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Kevin  Kleps

Kevin\'s MLB Blog

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Here come the sluggers

Sunday June 1, 2014

Mark Buehrle is Major League Baseball's first 10-game winner.

But the Blue Jays are in first place because of their offense, which has been the most powerful in baseball.

Toronto is first in MLB in home runs, second in runs scored, second in OPS and fourth in batting average.

The Jays are fifth where it counts -- in our Week 10 power rankings.

One of their two most dangerous hitters (Edwin Encarnacion and his 19 homers being the other), Jose Bautista, is part of a top four in our right field rankings that is absolutely stacked.

We have now ranked all of the position players in the last month.

Here are our rankings in left and center field, and go here for our 2014 rankings homepage.

Now that all of that promotional housekeeping is out of the way, I"m going to enjoy "Game of Thrones."

You should, too, but only after perusing through all of those pieces we mentioned.

And if you want to tell me I'm nuts for ranking Yasiel Puig ahead of Ryan Braun and Giancarlo Stanton, follow me on Twitter or email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

Manny Ramirez the player-coach?

Sunday May 25, 2014

Manny Ramirez has done a lot of strange things in his career.

Sunday, he added another to the list.

The soon-to-be 42-year-old outfielder -- and "outfielder" never fit a player better than it did Manny, who always seemed to be "out in left field" -- will be a player-coach for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs.

Yes, the player who was suspended twice late in his career for using performance-enhancing drugs will be teaching some of the Cubs' top prospects.

At first, it seems insane.

But if you really think about it, the one thing Ramirez could always do better than almost anyone else is hit. And Cubs general manager Theo Epstein made it clear Sunday that's what Ramirez is expected to do: teach the minor-leaguers the finer points of hitting.

"While Manny is not and will not be a fit on the Cubs' major-league roster, we do think at this stage of his life he's a nice fit as a mentor for some of the young talented hitters we have in the organization," Epstein said in a statement issued by the Cubs. "Manny will coach full-time and play part-time in a limited role that does not take at-bats away from our prospects."

Ramirez hasn't played since appearing in five games and going 1-for-17 at the plate for the Rays in 2011.

He's a .312 career hitter who has 555 home runs (the 14th-best total in the 500 Club), 1,831 RBI, 1,544 runs scored and 1,329 walks. He's a 12-time All-Star (including 11 in a row from 1998-2008) and nine-time Silver Slugger who posted 162-game career averages of 39 homers, 129 RBI and 109 runs.

His mastery of hitting might come in handy for 21-year-old Javier Baez, whom we ranked fifth in our look at the top prospects in baseball in 2014.

Baez has struggled since he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa to start 2014. In 37 games, he is hitting .203 with a .664 OPS, six homers, 18 RBI and 54 strikeouts in 158 at-bats. In a combined 130 games in advanced-Class A and Double-A last season, Baez had 37 homers, 111 RBI and a .920 OPS.

Maybe Manny can help the young shortstop.

Can't hurt to try, right?

Right?

Week 9 power rankings

Josh Beckett threw the first no-hitter of the 2014 season on Sunday, and he is looking like his old self.

See where his team ranks this week, and see just how good Beckett has been since returning from the disabled list.

You can follow me on Twitter for information that has nothing to do with Manny Ramirez but everything to do with my childhood memories as a tortured Chicago Cubs fan.

Is Prince Fielder on the decline?

Saturday May 24, 2014

Prince Fielder doesn't look like one of the most durable players in baseball.

Prior to this week, he had been the most durable player in the sport.

The bulky Texas Rangers first baseman -- listed at 5-foot-11, 275 pounds -- has a herniated disk in his neck and is expected to have season-ending surgery on Tuesday, May 27.

Before missing the Rangers' May 17 game against the Toronto Blue Jays, Fielder had played in 547 consecutive games -- the longest streak in the big leagues.

From 2006-13, he missed a total of 13 games in eight years.

