Fernando Tatis Jr.’s Big Weekend

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I had several half-baked ideas in the hopper for today’s edition of the newsletter—Manuel Margot’s improved base stealing (coming later this week), Gene Tenace’s place among all-time Padres, Chris Paddack’s Saturday night resurgence, etc.—but then Fernando Tatis stole the spotlight again, combining power and speed and smarts into a walking, talking baseball deity.

On Friday: Tatis hit his 10th home run and swiped his 12th stolen base, making him just the second rookie shortstop (Nomar Garciaparra, 1997) to reach the 10-10 threshold before the All-Star Break. Of course, as it often does, Tatis’ performance comes with a positive qualifier: It took Garciaparra 63 starts to reach double digits in both homers and steals, while Tatis did it in just 44.

Tatis also drew a walk in his fifth straight game on Friday night, giving him 11 free passes in the 94 plate appearances he’s received since returning from injury on June 6. While Tatis still strikes out more often than preferable, his patience has been a surprise addition to his profile, especially considering the havoc he wreaks once on base. In June, Tatis’ 11.7 percent walk rate puts him on the first page of the National League leaderboard, just behind the likes of Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. More patience is a team-wide trend worth keeping an eye on.

On Saturday: The main event of the weekend, Tatis went 3-for-5 with a home run, a bloop double, and an infield single. Plus, he scored from second on an infield single by Eric Hosmer, which sounds a lot more routine than it should.

The Hosmer play came in the sixth inning:

The home run was the topper, a 440-foot shot over the Padres bullpen:

On Sunday: Tatis rocketed a single into left field in the fifth inning and then turned another routine Hosmer base hit into must-see TV, scoring from first on a single that found the green acres of the right-center field gap. He added another single later and, thanks to his earlier work, made a 2-for-5 day his least productive game of the series.  

After the weekend’s statistics were tallied, Tatis had widened league leads in two categories. Per FanGraphs, Tatis’ 164 wRC+ now leads all shortstops (min. 100 PA) by 16 points, with Houston’s Alex Bregman a distant second. And by Baseball Prospectus’ baserunning metric, Tatis extended his lead over Ronald Acuña to a half a run. Both Tatis and Acuña are running away from the competition, as Acuña is a full run clear of third place’s Mallex Smith. Tatis has somehow accrued more BRR than all but three players did in all of 2018.

Here are the top five players in fWAR prorated over a full season (700 plate appearances):

PlayerPAfWARfWAR/700
1. Cody Bellinger3515.511.0
2. Joey Gallo2383.710.9
3. Mike Trout3615.210.1
4. Christian Yelich3414.59.2
5. Fernando Tatis Jr.2052.68.9


There’s Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things. There are the breakouts of the NL in Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich (part 2), both safely inside the top five. There’s Joey Gallo, who’s hit 20 homers in 238 plate appearances and ranks second in baseball in walk rate but had an extended stay on the injured list. Then there’s Tatis, who missed over a month of his own due to injury and would be receiving even more attention had that ill-advised stretch in Washington never happened. Either way, Tatis, a 20-year-old rookie, has played like one of the best players in baseball over his first 48 games in the majors.

(He did not make the NL All-Star team.)

The 20-20-20 Club

When Manny Machado connected for his 20th home run on Sunday, he became the third Padre to reach the 20-homer milestone this season, joining team leaders Hunter Renfroe and Franmil Reyes. The last time the Padres had three players reach 20 home runs in a full season was in 2016, when Wil Myers, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Schimpf pulled it off. Before that, you’d have to go all the way back to an Adrián González-led 2007 team to find another trio of 20-HR teammates in San Diego. In between, the 2014 Padres didn’t have a single player reach 20 homers, with Yasmani Grandal leading the team with a mere 15. In 2011, San Diego’s top two home runs leaders combined for just 20—in an entire season, yes. Even 1998’s historic team had just two players topple 20 homers, with Greg Vaughn and Ken Caminiti combining for 79 round-trippers, nearly half the team’s total output. 

