. Older fans will lament that their favorite players of yore had to play against tougher defenses, while newer fans will cite misleading raw statistics that favor modern players due to the nature of today’s game. Attempts to quantify the environmental changes in the league are often ignored by the vast majority of fans, but it is something that fascinates me and should fascinate you as well. 

In order to examine these alterations, I utilized a package in the coding language R titled “nflfastR” in order to quickly scrape play by play data for the NFL. The function “load_pbp” in the package automatically scrapes yearly play by play data from the NFL verse data repository. The data contains an observation for every single play recorded in the NFL since 1999. It contains 373 variables for each play, giving me an immense amount of detail if need be. The data was already in tidy format. However, it was not necessarily in the format I needed in order to examine certain things. I performed various transformations on said data, grouping by different variables depending on what I wanted to look at. 

In football, the goal of the team in possession of the ball is to accumulate yards as they advance towards the end zone. If the team reaches the end zone, they are awarded six points, with point after attempt that could potentially (and very likely) make it seven. If a team is unable to score a touchdown within the amount of tries allotted, they can either kick a field goal to earn three points, or if the kick is too long, they can punt the ball to the other team. This simple set of rules have been played with by coaches doing all they can to gain a competitive advantage. Over the years, NFL teams have gotten smarter and more effective in ways they can move the ball in an attempt to score points. This is reflected in the significant increase in league wide scoring since 1999.

Teams as a whole have been scoring more points as time has passed, with the exception of the ongoing 2022 season, a season in which offenses have been mysteriously anemic. There are a few explanations, including a rule change allowing defenders to make more contact with offensive players, and stronger defensive strategies. Still, overall, there is a significant upward trend. The next thing I looked at is whether or not this trend is a league-wide phenomenon, or if it is driven by a change in behavior by a certain class of teams.

This graphic demonstrates a quantile time series regression meant to answer this question. Each data point is a single team in a single season. Based on the percentiles used, it looks like there has been a consistent league wide increase in scoring. The best and worst offenses are both improving at similar rates, indicating an environment change that equally impacts all types of teams. The next thing to consider is how certain offensive strategies are impacting the game.

The graphic above visualizes the league average efficacy of pass and run plays. A pass play is defined as a play in which an offensive player, usually the quarterback, drops back with the intention of throwing a forward pass. These include sacks, plays in which the passer is unable to actually throw a forward pass because a defender tackled them for a loss of yards. These are still considered pass plays, as the team had the intention of executing a forward pass. Rush plays are plays intended to gain yards without throwing a forward pass. They can be handoffs, pitches, or designed quarterback runs. If a quarterback runs on a designed pass play, it is not considered a rush play. As time has gone on, teams have started running the ball less frequently in favor of putting the ball in the air. This is a fairly intuitive trend to expect, as pass plays average considerably more yards. Football is a complicated sport, and there are nuances to the play types that prevent teams from simply throwing the ball every time, but the general tendency as teams gain in information is to throw the ball more. Despite an increase in throwing volume, throwing efficacy has not gone down. This could be due to changes in offensive strategies, rule changes allowing offensive players to get away with more, and other important factors. On the flip side, as teams run the ball less, they are experiencing more success in the run game. An increase in average yardage on both run and pass plays is a clear potential cause of this league wide increase in scoring. However, as seen in the graphic below, league pass rates have plateaued in recent years.

Similar to league scoring, all kinds of teams have experienced substantial improvements in both their rushing and passing success. The worst, average, and best offenses have all tended to improve over time both on the ground and through the air. This further supports the relationship between the increase in yards per play and the increase in points scored.

The increase in rushing yards per play can be mostly attributed to the fact that teams are running the ball less frequently, per the law of diminishing marginal utility. However, if this is the case, then how is passing becoming more effective?

