Josh Hamilton was the biggest and most prized name in this 2012 free agent class.  Today, seemingly out of nowhere, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim swooped in and locked up the five-time all-star to a five year deal worth $125 million.  Everybody knows about the injury history and the drug and alcohol issues for Hamilton off the field.  When he is on the field and playing at full health, Hamilton is one of the most TALENTED players in all of baseball.  However, when looking at the complete package, is the former MVP really one of the best overall players in the game?

       Undoubtedly, Josh Hamilton has put up some big time numbers throughout his six year career.  Overall for his career, Hamilton has hit .304/.363/.549, averaging 35 home runs and an OPS+ of 135.  These are impressive numbers to say the least, but among the most intriguing questions regarding Hamilton is his consistency (or lack thereof) for an entire season.  Through the first 35 games of 2012, Hamilton batted .404 with 18 home runs (on pace to break Bonds’ all-time record).  However, he tailed off significantly for the remainder of the season batting .246 with 25 home runs in the final 113 ballgames. 

                In addition to his slugging streakiness, Hamilton struck out a lot, swung and missed at too many pitches, and just simply was not as disciplined as he should be.  Hamilton struck out 25.5% of the time in 2012 (19.7% career), compared to the league average of 18.2%.  He swung and missed at a whopping 32% of pitches in 2012 (25% career), while the league average is 15%.  He had the league's worst contact rate at 64.7%, a 10% dropoff from last season alone. Clearly, this indicates Hamilton’s temptation to swing at pitches out of the zone (he owned the league's highest chase rate), which has only increased over the past year and could foreshadow future struggles.   This is very important because of Hamilton’s talent level.  When he does make contact and puts the ball in play, he bats .335 for his career (.320 BABIP in 2012).  All the strikeouts (96 in 2012) and lack of plate discipline significantly impact his batting average and on-base skills.  Also, in 2010 when Hamilton captured the MVP award, he put up gaudy numbers.  However, that season was drastically different and better than his other campaigns because of a .390 BABIP.  This allowed him to put up numbers like a .359/.411/.633 triple slash with an OPS+ of 170.  Other than that  season, he has never had a BABIP above .333 and an OPS+ above 139. 

                Playing in Texas  has significantly impacted Hamilton’s play as well.  Looking at park factors for runs scored and home runs, Rangers’ Ballpark is significantly a better place to hit than Angels Stadium.  For home runs and runs, Rangers’ ballpark has park factors of 76 and 81, respectively (>100 favors hitters, <100 favors pitchers).  In Texas, these numbers are 117 and 118 respectively, making it among the most hitter friendly parks in all of baseball.  As proof of his home ballpark in Texas aiding him, Hamilton has hit 94 home runs (1,425 AB) at home in his career, compared to just 67 (1,400 AB) on the road.  Additionally, he has a 90 point slugging percentage decrease and 109 point OPS decline on the road compared to his numbers at Arlington. There is no question heading to Los Angeles will impact Hamilton’s hitting at home. 

                One more interesting item on Hamilton is his drastic splits when hitting against top pitchers in the league, and hitting against weaker pitching in the league.  According to Vince Gennaro's research, in which he ranked hitters (using OPS) by their performances against the top pitchers, average pitchers, and lesser pitchers, Hamilton had the most drastic difference against strong pitching compared to weak pitching.  For example, Hamilton’s OPS against top pitchers is .721 and his OPS against lower level pitching is 1.154.  That is a difference of 433 points!  This is a much larger gap compared to the league average difference of 182 OPS points.  For the MLB as a whole, hitters had an OPS of .641 against top pitchers and an OPS of .823 against weak pitching. In other words, Hamilton hit weak pitching only 12% better than average, but feasted on weaker pitching , being 40% better than league average. Include the fact that most pitchers faced in the postseason belong in the upper half quartile (stronger pitching), Hamilton could face further struggles to his already dismal postseason stats (.227/.295/.424). All in all, when Hamilton hits against top pitchers in his new ballpark, it could mean trouble for Hamilton and the Angels.

                Defensively, Hamilton is and has been rated as a below average center fielder. However, with Mike Trout firmly entrenched in center, Hamil
ton will play left field, where he has been rated as a good defender.  In 2012, he saved 2 runs (in LF), and has been 11 runs above average in his career according to the Ultimate Zone Rating statistic. Additionally, Hamilton possesses a strong throwing arm which has led to five outfield assists. Despite having 7 errors in the outfield this past season, Hamilton is a good defender that should only improve defensively as he plays in left field full-time.

