I don't know if this is a bad era for leadoff hitters or not, or simply a reflection of the pitching-dominant era we're in right now. There are fewer good hitters overall thus it reasons that we'd have fewer good leadoff hitters.

It strikes me that a lot of teams are missing a good and/or obvious candidate to be their leadoff guy. What do you want in a leadoff hitter? Above all, you want a guy who gets on base. The MLB average on-base percentage in 2014 was .314, .318 for non-pitchers. Your leadoff guy should get on base better than the league average; last year, leadoff hitters posted a .326 OBP. Secondarily, you want speed -- stealing bases is nice but being able to take that extra base is important as well. Many managers still think speed is more important than getting on base; it's not. Third is power; there's nothing wrong if your leadoff guy can pop a few home runs or get himself into scoring position with a double.

Let's look at how each team stands as spring training begins, starting with the American League.

AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles
2014 totals: .336 OBP (ninth in majors), 87 runs (23rd)

Nick Markakis started here 148 games and while his OBP was fine he didn't score many runs. Part of that was the makeup of the Orioles' lineup but Markakis' lack of speed did hurt some -- only four steals and his percentage of extra bases taken was terrible (just 17 percent, well below his career average of 34). I don't if he lost his speed or was cautions or what. Anyway, he's gone and the O's don't have a logical candidate. Maybe Manny Machado, although his career OBP is just .313.

Boston Red Sox
2014 totals: .330 OBP (14th), 109 runs (fifth)

Mookie Betts projects as one of the best leadoff guys in the game. He'll get on base, work the count, steal some bases and has some pop. Yes, John Farrell announced that, if healthy, Shane Victorino is his starting right fielder. Don't worry, there's plenty of playing time for Mookie and he'll hit his way into a regular spot in the lineup.

New York Yankees
2014 totals: .321 OBP (20th), 102 runs (10th)

This was mostly Brett Gardner (107 games) and Jacoby Ellsbury (49 games). Gardner should be the full-time leadoff guy this year, although he's coming off a .327 OBP, his lowest since his rookie season.

Tampa Bay Rays
2014 totals: .316 OBP (21st), 84 runs (26th)

Desmond Jennings had the most time here but posted just a .301 OBP when hitting leadoff (.319 overall). There's not really another good candidate on the roster so he'll get another chance.

Toronto Blue Jays
2014 totals: .325 OBP (18th), 107 runs (seventh)

Early in his career, it looked liked Jose Reyes had the ability to become one of the game's all-time great leadoff men. He didn't quite get there due to inconsistent OBP totals. He still runs well (30 for 32 in steals) but his walk rate dropped last year and his OBP was a mediocre .328. He's capable of better.

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox
2014 totals: .337 OBP (eighth), 98 runs (14th)

Adam Eaton certainly fits the old-school profile with a .362 OBP and some speed. He doesn't possess over-the-fence power but did hit 26 doubles and 10 triples. He should also be capable of stealing 30-plus bases over a full season if he stays healthy (a big issue as he missed time last year and in the minors).

Cleveland Indians
2014 totals: .308 OBP (25th), 90 runs (21st)

Michael Bourn was supposed to be the solution here when the Indians signed him a couple years ago but he's had some injuries and hasn't been that good, with just 10 steals last year in 106 games. If he's not running, there's no point to hitting him leadoff. Maybe Jason Kipnis gets a shot.

Detroit Tigers
2014 totals: .327 OBP (17th), 106 runs (eighth)

Ian Kinsler played 83 games here and presumably is back in a full-time role. He's a little unconventional as his OBP dropped to a career-low .307 in 2014, although he makes up for that to some degree with added power (61 extra-base hits) and excellent baserunning.

Kansas City Royals
2014 totals: .339 OBP (seventh), 82 runs (27th)

This was mostly Norichika Aoki a year ago, with some Alcides Escobar, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain mixed in. Escobar actually had a .397 OBP in 16 games but with Aoki gone, putting him there would be a mistake considering his .299 career OBP. I wouldn't be opposed to moving Alex Gordon back here. Let's see how creative Ned Yost gets.

Minnesota Twins
2014 totals: .328 OBP (16th), 118 runs (first)

Bet you didn't have the Twins as the team that scored the most leadoff runs in the majors, did you? Danny Santana and Brian Dozier split time here and combined for 19 of the 21 home runs the Twins received from their leadoff hitters. Santana probably gets first crack but his .319 average as a rookie was driven by a fluke .405 BABIP.

AL WEST

Houston Astros
2014 totals: .353 OBP (second), 95 runs (17th)

Jose Altuve actually only hit here 78 games but he'll be the guy every day this year. He may not win the batting title again but he projects as one of the best leadoff guys in the majors after hitting .341, stealing 56 bases and pounding out 47 doubles.

Los Angeles Angels
2014 totals: .316 OBP (22nd), 111 runs (third)

They scored a lot of runs with the help of Mike Trout hitting second, but Kole Calhoun was a pretty effective leadoff guy, hitting .281/.336/.471, with 17 home runs in 109 games. He didn't steal many bases (five steals overall) but his other baserunning metrics are very good and he's capable of a higher OBP with a full season now under his belt.

Oakland Athletics
2014 totals: .329 OBP (15th), 97 runs (15th)

Coco Crisp is presumably the main guy here again. He's good-not-great.

Seattle Mariners
2014 totals: .287 OBP (30th), 71 runs (29th)

A complete disaster. As much as Seattle needed to add a right-handed power bat, the Mariners also need to figure out the leadoff spot. Austin Jackson probably gets the nod, even though he was brutal after coming over from Detroit. Assuming Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz hit 3-4, Lloyd McClendon would be better off hitting Kyle Seager first or second and getting him more at-bats (and on base in front of Cano and Cruz) rather than hitting him fifth. The potential shortstop platoon of Brad Miller and Chris Taylor could present another leadoff option, or maybe the less conventional Seth Smith/Justin Ruggiano right-field platoon.

Texas Rangers
2014 totals: .345 OBP (fifth), 81 runs (28th)

Fifth in OBP but just 28th in runs? Yes, the Rangers missed Prince Fielder. Shin-Soo Choo was brought in to be the leadoff hitter a year ago, although Leonys Martin hit well here as well. Either way, the Rangers have good options. Assuming new manager Jeff Banister is smart enough not to go with Elvis Andrus (and get him out of the No. 2 spot while you're at it).