While the league’s homer-happy environment and a gentler Petco Park have paired to make this feat more reachable, it’s not like every team in the league has two or three 20-plus home run guys. In fact, only the Dodgers (Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Joc Pederson) have matched the Padres with three at 20 already. The Braves, Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, and Twins all have two, and the Angels, A’s, Cubs, Reds, and Yankees (plus the Brewers, Mariners, Rockies, and Twins) could conceivably get three players to 20 before the break, although it’d take a homer binge this week for that to happen for some of those teams. In a league where home run records are falling at a record clip, the Padres are puffing out their chest.

As for Machado, he used the month of June to recalibrate his numbers back to levels we’ve come to expect. In the month, Machado led third basemen with a 176 wRC+, well clear of Mike Moustakas in second. Machado also led all hitters with 11 June homers. On the season, he’s slashing .277/.352/.516 with a 126 wRC+. He should easily surpass 30 home runs for the fifth consecutive season and could smack 40 for the first time in his career.

Kirby Yates and WPA

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Win Probability Added is a statistic that credits and debits a player based on how their performance impacts their team’s chance to win a game. If a batter hits a walk-off home run that pushes his team’s win probability from 40 percent to 100 percent, that dude gets .60 WPA points. The pitcher, correspondingly, loses just as much off his ledger. That’s a big swing, of course. Most of the credits and debits are much smaller—a single here, a walk there, a fly out here.

While most baseball stats—like WAR or wRC+, for instance—are context neutral, meaning they’re designed to ignore the situation of the game in which a player’s contributions occur, WPA is just the opposite. It relishes the context, doling out points based on a player’s timeliness. That makes it a great little tool to use for late-inning relievers, since they often enter with the game on the line.

Last season, National League MVP Christian Yelich led all hitters with 6.02 WPA, and the AL MVP, Mookie Betts, finished third at 5.77. On the pitching side, Jacob deGrom’s sensational season was worth 5.85 wins by WPA, first among starters. But Blake Treinen, a reliever from Oakland, led all of baseball in WPA, netting 6.22 wins on the strength of an absurd 0.78 ERA in 80 1/3 innings.

By any version of WAR, Treinen was an afterthought. Per FanGraphs, Treinen’s 3.6 WAR ranked 22nd among pitchers, right between James Paxton and Kyle Hendricks. Good, not special. But by WPA, however, Treinen’s 6.22 mark ranked 14th among all pitchers since 1988, when the modern bullpen started taking shape. Only Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Orel Hershiser, Zack Greinke, Randy Johnson, Keith Foulke, Troy Percival, Zack Britton, Eric Gagne, and Randy Johnson have bettered that 6.22 number over the last 31 years. For relievers, WPA is the equalizer, putting them on similar footing to position players and starters.

Nobody would take Treinen over Yelich, Betts, or deGrom, of course, but WPA illustrates just how big a role a shutdown reliever can play. Since Treinen was used almost exclusively in important situations, and since he hardly ever surrendered even a lowly run, he racked up a ton of value for the overperforming A’s in 2018. In fact, it’s easy to credit a decent-sized portion of the A’s out-of-nowhere success to Treinen himself. With a run-of-the-mill closer, last year’s A’s might have missed the playoffs. With him, they won 97 games and cruised to a wild card spot.

Here are the top 10 reliever seasons since 1988:

PlayerYearTeamWPA
1. Keith Foulke2000White Sox6.62
2. Troy Percival1996Angels6.54
3. Zack Britton2016Orioles6.33
4. Eric Gagne2003Dodgers6.32
5. Blake Treinen2018A’s6.22
6. Trevor Hoffman1998Padres5.85
7. Jose Mesa1995Indians5.83
8. J.J. Putz2007Mariners5.82
9. Brad Lidge2004Astros5.81
10. Joe Nathan2004Twins5.77

The top 10 is conspicuously missing Yankee great Mariano Rivera (maybe his teams were too good), but it includes several all-time closers, like Trevor Hoffman, Gagne, and Foulke. Note how rare Treinen’s 2018 turned out to be, though. He’s one of just five relievers since 1988 to crack the six WPA threshold in a single season.

