Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pakistani Baseball Coming to Brooklyn
Tomorrow morning at 12 pm Eastern, the Pakistani national baseball team will take the field against Team Brazil in the Brooklyn Qualifier for the World Baseball Classic. For those of you who don't follow international baseball, Brazil has been a solid team for the last couple years and have some major leaguers, like Yan Gomes and Andre Rienzo. Pakistan on the other hand, is almost non-existent on the baseball stage. 

Pakistan is a small Muslim nation to the west of India, with zero baseball history or any players currently playing professionally anywhere in the world, and they are certainly the underdog in the four-team pool consisting of them, Brazil, Israel and the Great Britain. All three other teams have players in affiliated ball, with Israel boasting multiple players with big league experience. WBC rules do not state that one needs to hold a passport or have citizenship in a country to play, only to be eligible for citizenship in that country, making most Jewish players allowed to play for Team Israel. Pakistan, unlike the other teams, have not had any experience on big stages. The highest level of play have been against college players from Japan, Korea, and Taiwan several years ago in the Asian Games, although they have not fared very well against them, usually losing by 10-run margins. However, their most recent games have come against other baseball nations with little presence, such as India, Indonesia, Iraq, and Iran, and Pakistan has absolutely destroyed them. Scores like 20-nothing have not been uncommon.

Despite having little experience and no affiliated players, the Pakistanis are not completely punchless. Outfielder Fazal Ur Rehman hit a homer against Iran, and Ubaid Ullah has been one of their best hitters against weaker teams, although he admittedly has struggled against better competition. One hitter who has kept up solid hitting against the better Asian teams is catcher Umair Imdad Bhatti, as well as Mohammed Sumair Zawar, whom the New York Times described as a "sparkplug", and infielder Jawar Ali won Defensive MVP of the 2015 Asian Games. On the pitching side, rumor has it that Ihsan Ullah can hit 90 mph, and he has held his own against Korea, Japan, and even threw a decent outing against China.

Of course, none of these players compare to the stateside experienced players of the other three teams, all from much well-off nations with more money and resources. Pakistan doesn't even have a true baseball stadium in the country! But if there is anything the Pakistanis have, it's drive, desire, and the will to win. Even though they have not fared well against some of the better Asian teams, they have continued to battle their way into the #23 ranked spot in the world by the International Baseball Federation. They might not have the most talent, they have always battled and never given up. They play with so much heart and wear their emotions on their sleeves, and who knows, they might even surprise some people this coming week.

Go Team Pakistan!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Five One-Tool Players

Everyone knows the five-tool players: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper. These guys are the big name superstars, the household names. Most other players are productive despite lacking a tool or two. David Ortiz can't field, Jose Altuve doesn't have a big arm, but they can still impact the game in many ways. Most one-dimensional players will wash out in the minor leagues. Cody Johnson was known for his prodigious power, but he couldn't do much else. Willians Astudillo may be the best contact hitter on the planet, but he's still toiling in Double-A. However, in very rare occasions, some players can make it to the major leagues riding on one skill alone. These 5 players below each have the ability to do one thing extraordinarily well, and somehow, its carried them into a major-league career.

Contact: INF T.J. Rivera, New York Mets
The long shot of all long shots, T.J. Rivera signed as an undrafted free agent out of little Troy University. Without any physical projection, Rivera was never considered much of a prospect. Not rated a tremendous defensive player, he has nonetheless held his own just enough to let his ultimate carrying tool, his bat, to carry him to the majors. Rivera has hit everywhere he's gone: a career .324 in the minors, .307 in 3 seasons of Puerto Rican winter ball, and now .344 in his first 61 at bats in the majors. He doesn't provide much pop, but he can spray line drives around the field and produce. And production is all that matters at the major league level.

Power: "1B'" Chris Carter, Milwaukee Brewers
Probably one of the worst defensive players in the National League and league leader in strikeouts, Carter has overcome overwhelming odds and is currently in his seventh major league season. It does help that he has prodigious right-handed power, and can hit the ball a long, long, way. With a simple cut through the zone, Carter can send flyballs 450+ feet for monstrous home runs. Certainly makes up for the 11 errors at first, 188 strikeouts, and -2.0 baserunning score on FanGraphs.

Speed: OF Terrance Gore, Kansas City Royals
Used solely as a pinch runner in the playoffs, Gore provides no value to the Royals outside of his baserunning. Despite his speed, the Royals do not deploy him in the outfield during close games, nor let him hit considering his .563 OPS in AA. He does however, possess a single elite tool, and so far in his regular-season major league career has never been caught stealing. This one tool alone provides extreme value to Ned Yost and the Royals coaching staff late in important games, and it is the one skill that absolutely cannot be taught. He was once clocked at 22 mph when stealing second base:

Glove: 2B Christian Colon, Kansas City Royals
A progressive small ball team, the Royals are the employers of another specialist, this time nifty defender Christian Colon. Originally drafted as a shortstop out of college, Colon lacked the arm or foot speed to stick at that position, and his bat never developed. Nonetheless, his plus glovework has taken him to the big stage. In just 247 innings at second base, Colon has compiled a 3.5 UZR, good for a 14.5 UZR/150 over the course of a full season. Its a shame however, that he likely won't get a shot to reach that potential due to his woeful .229/.288/.285 slash line.

