June 28, 2018

Going to WAR with Previous MVPs

What do Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Nellie Fox, Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley, and Vladimir Guerrero all have in common? That's right, they're all in the Hall of Fame.

But there's something else, or at least there'd better be if I'm going to wring an entire post out of it. And that is this: Each was also named AL MVP in a season when they put up 6 WAR or less (per Fangraphs model).

So why is that significant? Well, at exactly the halfway point of the Angels' season, Mike Trout is at 6.1 fWAR.*

* The facts around this post were shaping up to be even more awe-inspiring about a week ago, before Trout sprained his finger, when he was slashing .332/.464/.688 and sitting at the same 6.1 fWAR. While the injury hasn't kept him out of the lineup, it has relegated him to DHing, where it's significantly harder to add value, especially so when you're mired in a (likely) sore-finger-related slump. Over his last 6 games at DH, he's gone 5-for-23 with two walks and nine strikeouts, shaving just shy of 50 points off his OPS since the injury. He's also somehow gone two weeks without an extra base hit, which has to be a record for him.

Anyway, 6.1 is a not-all-that anomalously low fWAR total for an MVP, although every winner since 2007 has surpassed it. Here's the complete list of MVPs that didn't for both leagues, since integration:

Some notes:
  • Vladimir Guerrero's MVP season was actually his best as an Angel and fourth-best of his career. In his age-26 season, Trout has already surpassed him in career WAR (61 to 54.3). 
  • It somehow felt like a disservice to include Mike Schmidt and Mickey Mantle, as both are among the game's all-time greats and led their league in WAR four and five times, respectively. In a weird coincidence, their sub-6 MVP years were each of their 11th-best seasons, with Schmidt boasting nine 7+ WAR years -- including the strike-shortened 1981 season, when he put up 7.8 WAR in just 102 games -- and three 9+ WAR ones, while Mantle had four years over 9, including two over 11 (he was MVP in both). 
  • Yogi Berra's career high WAR was 6.4, the only time in his career that he topped Trout's current half-season mark. He's only one of the three-or-so greatest catchers of all time. 
  • Between Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez and Jim(?) Konstanty, it's clear that no reliever should have ever been named MVP, and Konstanty's 1950 win with less than 1 WAR has to be the all-time worst. He finished his career with 3 WAR, just less than half of Trout's current season total.
Other Trout items of interest:
  • This recurring USA Today feature, which chronicles the Hall of Famers that Trout has surpassed in career WAR each month. 
  • This Fangraphs post from May, where it's shown that Trout has already provided the career value of the average Hall of Famer. 
  • Finally, this got a fair amount of play in the last two weeks after being in this ESPN article, but it's still so mind-blowing that I'm going to share it again: The longest streak of games in which Trout has failed to reach base in his career is two. 2! After over 1,000 games, he's never gone three games in a row without reaching base. That's absolutely insane. Just like Mike Trout.

April 28, 2018

Keeping Pace with the Bears' Draft

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is my first Bears-related post since this post-draft analysis the year that Lieutenant Wrong was their top pick (2010), and the first time I've written about anything since 2012. Which is to say that I'm out of practice and I've got A LOT to say, so what this post lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. 

I am not a Ryan Pace fan. Not at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. (Which makes me a Ryan Pace naf, I suppose.) The point is, I don't think Pace is a competent general manager, which was further confirmed this offseason with his Warrick Holdmanning of both Kyle Fuller and Cameron Meredith.

Tendering issues notwithstanding, the main reason I know Pace is a bad GM is his handling of his first three drafts. Or, more specifically, his short-sighted compulsion to trade up.

So that is my personal backdrop leading up to this year's draft, one in which I desperately wanted the Bears to trade down in the first round if Quenton Nelson wasn't still on the board, which history told me he absolutely would not be. Because every year, there's some stud they are consistently linked to in mock drafts that I -- and just about every fan -- am dying for them to get. And every single goddamn year, that player is gone by the time the Bears pick. This phenomenon dates back at least to 1999, when the Bears, picking seventh, were forever tied to Chicago native Donovan McNabb, only to watch him shoot up the draft board at the last minute. And it really became epidemic in recent years, when Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams each went one lousy pick before the Bears' selection in back-to-back drafts -- the latter Ryan Pace's first -- a development that, combined with the disastrous Kevin White pick, likely informed his "strategy" over the next two.

Which has, quite simply, been absolutely terrible.