Enter the 2019 version of Kirby Yates. So far Yates is 20-for-20 in saves, with 12 of them the one-run variety. He’s allowed just three runs all season, two in back-to-back losses to the Dodgers and one with a 4–0 lead against the Diamondbacks. Yates has put up a 1.13 ERA, with 44 strikeouts, eight walks, and no homers allowed in 24 innings. His 46.8 percent strikeout rate is fourth in baseball, behind only Josh Hader, Mike Clevinger, and Matt Barnes. His K%-BB% is fourth to the same three guys; his 0.66 FIP is second to Clevinger; his cFIP is second to Barnes; his 2.29 DRA is ninth. You get the point.

By WPA, Yates is at 2.14 already, trailing only San Francisco’s Will Smith by .04. Smith and Yates are the only two pitchers with at least 2.0 WPA. To put into context just how good Yates has been in this category, consider that last season—when he pitched 63 innings and posted a 2.14 ERA—he accumulated just 2.57 WPA all year. And that number ranked 10th among relievers. Sooo, Yates has already had a good season for a reliever. It’s May 24.

It’s impossible for the baseball-loving fan not to extrapolate from here, if only for informational purposes. Yates has recorded his 2.14 WPA through 50 team games. If he keeps up this pace through the rest of the season, he’ll finish with 6.9 WPA, blowing away Foulke’s longstanding (modern bullpen era) record.  

Will it happen? Well, probably not. Baseball is designed to take the best of on-pace-for plans and shred them to pieces. Even though Cody Bellinger is suddenly a superstar, he’s almost certainly not going to rack up a Ruthian 13.2 WAR this season. Same thing with Yates. Chances are, he’ll give up a few more runs down the stretch, cough up a few big saves. Regression to the mean is omnipresent. Further, the Padres have afforded Yates with plenty of opportunities. One-run saves, specifically, are a gold mine for WPA. Since the game is tighter, there’s more WPA points available in a one-run save than the two- or three-run type. The Padres might not play such a high percentage of close games from here out.

But could it happen? Heck yeah. Yates and these Padres might just be the perfect match for some WPA magic. We already know that Yates isn’t getting by with much good future. Sure, he might surrender a couple home runs here or there, but he’s put up that 1.13 ERA with a .375 BABiP. When you strike out half your opponents, luck doesn’t play much of a role. Roughly speaking, he’s going to continue to dominate.

The question might come down to whether the Padres can continue feeding Yates so many save opportunities. His 20 saves pace baseball by five, with Detroit’s Shane Greene in a lone second. He also has four more save opportunities than the next closest guys, Greene and LA’s Kenley Jansen. Consider this: Yates has as many one-run saves than all but four other closers have total saves. Save chances can come in bunches or disappear for a week stretch, but the Padres—good but not too good—could be the right sort of team to keep supplying Yates with plenty of WPA ammo.

As it stands now, Yates is having one of the finest reliever seasons ever, by just about any metric. With over four months left in the season, there’s plenty of time for him to come back to earth some. There’s also enough time for him to chase down some records. With how well he’s pitched since joining the Padres, the latter scenario almost seems more probable.  

Chris Paddack’s Brother Plays Big Role in Hurler’s Success

By Lance Brozdowski

PEORIA, AZ—Watching the 23-year-old Chris Paddack pitch is an experience for reasons other than the harmony of plus command and a disappearing changeup. Sit around home plate and you will hear a 31-year-old former D1 pitcher barking at the Padres’ rising star. The words come midway through at-bats, at times when the intense spike in volume rises well above the natural stadium ambiance.