Arm: C Christian Bethancourt, San Diego Padres
Bethancourt has long been considered one of the top catching prospects in the game despite a light bat and below-average receiving and blocking skills. Scouts have doubted his inability to block pitches and frame. But if a catcher can't hit or field, how can he be a top prospect? Because those skills are teachable, and Bethancourt's one natural tool, his arm, is definitely elite. An absolute rifle, Bethancourt has been clocked at 96 mph on the mound and has a career 35% caught stealing rate. Rumor has it the Padres will trade him this offseason with hot prospect Austin Hedges coming up soon, but whichever organization ends up with him will have a potential-laden raw talent to develop. Here he is showcasing both his horrendous blocking but using his cannon arm to recover:

Thursday, September 15, 2016

From Our Partner Site MLB Sweet Spot: The Best Player in the Game

Mike Trout
by Alex Vacca of MLB Sweet Spot

For the fourth time in five years, Mike Trout may not win the AL MVP award, despite yet another outstanding season by the Los Angeles Angel. Entering play Monday, Trout had put up a triple-slash of .312/.431/.546, accumulating 24 home runs, 21 stolen bases, 82 RBI’s and 98 runs. Defensively Trout has ranked about league average, but advanced metrics have been bullish on him in the past, and to the naked eye he can still impress with his glove. His base-running has been great, per usual, and looks to once again be in the running for AL MVP. Other candidates, like Mookie Betts and Jose Altuve, come and go from year-to-year, but Trout can always be counted on to be right in the thick of the race.
A friend of mine recently asked me, “How good is Mike Trout really?” Most people probably wouldn’t give much thought to this question, for Trout is the best, but it sure is a good one. In the context of baseball history, where is Mike Trout? I myself would like to know. Therefore, I decided to study up on this question so that I could provide a way-too-long-and-probably-unnecessary answer. For the purposes of this exercise, I will be looking at players primarily through their age-24 seasons, as Trout just turned 25 on August 7th, 2016 is considered to be in his age-24 season as well.
The first thing I would like to look at is how Trout compares to some of the best players of the last 30 years or so. The following graph compares the beginning of Trout’s career to 15 of the best players of the recent past, sorted by total WAR, through each player’s age-24 season:
Trout v. Current
As you can see, Trout is ahead of everyone; and frankly, it isn’t even close. The names on this list are nothing to joke about either. Despite what you may think about Alex Rodriguez, he is one of the 10-15 best position of all time. Ken Griffey Jr. was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and Barry Bonds has more home runs than anybody in history. Even the names towards the bottom of this list, such as Carlos Beltran and Manny Ramirez, are potential Hall of Fame candidates. Essentially, based on WAR, Trout has shown better early-career production than any of the top position players of the past three decades.
For people who prefer not to rely strictly on metrics like WAR, I have gone through and highlighted the top three players in each stat category as well. I chose to exclude runs and RBI’s, as those numbers are partially related to a team’s batting order as a whole (although Trout did rank 2nd and 5th respectively in those categories). What should jump out at you is that no player on the list made it into the top three in any more than two stat categories, that is, other than Mike Trout. Trout, in fact, leads in double that number with four. Despite being tied for 6th on the list in batting average, he jumps up into 3rd place in overall OPS on the strength of a .402 OBP and a .558 SLG%. Furthermore, by placing top-3 in triples and stolen bases as well as in home runs, Trout demonstrates the speed/power combo that has made him such a standout player early in his career.
Now, let’s up the standards a bit and compare Trout to some of the best players of all time, again taking the accumulation of numbers through each players’ age-24 season (note that I have excluded Babe Ruth, who did not do much hitting prior to the age of 25)…
To continue reading this piece, and other highly-informative articles by Alex, please click here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Tim Tebow: Baseball Player, Dream Crusher

Tim Tebow is a professional baseball player. Please take a look at this chart.

People Currently In Professional Baseball

We all know the story. Signing a $100K minor league deal with the New York Mets, Tebow will now report to the instructional leagues this fall in an attempt to transition to baseball after a storied NFL career. It's been eleven years since he's played competitively, but he organized a showcase anyway. Miraculously, 28 teams and 40+ scouts showed up. The Mets supposedly liked his raw power, and inked him. 


