MLB Star Power Index: Chris Sale can't solve the Yankees; Vlad Guerrero Jr. shakes off Home Run Derby myth
A look at Sale's potential chance at redemption against the Bronx Bombers, and plenty more
Welcome to the MLB Star Power Index -- a weekly temperature reading that tells us which players are owning the baseball conversation right now. While one's presence on this list is often a positive, it's not necessarily a good thing. It simply means that you're capturing the baseball world's attention for one reason or another. The players listed are in no particular order. Thanks to Brad Botkin and our compadres over at CBS NBA for letting us borrow the concept.
Chris Sale is of course in the first year of the $145 million extension he signed with the Red Sox this past offseason. Thus far, he's not yielding the expected results, and that's the case even after his dominant outing against the Angels on Thursday -- one that saw him reach 200 strikeouts for the seventh straight season. What perhaps makes this more acutely painful for all Boston parties is how those numbers break down:
- Sale vs. non-Yankee teams in 2019: 20 starts, 120 2/3 IP, 53 runs, 3.51 ERA
- Sale vs. the Yankees in 2019: Four starts, 20 IP, 22 runs, 9.90 ERA
In broad terms, Sale has been good -- albeit not vintage -- against non-Yankee opponents. The Yankees, however, have batted .322/.366/.609 against Sale this season with six homers (three of them courtesy of DJ LeMahieu) and seven doubles in 87 at-bats. That is to say, they've power-bombed him into an open-pit barbecue and onto the smoldering coals thereof. Framed another way, in his best start against the Yankees this season Sale gave up four earned in six innings, which scales to an ERA of 6.00.
Sale's velocity has famously bounced around this season, but said bounces don't really track to how he's fared against the Yanks. In his April 16 start against the Yankees, his four-seamer checked in at better than 96 mph. In his late May start against them, that same pitch was at 94.7, and in his most recent outing against the Yankees it was 93.7 mph. The Yanks have punished him no matter what he brought to the yard.
In a sense, there's no grave shame in that. The Yankees, despite an injury ledger that calls to mind a Prussian field hospital, still lead MLB in runs scored (689) and rank second in home runs (206). Folks, they can rake. If Sale remains on schedule the rest of the season, then he'll have one more shot at redemption or continued abuse during their final series against the Yankees that starts Sept. 7 in Fenway. Maybe, though, no one but the Yankees and their partisans wants to see that come to pass.
The thing of it is that Sale coming into 2019 had pretty well smothered the Yankees. In 14 pre-2019 starts and three relief appearances against that colossus from the Bronx, Sale registered an ERA of 1.61, which is stellar even by the standards of a moundsman like Sale. Things, though, change. In Sale's case they change in the sense that a hermit crab changes after he's run over by a lawn mower.
Red Sox fans, as the story goes, take failures against the Yankees as searing personal affronts. Should their playoff aspirations come to grief -- right now, the SportsLine Projection Model gives Boston just a 3.3 percent chance of making the postseason -- then Sale's linen-soiling against the hated Yanks will stick with them like spinach marooned between incisors.
Paul Goldschmidt -- or "Goldbird" if you're nasty -- inked a nine-figure contract extension with the Cardinals before he'd ever played a regular season game for them. With good cause, they viewed him a safe bet to continue producing at a high level, at least in the near- to mid-term. Overall, Goldschmidt hasn't been himself this season, as his current of 108 will reluctantly testify in exchange for prosecutorial immunity.
Lately, though, Goldbird has been thumping more in line with expectations. Since the the start of the second half, he's got an OPS of .880, and he's coming off a July in which he slashed .308/.360/.725. That latter set of digits reflects the recent streak in which he clouted seven home runs in a span of eight games.
If you listen and are vaguely pure of heart, you'll hear people saying that all of this makes sense given that Goldschmidt is a second-half hitter, or at least a slow-starter. That's not really the case, though. Yes, he's a second-half hitter thus far in 2019, and in 2018 he was a slow starter. Over the bulk of his career, though, Goldschmidt has an OPS of .939 before the break and a mark of .885 after. In terms of starting slow, yes, his April OPS is a bit below his career OPS, but it's higher than his September figure. Across that larger sample, there's just not much proof of the idea that Goldschmidt needs time and reps to find his stride.
As the Cardinals try to hang in contention, however, they're surely hoping that the narrative holds for this season.
You'll recall that Blue Jays phenom Vladimir Guerrero Jr. recently captivated us with his performance in the Home Run Derby. He didn't win, but not unlike Josh Hamilton, his performance will the one we remember, even in defeat.
Guerrero is of course one of the most gifted and accomplished hitting prospects in some time -- maybe since Bryce Harper. However, his production going into the All-Star break was well shy of expectations. Sure, even great prospects endure a learning curve, but perhaps unfairly we all expected less of an adjustment period for Vladito. On that front, I'll point you to a recent social-media dispatch from our own Matt Snyder:
Monsieur Sneedare refers to the perennial myth that participation in the Home Run Derby exacts a price on a hitter in the second half. There is zero sound evidence to support this article of faith, and in Guerrero's case he's gotten better since taking all those hacks at Progressive Field. Let's update those numbers: right now he's batting .337/.390/.565 with five home runs in 23 games. Before the break, he slashed .249/.328/.413 with eight home runs in 61 games. For all we know, taking all those max-effort swings in the Derb with the express goal of hitting the ball hard and also far unlocked something. More likely, Guerrero is just finding his level, which he'll settle in at and build upon for the next decade-plus or so.
With the likes of Vladito, Bo Bichette, Lourdes Gurriel and Cavan Biggio doing damage on the active roster, there's actually good cause to watch Jays games right now -- current standings, notwithstanding.
Coming out of the 2013 season, Nelson Cruz was still a solid player, but at age 33 there was reason to be skeptical of his value moving forward. He was losing speed and range in the outfield, and that year he served a 50-game suspension stemming from the Biogenesis investigation. The market treated him in keeping with all of that, as he wound up being reduced to a one-year, $8 million pact with the Orioles.
Well, you likely know the story from there. Since that the start of the 2014 season, when Cruz's long-term future as a major-leaguer seemed very much in doubt, here's what he's done:
.283/.359/.553 (148), 235 home runs in 851 games, 45 home runs per 162 games played.
That, darnit, is elite-level production, and it's all gone down after folks like this scribe declared Cruz to be cooked. And, yes, he's still rolling in this, his age-38 campaign with the Twins. Cruz has a current slash line of .300/.389/.662 (171 OPS+) with 32 homers in 85 games. Buried within those numbers is a pair of three-homer games -- two in the span of 10 days:
There's defying the aging curve, and then there's disemboweling it with a cargo hook. Cruz continues to do the latter, and at this point injury issues are the only thing that will stand in his way.
The 2019 Twins -- surprisingly one of the best squadrons in the game -- have been powered by power, and Nelson Cruz, the village elder of clout, has so much to do with that.
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