The chart above shots the average depth of target and the average yards after catch. Depth of target is a self evident term that measures how far down the field a receiver is when the quarterback targets him. Yards after the catch is also a self evident term, as it measures the average yards a receiver gains after catching a pass. This data only goes back to 2006, when tracking data became more sophisticated, but it still shows a clear trend. Teams are tending to throw fewer deep passes, and yards after catch has stagnated. If teams are throwing the ball shorter, but not gaining any more yards after the catch, then how are they gaining more yards overall? The key difference is the significant increase in completion percentage, the rate at which a forward pass is caught by a wide receiver. While depth of target has gone down with little increase in yards after catch, quarterbacks are completing considerably more passes and this is allowing for a significant boost to their yards per attempt. 

Based on the data presented, the current league tendency with the passing of time is to experience a boost in offensive performance. It is difficult to determine the specific causes of this boost, as there are a massive amount of different factors that influence the game of football. However, I did find two key drivers of the increase in offensive success: higher rates of passing, and higher rates of completed short passes. The higher rate of passing allows for more efficient rushing, while opting for the more effective play type more often. The higher rate of completed short passes helps keep the average yards per attempt high, allowing teams to move the ball more. There is a lot more nuance that can be examined further, but these are seemingly the two biggest factors driving this offensive boom in today’s league. 


NFL Dataverse Repository

The Office: Cringe Comedy Quantified

The competition I analyzed was an August 2018 r/dataisbeautiful contest involving a raw dataset of every line in the office. The data had the season, episode, scene, quoted character, and a text string of their line, along with a unique id for each line. It looked like this:

Reading the data into R was not particularly difficult, as I just downloaded the google sheets file as a csv and then read the csv into R. One aspect that was a bit more difficult was creating a new column titled “word count” whose function is self-evident. I accomplished this using the R function 

office_lines <- office_lines %>%


         words=lengths(gregexpr("\\W+", line_text)) + 1)

which counted the amount of word separators and added one to get a final word count. This allowed for, in my opinion, a more specific analysis. This way, a 5 minute Michael Scott rant is valued differently than a disdained one word line from Stanley. For all of my charts, I used word count instead of line count due to this exact reason.

The first graphic I critiqued was the interactive chart showing how often every character talked. The visualization was just messy, and I didn’t think the interactive part added a ton. It was cool how it showed the most common lines by each character, though. The issue is that the only dots that can really be appreciated are the Michael dots, and they are placed randomly across the circle. Visually, it just doesn’t do much.

I believe my version is superior because it demonstrates the portion of words that were spoken by each character more effectively. I’m not a huge fan of pie charts, but I think the order is much clearer and presents data a lot better. One issue was that, since I made it interactive by season when you hover your cursor over it, I couldn’t actually label each slice by the individual character. If I figured that out in time, I would have, because it isn’t very visually appealing to have to check the legend if you want to know which character is which.

This chart was easily my favorite concept, but it had a few flaws. I love the fact that it attempts to quantify the impact of each character. Even if there are obvious issues with this approach, it is probably the best that can be done with this data. That said, I didn’t like a few things. For one, it only includes episodes that the character appeared in. This makes no sense! If you had x episodes, and a character was gone for half of them and those episodes were a lot worse, wouldn’t it be something of a reasonable conclusion to say that that character was very valuable to the show? Zero words spoken is still an amount of words that should be factored. The other issue was displaying the R2 value instead of the R value, because R2 is always positive and therefore doesn’t show whether or not the trend was negative. This is important in this context because we want to know if the character has a positive or negative effect.

I basically did the same thing as this guy but with the necessary changes outlined. As you can see, the R value for Michael Scott goes way up, because the show got dramatically worse after he left. I also believe that my chart is a little cleaner and nicer to look at.

This was easily the best chart, because it perfectly answers the question that needed to be answered and left nothing out. I have the one small issue with characters who fell out of the top 10 still getting a continuous line connected to their next top 10 appearance, and Andy’s picture is really stupid. I also don’t like how Andy led the entire show in lines in season 8, that is just tragic. There was not much I could do to improve upon this chart, so I instead made one with a completely different concept. 

This is a time series chart showing both the IMDB episode rating and the portion of words spoken by Michael Scott in that episode. I like this concept because it shows two different valuable time series at the same time. Although the two y variables are different and this creates confusion, they are somewhat related and create an interesting look into their relation. However, since they are still truly scaled differently, things can be improved. 

