It is just past 6:30pm on the east coast, the Nationals are up on the San Francisco Giants, and I may actually be awake to see the end. I guess G.K. Chesterton was right when he said that the most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen. Anyhoo, enough about my old-man struggles at the tender age of 33. Let’s roll out a Wednesday edition of quick hits:
- Sure, Madison Bumgarner throttled the Nats lineup last night, and Brandon Belt did most of the damage at the plate. But like Harry Reid, facts be damned. I knew given how well Washington has been playing, the Giants must have been cheating. And well, what do we have here: Giants OF Cabrera suspended for positive drug test. Amateur hour at the comedy club aside, this news shouldn’t really come as a complete shock to any baseball fan. The fact that Melky Cabrera, Melky Cabrera was being talked about as a possible National League MVP candidate, on the heels of last year’s breakout season that also came out of the blue, should have been so brazen a sign that even a Kardashian would have blushed using it. I guess it is just as true today as it has always been. If it is too good to be true, it probably is.
- I know. Just what you want to read more about. Stephen Strasburg and the great innings watch. Please God let me read more about what Kate Middleton (erm, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) wore to the closing ceremonies of the Olympics! Anything but Strasburg and pitch counts! But I must. From Will Carroll of SI.com, a writer I respect a lot for his coverage of medical issues, comes this great little blurb: Strasburg plan little better than educated guess. And again, the money quote:
All in all, lowered innings totals don’t automatically equal health, and similar pitchers have gone more innings without apparent issue. Without the benefit of data, the Nats (and the rest of these teams) are guessing. That’s not good enough.
Okay. I’m done with beating the supposed dying arm of Strasburg. Well, at least for tonight.
- Oh, and I just finished watching Felix Hernandez pitch a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Don’t worry, I’ve got the Nats on my computer. Back to King Felix. On days like today, he sure does wear that nickname well. However, is it just me, or do the Rays seem to get a no-hit every two months?
Okay Sean Burnett. Back-to-back hits allowed to the Giants in the bottom of the eighth. Interesting strategy to hold on to the Nats four-run lead. Like the Pence ground out. More conventional. I guess this is my sign to wrap this column up.
Sometimes, the writing business is hard. But when difficulty and despair creep in, I remember the fans, or more accurately, the fan who calls out for July’s edition of the MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards. Sniff. That’s what makes it all worth while.
AL MVP: Mike Trout. Somewhere, Tim Salmon is crying, realizing the gig is up as the top fish to ever play for the Angels. Trout put up a monster July, hitting .392 with 10 home runs, 32 runs scored (32!), 23 RBIs, and 9 stolen bases, just because he can. His 2.8 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) was 33 percent better than the next highest in July, Ryan Zimmerman’s 2.1 WAR.
AL CY Young: David Price. WAR will tell you that Felix Hernandez had the edge, but that was due in large part to King Felix having one additional start. Take that away, and the Price was Right snitches!
AL Rookie of the Month: Trout. I knew fish was brain food but I didn’t realize it made thinking this easy.
NL MVP: Ryan Zimmerman. Andrew McCutchen must be starting to feel like the Susan Lucci of the MESPY awards at this point, but Zimm edged the Dread Pirate in home runs, runs, and RBIs. Also, McCutchen’s surprising total of zero stolen bases and Zimm’s edge in defensive metrics pushed Ryan over the top in WAR, 2.1 to 2.0.
NL CY Young: Jordan Zimmermann. After the July JZ had, I can’t help but wonder if the other Jaz-Z wrote A Star is Born about Zimm:
And I am one, of one
Can’t you see just how long my run?
NL Rookie of the Month: It would be a real dogfight between Michael Fiers of the Brewers and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs (both 1.0 WAR), if it weren’t for Rizzo accumulating 153 at-bats last season with the Padres. According to those fun-busters at MLB, that’s 23 too many to be considered a rookie. Sigh.
Nationals’ MVP: Ryan Zimmerman. I guess I was talking about Zimm’s monster July around the office so much I shouldn’t have been surprised when I overheard management discussing whether cortisone shots would increase audit productivity.
Nationals’ CY Young: Jordan Zimmermann. Six starts. Six quality starts, with four wins banked. All he does is throw darts, though his xFIP (3.12) in July does leave some room for an upward ERA correction (.97 ERA in July).
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Steve Lombardozzi. No Nats rookie really shined in July, with Lombardozzi pacing all rookies with a 0.3 WAR. But with Ian Desmond going down, Lombard has swung a nice bat and picked it on a pretty consistent basis. I can think of far worse things. Like being the sap donning the Teddy Roosevelt costume everyday, running around in a thousand-degree heat, never winning the Presidents race. Yeah, that would make me hot and bitter. Hot and bitter.