“I hear him up in the stands,” Chris says. “He doesn’t care what people think. He doesn’t care about anybody in the stands. That’s him talking to me on the mound and I’m the only guy who can hear it.”

Michael Paddack is one of Chris’ two brothers and he serves as his “hype man,” as the two prefer to term it. Michael yells at Chris during games, jolting the starter’s concentration on the rare occasion he loses focus. His energy mimics the palpable intensity Chris operates with on a constant basis. Their relationship is deep and affecting, hardened over the years and unique in the level of Michael’s involvement. It has become a key variable in Chris’ success as he enters his first season in the major leagues.

***

This offseason, the brothers purchased multiple picture-frame sized devices called “Portals” from Facebook’s line of direct-to-consumer products and distributed them to family members. The little gesture existed to remedy the distance between Paddack and his family as he embarked on his season with the Padres, as reported by The Athletic’s Dennis Lin. The brothers also saved a pair for themselves.

The device marked a step forward in a tradition for Chris and Michael: conversations the night before or day of a start. Upgrading from phone calls to FaceTimes to Portal chats helped improve the face-to-face connection reminiscent of the in-person pep talks on the common occasion Michael attends a game. When Michael is not at a start, he watches at home or listens on the radio, and according to Chris, has been known to disturb neighbors with the volume of his cheers.

“He knows how to get me going and how to piss me off, everything to get me ready for the start,” Chris says. “All those little things, to me, are a big reason why I am successful.”

Michael is the first to mention his periodic intensity during their pre-start conversations. (Chris restrained from giving details about Michael’s rants to preserve his “secrets.”) But the conversations are predominantly a box-checking exercise. The brothers review Chris’ goals, break down hitter tendencies of the opposing lineup, and above all else, hold Chris accountable.

Michael’s main goal is to help Chris navigate through daily outside distractions. He urges Chris to “be honest with himself” in order to stay grounded and continually improve. To accomplish this, the two construct daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Every offseason they revisit a yearly growth chart, discussing what the season ahead could look like on a realistic level.

“Literally I’m just listening,” Chris says. “I’ll turn Portal on and he’ll just talk for 45 minutes before I even say one word.”

Chris admits he is a visual learner. A changeup-dominant right-handed pitcher naturally succeeds against the opposite handed hitter, which means lefties are Chris’ bread and butter. To succeed as a starter at higher levels, he knew he needed to improve his curveball to combat a natural reverse platoon split. This offseason, instead of tinkering with a Rapsodo device, he watched pitchers throw curveballs on YouTube and visualized how he wanted his pitch to evolve. Michael understands Chris’ unique method of absorbing information and acts as an interpreter.

“He can kind of give me some feedback in a language I understand,” Chris says.

Paddack2.png

One year after the Miami Marlins drafted Chris in the eighth round of the 2015 First-Year Player Draft, the organization traded him to the Padres. After just three starts with his new club, he underwent Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Days after the surgery, the brothers committed to a game plan attacking each day of Chris’ 22-month rehab process. Chris even moved in with Michael during the 2016 offseason to help him maintain his motivation and focus.

Chris threw 90 innings across two levels with the Padres when he returned from Tommy John in 2018. Inning limits after a surgery like Tommy John and other sensitive topics are often conversations between a player and their organization, but Michael’s involvement in Chris’ baseball life demonstrates a unique level of trust.

“You’re not going to throw 180 innings,” Michael told Chris. “That’s just not going to happen… You need to go into [2019] with a realistic expectation. That way you can kind of monitor the highs and the lows and not get too excited or get bummed out if something doesn’t happen.”

Chris and Michael’s older brother, Jason, also played college baseball. Michael learned what he could from Jason during his career and began to pass his knowledge down when Chris showed promise early.

Michael still remembers a tee-ball game in their home state of Texas where Chris turned an unassisted triple play. In high school, he recalls Chris throwing eight no-hitters and two perfect games against upper-level amateur competition. Chris started receiving calls from scouts and D1 colleges expressing interest.

