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Beltran, Ortiz own postseason play

Legends1 Beltran, Ortiz own postseason playThis weekend, two stars passed in the night sky. And fireworks erupted.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, Carlos Beltran proved that magic still lives after midnight. Señor Octubre, with a screaming liner, drove in the winning run, leading the St. Louis Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the National League Championship Series. For Beltran, there was nothing unlucky about the bottom of the 13th.

On Sunday night, David Ortiz reminded the world that Big Papi and the Boston Red Sox are often down, but never out. With shades of 2004′s miracle heroics, he blasted a grand slam inches past a lunging Torii Hunter’s glove. The four runs tied the game against the Detroit Tigers, a team already patting its starter on the back for the win. Only to lose –the Red Sox prevailed in the bottom of the 9th.

On the first and last twilights of the weekend, St. Louis and Boston fans celebrated the sort of moment that only happens in October baseball, when there is no ticking time on the scoreboard. When magic can strike at any moment.

But for Beltran and Ortiz, these were but pieces to much greater legends. Most baseball players dream of, and fail to reach, this rarefied air of postseason heroism. Of the biggest hits beneath the brightest lights in the moments that matter most.

But Beltran and Ortiz? They’ve been here, before.

Legends3 300x278 Beltran, Ortiz own postseason playIf not for ten naked fingers in search of a ring, Carlos Beltran could lay claim to the crown of best postseason batter of all time. With all due caveats about the unreliability of statistics, some numbers are too astounding to ignore. That’s especially the case in seeing Beltran’s postseason production.

Representing the Astros, Mets, and Cardinals, Beltran has hit an absolutely ridiculous .340/.448/.740 in 41 playoff games, blasting 16 HR, driving in 34 RBI, scoring 42 runs, and making pitchers look like Henry from Rookie of the Year when the magic wears off (aka terrified little boy face).

This includes his 2004 run with the Astros, when he carried the team on his broad shoulders to the NLCS, hitting .435 (20-46) with 8 HR, 14 RBI in 12 games, and setting a record for most runs scored in a single postseason, while tying the home-run record. That was simply the beginning.

So far, he already ranks fifth all-time in playoff slugging percentage, sixth in on-base + slugging percentage, and eighth in home-runs for postseason play. It’s a 41-game stretch in which he’s only failed to get on base in four of those contests, and either knocked in or scored a run in 30 of them.

To make all of this math tangible, consider that if you prorated Beltran’s postseason play into a standard 162-game season, the oft-underrated outfielder would merely put up these totals: 64 HR, 135 RBI, 202 hits, 166 runs, and 44 stolen bases. That would probably be considered the greatest season in baseball history.

As it stands, he already belongs in conversations of greatness.

If you compare Beltran’s playoff totals to past postseason legends, he almost always comes out on top. See for yourself:

Carlos Beltran (in 41 games): .340/.448/.740 | 16 HR | 34 RBI | 42 runs
Babe Ruth (also in 41 games): .326/.467/.744 | 15 HR | 33 RBI | 37 runs
Mickey Mantle (65 games): .257/.374/.535 | 18 HR | 40 RBI | 42 runs
Reggie Jackson, Mr. October himself (77 games): .278/.358/.527 | 18 HR | 48 RBI | 41 runs

So even against players with a lot more games played in the postseason, Beltran not only blows them out of the water with his averages, but also comes very close to their counting stats (already!). To put him in perspective with Jackson, the King of Clutchness, if Beltran continued his current pace through 77 games, he’d end up with 30 HR, 64 RBI, and 79 runs scored.

To quote Neville Longbottom as he faced a crossdressing Alan Rickman, that’s “Riddikulus!”

Any time you can put someone toe-to-toe with Babe Ruth and see he stands taller, something amazing has happened. Beltran deserves that sort of consideration in respecting his ability to rule the school in October. But obviously, his legacy is missing something that all of those other names have –a championship.

In fairness, he’s never had the cast around him that Ruth, Mantle, or Jackson boasted. But still, some will never be willing to call someone a hero of October baseball if they’ve never still stood at World Series end.

Legends2 Beltran, Ortiz own postseason playDavid Ortiz has scaled that mountain. And he belongs.

Unlike Beltran, Ortiz has the rings and the bling to match the magic, having reached the summit twice as the designated hitter and spiritual guide of the Boston Red Sox. But his numbers, though great, aren’t quite as Ruthian, as otherworldly.

In 72 playoff games, Ortiz has compiled a slash line of .284/.394/.542 with 15 HR, 54 RBI, and 44 runs scored. Sheer longevity and production has placed him top-10 all time in postseason play for the following categories: runs, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and walks. His name is scattered across the leaderboards for late-October greatness.

Legends4 300x225 Beltran, Ortiz own postseason playBut lists fail to do justice to the legend of Big Papi.

