Archive for the ‘My Approach’ Category

MLB: Boston Red Sox at New York Yankees

Write out a list of the best outfielders of the past 30 years. How many names do you scribble down before you get to Carlos Beltran? In all likelihood, most of those players haven’t produced more than Beltran has since the turn of the century. In the expansion era, very few outfielders have put up numbers like Beltran. Among center fielders, the list shrinks even more.

Carlos Beltran is one of the most talented baseball players in recent memory, a true five-tool all star putting the finishing touches on a brilliant career. At 36, Beltran might not be the power/speed wunderkind that from his days in New York and Kansas City, but he’s still hitting.

He keeps hitting as his body changes and his role transitions to one suitable for his current skill set. I spoke with Carlos Beltran about reintegrating himself into the American League and the adjustments of 21st century baseball.

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My favorite thing to create for theScore is the My Approach series – which is odd, since I have an interview still waiting to be transcribed! Mostly, it offers an opportunity for me to learn – learn about the players and learn about the game at its highest level.

There were plenty of insights gleaned from the subjects of My Approach. Preparation varies from player to player as some spend long hours in the video room while others trust their swing and their ability. It’s a part of the great dichotomy that makes baseball great.

Enjoy some of my favorite quotes and moments from the 2013 season, with links to all interviews at the bottom of the post. Thanks for supporting theScore in 2013 and have a happy New Year!

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MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Oakland Athletics

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. Even if you don’t agree, you would have a hard time mounting a vigorous disagreement that he ranks any lower than second. He might not be as good a hitter as Miguel Cabrera right now but, at 22-years old, the gap is more narrow now than you think.

Mike Trout turned 22 in August, which makes 2013 his “age-21″ season. Among all players in the history of the game, Mike Trout ranks among the very best, ever, at this point in his career. His OPS ranks fourth behind Ted Williams, Mel Ott, and Jimmie Foxx (inner circle Hall of Famers all.) His OPS+, which adjusts for era and league? First. None better through age 21. Zero.

We could keep going all day long. Batting average? 7th best at this age. On base and slugging percentage? Top five each. He is on a historical trajectory that could well see him end up as one of the best players in history. Obvious hyperbole, but Trout keeps playing at such a level as to render no hyperbole off limits. All bets are off.

Even without considering his age, the things he’s doing (or has already done) in his career puts him in extremely exclusive company. How many (Live Ball era) center fielders can say they put up seasons with an OPS+ higher than 165 in their careers more than once? Nine.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Willie Mays 7 1954 1965 23-34 Ind. Seasons
2 Mickey Mantle 7 1955 1964 23-32 Ind. Seasons
3 Joe DiMaggio 4 1937 1941 22-26 Ind. Seasons
4 Tris Speaker 4 1920 1925 32-37 Ind. Seasons
5 Ken Griffey 3 1993 1997 23-27 Ind. Seasons
6 Ty Cobb 3 1921 1925 34-38 Ind. Seasons
7 Mike Trout 2 2012 2013 20-21 Ind. Seasons
8 Bobby Murcer 2 1971 1972 25-26 Ind. Seasons
9 Duke Snider 2 1954 1955 27-28 Ind. Seasons
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/19/2013.

How many can say they did so (OPS+ > 165) with 25 home runs and 25 steals? Only three center fielders accomplished this feat. Just one player did it twice: Mike Trout.

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Mike Trout 2 2012 2013 20-21 Ind. Seasons
2 Matt Kemp 1 2011 2011 26-26 Ind. Seasons
3 Willie Mays 1 1957 1957 26-26 Ind. Seasons
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 9/19/2013.

The only other player to accomplish this feat more than once, regardless of position? Barry Bonds.

We could sit here all day and create imaginary buckets in vain attempts to place Mike Trout’s young career into context. Most people get it by now: he’s really good. You know the “whats” of his accomplishments and the “whos” of his statistical peer group. What you might not know is the how. I spoke with Mike Trout about how he does what he does in this edition of My Approach.

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MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees

Life is tough for a second baseman. Making the double play turn as second base while some enormous base runners bear down on you, attempting to blast you into left field takes its toll on the body. Second base occupies a strange strata in the baseball universe – is it a defensive position? Sure helps. Is it an offensive position? You can hide someone who might not be quite good enough for shortstop there, sure.

For whatever reason, the number of great offensive second basemen throughout history is shorter than one would assume. Joe Morgan stands alone as possibly the greatest second baseman of all time. Roberto Alomar was recently inducted into Cooperstown for his legendary defense and oustanding offensive game.