Last year, Fielder's power showed signs of slipping. He hit 25 homers, his lowest total since 2005, his rookie year, and his OPS fell to .819 (down from .981 and .940 in 2011 and '12, respectively).

After the 2013 season, the Rangers took a huge chance on Fielder, trading Ian Kinsler to Detroit and taking on Fielder and all but $30 million of the $168 million that remains on his contract.

If you're keeping score at home, and we know you are, Detroit will pay Kinsler $62 million from 2014-17 and the Rangers $30 million, and Texas is on the hook for seven years and $138 million for Fielder through 2020.

For the Rangers, it seemed like a sensible gamble, considering Fielder's durability, his age (he turned 30 on May 9) and his consistency. Fielder, prior to 2014, had hit at least 25 homers for eight consecutive seasons, and he had driven in at least 102 runs each year from 2007-13. His 162-game career norms are a .285 average with 34 homers, 105 RBI and a .910 OPS.

To make matters worse for Texas, Kinsler has great for Detroit. He entered Saturday batting an AL-best .326 with four homers, 21 RBI, six steals and an .839 OPS. Detroit has a $12 million team option on Kinsler for 2018 that includes a $5 million buyout, meaning the Tigers can choose to pay Kinsler $62 million for four years or $69 million for five.

The Rangers, meanwhile, are reeling.

Texas entered Saturday with a 23-25 record and was in fourth place in the AL West, 6.5 games behind first-place Oakland. And after getting only three homers in 42 games from a weakened Fielder (the injury has led to struggles with his left arm), Texas is 28th in baseball in home runs (31), 15th in runs scored and 14th in OPS (.705).

Looking at the big picture, Texas will be paying Fielder almost $20 million per season until he's 36.

Now, the trade doesn't look so sensible.

Fielder might return in 2015 and regain the form that helped him average 40 homers per season from 2007-11.

Or, nearing his 31st birthday, he might be a $138 million anchor on the Rangers' payroll -- one that makes paying the soon-to-be 32-year-old Kinsler $15.5 million per season seem like a bargain.

Oops

When we ranked the top 10 first basemen in baseball, we put Fielder at No. 7, which seemed low after everything he's accomplished since 2006. But we were a little leery after the Tigers paid $30 million to dump him on Texas, and take on Kinsler's contract, after Fielder's power drop in 2013.

Looks like we need to make a revision.

Another quick promo: Fielder entered 2014 with the seventh-largest contact in baseball history -- the nine-year, $214 million deal he struck with Detroit prior to the 2012 season. We broke down MLB's biggest contracts here.

Jose Abreu, one of the year's best stories, heads to DL

Sunday May 18, 2014

The six years and $68 million the Chicago White Sox invested in Cuban slugger Jose Abreu seems like a bargain by Ryan Howard and B.J. Upton standards.

Prior to being placed on the disabled list Sunday with tendinitis in his left ankle, Abreu was leading the majors with 15 home runs and was pacing the American League in RBI (42) and slugging percentage (.595). He was fourth in the AL in runs scored (29) and sixth in OPS (.908).

It hasn't been all line drives and majestic blasts, though.

Abreu is hitting .260 and is second in the AL in strikeouts with 50 -- four behind the one and only Mike Trout.

The White Sox didn't give a timetable for Abreu's return, but his injury is obviously a huge blow to a team that entered Sunday 21-23, a welcomed step to mediocrity after last season's 63-99 mark.

The worst part for White Sox fans: Abreu's trip to the DL means more regular at-bats for Adam "Swing and a Miss" Dunn (42 strikeouts in 117 at-bats) and Paul Konerko (.196 with one homer and eight RBI in 25 games).

Abreu in April became the first AL player to win player of the month and rookie of the month honors in his first month in the big leagues.

His return can't come soon enough.

More position rankings

This weekend, we continued our breakdown of the top 10 players at each position with our rankings at shortstop and third base.

