The Los Angeles Angels and the City of Anaheim are hoping to finalize a one-year extension to the Angels’ stadium lease, allowing the team to remain at its current facility through the 2020 season.
The proposal, announced in a press release Thursday, will be voted on at a City Council meeting on Tuesday.
The extension would provide both sides more time to potentially come up with a long-term solution.
In the middle of October, the Angels took advantage of their one-year opt-out provision so they wouldn’t be locked into their lease through 2029, a move that meant this upcoming season might be their last at Angel Stadium.
New Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu, sworn in last month, met with Angels owner Arte Moreno last week, and both sides decided that more time would be beneficial.
“We realized a one-year extension will give us adequate time to work collaboratively on a long-term relationship,” Moreno said in a statement.
“From that meeting, it is clear the team’s priority is to stay in Anaheim, if we can work out a deal that benefits our residents, the city and the team,” Sindhu said in his statement. “We need a plan to make that happen, and we need time to make that happen.”
Angel Stadium opened in 1966 and is the fourth-oldest ballpark in the majors, behind only Fenway Park, Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium. The Angels are expected to continue exploring other potential new homes throughout Southern California, but renovating the current stadium or building a new stadium in Anaheim are also on the table.
Since Moreno took over in 2003, the Angels and the New York Yankees are the only teams to sell 3 million tickets each season. But the Angels and the City of Anaheim haven’t really engaged in dialogue about a long-term plan since 2016.
Former Mayor Tom Tait, who completed his final term in December, nixed a proposed deal in 2013 that involved Moreno paying the $150 million in renovations while being able to lease the surrounding land, and profit off future infrastructure, for only $1 per year.
Sindhu has stated from the onset that his goal is to keep the Angels in Anaheim.
The city’s release stated that doing so is “central” to the expansion taking place at the nearby Platinum-Triangle, an 820-acre mixed-use development site that surrounds Angel Stadium and the nearby Honda Center, home to the NHL’s Anaheim Ducks.
“There are only 30 Major League Baseball teams in the nation,” Sindhu said in a statement, “and being home to one is a huge asset to any city.”
Will Daniel Descalso outhit Giancarlo Stanton this year?
Stanton, the highest-profile acquisition of the previous offseason, was very good for the Yankees: 38 homers, .852 OPS and a 127 wRC+, meaning he was 27 percent better than the league’s average hitter. He was on a couple of MVP ballots. Descalso, paid $2 million after the Diamondbacks picked up his option in November, was pretty good, too: 13 homers and a .789 OPS, with a 111 wRC+.
So that was easy. Stanton hit better, assuming the point of hitting is to get on base and hit the ball far.
But, of course, it’s not. The point is to score runs, and for scoring runs, some hits are worth more than others. Descalso hit .270/.372/.541 with men on base, while Stanton hit only .236/.315/.429. Descalso drove in 17 percent of the men who were on base when he came up, while Stanton drove in only 14 percent. Of course, Stanton drove himself in 38 times, 25 more times than Descalso did — but now the question is close. By RE24, a stat that also credits a batter with the runners he advances with his hits, it’s a virtual tie. That’s assuming, at least, that the point of hitting is, rather than “get hits,” to create runs.
But it’s not. The point is to win games, and for winning games, some runs are more important than others. We call the hits that drive in those runs “clutch.” In 2018, Daniel Descalso was the fourth-clutchest hitter in the majors, according to FanGraphs’ metric. And Giancarlo Stanton was, using that same measure and that same term, the fifth least-clutch. In high-leverage situations — those situations where the game is most likely to be materially affected — Descalso was far more effective, with a .591 slugging percentage to Stanton’s .462, and a .378 OBP to Stanton’s .313. By win probability added — which measures the hitting team’s chances of winning before a player bats and after he bats, crediting the change to the batter — Descalso was one of the league’s most productive hitters last year:
Descalso: 3.10 wins added, 23rd in the majors
Stanton: 0.95 wins added, 106th in the majors
So that turns out to be not that easy of a question: Descalso, Daniel Descalso, was apparently quite a bit better than Stanton, and also better than Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. It’s a hot take, but you can actually stand behind it. But now here’s the really hot-take question: Who will be the better hitter in 2019, Giancarlo Stanton or Daniel Descalso?
“Clutch” is approaching its centennial. The first published use of the term, according to baseball historian Paul Dickson, was in 1925, when the Sporting News wrote of some old-timey player who “twice thereafter he delivered in the clutch.” Four years later, according to the Dickson Baseball Dictionary, The New York Times explained the term to its readers: “When a batter produces a safe ‘blow’ at an opportune moment, his fellow-players say that he has hit ‘in the clutch.'” (The term “blow” is also, apparently, approaching its centennial.)
It’s safe to say ballplayers were circulating the term “clutch” before the Sporting News discovered it, and it’s safer still to say the concept of a competitor who rises to the situation existed far earlier. (“Seeing his men untouched by the suitors’ flurry, steady Odysseus leapt to take command.”) But baseball’s relationship with “clutch” splits into three phases over the past century:
Phase 1: General, uncontroversial acceptance. Even when the term was still brand new, writers were citing clutch ability (e.g., “Lazzeri has rapped most of his four-baggers when they meant the ballgame”) in MVP debates. Branch Rickey, the analytical outlier among baseball executives in the middle of the 20th century, included a clutch score in his equation for team offense.
