Today’s article: “The 30: It’s a Brave New World,” Jonah Keri, Grantland
It’s been gettin’ a little heavy in these here parts of the Why Oh Why? Email Exchange as of late, so I thought we’d start out today with a lighter discussion: MLB power rankings!
So we’re heading into the All-Star break and everything should be zooming into focus, as far as who’s a contender and who’s not. There are a certain number of teams that we can say with almost virtual certainty have no chance of making the playoffs, and those teams ought to be fairly obvious sellers at the fast-approaching deadline. Or will they be!? Seems like, to the Mariners’ great disadvantage, many of these bottom-dwellers are hesitant to trade anyone, naively believing (in large part because of the new, second Wild Card Spot) that they’re still hanging in the race. Could you really see the Rays or the Red Sox, despite having a combined 9% chance of making the playoffs, conceding that their season is over?
Thinking about the Rays in particular, who Jonah Keri highlights this week, makes me somewhat stressed as a Mariners fan. Every time I glance at the Wild Card standings (multiple times a day), my eyes fall on four teams —Baltimore, Kansas City, New York, and Cleveland. And I think, if those are our four competitors, we have a pretty decent shot at this thing. That calculus changes vastly if the Rays find a way to lurk back into the hunt. All of the sudden, I’m terrified, and Keri brings up a decent-to-good point that they’ve done this before and they can do it again. Do you think the Rays have a shot of climbing back? Or do you think they break it up? Most interesting of all, what would you do if you were the Rays’ GM in this particular situation, taking into account your financial realities?
So I’m kind of working through this as I read the piece, and here are the Mariners at #9! Woah! I’m still getting adjusted to the reality of not lounging in the 20 or below range in these types of pieces. The bad news, though, as long as we’re living in the logic of Keri’s world: the Mariners are still in the “Dogfighters” tier, not quite in the “Elite Eight.” Of course, looking at the Mariners roster, it’s hard to call anything about them elite (besides Felix), but in my completely and wholly unbiased opinion, the combination of their record and the sterlingness of their recent play merits a rank above the Giants.
There’s a lot to get to here, so I’ll keep my response fairly brief and you can choose to answer some of my questions and pose some of your own. A few parting queries: Do the Mariners belong in the Elite Eight? How scary is it that the top two teams are from the AL West? And what do you think our proclivity for power rankings says about our society’s desire for the ephemeral? No I’m just kidding.
Tampa Bay needs to concede a seasonal defeat. It seems the obvious choice when considering, as you put it, the franchise’s financial reality. The Rays are the panhandlers of the MLB, forever unable to make splashes in free agency because they don’t have the dollars to compete in that market. Such a team remains competitive on the field by filling its roster with players who outperform their pay. This type of baseballer takes two general forms. First are the smaller-name veterans whose surface stats aren’t all that sexy (and so don’t cash-in big via free agency), but who posses underlying skills that actually make them quite valuable. The second group is the young talent: players with less than six years of major league experience, who remain cost-controlled at low prices no matter how good they might be. Tampa has done an excellent job of acquiring as many of these players as possible the past several years, which is why the team’s gone from laughingstock to Yankee-killer. And if the club wants to continue its AL East dominance into the future, it needs to continue acquiring these players.
Fortunately for the Rays, they have a great opportunity to do so this coming trade deadline. David Price is unquestionably the best pitching piece on the market, and Ben Zobrist is perhaps the best position player available. The red-hot Price would be the ace almost anywhere he landed, is only 28, and, what’s more, is signed through the 2015 season. Tampa is known to want a bounty for the left-hander, as it should, because a year and a half of peak-level Price could make a good team great. Some contender will be okay with this price (ha), though, and will pay the Rays handsomely in the form of blue-chip prospects. And Zobrist is pretty damn good, too. Like, having-his-worst-season-in-four-years-and-still-a-top-30-position-player good. He’s never had the big name or counting stats, which will likely diminish the haul he can return; but should GM Andrew Friedman get into talks with another statistically-minded front office, the Rays could come away with some legitimate talent.