This is the beast of the northeast that became the face of Four Days in October, when the 2004 Red Sox delivered the greatest Cinderella Story of recent sports history. You know the story by now: they hadn’t won a World Series since 1912, the Yankees led 3-0 in the ALCS, and a tortured existence followed them everywhere. Bill Buckner, game seven collapses, a history of being the loser-little-brother to the Yankees’ dominance.

And in one swing of David Ortiz’s bat, that all started to fade. His walk-off home run in Game Four kept the series alive. His walk-off single in Game Five made it all seem possible. And six games later, the Red Sox had exorcised years of misfortune. They weren’t losers anymore; they were champions.

En route to Boston’s greatest baseball memory, Ortiz hit .400/.515/.764 in the 2004 postseason, compiling 5 HR and 19 RBI in 14 games. In 2007, when they returned to the promised land and secured a second title in 89 less years than their previous drought, Ortiz mashed for a line of .370/.508/.696, adding 3 HR and 10 RBI. In those two World Series sweeps, Ortiz came through with eight RBIs and nine runs in only eight games, hitting .321/.441/.571.

In short, Big Papi never came up small. After a near-century of suffering, the Red Sox added two flags that will fly forever in Fenway. And in both historic runs, David Ortiz was their centerpiece.

His career is a collage of these great moments. The walk-off blasts in games four and five of the legendary comeback against the Yankees. Another walk-off home-run that clinched game one of the 2004 World Series and started the sweep. The interview that earned his team the nickname of “the idiots” –a moniker that will never be forgotten in Fenway.

So perhaps his numbers won’t rise above Ruth, Reggie, or even Beltran.

But icons aren’t numbers, they are images. They are moments captured in time, heroics that stand the test of faded memories and rising stars. And thus, Ortiz will always shine bright in Boston. And in baseball.

***

In one weekend, baseball witnessed two of its greatest postseason legacies continue.

By next weekend, the sport could see these two legacies collide –two stars in the stratosphere of postseason greatness, sharing the same space,  already statues in the pantheon of playoff history.

And if history repeats, the last man standing will still have a bat in his hand, a lightning rod inside a falling Gatorade shower.

 

Most Valuable Votto

To thundering chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP!” no one in the MLB does more with less.

 votto1 300x187 Most Valuable Votto

When Joey Votto steps to the plate, taking his customary glance into a distant empty seat before settling into the left-hand batter’s box, one truth seems inevitable to the fans of Cincinnati –something great is about to happen. To a city that hasn’t witnessed a playoff victory since 1995, he brings more than a monstrous bat and poise to the plate. He brings hope. He brings with him a notion that never before resounded within the walls of Great American Ballpark; we may be witnessing the greatest hitter in baseball.

Votto’s 2012 campaign, so far, has transformed that once seemingly impossible notion into something, oh, so possible.  Sixty-five games into the season, no one is hotter, and the numbers Votto is creating are simply incredible. In his past 22 games, he’s hitting .500, reaching base safely in all of them but one. He’s on pace for 70 doubles this season; the all-time record is 67, held by Earl Webb since 1931. No one has even hit 60 doubles since 1936. Votto is also on pace to amass 200 hits and 130 walks. Most people have heard of the last, and only, player to ever do that. It was some guy named Babe Ruth. Needless to say, Votto is potentially facing a season of not just greatness, but historic proportions.

Obviously, Votto’s incredible season doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Other players across the league are having great hitting seasons, thus far. Here’s how Votto compares to some of baseball’s most prolific hitters of 2012 (through June 17, 2012):

Name BA OBP % HR RBI Doubles SLG % WAR (wins above replacement)
Joey Votto .366 .489 12 44 28 .652 3.5
Josh Hamilton .330 .390 22 62 14 .674 3.4
Ryan Braun .316 .395 19 47 11 .620 3.3
Carlos Beltran .306 .389 19 48 7 .594 2.4
David Wright .355 .458 8 37 22 .575 3.7

 

Clearly, Votto isn’t currently vying for the Triple Crown or running away from his competition in every category. But, a closer look reveals that Votto ultimately is the most valuable hitter of this elite group. For one, his lower power numbers are deceiving. While he isn’t mashing home-runs at a record pace, combining doubles and home-runs into total bases evens the power-playing field (Votto: 104, Hamilton: 116, Braun: 98, Beltran: 90, Wright: 76). And his low RBI total can’t be blamed on Joey Votto –that falls on the shoulders of those hitting around him.

