Who in MLB Was Naughty and Who Was Nice in 2013?
Someone should explain the complexity of the human condition to Santa Claus. Rarely does anything fall neatly onto one side of good or evil, or as the alliteration-affixed fellow calls it, naughty or nice.
After all, Kris Kringle breaks and enters into countless houses with blatant disregard for trespassing laws. Yet we overlook his unabashed rule-bending since he provides a greater service for the public. By his firm labels of naughty or nice, wouldn't Saint Nick have to place himself in the former category for his crimes?
As many TV antiheroes of the Golden Age have taught us, it's usually far more complicated. There's good and bad lurking inside all of us, so a new system is in order. The next step for sabermetrics is to develop a BABIP, FIP and WAR equivalent to determine if Little Timmy gets a candy cane or coal.
But it's Christmas, so let's play along.
In order to fully immerse everyone in the holiday spirit, I'll now stand on a pedestal and decipher who has been good and bad this year. Crack open the eggnog, sneak away from the family's uncomfortable conversations and enjoy.
Naughty: Carlos Quentin
MLB athletes are paid to play baseball, but it's still a game in the grand scheme of things. One that children grow up adoring and hope to compete in professionally one day themselves.
It doesn't have the constant physical altercations and concussion-inducing hits of football and hockey, and that's a good thing. What's wrong with not sacrificing your physical and mental well-being while not slashing years off your life?
But baseball players are not immune to succumbing to primal urges to prove their toughness. Carlos Quentin and Zack Greinke's skirmish shows what happens when keeping it real goes wrong.
Early in the season, Greinke beaned Quentin in the left shoulder—seemingly unintentionally with the hit occurring on a full count—during the sixth inning.
Quentin veered closer to the mound, and fully charged toward Greinke after he said something that presumably wasn't "Are you OK?"
Greinke lowered his left shoulder, and Quentin rammed into him, breaking his collarbone. Two starts into his newly minted six-year, $147 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Greinke missed a month of action due to a completely avoidable incident.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly summed it up perfectly (via The New York Post) when he said, "That's just stupid is what it is." In defense of his pitcher, he added that "nothing happens if [Quentin] goes to first base."
Quentin's job is to get on base. If he would have acted like an adult and walked to first base, an ugly situation and needless injury would have been avoided.
Nice: Chris Davis
Those most deserving of gifts are those who selflessly give to others. Chris Davis did that by providing several souvenirs to paying customers sitting in the bleachers.
In a year of declining power—only 14 players hit 30 or more homers—Davis led the way with 53 long balls. With 44 round-trippers, Miguel Cabrera was the only other slugger to crush more than 40 balls out of the park.
Davis' rapid ascension to stardom makes the story even sweeter. Two short years ago, Davis was saddled with the dreaded Quadruple-A label. He hit .192 with one homer through 45 games in 2010, prompting the Texas Rangers to demote him to Triple-A before severing ties with the first baseman.
Given a fresh start with the Baltimore Orioles, he brandished that power he displayed during his rookie campaign in Texas. Davis hit 33 homers and registered a .501 slugging percentage, but he was hardly a star due to his mediocre .326 on-base percentage and 30.1 strikeout percentage.
Davis still struck out plenty (29.6 percent) in 2013, but he upped his walk rate to 10.7 percent. Besides, you can get away with a lot more by hitting 53 home runs.
Naughty: The Baseball Writers Association of America
In this season of giving, it's important to let those around us know how much we care for them. The holidays are mostly about exploiting our need to follow tradition and societal standards by turning a pleasant time into a commercialized cash grab, but that only works because all humans carry a burning desire to give to others.
Unfortunately, the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) had no interest in recognizing the greatness of any MLB legends, even though that's precisely the task assigned to them by the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The group of scrooges decided that nobody gets in because a few bad apples used PEDs to get ahead during the '90s. Even players with no link to steroid use were shunned because they were big and hit a lot of homers.
Jeff Bagwell hit .297/.408/.540 with 449 homers, a 149 OPS+ and WAR lingering around 80 by both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs' measures. With nothing other than unconfirmed speculation pointing to steroid use, Bagwell deserves a shrine in the Hall of Fame.
It's unclear whether they blocked Curt Schilling from Cooperstown because of suspected foul play or simple incompetence. Although Schilling registered a 127 ERA+, 8.60 K/9 ratio, 1.96 BB/9 rate along with exemplary postseason success, his 216 wins may not measure up to their ill-guided standards.
Mike Piazza, Edgar Martinez and Tim Raines also have legitimate gripes, and we can't just pretend Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens never existed. If Greg Maddux doesn't cruise well above the necessary 75 percent of votes in 2014, the system is broken beyond repair.
Nice: Yasiel Puig
He runs too hard. He's too happy and passionate on the baseball diamond. Those were actual gripes spewed against Yasiel Puig during his phenomenal rookie campaign.
