MLB Star Power Index: Will we ever see vintage Chris Sale? Why Tim Anderson's home run sparked a heated debate
Cracking the Star Power Index is not necessarily a good thing, which explains Sale's presence this week
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.
All right, you surely knew this was coming. Tim Anderson is mostly notable because he's a plus-fielding shortstop who thus far in 2019 is slashing .422/.439/.656, which suffice it to say is outstanding production. Anderson's still just 25, and his potential development at the plate is certainly something to watch this year, as it has much bearing on the White Sox's long-term outlook.
Anderson, however, is also a part of this episode of the Star Power Index because of this:
That's Anderson's homering off of Brad Keller of the Royals and then (it's not a really a bat-flip) in righteous celebration. Because this is baseball, and the story can go no other way this happened later in that Wednesday encounter:
After the game, Keller and manager Ned Yost denied the obvious -- i.e., that Anderson was plunked in retaliation for enjoying himself -- but Hunter Dozier let the mask slip a bit in his comments:
Just as inevitable as everything else that happened, this morphed into a social media beef of sorts between Anderson and for some reason Randal Grichuk of the uninvolved Blue Jays. Here comes the subtweet:
And the response:
And the response to the response:
If Grichuk was indeed referring to Anderson's homer, then calling it "meaningless" wasn't really accurate, as it broke a scoreless tie in the fourth. More to the point, though, MLB is promoting a "Let the Kids Play" message across every platform this season, and. This entire debate is so tiresome that going glib is really the only response. Speaking of which, my colleague Matt Snyder summed it up well:
Indeed. Throwing something at someone because they beat you and enjoyed beating you is a hallmark of the under-napped five-year-old. It's a player's issue, though, and that's why I'm fine letting players sort this out. From the outside, though, it all looks pretty stupid. If you're wondering why basketball is more a part of the zeitgeist these days, at least within the age groups that matter to the far-flung future, then this kind of chronic offense-seeking on the part of pitchers and their enablers is surely a small part of it.
My unsolicited advice to aggrieved hurlers? Do better next time and when you do, do as Jeremy Jeffress does:
See above where it says inclusion in the Star Power Index is not necessarily a good thing? That explains Mr. Sale's presence this week. The numbers you see above are through Chris Sale's first four starts of this, his age-30 campaign. Framed another way, he's allowed 17 runs through his first 18 innings. His previous career-worst ERA through the first four starts of a season was 5.32 back in 2015. That mark is bad, but it's nothing close to the present ordure. As well, that 5.32 ERA was a function of one awful start. This season, Sale's been varying degrees of terrible in three of his four starts.
These struggles, of course, occur against the backdrop of the $145 million contract extension Sale recently signed with Boston. The reactionary among us might advance the (almost always mythical) portrayal that this is an athlete who got big guaranteed money and stopped caring. Well, consider these remarks from Sale after getting knocked around by the hobbled Yankees on Tuesday (via MLB.com's Ian Browne):
"This is flat-out embarrassing, For my family, for our team, for our fans. This is about as bad as it gets. Like I said, I have to pitch better."
"It sucks. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I just flat-out stink right now. I don't know what it is."
That doesn't sound like a guy who's content to gaze lovingly at his pay stubs. These are, of course, professional athletes -- a demographic that's selected in part for levels of competitiveness that would strike most people as clinical. Whatever ails Sale, it's not indifference.
It's also not velocity that ails him. Check out Sale's start-by-start velocity readings from this season:
His gun readings were down in his best start of the season (April 2 at Oakland), and they were up near peak levels when a skeleton crew Yankees lineup hung four runs on him in five innings. Those latter results aside, that recaptured velocity is indeed a good thing for Sale. Given that and given his of course excellent track record, a return to form in his next start would be hardly surprising. Until that happens and until Sale goes on a sustained run of pitching like Sale as we've known him, he'll continue to be a part of the conversation for the wrong reasons.
Ronald Acuna in his rookie season of 2018 put up big numbers and showed why he's been regarded as a future superstar from almost the moment he became a pro. He's been even better in 2019. The 21-year-old started off a bit slow, but now he's slashing .317/.442/.651 with six homers and 13 walks against 17 strikeouts. In recent days, he put up five straight multi-hit games and cracked the longest home run of his young career:
(Also note that our hero Adrian Beltre, forever the patron saint of Star Power Index:.) For his troubles, Acuna was named NL Player of the Week. Best of all, Acuna also paid accidental homage to
With you, Ronald Acuna, we are well pleased. Consider this 21-year-old to be a legit NL MVP threat in 2019.
Last season was Marcell Ozuna's first in St. Louis, and he largely disappointed. Relative to his bust-out 2017 with the Marlins, Ozuna saw his OPS fall by 166 points and his homer total decline by 14. That had a lot to do with his bum shoulder, which by the end of the year had him throwing the ball not unlike decline-phase Johnny Damon.
Over the offseason, though, Ozuna had that shoulder cleaned up, and while team and player never really got together on how he'd rehab from that surgery he's looked better at the plate thus far in 2019. He's picked his launch angle up a bit, he's finding the barrel more often, and as a result he's off to a .290/.343/.726 start. What lands him in this installment is that he's currently riding a streak that's seen him clout five homers in his last four games:
That second one -- that flick-of-the-wrist opposite-field job in Monterrey -- seems like something the 2018 version of Ozuna couldn't have perpetrated. Getting some close-to-peak Ozuna would obviously help the Cardinals contend in the tough NL Central, and it would also be good for Ozuna as heads toward free agency.
You see, Marcell Ozuna in 2019 is about more than just.
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