A sabermetric stats primer

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
1:11
PM ET
If you're new to this blog or new to advanced metrics, you may see statistics referenced that you're not familiar with. ESPN fantasy baseball writer Tristan Cockcroft has a good primer here on understanding some of those metrics like WAR, FIP, xFIP, BABIP, hard-hit average and wOBA.
Pittsburgh Pirates superstar center fielder Andrew McCutchen is signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in the game, a six-year, $51 million deal that has four years remaining (including a 2018 option). If McCutchen hadn't signed that contract, he'd be a free agent after 2015 and likely receive a deal that would pay him $25-$30 million per season. Instead, he'll earn "just" $41.75 million from 2016 through 2018.

Rob Biertempfel of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review had a column reporting that the Pirates would be willing to consider a big extension for McCutchen:
"Andrew's been a critical part of the team," owner Bob Nutting said Wednesday. "I love having him in a Pittsburgh Pirates uniform, and I hope he (wears it) for a long, long time." ...

There are no active talks at this time. However, industry sources said that if the Pirates decide to open talks, they are willing to go to great lengths to keep McCutchen in Pittsburgh, even if the numbers approach the current salary stratosphere of $25 million-plus per year.

"If that happens, that will be something we'll talk about," McCutchen said. "Right now, I'm not too worried about it. It's nothing that I'm thinking about, really. If it happens, that would be great. I look forward to it if they do that."


OK, Nutting didn't exactly say the Pirates were looking to start talking about an extension with McCutchen. And, really, the Pirates are in a great position. They have one of the best players in the game signed up through his prime years at what will be an incredible discount, barring injuries. In 2018, McCutchen will be 31 years old. Maybe he would still have a couple peak years after that, maybe not. The early 30s are often the time when players -- even stars -- begin to decline. The risk-free move for the Pirates would be to simply play out the contract and get McCutchen's best seasons.

But there are reasons to consider an extension. He's the focal point of the team, a potential Hall of Famer and all-time great Pirates player. He and his wife are part of the community with their charities and bought a house in Pittsburgh. The fans love of him. He's a true role model. That stuff has some value although, as always, winning games is the paramount ingredient in keeping fans interested. Anyway, here are three potential ways the Pirates could approach this, the first being to do nothing (dollars listed in millions, in case you forgot how much major leaguers make these days):



As mentioned, Option A is the risk-free approach. McCutchen enters free agency for his age-32 season and maybe gets a $200 million deal. Robinson Cano hit free agency for his age-31 season and got $240 million from the Mariners. But that deal wouldn't be coming from the Pirates. They're not going to get into a situation like the Reds have with Joey Votto, where an aging player in his 30s would be eating up a large percentage of the payroll.

Option B is keeping the current contract and adding on four years at $30 million per year at the end, kind of a make good for the Pirates knowing they have McCutchen at a steal right now. There's some risk here but McCutchen should at least remain a solid player through 35 and he gets a big payday and gets to remain in Pittsburgh. But if McCutchen wants to maximize is earnings, there's not much reason for him to take this deal as he'd get a longer, larger contract in free agency.

Option C tears up the current contract and signs McCutchen to an $11-year, $247 million extension. It's not Giancarlo Stanton money, but remember that McCutchen is a few years older and the Pirates aren't going to do something crazy. (That's without getting into the particulars of Stanton's deal, which is heavily backloaded and includes an out clause.) There's obviously more risk here for the Pirates with more total dollars committed but the average annual value of $22.5 million shouldn't break the payroll and McCutchen basically becomes a Pirate for Life.

Obviously, the Pirates don't have to do anything now. McCutchen is happy and he's not the type to do anything except play hard for the next four seasons. What would you do if you're the Pirates?

I admit: I've been predicting the demise of Francisco Rodriguez for years.

Remember when he set the single-season record with 62 saves for the Angels back in 2008 and then signed with the Mets in 2009 as a free agent? He had 35 saves for the Mets but a 3.71 ERA. His strikeout rate was in decline from his flame-throwing days with the Angels, he walked five batters per nine innings and his fastball was losing some zip. But he rebounded in 2010 with a solid 2.20 ERA and he improved his control. Still, his fastball velocity was down to 91 mph and he was relying now on deception more than power. How long could that last?

In 2011, he wasn't pitching that well for the Mets (a 3.16 ERA but more than a hit per inning), got traded to the Brewers and excelled for them as a setup guy down the stretch as they reached the playoffs. In 2012, the Brewers brought him back and he was an expensive setup guy who posted a 4.38 ERA with mediocre peripherals and I was sure he was just about done. He was a free agent and the Brewers re-signed him again for 2013, although they traded him to Baltimore. But they couldn't quit K-Rod and re-signed him for 2014 and he became the team's closer, saving 44 games, his first 30-save season since 2009.

And now for the fourth time, he's signed as a free agent with the Brewers. That has to be some kind of record. At least this time they reportedly gave him a two-year contract.

How much does he have left? His fastball velocity averaged just 90.6 mph in 2014 but according to Brooksbaseball.net, for the first time in his career he threw his two-seam sinking fastball more often than his four-seamer. His changeup remains a deadly two-strike weapon as batters hit just .157 against it -- the highest average he's allowed against that pitch going back to 2009. His walk rate was a career low and while batters hit just .198 against him overall, there was one big red flag: 14 home runs allowed.

That's the most home runs any reliever in baseball allowed. Over the past three seasons, only Ernesto Frieri has allowed more home runs among relievers. Luckily for K-Rod, 12 of the home runs were solo shots; still, of the 14 home runs, three of them were game-tying home runs, two came with the score tied and one relinquished a lead.

You can argue that K-Rod was simply a little unlucky since 29 percent of the fly balls he allowed landed on the wrong side of the fence, much higher than his overall rate of 12.2 percent since 2009. But ... that percentage has increased each season since 2009. Seems like the Brewers are playing with fire in expecting him to go 44-for-49 again in save opportunities.

It was pretty clear that no other team wanted Rodriguez as its closer, which is how he ended up back in Milwaukee. We'll see who's right but I'll predict K-Rod doesn't last the season as the Brewers' closer.
The best part about the first few days of spring training is that the players are feeling good, they're happy to be back on the baseball field, they're full of confidence and optimism and many of them are in the best shape of their lives. They also forget to turn the filter on, giving us some of the best quotes of the year. For example, take San Diego Padres outfielder Matt Kemp. MLB.com columnist Lyle Spencer writes:
"Who," (Kemp) said, "do you think has the best outfield in the game now?"

