MLB Star Power Index: Craig Kimbrel expectations for Cubs, Mad Max Scherzer and the value of Kolten Wong's defense
The Craig Kimbrel free agency nightmare is over, and from now we anoint Max Scherzer the Sheriff of Mound County
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 CBS Sports NBA compadres for letting us borrow the concept.
Max Scherzer, expert moundsman, is famously intense. How intense? Imagine a lieutenant colonel who's also a divorced badger. The D.C. right-hander is also excellent at his craft. He's a three-time Cy Young winner who boasts a careerof 131 to go with 162 wins and a WAR of 55.9. Given a normal decline or thereabouts, he's a future Hall of Famer. Speaking of decline, Scherzer isn't quite ready for all of that. This season, Scherzer has pitched to a 149 ERA+ with a majors-leading 117 strikeouts to go with a K/BB ratio of 6.50. Even at age 34 (he turns 35 in late July), Scherzer remains among the dominant starting pitchers in baseball.
But now let's circle back to the blood-zeal with which he plies his trade. Scherzer talks to himself on the mound. Sometimes he appears to say bad and naughty words to himself. For instance, when he lifts his arms just before coming plate-ward, he might mutter to himself, "Strike this guy out, you !@#$%&ing no-account !@#$%&ing !@#$%^&* who !@#$%& and !@#$%^&* even though you know better than to !@#$%& and !@#$%^&*. Idiot. !@#$%&*. Lol." Often, he obeys himself.
On other occasions, he directs previously unheard obscenities like "dromping," "faftooker," "buspo," and "slatchpoover" at his managers. This occurs when his manager attempts to remove him from a start. Consider this recent example:
These of course are the days of the "times through the order penalty" and "the opener" and the like. They're viable strategies, yes, but starting pitchers are not honor-bound to like them. High-level, tenured bell-answerers like Scherzer and Justin Verlander are not often subjected to down-cycled usage patterns, but every so often they like to remind their immediate supervisors that they are Sheriff of Mound County. That's what's happening here.
And here's the end result:
Validation. Not that Max is too worried about all of that. Finally, a photographic image of Mr. Scherzer at his most Lieutenant Colonel Divorced Badger:
Go ahead. Tell this sum buck the quittin' whistle's blowing. When not pitching, he glimpses demons. Thus, ergo, and therefore: He pitches.
Kolten Wong has cooled off since hit magma-hot start to 2019, and he's settled back into being what he's long been at the plate -- i.e., an adequate hitter by positional standards. Wong, however, remains a plus baserunner and an elite defensive second baseman. That latter quality -- his pickin'-it faculties -- were on prominent display in recent days.
First, have a look at this ranging, clutch snare during the Cardinals' recent home sweep of the Cubs:
The infield overshift put Wong in position to at least have a shot at making the play, but it remained an unlikely one. Make it he did, and baseball exuberance on the banks of the Mississippi ensued -- it helped secure an eventual 2-1 St. Louis win. If the Cardinals wind up making the postseason by a narrow margin this season, then that play should be remembered as being as vital as any game-winning homer along the way.
Soon thereafter he did at the expense of the visiting Reds:
That one's not as stand-as-one-and-stomp-your-feet-and-shout-unifying-slogans as the one against the Cubs, but that's another nifty out on the part of Wong. This, of course, is nothing new for the 28-year-old. Last season, he saved the most runs among MLB second baseman, and that's again the case in 2019. That's why Wong's going to be in the lineup even the bat isn't seeing to its assigned tasks and duties.
This, of course, is the era of the strikeout, the walk, and the home run. That necessarily makes it not the era of the ball in play. So let us celebrate instances of fielding mastery when we can. Let us celebrate Mr. Wong.
Shin-Soo Choo recently nudged his way into the news cycle by hitting his 200th career home run. Here that is:
With that blast, he also became the first Asian-born player to reach 200 MLB home runs. At this writing, Choo in his age-36 campaign is slashing .295/.381/.539 (135) in 56 games. That's obviously strong production, and it comes on the heels of his first All-Star season in 2018.
Anecdotally, it seems like Choo's career doesn't quite get the attention it merits. Across parts of 15 big-league seasons, he's batted .277/.378/.451, which comes to an OBP-heavy OPS+ of 124. Speaking of OBP, he's been at .350 or higher in all but one of his qualifying seasons in the majors. In other words, he's been one of the steadiest on-base threats of his era. Along the way, Choo's stolen 139 bases, generally done a good job of not hitting into double plays, and spent more than 1,400 defensive innings in center. Bring it all together and he's got a career WAR of 34.2 (and counting). Per WAR, he's the 70th best right fielder in MLB history.
No, that's not a Hall of Famer, but that's absolutely -- targeted capitalization forthcoming -- a Darn Good Player.
Craig Kimbrel! You'll note above that Kimbrel in the thumbnail above is adorned in possibly photo-edited Cubs garb, while his vitals claim Boston. Kimbrel, of course,after finding the market not to his liking for the first one-third of the season or so. He's yet to throw a pitch in 2019, but when a decorated closer inks with a big-market contender in June, the Star Power Index nominating committee takes vigorous notice.
, the dude can still get high-leverage outs on the reg. He's going to improve the Cubs' bullpen. More specifically, he's going to improve a Cubs bullpen that's blown almost half its save opportunities to date. Also, it's never a bad time to gawk at a couple of Kimbrel career digits:
- He's got a career ERA of 1.91, which comes to an ERA+ of 212. To put that in context, Mariano Rivera had a career ERA+ of 205. On a rate basis and correcting for league and ballpark conditions, Kimbrel's been better than Mo at keeping runs off the board.
- Kimbrel for his career has struck out 41.6 percent of opposing batters. Over that same span, the league-average mark is 20.3 percent. It's no exaggeration to say Kimbrel has been twice as dominant as the average bear/pitcher/pitching bear.
Even in decline, a guy who's authored those numbers is capable of locking it down. The expectation in Chicago is that he'll do just that once he gets in fighting shape.
Speaking of the expectation in Chicago:
You shall know him by the dangle.
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