Phase 2: Sabermetric skepticism. Clutchness proved to be a very difficult thing to maintain over a career. In 1977, Richard Cramer’s article in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal challenged the legitimacy of clutch narratives, suggesting that what we identify after the fact as a “clutch” performance is merely random fluctuation, and whom we identify as a clutch hitter is nonpredictive. Over the next couple of decades, myriad analysts would attempt to find a persistent “clutch” skill and come up short, and by 2004 Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci wrote that clutch was a kind of “science vs. religion” issue in the sport:
Is clutch hitting myth or magic? It’s like asking what’s in the water at Lourdes: It depends on who’s answering. A Carmelite nun, for instance, might find lacking the chemist’s determination that the water is nothing but two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen; the chemist might scoff at the sister’s belief in its healing properties.
Phase 3: Mysterious, confounded appreciation. Shortly after Verducci’s article ran, Bill James wrote an influential essay — also in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal — arguing that there was far too much “fog” in baseball statistics to prove or disprove whether clutch hitting is a fleeting (fake) or persistent (real) skill.
Measuring “clutch” performance, James explained, involves comparing two volatile measures (performance in the clutch and performance not in the clutch, both over inconclusive samples), and measuring the stability of clutch ability involves four volatility measures — each of those two, across at least two years. All that volatility adds up to impenetrable uncertainty. That didn’t mean clutch hitting wasn’t real, but that none of the proofs of its existence were any good, either. As analysts were absorbed into front offices and as sabermetrics began to take nonmeasurable soft factors more seriously, clutch regained some of its esteem — its mysterious, confounding esteem. Researchers have continually studied it anew, sometimes finding support for its predictive value, sometimes not.
In 2006, The Book, a seminal collection of sabermetric research, found clutch ability to be persistent, though the sample sizes required to prove an individual hitter has got it (many thousands of plate appearances) were generally too prohibitive to be useful. That same year, Nate Silver laid out the case that “clutch” hitting is real and persistent, but less impactful than we tend to treat it. “It’s probably folly for a club to go looking for clutch hitters — the ability just isn’t important enough in the bigger scheme of things.”
Which brings us back to Stanton and Descalso, whose 2018s were both anomalous and exactly what we’ve come to expect from them.
Descalso and Stanton were each drafted in 2007, one round apart, and each made his debut in 2010. Their careers have gone in remarkably different directions, with Stanton developing into a singular superstar and Descalso building a career as a traveling veteran with a lot of gloves and good control on the mound. Each has had a successful career, but, you know, obviously, one is Stanton and the other is Descalso. Stanton hit more homers in 2017 than Descalso has hit in his career. Stanton’s offense has been worth almost 300 more runs than Descalso’s, according to context-independent stats.
But there’s one leaderboard where the roles are switched:
Clutch score, 2010-2018:
1. Daniel Descalso (7.31 extra wins)
299. Giancarlo Stanton (-9.26 extra wins)
There are 299 qualifying hitters, so Descalso is first and Stanton is last. In history, out of 1,268 hitters, Descalso is ninth, while Stanton is ninth from the bottom. If clutch is real, and if this metric successfully measures past performance of it, and if each hitter continues with his current trajectory — all the big Ifs at the heart of this question — Descalso could soon be the most clutch hitter of all time, and Stanton could soon be … the opposite.
We use the word clutch — and have, since 1925! — but a better word for what we’ve identified might be “situational.” As Silver wrote in 2006, “Some of these situations are obvious — two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning with the go-ahead run at home plate is a clutch situation. Others are subtler — what we might call ‘hidden-clutch’ situations. Leading off the inning is a hidden-clutch situation, since making the first out of the inning is more than twice as costly as making the last out of the inning.”
When one makes the intuitive argument for “clutch” being real — that these players are humans and it makes sense some people will behave differently in the tensest, most stressful situations — he’s usually thinking about palm-sweat situations, not “first and third in the second inning.” But the former are very rare. It’s the latter that provide the statistical heft to clutch scores.
And if we’re measuring a player’s offensive production in the context of its true value to his team’s chances of winning, then those hidden situations are crucial. The skill that would make a player clutch probably isn’t mental fortitude, but the ability to adapt, even slightly, to the needs of the situation.
So, look at what happens when men are on base for each of these hitters. With runners on base, pitchers tend to throw fewer strikes. (This is true against a slugger like Stanton, but also against a normal hitter like Descalso.) Descalso, who is already more patient than Stanton and makes more contact than Stanton, adapts to this situation and becomes an even more disciplined hitter. He chases fewer pitches out of the strike zone (23 percent, compared to 25 percent overall), whiffs a bit less often (22 percent, from 24) and fouls off a higher percentage of two-strike pitches. He draws more walks. He also gets more favorable hitting counts. He hits for higher average, more power and, in the years Statcast covers, has hit for a higher exit velocity and launch angle with men on base. The traditional incentives for a guy like Descalso — to work the count, put the ball in play or draw a walk to move the line along — are helped along by pitchers’ extra caution, and Descalso himself adjusts that little bit extra. (He also, by the way, shows up in this recent article about hitters who’ve had the most success against tough pitchers — who have some extra overlap with high-leverage situations.)
