After it looked like he was heading to the Cubs last night, Anibal Sanchez gave the Tigers one last shot and they took it. Today, they signed him to a 5 year, $80 million contract.
The Tigers, very much in a win now mode, opened up the bank vault and got their man. The Tigers also have six starting pitchers now. After a strong performance down the stretch and in the playoffs, the Tigers made Sanchez a key target and they decided to pay.
In three full seasons of starts, Sanchez has been worth 3.8 WAR or higher. That’s worth $17 million a year on the free agent market, so this contract looks dead on. We should also factor in inflation, so the contract is probably worth it assuming he can maintain a similar level of performance. He won’t turn 29 until February, so while he isn’t especially young, he isn’t old either.
Sanchez has made a full season of starts in each of the last three years as well, so while some people think he’s an injury risk, I wouldn’t say he is any more so than any other pitcher. All in all, this is a fair deal for Sanchez. The question is if this is a good deal for the Tigers, specifically.
The Tigers had five starters going into the offseason; Verlander, Fister, Scherzer, Porcello, and Smyly. The first three are locks if they’re healthy. Porcello is only 23 and has four solid MLB seasons behind him and Smyly showed great, but slightly fragile potential in 2012. Sanchez is an upgrade over both of the backend guys, but he is more expensive.
The Tigers didn’t need to upgrade a rotation that was essentially baseball’s best in 2012, but they did. If Illitch doesn’t mind forking over more cash, why not go for Sanchez? They can trade Porcello or Smyly, they can send Smyly down, or move one to the bullpen.
Sanchez should no doubt be worth the deal in 2013, so the risk comes later. He isn’t taking cash away from anyone else, because the Tigers don’t have anywhere else to spend. The only needs are in the bullpen and bench, which aren’t places where you can spend a lot of dough.
I wouldn’t recommend this deal to a financially strapped team in the middle of rebuilding. I wouldn’t really recommend it for the Tigers. This was a deal for the Angels or Rangers or Red Sox to make. The Tigers need Sanchez less than other teams do, but they’re still better with him than without him.
If Illitch is really committed to winning at title at all costs, this is a good move because he’s the best pitcher left and those marginal wins are worth a lot to the Tigers right now. As long as this doesn’t hamstring them down the line in extension discussions with Verlander, Cabrera, Jackson, Fister, and Scherzer, this is a good deal. If the Tigers have decided they can afford all of these guys, I like it.
But they shouldn’t trade Porcello or Smyly. You need one and the other is great insurance. Unless they can add something really valuable for one of these guys they should hold on to both.
Sanchez will make the Tigers better in 2013. He will cost them $16 million to do so while the Porcello/Smyly tandem will cost closer to $5 million. They’re paying for the privilege to be a little better. That’s okay, it’s not my money. But it is my favorite team. If they win a title because of this move, I’m all for it.
The Angels signed Josh Hamilton to a 5 year, $125 million deal today with a physical coming Friday. I wrote extensively about Hamilton last month and you can read what I think about him here.
The Angels, who had four outfielders before this deal, now have five. They also have Kendrys Morales as their DH who is blocked at 1B by a guy named Pujols. They have to trade at least one of these players. That’s fine. No big deal.
Trout in center. Hamilton in left. Trumbo in right. Or Bourjos? Or the $21 million Vernon Wells? I’m not sure what their plan is, but it’s a bad one no matter what.
The Angels didn’t need an outfielder. In fact, that was the thing they needed the least. They didn’t even need a bat. They needed starting pitching badly and still do. They lost out on Greinke because he was too expensive (but then signed a riskier player for the same AAV). They released Dan Haren. They traded Ervin Santana.
The Angels rotation is Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, and some other guy. I’m only convinced one of those guys is better than league average. Anibal Sanchez would have only cost them $15 million per season, which leaves another $10 million to spend on other upgrades.
I’m also not convinced the Angels get much better with Hamilton. He and Torii Hunter were probably equally as valuable this year, and the Angels said they didn’t want him. They were going to play Bourjos. Bourjos is an incredible, better than Mike Trout defender. He’s probably a 2-3 win player. Hamilton is only a 4-5 win guy. They’re spending $25 million to win two or three more games at the expense of the pitching staff that they could actually have upgraded.
Now maybe this is a prelude to a big deal for a pitcher on the trade market, but I’m skeptical. This feels like an f-you Rangers and Dodgers move. The Angels felt like they weren’t getting enough attention and they wanted a date to the dance. I can see Arte Moreno and Jerry Dipoto adding entries to the Mean Girls scrapbook right now.
The Angels don’t need Hamilton. They certainly don’t need Hamilton at $125 million. If his market collapsed, you might go for it, but he has to average 4-5 wins every season for this to payoff. I don’t think he can do that. Even if he does, the Angels have lots of outfielders who could put together seasons almost as good.