Instead of celebrating Puig's scorching start to the majors, grinches worked tirelessly to poke holes into a positive story about a Cuban defector living out his dream to play professional baseball.
His joy for the game was instead repackaged as a foreigner threatening the pure sanctity of baseball. Because every time a baseball player smiles on the field or celebrates, a reindeer loses its ability to fly.
He was vilified for not showing respect to former Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Luis Gonzalez before a game, even though Puig was a 10-year-old living in Cuba at the time of Gonzalez's Game 7 World Series heroics in 2001.
A current Diamondback, catcher Miguel Montero, also demanded that Puig honor the game and all that mumbo jumbo. Here's what he told MLB.com's Tyler Emerick:
If he's my teammate, I probably try to teach him how to behave in the big leagues. He's creating a bad reputation around the league, and it's unfortunate because the talent that he has is to be one of the greatest players in the big leagues.
Translation: An awesome player is emerging for a division rival, so let's destroy his image out of resentment. Puig hit .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers, 11 steals and a 4.0 fWAR through 104 games, which would have led him to Rookie of the Year honors if not for Jose Fernandez's dominance.
Sure, Puig is prone to overthrow a cut-off man and gets a little too zealous on the bases, but those aren't crimes against a humanity from an eager rookie.
If you want to use actual facts to guide your skepticism, Puig struck out in 22.5 percent of his plate appearances and rode a fortuitous .383 BABIP to rousing success. That just means Puig is more reasonably a .280-.290 hitter with incredible speed and power along with a cannon for an arm in the outfield. I think the Dodgers can live with that.
UPDATE: Santa might have to take away a few presents after Puig was arrested for reckless driving.
Naughty: Brandon Phillips
I can hear the objections already. Well, not technically, but I'll probably read them in bunches. How can a Gold Glove winner with 103 RBI occupy the naughty list?
His run production says more about the excellent on-base capability of Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, but he's not a bad dude for capitalizing on his ample opportunities. Saying he doesn't care about something that's a core tenant of his job description while ridiculing a man for simply doing his job? Not cool.
Late in August, Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker moved Phillips up in the batting order to the No. 2 spot at the second baseman's request. Why he even wanted to relinquish the rewards of batting behind the super patient Votto made no sense in its own right, but the plot thickened when a Reds beat reporter had the audacity to report his beat.
C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer noted at the time of the switch that Phillips had a lower on-base percentage than Todd Frazier, who was taking a turn batting second in the lineup.
Reds go from a hitter with a .320 OBP in the 2 hole to one with a .310 OBP— ctrent (@ctrent) August 28, 2013
In response to Rosecrans stating a fact, Phillips cursed out the reporter, mocking his weight and belittling the value of on-base percentage, which again is kind of the whole point for a hitter. Here's what Phillips (off screen) said in the video above to Baker.
Hey Dusty, the fat [expletive] on the end is worried about my on-base percentage. Why don’t you tell him to have me bat eighth with my on-base percentage. [Expletive]. Make him happy, Dusty. Fat [expletive]. I’m tired of you talking that negative [expletive] on our team, dog. I found out your Twitter name now [expletive]. It’s a wrap.
It also would have been nice if Baker said "Well, you should care" or "stop yelling as a journalist for reporting a fact," but he laughed uncomfortably and remained a bystander looking to avoid any friendly fire.
The Reds apparently care about his low on-base percentage and lack of professionalism, as they have attempted to trade him this winter.
Nice: Mike Trout
We don't need no stinking award to tell us that Mike Trout was yet again baseball's best player this season.
One of these years, Trout is going to receive that MVP hardware he has deserved during each of his two major league seasons, and the honor will taste all the sweeter after seeing his journey hampered by those pesky nonbelievers who can't look past home runs and RBI.
It seemed impossible for Trout to improve on his historic rookie season, but he found a way. The 22-year-old developed superb patience at the plate, enhancing his walk rate to 15.4 percent. His .432 on-base percentage ranked third in the majors behind Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto.
But his batting average fell all the way down from .326 to .323, and he only slugged .557 and earning a .564 slugging percentage in 2012. How terrible. Luckily for Trout, his batting eye was enough to enhance his fWAR to 10.4, again earning him the major's highest mark.
His 20.4 WAR accrued over two seasons is greater than career marks registered by Jacque Jones, Richie Sexson and Sean Casey, all of whom were placed on the Hall of Fame ballot. Nice doesn't even begin to describe Mike Trout.
Naughty: Alex Rodriguez
There's no good to be found anywhere in this story.
In addition to his alleged PED use, Rodriguez was accused of tampering with league investigations, even going as far as to leaking names of other players (including teammate Francisco Cervelli) to redirect the trail away from himself. If that's true, then he should have to answer to Futurama's robot Santa.
