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Where does 2014 rank among Orioles’ most exciting seasons since 1983?

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Where does 2014 rank among Orioles’ most exciting seasons since 1983?

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Though only a couple days have passed since the Orioles’ disappointing elimination from the American League Championship Series at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, we begin to reflect on what was an exceptional season that netted the franchise’s first AL East championship in 17 years.

The Orioles still have a long way to go to approach their glory days of 1966 through 1983, but two postseason appearances in the last three years represent a good start that fans hope will culminate with the franchise’s first World Series title in over 30 years before the current run is over. However, it’s difficult to argue you how special the 2014 season was in what’s been an underwhelming 31 years since Cal Ripken caught the final out of Game 5 of the 1983 Fall Classic.

Where does 2014 rank among the greatest Orioles seasons since 1983?

Below is a brief look at five candidates before you vote for your favorite in the poll. If you have a different season in mind, feel free to make your case in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

Which is your favorite season of Orioles baseball since 1983?

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1. 1989 “Why Not?” season
Skinny: After losing a major league record 21 straight games to begin the season and finishing a woeful 54-107 a year earlier, the 1989 Orioles spent a remarkable 119 days in first place and owned a 7 1/2 game lead in late July. The season was highlighted by a number of comeback wins and contributions from the unlikeliest of players. Though they fell short in their quest for the division title in the final weekend of the season in Toronto, the new-look Orioles of 1989 went down as one of the most surprising and exciting clubs in franchise history after having no expectations at the start of the season. 

2. 1996 Wild Card team
Skinny: After underachieving for much of the season under new manager Davey Johnson, the veteran-laden Orioles got hot down the stretch and went 37-22 over the final two months of the 1996 season to clinch their first wild card berth. Breaking the all-time record for most home runs by a team in a single year, four Orioles scored at least 100 runs, four drove in at least 100, and seven hit at least 20 homers. The 88-74 Orioles upset the heavily-favored defending AL champion Cleveland Indians in the Division Series before bowing out in the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion New York Yankees in six games.

3. 1997 wire-to-wire AL East champions
Skinny: Unlike the previous year, the 1997 Orioles started fast and never looked back on the way to becoming the sixth team in major league history to stay in first place from Opening Day through the end of the regular season. Their 98 wins were their most since winning the World Series in 1983 and the Orioles appeared on their way to their first pennant in 14 years before Cleveland exacted revenge for the previous year by stunning Baltimore in the ALCS in six games. As if the defeat weren’t painful enough, the following season would begin a dubious streak of 14 consecutive losing seasons. 

4. 2012 Wild Card team
Skinny: Manager Buck Showalter had begun changing the losing culture of the organization from the time he arrived two years earlier, but the results on the field didn’t match it until 2012 when the underdog Orioles won 93 games and hung tough with the first-place Yankees throughout the month of September. Settling for a wild card berth, the Orioles bested the Texas Rangers in the first Wild Card Game to advance to the Division Series where Camden Yards witnessed its first postseason games in 15 years. In a very competitive and entertaining series, the Orioles fell in five games to the Yankees, but the season signaled the end of Baltimore’s extended stay in the baseball doldrums.

5. 2014 AL East champions
Skinny: Despite losing All-Star players Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, and Chris Davis for extended periods of the season, the Orioles ran away with the AL East by a staggering 12 games. Baltimore clinched and celebrated its first division title in 17 years at Camden Yards before sweeping the Division Series against the Detroit Tigers and besting the last three Cy Young Award winners to do it. The series also brought arguably the most exciting in-game moment in the history of Camden Yards when pinch-hitter Delmon Young smacked a go-ahead three-run double in the eighth inning to win Game 2. The sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS was painful, but the disappointment didn’t erase the memory of a remarkable run.

 

 

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Young’s simple approach nets huge dividends for Orioles in dramatic Game 2 win

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Young’s simple approach nets huge dividends for Orioles in dramatic Game 2 win

Posted on 03 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Following one of the most dramatic moments in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Delmon Young appeared to be the only one who didn’t view his three-run double as anything special after the Orioles’ 7-6 win over the Detroit Tigers on Friday afternoon.