I have no doubt that Tim Tebow is a great guy. His reputation as a tremendous clubhouse leader, a devout Christian, and a generous philanthropist follows him everywhere. When asked why he was taking a shot at baseball, he said that it wasn't a publicity stunt, he was simply chasing a dream, just like the thousands of other amateur ballplayers just looking to crack into the world of professional baseball player. But why has Tim Tebow, above everyone else, gotten a shot, while others are watching their childhood dreams get crushed and having to move on in life? The Mets (and Tebow's most supportive fans) say it is because of his athleticism, and the signing was purely a baseball decision. But let's be real here. Tebow was signed for publicity, to put fans in seats of minor league ballparks.

High quality Photoshop/DraftKings Playbook
I don't fault the Mets for signing him. $100K is nothing in baseball money, and that money will come back quickly if the fans are hooked by the novelty. And to be honest, he is a great athlete, and he can hit the ball a long way. Signing Tebow carries no risk and carries plenty of reward in revenue and media attention, and in the 0.000000001% chance he makes it... However, there is no need to sugarcoat this signing, and there is absolutely no need for fans to defend it. For all the pro baseball players who are upset and taking to social media to complain about it, they have every right to as well. Baseball is incredibly hard- the effort, the grind, the hours spent perfecting that swing off a tee, the hundreds of bullpens thrown to refine that control- is no joke. For one unlucky player, who has spent all their life chasing a near-impossible dream and is so close to making it, all their hard work over the years will be leapfrogged by a publicity stunt. And that is not fair.

"It's crazy how guys play all through high school, all through college, play independent ball and don't get that type of private showcase, and then he does. But that's the world we live in. Hopefully the Mets get out of it what they want, and hopefully he gets out of it what he wants." -Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays ace pitcher, whose signing bonus was similar to Tebow's

Tebow is a media event. A carnival attraction. A ploy to get fans to attend minor league games. And nothing more. Any attempt to convince fans that he is a real prospect will be shut down quickly, as evidenced by film from his showcase. Despite the build and what looks to be a cannon of an arm, Tebow's throwing is a 35, as are his footwork and routes when fielding. He runs well for a big man, but not well enough to influence games based on his legs alone. All his value will be tied to the bat, where his one plus tool, raw power, hopes to carry him. He can hit balls 440+ feet in BP, but his swing is grooved and unadjustable to pitches that aren't down the middle. Here is some footage of him taking fly balls. This was a showcase. Try to imagine that in a pro game.

Funny thing is, Tebow wasn't even the first athlete from a different sport to try and convert to baseball. Ever heard of Kieran Powell? The lefty-swinging world-class cricket player had private workouts with the Mets and the Brewers early in the spring. Powell, an opening batsman (sort of like a leadoff man), displayed good speed, a smoother swing than Tebow, and much better footwork in the outfield. While he too, was a non-prospect (awkward throwing motion, shoddy hands, only gap pop), his performance on the field could not be any worse than Tebow. Being younger (26 to Tebow's 29) and having played a hand-eye coordination, hitting related sport in the past decade, with a much smoother swing that can make decent contact, Powell would have had maybe even more potential. Powell, like Tebow, like the countless high school, college, and indy ball players out there, was just looking to chase a professional baseball dream. But why wasn't he signed? Because the name Kieran Powell has no meaning for American sports fans. Tim Tebow is an American hero. Name value alone has carried Tebow into the world of professional sports, leapfrogging Powell and all the other pro ball hopefuls along the way.

Ian Strom. Raphael Ramirez. Arnaldo Berrios. Jay Jabs. Jacob Zanon. Will Barring. Tucker Tharp. Joe Tuschak. Patrick Biondi. Champ Stuart. These are the minor league outfielders in the low minors of the Mets organization, and they too, have no name value. Tebow's signing will cost one of them their job. Tim Tebow's signing is great for him, and for the Mets marketing department. Hell, they have a special schedule of Tim Tebow's appearance days in the instructional league specifically for the media. The whole signing is simply a marketing ploy, but for one of these outfielders, it means the end of their dreams. All their life, dedicated to baseball, will all be gone just like that. The fact that Tebow gets to keep his job as an SEC analyst while the others keep grinding away in the instructional league is just blatant disrespect; it's treating the dreams of others as a joke. Baseball is more than just a game for so many people. Baseball is a lifelong dream. And to have that stripped away for a marketing ploy, just so the media can go crazy to watch a former NFL hero take some hacks and get embarrassed by pro pitching, its simply unfair. None of this is Tebow's fault. Or the Mets fault. And it definitely isn't Strom's, Ramirez's, Berrios's, Jabs's, Zanon's, Barring's, Tharp's, Tuschak's, Biondi's or Stuart's. These guys gave their life to this sport. Baseball is a wonderful sport, but baseball is also cruel.

Bonus video: Domingo Ayala teaches us how to play beisbol like Tim Tebow. big tyne.