The only possible sympathy afforded to Rodriguez here results in Bud Selig's perceived crusade to make a profound example out of the former MVP. So when it was ruled that the commissioner did not need to testify during Rodriguez's appeal hearing, A-Rod jumped at the chance to paint himself as the victim and stormed out of the proceedings.
Then he had an exclusive interview with perhaps the only member of the media who can match A-Rod's enormous ego: WFAN's Mike Francesa. Since Rodriguez was there to bash Selig rather than talk hockey, Francesa listened with sympathy and caused severe liver damage to anyone playing a drinking game revolving around the third baseman referencing his daughters.
Rodriguez is entitled to a fair appeal, but it'll be nearly impossible to exonerate his reputation at this stage.
Nice: Mariano Rivera's Goodbye Tour
Between Rodriguez's ugly saga, C.C. Sabathia's decline, injuries to most of their roster and superstar Robinson Cano leaving during free agency, this was a brutal year for the New York Yankees. Losing legend Mariano Rivera only adds to their future woes, but it at least created many feel-good moments in an otherwise painful campaign.
Before the season began, the shutdown closer announced that this would be his last season. With a career 2.21 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 652 saves, there's little doubt that Rivera was the greatest relief pitcher of all time.
Since Rivera is respected and adored around the league, everyone delivered their bittersweet farewells throughout the year. Twenty teams honored him with parting gifts, including paintings, a fishing pole, custom-made bicycle and many donations to the Mariano Rivera Foundation.
Even the Boston Red Sox, the Yankees' biggest nemesis over Rivera's storied career, honored their rival's departure with a touching tribute. Isn't everyone coming together in harmony the best part of the holidays?
Of course, no moment forced grown men and women to hold back tears quite like his final farewell at Yankee Stadium. Before the game, the Yankees hosted a ceremony featuring a live performance of "Enter Sandman" from Metallica. But it was the exit that sent chills down the spines of all baseball fans regardless of their allegiances.
When it was Rivera's time to exit light and leave the mound for the final time, skipper Joe Girardi sent long-time teammates Derek Jeter and Andy Pettitte (who quietly said he was retiring as well just days before) to pull Rivera from the contest.
Rivera pitted his head on Pettitte's shoulder in a long, tear-filled embrace between pitchers who joined the league and Yankees together in 1995. For once, it was impossible to treat the Evil Empire as the bad guys.
Naughty: Ryan Braun
As corny as this may sound, it's the lying that stings far more than the cheating.
Pettitte used human growth hormone, but that has not sullied his legacy because he came clean and apologized. That's not to glorify him for admitting his wrongdoing only after getting caught in the Mitchell Report, but it's more than we can say about virtually every other guy thrown under the bus.
Ryan Braun eventually confessed to using banned substances during his 2011 MVP season, but the damage was already done.
Despite failing a drug test in 2012, he successfully appealed a 50-game suspension when it was determined that his urine sample was handled improperly. Braun disparaged collector Dino Laurenzi Jr, who became the outfielder's scapegoat for his own wrongdoings. Here's what Braun said in his statement after winning his appeal (via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):
I will continue to take the high road because that’s who I am, and that’s the way that I’ve lived my life. We won because the truth is on my side. The truth is always relevant, and at the end of the day the truth prevailed. I am a victim of a process that completely broke down and failed the way it was applied to me in this case.
Except it is now clear that Braun was taking the lowest road possible, with none of the truth resting in his corner. According to Yahoo! Sports' Jeff Passan, Braun even resorted to telling fellow players that Laurenzi is an anti-Semite and Chicago Cubs fan.
While Braun could not elude a penalty this time, he negotiated a 65-game sentencing by admitting his guilt. The Milwaukee Brewers were out of contention, and Braun will return on Opening Day in 2014.
So yeah, Santa is not likely to deliver Braun a new iPad.
Nice: David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox
Like I said in the opening, not everything is always black and white.
Before the Red Sox's first home game following the Boston Marathon bombing, David Ortiz spoke in front of the Fenway Park faithful. Whether he forgot he was speaking in front of a large crowd with several children or didn't care, Big Papi delivered the now famous line that elicited a thunderous cheer.
"This is our [bleeping] city."
The edited version does not work as well, as it underscores Ortiz's raw emotion that became a rallying cry for a city in dire need of a distraction. So he's forgiven for using a dirty word when everyone had a lot worse in their thoughts.
The team's success can't undo the atrocity of the bombing, but it at least helped everyone momentarily forget. Ortiz hit five postseason homers, including a game-tying grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS, to propel the Red Sox to their third World Series championship in the last nine years.
A year after unceremoniously finishing in last place, the Red Sox stood on top of the world. More importantly, they gave everyone in Boston a reason to cheer.