Asked how it felt to hear the roar of the crowd after he connected on a liner down the left-field line off Joakim Soria and what it meant to lift his club to a dramatic comeback victory to take a 2-0 lead in the American League Division Series, Young was short and unemotional with his answers as if he didn’t understand why such a fuss was being made. Of course, it wasn’t the first time Young has delivered in October as it was just a few years ago that he hit eight home runs over two postseason runs with the same team he put on the brink of elimination Friday afternoon.

“Just like winning a ballgame,” said Young about how he felt as just a trace of a half-smile briefly came across his face. “I was trying to do my job and win a game. You don’t want to go to Detroit [tied] 1-1 when they have [David] Price going and [Rick] Porcello going and they have an opportunity to clinch up there.”

The coming days will determine where Young’s hit might ultimately rank in club history, but the 29-year-old’s bases-clearing double has at least given him folk-hero status in a 22-year history of Camden Yards that doesn’t include a long list of great on-field results.

It all started quietly enough with the Orioles signing Young to a minor-league deal following a tryout at their January minicamp in Sarasota. His career appeared at a crossroads after a mediocre season with Detroit in 2012 and a disappointing campaign split between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay a year ago.

But the Orioles only envisioned a platoon role for him against left-handed pitching, and manager Buck Showalter quipped after Friday’s game that no one was smart enough to anticipate Young’s 10-for-20 mark as a pinch-hitter in 2014, providing timely hits throughout a 96-win campaign even after stretches when he’d sit on the bench for days at a time.

“He’s always been a good hitter,” said shortstop J.J. Hardy, who scored the go-ahead run on Young’s double and played with him in Minnesota in 2010. “But pinch-hitting, we look at each other in the dugout after he gets a big hit and we’re like, ‘How does he do that after not seeing a live pitch for five or six days and then just come in and hit a pitch like that down the line?’ It’s unbelievable.”

Young shrugged when asked how he’s been able to come through off the bench in the late innings so often, calling it good fortune and stating that it’s a matter of simply being ready whenever Showalter calls his name. Now with his fifth different club in the last four years, the journeyman almost made it sound as simple as rolling out of bed to step to the plate before returning to a state of relaxation after getting the job done.

But teammates know better, applauding his preparation and ability to do something that even many of the most-skilled hitters in the game struggle with.

“It’s the hardest job in sports, being a pinch-hitter,” said first baseman Steve Pearce, who’s filled a similar role to Young’s in past seasons and is a career .190 pinch-hitter in 88 plate appearances. “You’re going up there cold; you haven’t seen any pitching. Bullpen pitching [is] even tougher. That’s why he’s so good. He keeps everything simple. He doesn’t read into anything. He just goes up there and hits, and he does a good job of that.”

Showalter said Young is one of those players that allows a manager to rest his head on his pillow when thinking about using him, because he’s always going to be ready. Young has rewarded that faith with big hits throughout the season.

But none were as dramatic as his game-winner on Friday, putting the Orioles in position to advance to the AL Championship Series with just one more win over the Tigers.

“We don’t know if magic is the word to use,” said Young about the Orioles scoring 12 eighth-inning runs in the first two games of the series. “We’re just trying to beat a very good ball club in Detroit.”

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Hardy moving closer to return to Orioles lineup

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Hardy moving closer to return to Orioles lineup

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles lineup finally broke out in a 14-5 win on Tuesday and received good news about the status of shortstop J.J. Hardy.

Though the 31-year-old was sidelined for the fourth time in five games while dealing with lower back spasms, manager Buck Showalter said prior to Tuesday’s game that Hardy would have been available to come off the bench if necessary. Of course, the convincing win over the New York Yankees made Hardy’s use unnecessary as the Orioles provided more than enough offense to support a shaky outing from starter Wei-Yin Chen.