And that’s all folks!
I’m in a celebratory mood this morning. The Nationals rolled off another win last night, and in the process, put another curly w in the box score for Jordan Zimmermann. Baseball is a funny, funny game. Zimm goes winless between late May and late June and now sees superlative pitching being rewarded in his last two starts, with the Nats offense knocking in 20 runs combined. And of course, it’s our nation’s Independence Day, and while I still have time to write without IRS compulsion, what better way to celebrate than with June’s MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards:
AL MVP: Mike Trout. Robinson Cano had a monster June, but on the day we celebrate standing up to the big bully on the block (alliteration!), I’m not going to shirk away from my disdain for the Evil Empire. So it goes to Trout, who actually edged Cano out in WAR (Wins Above Replacement), 2.2 to 2.0. And Trout did this at the tender age of 20. Wow.
AL CY Young: Hiroki Kuroda. Dang. Well, the British did give us the Beatles.
AL Rookie of the Month: Trout. I hate to be a Benedict Arnold on such a hallowed day, but what I said in May’s MESPYs hasn’t changed. Trout has been baseball’s best rookie and at this pace, could be in the running for the AL’s best player by season’s end.
NL MVP: R.A. Dickey. Andrew McCutchen and Joey Votto both deserve kudos for tremendous months, but Dickey taking home the award just goes to show you how dominate he was during June. He posted the second best WAR in baseball (2.1), a sub-one ERA (.93), a .60 WHIP, struck out 55 batters while only walking 8, and went 5-0. Oh, and he did this throwing a knuckleball.
NY CY Young: Dickey. If only I had a Forever Lazy this would be the perfect day.
NL Rookie of the Month: Andrelton Simmons. Bryce, I still want to be your accountant. But while you hit a bit of a soft patch in June, the Braves shortstop batted .333, showed slick fielding skills (alliteration!), and posted a nice 1.6 WAR. I’m going to take a long walk off a short bridge now.
Nationals’ MVP: Ian Desmond. He crushed another one out last night off of Tim Lincecum, which was just more of the same for the Nats’ All-Star shortstop. I’d like to think this is all because of my talk with Ian at Spring Training two years ago. Oh, but he didn’t do so well last year. I see. My silence is golden.
Nationals’ CY Young: Stephen Strasburg. A 2.25 xFIP (Expected Fielding Independent Pitching) points to his 3.09 June ERA being unlucky. But a 13.37 k/9 and six quality starts demonstrate that even without luck, Strasburg is simply dominant.
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Tyler Moore. I can see why I got into auditing and not public relations. That depressing thought aside, in 68 fewer plate appearances, Moore had the same number of home runs as Bryce Harper (4), same number of RBIs (11), batted a robust .425, and topped Harper in WAR 1.0 to 0.6. I hate myself.
And that’s all folks!
With the Nationals off tonight (there is no truth to the rumor that in a sweaty act of desperation, the Nats offered to play the Giants in San Francisco), I figured it was time for another edition of quick hits:
- First things first. Congratulations are in order for Washington’s All-Star game representatives, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, and Ian Desmond. It is only fitting that the Nationals landed two starting pitchers on the squad, given the dominance of their starting five through the first half of the season. And Desmond’s selection by manager Tony LaRussa was a very nice surprise. Given some of the putrid selections in both leagues, it was good to see a player not among the fan’s top eight shortstops get selected, as Desmond has been among the NL’s best shortstops.
- Now what to do about Bryce Harper being on the final five-man All-Star ballot? He says that he’d vote for Chipper Jones. For still basically being a kid, he is handling this moment with class. The most interesting thing about all of this is how MLB leaves so much about a glorified exhibition game they’ve made mean so much up to things like a fan vote. And that’s why, while I applaud the kid’s reverence, I actually think Chipper would be the last guy I would vote for. If possible home field advantage is on the line, unless 28 year-old Larry is walking through the tunnel, I would rather take a chance on the kid. Think about that while you go vote here.
- I am bit of a stathead so this was pleasing to my senses: Nationals second in SI.com/FanGraphs Power Poll.
- And a fond farewell to one of baseball’s greatest joys of the early and mid-2000’s, as Dontrelle Willis announced his retirement from baseball today. Living in Florida, I’ve gotten to see a lot of Marlins games on television. And there was a time when a Dontrelle Willis start was must-see tv, if only for the simple pleasure of watching the man smile on the mound. He truly loved what he was doing and while the last few years he has been a wild shell of himself, for a brief moment, he was one of baseball’s better starters.