                Josh Hamilton has the ability to carry a team on his back for a certain amount of time.  However, staying consistent for an entire season has been a problem for him in the past.  Hamilton should absolutely help the Angels and makes their lineup more dangerous this upcoming season. However, there are definitely many concerns within various aspects of his game and the Angels are taking a serious gamble for $125 million. 


Tommy Hanson
             In a classic, one-for-one, baseball trade, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim sent reliever Jordan Walden to the Atlanta Braves for starting pitcher Tommy Hanson. Hanson is owed a projected $4 million in arbitration and is under team control through 2015 while Walden makes the major league minimum and is under team control through 2016.

            The explanation behind the title deals with the  numerous afflictions that have ailed both pitchers in the past couple years. Hanson, a 22nd round draftee of the Braves in 2006, has had extensive history with shoulder and back problems. Last year, Hanson had two separate DL stints dealing with rotator cuff strain and shoulder tendinitis. This year, he dealt with a car-crash induced  concussion and another DL stint with back strain. However, his persistent injury history is not even the biggest concern regarding Hanson's future big league success. His fastball velocity has correlated with his previous shoulder pain and has seen precipitous drops since his 2010 sophomore campaign. Since 2010, his average fastball velocity has dropped from 92.7 to 91.2 (2011) to 89.7 this past season. Not surprisingly, his performance has coincided with his shoulder issues and velocity decrease. From 2010, his ERA has increased 1.15 runs (3.33 to 4.48), his ERA+ has decreased 28 points (117 to 89), and his walks per nine innings has increased by 1.2 (2.5 to 3.7). By most means, he went from an above average starter to a mediocre below average one in a matter of two years.

            Obviously, these are not favorable trends  for any pitcher, let alone one with serious durability concerns. I am by no means an expert on pitching mechanics, but Hanson's delivery and short arm throwing motion (see below) seem awkward at best and could certainly be the basis for his shoulder ailments. Now, Hanson heads back to his hometown Angels, a team in desperate need for starting pitching after dealing Ervin Santana and letting Zack Greinke and Dan Haren walk as free agents. If… a big if… Hanson is healthy, he could be a more than serviceable starter and fill in solidly as a mid rotation guy.

            Like Tommy Hanson, Jordan Walden has seen his performance suffer due to injury and velocity attrition. One year after saving 32 games in his rookie season, Walden entered the season as the team's closer. Yet, early season struggles (8.31 ERA in first month) quickly saw he demoted of the role in favor of Ernesto Frieri, only to then miss 35 games with an arm strain. Although Walden struck out an impressive 11.08 batters per nine innings and solid peripherals (3.02 FIP), the two ticks of fastball velocity lost since 2010 is quite concerning. Once again unsurprisingly, Walden saw his numbers drop as he finished the year with a 3.46 ERA in 39 innings, while producing a slightly above average ERA+ of 110. One positive that differentiates 
Walden from Hanson is the type of injury suffered. Shoulder issues tend to have high re-injury rates and more damning long term consequences, even more so for a starting pitcher. Walden's less serious bicep strain and injury risk in general should be mitigated by pitching in relief for shorter durations and in fewer total injuries.

First Impressions:

Winner: Braves; Atlanta dumped a wrecked pitcher who's peripherals are all trending in the wrong direction for a decent middle reliever. Even if Walden happens to flame out, the chances of Hanson doing so are just as high and this trade could very well end up as a wash. In this case, the team that dumped the most money (Atlanta) would be the winners of this forgettable trade.

Loser: Angels; The Angels acquired the starter they desperately needed, but one I am very hesitant  to pencil in for more than 10 or so starts. His injury, velocity, and command decline do not portend for future success. Although Walden will not be missed much in Anaheim, the Angels probably could have done better than Hanson.

-Aidan Flynn
        The debate is over. Or at least the debate over who will win the American League Most Valuable Player is over. Miguel Cabrera won the intense competition with a landslide victory over my personal choice, Mike Trout. Not much more can be said about the cases for each candidate, as both camps have exhausted all resources trying to garner support for their cause. Cabrera followers have repeatedly cited his accomplishment of the prestigious (or meaningless, depending on your viewpoint) Triple Crown, his production down the stretch, and his team's ability to get into the postseason (notice I said "team's ability"). However, the Mike Trout faction has used analytical methodology to  show that defense and baserunning do matter, and that Trout's offensive gap to Cabrera was marginal. Heck, even some of Trout's most ardent supporters have presented evidence that he was actually better offensively than Cabrera. Yet, while I personally do not agree with the decision, I understand why the voters voted the way they did. Simply, voters tend to reward players for being on postseason teams and historical accomplishment. Just looking at the past 21 American League MVP Award winners, 20 of them came from playoff teams. Clearly, playoff teams have a huge amount of weight when it comes to this honor. Then, of course, Cabrera went out and completed the first triple crown in 45 years. There's no debate the Miguel Cabrera had an excellent season, and if you would have asked me 10 years ago the triple crown winner did not deserve to win the MVP, I would have called you crazy. I'm not going to further delve into why Trout was better than Cabrera. The vote is over and there has been enough argument over the subject.  

