The Warning Track: Week 2

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The Cog Who Set It All In Motion

8 years before Rosa Parks said “No”, Jackie Robinson played.

15 years before James Meredith was admitted, Jackie Robinson played.

18 years before Marin Luther King, Jr. marched, Jackie Robinson played.

This past Wednesday, as it have done on every April 15 for 11 years, America’s pastime celebrated a historic moment for American society.

A lot of people make the misconception that the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager who signed Robinson, Branch Rickey, was looking to him as the man who would break the color barrier for baseball that had been in place for over half a century.

While Robinson would obviously go on to do so, becoming an icon not just for baseball but for American sports, Rickey saw Robinson as a player who could make an impact for the Dodgers. For him, it was never about forging his place in history, but putting his talents on deck.

Rickey wasn’t colorblind – he knew that Robinson on the same playing field as whites would incite both the league and fans. And it did. Major league teams even threatened to strike should Robinson play. Some of his teammates refused to play alongside him.

Branch Rickey made clear to Robinson the dangers he’d face, and Robinson decided to play anyway.

On April 15, 1947, Robinson took the field on Opening Day, and he endured. He endured the hate, the insults, the ridicule, and he never fought back when urged to do so by his critics. He never gave in.

He stood at the plate, bat in hand, head held high, a monument in his own right.

As a result, early 70 years later, the game is as diverse as it has ever been. His image endures, because he did.

Robinson played for ten seasons, and played well. He won the inaugural Rookie of the Year award, was an All-Star for six straight seasons, and was the first black player to win MVP honors.

He played and unified the game when it couldn’t be more broken.

He became the first American professional athlete to have his number retired across the league in 1997, and remains only one of two to have the honor to this day.

In a society that had been so cemented by lines of segregation , Robinson made the first cracks towards unity.

Robinson was 28 when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, shattering baseball's unwritten but universal color barrier.
Robinson was 28 when he made his debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers, shattering baseball’s unwritten but universal color barrier.

The game as we know it would never be the same. Make no mistake, American history as we know it would never be the same. Without Robinson’s resilience, there might be no Rosa Parks. Without Robinson’s nonviolent approach to combatting a society so unable to comprehend a colored man among whites, there might be no Martin Luther King, Jr. Without his fearlessness, there might be no James Meredith.

Number 42 didn’t just play baseball. He epitomized the spirit of the sport, a spirit that would only become stronger as the Negro Leagues ceased to exist and major league baseball destroyed segregation player by player.

That’s why we have a day for 42, as important as any in the season. That’s why we remember 42, as much as any social activist anywhere in the world, at any point time over the course of history.

That’s why the legacy of 42 endures.

 

How vital is offense, really?

The Washington Nationals are the heaviest of favorites to win the World Series this year, due to their potentially historic rotation that has yet to live up to its full potential.

Their collective 3.14 ERA rank eighth in the bigs, and their .245 opponent batting average is 18th. They’ll pull it together sooner rather than later, they’re too good.

But at 5-7 through their first 12 games of the season, another aspect of the Nationals’ game must be examined as something that could contribute to long-term struggles as the season continues – their offense.

First things first, the offense isn’t in trouble. In 2014 they ranked ninth in the MLB in runs, and in the early going of 2015 they are 13th, albeit with Anthony Rendon and Denard Span on the 15-day DL to begin the year.

As a result and as expected, Bryce Harper has been the catalyst for his team’s offense, with three home runs, nine runs scored, and six RBI. Wilson Ramos, Michael Taylor and Ryan Zimmerman have also chipped in with eight RBIs each.

Harper doesn’t seem to mind sharing the load.

As much as their offense will no doubt get a lift when their lineup is back to full strength, it’s worth asking the question of how high important it is for this team’s bats and arms to get hot.

When looking at the World Series participants the last two years, there isn’t a consistent answer as to how important scoring runs during the regular season really is. Let’s look as some figures.