Hmmmmm…by the looks of things around here the past few days, one might actually start to believe that I’ve been at the Save Lindsay Lohan vigil. Alas, as heroic as that may seem, it has been a mere virus that I’ve tended to, with equal parts sleep and Alka-Seltzer. It didn’t help that the Yankees, with an assist from Timmy, rolled Washington in their three-game series, displaying a scary-deep and patient lineup and strong bullpen the likes of which the Nats have to be ready to defeat if they want to make hay in the playoffs. The good thing is that the series took place in mid-June rather than October, and hopefully by then, the mandatory retirement clauses in some of their stars contracts will have kicked in. Until then, allow me to make up for my silence with a Tuesday edition of links you definitely maybe want to read:
- Boy, was I wrong on R.A. Dickey in fantasy baseball. From Jon Wertheim of SI.com, a great story on the amazing season so far for the man and his amazing knuckleball.
- Put me in the camp that believes there is little doubt that Roger Clemens ate up steroids like fat kids take to cake. And while I will have to trust that the jury got the verdict right in his perjury trial (which does seem like it was a waste of Chinese taxpayer money), I think Tom Verducci of SI.com is right when he says the verdict won’t really help Clemens with Hall of Fame voters. Nor should it, because not being able to prove the man lied and obstructed justice doesn’t equate to proving that Clemens never took performance-enhancing drugs.
- And from Federal Baseball, comes a good discussion about Ryan Zimmeran’s struggles at the dish and whether he is truly 100% healthy.
For those daredevils who occasionally cross-over into the real world, May was a bear of a month. The Dow was down more than six percent and the Nasdaq nearly seven percent. And the unemployment picture got uglier as it seems five trillion in faux money doesn’t take you as far as it once did. However, at least one wild-eyed entrepreneur in Miami was doing his part to reduce the unemployment rolls, and they still played baseball, though it would be just my luck that the year the Nationals contend, Nanny Bloomberg would try to ban them from winning because that would be a lot of joy.
On to May’s MESPY (Matt’s Excellence in Self-Promotion Yada Yada) Awards, while there is still time:
AL MVP: Josh Hamilton. Two months doesn’t make for a full season of health, but Hamilton is the first back-to-back MESPY award winner after posting another monster month in May (alliteration!), leading all players in baseball with a 2.1 WAR (Wins Above Replacement).
AL CY Young: Justin Verlander. The fact that Verlander only went 3-2 during May is further evidence that wins are one of the most meaningless measures (alliteration!) of a pitcher’s success. His 2.10 FIP in May actually indicates that he may have gotten a tad unlucky during the month (2.66 ERA). Reserve CY has to go to Chris Sale of the White Sox, who if Robin Ventura hadn’t apparently suffered brain damage from the Nolan Ryan beat down, would have been the American League’s best starter in May.
AL Rookie of the Month: Mike Trout. Lost amid all the Bryce Harper chatter (heretic!), Trout has been baseball’s best rookie (traitor!).
NL MVP: Giancarlo Stanton. He just went back to Giancarlo because all of the home run calls sound better to the ladies.
NY CY Young: Gio Gonzalez. I knew Gio had been the good dirty during May, but I didn’t realize he was Pig Pen good. All Gio did was go 5-0, lead the NL with a 12.66 K/9, and post a tidy 2.25 ERA. I would be remiss not to give a Reserve CY to James McDonald of the Pirates. You may not realize McDonald was second among starters in May with a 1.6 WAR, but that’s because no one watches the Pirates play, not even their moms. Sigh.
NL Rookie of the Month: Bryce Harper. Lance Lynn edged Harper out in WAR, but for a contending team desperate for offense, Harper has been invaluable. And I have a hunch that everyone else is just keeping the seat warm for the season-end award.
Nationals’ MVP & CY Young: Gio. Just goes to show you how much pitching has fueled the team’s early-season success with Gio taking home both awards one month after Stephen Strasburg accomplished the same feat. During May, Gio posted a 1.2 WAR, with our reserve winner Ian Desmond the only player really coming close to contributing the same value to the team, with a 0.9 WAR.
Nationals’ Rookie of the Month: Harper. Thanks guys for making the end of this write-up so easy!
And that’s all folks!
And while I’m in the article-sharing mood, here is another must-read from Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, albeit of a completely different, more serious and tragic bent.
And kudos to Verducci for putting faces to one of the central points of the story, beautifully captured in two matter-of-fact sentences:
Ninety percent of all drafted players never spend one day in the big leagues. Steroid users made the odds even worse for clean players.