The most common hitters batting in front of Joey Votto are Zach Cozart and Drew Stubbs. They aren’t exactly giving him ample opportunity to drive them in. Zach Cozart is hitting .264, with an on-base percentage of just .308. He’s also struck out 55 times. Drew Stubbs’ numbers are very similar, if not worse. He’s hitting .235 with a .300 OBP and 59 strikeouts. And to make matters worse, Votto’s protection in the cleanup spot hasn’t done much to strike fear in the pitchers issuing walks to number nineteen. Brandon Phillips, the most common cleanup hitter, is having a pretty good season. He’s hitting .287, getting on base over 33% of the time, and has recently gone on a home-run tear. But he’s also grounded into ten double plays this season. There’s a reason that Joey Votto leads the league in intentional walks. Pitchers aren’t too intimidated by Brandon Phillips.

votto3 300x205 Most Valuable Votto

Compare that supporting cast with the lineups that surround most of the other hitters on the list, and you’ll see why Votto means more to his team than any hitter in baseball.

Hitting in front of Josh Hamilton:

  • Ian Kinsler: .274 BA/.338 OBP/33 SO
  • Elvis Andrus: .298 BA/.375 OBP/33 SO

Hitting behind Josh Hamilton:

  • Adrian Beltre: .309 BA/.336 OBP/11 HR/5 GIDP (Grounded into Double Plays)

Hitting in front of Carlos Beltran:

  • Rafael Furcal: .287 BA/.339 OBP/33 SO

Hitting behind Carlos Beltran:

  • Matt Holliday: .282 BA/.305 OBP/12 HR/7 GIDP

Hitting in front of David Wright:

  • Kirk Nieuwenhuis: .290 BA/.350 OBP/60 SO
  • Daniel Murphy: .273 BA/.318 OBP/34 SO

Hitting behind David Wright:

  • Lucas Duda: .262 BA/.352 OBP/10 HR/3 GIDP

 *Stats in italics are the few in which Reds’ hitters have better stats.

That’s right. David Wright is getting better support from the unknown trio of Nieuwenhuis, Murphy, and Duda than Votto is from his friends leading off and cleaning up. In nearly every category, all of these hitters out-perform those batting before and after Votto at the top of the Reds lineup. So, yes, Votto trails in RBI. But 19% of all base-runners that have been on in front of him this season have scored on his at-bats. That’s bested, in this group, only by Josh Hamilton.

If anyone can empathize with Joey Votto’s lack of surrounding support, it’s his fellow NL Central MVP candidate Ryan Braun. His most common leadoff hitter, Rickie Weeks, is hitting a lowly .177 and has struck out 77 times in twelve less games. At cleanup, Aramis Ramirez is only batting .252, has only hit 7 home-runs, and has grounded into eight double plays. If anything, Braun’s supporting cast (which also includes the irrationally flamboyant Nyjer Morgan in the two-hole) may be worse than Votto’s.

votto5 300x225 Most Valuable Votto

So why is Votto more valuable than the reigning MVP? One needs to only look at the standings. Braun’s team is far from first place, despite a rotation that includes Zach Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shawn Marcum, and Randy Wolf. Even though they lost Fielder in the off-season, expectations were high in Milwaukee. The reality is much lower.

That can’t be said in Cincinnati. Votto, alongside one of the league’s best bullpens, is carrying his team to a smashing of most analysts’ pre-season predictions. Their rotation of Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Mat Latos doesn’t look near as prolific as the Brewers’ staff, but it is the Reds that sit atop the standings and well above .500. The season is young, but in the River City of Cincinnati, it is also promising.

Much of that promise –a foreign scent in the air of Cincinnati these days—arrived with the bat and consistent greatness of Joey Votto. If Cincy is to be restored to its old status as a baseball city, it will come alongside the beautiful swing of their favorite Canadian left-hander. Not only can I not imagine a hitter in today’s game more important to his team’s success…I can’t imagine a player more important to his fans. A trip to Great American Ballpark reveals why.

votto4 300x225 Most Valuable Votto

The stadium is littered with the number nineteen –on the backs of children, adults, and their newest hero. When “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones sounds over the system and Votto steps to the plate, first glancing upward, then zeroing in on the pitcher, the crowd erupts. He’s their guy. And there is no other quite like Joey Votto. Often, the bases are empty when Votto takes his place in the batter’s box. And sometimes, the fans can only look on in silence as the catcher stands up to issue the intentional walk. But none of that matters.

Because something comes alive in Cincinnati when Votto shakes off the donut and takes his wood to the plate. It’s more than his incredible stats and his quest for history. It’s a feeling –a feeling that hasn’t touched the hearts of Cincinnati in over a decade.

It’s the feeling that, by God, with this Canadian kid at the plate, they have a shot. They have a shot at greatness. And with the recent contract extension given to Joey Votto through the foreseeable future, it’s a feeling that promises to last for many more nights in Cincinnati’s riverside stadium.