If you look at the top second baseman since the mound was lowered in 1969, you see many familiar name. Dustin Pedroia, Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, even Alfonso Soriano.

All of whom trail Robinson Cano as offensive players. Through their age-30 seasons, only five second basemen can claim a higher OPS+ than Robinson Cano in the Live Ball era (1920 and up). Only one, Soriano, hit more home runs though Cano might pass him before the season ends. The man named after Jackie Robinson ranks 9th in WAR among similarly-aged 2B during the Live Ball era.

Quite simply, Robinson Cano is one of the best second basemen of the last half century. Despite playing for the storied New York Yankees, this feat seems somehow overshadowed. A free agent at the end of the season, Cano is sure to receive a pay check consistent with his exceptional skills and accomplishments.

I spoke to Robinson Cano about how he approaches his work between games, playing with legends, and staying consistent in the latest edition of My Approach.

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Los Angeles Dodgers v Arizona Diamondbacks

Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. There, I said it. The 2011 Cy Young award winner might have won a second straight award in 2012 were it not for R.A. Dickey‘s career year. Here in 2013, Kershaw has all but wrapped up more silverware, though he and his first-place Dodgers have designs on more than just individual accolades.

Kershaw is the total package – he has great control and an assortment of superlative offerings. Fastball, curveball, slider – he can miss bats and throw them all for strikes in just about any count. He’s about to rack up his fourth consecutive 200 inning season. He’s a leader in the clubhouse and a well-spoken advocate off the field. He is about to become very, very well paid for what he does because, well, he does it better than just about anybody in the game.

Getting Blanked caught up with Clayton Kershaw to take about how he prepares and how he adjusts to the poor, overmatched lineups he leaves in his wake.

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joe mauer finish high

Is Joe Mauer underrated? Or is he actually overrated? It depends on your perspective. Some Twins fans will never be happy with Mauer’s production because no baseball player will ever produce like the idea of Joe Mauer was supposed to produce.

Instead of being the second coming of Johnny Bench, Joe Mauer is simply the first coming of Joe Mauer. He is one of the top three hitting catchers of the live ball era, posting a career weighted runs created plus of 134, trailing just Mike Piazza and Gene Tenace among receivers with 2000 plate appearances. Since he entered the league in 2004, only Miguel Cabrera has a higher batting average. Only six players have been worth more Wins Above Replacement since Mauer’s first full season in 2005.

Joe Mauer is among the game’s elite players – one of the finest hitters in the history of his position and a player who stands to be a member of one team for his entire career. He’s a Twin through and through – Joe and his wife just welcomed twin girls to the world this month. And yet is not enough for some myopic fans. Fans who wish Mauer hit for more power or didn’t take any days off or delivered more “when it mattered.”

Perhaps Joe Mauer could hit for more power (his .145 isolated power is identical to A.J. Pierzynski and Gregg Zaun over the same time period, not exactly the generational talents of the Twins 6’5 catcher) but Joe Mauer focuses, instead, on not making outs. He focuses on piling up the hits and doubles and putting the ball in play at an uncommon rate. Getting Blanked spoke with Joe Mauer about just how he goes about the business of not making outs in the latest edition of My Approach.

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New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles

Baseball’s defensive spectrum is one of great little things in baseball, built partly on conventional wisdom and lore mixed with plain old common sense. The defensive spectrum works under the idea that once a player lands on a position, he can generally go down but not up. A second baseman is unlikely to become a shortstop and a left fielder probably won’t make much of a center fielder.

The common defensive hierarchy looks something like this: P-C-SS-2B-CF-3B-RF-LF-1B-DH. There are different ways to conceive it but it all shakes out the same. The positional adjustment portion of Wins Above Replacement follows this model as well.

It is insightful for its simplicity – a shortstop can slide over and handle first base duties without much stress while your average left fielder couldn’t handle a sudden second base assignment.

Manny Machado is a shortstop. He says so himself in no uncertain terms. Except for one tiny detail: since his call-up last July, Manny Machado has played just about every possible inning as the Baltimore Orioles third baseman. In that time, Machado has asserted himself as one of the premier defensive third baseman in the game – to say nothing of his offense which, at just 21, is setting records as he raps doubles at an uncommon rate.

Machado is in the midst of proving the idea of the defensive spectrum definitively true. A shortstop moved to third in (or even before) his prime vacuums up grounders and displays uncanny arm strength, pacing the league in highlight plays and advanced defensive metrics. Getting Blanked spoke with Manny Machado about adjusting his clock, learning from the best, and the most important part of playing defense.

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