Peter Gammons: 2B MVP’s, contending bullpens, and more late September notes

Second base has traditionally not been an MVP position. There have been only six MVPs in either league since World War II, from Jackie Robinson in 1949, to Dustin Pedroia in 2007.

In the last decade, only twice—2016 with Jose Altuve and Robinson Cano—and 2013, with Cano and Pedroia, have two second basemen made either’s league’s top ten.

 

MVP SECOND BASEMAN (POST WWII)

Pedroia, BOS       2007

Kent, SFG             2000

Sandberg, CHC   1984

Morgan, CIN       1975-76

Fox, CHW            1959

Robinson, BRK  1949

 

RECENT SEASONS WITH 3 2B IN MVP CONSIDERATION

2016: Altuve (3), Cano (8), Dozier (13)

2013: Cano (5), Pedroia (7), Kipnis (13)

 

TOP 2017 SECOND BASEMEN

PLAYER                W.A.R.      HR           w/OBA

Altuve, HOU           7.0            23             .407

Ramirez, CLE         5.7            27              .391

Schoop, BAL           3.9           32              .362

Dozier, MIN            3.7           31              .348

Lowrie, OAK           3.2           13              .347

Cano, SEA                3.1           21             .338

This year there is a reasonable chance that Jose Altuve wins the MVP, and both Jose Ramirez, who has only played less than 70 games at the position but is expected to play there in the post-season, and Jonathan Schoop all make the top 10. Schoop, 25, is this generation’s Bobby Grich—for you billenials, Grich was REALLY good—and not only has hit 32 homers, has a Manny Trillo arm at the position, but has a higher Wins Above Replacement than Manny Machado. So much for the traditional bunt-‘em-over middle infielder, especially when there’s a decent possibility that Francisco Lindor and Didi Gregorius could be top ten finishers, with Andrelton Simmons showing up on several top ten ballots.

And we haven’t even discussed Carlos Correa, because of his injuries. And over in the National League Corey Seager.

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So Brad Ausmus is the first manager to be fired in 2017.

He had no chance. The Tigers are far and away the worst team in the American League, one better than the young White Sox at the hour of the firing, with the worst run differential(-136) in the league, JD Martinez and Justin Verlander gome, nearly $200M tied up in Jordan Zimmerman and Anibal Sanchez, a dead contract in Miguel Cabrera and an empty minor league system.

Ausmus was never a favorite with the Detroit media. He would not do their job and publically criticize his players. He could never understand postgame questions that began with “they’re saying on Twitter…”

Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa are in Cooperstown and all got fired from their first jobs, and Terry Francona will sometime join them. If Ausmus wants to manage again, he will. There are baseball people with the Mets who want to talk to him. Back when the Red Sox hired John Farrell out of Toronto, if Farrell wasn’t allowed out of his contract, Ausmus was the manager. And might still be, sometime in the future.

He is very smart, he is a man of extraordinary principle. He’s also the only person I’ve ever known who surfed in Tel Aviv.

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Years ago, then-Rockies general manager Dan O’Dowd, one of the sport’s deepest thinkers, did a study on historic catchers and found the majority had one thing in common: they were under six feet tall.

Johnny Bench was 5-11. “Pudge” Ivan Rodriguez 5-9. Yogi Berra 5-8. Jim Sundberg, Yadier Molina and Rick Dempsey all followed Rodriguez in the all-time top seven Catchers’ Defensive War.

Now, asking around, two names keep getting thrown at me concerning key defensive players in the post-season—Christian Vazquez of the Red Sox and Austin Barnes of the Dodgers. Vazquez is 5-9, Barnes 5-10. Vazquez has feet, hands and an arm like Rodriguez. Barnes is one of the most valuable depth players in the game because he can play second base, shortstop and is  premier defensive catcher who, like Vazquez, makes contact and can run.

Yasmani Grandal has numbers that rank him in the top defensive catchers in the National League, and Vazquez splits time with Sandy Leon, whom  the Red Sox say has the best, most unpredictable pitch-calling skills in the American League.

In FanGraphs fielding runs above average, Grandal ranks second in the majors (behind San Diego’s Austin Hedges). Barnes is fifth. Vazquez seventh, with Jeff Mathis sixth.

“What this does in the cases of the Red Sox and Dodgers is to limit premier defensive catchers in terms of games caught,” says one general manager. “Today, no catcher should have to start more than 120 games. It’s unbelievable what Rodriguez and Sundberg did in the Texas heat in their careers, but today, with the travel, without amphetamines, 100-120 games should be the limit.”

Vazquez is in his second year off Tommy John Surgery, which is more complex for a catcher because of the number and angles of his throws. He went into this weekend hitting .296. Since July 29, he’s second in the American League in hitting at .377. He leads all catchers with his career 40.2% record throwing out base stealers.

