MVP of Yesterday (July 11, 2013): Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman might just win a batting title before he’s through in Atlanta.

The Baseball Continuum

Freddie Freeman shocked the world by beating out Yasiel Puig in the NL Final Vote, but then proved that perhaps it wasn’t a shock at all, going 3-4 with 4 RBIs and some nice defensive plays in Atlanta’s 6-5 win over the Reds. And that means that Freeman is the MVP of Yesterday!

Standings, as always, after the jump:

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Hey, Bud Selig, why don’t you pop a pill and see if it’ll help you hit a curveball.


Baseball is a game built around tradition and a set of constants derived from a far removed era. As silly as it sounds, we enjoy these little eccentricities – the gospel of an ump’s strike zone, or the pitcher determined pace of a ball game. We honor these in an effort to show baseball our appreciation – our respect. For all the summers we’ve enjoyed, the sport deserves this one, small consideration.  Those are the excuses we spew every time a player of Ryan Braun’s caliber is caught holding the needle.

This is no longer the WWII generation’s pastime. Baseball now belongs to twenty-something hipsters, statisticians and no small contingency of international fans. We can’t continue to hack off our nose to spite our face.

I’d like to draw a comparison between performance enhancing drugs in baseball and the drug war as a whole. In the drug war, we consistently establish rules contradictory to a person’s natural inclination towards self-preservation. It’s the idea that you can create a moral, ethical or financial consequence strong enough to override a man’s will to succeed – to prosper. It’s why arresting a drug dealer results in two more taking his place. The urge and opportunity to thrive are simply too strong. Braun, A-Rod and a slew of others will be suspended, but 20 more will take their place in the doping line because the upside is too great.

Baseball is business and Braun represents a man employed. He has no idea whether he’ll play tomorrow or next year. Maybe he’ll wreck his knee sliding into home during a silly spring training warm up. Success in baseball is the man’s entire world, the only measure by which he’ll be judged. That’s harsh, I know, but painfully true.  With so much at stake, why do we expect a different outcome? Does it truly surprise anyone that these players are grabbing an edge wherever they can find one? Have you seen the AAU circuit in Florida? Kids are stronger, faster and younger than ever before, leaving no room for error and added room for “supplemental training”.

I know it hurts. Ruth, Gehrig and Aaron didn’t have PEDs and it pisses us off. We want to know what Mantle or Mays could have done with 25 year old legs at 30, or what Koufax would look like pitching in his 40’s. We have to get over this obsession with forcing relevance onto different eras of baseball.

In the end we know that steroids improve already existing skill, they don’t create it. We can’t take from Ryan Braun what he’s worked a lifetime to achieve simply because natural competitiveness drove him to find an edge other players already possess. Roids don’t get you in the cage at 5AM before class starts – that’s where passion jumps in.

The Movement Report: Baseball’s best breaking stuff

kershaw_vs_rockiesBig League ballplayers are good – I mean crazy good. I’m often reminded of this fact when I see some young-gun pitcher elevated from triple-A to his Major League affiliate.

For fifteen or more years this kid’s entire life has been enviable success. Little League, AAU and Highschool statistics served as memoirs of a laughably one-sided career. Maybe those triple-A guys gave him some headaches, but it was short lived and domination soon followed. The minors, like every other level, was his. All of the above holds true until the day our prodigious youth watches Miguel Cabrera step into the box. After being touched up deep, he realizes a tough reality – guys are different in the bigs.

That leads me to my larger point – I love watching great hitters look bad and breaking pitches are usually the culprit. It’s why we all love watching Adam Wainwright try to buckle Joey Votto with that villainous curve. I’ve compiled a list of pitchers whose breaking pitches are especially heinous.

Clayton Kershaw (

A Bleacher Report article, as well as Buster Olney, recently touted some interesting Kershaw statistics. Hitters are batting .120 lifetime against his curveball. Did I mention he’s never had a regular season hook taken deep? Pair that with an equally irritating slider and we have arguably the best overall pitcher in either league.

Adam Wainwright (

Wainwright’s curve is one of the few with amazing break in both directions. To right handed hitters, it looks as if it’s falling straight north to south. As bad as that 12 to 6 action can be, Adam’s falls AWAY at the same time. It’s straight nasty and an almost guaranteed strikeout 0-2.

Matt Harvey (

Harvey is special. All eyes have been on the power righty and mostly because his velocity is paired with improved command. His slider comes across in the low 90’s with late break and pin point accuracy. It’s painful watching hitters try so hard to catch up with a pitch that eventually winds up a foot off the plate.  

Chris Sale (

I watched the majority of Sunday night’s contest between Sale and Matt Moore, intrigued by a match up of young, often under appreciated hurlers. Both looked good and Sale was the victim of another outing without run support, but what caught my eye was his sweeping slider. I can only imagine how tough it must be for a left handed batter to see this pitch. The ball comes out of Sale hand around first base and winds up in the cellar of the right hand batters box. Sale is going to be an elite, top 10 overall pitcher over the next couple of years. Did I mention he’s a Florida Gulf Coast kid?