  • In 2011, the two World Series participants, the Rangers and Cardinals, ranked third and fifth in runs scored, respectively, in the regular season.
  • In 2012, it was the Tigers and Giants, who weren’t in the top 10.
  • In 2013, the Red Sox and Cardinals were in the top three in runs scored during the year.
  • In 2014, the Royals, all about pitching and defense, ranked 14th in runs scored, and the eventual World Series champion Giants were 12th.

Interesting, to say the least, and especially when considering the popular sports mantra that “defense wins championships”.

We can see that the importance of offense when figuring out who will make it deep in October is like figuring out whether it’s the Giants year to win it all or not. If that trend continues, then that means the Royals, Jays and Athletics – the top three clubs in runs scored so far in 2015 – are good bets to make it to the Series, right? The Nationals aren’t quite in that mix with their 13th-ranked offense.

Before we can cement that conclusion, let’s look at some other numbers from World Series teams since 2011, this time concerning pitching.

  • In 2011, pitching for Texas and St. Louis wasn’t as hot as their bats, as their team ERAs ranked 12th and 13th, respectively. Their bats carried them to the World Series.
  • In 2012, the Giants and Tigers, not as strong offensively as the 2011 Rangers and Redbirds, ranked 7th and 9th in team ERA. Contrasting the year before, their pitching was the key factor.
  • In 2013, we finally see a break in the pattern. While the Red Sox led the majors in run scored, they were very average in pitching with a 3.79 ERA. However, the Cardinals were a top-five team in both categories – third in runs scored and fifth in ERA. Even though they were the most complete team in the World Series in at least a few years, they still lost out to the Red Sox.
  • The pattern again doesn’t prove consistent when it comes to last year’s World Series. The Royals – who were 90 feet away from becoming the team of destiny last fall – ranked 12th in regular season ERA. The Giants were a bit better, ranking 10th.

What do we take away from that? If the strongest trends continue, this year’s World Series will be all about offense, but judging from the last couple years, some teams whose strength lies in their arms will make it through October.

In other words…the Nationals might just be right on track, with their offense that will no doubt become stronger with the return of Rendon and Span, who combined for 205 runs scored in 2014. Their starting pitching will also certainly improve after shaking off some common early-season overexcitement.

How important is Scherzer's role as Nationals ace given recent World Series trends?
How important is Scherzer’s role as Nationals ace given recent World Series trends?

There isn’t a clear trend when it comes to predicting postseason contender by looking at the team stats. Such is the nature of baseball, where nothing is predictable. But if we at least look the pattern when it comes to offense, a category in which Washingotn jumped from 15th to 10th over the last two years, oddsmakers might have hit a home run.

We’ll examine how the Nationals do with both their arms and bats later in the season, and see how they stack up with these trends.

 

Power Rankings

It’s been quite a fun first two weeks of the 2015 major league season. We’ve had home run barrages, triumphant returns and, at the time this is being written, only one complete game shutout in an age of dominant pitching.

Without further ado, here are my rankings for the top five and bottom five teams, which I will try to present every other week.

Note: I do not take preseason rankings/predictions into account. This is purely how they’ve fared up until this point in the regular season.

The Fab Five

1. Detroit Tigers (9-2)

Owners of the best record in baseball in the early going, the Tigers have proven to be as unfazed on the road (5-1) as they are in front of their home crowd (4-1). They own a +25 run differential, second in the MLB. Their ace, David Price, has been as David Price as we can expect him to be, giving up only one earned run through three starts (0.40 ERA). Most importantly, Miguel Cabrera has been as hot to start the season as anyone, ranking in the top ten in OBP, hits, doubles, runs and lingering among the top tier in most of the other major offensive categories.

2. Kansas City Royals (8-2)

The Royals would like to get back to the Fall Classic, and their MLB-best +31 run differential alone proves that. They rank in the top 10 in both team ERA and runs scored, showing that this is a more complete team than last year’s club. And they’ve done it against good teams, going 6-0 against the White Sox and Angels while outscoring them 40 to 15.

No James Shields? No problem. KC is dominating the league.
No James Shields? No problem. KC is dominating the league.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (7-3)

So far, the perennial World Series contenders have played as we’d expect them to – damn good. Their team ERA of 2.00 is only the best in baseball, and their bats, which were incredibly inconsistent last year, have been on fire in the early going, scoring at least four runs in eight straight games, in which they’ve gone 6-2. Oh and they’ve allowed the lowest number of runs in baseball – only 23 through ten games.