Over the years, many definitions have surfaced for “value” in the prognostication of the Most Valuable Player Award. But this year, much like the base paths that fall beneath his feet, Joey Votto seems to have all of them covered.

votto2 300x253 Most Valuable Votto

 

*Author’s note: As I wrote this article, Votto hit his 13th home-run of the year.

Buyer Beware: The Fantasy Baseball Trade Market

The Top 5 Players to Buy Low and to Sell High

Sell High

1). Carlos Beltran STL OF 28 R 13 HR 32 RBI 5 SB .295 AVG

Beltran’s power surge is completely out of line with the rest of his career. Add in his propensity to get injured and it all adds up to a player you’re better off sending away for a high reward.

2). Bryan LaHair CHC 1B 16 R 9 HR 20 RBI 1 SB .356 AVG

Odds are a 29 year old making his full season major league debut will not continue to hit at this rate. A regression to the mean or median is likely in LaHair’s near future…probably.

3). Rafael Furcal STL SS 25 R 2 HR 16 RBI 7 SB .370 AVG

Furcal should continue to produce solid numbers, but his average and runs should see a bit of a drop off. I’m not as concerned about injury possibilties because he actually entered this season healthy.

4). Melky Cabrera SF OF 21 R 2 HR 14 RBI 5 SB .338 AVG

Cabrera has been known for his prolonged hot streaks and prolonged slumps. Add in less then stellar support around him and it could lead him to seeing less and less good pitches to hit.

5). Carlos Ruiz PHI C 16 R 6 HR 23 RBI 0 SB .340 AVG

Nothing about Ruiz’s profile says he will keep up this pace. You can find similar catcher production on the free agency wire.

Buy Low

1). Albert Pujols STL 1B 10 R 1 HR 12 RBI .197 AVG

After a month long drought and producing numbers that would make Mario Mendoza blush, all signs point to Pujols turning it around and producing at his normal clip! Grab him now at half the price!

2). Ryan Zimmerman WAS 3B 13 R 1 HR 8 HR 2 SB .241 AVG

Zimmerman is on the verge of coming back off the DL, so it’s a perfect time to grab a top 5 3B. Great candidate to produce across the board for your team.

3). Ben Zobrist TB 2B/OF 21 R 6 HR 16 R 2 SB .218 AVG

Everything on the stat line for Zobrist has fallen into place except for his average. Zobrist will produce a 20/20 season and produce these stats at a premium position. Buy low before his owners realize what they actually have.

4). Eric Hosmer KC 1B 16 R 5 HR 17 RBI 1 SB .174 AVG

With how much Hosmer was crushing the ball, a start like this seems completely ridiculous. It’s not possible for this trend continue. With Hosmer’s power and his normal line drive numbers, expect him to start producing at a much higher rate.

5). Brian McCann ATL C 14 R 5 HR 1 SB .231 AVG

mccann630 500x198 Buyer Beware: The Fantasy Baseball Trade Market

McCann went from being the league’s best offensive catcher to just plain “meh” the first few months this year. He’s only 27. He’s going to hit. Grab him because Piggy gonna start going to the trough on the constant.

Balls and Strikes: The Fantasy Baseball Beat

Top 5 Free Agents To Add

1). Josh Reddick OAK 23 R 8 HR 21 RBI 4 SB .291 AVG

Reddick is flat out producing across the line in every category. The only question is will he be able to keep this up? He probably won’t keep up this pace, but he at his worst should be solid 4th outfielder.

2).  Jeff Samardzija CHC 38.2 IP 39 K 4-0 3.03 ERA 1.19 WHIP

samard630 500x198 Balls and Strikes: The Fantasy Baseball Beat

The man is strait beasting the league. Producing ridiculous strikeout totals while also piling up a solid ERA and wins. He should continue to be a solid starter for the entire season!

3). Carlos Zambrano MIA 41 IP 32 K 1-0 1.98 ERA 1.02 WHIP

The change in location seems to be working for Big Z. As long as he continues to keep his emotions in check, he should produce solid numbers. Some regression should be expected.

4). Chipper Jones ATL 16 R 5 HR 22 RBI  .302 AVG

When healthy Chipper is still a productive fantasy member. Now that being healthy is a big if, but until he gets injured I would slot him in your lineup.

5). James McDonald PIT 44.2 IP 39 K  2-0 2.42 ERA 1.03 WHIP

McDonald’s stuff has always had the scouting community in awe and it looks like he is finally translating that talent into results. He may not get you a lot wins, but he is lesser known commodity that could slot in as a perfect back end to your fantasy staff.

3 Fantasy Baseball Thoughts

1). Josh Hamilton’s production this week is just completely out of this world. Him dropping out of the 1st round looks to be a major coup for those grabbed them.

2) Buy any starting pitcher in Miami. That stadium is the new Petco Park!

3). Two players I would sell high right now are Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal. Both are getting up there in age and simply will not continue this production for an entire season.