Stanton, meanwhile, walks to the plate in the role of run producer. His job is to get those steaks in. But the perceived job of the run producer (steaks) are here in opposition to the pitchers’ extra caution. Stanton sees fewer pitches in the strike zone but chases more out of the strike zone, and swings and misses more often. He strikes out 10 percent more often when runners are on base, walks 5 percent less frequently (when intentional walks are removed), hits fewer home runs and has a lower batting average on balls in play.
Stanton, it should be noted, is not the only slugger near the bottom of the clutch leaderboard, and one might deduce from the names around him (including Sammy Sosa, Mike Schmidt, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds) that there’s a clutch penalty for players who are identified as “run producers.” There are power hitters who rate out as clutch, and there are tons of non-power hitters who rate out as non-clutch. But if we just look at the 30 most clutch hitters in baseball this century, and the 30 least clutch, there are clear differences in how they hit overall:
Maybe the crucial difference is ability to make contact. Maybe it’s the ability to hit for a high batting average on contact. But the biggest difference is power. Clutch batters tend to have little power. Non-clutch batters tend to have a lot of it.
Meanwhile, if we limit our gaze to Stanton’s and Descalso’s 100 highest-leverage plate appearances — unambiguously tense, not hidden at all, in which player behavior might be most likely to be affected — the performance has been truly lopsided. Descalso has hit .365/.473/.581, good for 3.1 win probability added. Stanton has hit .217/.340/.361, for negative 2.1 WPA. In just 200 plate appearances, Descalso — Daniel Descalso! — has been five wins better than Giancarlo Stanton. Stanton, one of the most feared hitters of the era, has ended up with a higher strike percentage. Small sample size. But wild.
One thing nearly every study that finds “clutch” ability will tell you is that it rarely matters enough to guide a personnel decision. As “The Book” co-author Tom Tango wrote in 2009, after demonstrating the realness of clutch-hitting ability, “No one is going to select Marco Scutaro over Alex Rodriguez. The two players must be pretty close to begin with in talent, before you go off having a preference for your clutch hitter over someone who is otherwise a better hitter.” Given how little faith we can have in a demonstrated “clutch” ability persisting, you’d still rather have the 30 “non-clutch” hitters in the table up there than the 30 clutch.
And the existence of this hot-take question — Stanton or Descalso in 2019? — would have been especially outlandish before last year. That’s not because Stanton didn’t already rank low on the clutch leaderboards, nor because Descalso didn’t already rank high on the same, but because Stanton was so much better than Descalso, clutch didn’t matter. Stanton, leverage-splits and all, ranks eighth among all players in win probability added since 2010, when he made his debut. Descalso ranks 109th. The difference is 18 wins. This is what Silver meant when he called it “folly” to go looking for clutch hitters.
But what happened is Descalso, maybe or maybe not a big-hit specialist, finally became an above-average all-the-time hitter last year. And Stanton, whose skill set maybe is or maybe isn’t poorly suited for certain high-leverage situations, had the second-worst full season of his career. That’s why Descalso got within range of Stanton at all.
So who’ll be the better hitter in 2019? If the point of hitting is to get on base and hit the ball far, Stanton’s the overwhelming favorite. PECOTA, the projection system at Baseball Prospectus, expects Stanton (.262/.356/.531) to be worth 30 runs more than Descalso (.252/.347/.417). Descalso — signed for two years and $5 million by the Cubs — would have to match his best clutch season (last year), and Stanton would have to match his worst (also last year) to close a 30-run gap in offensive value.
Even 100 years into this discussion, there’s still a lot of mystery about what clutch is, what it means and whether Daniel Descalso’s got it. We’ve come a long way, and we needn’t rule out Descalso’s gift just because it’s hard to prove. James was right: We should all be cautious about what we think we see through the fog.
But it’s obviously Stanton! Stanton’s going to be the better hitter. Come on!
One of the great things about baseball, though, is Descalso could still prove me wrong, and for either one of two great reasons: Maybe he actually has an honest-to-goodness superpower, and if that’s the case, we will spend his entire career not fully believing it. Or maybe he’s gotten unaccountably lucky, for an entire career, and at the end of it, every single one of those runs will still count.
Which college’s top MLB player survives the field of 68?
OK, time for a little March silliness. What if we took the NCAA men’s basketball tournament bracket and filled it out by the best baseball player from each school? Who wins?
First, there is some research involved. Only players who actually played baseball at the school should be considered (you can’t go strictly by Baseball-Reference.com because their database lists schools players attended, which often includes classes taken during or after their professional careers). In some cases, it was a tough debate about which player to select.
Let’s play out the bracket and crown a champion!
Play-in game: No. 16 North Carolina Central (no major leaguers) vs. No. 16 North Dakota State (Neil Wagner)
Wagner is the only NDSU player to reach the majors, pitching in 52 games with a 4.92 ERA with the A’s and Blue Jays from 2011 to 2014. He pitched in Japan last year and cruises into a matchup against Duke since North Carolina Central has yet to produce a major leaguer.
Play-in game: No. 11 Belmont (Dwight Bernard) vs. No. 11 Temple (Bobby Higginson)
Higginson had a few big seasons with the Tigers in the late ’90s/early 2000s and finished with 23.1 career WAR. Unfortunately, the school cut its baseball program five years ago, so Higginson may forever remain the greatest Temple baseball player. The Owls move on.