“A lot better, much more available,” Showalter told reporters of Hardy’s status prior to Tuesday’s win. “I’m optimistic he’d be an option [Tuesday]. We’ll see how the rest of the day goes. I wouldn’t have said that [Monday]. He’s improved, very close to being ready to start. … You can tell just by his face. So that’s good.”

With All-Star third baseman Manny Machado still on the 15-day disabled list while recovering from offseason knee surgery, the Orioles have been without a pair of Gold Glove defenders on the left side of the infield.

Left with a short bench, Showalter has been forced to use Ryan Flaherty, Steve Lombardozzi, and Jonathan Schoop at three infield positions, but the trio combined to go 8-for-15 with four runs scored on Tuesday to ease concerns about the bottom of the order.

With the Orioles scheduled to play a night game Thursday to conclude their three-game set with New York before an off-day, Showalter could elect to keep Hardy on the bench for one more game to be on the safe side before the Orioles return to Camden Yards to begin a six-game homestand.

Chen struggles again

Lost in the offensive explosion occurring in Tuesday’s win was another lackluster effort by Chen, who earned the win despite allowing four earned runs and nine hits in five innings of work.

In two starts, Chen has allowed eight earned runs and 21 hits over 10 2/3 innings. The Taiwanese lefty has yet to issue a walk this season, but he’s often been up in the strike zone while catching too much of the plate.

The Yankees and Red Sox did have their share of hits that weren’t exactly clobbered against Chen — suggesting he’s been unlucky on top of his overall ineffectiveness — but his start to the 2014 season continues a disturbing trend from the end of last season. Over his last nine starts dating back to Aug. 27, 2013, Chen has allowed 72 hits over 46 innings of work while posting a 6.65 earned run average and a 1.85 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched).

Of course, Chen’s track record over the first two-plus seasons of his career suggests he’s much better than what he’s shown recently, but his lack of command within the strike zone has been alarming.

Bats finally wake up

After being held to just 22 runs in their first seven contests, the Orioles plated 14 runs and bashed 20 hits to quell premature panic about the offense. The last time the Orioles collected 20 hits was May 10, 2011.

All nine starters collected at least one hit and all but one (Matt Wieters) had multi-hit games. Wieters, Adam Jones, and Delmon Young each hit home runs to match the Orioles’ total of three long balls in the first seven contests of the year.

Wieters and Young each collected three runs batted in against Yankees pitching.

 

 

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Looking at the Orioles’ non-roster invitees in Sarasota

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Looking at the Orioles’ non-roster invitees in Sarasota

Posted on 14 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles officially began spring training with their first official workout on Friday as they look for a number of answers over the next six weeks leading up to Opening Day on March 31.

After examining the players on the 40-man roster earlier in the week, it’s time to take a look at the 19 non-roster invitees who will join the club in Sarasota and try to leave the kind of impression with manager Buck Showalter and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette that warrants a spot on the major league roster.

Few likely have a real chance of migrating to Baltimore in late March, but many will be looking for a spot in the minor-league system in hopes of getting the call to join the Orioles at some point this season.

PITCHERS (8)

RHP Alfredo Aceves
Opening Day age: 31
Musing: His experience pitching for both the Yankees and Red Sox over the last six years gives him a better chance than most non-roster arms to crack the Baltimore bullpen, but his personality clashes in Boston and a 1.73 WHIP last season are red flags that contrast his 3.69 career earned run average in the big leagues.

LHP Nick Additon
Opening Day age: 26
Musing: The southpaw spent the last seven years as a starter in the St. Louis Cardinals organization but has never pitched in the majors and signed as a minor-league free agent after posting a 4.10 ERA in 131 2/3 innings in Triple-A Memphis last season.

RHP Tim Alderson
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: A former first-round pick of the San Francisco Giants in 2007, Alderson was acquired from Pittsburgh in exchange for Russ Canzler last July and went 1-2 with a 6.27 ERA in 33 innings with Triple-A Norfolk to finish the 2013 season, primarily pitching in relief.