I think it was Eli who suggested scaling the data so we could see a stronger relationship. I had thought of this, but I didn’t have the mental energy to execute this idea after already being done with my work. However, it was much easier than I thought, and I think it shows a pretty strong relationship between the two variables. The obvious downside here is that we take away a quantitative meaning from each variable, but the upside is that we still get to experience the visual time series effect while also seeing a pretty strong relationship between the two variables. The exception is obviously towards the end of the show, when Michael was gone, because generally speaking, series finales tend to get very high ratings if the show has a passionate following. Outside of this blip, there is a very clear relationship between how often Michael spoke and how highly the episode was regarded.

Hall of famers

Some guys that might not get the hall of fame consideration they deserve. I'm not including guys like Bonds/Clemens, not because they're off the ballot, but because they were obviously good enough on the field and everyone agrees with that. There is an order within each tier. I will come back to this periodically to actually explain my perspective. 


Chase Utley-read my article on Chase Utley. Scroll down a bit. 

Todd Helton-the dude was a bonafide 7-8 win player at his peak. If you read my Utley article, you'd know that that means a lot more than it might sound. For example, Josh Hamilton, despite having a 7-8 WAR season, wasn't close to being a true 7-8 WAR player. I digress. He might have done steroids, but I don't recall any genuine evidence of such a claim. This matters, not because of the morality of the situation, which is nonsense, but rather the reality that his 7-8 WAR true talent would be a little bit higher had everyone else also not taken steroids. This applies to Derek Jeter and Ken Griffey Jr. as well. People probably forget that that is one of the reasons those dudes are "overglorified." He is the best player in Rockies history, probably could have played third base at a high level (boosting his already incredible production level), and also lasted long enough despite a pretty sharp decline. I don't care as much about longevity for a hall of fame argument; at least, I won't take away from a player for poor longevity. 

Andruw Jones- people talk about Jones a lot more than Helton, and I don't think he was as good, but he still deserves a quick and painless HOF induction. He was the best defensive center fielder we've seen, and hit a ton of home runs. Definitely somewhere from a 6-7 win player at his best, and he was at his best for all of his 20s. As much as I love to talk about how good Utley and Helton were at their peak, they got a ton of time to develop, while Jones was tossed into the mix as as a teenager, the consensus best prospect in baseball, and started hitting home runs in the world series. For the longevity nerds out there, he had a really good age 33-34 stretch. He was a great player. Put him in the hall. 

Given Legitimate Consideration:

Evan Longoria-he started his career a lot like Andruw Jones. Top prospect, great defensive player (not on Jones' level), immediately made the World Series, hit a ton of home runs, didn't get a ton of hits. His injuries came way before Jones', and he wasn't quite as good as Jones at his best, but he still deserves plenty of consideration.

Andrew McCutchen-another highly regarded prospect who ran the league for a couple of years. His peak talent might have been better than Longoria, but again, didn't last very long. These are the guys that deserve attention. He obviously wasn't a fluke, but maybe he wasn't quite the 7-8 win player that we saw in his best 3 years. Still probably a 6+ WAR player, a guy who made the Pirates relevant again,

Josh Donaldson- personal beliefs aside, Josh Donaldson is awesome. Unlike Jones, Longoria, and McCutchen, he was a late bloomer. He's still going somewhat strong, but his lack of playing time before his age 27 season will do him no favors in the race to 60 WAR. I don't buy into the 60 WAR thing as much as many people, partially because of that reason. However, I do like to credit guys that come up and immediately fuck up the game (hence Andruw Jones being ranked higher here), so Donaldson can't be completely absolved of his lack of good baseball in his early 20s. Still, the guy was a high 6 WAR player (by my estimate) at his best, he was really fun to watch, and his 'mysterious' resentment towards Tim Anderson makes him a not so cool villain. Like Longoria and McCutchen, he made his team relevant. Unlike those two, he made two separate teams relevant. That's pretty impressive. 