                However, one point I would like to tackle and debate is the hypocrisy involved in arguments for many so called experts. Many of them hold the notion that Mike Trout is indeed the best baseball player on the planet, but somehow, inexplicably, he is not the league's Most Valuable Player. I have been as much of a spectator to this debate as anyone, and I have seen or heard numerous debates for each side. Yet, when esteemed analysts such as MLB Network's Tom Verducci, Larry Bowa, and Mitch Williams all say Trout was the best player, but not as deserving as Cabrera, I am left scratching my head. Even BBWAA AL MVP voter, Tim Kurkjian, stated that although Trout was the best player he has seen this year, Cabrera received his vote for the league's highest honor. Huh? These writers and analysts keep pointing out that Cabrera was  more "valuable" than Trout. According to Merriam-Webster's, valuable is defined as "having monetary value" or "having desirable or esteemed characteristics or qualities." In other words, something that is the MOST valuable has the greatest monetary value and/or has the best traits and skills of a particular group. Why wouldn't the player who is considered the best in the entire sport, have the most monetary value or the most desirable abilities? Why wouldn't the best player have the most value, which in turn, makes his team as successful as possible? Why wouldn't the best player have the most impact on all phases of the game? This argument just continues to baffle me. To automatically assume that a player from a playoff team has more "value" than someone from a non-playoff team is lazy and flat-out ignorant. This assumption gives credit to a player for something he himself did not accomplish. The Tigers made the playoffs, not just Miguel Cabrera. What about Justin Verlander? What about Max Scherzer? What about Prince Fielder? Did they have no influence at all on the Tigers postseason run? According to many of the voters, their impact was dwarfed by Cabrera's seemingly godlike effort. Additionally, I suppose that they also feel that Cabrera had the power to manipulate the White Sox into losing 10 of their last fourteen games, consequently pissing away the division. If the White Sox win the Central, Cabrera does not make the playoffs, making the "value to team" argument moot.

                Once again, this is no knock on Cabrera's season, his historic performance, and him as an individual. I absolutely feel Cabrera was the best hitter in baseball this year. But, even the most zealous followers to Cabrera's case would realize that he was vastly inferior to Trout's defense and baserunning prowess. Baseball is more than just hitting a round ball with a round bat. If you want to argue Cabrera's candidacy with pure logic and detailed supporting information, that is what makes this debate so much fun. Yet, the cop out taken by many writers seems to contradict what they consider to be valuable. My personal opinion on the matter is that many writers, analysts, and fans cannot separate what they know is right and what they want to believe is right. They still hold onto nostalgic things that they want to remain relevant (Triple Crown, Playoffs importance) despite knowledge of the contrary. Also, many of these people claim that only statistics support Trout's argument, yet they reverse their stance instantly and end up quoting Cabrera's Triple Crown (Stats!), clutchness (Stats!), and performance down the stretch (Stats!) to validate their vote. You cannot argue against statistics and then use it for evidence as part of your of argument, just like the whole "valuable" over best argument should be nonexistent. This hypocrisy needs to end. The line in the sand has been drawn. Pick a side and stick to it.

- Aidan Flynn

      The Kansas City Royals have added some depth to their starting rotation by receiving right-handed pitcher Ervin Santana and $1 million from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for minor league pitcher Brandon Sisk.  Sisk, at age 26, had back to back solid seasons with AAA Omaha with a 1.41 ERA in 32 innings in 2011 and a 2.54 ERA in 67.1 innings in 2012.  He is a decent piece to look to for LA in case of an injury or struggles in the bullpen for 2013. 

      The bigger part of this deal clearly is Santana.  The talented right hander will be heading into his age 30 season in 2013 and the question mark for him is consistency.  He has showed flashes of brilliance throughout his career including tossing a no-hitter in 2012 in Cleveland.  He has enjoyed four seasons (2006, 2006, 2010-11) of having an ERA+ of over 100.  His back-to-back solid seasons in 2010 (3.92 ERA) and 2011 (3.38 ERA) are great signs.  However, going back to consistency, he has had his share of struggles.  He has had three seasons of sporting an ERA of over 5.  Unfortunately for Santana, his 2012 ERA of 5.16 is fresh in everyone’s mind.  Another glaring problem in 2012 was home runs.  Santana served up a ridiculous 39 long balls in 2012 which lead the entire league and was 12 more than his previous career high of 27. This is due to his crazy home run per fly ball percentage of 14.8, which is almost double the league average of 7.6%. He also posted a career low ERA+ of just 73.  He has also shown the ability to throw over 200 innings over the course of a big league season.  However the innings have not been as high during his more unsuccessful seasons.  The Royals can only hope they are getting the 2011 Ervin Santana and his ridiculous HR/FB will regress to his career norms. 