RHP Fabio Castillo
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: The Dominican minor-league free agent posted a 5.34 ERA in 89 1/3 innings starting and relieving for the Giants’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates last season and will be entering his ninth season of professional baseball.

RHP Eddie Gamboa
Opening Day age: 29
Musing: After five previous seasons pitching in the Orioles system, he became a knuckleball hurler last year and was re-signed to a minor-league contract after going 6-11 with a 4.43 ERA in 25 starts split between Double-A Bowie and Norfolk.

RHP Brock Huntzinger
Opening Day age: 25
Musing: A 2007 third-round pick of the Red Sox, Huntzinger spent the last seven seasons pitching in the Boston organization and went 5-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 49 relief appearances split between the Double-A and Triple-A levels last year before signing with Baltimore as a minor-league free agent.

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
Opening Day age: 20
Musing: The Venezuelan product is one of the top prospects in the Baltimore system and went an impressive 10-7 with a 3.41 ERA split between Single-A Frederick and Bowie last season, which has made him a target of other organizations in trade talks but a piece the Orioles don’t want to give up.

RHP Mike Wright
Opening Day age: 24
Musing: Named the Orioles’ minor league pitcher of the year last season, the 2011 third-round pick went 11-3 with a 3.11 ERA primarily with Bowie before a late-season promotion to Norfolk and has a reasonable chance to arrive in Baltimore at some point before the 2014 season comes to an end.

Continue to non-roster position players >>>>>

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

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Seven Orioles players to watch closely during spring training

Posted on 11 February 2014 by Luke Jones

The start of spring training will inevitably bring a new batch of clichéd stories about players being in the best shape of their lives or feeling poised for career seasons, but the Orioles will need several players to emerge from the shadows to continue the momentum started over the last two seasons.

After a disappointing offseason that has featured no impact signings or significant acquisitions at this late stage, manager Buck Showalter must look from within the current roster for solutions to hopefully bring the Orioles a third consecutive winning season, a modest achievement they haven’t realized in 20 years (1992 through 1994).

The Orioles face uncertainty in the starting rotation and in the back end of the bullpen as well as at second base, designated hitter, and left field, making this spring’s workouts in Sarasota as important as any in recent memory. However, most answers won’t truly come until the regular season when Baltimore is thrown back into the reality of competing in the heavyweight American League East.

Here are seven players (with their 2013 stats noted in parentheses) to watch closely over the next six weeks before the Orioles break camp ahead of Opening Day on March 31:

7. 2B Ryan Flaherty (.221, 10 HR, 27 RBI, .683 OPS)

The opinions on the 27-year-old Flaherty have been polarizing in his brief major league career with plenty of good (16 home runs in 438 plate appearances and strong defense) and bad (a 12-for-90 start to 2013 that landed him at Triple-A Norfolk in May) over the last two years. However, the former Rule 5 pick appears to be the favorite to replace Brian Roberts as the starting second baseman and hit .276 with an impressive .812 OPS in 156 at-bats after being recalled from the Tides in late May. As we saw early last season, Flaherty’s defense alone gives him a long leash in Showalter’s eyes, but the Orioles hope he finally finds consistency at the plate with no established veteran in the mix as a serious threat.

6. OF/DH Henry Urrutia (.276, 0 HR, 2 RBI, .586 OPS)

The Cuban defector was the toast of the Orioles’ farm system last season as he raked at both Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk — hitting .347 with 31 extra-base hits between the two levels — before being called up to the majors in late July. All but one of Urrutia’s 16 hits with the Orioles were singles, but far too many have written off the 27-year-old while overlooking how tumultuous the last couple years were for him in simply trying to get to the United States, let alone immediately thrive in professional baseball. There’s no question that Urrutia needs to hit for more power to stick, but nearly 20 extra pounds and a full offseason to hone his craft make this spring an interesting one for him as the Orioles are still unsettled at the designated hitter spot.

