Take a look at Fangraphs’ Wins Above Replacement leader board for position players since 2010, you’ll notice plenty of familiar suspects among the top 10. There’s Miguel Cabrera sitting atop the pile, followed closely by Robinson Cano and Joey Votto. Andrew McCutchen and his long flowing locks sit in the middle, as do a pair of popular AL 3rd basemen. Baseball’s next legend Mike Trout sits near the bottom of the list of 10, despite having spent what equates to an entire season in the minors. Suspended slugger Ryan Braun rounds out the bottom of the group. Tucked in among those perennial All-Stars and highlight-making machines is one of the last guys you would ever suspect: Ben Zobrist.
The Rays’ super-utility All-Star has carved out a highly valuable, highly important role on Joe Maddon’s roster by acting as the franchise’s Swiss army knife. Do you need someone to cover 3rd base in order to give Evan Longoria a day off? Call on Zobrist. Do you need a right fielder until Wil Myers is good and ready for the big leagues? Zobrist. How about a middle infielder who can make all the plays? Zobrist, Zobrist, Zobrist. He affords Joe Maddon a level of flexibility that few other players in baseball history can match and he’s been doing it for years now.
With yet another brilliant start in a 4-1 win in Tampa Bay on Friday night, Giants’ starter Madison Bumgarner made a little bit of franchise history. The lanky lefty is currently on a nine-start streak of pitching at least seven innings while allowing two earned runs or less. That stands as the second-longest in franchise history, behind Ferdie Schupp of the then New York Giants, who had 12 such starts between the 1916 and 1917 seasons. This impressive streak has not only produced the lowest ERA of Bumgarner’s young careeer (2.69), but it’s also planted the 24-year-old firmly in the middle of the Cy Young race.
The Giants’ de facto ace is showing no signs of slowing down either, especially after tying his season-high in strikeouts with 11 against a baffled Rays lineup. He was clinical with slider, throwing the pitch a season-high 53 times with an impressive 35 of those tosses going for strikes. That’s been par for the course for Bumgarner this season because no pitcher in baseball favors his slider as much as the Giants’ lefty.
Hey guys! Sorry for the delay, it’s been a crazy week. Here’s some of what I’ve been working on for High Heat Stats.
When Alex Cobb was a prospect coming up through the ranks in the Tampa Bay minor league system he was never considered all that highly. Noted prospect hound John Sickels ranked Cobb 17th in the Tampa Bay system, behind luminaries like Aneury Rodriguez, Kyle Lobstein, Wilking Rodriguez, and Alexander Colome. Sure, there was some potential back-of-the-rotation starter sheen there, but nobody was touting the righty as a future staff ace. Even when Cobb arrived in the big leagues he was still somewhat of an afterthought struggling to stay in the rotation before grabbing the 5th spot in the rotation this past spring.
Well, here we are in June and it’s Cobb who’s having the last laugh. After toying with a potent Tigers lineup on Wednesday, Cobb’s ERA now sits at 2.39, good for 3rd best in the American League. Cobb’s striking out a career best 8.24 hitters per 9, and his walk rate is down to a career low as well. More importantly, Tampa Bay is now 8-3 in games started by the 25-year-old righty, which has allowed the Rays to remain competitive despite the struggles of 2012 Cy Young winner David Price and the departure of longtime staff leader James Shields. So how has Cobb been able to go from seldom-discussed 5th starter to one of the most dominant pitchers in the American League?
The single most surprising performance from any player through the first 30-40 games of the Major League season has to be that of Rays’ 1st baseman James Loney. For the better part of the past 5 seasons, the former Red Sox and Dodgers’ 1st baseman has been a punchline to a bad joke. Loney’s offensive production at 1st base was severely lacking for the position’s standard and his power numbers were meager for any player, no matter his position. After being traded to the Red Sox last year’s mega-deal, Loney’s offensive game bottomed out. He hit just 2 homers in 30 games as a member of Boston and his .230 batting average left plenty of seats empty throughout Fenway Park. Entering free agency, Loney’s stock was at rock bottom.
Luckily for Mr. Loney, that’s when Andrew Freidman and the Tampa Bay Rays came calling. You see, the Rays have a habit of turning one team’s trash into their own treasure. They’ve been doing it since Joe Maddon was handed the big job on the bench and thanks to the Rays extra emphasis on defense, the slick fielding Loney seemed like a good fit. There was also the fact that Tampa Bay was not only able to offer Loney a contract worth $2 million dollars, but they could promise the 1st baseman something that could turn out to be infinitely more valuable: playing time.
Every single Major League team now has 30 games under their belts, which gives us enough data to start surveying the MLB landscape looking for surprises and disappointments. Fans in Boston, Kansas City, and Denver have to be thrilled with their respective teams hot starts.
However, for fans in other cities things haven’t been as bright. The Toronto Blue Jays were handed the AL East by most pundits before the season even began and they’ve fallen flat on their face out of the gate, carrying a 10-21 record that only the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins are envious of. Things are also starting to get dicey in Anaheim, where the Angels have once again stumbled in the early weeks of the season. Their supposedly vaunted offense has yet to earn its pay, thanks to its middle of the pack ranking in the AL in runs scored, and L.A.’s pitching staff minus Jered Weaver has been a disaster.
They’re not the only cities that are getting anxious about their ball club’s slow start either. Fans in Philadelphia were hoping that a once-great pitching staff led by Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee could rebound to carry the Phillies to the playoffs, but that hasn’t materialized thus far. The Dodgers were imagining themselves as the west coast Yankees with a budget to match. So far all that lavish spending has gotten them is 4th place and a struggling Matt Kemp.Even the handful of fans that attend Rays games have to feel a little nervous in the AL East watching their starting nine drop to 1-6 in games started by Cy Young winner David Price.
After carving the New York Yankees batting order up for 7 innings, Matt Moore figured that his night was probably over because he was already sitting at 105 total pitches. But Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon had other ideas, running his 23-year-old ace back out to the mound to face the Yankees in the 8th. Maddon’s faith was rewarded with a clinically dominant inning from Moore.
The left-hander shut that Yankees down 1-2-3, needing just 12 pitches to do so before yielding to the bullpen for the 9th inning. Moore finished the game with a beautiful stat line for a pitcher: 8 innings, 1 run allowed on just 2 hits, with 9 strikeouts to go against 3 walks. The only Yankee hitter that didn’t look completely overwhelmed at the plate was all-world 2nd baseman Robinson Cano, who had the Yankees 2 hits on the day.
Back in 2010 a pair of big, young, intimidating, and most of all hard-throwing aces were given the honor of starting the All-Star game thanks in part to their superb pitching. On the American League side of things they elected to start David Price, who was an impressive 12-4 with a 2.42 ERA at the time. The National League opted to go with Ubaldo Jimenez, a towering right-hander who had been the talk of baseball during the first half because of his gaudy 15-1 record and 2.20 ERA. Both pitchers would make the most of their chance to start the All-Star game, throwing a pair of shutout innings apiece. Both of these aces also experienced another first at the end of the year, landing in the top 3 of the AL and NL Cy Young vote respectively.