The FanGraphs page you linked gives Tampa a slim 4.5% chance of making the playoffs this year. I know those projections don’t factor in things like the #spirit Keri mentions, or #experience, or the long-term benefits of a medicine man visiting your team, but I’ll trust the numbers and say the Rays probably aren’t gonna be playing into October. And despite the fun in envisioning another magical run, a la 2013, the Rays would be unwise to hold out hope of postseason ball in the Trop. The opportunity cost of keeping Price and Zobrist would simply be too much, especially given the low-budget nature of the Tampa Bay franchise.
Onto Mariner matters. Personally, I prefer being in the “Dogfighters” tier, as it marks a polar shift from how the M’s have been viewed the last decade. Used to be we were the soft-hitting cellar dwellers. The team many fans forgot even existed, as we tanked year after year in our little corner of the country. We’ve always been the opposite of intimidating. But not anymore. The league doesn’t lose sight of a fucking DOGFIGHTER, and that’s exactly what we now are. Going to scoff at our offense yet again, good teams of the world? Nope, because we’re DOGFIGHTERS and we’ll MAUL you if you do. I hope Seattle never leaves this group, and that Keri never changes its name, because it’s symbolic of Seattle finally getting some big-boy respect.
So, no, I don’t think we belong in the Elite Eight. We belong in the Octagon, with our fellow blood-thirsty DOGFUCKINGFIGHTERS.
As you know, I listen to a podcast every night before bed. Last night, I was listening to Susan Slusser, the A’s beat writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, on Keri’s podcast, and I’m pretty sure that she proposed a Drew Pomeranz or Tommy Milone for Ben Zobrist trade. Maybe I was dreaming, but, what? A +1.5-to-2-WAR pitcher for on one of the best players in the league over the last five years? The mystery of Ben Zobrist’s perpetual underratedness is something that will never cease to interest me. Seriously, look at this: since the beginning of 2009, he’s been the third best position player in the MLB, better than Cano, McCutchen, Votto, etc. That’s crazy!!! Drew Pomeranz??? God. Rarely does someone actually keep the underrated label for the entirety of their careers, or actually deserve the label at all. But if the FanGraphs stats are to be believed, and there’s no reason to believe they don’t, Zobrist has got to be the most underrated player in all of the sports. Yeah, let’s see you refute that #HotTake.
Yeah, looking at it that way, I’d prefer to stay in the DOGFIGHTERS tier (as we’re apparently styling it now). Ironically, you say that we belong in the Octagon, which, having eight sides, might infer that you think we also belong in the Elite Eight, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’ve kept up with sabermetric analysis for the last few years, but looking at Zobrist’s stats still stuns me. He’s been the third-best position player since ’09, more valuable than everyone but his face-of-the-franchise teammate and the generation’s greatest hitter. And yet he’s regarded as little more than an exploitation of market inefficiencies, a player most consider “good” just because he’s cheap. Poor Ben. May history look back upon him with the DOGFIGHTER recognition he deserves.
We’ve talked about the Rays in depth, but haven’t touched on any of the other teams Keri highlights, so let’s do that. Reading his Mets bit, I got kinda excited. I’ve been running potential Mariner trade-acquisitions through my head the past few days, and have largely been coming up empty. Every player known to be on the block seems either too expensive (Price) or not good enough (Josh Willingham), or makes too much sense for us to expect Jack Z to go after them (Zobrist). Then I saw Bartolo Colon’s name, and was like, hey, he’d be a nice upgrade to the back end of Seattle’s rotation, and would probably come fairly cheap. But then I remembered I was talking about the guy who earned the nickname “Kitchen Colon” long before he eclipsed 40. His time on the bump, and probably Earth too, is limited. I don’t want the magic of this Mariners season ruined by the sudden cardiac arrest of our big deadline acquisition.
The Pirates section was funny. Funny because HAHAHA OH MY GOD THAT STARTING ROTATION. “Locke, Morton, and Worley” sounds like a greasy law firm, not three-fifths of a major league rotation.
Keri introduces his top tier with “A huge winning streak propels the Braves into the league’s upper crust.” I’m guessing Atlanta retrospectively wishes it’d cut down the length of that streak. Because hanging out with the pretentious “upper crust” sounds a whole lot lamer than DUKING IT OUT WITH SOME TURNT-UP DOGFIGHTERS.