4. Colorado Rockies (7-3)

The Rockies are playing better baseball than anyone else on the road, going 6-1 away from Coors Field. Their collective team ERA early on has also been a pleasant surprise at 2.90. And, obviously, Tulo’s gonna Tulo, to the tune of at least one hit in nine of his last ten games, and at least two in four of those. The Rockies have been apt to start off hot out of the gate in recent years. Their consistency in 2015, especially when it comes to facing contending division rivals in the Padres and Dodgers, might just depend on the health of their star shortstop, who played only 91 games last year due to injury.

5. New York Mets (8-3)

Raise your hand if you thought the Mets – and not the Nationals – would be leading the NL East two weeks into the season. *doesn’t see hands* Yeah, me either. The Mets, like the Rockies, would a pleasant surprise except for the fact that they are actually expected to contend for at least a wild card spot this year. Theey are the only team yet to lose at home (5-0).Matt Harvey, who sat out all of last year, has been great in two starts (2.25 ERA, 3 earned runs), but 41-year old Bartolo Colon continues to defy Father Time, sporting a sterling 3-0 record through three starts, going at least 6 innings in each start and giving up only five runs. Also…

 

The Futile Five

1. Milwaukee Brewers (2-8)

Owners of both the worst run differential (-28) and words record in baseball, the Brewers who held their ground at the top of NL Central for most of 2014 have done anything but this year. They’ve committed the third most errors in the MLB (10) and they’re practically grooving their pitches to opposing batters, allowing them to hit an astounding .295 on the season.

2. Seattle Mariners (3-7)

This isn’t supposed to be happening, Seattle. You’re supposed to dominate this year. 10 ESPN experts picked you to represent the American League in the World Series damnit! Instead, you’re hanging out in the basement of the AL West….below Houston. We’re concerned, Seattle.

3. San Francisco Giants (3-9)

The whole “Well, it’s an odd year” thing is almost becoming old. But it’s frighteningly appropriate for the 2015 Giants, who have yet to recover from yet another World Series hangover. They’re winless in front of their home crowd, and the October innings might be catching up to Madison Bumgarner, who has an uncharacteristic 5.29 ERA through three starts early on.

 

The defending champion Giants lose 9-0 to the Diamondbacks on Friday. Let that sink in.
The defending champion Giants lose 9-0 to the Diamondbacks on Friday. Let that sink in.

4. Minnesota Twins (4-6)

Bottom five in both runs scored and runs allowed, the Twins have performed…as expected? Yes they’ve have a tough stretch to start the season – Boston, Detroit, Chicago White Sox – but someone’s got to step up when your team’s batting a scary .216. Can’t expect the prodigal son Torii Hunter to do it all. Wait…never mind he’s not hitting either.

5. Miami Marlins (3-8)

You know it’s bad when your superstar is talking down about his own team.

 

There’s truth to Stanton’s remarks. The Marlins, expected to contend with the busy offseason they had, were hoping that acquiring SP Mat Latos would help their rotation hold over until Jose Fernandez’s eventual return.

Yeah, it hasn’t. Latos has a 17.36 ERA through two starts. No one else is pitching much better – they have a 4.82 team ERA. And they’re offense isn’tmaking up for it – they rank 16th with only 40 runs scored.

 

Final thoughts

  • Mike Trout, fastest to 100 home runs and 100 steals. The legend grows. Can he even have his own legacy at the age of 23?
  • Kris Bryant, remarkably going two MLB games without hitting his first big-league dinger.
  • Welp. Alex Rodriguez is the Yankees’ MVP thus far. Awkward, much?
  • Kershaw is not Kershaw, and in such a way that even though it’s early in the season, it’s concerning.
  • As a Cardinals fan, love love love seeing Carpenter churning out doubles like he did in 2013. Already at over one-fifth the number of doubles (7) that he hit all of last year (33).
  • Thank you, 42.

 

Have a great weekend and week, everybody.

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

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