Baseball Reactions! Because I’m a chemist! Get it? GET IT?!?!?!?!? Nevermind, let’s move on. I’m going to experiment with what I hope to be a recurring column on thoughts I have throughout baseball that aren’t sufficient for it’s own separate post. I’ll try to keep them relatively short.
What got me to start this post was tuning in to tonight’s Red Sox/Yankees game and seeing Derek Jeter batting 2nd in the lineup. This is a joke. It’s one of the rare instances when I don’t blame the manager. Taking an all-time great on the most prestigious team in baseball, dropping him down in the order, and taking him off the only position he’s ever played is no trivial task. If Girardi were to make that decision, the media would blow it out of proportion and he’d likely get eviscerated by the fan base. I wouldn’t be surprised if Girardi felt guilty making that decision. He’s known Jeter since he first broke out. However, Girardi hasn’t shied away from giving Jeter the occasional day off, stating that it’s not his job to give him a farewell tour. Perhaps GM Brian Cashman or the Steinbrenners are keeping Girardi from making the right decision? Anyway, that’s more speculation than I like to do, but the point is that this is all on Jeter. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe the legend of Derek Jeter is all it’s cracked up to be. He is an upper-tier Hall of Famer to be sure, but that’s because of the facts, not the narratives. The narratives that fuel the legend of Jeter lead to garbage like this: No, that wasn’t from The Onion. That was from a real Fox broadcast. That “scouting report” describes countless players throughout history of all different kinds of talent levels. You could even say that describes Red Sox backup catcher, David Ross, who has a career line of .234/.319/.438 with a wRC+ of 97, and has never had a season with more than 2.0 WAR.
The funny thing is how much The Captain is hurting his team this season. I think even the most die hard Derek Jeter fan had low expectations going into this season. He’s currently hitting .272/.329/.330 with a 84 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR. That’s almost exactly what the Zips projections system predicted for him. Out of 164 qualified players in all of baseball, Jeter is hitting for the least amount of power with a pitiful .058 ISO. To top this all off, I’ve never seen Jeter worse at shortstop, which is saying a lot. Even in his prime he had poor lateral agility, but I’ve never seen him as slow as he has been on the field. If Jeter really cared about the team more than himself, if he was really the consummate leader that everyone says he is, he’d tell Girardi to move him off shortstop and down in the batting order. Continuing to accept hitting in the 2-hole with a .329 OBP and no power is beyond selfish. Same can be said about continuing to play shortstop when they have an excellent defensive shortstop in Brendan Ryan on the roster. Ryan is at least a 70 defender1 at shortstop (who got robbed of a Gold Glove in 2012, by the way) and his offensive numbers were projected to be not much worse than Jeter’s.
It’s all reminiscent of when Jeter refused to move off of shortstop when Alex Rodriguez went to the Yankees, even though A-Rod was inarguably the better defender. Now I don’t like A-Rod anymore than your average fan, but moving to 3rd was a completely selfless act. He could’ve insisted on staying at shortstop and go down as the undisputed greatest shortstop of all time, if not for the steroids of course.
I appreciate the honor and integrity that Jeter has played with in his career, but this has long since gotten out of hand. He needs to give Girardi a gift basket with a note that reads, “I’m sorry for letting my ego get in the way of what’s best for the team. It’s tough. I’m volunteering to move off of short and down in the lineup for the good of the team.” That’s what a real leader does.
Cleveland Indians first baseman, Lonnie Chisenhall, is having a career year. He’s hitting .350/.405/.565 with a 175 wRC+. I like to see players succeed, so I hope it’s real, but I don’t think it is. If he’s on your fantasy team, then sell, sell, sell. He’s grossly outperforming his career numbers of .271/.315/.449 and has a completely unsustainable .394 BABIP. The good news is that he really hasn’t fallen off yet, so perhaps his success is the result of some change he’s made. Without knowing what that change could be, though, you can’t expect his offensive run to continue. It’s at least somewhat real, as his line drive rate is 4% higher than his career rate, and he’s already hit as many line drives this season as he did all of last season. Simply put, it appears he’s doing a better job of squaring up the ball and making hard contact.
Atlanta Braves closer, Craig Kimbrel, is having another elite season. His crazy good 42.3 K% is on par with his career numbers, and his FIP is only slightly higher than that. Wade Davis of the Kansas City Royals is having a similar season across the board to Kimbrel. Credit goes to Sam Miller of Baseball Prospectus for making the point I’m going to elaborate on: Davis is a failed starter. Last season as a starter, he had a 5.32 ERA, 4.18 FIP, with a K% less than half of what it is now. Since he’s pitching less innings as a reliever, his fastball is a full 3 MPH faster than last season. 3 MPH! That’s also faster than any point of his career, period. Here’s mine and Miller’s point: Every team has multiple Craig Kimbrels. They’re called the starting rotation. Any competent starter can easily be an elite reliever. If elite relievers could be starters, that’s what they’d be doing, because a mediocre starter is more valuable than an elite closer. Last season, Kimbrel was tied for 66th in fWAR among all pitchers. The best reliever by fWAR last season was Koji Uehara, but he was only tied for 31st. If Kimbrel was a starter, his velocity would likely dip from all the extra innings, and when combined with the fact that he only has 2 pitches, it would lead to him having great difficulties in turning a lineup over 3 times. Keep all this in mind next time you want your team to sign or trade for a Proven Closer.
To end on a light note, Wade Davis was part of the infamous Wil Myers trade. In last year’s Saberseminar in Boston, Dr. Daniel L.C. Mack, an employee 0f the Royals analytics department, did a Q&A, and somebody asked for his thoughts on the deal. Loud and proud, he said, “It is against organizational policy to comment on any trades or signings!”