The visitor gave it some thought before nominating the American League champion Royals for defensive purposes and the Pirates or Marlins for all-around excellence.

Kemp shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "It's right here. Right here in San Diego. You can write it down -- and print it."


Now, Kemp could turn out to be correct. Certainly the combination of his offensive potential, plus that of Justin Upton and Wil Myers, is as good as any in the game. Here are the top teams in outfield production in 2014, ranked by wOBA (weighted on-base average):

1. Dodgers: .354
2. Pirates: .351
3. Marlins: .347
4. Rockies: .344
5. Blue Jays: .339

After that you had the Orioles, Nationals, Angels, Brewers and Tigers. The Dodgers have lost Kemp, replacing him with rookie Joc Pederson. The Pirates will have a full season from Gregory Polanco to go with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte. The Marlins' trio of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich remains intact; the Rockies' numbers are boosted by Coors Field (they ranked 29th in road wOBA).

The Blue Jays had a productive outfield led by Jose Bautista, but lost Melky Cabrera and Colby Rasmus, and trade acquisition Michael Saunders just hurt his knee and is likely out until the All-Star break. The Orioles lost Nick Markakis and part-time outfielder Nelson Cruz.

So yes, maybe Kemp isn't being ridiculous. In 2014, he had a .362 wOBA and Upton had a .357 wOBA, both ranking in the top 30 in the majors (keep in mind that wOBA isn't park-adjusted). Myers was hurt but as a rookie in 2013 posted a .354 wOBA. So you're looking at three guys who all have the potential to be top-25 hitters in the majors.

Of course, hitting is only part of the equation. Defensively, the Upton-Myers-Kemp trio doesn't compare to the Pirates or the Marlins, even if you're optimistic about Myers' ability to play center and Kemp's ability to reverse his declining defensive metrics. Let's turn to FanGraphs for projected WAR. Here's where it ranks each of the Padres' outfield positions (factoring in some bench time after the projected playing time for the starters):

Left field: sixth in the majors
Center field: 21st
Right field: 16th

Does that look like the best outfield in the majors? Based on overall WAR projections, the top 10 outfields:

SportsNation

Which team has the best outfield in the majors?

  •  
    10%
  •  
    12%
  •  
    23%
  •  
    15%
  •  
    40%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,380)

1. Angels, 13.4 (includes 1.4 WAR from Josh Hamilton)
2. Marlins, 12.0
3. Pirates, 10.7
4. Cardinals, 10.3
5. Red Sox, 9.7
(tie) Nationals, 9.7
(tie) Dodgers, 9.7
8. Royals, 9.1
9. Yankees, 8.7
10. Brewers, 8.2

The Padres come in 15th, at 7.1.

What do you think? Do the Padres have the best outfield in the game? I say no. I'd probably go Marlins, Pirates and Angels as my top three (even if Hamilton gets suspended, Matt Joyce would be fine in left field and maybe better). If Bryce Harper breaks out, then the Nationals would have a superstar outfielder to go with Jayson Werth and Denard Span and they could crack the top three as well. Same with the Brewers if Ryan Braun bounces back from two years of injuries.

Not the best outfield: Braves and Phillies.

And what's up with that ear?
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In the most predictable quote of spring training, David Ortiz doesn't like the pace of play rules that will attempt to force batters to remain in the batter's box between pitches.

The best part of Big Papi's rant is that he apparently wasn't aware of the new rule. "Is that new?" he asked. "It seems like every rule goes in the pitcher's favor. After a pitch, you got to stay in the box? One foot? I call that bulls---," he said to the Boston media throng on Wednesday.

This is why we love Ortiz. He doesn't hold back. He said hitters aren't stepping out to waste time but to think about what pitchers are going to do. "When you force a hitter to do that, 70 percent you're out, because you don't have time to think," he said. "And the only time you have to think about things is that time. So, I don't know how this baseball game is going to end up."

Anyway, MLB has said it will fine batters who don't follow the new rule, rather than expecting umpires to enforce it. That makes sense. Can you imagine the first umpire who tells Ortiz to step in the box or calls an automatic strike on him? The proposed penalty is $500.

With that in mind, how much will Ortiz pay in fines at the end of the season?

Let's say the fine is per game. If Ortiz plays 145 games and gets fined each game, it's a mere $72,500. Considering he's making $16 million this year, he probably carries that much in his wallet.

But let's say the fine is for every plate appearance in which he breaks the rule. He had 602 plate appearances in 2014. Now we're talking $301,000.

Finally, let's say the fine is applied to every pitch after which he steps out of the box. Now, the rule says a batter can step out after swinging. Ortiz saw 2,407 pitches last year. Let's assume you wouldn't be fined the first pitch of plate appearances, so subtract 602 from that. He put 429 balls in play, drew 75 walks, struck out 95 times and was hit by three pitches, so those wouldn't factor in as potential fines, either. We're down to 1,203 pitches. He hit 425 foul balls. That's a swing and doesn't count. He had 215 swings and misses, although 84 of those we already counted in his strikeout total. So we subtract 131 swing-and-misses that came in the middle of counts.

That gives us a total of 1,072 pitches in which Ortiz could potentially step out of the box, spit in his batting gloves, rub his hands together and think about the next pitch.

Total fine: $521,000.

For a rookie, that's an entire season's salary. For Ortiz, however, that's a mere 3 percent of his salary. And he can probably write it off on his taxes as a charitable donation.
The other day, former Reds pitcher Mat Latos blasted the lack of leadership in the Reds' clubhouse the past couple of seasons, telling Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports that the Reds missed Scott Rolen and Bronson Arroyo:
When Scott was there, we had guys doing exactly what they were supposed to do. After Scott left, we had guys with two years in the big leagues, in the clubhouse, on their phones, laying down in the video room, just hanging out during games, not in the dugout, not cheering their teammates on. Our dugout looked like a ghost town.

After Bronson, the same exact thing. We had starters in there roping our (clubhouse attendants), like, cattle-roping our clubbies. Guys on their computers, buying stuff, hanging out in the clubhouse. We had a guy with a year-and-a-half in the big leagues wandering around the clubhouse, hanging out. We had a closer in there sleeping until the seventh inning. We lose that veteran leadership, that’s what happens. You can’t have that ... it turns into a circus.