5. LHP Zach Britton (2-3, 4.95 ERA, 1.725 WHIP)

This year is likely to be Britton’s last chance with the Orioles as he’s out of options and coming off his second consecutive underwhelming season in which he pitched poorly in 40 major league innings and posted an unimpressive 4.27 ERA at Norfolk. Britton walked too many hitters and didn’t miss enough bats (striking out just 4.1 per nine innings), but the fifth starter job is open for now and the fact that other contenders such as Kevin Gausman and Steve Johnson have remaining options gives the 26-year-old lefty a slight edge in the race. His 5-1 start as a rookie in 2011 feels like an eternity ago, but Britton has no better chance but this spring to show Showalter and new pitching coach Dave Wallace that he’s finally figured everything out.

4. OF/DH Delmon Young (.260, 11 HR, 38 RBI, .715 OPS combined with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay)

One of the few players the Orioles signed this offseason who has significant major league experience, the 28-year-old Young agreed to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training and figures to have a good chance to make the club as the right-handed designated hitter. He carries off-field baggage to go along with uneven performance over the last three years, but the No. 1 overall pick of the 2003 draft is a career .303 hitter with an .812 OPS against left-handed pitchers in his career. It was only 2010 when Young had a career season by hitting .298 with 21 homers and 112 RBIs, but the Orioles simply hope he can be part of the answer in a possible DH platoon situation.

3. LF David Lough (.286, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .724 OPS with Kansas City)

The Orioles spent much of the winter talking up Lough’s potential and there’s no doubting his above-average defensive ability, but whether he can handle the starting job in left field remains to be seen. A younger and cheaper version of Nate McLouth, Lough slugged a decent .413 but walked only 10 times in 335 plate appearances with the Royals last season, which isn’t something you’d like to see given the Orioles’ poor on-base percentage as a team in 2013. The 28-year-old hit .292 against southpaw pitchers last season, which bodes well for his chances to play every day, but the Orioles really would have benefited from a substantial upgrade at the position instead of a poor man’s version of McLouth, who wasn’t exactly a world-beater in 2013.

2. 3B Manny Machado (.283, 14 HR, 71 RBI, .746 OPS)

It remains to be seen how much the 21-year-old will play this spring — if at all — as he continues his rehabilitation from knee surgery, but his recovery is critical to not just the 2014 season but the future of the franchise. The Orioles need to be careful in easing Machado back to baseball, but it will be interesting to see if the winter disrupts his progress as a player after some of his flaws at the plate were exposed late last season. As good as he is at such a young age, Machado needs to show more patience at the plate (only 38 walks in 912 career plate appearances) and hit only .239 in the final three months of last season, making his late-season knee injury that much more frustrating in robbing him of the ability to simply hone his craft this winter.

1. RHP Kevin Gausman (3-5, 5.66 ERA, 1.343 WHIP)

For all the discussion about the Orioles failing to land an established veteran starter to anchor the rotation, the 2012 first-round pick taking a giant step forward would be a major shot in the arm to the back end of the rotation. Gausman’s blazing fastball and split-change are plus pitches, but the 23-year-old needs a better feel for a third pitch to give himself the best chance to succeed as a starter. Regardless of where he’s playing, Gausman needs to be pitching every fifth day to develop and should not be in the bullpen as he was in the second half last season. Baltimore hopes that some added bulk to his 6-foot-3 frame will put the righty over the top physically and allow him to put things together quickly at the major league level.

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You can’t possibly be surprised the Orioles signed Delmon Young

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You can’t possibly be surprised the Orioles signed Delmon Young

Posted on 14 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

If ever a player was a natural signing for the Orioles, it’s Delmon Young.

Honestly, once I looked over his career yesterday, I couldn’t help but think, “what took them so long?”

Young was a former #1 draft pick of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays who was going to be the next great thing.  He could do it all — back then.  Baseball people like to identify players with the “tools” they possess…hitting, hitting for power, fielding, running, etc. They’re then known as 3-tool, 4-tool, 5-tool, etc.  With Young, they once thought they had a 7-tool player.

It didn’t work out that way, of course, which is why he signed a minor league deal with the Orioles yesterday.