No. 1 Duke (Dick Groat) vs. No. 16 North Dakota State (Neil Wagner)
One of the greatest athletes in Duke history, Groat was the 1960 NL MVP with the Pirates and a two-time basketball All-American and is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Duke moves on in a rout.
No. 8 Virginia Commonwealth (Brandon Inge) vs. No. 9 Central Florida (Mike Maroth)
Inge was a two-way player at VCU, reached the majors as a catcher and had a long career as a third baseman, finishing with 152 home runs and 1,166 hits and making one All-Star team. He faces former Tigers teammate Maroth, who went 50-67 and had a measure of fame when he lost 21 games with that awful 2003 team. VCU takes it.
No. 4 Virginia Tech (Joe Saunders) vs. No. 13 Saint Louis (James Norwood)
Saunders won 89 games, peaking in 2008-09 with the Angels when he went 33-14. Norwood made 11 relief appearances last year for the Cubs as the first player from Saint Louis to reach the majors in the draft era. Virginia Tech with the win.
No. 5 Mississippi State (Rafael Palmeiro) vs. No. 12 Liberty (Sid Bream)
Palmeiro was a college teammate of Will Clark in their three seasons in Starkville from 1983 to 1985. They reached the College World Series in 1985 and both players became first-round draft picks. Palmeiro has a decisive edge in career WAR, 71.6 to 56.5, but the PED suspension at the end of his career obviously damaged his reputation. I put this up for a vote on Twitter and Palmeiro got the nod. The Bulldogs get the win in our bracket, but Bream will always have this moment:
No. 3 LSU (Albert Belle) vs. No. 14 Yale (Ron Darling)
LSU has been one of the best baseball programs in NCAA history with 18 College World Series appearances, all since 1986. Maybe Alex Bregman will become the best major leaguer that LSU has produced, but for now it’s still Belle. Yale beat Harvard in the Ivy League final to earn their spot in the bracket, setting up a tough dilemma: Do you go with Darling or 19th-century star Wild Bill Hutchinson, who won 122 games over a three-year span when he averaged 595 innings and 63 complete games per season? I’ll go with the modern player, but LSU gets the win here nonetheless.
No. 6 Maryland (Charlie Keller) vs. No. 11 Temple (Bobby Higginson)
Keller, nicknamed “King Kong,” was one of the best hitters in the game while with the Yankees his first five seasons in the majors from 1939 to 1943, hitting .295/.416/.526 and averaging 6.0 WAR per season. He missed 1944 while in the military and had a big 1946 season, but a ruptured disc in his back ultimately shortened his career. Absent that, he almost certainly would have rated as one of the best-hitting outfielders in major league history and reached the Hall of Fame. Maryland cruises to the victory.
No. 7 Louisville (Chad Green) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (Paul Molitor)
Minnesota presented the most difficult choice: Hall of Famer Molitor or Hall of Famer Dave Winfield? I asked for help on Twitter and Molitor edged out Winfield. Louisville has built a strong baseball program over the past decade with current Yankees reliever Green its best major leaguer so far. The Gophers put it away early.
No. 2 Michigan State (Robin Roberts) vs. No. 15 Bradley (Kirby Puckett)
This is a good one, with two Hall of Famers. Roberts played basketball first at Michigan State, before walking on to the baseball team. He asked the coach what position he needed and the coach replied “pitching.” Two years later, Roberts was pitching in the majors.
Puckett played his freshman year at Bradley and led the team with eight home runs before transferring to Triton JC as a sophomore to be closer to home. (The Twins drafted him out of Triton, which is why you don’t often see Puckett mentioned as a Bradley player.) As much fun as Kirby was, Roberts takes this one pretty easily, with a huge advantage in career WAR.
No. 1 Duke (Dick Groat) vs. No. 8 Virginia Commonweath (Brandon Inge)
Groat didn’t have much power — 39 home runs in 14 seasons — but was a good shortstop and one of the most respected players of his era (he finished second in the 1964 MVP voting with the Cardinals). Duke cruises into the Sweet 16.
No. 4 Virginia Tech (Joe Saunders) vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (Rafael Palmeiro)
Hard to ignore 3,020 hits and 569 home runs, no matter how Palmeiro may have gotten there. MSU advances.
No. 3 LSU (Albert Belle) vs. No. 6 Maryland (Charlie Keller)
An interesting matchup of two similar players: corner-outfield sluggers who both had injury-shortened careers that otherwise might have seen them elected to Cooperstown. Let’s see:
Belle: 1,539 G, .295/.369/.564, 381 HR, 1,239 RBIs, 144 OPS+, 40.1 WAR
Keller: 1,170 G, .286/.410/.518, 189 HR, 760 RBIs, 152 OPS+, 43.1 WAR
Belle played more games and trumps Keller in counting stats, but Keller was better in the rate stats thanks to the higher OBP and beats Belle in career WAR. In Keller’s best six seasons, he was worth 36.1 WAR. In Belle’s best six seasons, he was worth 33.6 WAR. Keller was a perfectionist, known for his hustle on the bases and in the field. Belle was a pain in the ass. Maryland at the buzzer.