Reds manager Bryan Price disputed Latos' account, saying, "That is unfair and inaccurate. We have outstanding leadership from ownership through the front office, through the coaching staff, and we have outstanding quality character people in our clubhouse. It is ridiculous that we even have to discuss something of this nature. We have done nothing to deserve this."

First baseman Joey Votto spoke up on Tuesday, defending the clubhouse atmosphere and the Reds' disappointing 2014 season with .. well, a voice of reason. As you might expect from Votto. He told Cincinnati.com's C. Trent Rosencrans and John Fay,
Ever since Scott left, there's been a lot of talk about leadership and the importance of having one focal point. That's not how ... that's not what's really going on in the clubhouse. We're a group of guys who have come up in the organization together at different times. As we grow, we're doing it collectively. So there's not going to be one focal point. We're doing it collectively as a unit.

I know when we traded for Marlon (Byrd) the conversation was about his leadership qualities. Marlon's going to come here and be himself and bring what he brings and he's also going to fit in.

The thing I wanted to say is we're doing all right. We just lost last year. We won three of the last five years. We had a couple of not-so-good runs in the playoffs. There's a lot of variables involved. There's no excuses. We just lost in the playoffs, but we got there. We won the division two out of three times.

Last year, I would like to think was a bit of an aberration.


Amen. Votto went on to argue that a lot of the people complaining about the lack of leadership on the Reds aren't in the clubhouse or riding the team bus. Now, Votto or Price didn't address the specific allegations that Latos made so it's not fair to suggest Latos is a crackpot or making stuff up. You certainly want players invested in the game as much as possible and not in the clubhouse playing Candy Crunch on their iPhones.

But the problem with explaining a team's failures to a lack of leadership is that it's done after the fact. It's a convenient excuse for a lousy season. Does anybody make preseason projections and rankings on team leadership or team chemistry? Did the Red Sox have great leadership in 2013 and lousy leadership in 2014? It was the same team. Or is it simply that winning teams are described as having good leadership or good chemistry while bad teams lack it?

It's pretty easy to understand why the Reds declined from 90 wins to 76 wins: Votto played just 62 games; Jay Bruce hurt his knee and was horrible; Brandon Phillips is in decline and played just 108 games; left field and shortstop were offensive black holes; Homer Bailey missed some time; Latos himself made just 16 starts; the bullpen had the second-worst ERA in the National League.

As Votto said, "We just lost last year."

From Jeffrey Flanagan at MLB.com:
Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas remembers the feeling he got when he first came up to bat in last year's season opener at Detroit and saw the Tigers' infield suddenly launch into a shift.

"Oh, God," Moustakas said, shaking his head. "I was really confused. I mean, they didn't shift me all spring."

That confusion stayed with Moustakas for much of the season. After a torrid Spring Training in which he hit nearly .500, Moustakas struggled mightily, hitting .212/.271/.361 in 2014.

This spring, Moustakas vows he'll devote much of his time to designing a plan to beat that shift, and that includes bunting on occasion.

"I got to find a way to beat it," he said. "I have been a pull hitter most of my life. It's smart for other teams to play that way with me. So I just have to adapt and if that means laying down more bunts, going the other way, I'll do it."


I suspect Moustakas won't be the only player this spring making an "I plan on bunting more often" declaration.

In Moustakas' case, laying down a few bunts is a good idea; get a few extra hits, maybe make the defense thinking twice before shifting. As you can see from the hit chart to the right, he's an extreme pull hitter on groundballs. Of course, most hitters pull the ball on the ground. But Moustakas is pretty extreme even in that regard. He hit 156 groundballs in 2014 and hit just .154. Here are the 10 lowest batting averages on grounders for players who hit at least 100 groundballs in 2014:

Brian McCann, Yankees: .128
Chris Davis, Orioles: .146
Mike Moustakas, Royals: .154
Nate Schierholtz, Cubs-Nationals: .155
Mark Teixeira, Yankees: .155
Jedd Gyorko, Padres: .156
A.J. Ellis, Dodgers: .157
Ryan Howard, Phillies: .158
Ryan Flaherty, Orioles: .165
Travis d'Arnaud, Mets: 168

According to data from Baseball Info Solutions, Moustakas ranked ninth in the majors in most shifts against him with 290 plate appearance. Of course, some of those plate appearances ended in strikeouts, walks, fly balls or home runs, where the shift didn't come into play. He had 123 plate appearances with the shift on where he hit a groundball or short liner. He hit .179 in those plate appearances.

He had 37 PAs with no shift that ended in grounders or short liners ... and hit .135.

OK, let's go back to 2013. He had only 23 plate appearances with the shift, so shifting against him certainly caught on in 2014 and not before. But in 2013 he hit just .203 on grounders and short liners with no shift. In 2012, he did hit .252 on grounders and short liners with no shift. So, overall, perhaps he has been hurt to a degree by the shift. But it's also possible he just hit into some bad luck in 2014 ... but maybe some good luck in 2012.

If there's a kicker, however, it's that Moustakas also isn't that good when he hits fly balls. Among 151 players who hit at least 100 fly balls in 2014, he ranked 134th with a .111 batting average and 136th in isolated power -- the same as, gulp, Billy Hamilton of the Reds. Sure, his home park steals a few home runs, but he's supposed to be a power guy.

Moustakas doesn't strike out excessively -- he was 54th out of 209 players with 400-plus PAs in strikeout percentage. He doesn't walk much and he's helpless against left-handed pitching. But his main problem as a hitter is he simply doesn't the hit ball hard enough often. A few bunt hits will help but it's not going to suddenly turn him into a star.

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    "I don't think length of season is a topic that can't ever be discussed. I don't think it would be impossible to go back to 154 [games]." -- Commissioner Rob Manfred, to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell


I love the idea of a 154-game season. Think about it: If you were starting Major League Baseball from scratch, would you play 162 games? Would you stretch your season out to the final days of October -- or even possibly into November, which could happen this year? Would you want your most important games of the season played in potentially the worst weather of the season? Remember the 2012 World Series in Detroit? Game-time temperatures for Games 3 and 4 were 47 and 44 degrees, but quickly dropped into the 30s and 20 mph winds dropped the wind-chill factor into the low 20s. Not exactly baseball weather. Tigers fans were dressed like they were heading out on an Antarctic expedition. The poor lady running the Dippin' Dots stand told me she sold one ice cream. I'm half-convinced the Tigers lost those two games because it was so cold they just wanted the season to end and go home.