Go here for our 2014 rankings homepage.

More power rankings

The Tigers are an obvious No. 1 this week. But we'd rather concentrate on the early success of baseball's best pitcher.

(Hint: We're not referring to Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander. OK, we're not referring to a Tiger, period.)

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis, and more nicknames for Adam "He Seems" Dunn. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

Mauer doesn't make the cut at first base

Sunday May 11, 2014

Whenever I rank Joe Mauer in anything -- whether it's fantasy baseball or the series of position rankings we just started at About.com -- I always think about his 2009 season.

That year, the Twins star batted .365 with 28 homers, 96 RBI and a 1.031 OPS. As insane as a .365 batting average is (since 1989, only two American League batting champions have hit .365 or higher -- Mauer and Nomar Garciaparra, who batted .372 for the Red Sox in 2000), the most surprising numbers for Mauer that year were in the power department.

Since 2010, Mauer has averaged eight homers and 59 RBI per season.

He's a hitting machine -- .322 in his career heading into Sunday, May 11 -- but, aside from 2009, he doesn't produce big power numbers (162-game career norms of 14 home runs and 86 RBI).

Years of wear and tear behind the plate finally seemed to catch up to Mauer the last few years.

Minnesota transitioned Mauer from catcher to first base the last couple seasons, and this year is the first in which he is no longer expected to appear behind the plate.

In 2011, Mauer played 82 games. Two years later, he appeared in 113. Sunday, he returned to the Twins' lineup after missing five games because of a sore back.

All of which is why Mauer didn't make the cut when we ranked the top 10 first basemen in baseball.

It was a difficult decision between Mauer and the Orioles' Chris Davis at No. 10, a sign of how stacked the position is at the top.

If Mauer was still catching, he certainly would have made the top 10. We probably would have put him No. 4 on this year's list, one spot below the Royals' Salvador Perez.

One more note about the top-10 lists we're compiling this month: We ranked the top 10 second basemen this week.

Two very familiar names are at the top of the list.

Week 7 power rankings

The top four stay the same this week, and the Giants become the second team to be No. 1 more than once this season.

More noteworthy, at least to us, is Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer's huge offseason gamble is paying off thus far.

You can read about Scherzer's dominance in this week's power rankings, and if you want a collection of all of our power rankings for the season, go here.

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis, and to tell me I'm an idiot for not including Mauer in the top 10. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

Jeter is leaving at the right time

Sunday May 4, 2014

Sunday morning, Derek Jeter received a visit from Peyton Manning.

Not surprisingly, retirement was a big topic of conversation in Manning's visit with the media after his chat with the Yankees' shortstop.

Manning is coming off an MVP season with the Denver Broncos -- one that finished with a less-than-stellar Super Bowl.

Jeter and the Yankees could make the World Series in this, his final, season.

But it likely won't be because of an MVP-caliber season from the shortstop we believe is the second-best of all-time.

Through Sunday, Jeter is batting .240 with a .311 on-base percentage and .582 OPS. He has no homers, no stolen bases and six RBI.

Jeter has hit at least 10 home runs in every season but three -- 1995, when he had 48 at-bats in his first season; 2011, when he had six homers in 546 at-bats; and 2013, when he was limited to 17 games by injury.

From 1996-2011, Jeter stole at least 11 bases each season. In 2012, he had nine steals.

He hasn't had a steal since -- a span of 41 games.

You could say he's lost a step. Or 10.

He's also lost most (all?) of his pop.

Jeter's 162-game career averages are 16 homers, 78 RBI and 21 steals, with a .312 batting average and .826 OPS.

From April 6 to May 1, he had at least one hit in 16 of 18 games. But he drove in only five runs in that span.

When star players decline, they usually do so rapidly.

Jeter seems to be another example of that.

Look out, Broncos fans.

Catch this

Buster Posey or Yadier Molina?