Yu Darvish (

Everyone is in love with Yu’s slider.  He apparently tosses the pitch at a 30% clip (per Buster Olney) and by the looks of it should consider upping that number to 50%.  The downward break is so sharp and hard it looks impossible to pass on when anywhere near the strike zone. We’ll have the privilege of watching Yu Darvish fan guys for another 15 years and the AL West should be terrified that he’ll adjust to another level with more experience.

Clay Buchholtz (

Buchholz  just has sick,  late movement on everything he throws. His slider is particularly bad down and in on lefties and he’s used it to really break out as a top strikeout guy in the AL. Clay, bro, lose the spit – your stuff is barely legal as it is.

If I left your favorite guy off the list it’s because my picks were better but, please, by all means correct me!

Puig not an All-Star? Hey, Pap, stick to working the ninth – not the media.


Yasiel Puig’s LA debut

I’ll start off by declaring my completely unabashed impartiality relative to Dodger baseball. I’m a southern boy, love the Braves and don’t have any love or hate for the west coast.

With that being said, I can’t get Yasiel out of the box in my living room and I’m loving every second of it. Drawing physical similarities to a young Bo Jackson, Puig doesn’t look like a ballplayer – more like a linebacker.  Consider that, in 27 games or less than 1/6th of a major league season, Puig has a slash line of .443/.473/.745 to go along with 8 homers, 6 doubles and 17 RBI. Small sample sizes make his batting average a bit tough to buy, but that power is beyond legit.

It wouldn’t be the first time a seasoned major league player took exception to an upstart. Every year we seem to be forced into this discussion of valid versus hype induced All-Star nods. Whether it’s Harper, Trout or Strasburg, young guys seem to fall victim to this onslaught of fraternity style initiation. It’s the old “You have to pay your dues” mentality – you’re ready when you’ve earned our respect.

As a fan, Papelbon’s opinion on this topic is mute. The All-Star game isn’t the exhibition game of old. It counts – a lot. With home field advantage on the line, guys like Puig have to be evaluated based on their contributory capacity in the moment – not retrospectively. If the All-Star game had been played in April, John Buck would have been a rational All-Star choice at Catcher. We know now he was streaking, but would that have been relevant at the time? Any clear assessment shows that Puig is crushing NOW, and whether he still holds that stat line in September means nothing on July,16th at Citi Field.

Let’s make All-Star picks, shall we?


With the All-Star break looming, now is as good a time as any to toss out some second half predictions for my Bravos, as well as the rest of the league.

As a Braves fan, I can’t draw anything greater than a mediocre level of excitement from a 6 game cushion over the Nationals, a team buried in injuries and deflating expectations. We’ll take it, but don’t mistake that for over confidence – my Braves wouldn’t fair well if the post season started tomorrow.

Our recent starting rotation improvement has been mitigated by a home run drought threatening to expose the already glaringly obvious deficiency surrounding this line up – we don’t make enough contact. This is a dead horse, I know, but striking out at this clip with runners in scoring position just isn’t something any team can overcome. The second half will need to hold better plate discipline and more regular contact in the middle of the order if we expect to make a respectable playoff run.

I’ll take Scherzer and Wainwright for their respective league’s Cy Young Award, and Cargo for N.L MVP. Carlos Gomez deserves a lot of love here, but I’m not convinced he’s proven enough or plays on a team capable of contention. Team standing shouldn’t play any significant role in stat-based awards, however it can be a tipping point. I’m not taking a huge chance with this next one, but is the Puig for N.L Rookie of the Year bandwagon full? If not, come around and pick me up.

Everyone, myself included, probably wants to entrust another MVP to Cabrera. He’s still arguably the best all-around hitter in the majors, fields his position respectably and happens to play for a winning ball club. It doesn’t change the monotony of it all. Miguel continues to hit at a higher level than everyone else and it’s getting painfully easy to predict. Although if Baltimore can manage a fiery second half, watch out for Davis in Miguel’s rear view mirror.

Both Western Division races look like they’ll go down to the final weeks. Arizona and Colorado, behind a mind blowing season from Goldschmidt and what we’ve come to expect from Carlos Gonzalez, still look to be favorites. That isn’t to say The Giants can’t sneak into contention, or perhaps a Padres squad suddenly pitching TOWARD their ballpark’s strength.

In the A.L, the A’s aren’t going away and, analytically, they’re beating teams exactly the way you’d expect. Oakland is barely above the league average in almost every major offensive category (BA, OPS, OPS+, HR) but once again lead the A.L in walks. They’re getting guys on and hitting well with RISP, typical Athletics baseball. Here are my divisional picks:

West – Colorado over Arizona, but barely.

Central – St. Louis should run away with the division, their pitching is that strong. The aftermath will leave Cincy and Pittsburgh fighting over wildcard spots.