It's important to understand how baseball got to this point. For decades, both leagues played a 154-game schedule. They had many doubleheaders back then, so there were more off days and the season usually didn't start until mid-April. For example, here are the starting dates for various years:

1910: April 14
1920: April 14
1930: April 14
1940: April 16
1950: April 18
1960: April 12 (although the American League didn't start until April 18)

And teams went directly to the World Series. And World Series games were played during the day. The 1960 World Series went seven games and ended on Oct. 13. That was actually a pretty late end date. The 1955 World Series also went seven days and ended on Oct. 4, Johnny Podres shutting out the Yankees with temperatures at Yankee Stadium in the high 60s. Baseball weather.

In 1961, the American League expanded to 10 teams, meaning the traditional schedule of playing each team 22 times wouldn't work. Instead, each team played the other nine teams 18 times -- 162 games. Both leagues started on April 11 that year. The World Series started Oct. 4. The National League expanded in 1962 and also adopted a 162-game schedule.

From 1962 to 1968, the latest conclusion for a World Series was Oct. 16 in 1962 -- and even then, only because Game 6 was delayed for three days due to torrential rain in San Francisco.

In 1969, MLB expanded again and split both leagues into divisions, necessitating an extra round of playoffs and pushing up the season's start date earlier in April -- when the weather can still be cold and wet in the Midwest and Northeast. Still, the World Series ended at Shea Stadium on Oct. 16. Here's that final game. I don't know the temperature, although the players are all wearing sleeves and the fans jackets, so it wasn't in the upper 60s. But it was still reasonable baseball weather. And the 5-3 game was completed in 2 hours, 14 minutes.

Then baseball started playing night games in the postseason in the early '70s. Then the league championship series were extended from best-of-five to best-of-seven in 1985. In 1995, another round of playoffs was added. Along the way, doubleheaders were eliminated. In 1997, the season started April 1. Game 4 of the World Series in Cleveland on Oct. 22 featured a game-time temperature of 35 degrees ... with 15 mph winds and snow. The game took 3 hours, 15 minutes. Definitely not baseball weather.

Anyway, you get the idea. Game 1 in 2004 at Fenway Park -- 40-something degrees, wind, some rain. The teams combined for five errors in a game that took 4 hours to play. How about the Rays and Phillies all bundled up in 2008? And that World Series in Detroit? If the Giants hadn't swept, Game 5 would have been delayed by a huge snowstorm that hit Detroit.

So Rob Manfred is at least putting the issue on the table. And why not? Cut eight days off the schedule, start the regular season a week earlier, cut an off day or two in the postseason and you can at least try to finish the season in mid-October instead of November.

But there's a major roadblock, of course: TV revenue (and to a lesser extent, gate receipts). Local cable TV revenue is driving the increasing revenue in the game. Take, as an example, the Arizona Diamondbacks, who reportedly just signed a deal with Fox Sports Arizona worth in excess of $1 billion. Details are sketchy, but sources have said the D-backs will triple their current annual payout of $31 million per season.

If the contract is 15 years and you're losing eight games per season that's 120 games of lost ad revenue for Fox Sports Arizona over 15 years. At the prices the local cable networks are paying for rights, they won't like the lost revenue. So good luck convincing owners to agree on shortening the season and ticking off their TV partners.

Plus, every year there are 28 teams that don't care about World Series weather.
Click here for Tuesday's chat wrap. All I can say is a feel like I'm the best chatting shape of my life.

Ten greatest Negro Leaguers

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
11:25
AM ET
Satchel Paige and Josh GibsonMark Rucker/ Getty ImagesSatchel Paige (left) and Josh Gibson were once batterymates with the Pittsburgh Crawfords.
Unlike Mahlon Duckett, the last surviving member of the Philadelphia Stars, I'm not a Negro Leagues expert. This list is compiled from various sources, so view it as sort of a consensus ranking of the best players in Negro Leagues history.

(A note on statistics: For the most part, I've avoided mentioning numbers here. Negro Leagues statistics are notoriously incomplete. You can find some numbers at Baseball-Reference.com, although those may differ from other published accounts.)

1. Satchel Paige, RHP
Years played: 1927-47
Comparable major leaguer: I don't think there's ever been anyone quite like Satchel Paige. He was tall (6-foot-3) and skinny and threw hard, although his command was probably his greatest asset. He was also the ultimate self-promoter and legend builder. There's a little Roy Halladay in Paige's easy motion and release point, plus the exquisite control.
Quote: "I got bloopers, loopers and droppers. I got a jump ball, a be ball, a screw ball, a wobbly ball, a whipsy-dipsy-do, a hurry-up ball, a nothin' ball and a bat dodger. My be ball is a be ball 'cause it 'be' right were I want it, high and inside. It wiggles like a worm. Some I throw with my knuckles, some with two fingers. My whips-dipsy-do is a special fork ball I throw underhand and sidearm that slithers and sinks. I keep my thumb off the ball and use three fingers. The middle finger sticks up high, like a bent fork." -- Paige on his arsenal of pitches

With Paige, you have to separate the mythology from the truth, which is difficult to do. Not everyone agrees that Paige was the greatest pitcher in Negro Leagues history. A 1952 poll of longtime Negro League players picked Smokey Joe Williams as the best pitcher. He threw as hard as, if not harder than Paige. Bullet Joe Rogan probably had a better curveball. As Bill James pointed out, however, in "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract," Paige is always the frame of reference, similar to how every major leaguer's fastball was once compared with Walter Johnson's.

Paige, of course, is the only Negro League legend who got to play in the major leagues, but his seasons with the Cleveland Indians shed some light on how good Paige would have been in his prime. He joined the Indians in July of 1948, when he was 42 years old, and pitched primarily in relief during his two seasons with Cleveland. Among major league pitchers with at least 150 innings, he ranked fourth in ERA those two years and fifth in strikeouts per nine innings. After not pitching in the majors in 1950, he pitched three more seasons with the hapless St. Louis Browns, making the All-Star team in 1952 and 1953 -- his age-45 and 46 seasons. He had a 3.28 ERA those two years and a strikeout rate that ranked 20th among all pitchers. Not bad for a guy who turned 47 during the 1953 season. He even made a one-game cameo with the Kansas City A's in 1965, when he was 59. It was a publicity stunt concocted by Charlie Finley ... but Paige threw three scoreless innings.

