Let’s get one thing out of the way up front: I’m not trying to diminish the significance of winning two World Series in three years. It’s a tremendous achievement.
But when you try to process how the San Francisco Giants went from that to what they are now — dead last in the NL West — it’s important to understand that the Giants haven’t fallen as far as your typical World Series champion would.
You can name any one of seven or eight candidates and have a great argument, but Posey gets the slightest of nods. For starters, no National League player has put up better park-adjusted rate stats. That's doubly impressive given Posey is a catcher, the position at which offense is rarest. Posey hasn't quite played all of his games at catcher. But 75 out of 90, with the numbers he's put up at AT&T Park, still plays well. And no, we don't care one whit about the Giants being eight games under .500, compared to, say, some of the top players on winning teams like the Cardinals. Posey, like Yadier Molina and every other player in the league, has no control over the teammates his general manager picks to play with him.
If you’re a baseball fan and (1) have a spare $130, and (2) are either single or have a relationship that will bear your watching 40 hours of baseball a week, there’s no better investment than MLB Network. But if you’re going to channel-surf through 15 games a night, you better have a plan. You could just go to any game that’s late and close, or you could zero in on trying to see the most exciting players. In case that appeals to you, here are the most exciting players to watch at each position.
Catcher: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
I almost didn’t pick Posey because I really don’t want to validate a fan base that’s quickly ascending to a level of Conspicuous Internet Smugness that we’d normally expect from Phillies and Red Sox fans. There’s been a lot of talk about Moneyball being a crock because all Billy Beane did was luck into three stud starting pitchers. Brian Sabean did pretty much the same thing, except while Beane made a bunch of nifty little moves to fill out a winning team, Sabean complemented Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Mad Bum with a team assembled through a crusade of aggressive silliness (getting fleeced for Carlos Beltran and Hunter Pence, overpaying Pence, overpaying Aaron Rowand, overpaying Aubrey Huff, and so on) that you’d expect from a post–Cold War Eastern Bloc government struggling to get a feel for capitalism.
Justin Verlander and Buster Posey both signed gigantic contract extensions, underscoring a growing trend in baseball: the death of free agency.
Already signed through 2014, Verlander's extension with the Tigers will last five years and pay him $140 million. At $28 million a year, Verlander becomes the third pitcher to break the record for highest average annual contract value in the past four months, eclipsing Zack Greinke ($24.5 million) and Felix Hernandez ($25 million). The deal also includes a vesting option for the 2020 season, which could bump Verlander's earnings over the next eight years to $202 million.
Meanwhile, Posey just inked the second-largest deal ever given to a catcher, which is wild, given he doesn't even have three years of service time under his belt. The Giants will pay Posey $167 million over the next nine years, trailing only Joe Mauer's $184 million pact among catchers and nearly doubling the third-largest catcher deal, the $91 million contract the Mets gave Mike Piazza in the late '90s.
Verlander wouldn't have hit the open market until after the 2014 season, Posey until after 2016. But you can now scratch two more names off future shopping lists, as free agency continues its march toward irrelevance.
The baseball analytics revolution has helped us answer many questions that might have seemed unknowable before. We can now measure not only a pitcher's velocity but also the exact horizontal and vertical break on his pitches, the precise coordinates of his arm slot, and dozens of other variables. We can calculate the worth of catchers who excel at framing pitches. We can even take the sum of a player's contributions and find a reasonable estimate of his overall value.
Lovely pursuits, all. But mere trivialities next to the most pressing baseball question the world has ever had to face: If Mr. Burns had to re-staff the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team with a lineup full of present-day players, who should he choose?
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP award, beating out Angels rookie Mike Trout by a healthy margin. And now it's time for the ANGRY OLD SPORTSWRITER! "Look, I know all you stat nerds out there are going 'Wahhh, wahhh, Trout should have won because he has a higher WAR.' You know what I think of that? HAR. As in HARDY HAR-HAR, morons. There's so much Trout love going around that I think the sports world is full of bears. And guess what? Bears eat salmon, so you're wrong there, too. Get a grip. Miguel Cabrera won a Triple Crown, you sniveling little Adlai Stevensons. Back when I was around, in the 1930s, that used to mean something. In fact, players back then would actually wear three different crowns to signify that they'd won. Was it uncomfortable? Sure. But I dare you to find a more beautiful site than Jimmie Foxx strutting around Philadelphia with three golden crowns perched atop his gorgeous head. There wasn't a man there who didn't get an erection. So can the stupid Trout arguments. Mike Trout is threatening to ruin baseball, and if Bud Selig had any cojones, he'd send him on the next ship to Venezuela, and he'd say, 'Either you take down that tyrant Hugo Chavez and his nationalized oil, or you don't come home.' And that's a Triple Crown we can all wear."
I spent Game 5 of the 2010 World Series lying on the floor of my apartment, staring at the ceiling and listening to the San Francisco Giants’ local radio feed over the Internet. I was 3,000 miles away from the Bay Area and I wanted some connection to the feelings and rituals of childhood. I had first become a fan via the radio and all that it leaves to the imagination. If this was going to happen, I wanted to hear some familiar voices narrate the scene. As the Giants poured onto the field after the final out, longtime play-by-play man Duane Kuiper reflected on what the moment meant: “You can’t help but think that this group is celebrating for the Say Hey Kid ... for Will the Thrill ... celebrating for number 25 and celebrating for all you Giants fans, wherever you are.”
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday.
Justin Verlander tossed a complete-game shutout, striking out 11 and allowing four hits as the Tigers beat the A's 6-0 in Game 5 to advance to the ALCS. After the game, the low-budget A's could be heard marveling at the "pitcher from the big city." "He stood round 'bouts seven-foot high!" hollered Coco Crisp. "Threw damn near 200 miles an hour!" hooted Stephen Drew. "Man's arm jest about touched yer cap when he reached out and throwed," howled Brandon Moss. "Most men take just a speck ah chaw up on that picher's hill," yelped general manager Billy Beane, "but damned if ole Verlander warn't holdin' an entire tobacky stalk and swallerin' it jes like a baby carrot!"
Major League Baseball suspended Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera for 50 games after he tested positive for excessive levels of testosterone, wiping out the rest of his season and dealing a blow to San Francisco's playoff hopes.
The notion that Cabrera could have a major impact on a pennant race would have seemed ludicrous as recently as two years ago. At that point in his career, Cabrera had reached double-digit home runs in a season just once. Hell, he'd slugged .400 or better just once. He was a popgun hitter who provided moderate value when his bloops and grounders would find holes, next to zero value when they didn't.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
American gymnast Aly Raisman won a bronze medal on the balance beam event final, and followed that up with a gold on the floor exercise. Beleaguered U.S. gymnast Jordyn Wieber finished seventh in the floor exercise when she experienced an unfortunate bout of Apparatus Confusion Disorder (ACD), leading her to mistake the floor for the uneven bars and jump around making weird swinging motions until she was tranquilized by her coach.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Manny Ramirez is back! The former Red Sox slugger has signed a deal with the Oakland Athletics, and will be eligible to play on May 30, his 40th birthday, after serving a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. In the meantime, he plans to sit in the dugout and ask his teammates unsettling questions like: "Dude what do you think is the slowest way to die?"
In Carmelo Anthony's return from injury, Deron Williams lit up Jeremy Lin for 38 points as the Nets topped the Knicks 100-92. Anthony pulled Lin aside after the game, saying, "'Faith, that was not so well; yet would I knew that stroke would prove the worst!" and was about to continue until Lin was like, "Yo, Melo, stop quoting Iago to me or I'm going to get super f***ing suspicious over here."