The key to drafting well is drafting often, because despite the league's insane scouting apparatus, the draft is still a total crapshoot. So consistently trading up is a losing strategy, simply because you are picking less. Giving up multiple picks for a single guy when your roster is several impact players short of being competitive is an especially poor gambit. And when you are already picking ahead of the consensus ranking of the player you are targeting, trading up is inexcusable.

All of this was clanking around my head when Bradley Chubb ended up going to the Broncos. I immediately thought, Fucking Broncos. That shit would never happen to the Bears. As I continued to ruminate, I realized the thought was true in a way I hadn't actually intended, and which had absolutely nothing to do with the franchises' relative luck. Envision a situation where the Bears were picking fifth and had, well, a chubby for Chubb. If he was somehow still on the board after the first three picks, the Bears would've thrown their second rounder and a 2019 third at Cleveland because "there are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands." The Broncos, meanwhile, must not "want to be great," because they passively waited to make their pick, and they still got the guy they wanted without unnecessarily blowing a ton of additional draft capital, the dumbasses.

This is the second consecutive year that, god help me as an avowed John Elway hater dating back 35 years now, I've cast an envious eye towards the Broncos' braintrust. Because as god-awful as the Trubisky trade was -- and god, was it awful -- what really showed Pace's cluelessness last year was when he pissed away a sixth round pick to move up five slots in the fourth to draft Eddie Jackson. Look, Eddie Jackson turned out to be fine, but there was no reason whatsoever to give up an additional pick for a guy that every other team had already passed on three different times. The likelihood of him being gone was small, and even if he was, the delta between him and any of several dozens of players still available is not great enough to justify the cost.

So again, contrast that with the Broncos. Here's John fucking Elway after last year's draft, speaking about a guy they were targeting.

Notice they stayed put and hoped what they wanted would happen, as opposed to blowing another pick to guarantee it did. Because there's no goddamn need to do it. No one at that juncture can possibly be valued so highly that it's worth surrendering another lottery ticket to acquire him.

Which brings us, mercifully, to the 2018 draft, when a mere 800 words in, I get to the point of this post. Even though I wanted Nelson, part of me was relieved when he went to the Colts at 6, because at least Pace hadn't blown three future firsts to trade up to get him. (Small victories, people.) And so with Nelson gone, the Bears should've been in full trade down mode, because they entered the draft with two glaring needs in my eyes: interior offensive line and wide receiver -- the latter due to Pace's own shortsightedness re: Meredith -- or three, if you want to include linebacker.

I don't know whether or not Pace was actually trying to move down, but those efforts would've undoubtedly been undercut by the Bucs trading down the pick before them, as it removed both an interested team and one of the QB options from the table. That's not to say that they couldn't have pulled it off, as the Niners did two picks later, but it certainly changed the market in terms of potential partners and the subsequent return. And at that point, taking the best player on the board in Roquan Smith, who also happened to fit a position of need, was a solid move.

But it still left the Bears with two gaping holes going into Round 2. They filled the one on the o-line with C James Daniels at 39, which everyone seems to agree was a good pick; ESPN, for instance, had Daniels slotted at 18th overall, higher than Lions first-round center Frank Ragnow.

Now the Bears were faced with watching 65 players -- more than two full rounds -- come off the board before they got another chance to grab a receiver (at 105). And after three WRs quickly went off the board at 40, 44, and 47, Pace knew for certain they were going to left with slim pickings. Hence, the trade up for Anthony Miller, a player I really liked coming into the draft.

So I actually think Pace did well in terms of the three players he selected. But the cost, yet again, was just too high. And I'm guessing he wouldn't have felt compelled to sacrifice next year's second rounder - which, if their QB doesn't develop like they are assuming he does, could basically be almost as valuable as a late first - if he hadn't stupidly given up their third round selection (for the second consecutive year, I might add) to move up one lousy pick to select Mitchell Trubisky. When the worst case scenario then was some other team trading with the 49ers to select Trubisky -- even though he wasn't really the consensus top QB, let alone the highest rated player on the board -- leaving you with -- gasp! -- Deshaun Watson to fill your gaping, Mike Glennon-sized hole at quarterback.

But the draft is supposed to be a time for optimism, so I don't want to exclusively be a cornflakes-pisser. And there is some good news, in addition to the three solid draftees: Pace is clearly going all-in on this year, which means he likely has gotten the impression that the team needs to show marked improvement or he's out of a job. And if the Bears stink again this year, not having a second round pick won't be the greatest thing for their 2019 draft, but no longer having Ryan Pace at the helm just might be.