First Reactions:

Winner:  Royals.  They only gave up a minor league reliever and this is a low risk move for them.  Kansas City is in great need of starting pitching and Santana is a guy that has the ability to eat some innings and be successful for the organization moving forward.

Loser:  Angels.  Received a 26-year old reliever and lost depth in their rotation.  Not a move that will tear down the team, but will especially hurt if team cannot resign RHP Zack Greinke. 

Mike Trout has good reason to smile, as his 2012 campaign was among the best seasons of all time
      On a frequent and seemingly every day basis, people often ask me why I think Mike Trout is the American League MVP or why I think he is one of, if not, the best baseball player in the game today. Those same people often observe the modest run batted in totals and decent power numbers and snicker and ridicule me for even putting his name in the same breath as triple crown champion, Miguel Cabrera. Often, people just see a player who put up a very good season, but not a great or extraordinary one by any means. This is where those people are wrong. Mike Trout, known to only the most hardcore of fans, has accomplished an incredible season that is unprecedented both in terms of his age and inexperience in addition to his talent and overall production.            

        Offensively, Mike Trout has blended an incredible mix of power and contact to become a multidimensional threat at the plate. Trout's line of .326/.399/.564 was good enough to rank in the top three for batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. Trout manages to trail only marginally in average and on base with a more significant gap in slugging percentage to sluggers Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera. As for more traditional categories, Trout managed to hit 30 home runs, collect 83 RBI, and score a league leading 129 runs. So far, Trout has yet to lead any of these categories and his offensive prowess seemingly does not match up with the likes of Cabrera, Hamilton, or even Bronx second basemen Robinson Cano. However, when the season is examined completely and to its fullest extent, Trout begins to look more favorably as a hitter. His Offensive WAR (8.6), OPS+ (171), OWn% (.786), WPA (5.3), RE24 (56.5) all lead the league. He is not leading any of those categories by mistake and all point to his extreme value from the batter's box. And to those who do not to want look up the specifics of what each of those statistics mean (which are available in the glossary), the evidence shows that Mike Trout has had among the best offensive production in the league. His offense is quite comparable to Miguel Cabrera from a value standpoint and is essentially a deadlock between the two. Now remember that Trout has posted most of these numbers while being 20 years old (he turned 21 on August 7) and missed the first 20 games of the season while he toyed with minor league pitching (.403/.467/.623 in AAA Salt Lake). To further stress his absurd youth, double-A players have an average age of 22. Furthermore, realize that if he was like any normal 20-21 year old in the majors, he should be struggling against the best pitchers on the planet while trying to survive the everyday grind that is the major league season. Clearly, he has done more than survive this season. However, offense is only one side of the game and the game is influenced by more than just the actions from a rectangle with a chalk exterior. It is these other aspects of the game that allow Trout's star to shine even brighter. 

            On the basepaths, the "Millville Meteor" clearly is a freak, as I say this with the utmost respect and awe. To start, Trout leads all of baseball with 49 stolen bases, three more than Toronto's Rajai Davis. Yet, the risk of getting caught stealing often outweighs the benefit of actually stealing the base. Too many caught stealings are detrimental to an offense, no matter how many bases are successfully stolen. Whereas Davis has a decent 78% success rate, Trout once again excels in this fashion of the game with the highest success rate among those with at least 32 steals (91%). This innate ability to not get thrown out allows for additional opportunities to score and help his team win in a way most ballplayers simply cannot do. Also, Trout is among the top ten in extra bases taken (65%), run scored percentage (44%), and ultimate base running (5.0). His 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale additionally allows Trout to reach base on infield singles at an advanced rate, accumulating 25 infield hits this past season. This evidence only further cements Trout's status as one of the most dangerous men in baseball on the base paths. 

