Three up, three down: A look at who’s hot and who’s not in baseball this week.
All-Star art: The Cleveland Indians unveiled the logo for next year’s All-Star game, a stylized guitar outlined by baseball stitching. Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and the logo is so sharp the Indians ought to modify it and use it as an alternate logo on their caps, particularly with the controversial Chief Wahoo logo in its final season. But we digress: After Cleveland in 2019, the All-Star game comes to Los Angeles in 2020. Please, no palm trees on the logo. Been done, too many times, including by the San Diego Padres for the 2016 All-Star logo. How about spelling out All-Star game in the style of the letters of the Hollywood sign?
Triple crown alert: We’ve heard hardly a word about it, but J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox could be one Mookie Betts slump away from winning the Triple Crown. Martinez (.332, 37 HR, 104 RBIs) leads the majors in home runs and runs batted in. The last Triple Crown winner: Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers in 2012. His MVP victory — not based on the Triple Crown alone, but on putting his team atop his shoulders and powering a come-from-behind win of the division title — triggered the sabermetric orthodoxy to howl that Mike Trout had been wronged because of his superiority in WAR (wins above replacement), ignoring that voters are free to define “valuable” however they like. Martinez, Betts, Trout and the Indians’ Jose Ramirez appear a clear-cut top four in this year’s AL MVP race, but Martinez ranks eighth in WAR, according to Fangraphs.
Saves, the record: Which traditional statistic has been most devalued in the sabermetric era? You could make a good case for batting average, wins or saves. While no one has hit .400 since 1941 (Ted Williams) or won 30 games since 1968 (Denny McLain), the all-time save record could fall this year. Edwin Diaz of the Seattle Mariners is on pace for 61 saves, one shy of the record set by the Angels’ Francisco Rodriguez in 2008. The Angels led the league that season by winning 31 one-run games; this year’s Mariners already are at a league-high 28. Fun fact I: The league did not adopt saves as an official statistic until 1969. Fun fact II: The Mariners are the only team whose general manager (Jerry Dipoto) was a major league relief pitcher.
Freezing out talent, and fans: If it’s not the best line of the year, it’s one of them: In the Athletic, James Fegan bemoaned that “the fetishization of optimal human asset management has trumped the interest in seeing great players do their thing.” This is evolution, eight years after Bill James said on “The Simpsons:” “I made baseball as much fun as doing your taxes.” Fegan, who covers the Chicago White Sox, referred in particular to Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech, elite prospects who should be playing for the woeful White Sox, right now. Instead of getting them experience in 2018 that could help in 2019 — and getting fans excited about the future — a new generation of executives tries to hypnotize fans into believing that it is better that such players stay in the minors well into 2019 so they cannot leave as free agents until 2025. “Come on out to the ballpark, fans, and see teams that refuse to field their very best players!”
Shohei and Co.: The success of the Angels’ Shohei Ohtani — the first player in major league history with 10 home runs as a hitter and 50 strikeouts as a pitcher in a season — has emboldened teams to try other two-way players. The Tampa Bay Rays selected Louisville first baseman/pitcher Brendan McKay as the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft, and they’re playing him at both positions in the minor leagues. He’s been very good as a pitcher (2.09 ERA, eight strikeouts for every walk) but not very good at bat (.228 average, .369 slugging percentage). His arm might be too good for the Rays to wait to see if his bat develops, but it more than goes to show how special the 24-year-old Ohtani is. McKay, 22, is at Class A.
Dog days: On Wednesday morning, after writing out a lineup better suited for a split-squad game in spring training, Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire sat in his office in Anaheim and spoke bluntly. The Tigers are tanking this season, but Gardenhire said he had yelled at his team after Monday’s game, concerned not about results but about flagging effort and spirit. On Tuesday, the Tigers gave up seven runs in the first inning, two unearned. “What I can’t handle is sloppy,” he said Wednesday. “That’s a donation.” Then the Tigers went out and got shut out, for the third time in an 0-6 trip. As Gardenhire spoke, his cellphone went off, with this song as the ring tone: “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).”