East – Atlanta shouldn’t have an issue locking up the East, mostly due to Washington’s injury troubles.

West – Oakland is such a fun pick here. I love watching how fundamental they are at the plate. Texas obviously has a real shot here and the Angels are hitting very well. Anaheim just can’t pitch, that isn’t changing.

Central – It’ll be increasingly tough for Cleveland to hang around in the second half. I’ll be the first to admit the Indians are pitching better, an issue which notoriously collapses first-half Cinderellas. The Tigers are just too dangerous when they start to see the ball well.

East – This is the best race in Baseball. Every team in the A.L East is over .500 – think about that for a second. The Rays would be leading the N.L West and are currently loving 4th place, staring up at The O’s, Yankees and Red Sox. Tough, tough division.

Wild Card

N.L – This one seems a bit too obvious. As it stands, the Reds and Pirates have a grudge match on the horizon. Home field could have a significant impact on this one, as Great American Ballpark should be re-assessed by the MLB or closed. It looks like a high school field. Bonds might have hit 900 homers as a Red.

A.L – Baltimore  jumps Texas because Davis isn’t a fluke. He’s a legit power hitter and should be stirring up a ton of pride in Baltimore.

I’m going to keep playoff and World Series picks to myself for now. Sure, I’m a coward.

Sometimes you just get beat.

As a sports fan, I completely understand a man’s almost impulsive defense of his team. We develop a myriad of excuses build around a very simple concept: The shifting of blame. Crimson Tide fans, myself included, felt just such an impulse around 7PM on Saturday.

Alabama hosted Texas A&M as arguably the nation’s best team. Sure there were those touting Oregon and K-State as contenders, but I think we all felt those teams were a step behind Bama. They have it all, right? The country’s best defense, a mistake free quarterback and an offensive line ready to start for the Chiefs next week.

All of those statements were, and still are, true. But there’s something all SEC fans should know from experience. When you line up in the SEC, even as the nation’s best squad, there’s always a chance you’ll leave with a loss. This can be said for any SEC conference game, but rings especially true in the case of a very talented A&M team.

Texas A&M played about as well as any team could be expected to play under the circumstances. Johnny Manziel showed up and hung 345 yards and two TDs on Alabama – in Tuscaloosa. I’ll say that again – in Tuscaloosa. Do I need to mention a national title shot was on the line? All things considered, this performance was other worldly. Oh yeah, their defense played big as well. This was a perfect storm of incredibly well coached, well practiced kids playing for pride and acceptance. Acceptance granted.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some Crimson Tide blame to go around. Poor play calling and a costly fumble resulted in a hill too high for McCarron to climb, but that’s the SEC.

As fans we love to collectively enjoy the SEC’s dominance. But in being dominant we have to accept the reality of a loss on any given Saturday. And when you spot a good team 20 points in the first, you should expect to lose.

Tampa Bay has a ton of weapons, but their secondary leaves much to be desired.

The Bucs front office is looking really good right now.  It wasn’t too long ago that we all wrote Freeman off as a guy who couldn’t meet expectations – a guy who couldn’t handle the NFL on a mental level. Enter Vincent Jackson.

The offseason acquisition of Vincent Jackson has given Josh Freeman the extra weapon he needed to stretch the field and regain his waning confidence. We’re now staring down a performer responsible for 5 straight games with a passer rating of over 100, not to mention a TD to INT line of 13/1.

While Jackson has been a huge part of Freeman’s success, it’s impossible to ignore the impact Martin has had on Tampa’s downfield passing game. Doug Martin is the definition of draft day success. You can’t overlook the risk they took on Doug. Scouting a guy and feeling you’ve seen something others overlooked is one thing; checking that gut instinct on a second and third rounder is something else. Dominik was given this opportunity because someone in the Tampa front office trusted his judgment, and it appears Dominik never questioned that fact.

Whether or not Tampa is in the midsts of a huge organizational upswing isn’t even in question, but their playoff hopes in 2012 are more than suspect.

With the likes of Rodgers, Ryan and Brady ripping zone coverage to shreds, shutdown corner play is becoming increasingly important in today’s NFL. When Aaron hits up Denny’s at 4am, he’s subbing out his eggs for 2 deep zones. You just have to get solid man play out of your secondary in order to compete. With that being said, Tampa has arguably the league’s worst tandem in Wright and Biggers.
The pair has landed Tampa near the cellar in total passing yards against and looked bad in the process. If you couple that with a very stout run defensive, you’ve done half the opposing coaches’ jobs for them.

The idea is that Tampa contains the run in an effort to force third and long situations advantageous to zone play from the safety and linebacker positions. The problem with this theory is a lack of secondary personnel to pull it off. Teams will continue to abandon the run and go down field until the Bucs prove they can put up even the slightest fight down field.

As Tampa comes down the stretch they’ll have Brees and Ryan standing between them and a playoff berth. If they get it done it’ll be because Wright and Biggers remembered they belong at this level.