No. 2 Michigan State (Robin Roberts) vs. No. 10 Minnesota (Paul Molitor)
A tough Big 10 showdown early in the tournament between two Hall of Famers. The numbers:
Roberts: 286-245, 3.41 ERA, five top-seven MVP finishes, 86.0 WAR
Molitor: .306/.369/.448, 3,319 hits, four top-10 MVP finishes, 75.5 WAR
From 1950 to 1955, Roberts averaged 23 wins, 323 innings and 27 complete games. Fifty-six percent of his career pitching value came in those six seasons. Molitor’s value was spread out over 21 seasons; he had 5-WAR seasons in 1979 and as late as 1993 (and seven altogether). So do you like Roberts’ enormous peak as a pitcher or Molitor’s long career of excellence? Tough one, but considering some of Molitor’s best years came as a DH, I’ll go with Roberts and Michigan State in overtime.
Round of 16
No. 1 Duke (Dick Groat) vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (Rafael Palmeiro)
Before Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders, there was Groat. He went straight from Duke to the Pirates, skipping the minors. He preferred basketball and did play one season in the NBA with the Pistons, averaging 11.9 points, but stuck with baseball (although he spent more than 30 years as a radio analyst for University of Pittsburgh basketball games). Nice story, but Palmeiro outhomered him 569 to 39. Down goes Duke.
No. 2 Michigan State (Robin Roberts) vs. No. 6 Maryland (Charlie Keller)
Roberts went 28-7 with a 2.59 ERA in 1952 with the Phillies, pitching 330 innings and throwing 30 complete games. He finished second in the MVP voting to Cubs outfielder Hank Sauer, a 35-year-old left fielder who led the league with 37 home runs and 121 RBIs. It was not the best result in MVP voting history. Sparty moves on.
No. 2 Michigan State (Robin Roberts) vs. No. 5 Mississippi State (Rafael Palmeiro)
Palmeiro is 13th on the all-time home run list, 17th in RBIs, 29th in hits and 33rd in runs scored. He did have a remarkable career and, of course, we don’t know when he may have started using PEDs. It’s easy to see the increase in home runs from early in his career, but today we would also label him a launch angle guy — he dramatically increased his rate of fly balls after his first few seasons. But I’ll lean on career WAR on this: Roberts and Michigan State go to the Final Four.
East Region champ: Michigan State (Robin Roberts)
Play-in game: No. 16 Farleigh Dickinson (Mike Laga) vs. No. 16 Prairie View A&M (Steve Henderson)
Henderson once threw my sister a ball. Prairie View advances.
Play-in game: No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds) vs. No. 11 St. John’s (Frank Viola)
Bonds gets the nod over Reggie Jackson and Viola over John Franco. Bonds beats Viola.
No. 1 Gonzaga (Jason Bay) vs. No. 16 Prairie View A&M (Steve Henderson)
Forget the Mets years ever happened. Bay had a nice run there for a few seasons, averaging 30 home runs and 99 RBIs from 2004 to 2009. The Zags survive.
No. 8 Syracuse (Dave Giusti) vs. No. 9 Baylor (Ted Lyons)
The Orangemen last fielded a baseball team in 1972. The 1961 team — led by future major league pitchers Giusti and Billy Connors — reached the College World Series. Baylor has produced surprisingly few major leaguers, with just nine players drafted since 2000 reaching the big leagues (outfielder David Murphy was the best of that group, with Max Muncy the best current player). So we go back to Hall of Famer Lyons, who played at Baylor in the early 1920s before embarking on a 21-year career with the White Sox. Baylor gets the win.
No. 4 Florida State (Buster Posey) vs. No. 13 Vermont (Ed Reulbach)
The Seminoles have long been an elite program, although only eight draft picks have produced at least 10 career WAR in the majors. J.D. Drew has the most, although Posey could catch him this year. Don’t overlook Vermont, however: Reulbach went 182-106 with a 2.28 ERA in a career that spanned from 1905 to 1917. In the midst of the famous 1908 pennant race — Merkle’s Boner — he threw shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader on Sept. 26. It’s a close one, but FSU pulls it out
No. 5 Marquette (Ralph Shinners) vs. No. 12 Murray State (Kirk Rueter)
Marquette isn’t a baseball school. Murray State with the W.
No. 3 Texas Tech (Josh Tomlin) vs. No. 14 Northern Kentucky (Nate Jones)
This one was surprising: Texas Tech plays in a power conference and has been to the College World Series three times since 2014, but has a limited roll call of long-term major leaguers. Josh Bard, mostly a backup catcher, has played the most games of a Tech alum. We’ll go with Tomlin, who has won 61 games. That’s enough to beat out Jones.
No. 6 Buffalo (Joe Hesketh) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
Bonds went 7-for-18 (.389) with a home run off Hesketh. ASU pulls it out.
No. 7 Nevada (Lyle Overbay) vs. No. 10 Florida (Robby Thompson)
An NCAA powerhouse, the Gators have produced some good middle infielders — Thompson, Mark Ellis, David Eckstein — but shockingly few stars. Only seven Gators in the draft era have reached 10 WAR in their career. Maybe one of the recent first-round picks — Jonathan India, Brady Singer, Alex Faedo, A.J. Puk — becomes the best Gator ever. Still, Thompson gets the win here.