            Roaming the pasture of centerfield in Angel Stadium is no easy task, but Mike Trout has looked like a seasoned veteran out in the field. From robbing home runs, to making head-first diving grabs, Trout has been among the most exceptional outfielders in the league. In terms of total zone fielding runs, Trout is third best in the American League among outfielders and also has 2.2 defensive wins above replacement, good for 10th in the entire league. With what cannot be comprehended by the statistics, Trout visibly passes the eye test with his superb jumps and closing speed. Whereas some players' game only offers one dimension, Trout's incredible ability to hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw vaults him to among the best players in the game. Still don't believe my argument for Trout? Just take a look at the Wins Above Replacement leaders for a single season. Notice any of those names? Trout is in company filled with the immortals of the game and the greatest to ever step onto a diamond. For now, forget the MVP. Just realize the greatness of Mike Trout.
Who will win this year's American League MVP? Rookie superstar Mike Trout, or Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera?
      As the hunt for October reaches its final weeks, so to does the hunt for the hardware. Arguably the most highly debated and controversial award race is between the "Millville Meteor" and the "Motown Monster." Of course these nicknames belong to Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera respectively, and both players are experiencing a season for the ages. Trout, a baby-faced rookie from the Northeast, has revitalized and rejuvenated a then slumping Angels team upon being called up in late April. He has only hit a cool .324/.392/.551 (AVG/OBP/SLG) and is leading the league in runs, stolen bases, and wins above replacement (WAR). In addition, he has played an outstanding center field while also making plays like this.

       On the other hand, Miguel Cabrera is also at the heels of a record setting season as he continues his chase for the hitting triple crown, a feat not accomplished since Carl Yastrzemski in his 1967 campaign. Cabrera leads the league in AVG, RBI, SLG, OPS, total bases, OPS+, runs created, and adj. batting wins. However, Cabrera also leads the league in double plays grounded into (28) while being below average defensively in terms of fielding percentage, ultimate zone rating (UZR), and defensive runs saved. Immediately, Cabrera's league leading numbers in several offensive categories along with good separation in traditionally important categories such as home runs (Cabrera's 41 to Trout's 27) and RBI (Cabrera's 130 to Trout's 77) point to Cabrera as the clear winner. Foxs Sports writer Jon Paul Morosi has even gone so far to say that the decision was "obvious" to name Cabrera as the rightful winner. Yet, the competition between the two talents is hardly as cut and dry as some may think and more digging and research is necessary before awarding the league's most valuable player simply to whomever has the most runs batted in. 

     To start, Trout has roughly 62 less plate appearances than Cabrera and also has 123 less plate appearances than Cabrera with runners on base. If we predict how many home runs and RBI Trout would have if had a similar opportunities as Cabrera and one sees that Trout would have roughly 31 Home runs (HR every 19 AB) and 40 more RBI or 117 overall (28% of total base runners driven in). Obviously, this method is flawed as it only predicts the current pace Trout is on and does not account for anything he actually did. However, these added opportunities for Cabrera have also lead to a negative effect in addition to cushioning his HR and RBI lead. Cabrera leads the league with 28 double plays ('the ultimate rally killer") and has made 54 more outs than Trout. Once again, this data is flawed as a three hole hitter will come up more often than a lead off guy with runners on base. This argument essentially forces one to give Cabrera credit for both the RBIs and all the additional outs or by throwing both numbers out since it is dependent on opportunities and not anything the player can control. Also, another potential argument for Cabrera is his lead in total bases, or all bases accumulated via base hits. Cabrera's 361-290 advantage seems to heavily favor the Detroit slugger. However, when walks, hit by pitches, stolen bases, caught stealing, extra bases (example extra base taken when going from first to third), and grounded into double plays are accounted for, Trout actually takes the advantage. Trout's 435 "total" bases beats Cabrera out by 11 when observing the whole story instead of what strictly happens inside the batter's box.  Then with the RBI and the total base gap greatly diminished, the offensive difference between Trout and Cabrera becomes much smaller with only marginal leads for Cabrera in AVG, OBP, SLG, OPS+. 
      After evaluating the offense, Cabrera relinquishes any sort of advantage he had on Trout. Trout has 42 more stolen bases, a higher SB% (91% compared to 75%), as well as taking the extra base from first to third and second to home an extra eighteen times. In addition, Trout has scored 45% of the time compared to Cabrera's below average 28% (league average around 31%). Lastly, factor in Trout's superior defense while playing a more difficult position compared to Cabrera's its clear who should be the front runner in this contested race. To those that argue that Cabrera switched positions to sign fellow slugger Prince Fielder, remember that Cabrera could have went to DH instead. In addtion, Cabrera was playing a position he had previously played, so its not as if he was playing at a spot completely foreign to him. Even in the face of a possible triple crown, Cabrera still simply does not match up with the all-time historic season authored by Mike Trout.

Statistics as of 9/20/12