That was the first big question we faced when we ranked the 10 best catchers in baseball.

The breakdown is the first of many you'll see in the coming weeks. We'll have top 10s at every position.

By the way, we selected Molina. Do you agree? Let us know via Twitter or email (baseball@aboutguide.com).

Week 6 power rankings

We have our fifth different No. 1 team in as many weeks.

This time, it's a franchise that has won two World Series championships since 2010.

Here's a hint: They have a great catcher and an even better bullpen.

(For all our 2014 power rankings, go here.)

Selig is right: Baseball is in good shape

Sunday May 4, 2014

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig told reporters Friday that the sport has "never been more popular."

MLB's television ratings are a source of much debate, but Selig's point can't be dismissed from two perspectives:

  • Baseball's TV deals with ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports average $1.5 billion per year and run from 2014 to 2021.
  • The game's attendance has been strong for the last decade.

In 2013, MLB averaged 30,514 fans per game -- its sixth-best norm all-time, but a 1.06-percent drop from 2012. All of the game's top 10 seasons from an attendance standpoint have occurred in the last decade.

If you dig into Baseball-Reference's year-by-year attendance breakdowns, you'll notice that 17 teams averaged more than 30,000 fans per game in 2013 -- MLB's highest total in that category since 2001.

Since baseball expanded to 30 teams in 1998, there have been three seasons in which 17 teams averaged at least 30,000 fans per game -- 2013, 2001 and 2000.

In 2012, 13 teams had a norm of at least 30,000 fans per contest, matching the total from 2011. From 2002 to 2012, MLB hovered between 11 (the lowest mark, in 2003) and 16 teams with attendance averages of at least 30,000.

A look at the number of teams with an average of 30,000 fans per game since MLB expanded to 30 teams in 1998:

  • 2013: 17
  • 2012: 13
  • 2011: 13
  • 2010: 15
  • 2009: 13
  • 2008: 16
  • 2007: 16
  • 2006: 15
  • 2005: 15
  • 2004: 14
  • 2003: 11
  • 2002: 14
  • 2001: 17
  • 2000: 17
  • 1999: 15
  • 1998: 16

Our (very belated) point: The game seems to be in much better shape than many realize.

One of our favorite numbers that has nothing to do with attendance, TV ratings or TV dollars: In the last 10 years, 26 of the 30 teams have made the playoffs at least once.

That might be the best stat of all.

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis, or to tell me you think I'm nuts about MLB's current standing in the pro sports landscape. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

Pujols becomes a post-1999 rarity -- a 'clean' member of 500-homer club

Sunday April 27, 2014

When Albert Pujols hit a pair of home runs against the Yankees on Tuesday, April 22, to become the 26th member of Major League Baseball's 500-homer club, we were inspired.

Unless you believe Jack Clark (and you can't, since Clark took back his original comments), Pujols is the one of a select few sluggers to reach the 500-homer club in the last 15 years who hasn't been linked to performance-enhancing drugs.

Barry Bonds. Alex Rodriguez. Sammy Sosa. Mark McGwire. Rafael Palmeiro. Manny Ramirez. Gary Sheffield.

All seven reached the 500 mark since 1999, and all seven have been linked to and/or admitted to using PEDs.

By our count, the only sluggers to reach 500 homers since 1999 who haven't been linked to PEDs are Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome and Frank Thomas.

Pujols became the third-youngest player to get to 500 homers, and he seems to have a legitimate shot to surpass Hank Aaron's mark of 755 homers -- which many of us consider the "true" all-time mark (not Bonds' 762).

Thus, we decide to give you everything you wanted to know -- and some stuff you didn't -- about the 500-homer club.

We have 162-game averages, the teams for which each player hit the home runs, when and where each hit No. 500, and more.

Click here for our breakdown, and enjoy this Alex Rodriguez-less season.