No. 2 Michigan (Barry Larkin) vs. No. 15 Montana (no major leaguers)
Thanks for showing up, Montana.
No. 1 Gonzaga (Jason Bay) vs. No. 9 Baylor (Ted Lyons)
In 1942, when Lyons was 41, he started 20 games for the White Sox — 12 of those starts came on a Sunday and 14 came in the first game of a doubleheader (he never started the second game). Here’s the really fun fact: He completed all 20 games. And led the AL with a 2.10 ERA. Down goes Gonzaga, another tournament without a title.
No. 4 Florida State (Buster Posey) vs. No. 12 Murray State (Kirk Rueter)
This game does big ratings in the Bay Area. Rueter is fifth on the win list for the San Francisco Giants with 105, but it’s not enough to beat Posey.
No. 3 Texas Tech (Josh Tomlin) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
ASU was one of the final at-large bids, but I have a feeling the Sun Devils may go pretty deep in this tournament.
No. 2 Michigan (Barry Larkin) vs. No. 9 Baylor (Ted Lyons)
A battle of Hall of Famers and closer than you may realize. Larkin had 70.4 WAR and Lyons 71.5 when you include his hitting. WAR is only a guideline here, however, and Larkin had more peak seasons of high value compared with Lyons, who can be considered a bit of a compiler. Michigan moves on.
Round of 16
No. 4 Florida State (Buster Posey) vs. No. 9 Baylor (Ted Lyons)
Posey isn’t yet a Hall of Famer — he’ll have to come back from his hip surgery and have a few more solid seasons — but let’s go with his peak value over the steady Lyons. Florida State survives.
No. 2 Michigan (Barry Larkin) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
There are, I suppose, reasons you may desire to go with Larkin. But the numbers are the numbers:
Larkin: 396 HR, 1,920 RBIs, 1,878 BB, 140.8 WAR
Bonds: 762 HR, 1,996 RBIs, 2,558 BB, 162.8 WAR
Oh, I actually doubled Larkin’s career stats there. Barry Bonds was as valuable as two Barry Larkins.
No. 4 Florida State (Buster Posey) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
FSU had a nice run. But Posey runs into Bonds, this bracket’s version of the 1991 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels — you despised them, but you had to watch. Kind of like this moment at Yankee Stadium:
Wait … you tell me UNLV didn’t win it all? Is it possible Bonds can lose this tournament?
West Region champ: Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
No. 1 Virginia (Eppa Rixey) vs. No. 16 Gardner-Webb (Blake Lalli)
Rixey is another old-time starter, but he’s also a Hall of Famer (although not a strong one). Still, he gets the nod over Ryan Zimmerman as the best Virginia player. Lalli is the only Gardner-Webb major leaguer, with 53 career plate appearances (and a .135 average). Virginia avoids the 1-16 upset.
No. 8 Mississippi (Jeff Fassero) vs. No. 9 Oklahoma (Bobby Witt)
They say 8-9 matchups are toss-ups. Witt won more games (142 to 121), but Fassero was better (107 ERA+ to 91). I’ll go with Fassero.
No. 4 Kansas State (Elden Auker) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine (Brady Anderson)
Auker was a submarine-style starter in the 1930s, won 130 games. But he didn’t have the flukiest 50-homer season ever or the greatest sideburns of all time:
No. 5 Wisconsin (Harvey Kuenn) vs. No. 12 Oregon (Joe Gordon)
Look, I know the weather in Wisconsin can be anti-baseball in the early spring, but this is still a sad story. The Badgers are the only Big Ten team without a baseball program, disbanding it back in 1991 when the athletic department had a $2.1 million shortfall. Well, things have changed: Wisconsin received $41.5 million in media rights revenue in 2018. Bring back baseball! Like … Oregon did. The Ducks abandoned their program in 1981, but brought it back in 2009. Anyway, we go back in time for both schools, with Hall of Famer Gordon beating out Kuenn (a .303 lifetime hitter with more than 2,000 hits).
No. 3 Purdue (Bill Skowron) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion (Justin Verlander)
Skowron played football, basketball and baseball at Purdue before becoming a five-time All-Star first baseman with the Yankees in the late ’50s and early ’60s. He can’t handle Verlander’s heat, however, and Old Dominion gets the W.
No. 6 Villanova (Mickey Vernon) vs. No. 11 Saint Mary’s (Harry Hooper)
Babe Ruth played at Saint Mary’s … Industrial School for Boys. The committee has ruled him ineligible for this tournament. Hall of Fame outfielder Hooper moves on to defeat Vernon, a two-time batting champ for the Senators in the ’40s and ’50s who played freshman ball at Villanova.
No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax) vs. No. 10 Iowa (Jim Sundberg)
Sundberg was a six-time Gold Glove catcher, but this one is no contest as Koufax and the Bearcats breeze into the second round. Koufax had received a basketball scholarship to Cincinnati and while he hadn’t played much baseball in high school, he volunteered to help out the baseball team. He pitched 31 innings and quickly attracted the attention of scouts with his blazing fastball. As a bonus baby, he went straight to the majors in 1955.
No. 2 Tennessee (Todd Helton) vs. No. 15 Colgate (Ebba St. Claire)
A second-round pick out of high school, Helton declined to sign with the Padres and instead attended Tennessee as a two-sport athlete. He started three games at quarterback as a junior — only to injure his knee and get replaced by a freshman named Peyton Manning. Luckily Helton had that baseball thing to fall back on. The Vols advance.