Their on-field mentorship, however, is preceded by a deep connection at a young age.

“As far as our bond goes, we’ve got something pretty special and we’ve had it for a long time,” Michael says. “Long story short, because of some of the things we were exposed to in our childhood—our age gap is eight years—I was in junior high, high school, he was still a little elementary kid, but I was old enough to kind of watch over him more or less, shelter what he was exposed to.”

On Chris and Michael’s maternal side of the family, their mom’s four siblings have multiple children and grandchildren, totaling 18 cousins. Big family get-togethers were a common occurrence in their childhood and still happen in the present day. More than 80 family members and friends attended Chris’ Double-A debut in San Antonio, many of them sporting traditional Texas cowboy hats to mimic a portion of the pregame attire Chris wears every start day: a full suit and hat.

“When you have an ability to play a game on an elite level,” Chris says, “that gives you a platform that very few people have.”

In order for Chris to excel at his craft, the brothers knew he would need to have the professional qualities of his on-field presence duplicated off the field. Michael never went into detail with Chris about how this specific need would flesh out in real life, but Chris took it upon himself to suit up for every professional start. The tradition has continued ever since he tucked his first tailored dress shirt into his starch jeans and went to the field.

Chris remains in big-league camp, presumably with a grasp on a spot in the Padres rotation as the final days of spring training approach. His curveball has developed into a viable third pitch and his projection, according to many of the industry’s most reputable sites, is better than any other starter on the team on a per-start basis.  

Michael already has plans to attend opening weekend in San Diego against the Giants. He will be in the stands yelling to Chris as he throws his first major-league pitches, though it may be slightly more difficult for Chris to hear him in a packed Petco Park. Before his start, Chris and Michael will have a pre-start conversation, the same as always. Atop Chris’ locker will sit a tiny yellow rubber duck that has followed him around since the minor leagues. He will enter the Petco Park clubhouse with his signature suit and hat combination. To change a routine after prolonged success would surely do more harm than good.

“[My family] is a big reason why I’m doing this,” Chris says. “You can’t just come to the field and go through the motions saying, ‘Oh, I have to.’ It’s a privilege, it’s an opportunity that I’m never going to take for granted.”

***

Follow Lance on Twitter and check out his website to read all of his baseball writing. Subscribe to the Sacrifice Bunt Newsletter for more Padres and baseball writing all year long.

Franmania

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Yesterday, in an 11–8 Cactus League win over the Rangers, both Franmil Reyes and Francisco Mejía hit home runs. Mejía’s round-tripper was something of a wall-scraper, whereas Reyes’ homer penetrated the mesosphere, clanked off a satellite, and ricocheted through a wormhole, eventually landing somewhere near fifth-century Constantinople. Both counted as one spring training home run. Anyway, yesterday’s outburst from two out of three Frans gave me a good enough excuse to write about the trio.

Francisco Mejía

The negative aspects of Mejía’s game—his defense and his swing-happy approach—have slowly overshadowed his positive attributes, like a lightning quick bat, but this guy can hit. That’s an obvious thing to write about someone who once had a 50-game hitting streak in the minors, of course, but it’s easy to forget since Mejía hasn’t produced to expectations since joining the organization.

In an abbreviated big-league debut last season, both the best and worst of Mejía’s offensive game were on display, as crushed home runs were interrupted by lapses in plate control. And thanks to that aggressive approach, pitchers threw Mejía a strike just 41.4 percent of the time, the sixth-lowest rate in the majors among any batter to see 100 pitches. On the other hand, once Mejía connects, you instantly understand why he’s so eager to swing. He’s got a quick bat and more pop than his 5-foot-10 frame would suggest, giving him the ability to take low-and-inside pitches out of the park. There’s the framework for a good offensive player here, especially at catcher, even if it never comes with a particularly high walk rate.