A player who once commanded a salary of nearly $7 million a year, Young is the perfect off-season catch for the Birds based mainly on the salary he’ll require in ’14 when he makes the team.  Last year, he made $750,000 in a split season with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay.  That means he should come in at under $1 million for the Birds.

Young also some brings some extra baggage with him when he arrives in Sarasota next month.  Back in 2006, Young was suspended from minor league baseball for 50 games after throwing a bat at an umpire during an on-field incident.  Two seasons ago while playing with the Tigers, Young was involved in a hate-crime after a conflict with patrons of a New York bar/restaurant.  He was accused of shouting anti-Semitic slurs to a group of people while he was intoxicated, later pleaded guilty, and performed 10 hours of community service.

That, of course, is in the past.

And the world is literally his oyster here in Baltimore, where Dan Duquette and the Orioles have been pursuing a right handed bat all off-season but couldn’t convince one of the quality free agents to take $800,000 for the season.

If Delmon Young stays healthy and keeps his nose clean — and just makes occasional contact in spring training – it’s likely he’ll show up on March 31 and be part of the opening day twenty five who make the trip down the orange carpet from centerfield to second base in pre-game ceremonies.

It’s not the kind of signing any of us wanted, but it’s most certainly the kind of signing we all knew we’d see.  Duquette tried a similar tact with Travis Ishikawa last winter and he turned into what we all expected — a dud.  We jokingly refer to it around here as “dumpster diving”, the on-going search for a needle in a haystack.

Delmon Young is certainly in the haystack.  A once decent player with a solid pedigree, down on his luck after a handful of unproductive years, willing to play for baseball’s version of Ramen Noodles — that’s the sort of reclamation project Dan Duquette believes in.

And that’s what we get these days in Baltimore.

That said — he IS right handed.  It’s a start, at least.

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Orioles sign veteran Delmon Young to minor-league deal

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Orioles sign veteran Delmon Young to minor-league deal

Posted on 13 January 2014 by WNST Staff

Looking to add another designated hitter option, the Orioles announced Monday they’ve reached a minor-league agreement with veteran outfielder Delmon Young that includes an invitation to spring training.

The 28-year-old is a career .303 hitter against left-handed pitching and split time between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay last season, hitting .260 with 11 home runs and 38 runs batted in. In eight major league seasons, Young has hit .282 with 100 home runs and 520 RBIs in 3,692 career at-bats.

Young will compete with the likes of Nolan Reimold, Steve Pearce, and Rule 5 selection Michael Almanzar for the right-handed DH job previously held by Danny Valencia, who was dealt to Kansas City for left fielder David Lough earlier this winter.

Former Oriole Jack Cust also contacted the organization about a tryout and is expected to work out at the club’s minicamp in Sarasota on Tuesday. The soon-to-be 35-year-old hasn’t played in the majors since 2011.

CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman reported Monday the Orioles have also shown interest in a reunion with power hitting infielder Mark Reynolds.

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Team Trout or Camp Cabrera?

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Team Trout or Camp Cabrera?

Posted on 01 October 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

It’s not often I get to say I’m right while also playing the role of devil’s advocate. Heck…who am I trying to kid? It’s not often I get to say I was right period, especially about something as subjective as AL MVP voting. I did however say a few weeks, maybe months, ago that this Year’s AL MVP vote would be an even bigger case of traditional stats vs. advanced metrics than the Cy Young candidacy of Felix Hernandez in 2010. To that end, and likely that end alone, I’m right.

The AL MVP race has boiled down to two vastly distinctive candidates and two incredibly different camps. In one corner there’s Miguel Cabrera, baseball’s most prolific hitter and potentially the winner of baseball’s first Triple Crown in 45 years. The old school “eye test” camp is touting his candidacy. In the other corner we have Mike Trout, baseball’s newest phenom and most complete player. Trout has rewritten the sabermetric standard and not surprisingly has the advanced stats guys singing his praises.