No. 1 Virginia (Eppa Rixey) vs. No. 8 Mississippi (Jeff Fassero)
Rixey went 266-251 during his Hall of Fame career with the Phillies and Reds from 1912 to 1933, a poor win-loss record for a Hall of Famer but he spent most of his career with bad teams. He was a big guy for his era (6-foot-5), but more of a finesse pitcher. UVa moves on.
No. 12 Oregon (Joe Gordon) vs. No. 13 UC Irvine (Brady Anderson)
Gordon had a brief but stellar career as a power-hitting second baseman with the Yankees and Indians from 1938 to 1950, missing two seasons due to World War II. He won the 1942 MVP award when he hit .322 and drove in 103 runs, edging out Ted Williams (who had won the Triple Crown). Even though his last season in the majors was 1950, he could still hit: He spent 1951 as the player-manager for Sacramento in the Pacific Coast League and led the league in home runs and RBIs. He made the Hall of Fame in 2009. Go Ducks!
No. 11 Saint Mary’s (Harry Hooper) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion (Justin Verlander)
Hooper was a dead-ball star with the Red Sox as they won four World Series in the 1910s. Verlander is a live-ball star with 204 career victories and counting. I’ll go with the modern guy.
No. 2 Tennessee (Todd Helton) vs. No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax)
If you didn’t know the names, who do you have?
Player A: .316/.414/.539, 369 HR, 1406 RBIs, 61.2 WAR
Player B: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 2,396 SO in 2,324 IP, 53.2 WAR
Hmm. What’s interesting is both players performed in extreme environments that played to their benefit: Helton in Coors Field, Koufax in 1960s Dodger Stadium. Still, Helton’s WAR — which adjusts his offense for his park — is higher. Koufax, however, is a legend. Cincinnati knocks out the Vols.
Round of 16
No. 1 Virginia (Eppa Rixey) vs. No. 12 Oregon (Joe Gordon)
A showdown of Hall of Famers — albeit Veterans Committee Hall of Famers — but the Ducks pull out the squeaker.
No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax) vs. No. 14 Old Dominion (Justin Verlander)
Oh, boy. This might be the best matchup of our entire tournament. Let’s go to the stats:
Koufax: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 2,324 IP, 2,396 SO, 131 ERA+, 53.2 WAR
Verlander: 204-123, 3.39 ERA, 2,759 IP, 2,706 SO, 126 ERA+, 63.8 WAR
Verlander has a Cy Young and MVP award and three Cy Young runner-up finishes. Koufax won three Cy Young Awards (when they gave it to just one pitcher for both leagues) and an MVP (and had two runner-up MVP finishes). He packed 87 percent of his career pitching value into just six seasons. Verlander’s six best seasons aren’t that far behind though:
Koufax: 46.5 WAR
Verlander: 40.3 WAR
Koufax was great in the World Series (0.95 ERA in 57 innings). Verlander has been good in the postseason (3.19 ERA in 152 innings), but not great in the World Series (0-4, 5.67 ERA in five starts). Look, when all is said and done, it will probably be Verlander, since he’s already pitched longer and looks like he can go another five years if he wants. At this moment, it’s Koufax with a last-second half-court 3-pointer for the win.
No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax) vs. No. 12 Oregon (Joe Gordon)
There’s an argument to be made that Koufax is a little overrated — he benefited greatly from Dodger Stadium and had a pretty sizable home/road split during his peak seasons. In 1965, for example, he had a 1.38 ERA at home versus 2.72 on the road. It’s an argument. It’s not enough to prevent Koufax and Cincy from knocking out Gordon and Oregon.
South Region champ: Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax)
No. 1 North Carolina (B.J. Surhoff) vs. No. 16 Iona (Dennis Leonard)
UNC is another of those big baseball programs with a surprisingly short list of big-time major league stars. Surhoff and Kyle Seager are the only Tar Heels with 20 WAR in the majors. Surhoff was the first pick in the 1985 draft, taken ahead of Will Clark, Barry Larkin and Barry Bonds. He had a solid career with 34.4 WAR, enough to edge out Leonard, a very good pitcher for the Royals on their playoffs teams of the 1970s.
No. 8 Utah State (Dyar Miller) vs. No. 9 Washington (Tim Lincecum)
The Huskies cruise into the next round.
No. 4 Kansas (Bob Allison) vs. No. 13 Northeastern (Carlos Pena)
Pena had a nice career, including that monster 2007 season when he hit .282/.411/.627 with 46 home runs. Allison was a similar type of player with the Twins in the 1960s — home runs, walks, strikeouts — but also a good outfielder, so the Jayhawks get the nod.
No. 5 Auburn (Frank Thomas) vs. No. 12 New Mexico State (Mark Acre)
The Big Hurt delivers an early knockout blow.
No. 3 Houston (Doug Drabek) vs. No. 14 Georgia State (David Buchanan)
The White Sox drafted Drabek out of Houston in 1983, a year fans of Phi Slama Jama would rather forget.