David Freese (Yes, that David Freese)

The guy leads everyone, all time, in championship win probability added. Everyone knows what he did against the Rangers, and he also happened to throw up solid performances in other playoff series' as well. He was also a very good player normally, although he was certainly not a hall of famer by talent alone. If Bill Mazeroski can be a hall of famer because of one at bat, Freese can be one because of 2+* appearances at the dish. 

Shohei Ohtani:

Shohei Ohtani

Shohei should definitely make the hall because of what he has already done. I'm sure some people get annoyed by people having this viewpoint, and I get it. We all know he can pitch and he can hit, and we don't need to be reminded of that every 30 seconds. However, Shohei is both a unicorn and an incredibly effective baseball player in all of the best ways. An MVP award on top of his pure baseball skillset, regardless of how much he helps his team win games, warrants his own wing in Cooperstown. There's also a great chance he is worthy of a hall of fame spot based purely on how much he contributed to winning, but he probably isn't quite there yet. It would definitely be awesome if he were to break the (post integration) single season WAR record, which is certainly in the cards if he can put together an incredible run prevention campaign. 

*He had the game tying triple and walkoff home run against the Rangers, but he also:

  • Hit a 2 run double in game 7 to tie the game at 2. Remember, the Rangers jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Pretty big moment
  • Went 3/4 with a home run in game 6 of the NLCS vs. the Brewers.
  • Homered off of David Price in game 5 of the 2018 World Series (no other Dodger hitter did anything, as they lost 5-1 in the clinching game for the Sox). This wasn't in 2011, obviously, but still worth noting.
  • Homered and drove in 4 runs against Roy Oswalt in game 4(an elimination game for STL) of the 2011 NLDS. The Cardinals were not supposed to win this series, and they probably don't without Freese's contribution.
  • and more. Point is, he is disproportionately responsible for a single world series championship. Not many people can say that. Barry Bonds would be able to say that, but he can't, because Scott Spiezio is a menace. 


 Here's an infuriating stat:

So far, through June 7th of this year, 671 pitchers have appeared in an MLB game. We only have to go back to 2012 to find a season in which fewer than that many pitchers appeared in the entire season. To be exact, 662 pitchers appeared in a game throughout the entire 2012 season. If we compare apples to apples, 497 pitchers were used from April 7th to June 6th in 2012. 644 were used during the same stretch last year.

So, why is this infuriating? The MLB and MLBPA decided to continue preventing positive growth in the game a few weeks back citing "player health". This is despite the fact that pitcher injuries have gone through the roof in recent years, because as it turns out, maxing out once a week is worse for you than doing a normal set of 10 reps every other day. Apologies for the potentially misguided analogy. 

Of course, pitcher injuries aren't good for the game. I would like to think that fans want to see superstar pitchers consistently going deep into games and providing value via their great talents. Pitchers can't do this if the rest of the league is throwing as hard as they possibly can in the one inning they pitch every month before being put on the IL. Why? Because league average ERA will lower, and all of a sudden, these superstar pitchers are not much more effective than the platoon of triple A pitchers trying their best to stay on the roster. 

On the other side, I would like to think that fans enjoy consistent offensive performance. The bad hitters shouldn't be threats, but they should be able to put in solid offensive performances. The average hitters should be clearly limited, but should be able to give the fans a feeling that they can do something. Take Melvin Mora's 2007 season: he slashed 274/341/418 for a 99 wRC+. These days, a hitter with a .274 batting average seem like a modern Ichiro. Back to Mora, his line is eerily reminiscent of 2022 Julio Rodriguez's 277/332/432 line. The difference? Julio is a budding superstar on pace for a 5 win season, and he is currently sporting a 127 wRC+. Guess who ranks just behind him in wOBA: Shohei Ohtani. MLB's biggest star, admittedly in a down year offensively (although he is still producing quite well at the plate), has a weighted on base average comparable to 2007 Melvin Mora. Keep in mind that this was Mora's age 35 season, he wasn't playing in the middle of the steroid era, and he didn't play in a launching pad of a ballpark. This was a former low-level star in the twilight years of his career, hitting at a league average rate, and yet, any uninformed fan who tuned in to a randomly sampled Orioles game would think that he compared to two of the biggest stars in baseball. *

Low scoring baseball games are awesome, or at least they can be. It's fun watching two titans of the sport putting up scoreless innings, making great pitches and preventing the runners they do allow from advancing. It's not fun watching randomly generated reliever X complementing his 95 MPH fastball, which would really hover closer to 93 if he had to pitch more than 35 innings a year, with inconsistently spotted breaking pitches that are inexplicably called strikes by the umpire on occasion, forcing batters to expand the zone and either swing and miss or hit a weak flyball. 