The defensive side of Mejía’s game is more of a work in progress, and the deficiencies there are highlighted by any comparison to Austin Hedges, one of the game’s finest backstops. Mejía still has strides to make in receiving and various catch-and-throw skills, but the greatest disparity between him and Hedges might come in the unmeasurable ‘handling a pitching staff’ category. Hedges already has game experience with many of the roster’s pitchers, and he also comes with the sort of know-how a catcher only picks up after starting 237 games in the majors. Now that the Padres have recalibrated toward winning, everyone’s realized the importance of a defense-first catcher—especially with a young starting rotation.

Mejía still has an exciting bat, and even if he starts the year in El Paso, he’s likely to end up splitting time with Hedges and perhaps filling in at other positions soon enough. Holding onto both players certainly isn’t a bad option. The last time the Padres had two backstops worth starting, Yasmani Grandal and Rene Rivera gave San Diego the best catching duo in the game.

Franmil Reyes

Reyes and Hunter Renfroe tend to get lumped together, and it’s true—they’re similar players. They’re both right-handed sluggers with average-to-plus bats and middling gloves in an outfield corner (Wil Myers is similar enough, as well). I like Reyes better, though, simply because he’s shown a better approach than Renfroe, plus the ability to adjust more quickly. We covered Reyes’ improvement in some detail last year, but as a refresher, check out his performance in 2018 broken into two parts:

Time FramePAOPSBB%K%
May 14-June 2096.7174.240.6
July 11-Sept. 30189.90210.621.7

Despite showing some power, Reyes was overmatched in that first taste of the majors last season. He had four walks to 39 strikeouts in 96 plate appearances. He was sent back to El Paso, recalled in July, and then demoted and promoted once more. The final version of Reyes that emerged in August was a different beast altogether; the power stuck but the whiffs and patience both took major steps in the right direction, making him the Padres best hitter.

Even in Renfroe’s best months, he’s shown lingering signs of a subpar approach. In August of last season, Renfroe posted a .935 OPS and popped nine home runs, but he had four walks and 24 strikeouts. In his career in September, Renfroe’s rocking a .918 OPS with a 4.9 percent walk rate. Renfroe’s made some strides of his own, and he deserves playing time, but his boom-or-bust style could cap the upside. Reyes is four years younger and has already shown a different gear with the bat.

Franchy Cordero

We may have to just come to grips with Franchy Cordero, human blooper reel. If Vegas made odds on such things (they probably do), Cordero might be the favorite to pull the next Jose Canseco, bopping a would-be fly out over the fence with his head. Then again, Cordero’s already survived a blown no-hitter, circuitous routes in the outfield, and a 51-error minor-league season (at shortstop) because he possesses a tantalizing mix of tools, which has kept the Padres believing in him, through good and bad, for the better part of this decade.

It’s not like Cordero’s a complete mess out there, either. In the outfield, his speed allows him to outrun some of his bad routes. And at the plate, like Reyes, he’s shown off power rivaled by few players in the organization. The ball just travels when Cordero makes good contact, even when he seemingly doesn’t get all of it.

Last year, Cordero cut his strikeout rate almost nine percentage points from 2017, but it still sat at 35.7 percent. That’s too high for a player who doesn’t walk much and hasn’t shown the ability to provide lots of value in the field or on the bases. Between 34 games combined in the Dominican Republic this winter and so far in Arizona, Cordero’s posted a 34.3 percent strikeout rate, showing little progress on an important flaw.

In the end, Cordero has enough raw tools to become an effective player in multiple ways. If he doesn’t clean up the plate approach and swing-and-miss tendencies, harnessing his speed would at least salvage a career as a good fourth outfielder. If the footspeed never leads to much tangible value, cutting the strikeout rate to under 30 percent would allow the raw power to play. If he does both, well, look out. Cordero’s no sure thing to put it all together, but the speed/power combo should afford him more time to try. There’s star potential here and enough past production to keep dreaming on. 