No. 6 Iowa State (Bob Locker) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (Frank Howard)
Ohio State’s baseball program doesn’t quite match the football or basketball programs, although it did win the national title in 1966 behind pitcher Steve Arlin. Howard was a basketball All-American at Ohio State and was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, but instead pursued baseball and hit 382 career home runs. The Buckeyes beat the Cyclones.
No. 7 Wofford (Frank Ellerbe) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (Craig Biggio)
Ellerbe played six seasons in the majors from 1919 to 1924 and apparently earned the nickname “The Governor.” Turns out his father was the governor of South Carolina from 1897 to 1899. He won his election with 89 percent of the vote and was re-elected to a second term. Racial segregation became more rigid during his tenure, according to one biography. He died in office, just 37 years old, from “weak lungs.” His son lived to be 92. Anyway, I digress. Seton Hall advances.
No. 2 Kentucky (Brandon Webb) vs. No. 15 Abilene Christian (Bill Gilbreth)
Gilbreth threw complete-game victories in two of his first three career starts for the Tigers in 1971, and never won again. Webb and Kentucky get the W.
No. 1 North Carolina (B.J. Surhoff) vs. No. 9 Washington (Tim Lincecum)
Surhoff has the decisive edge in career WAR, 34.4 to 20.1, but Lincecum has those two brilliant Cy Young seasons and 24.4 WAR over his five-season peak. (Yes, he had negative WAR over the final five seasons of his career.) I’m going with the high peak. The Huskies in an upset.
No. 4 Kansas (Bob Allison) vs. No. 5 Auburn (Frank Thomas)
Peak Frank Thomas was something to behold. Auburn in a rout.
No. 3 Houston (Doug Drabek) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (Frank Howard)
Howard’s nickname with the Senators — he had three straight 40-homer seasons with them — was “The Capital Punisher.” I’m going with that. Plus, they shifted against him in 1968:
No. 2 Kentucky (Brandon Webb) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (Craig Biggio)
Webb had a brilliant but brief career as the ace of the Diamondbacks, winning a Cy Young Award and twice finishing second, but that’s not enough to beat Hall of Famer Biggio.
Round of 16
No. 5 Auburn (Frank Thomas) vs. No. 9 Washington (Tim Lincecum)
Approximate weight difference: 100 pounds. Auburn advances.
No. 10 Seton Hall (Craig Biggio) vs. No. 11 Ohio State (Frank Howard)
Biggio’s all-around game easily trumps Howard’s one-dimensional slugging. The Hall moves on.
No. 5 Auburn (Frank Thomas) vs. No. 10 Seton Hall (Craig Biggio)
Let’s go to the numbers:
Thomas: .301/.419/.555, 521 HR, 1,704 RBIs, 1,494 R, 73.9 WAR
Biggio: .281/.363/.433, 291 HR, 1,160 RBIs, 1,844 R, 65.5 WAR
Pretty good one here. Biggio, of course, lasted long enough to get 3,000 hits. Truth be told, however, he was kind of just hanging on at the end (minus-2.1 WAR his final season). I get Biggio’s defensive value, but Big Hurt’s bat wins this one for Auburn.
Midwest Region champ: Auburn (Frank Thomas)
No. 2 Michigan State (Robin Roberts) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
Roberts was probably the hardest-throwing pitcher of his era. Well, here’s Bonds crushing a 100 mph fastball from Eric Gagne:
ASU reaches the final.
No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax) vs. No. 5 Auburn (Frank Thomas)
In 1965 and 1966, Koufax threw 54 complete games, won 53 games and pitched 658.2 innings. I don’t care how damn high that mound was at Dodger Stadium. Cincinnati and Koufax to the final!
No. 7 Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax) vs. No. 11 Arizona State (Barry Bonds)
An epic final game. Lefty versus lefty. Koufax in a big game versus Bonds in a big game. Here’s what Koufax did in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series on two days of rest:
Bonds may appear invincible, right down to that enormous piece of body armor. But 1991 UNLV also seemed invincible. And other than 2002, Bonds didn’t exactly light it up in the postseason. Koufax pulls off the upset!
Champion: Cincinnati (Sandy Koufax)
Which dominoes are next to fall after Mike Trout’s megadeal?
Torii Hunter watched Mike Trout launch rooster tails of dirt into the air every time he ran to first base and loved it. He called him The Digger because of it. Hunter loved the emotional investment, loved the earnestness, the devotion. Trout would hit a routine ground ball to shortstop and maybe Hunter would see a hint of frustration in the way his friend dropped the bat, but then he would be all-in.
Trout really doesn’t know any other way, other than devotion to the moment, and long before he and the Los Angeles Angels would begin negotiations on a record-setting deal, Trout began attending to future Angels. He had questions for the front office about the players in the minor leagues — about the kid who just rapped out three hits for Inland Empire, or the teenage pitcher with the dominant stuff in Mobile. He has asked for phone numbers, made calls and sent texts, doing what he can do to make sure all of the Angels, from Anaheim to A-ball, know they are on a mission together.
Trout hasn’t known for sure, until now, that he will spend the rest of his career with the Angels — and the years that follow his last at-bat — and yet The Digger has been going all-out to do everything he can to make them better. A great at-bat; a home run robbery in center field; encouragement for a prospect to be part of something great.
He’s staying put, and that decision sends dominoes tumbling in all directions for everybody affected:
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