His pitchers rave about his presentation, which helps him with umpires; many supervisors will tell you the average pitch is called four inches in front of the plate, which puts a premium on presentation rather than perceived framing. “Javy has the great arm, but he’s got a middle infielder’s feet and can get into position quickly to throw behind a runner at first base without blocking the umpire’s view, which big-framed catchers sometimes do,” says Jason Varitek. Red Sox coaches believe Vazquez’s willingness to fire behind runners at first base changes their secondary leads without losing strikes.

O’Dowd found that the athleticism and flexibility in catchers like Rodriguez and Vazquez help them immensely, as opposed to the big, blocky, less athletic players who get put behind the plate because they don’t have a mid-field position. O’Dowd showed that the smaller, athletic catchers were better framing pitches down in the strike zone.

Knowing how Dave Roberts uses his bullpen and his depth, Barnes will have an important role in October. While Leon will likely continue to catch Chris Sale, with whom he bonded from the start of the season, The Red Sox are last in home runs, so using contact and putting runners in motion at the bottom of the order is an important part of their offense, and Vazquez added 7-for-8 stealing bases.

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The Brewers continue to be one of the National League’s best stories, not because they have won six straight here in the stretch and refuse to die, but while contending, they have developed a young starting pitching staff that now are in the top 5 in the league in starters’ ERA.

Which eventually brings them to the Josh Hader question. He is filthy. He’s got a 1.77 ERA, 58 strikeouts and 20 hits in 40 2/3 innings, and the highest swing-and-miss rate on his 4-seam fastball of any lefthander in the game. With Corey Knebel and Anthony Swarzak, the Brewers have one of the best power bullpens.

But the developmental plan was to work him a full year out of the bullpen, then start him in 2018. Now, David Stearns, Craig Counsell and the staff will sit down after the season and make a determination on his 2018 role.

With a barren free agent starting pitching market this winter (excluding Shohei Otani), the Yankees will do the same with Chad Green when their season is over. For now, this guy who when he pitched in the Cape League topped at 92 with an underdeveloped breaking ball and was traded to New York by the Tigers for Justin Wilson, may be the best reliever in the American League after Craig Kimbrel. Green has a 1.96 ERA, the best strikeout-walk ratio in the game as well as the highest swing-and-miss rate of any righthander in the majors.

But he was a starter at Louisville, started in the minors and the Yankees think he can start for them.

The Orioles probably will have to do the same next season with Miguel Castro, one of their best relievers, but that is desperation because of a rotation with a 5.66 earned run average. By the way, the Orioles gave away both Hader and Zach Davies with nothing to show for either one.

Houston’s bullpen is really good, especially since Joe Musgrove went to the pen, where he has a 1.33 ERA with a 25-5 strikeout-walk ratio in 25 August and September bullpen innings.

The Indian are obvious, but one factor is that they can use Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Tyler Olson for lefties. They are a combined .199 against them, allowed one homer and throw strikes.

Then this week when Boston swept the Orioles, one club official said “the most encouraging thing all spring was how dominant David Price and Carson Smith were against the O’s.” Smith got a save, and struck out two hitters to get Drew Pomeranz out of a seventh inning jam in what eventually was a 1-0, ten inning victory.

In September, their pen has a 1.23 earned run average, and not only does John Farrell have David Price—who closed out the Sox in the 2008 ALCS—calling how he feels as “fun” for two inning stints, but Carson Smith seems to be back from his 2016 Tommy John Surgery. Last night Smith closed out the 7th inning in the 1-0 win in Baltimore striking out Austin Hays and Caleb Joseph with sliders, throwing 7 pitches for 6 strikes and 3 whiffs. And Reed, Joe Kelly and Kimbrel threw 41 pitches and got 16 swings and misses.

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Of course the Braves love Julio Teheran. He’s 26. He’s averaged close to 200 innings the last three years. He’s signed through 2019 for an AVG of $9.5M, with a club option for 2020 at $12. A bargain.

But the Braves know they need position players, an outfielder, a third baseman, a catcher, some stock. They think they have more quality young pitching than any other team. And Teheran has seemed spooked by their new homer-happy ballpark, where he has a 6.23 ERA, compared to 2.84 on the road.

So by the general managers’ meetings in November, expect the Braves and their revamped front office to be collecting offers for Teheran.

For years, traditionalists have bemoaned the deterioration outfield throwing arms. Well, Milwaukee’s Brett Phillips has made three throws clocked between 102.6 and 104.7, the three hardest this season. Cleveland’s Bradley Zimmer has four throws between 100.6 and 102.5.

Thanks to Matt Filippi of MLB Network research. The highest average velo from MLB outfielders:

Bryce Harper (97.2), Bradley Zimmer (96.1), Yasiel Puig (95.5), Carlos Gonzalez (94.6), Avisail Garcia (94.6), Jackie Bradley Jr. (94.3).

Comments

  1. Philip Portelance says:

    MVP 2B – forgot Jeff Kent in 2000.

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