Revisiting 1994

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The 1991 Super Bowl is my first sports memory, but I don’t actually recall watching a single play—not even the missed field goal by Bills kicker Scott Norwood at the end of the game. What I think I remember is my parents, with some family and friends, watching the game. Mostly, I remember my dad’s reaction after the miss (luckily, he was a Giants fan). I was three years old.

After that game, I’m not sure any sports moment stands out so vividly in my mind until the middle of the decade—maybe Michael Johnson’s gold shoes in the 1996 Olympics, or the Packers losing any number of playoff games to the Cowboys, or Cal Ripken Jr. breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games streak in 1995. I didn’t really become a sports fan until I was seven or eight.  

All of this is to say that I don’t much remember the 1994 baseball season, or the strike that ended it on August 12. Nevertheless, that season’s always taken on some level of mystique in my mind, like it has for many other baseball fans. Just what could have been?

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QB Power Rankings: October 15, 2018

What follows is the most ambitious attempt to evaluate the modern quarterback, a decades-in-the-waiting synthesis of technology and expert scouting to isolate the performance of the QB from that of his team.

Just kidding. This is the debut of my QB Power Rankings, a subjective but hopefully (mildly) informative ranking of the best at the position right now. The goal is not to pick a quarterback for one game or for the long run; it’s essentially who I’d want for the rest of this season.

(To be eligible, the QB must have attempted at least 20 passes in the NFL so far in 2018 and not be injured for the season. Jimmy Garoppolo would rank somewhere in the 11-15 range if healthy.)

  1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers takes home the No. 1 spot in the debut of this series, but it’s a tenuous hold. Thanks to a combination of injuries to himself, suspect talent around him, and the conservative offensive schemes and play calling of his head coach, Mike McCarthy, Rodgers hasn’t quite been in peak form in years. Of course, off peak form for Rodgers is still pretty good: this season, without full health, he’s throwing for over 300 yards per game with 10 touchdowns and one interception. No QB combines Rodgers’ athleticism, arm strength, accuracy, and decision making.

  1. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

Brady already has six interceptions in just six games this season; that’s just two fewer than he had all of last year. He put up 43 points last night without an INT, just narrowly outdueling Patrick Mahomes. He’s okay.

  1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

Brees has all kinds of talent around him. Alvin Kamara might be the most explosive running back in the league, and Michael Thomas is quickly rising up the wide receiver ranks. With the help—and New Orleans’ fast home track—Brees is reinventing the position at 39 years of age. He’s completed 77.9 percent of his passes this season while averaging 8.7 yards per pass—and he’s yet to throw a pick.

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Tiger Woods: Almost Back

Tigers Woods finally did it.

After five years of turmoil and setbacks, either on the course or off it, he won a golf tournament. It wasn’t necessarily a real tournament, of course. The Tour Championship features 30 of the best golfers in the world, but its field size pales in comparison to normal PGA events, which often consist of 100-plus golfers. In fairness, while Woods got to dodge Jordan Spieth and other potential upsetters, he did face off against the likes of Justin Rose, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, and a host of others.

Potential asterisks aside, Woods’ win was viewed almost universally as a great Sports Moment—even for a contrarian curmudgeon like me, watching him walk up 18 in front of a mob of fans brought back some feels. I’ve always had a touch-and-go relationship with Tiger, never fully buying into the frenzy. My hesitance has generally had less to do with him—though he’s done his part—than the people who root most ardently for him. Cryogenically frozen since the late ‘90s and released back into the wild this year, they all seem to wear a Titleist hat, talk incessantly about the comparative advantages of different golf balls, and be exactly 40 years old.

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Checking in on Luis Urias

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Part two of the two-part Twitter mailbag incoming in five . . . four . . . three . . . ahh, what the heck, here it is:

@jefftsdHow about a compare and contrast of Urias’ 2018 YTD numbers vs. his 2017 numbers? Is his 2018 so far a step backwards, normal growing pains, or do you think his numbers are OK? Just an idea, I don’t remember you recently covering the topic.

