MLB Star Power Index: Yankees' Gary Sanchez, Cubs' Anthony Rizzo are looking like MVP candidates
Rizzo destroys the Budweiser sign, Sanchez is hitting it hard, plus a look at the Frazier-Eaton beef
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 NBA compadres here at CBS for letting us borrow the concept.
You'll note above Todd Frazier's 2019 statistical bestowals are not entirely impressive. Sometimes, though, you make this ledger or renown for non-performance reasons. Such is the case with Mr. Frazier this week.
Hostilities from afar! Imagine you are the decorated general viewing the skirmish through opera glasses from horseback on a distant hillside. Don't worry, you're safe. Now point authoritatively at a map. Good work.
Anyhow, here's how Eaton spun it after the two almost punched each other in the lips and chest:
He's not mad; he's actually laughing. For effect imagine those not as bluetooth devices on Eaton's person but rather a loosie tucked behind each ear. And more from Eaton, via Jesse Dougherty of the Washington Post:
"I'm a 30-year-old man with two kids, got a mortgage and everything. He wants to loud talk as he's running off the field. At the end of the day, I got to be a man about it. I tried to stay patient with the childishness, but it is what it is."
Mortgage! Now it's Frazier's turn:
All of this traces back to Frazier's and Eaton's days as teammates on the 2016 White Sox. The two had some manner of ill defined falling out, and three years later the wounds are still open, oozing pus, and taking on airborne pathogens. If you need further summation plus hints of a detente, then MASN is here to help:
All right. At this point you may be wondering why Star Power Index is choosing to exalt Frazier rather than Eaton. This is the case for four simple reasons:
- Frazier told him to pay off his mortgage, which is a solid clapback should be admitted with full privileges to the compendium of sports trash talk.
- Eaton lied about having a mortgage.
- Ozzie Guillen, who presumably knows whereof he speaks, says no one on the White Sox liked Eaton.
For those reasons Todd Frazier is lost in the loving arms of Star Power Index while Eaton is pondering the mortgage interest deduction that never was.
Anthony Rizzo joins us for this installment in part because he's having an excellent season. Shin-deep into his age-29 season, Rizzo is batting .274/.391/.571 with 13 home runs. That's good for an of 155, which would be tied for the highest such mark of his career. That's also a notable improvement over last year's numbers, which allays some fears of premature decline on the part of Rizzo (he'd season his OPS+ drop every year since 2014 before this one).
In large measure, though, he's here because of this recent display of hitting might -- one that put runs on the board and struck a mighty blow against the advertising excesses of a certain domestic lager. Bear mute witness:
As you see above, the "d" in the Budweiser sign got demolished by Rizzo. Did Rizzo's mighty blast in causing the sign to flicker release toxic neon gas into the Chicago night thus poisoning all upper Midwesterners who are not pure of heart? Yes, as prophesied by cave etchings and ancient sacred texts.
Adding to the violent majesty of it all, it was a 3-0 count versus a same-side hurler. Count and handedness aside, if you nick the heart of the plate at 88 mph against the likes of Tony Dongs, then you get what you deserve. Speaking of which, here's a grainy screenshot of Cole Irvin's realizing the harrowing implications of both pitch and location:
This, Our Baseball is sometimes a merciless cauldron. It can Charlie Brown the best of us.
Gary Sanchez doesn't grade out well among his peers when it comes to defense behind the plate (his powerful throwing arm aside). This season, though, he's re-established himself as the most potent offensive catcher in all of baseball. Right now Sanchez owns a line of .276/.350/.675 (164 ) with 15 home runs in just 32 games. Framed another way, his OPS of 1.025 is 309 points higher than the MLB average at the position for 2019 (and that average is lifted up by Sanchez's mark).
Need more? His average exit velocity of 94.9 mph is in the top one percent of the league. His hard-hit rate of 51.7 percent is in the top six percent of the league. His barrel rate of 26.4 percent is in the top one percent of the league. His expected slugging percentage is .756 (!). On 87 occasions, Sanchez this season has hit the ball in fair territory, and on 36 of those occasions the ball has left the bat at more than 100 mph. On a rate basis, no one this season has hit the ball as hard as Sanchez. Since he also has an average launch angle in the twenties, he tends to hit the ball hard and in the air. That's how you do big, fat damage.
All of this is especially encouraging for Sanchez and the Yanks given his struggles of 2018. Last season, he batted just .186 and saw his OPS+ slip to 87 while striking out 94 times in 89 games. In this, his age-26 campaign, though, he's looking like an MVP candidate.
Gary Sanchez, you see, has risen from the ruins and established himself as the Archduke of Big, Fat Damage. Malign his excellence only at your own peril.
And here we have an unexpected renaissance. Pablo Sandoval not so long ago signed a $95 million contract with the Red Sox. From 2015-17, he played just 161 games for Boston and over that span had a total WAR of -2.1. Yes, that's a negative number. The Sox wound up releasing him with almost $50 million left on his deal, and that point it was assumed his career was over.
But wait: There's more! He wound up catching on with the Giants, presumably out of misplaced nostalgia (Sandoval was a core member of their 2010, 2012, and 2014 title-winning squadrons). The reasonable expectation is that Sandoval would make a few token appearances and then head into retirement being cheered by Giants rooters as opposed to being lustily booed by all of New England. In defiance of all he surveyed, however, Sandoval wound up being useful last season. This season? This season he's been downright excellent.
The 32-year-old Sandoval right now is batting .292/.315/.640 (154 OPS+) with seven home runs in 89 at-bats. He's a part-timer, but darned if he hasn't been darned good in that role. He's 10 for 26 with two home runs and five doubles as a pinch hitter. He's got a 1.126 OPS with runners in scoring position, and he's 6 for 10 with RISP and two outs. He's got a 1.143 OPS in high-leverage situations. Heck, Panda's even doing this:
The Pacific breeze, it rejuvenates.
No, Sandoval's current level of performance probably won't last, but neither will your very existence. So there.
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