 

If there’s anything unfortunate about the historical pursuits of these two gentlemen and their two-man race for MVP it’s that it’s become a partisan debate. The Saber community and the Old Guard have long been at odds and much like Democrats and Republicans in a political debate, this year’s vote likely rides with which community you already subscribe to rather than which candidate you actually prefer.

 

Welcome to the “T” party; the Thyrl Party. I subscribe to neither camp wholeheartedly, but am suddenly becoming enamored with both, and the odds that they seem to be at currently.

 

For most of the summer I was on “Team Trout”. The kid emerged from the shadow of Bryce Harper to do things that we not only couldn’t have expected of him, Trout has done things that we couldn’t have expected from anyone. But suddenly, and maybe simply in the interest of being a contrarian, I find myself in “Camp Cabrera”. And as I’m not seeing many good arguments made on Cabrera’s behalf outside of the anomaly of a Triple Crown, I’ll try here to make one.

 

First, it seems the saber folks have pointed to a Triple Crown as nothing more than a statistical novelty and I don’t disagree. Even old school writers have seen through the statistical novelty seasons of the past. Baseball has seen multiple Triple Crown winners, 40/40 and even 50/50 club members and some have walked away with the hardware while others haven’t. The 56-game hitting streak did win Joe DiMaggio an MVP in a 1941 season that I’m convinced if we recast the ballot would go to Ted Williams in a landslide. So before going any further I’ll state for the record that my case for Cabrera has nothing to do with, and is in no way vested in his winning the Triple Crown. If Josh Hamilton were to hit 10 home runs over the season’s final series, my endorsement of Cabrera would not change.

 

Next, I will neither embrace nor reject the use of advanced metrics in deciding the award. I like most advanced metrics and the conclusions that they can help to lead us to. I’ll also acknowledge however that the MVP is a subjective award. That’s why it’s put to a vote. Sabermetrics aren’t and shouldn’t be the entirety of the MVP debate, or there’d be no debate at all. In fact the inclusion of “valuable” in the title instead of  “outstanding” for example, invites a further level of subjectivity. What is the definition of valuable? We could simply rename the award the “Warlord Award” and hand it to Trout. Heck, we could just call it the aWARd. While embracing the wave of new age data however, I’ll also suggest that I’m not convinced that the formulas are perfect, and that not all metrics are created equally.

 

Defensive metrics are a part of everyone’s WAR calculations, but seem to differ (sometimes greatly) depending on which saber community you subscribe to. There’s no question that Mike Trout is a batter defender than Miguel Cabrera, but by how much is largely debatable. It’s also somewhat debatable whether defensive metrics are being given the right amount of weight in the WAR calculation.

 

Comparing a center fielder to a third baseman should be seen as an apples-to-oranges type of proposition. Not only are the numbers of typical opportunities at those positions widely divergent, but so are the types of opportunities. Balls hit to a third baseman are basically his alone to get. He’ll either make a play on them or he won’t and the stats will reflect the runs above or below average that he’s allowing as a result of those efforts. By contrast, balls hit to a centerfielder aren’t always his alone to get. A particularly rangy centerfielder will have the opportunity to get to a number of balls that could be fielded by other players. Calling players off and increasing his own zone ratings as a result are impressive, but not necessarily run saving. In other words, some of the balls that Mike Trout gets to wouldn’t be caught by other centerfielders, but would still be caught on other teams by fielders at different positions. This seems to give a CF like Trout an inordinate advantage in padding his “runs saved” stats.

 

More importantly, if we’re going to penalize Cabrera for being a bad 3rd baseman, we also have to understand the circumstances that landed him there. Cabrera wasn’t a “plus defensive” first baseman either, but he was at least better playing first than he is at third, and also would have gotten the benefit of first base being a less important defensive position. Still, to penalize him for embracing third base for the good of the team and in order to facilitate the Tigers working Prince Fielder into the lineup seems at least moderately unfair. Instead of comparing these players run-for-run and since we’re only looking at two guys, let’s instead consider their specific circumstances.

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