Good topic. Just to get the particulars out of the way, Luis Urias is 21 years old and currently playing (mostly) second base at Triple-A El Paso. Through 321 plate appearances, he’s slashing .268/.377/.408 with a 112 wRC+.

The place to start with Urias is the strikeouts, I think. After walking more than he whiffed in every season going into this one, Triple-A pitching has caught up to Urias. He has 64 strikeouts to 43 walks after striking out just 65 times all of last season. The walks aren’t a problem—Urias is actually walking at a career-high 13.4 percent clip, an impressive number given the age and level.

The early concern is that strikeout rate, which has ballooned this season. Going into this year, Urias had an 8.8 percent K rate in his professional career, the stuff of a bat-to-ball legend. This year? It’s at 19.9 percent. As mentioned, Urias is just 21 and at Triple-A, so an increase in whiffs was expected. But even last year, as a 20-year-old at Double-A (and in a tougher hitter’s environment), Urias only K’ed in 12.4 percent of his PAs. It’s not like he needed a bunch of time to adjust to Double-A last season, either; through the first three months of 2017, his K rate was lower than his seasonal mark, at 11.5 percent.

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Horsin’ Around

The wait is finally over. For the first time in three years, horse racing has a Triple Crown winner. Justify, bred in Kentucky and trained by Bob Baffert, coasted to a Belmont Stakes win on Saturday, June 9, wrapping up his quest for the first Triple Crown since the Baffert-trained American Pharoah’s successful bid way back in 2015.

Call me an old fogey, but I long for the days when Triple Crowns just didn’t happen. After Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978—the third one of the 1970s, mind you—no horse turned the trick until American Pharoah. Over that 37-year stretch, however, 13 different horses won the first two legs, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but came up short in the Belmont. Those failed bids—and Tom Durkin’s accompanying calls—remain some of the sport’s most exciting moments.

Over that long Triple Crown drought, the feat loomed tantalizingly close but ultimately felt impossible. Would we ever have another Triple Crown winner, many wondered, as the disappointments mounted. Horses aren’t bred to run the testing mile-and-a-half distance of the Belmont, and they aren’t prepared to win three races in roughly a month, they said. Part of the enjoyment of Triple Crown season came from wondering if each new Kentucky Derby winner could finally be the one to break the crownless streak (or in what manner they’d inevitably come up short in the Belmont).

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The Conflicting Priorities of Andy Green

During yesterday’s game, Andy Green made a curious move. Trailing 5–1 in the third inning, Green pulled a double-switch, removing Manuel Margot from center and putting Matt Szczur in his place. The move perhaps made a touch of strategic sense—it moved the pitcher’s spot from ninth to eighth in the lineup, so new hurler Robbie Erlin didn’t have to bat until the bottom of the fifth. Still, it was super early for a double-switch; avoiding a low-leverage at-bat from the pitcher’s spot in the third inning is hardly a needle-mover. If you believe Margot is a better player than Szczur, you can’t remove him in the third for a double-switch. (And if you don’t, perhaps Szczur should have just started the game.)

Without an easy-to-explain injury—one apparently wasn’t mentioned after the game—the move just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it perhaps highlighted a difference in priorities between Green and the Padres front office.

The question about who’s better between Margot and Szczur right now is possibly an open one, but we can probably all agree on one thing: Margot has a future in the organization and Szczur does not—at least not unless he’s willing to drop his spare outfielder gig for one as a roving instructor. And even if the switch might have made some sense from a win expectancy standpoint—not a given, by the way—it just didn’t jibe in the big scheme of things. The Padres were facing a left hander and a bad team, and Margot, so long as he’s on the team, should get as many at-bats as is reasonable. Starting him and then removing him after one plate appearance isn’t doing anybody any good.

Of course, if Green is doing everything he can to squeeze an extra point of win expectancy out of a thin roster, maybe it’s hard to blame him.

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