Week 5 power rankings

The Braves rank 19th in baseball in batting average, and they are tied for 25th in runs scored.

That would seem to result in an unlikely No. 1 team in our weekly power rankings.

(Until you consider that the Braves' five starting pitchers all have earned-run averages of 2.31 or better.)

MLB regains its senses: A catch is back to being a catch

Friday April 25, 2014

Major League Baseball went back to basics on Friday.

Don't worry, MLB didn't get rid of instant replay already.

Ladies and gents, a catch is back to being a catch.

When baseball implemented new replay rules this season, it stressed that a fielder had to catch the ball and maintain control of it as he removed it from his glove and got set to throw it.

The rule interpretation gained attention on Thursday, April 24, during -- surprise, surprise -- a game between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. In the second inning of the Yankees' 14-5 win over the Red Sox, Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia was charged with an error when he dropped the ball while trying to turn a double play. Replays showed Pedroia made the original catch, and the fumble didn't occur until he was getting set to throw to first base.

Two weeks earlier, amid less fanfare, Cleveland Indians right fielder Elliot Johnson was ruled to have not completed a catch in the second game of a doubleheader against the San Diego Padres. Johnson did, in fact, make the catch, and he didn't lose control of the ball until he had taken a few more steps and turned to throw the ball back to the infield.

Afterward, Johnson told reporters the rule "lacks a lot of common sense."

Fifteen days later, baseball got the message.

MLB has gone back to the original definition of the rule.

A fielder gets an out if he makes a catch -- even if he drops the ball while getting ready to throw.

Johnson, after asking for common sense a couple weeks ago, injected some humor into the MLB mea culpa on Friday.

 

Nice catch, Elliot.

 

Albert Pujols is returning to form

Sunday April 20, 2014

If you took Albert Pujols in the fourth or fifth round of your fantasy baseball draft, you're feeling pretty good this morning.

OK, it's Easter and there is chocolate all over the house, so of course you're pretty pumped. But The Machine is feeling pretty festive, too.

Through 17 games, the Angels' $240 million first baseman is hitting .282 with six home runs and 14 RBI. He has a .960 OPS and 11 runs scored in 71 at-bats, and his homer total is the second-best of his 14-year career through 17 contests.

On Saturday, April 19, Pujols blasted the 498th homer of his career. At his current pace, he's about a week away from becoming the 26th player to join the 500-homer club.

In his last six games, entering Sunday, Pujols was batting .360 with four homers, five runs and eight RBI in 25 at-bats.

For Pujols, that might seem like business as usual, until you remember how awful -- at least by his standards -- his 2013 was.

Last season, Pujols batted .258, 63 points below his career norm of .321, and he failed to reach 30 homers for the first time in his career. He finished with 17 homers, 64 RBI and a .767 OPS (his career norm in that category is 1.008).

I wouldn't expect Pujols, at age 34, to reach his per-season norms from his days with the Cardinals. In a remarkable 11-year run with St. Louis, Pujols batted .328 with norms of 41 homers, 121 RBI, 117 runs, eight steals and a 1.037 OPS.

But the first baseman, as long as he remains healthy, should be expected to hit 35 homers, drive in more than 100 runs and earn a good chunk of his $23 million salary.

For the Angels, Pujols' fast start is every bit as encouraging as a basket full of Cadbury Creme eggs.

The Machine's annual salaries increase $1 million per year through 2021, the last season of his 10-year contract. From 2015-21, the Angels owe him a whopping $189 million.

Pujols, who will be 41 in 2021, probably will never live up to those numbers. But it's nice to see him mashing again.

Since we're feeling nostalgic, we'll leave you with this.

Week 4 power rankings

The A's are rolling, but the National League is dominating our top eight.

Here is this week's edition of the power rankings. Before you click on that link, take a wild guess who has been Oakland's best starting pitcher.

Follow me on Twitter for baseball information and analysis. Email me at baseball@aboutguide.com.

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