If he'd been allowed to pitch in the major leagues when he was at his best, we may have the Satchel Paige Award instead of the Cy Young Award.

2. Oscar Charleston, CF/1B
Years played: 1915-41
Comparable major leaguers: Tris Speaker, Willie Mays.
Quote: "Charlie was a tremendous left-handed hitter who could also bunt, steal a hundred bases a year and cover center field as well as anyone before him or since. ... He was like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker rolled into one." -- Former Negro Leagues player, major league coach and scout Buck O'Neil

While active, Charleston was compared to Speaker for the way he played a shallow center field and ran everything down. But he was also compared to Ruth for his power. Undoubtedly, like Mays he was a five-tool player. In James' historical abstract, he presents many quotes praising Charleston's abilities and suggestions that he was the equal of Cobb or Speaker or Ruth -- or better. James rated him the fourth-greatest player of all time, behind Ruth, Honus Wagner and Mays.

3. Josh Gibson, C
Years played: 1930-46
Comparable major leaguer: Johnny Bench, but a better hitter.
Quote: "I played with Willie Mays and against Hank Aaron. They were tremendous players, but they were no Josh Gibson." -- Hall of Famer Monte Irvin

Gibson was Paige's batterymate for a time on the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Gibson's power was legendary and inspired many tall tales, some of them probably true. Researchers haven't been able to verify whether he hit a home run completely out of Yankee Stadium in 1930, but they did unearth contemporary accounts of a 480-foot home run -- that Gibson hit when he was just 18. Negro Leagues historian John Holway lists Gibson third all-time among players with at least 2,000 at-bats, with a .351 average and second in home runs (with 223) to Mule Suttles (237) -- although first in home runs/at-bats by a wide margin. Bill Veeck called Gibson the best hitter he ever saw. He was a good defensive catcher with a strong arm.

Unfortunately, Gibson also had many off-the-field issues. His wife died giving birth to twins in 1930, and Gibson suffered from health issues -- including a brain tumor that put him in a coma -- and a drinking problem. Don Newcombe told the story of Gibson hitting a double and pulling up to second base, saying he was looking for potatoes he had planted there the night before. Gibson died of a stroke (or brain hemorrhage) in 1947, at just 35 years old.

4. John Henry "Pop" Lloyd, SS
Years played: 1907-32
Comparable major leaguer: Honus Wagner.
Quote: "Baseball historians concur that Lloyd was one of the greatest black players ever, but Babe Ruth, in response to a question by announcer Graham McNamee, eliminated the color distinction when he stated that Lloyd was his choice as the greatest baseball player of all time." -- Historian James A. Riley, author of "The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues"

Lloyd was often referred to as the Black Honus Wagner, a slick-fielding shortstop with speed and hitting ability from the left side. Connie Mack said you couldn't go wrong with either player. Lloyd's early years came before the Negro Leagues became organized in 1920 with the creation of the Negro National League. He remained one of the league's biggest stars into his 40s. He earned the nickname Pop later in his career, when he became a father figure and mentor to the younger players.

5. Buck Leonard, 1B
Years played: 1934-48
Comparable major leaguers: Jeff Bagwell, Lou Gehrig.
Quote: "I only wish I could have played in the big leagues when I was young enough to show what I could do. When an offer was given to me to join up, I was too old, and I knew it."
-- Leonard

Leonard wasn't a big man -- 5-foot-11, 185 pounds -- so while Negro League fans liked to compare him to Lou Gehrig, physically he was probably more similar to a modern guy like Jeff Bagwell and, like Bagwell, was regarded as an excellent fielder. James compared his swing to a left-handed version of Henry Aaron -- a quick, easy stroke that generated a lot of power. Paige was the first Negro Leaguer inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1971, but Leonard was elected the following year, along with Gibson. Leonard was still alive -- he died in 1997, at age 90.

Leonard didn't actually join the Negro Leagues until he was 26; he worked as a mill hand, shoeshine boy and then for the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad in North Carolina. He may not have been quite Gehrig's equal at the plate, but like Gehrig, he was a respected and dignified player. In his SABR bio, Ralph Berger writes, "In the Negro National League, first basemen were often the clowns of the teams. They would make all kinds of contortions and grimaces, anything that would entertain the fans. Not Buck Leonard. He was strictly a baseball player. There was no need for him to act the clown."

6. Turkey Stearnes, OF
Years played: 1920-40
Comparable major leaguer: Carl Yastrzemski.
Quote: "Yes, he talked to his bats. Stearnes tended to think of his bats as living things, extensions of his own arms, and he would carry the best of them around in violin cases. He carried around different-size bats for different situations. After games, back at the hotel, teammates would overhear him thanking his bats for delivering big hits or admonishing them for popping up. 'If I had used you,' one teammate recalls him saying to a bigger bat, 'I would have hit a home run.' He was known to threaten a bat that slumped with an ax, and thought to sleep with a bat that had been particularly good that day. It goes without saying that he never let anyone use one of his bats." -- Writer Joe Posnanski

Bill James ranked Stearnes 25th all-time on his list, squeezed between Frank Robinson and Rickey Henderson. Recent research indicates that Stearnes hit the most home runs in Negro Leagues history, not Mule Suttles or Josh Gibson. There are also accounts that he played a great center field and that only Cool Papa Bell may have been faster. James compared his power to Mel Ott and Willie Stargell. So you have a guy with Stargell's power who played center field? Wow. Stearnes himself once said that Yastrzmeski was the guy who reminded him of himself.

As Posnanski wrote in this essay, when the Hall of Fame started inducting Negro Leaguers in 1971, Stearnes believed he'd get the call. Instead, from 1971 to 1977, the Hall of Fame elected nine players -- Paige, Leonard, Gibson, Irvin, Bell, Judy Johnson, Charleston, Lloyd and Martin Dihigo -- and Stearnes was passed up. Then from 1978 to 1995, the Hall of Fame elected only two Negro Leaguers (Rube Foster, an early pitcher and founder of the Negro National League, and Ray Dandridge). Stearnes died in 1979 and was finally elected to the Hall in 2000.