The title for best pitching season since integration by ERA- is held by the 2017 Cleveland Indians. They had 2 pitchers go over 200 innings, and their top 6 pitchers by innings pitched were the only starting pitchers they had that year (outside of Ryan Merritt, who pitched very nicely in some double-headers in August and then was never seen again). They mainly relied on 6 relievers, and only 17 pitchers topped the 5 inning mountain. This is how a great pitching team should look: remarkable talent in the rotation (Kluber, Carrasco, Bauer, Clevinger, Salazar), a solid innings eater in Tomlin, a genuine relief ace (Andrew Miller), and then a bevy of really good back-end relievers. They had an all time core of pitching talent, and then they stayed healthy. Again, that's what greatness should look like. Keep in mind that this was a year before the Rays decided they would win 90 games by throwing a bunch of middle relievers at the wall and seeing which ones would stick. 

The second best team by ERA- since integration is none other than the 2021 Dodgers, a team that had 30 different pitchers throw over 5 innings. I am skeptical that many people found this staff nearly as entertaining to watch as the Indians. Their starting rotation was full of stars, similar to the Indians. However, we didn't get to see them very much. Indians starters averaged 5.87 innings per start, Dodgers just 5.2.  I could go on and on about this but I'm getting annoyed with the whole situation. Point is, the Dodgers didn't allow runs because they abused the 40 man roster/injured list system and allowed their already great staff to overexert themselves. Same goes for the Giants that year, outside of the "already great" part. I'm sorry, there's no way that Giants staff should have had a 129 ERA+. The MLB needs to interrogate Giants front office employees until the spill the beans on exactly what they did to cause that, and then make rule changes that prevent all of that nonsense. In the meantime, they can limit pitching roster size (to be fair, this would be happening by now anyways, but the 13 pitcher limit isn't enough. Make it at least 12, if not 11. Credit to them for coming up with this all the way back in 2019, which is shockingly proactive, but that credit can be taken away by somehow thinking that more roster spots will solve the pandemic or something like that. This is also the MLBPA's fault.), increasing the pitcher IL time, (have a sore shoulder? You can wait at least 20 days to come back. Figure out some sort of IL pay policy so the association agrees to this.), and limiting options to the minors (they did this, but of course, they didn't implement this in the first month of the season. Thanks, guys.). Combining this with a pitch clock (which has been shown to decrease both walks and strikeouts) and an electronic strike zone (stop calling all of those stupid fucking outside fastballs because "he hit his spot". His spot was off the plate. Jesus christ.) and we will see a quiet offensive boom in the form of singles and doubles instead of home runs. I'm done writing this, and I'm not going to proofread. 

*I'll admit that inflated offensive performance isn't necessarily desirable. The modern NFL is a great example of this, as overpowered offensive strategies combined with tightened rules has resulted in a significant increase in the league average points per game, to the point that a middling (and also somewhat underrated, in all fairness) 2021 Eagles team averaged nearly the exact same amount of points as the high powered 1999 Colts, who went 13-3 on the back of Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison. The NBA has seen massive offensive inflation. There are other factors, but one that I'm not a fan of is the sheer volume of meaningless NBA games. The NBA season is long, yet the games mean very little in the grand scheme of things due to both the nature of basketball(come playoff time, the more talented team will most likely prevail no matter the seed) and the comically oversized playoff field. It's hard to give it your all on defense for 82 games when the marginal value of a win is almost nonexistent. In the playoffs, defenses seem to go back to maximum effort, and the result is an incredibly entertaining few months of basketball.