7. Mule Suttles, 1B/OF
Years played: 1923-44
Comparable major leaguer: Jim Thome, except that Suttles hit right-handed.
Quote: "In Havana's Tropical Park, the center-field fence is 60 feet high and more than 500 feet from the plate. Teammate Willie Wells recalled a gargantuan drive that carried over the heads of the soldiers on horseback riding crowd control duty behind the fence, a total of about 600 feet. Afterward, a marker was placed at the spot, commemorating the prodigious homer."
-- James A. Riley

Big and powerful, he hit for average as well as power and apparently wasn't afraid of striking out. He's credited with a .374 average in exhibitions against white major leaguers. Like Stearnes, he was unfairly passed over for the Hall of Fame in the initial years of elections and wasn't voted in until 2006.

8. Ray Dandridge, 3B
Years played: 1933-44
Comparable major leaguer: There really isn't a similar player. Dandridge could hit, he had speed and he was a tremendous third baseman who could have played shortstop except that he was a teammate of Hall of Famer Willie Wells. He was sort of a hybrid of Ozzie Smith and George Brett, although he didn't have Brett's power.
Quote: "Ozzie's the onliest guy I've seen who's got my style." -- Dandridge

Late in his career Dandridge signed with the New York Giants. The Giants sent him to Triple-A Minneapolis in 1949, when he was 35 years old. He hit .362/.397/.487. The next year he hit .311/.355/405 with 11 home runs and was named league MVP. In 1951, he hit .324. The next year, he hit .291. The Giants, who played three converted outfielders at third base during this time (Sid Gordon, Hank Thompson, Bobby Thomson), never called him up.

9. Cool Papa Bell, CF
Years played: 1922-46
Comparable major leaguers: Ichiro Suzuki, Kenny Lofton.
Quote: "Once he hit a line drive right past my ear. I turned around and saw the ball hit his ass sliding into second." -- Paige

A switch-hitter with tremendous speed -- you've also heard the one about him getting up to turn off the light and being back in bed before the light went out -- Bell certainly would have been a 3,000-hit guy in the majors. The easy comparison would be Rickey Henderson because of the stolen bases, but Bell lacked Henderson's power (he's listed at 6 feet but just 155 pounds), so I envision a player more like Ichiro or Lofton.

Posnanski once wrote, "My favorite quote about Cool Papa Bell comes from my old friend Buck O’Neil, who was often asked, 'Just how fast WAS Cool Papa Bell?'

And he would always answer the same way: 'Faster than that.'"

10. Willie Wells, SS
Years played: 1924-48
Comparable major leaguers: Barry Larkin? Troy Tulowitzki?
Quote: "You should have seen Willie Wells play shortstop: as good as Ozzie Smith and a better hitter." -- Irvin

Nickname: The Devil. Actually, he received that moniker in Mexico, where he played in the winter, apparently from opposing players who quickly learned to try to avoid hitting the ball in his direction -- thus, El Diablo. His hitting records suggest a guy who hit for average and power. Apparently his only weakness was his throwing arm. At one point, he was part of the "million dollar infield" for the Newark Eagles along with Dandridge, Suttles and second baseman Dick Seay.

Honorable mention/worth considering
These guys are all Hall of Famers as well ...

Smokey Joe Williams, RHP: As mentioned, some considered him better than Paige.

Christobel Torriente, CF: A Cuban superstar who played from 1912 to 1932, he was a five-tool talent who drew a ton of walks and pushed Oscar Charleston to left field when the two were teammates.

Martin Dihigo, OF/2B/P: Another Cuban star, known as "El Inmorta" (the Immortal) back home in Cuba, he played all over the field, was a switch-hitter, had blazing speed and pitched in his spare time.

Judy Johnson, 3B: If Dandridge isn't the best third baseman in Negro Leagues history, then Johnson would be. A member of the 1932 Pittsburgh Crawfords -- maybe the greatest team ever -- with Paige, Gibson, Charleston and Bell.

Biz Mackey, C: A switch-hitting catcher who hit for high averages and is regarded as maybe the best defensive catcher in Negro Leagues history.

Monte Irvin, OF: Played in the majors the second half of his career, finishing third in the MVP voting for the Giants in 1952.

Leon Day, RHP: Larry Doby once said: "Day could throw as hard as anyone. I didn't see anyone in the major leagues who was better than Leon Day. If you want to compare him with Bob Gibson, Day had just as good stuff. Tremendous curveball and a fastball at least 90 to 95 miles an hour. You talk about Satchel. ... I didn't see anyone better than Day."
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History

ESPN The Magazine's annual "Analytics" issue includes an ambitious ranking of all 122 teams in the four major pro sports based on the strength of each franchise's analytics staff, its buy-in from execs and coaches, its investment in biometric data and how much its overall approach is predicated on analytics.

Five MLB teams ranked in the top 10 -- the Astros (second), Rays (fourth), Red Sox (fifth), Yankees (sixth) and Athletics (ninth). The Marlins rank 116th and the Phillies dead last at No. 122. (The top 10 included no NFL teams and just one NHL team, as MLB and NBA franchises have put much more emphasis into crunching data.)

Mind you, this isn't a ranking of success, but a ranking of the emphasis each franchise places on analytics. In baseball, it's difficult to separate the analytics side of operations from the scouting side, or from the ability for a club like the Red Sox or Yankees to spend money. Did the Red Sox sign Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval because of some secret-sauce formula -- or simply because they're good players and they had the money to buy them? How much of the success for a small-market team like Pittsburgh is tied to its recent emphasis on analytics and how much to the Pirates' years of losing, which resulted in high draft picks?

Anyway, I thought it would be fun to present a chart of each franchise's total wins and losses from the past three seasons, broken up into the different categories that the magazine used for the the MLB clubs. Have the more analytical clubs fared better?



Don't read too much into this. For example, the Dodgers are listed as "Believers." Well, I'd say under the old-school Ned Colletti regime a better classification would have been "Skeptics." The new front office -- Andrew Friedman came from Tampa Bay and Farhan Zaidi from Oakland -- will undoubtedly be "All-In," given the histories of Friedman and Zaidi.

The Red Sox, with their combination of brains and money, have had two awful seasons sandwiched around a World Series title and have made the postseason just once in five seasons. Was the World Series run just luck? How much do you attribute it to analytics? And if they were so smart in 2013, what about 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014?

Overall, at least based on this subjective dispersal of teams, there is a slight correlation between more analytics and more success. Yes, the Cubs and Astros -- who basically purged talent and rebuilt from scratch -- drag down the overall winning percentage of the "Believers" group. Maybe those franchises will turn things around; of course, so many losing seasons brings higher draft picks and the subsequent purging of talent and payroll then clears room to sign free agents like Jon Lester. I'm not sure how much credit should be given for purposely constructing losing teams. (Which is different from saying I disagree with the strategy; if your ownership is willing to stomach some bad baseball, it's a strategy that can work.)

All this isn't to say analytics are a nonfactor. Of course they're important. For one thing, you have to keep up with the rest of the sport, even if the advantages to be gained are small. A lot of small advantages can add up. Look at the Astros' signing of Collin McHugh, a nondescript pitcher waived by the pitching-poor Rockies. The Astros studied the PITCHF/x data on McHugh and saw a curveball with a good spin rate and took a chance on him. As Business Week reported:
The Astros’ analysts noticed that McHugh had a world-class curveball. Most curves spin at about 1,500 times per minute; McHugh’s spins 2,000 times. The more spin, the more the ball moves during the pitch -- and the more likely batters are to miss it. Houston snapped him up. "We identified him as someone whose surface statistics might not indicate his true value," says David Stearns, the team’s 29-year-old assistant general manager.


Maybe some team would have lucked into McHugh. But the Astros had a reason they wanted him. That's not luck. A team like the Pirates -- with 20 straight losing seasons from 1993 to 2012 -- finally broke .500 and reached the playoffs the past two seasons with a lot of help from analytics. As much as any team, they filter data and defensive alignments and pitching patterns down to the field staff (and thus to the players). Despite a mediocre starting rotation the past two years, they've made two postseason trips.

On the other spectrum, a team like the Twins got passed up after a nice run of playoff seasons in the 2000s. They always focused on strike-throwing, finesse pitchers (plus Johan Santana). But as the rest of baseball began developing more and more power pitching, the Twins were left in the dust and have put out some of the worst rotations in modern history in recent seasons. This offseason, despite defensive metrics that rated their 2014 outfield as one of the worst in the game, they signed 40-year-old Torii Hunter, once a Gold Glover but now an old guy with poor range. You can't make decisions like that in 2015 and expect to contend.

Then there's the Phillies, famously anti-sabermetric and a popular whipping boy for statheads. I will say this, however: As much as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. gets criticized, the primary reason for the collapse of the Phillies in recent years isn't just one bad contract to Ryan Howard, but a systematic failure over many years to develop talent in the farm system. That's scouting more than analytics ... and maybe just the cycle of the game. You build a winner. You never draft high because you're winning. That team gets old, and you don't have young talent ready to step in. Few franchises escape that cycle.

But the ones that do? Odds are they're looking at a lot of data and constantly looking to the future for the next big thing.
video

Before I did a news hit about B.J. Upton announcing he wants to go by his given name of Melvin Upton Jr., I looked into some numbers to see what has caused his troubles since he joined the Braves two seasons ago.

To no surprise, he's striking out more -- not a good thing considering that he already had a high strikeout rate with the Rays. But even when Upton does make contact, he's hitting fewer fly balls, thus the decline in isolated power as well as batting average. Here:

Rays, 2011-2012
Strikeout rate: 25.9 percent
Swing-and-miss rate: 28.9 percent
Fly-ball rate: 41.1 percent
Home run/fly-ball rate: 15.0 percent
Walk rate: 9.1 percent
Line-drive rate: 17.8 percent
BABIP: .296

Braves, 2013-2014
Strikeout rate: 31.5 percent
Swing-and-miss rate: 33.9 percent
Fly-ball rate: 34.6 percent
Home run/fly-ball rate: 9.9 percent
Walk rate: 9.8 percent
Line-drive rate: 20.1 percent
BABIP: .277

More strikeouts, more overall swings and misses, fewer home runs on the fly balls he does hit, a lower batting average on balls in play ... there are many reasons why Upton has hit .198 in his two seasons with the Braves. One number does offer a small ray of optimism, however: His line-drive rate on contact has actually been higher with the Braves -- although his batting hasn't been quite as good. He hit .676 on line drives with the Rays in 2011-12 and has hit .606 with the Braves. So he's probably been a little unlucky on line drives; still, a few extra hits wouldn't have changed his overall batting line all that much.

If there's one area that explains Upton's decline, aside from the increased strikeouts, it's his production on fly balls:

With Braves: .170 AVG/.166 OBP/.500 SLG
With Rays: .249/.241/.774

Here's the weird thing. His average fly-ball distance with Tampa was 399 feet; with the Braves, it's 398 feet. With the Rays, he hit 46 home runs out of 315 fly balls; with the Braves, just 17 out of 205. And no, it's not a ballpark issue. According to "The Bill James Handbook," Tampa Bay rated as a tougher home run park for right-handed batters from 2012-14 than Atlanta did. (In 2011 and '12, Upton hit 26 of his 51 home runs at home, so he wasn't necessarily benefiting from the other AL East parks, either.)

Upton pulls most of his home runs. He just hasn't been able to pull the ball often enough with the Braves. Here are his fly-ball charts from his final two years with the Rays and his two with the Braves:

Melvin UptonESPN


His inability to pull the ball is a reflection of his overall struggles against inside pitches:

Rays, 2011-12 versus inside: .276/.375/.526
Braves, 2013-14 versus inside: .207/.303/.396

Considering Upton has always struggled against outer-edge stuff, if he's not hitting the inside stuff, he's not hitting.

So, that's the problem. Is there a solution? Is it a mechanical issue? A mental issue? Just a slower bat? He's only 30, so it's not necessarily a bat-speed issue. In the past, Upton has talked about using his legs more. Last spring, it was about developing a shorter swing. Some have suggested he open his stance up.

New Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer -- Atlanta's fourth in six seasons -- is known from his Kansas City and Toronto days for stressing contact and using the whole field. He's already spent some time working with Upton in the offseason and indicated that they're working on a mechanical tweak and shorter swing. Sounds like last spring.

My best guess? Upton has had two awful seasons, and expecting a return to his previous level is optimistic thinking at this point. He likely had a comfort zone in Tampa with Joe Maddon, one that can't be replicated. With every strikeout, the pressure mounts. Maybe a little tweak will fix things, but if it was that simple, it's two years later and we're still seeking that tweak. Maybe a good start will get him going. The Braves have to hope so -- he still has three years remaining on his contract.

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