What they don’t have is a #2 or #3 starting pitcher. They spend $125 million on Josh Hamilton when they should have spent $90 million on Sanchez. I don’t think anyone should have paid Hamilton this much, but I really don’t think it should have been the Angels.
They either dramatically misunderstand Hamilton as a player or they think they needed to do something to keep up with the Jones’. Why offer him this deal? It doesn’t even look like anyone else was willing to go this high. The Angels paid market price or higher for a luxury player and it’s likely going to cost them a shot to improve their rotation.
I grade every trade and signing I write about, and I’m trying to decide how this ranks. Hamilton is a good player. But he is also an unusually risky player. He is old, injury prone, and has a history of substance abuse. He also has poor plate discipline, so when his bat slows down, he could really crumble. I think anyone who pays 5/125 for Hamilton is paying too much, but when you give him that deal and you don’t need him that seems like a big mistake.
At this point in time, given the context, and before we hear about a follow up move, I have to really nail the Angels here. This deal is that bad.
Over the course of this offseason, particularly after the first of the year when more free agents have signed, I’ll be writing fantasy baseball rankings and predictions to help you win your league. But today, I’d like to offer a strategy primer. This isn’t what players to draft; it is how to draft, period.
I’ll assume most people don’t play in a league that doesn’t utilize an auction and most of your leagues are standard 5×5 with traditional categories.
A lot of strategy will depend on where you pick in the draft when we’re talking about early picks, but once we get 10 plus rounds into it, that distinction melts away. I’ll offer some broad rules below, but first, I want to make a couple points in general. First, use sabermetrics to prepare. Fantasy baseball might glorify more tradition statistics, but sabermetrics will help you judge over and under performers. High and low BABIP can tell you something. Dramatically different walk or strikeout rates might explain something else. Use these things to determine if you should buy low or sell high.
Second, don’t draft names, draft performance. Don’t get caught up in someone’s history, go for what you think will happen in the year for which you’re drafting. Draft Adam LaRoche if you think he’ll outperform Pujols next season.
Early on it your draft, don’t get cute. Don’t go for the person you think might have a breakout season, draft safe players. Ryan Braun, Miguel Cabrera, etc. In the early rounds, get someone you can count on. There’s nothing worse than playing a hunch and drafting someone who bombs out instead of drafting someone you can count on even if they don’t have the best numbers from the year before.
A lot of people will tell you take the best player available, but I don’t recommend it. You should draft the best players at the worst position. There are a lot of good first basemen and outfielders, but very few good second basemen. Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia aren’t as good as Joey Votto, but you might think about drafting them higher because the difference between Cano and Marco Scutaro is much larger than the one between Votto and, let’s say, Freddie Freeman. Votto is the better player, but you have to get a second basemen eventually, so make sure you think about position depth when drafting.
Draft Elite Pitchers Too Early
Another typical piece of fantasy advice is not to draft top starters too early, but you should. Grab Verlander and Kershaw or Felix Hernandez a round early. You’re going to want a couple elite arms and this is the best way to handle it. Get them early and pay for it by losing out on a position player. You’re taking on some injury risk, but the reward will be worth it.
Draft Too Many Closers
One of the easiest things to do in April is to find saves. Closers and relievers are volatile. Teams will switch closers a lot during the season and you can draft proven saves-getters and trade them early. Get Papelbon and trade him for something you need. Closers are a great trade asset and you can outsmart the field and pick up saves on the waiver wire.
Add Pitchers Early
Draft lots of position players and drop them for pitchers in early April. You can only play so many position players every day, but you can rotate your pitchers in and out of the lineup throughout the week. Drop your ineffective subs and pick up pitchers on hot streaks.
There’s no secret to winning your fantasy league other than being smart and lucky, but these are some good tips. Draft reliability, think about position, draft great pitchers early, draft too many closers and trade them, and add hot starters in April. Do this, and you’ll be on your way.
81-81, 3rd in the NL East
After years atop the NL East, the Phillies stubbed their toe in 2012. Picked by many to head back to the playoffs, they finished the season .500 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.
The disappointment comes in two phases. The offense problems were predictable. Carlos Ruiz (5.5 WAR) had a very strong season behind the plate before his offseason suspension and Jimmy Rollins (4.4) provided a lot of value at short. Chase Utley (3.2) was very good, but only played half a season. Shane Victorino’s 2.2 WAR in 101 games was also a good showing, even if he isn’t the player he used to be.
Other than that, the Phillies didn’t get a lot of great offensive contributions and were very average as a team.
Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels had down-ballot Cy Young Type seasons, but Roy Halladay had an injury plagued campaign. Halladay was a solid starter in 2012, but that’s a far cry from his “best in the game” credentials. Vance Worley, Kyle Kendrick, and Joe Blanton combined to fill out the remaining rotation spots and did a respectable job doing so.
Jonathan Papelbon had a good season in the first year of his too-big contract, but the rest of the bullpen struggled. The rotation was top ten, but the bullpen was mediocre.
Collectively, the Phillies were just an average team in a tough division. They played better later on in the season and got some top flight performances from their stars, but not enough to live up to their high expectations.
The rotation is still great heading into 2013 and Ben Revere in center and the-maybe-upgrade of Michael Young at third should give them a boost. Ryan Howard is still a serious problem at first. The corner outfield is still up in the air.
The Phillies should be better in 2013, but they played below their potential in 2012.
2012 Grade: C
Early 2013 Projection: 85-77
After a few big trades this offseason, the Indians, Reds, and Diamondbacks felt left out and got involved in one of their own last night.
The three team deal sends SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Tony Sipp, and 1B Lars Anderson to Arizona, OF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Matt Albers, and RHP Bryan Shaw to Cleveland, and OF Shin-Soo Choo and INF Jason Donald to the Reds.
The Reds needed a leadoff man and a centerfielder. They definitely got the leadoff man. Choo’s on base skills are top flight, but his ability to play centerfield is in question. If he can handle it, the Reds come out pretty well in the deal. They’re a team on the brink of a title and a few more marginal wins could easily be the difference and they made this addition without losing anyone from the big league roster.
The Diamondbacks needed a shortstop and a left handed reliever, and they got them. But they gave up an awful lot in terms of prospect value for an equally unproven return. Giving up on Bauer after a year and a half seems like a foolish move given that they made him the #3 pick two summers ago. They have young pitching depth, but this doesn’t seem like the upgrade they needed.
The Indians made out very well in this deal as they gave up one season of Choo, a utility infielder, and a respectable reliever for some really solid prospects and a useful OF. They weren’t ready to contend in 2013 so they traded Choo for a nice bundle of future talent. Hard not to like it.
The deal makes tons of sense for the tribe and little sense for Arizona. The Reds are the wild card. Choo is exactly what they need on offense and a very big question mark on defense. How Choo plays in centerfield at Great American Ballpark will determine how this trade is ultimately viewed.
Grade (Indians): A-, Grade (Diamondbacks): C-, Grade (Reds):B
74-88, 4th in the NL East
The 2012 version of the Metropolitans was very compelling and super exciting into the early summer, but bottomed out as the dog days arrived. They were led by an MVP contender and the NL Cy Young, but the supporting cast wasn’t enough to make the Mets a player in one of the tougher divisions in the sport.
The afore-alluded to Wright (7.8) was worth more WAR than the next four position players combined. Only Ruben Tejada (2.1) and Scott Hairston (2.0) hit the 2.0 starter threshold. Ike Davis gets honorable mention for doing everything right except getting hits. Great power, good patience, but the .227 batting average dragged the whole thing down. He should be better in 2013.
R.A. Dickey had an RA-diculous season and was my (and the BBWAA) pick for Cy Young. Jonathan Niese also had a fine season, but no other pitcher made more than 21 starts. Johan Santana was good, but got hurt. Dillon Gee too. Chris Young was meh, but not bad for a 5th starter. Matt Harvey was eye-popping good, but only made 10 starts after his callup.
The bullpen was, let’s be generous, a weakness.
The Mets had some bright moments this year, especially the first no-hitter in franchise history, courtesy of Mr. Santana, and a wonderful string of dominance by Dickey. Wright signed an extension and Matt Harvey stepped into the spotlight.
The 2012 season shot some life into Mets fans for the first few months and faded down the stretch. I think they’re on their way up. The starting pitching is there.
A Dickey, Niese, Santana, Harvey, and Gee rotation is very good. If Zach Wheeler is ready to be the 1/2 a lot of us think he can be, they Mets could easily have a top five rotation.
They need offense. Wright is a good centerpiece and they have a handful of guys who can really fill out the bottom of a lineup. They need one or two more formidable bats to surround Wright near the top and they could be good to go.
It wasn’t a great year for the Mets, but the future looks bright.
2012 Grade: D
Early 2013 Projection: 80-82
It should come as a surprise to no one that the Dodgers, buoyed by a new ownership group and TV deal, have a very large sum of money to pay for baseball players. Their 2013 payroll is likely to be near $250 million, or about $60 million above the luxury tax threshold, meaning they’ll pay a tax that will increase their effective payroll toward $300 million.
They took on a bunch of bad contracts in trades in 2012 and have signed expensive players in the offseason that has followed. At least in the short run, we have to assume that the Dodgers payroll constraints are such that we could not reasonably expect them to be met.
Jeff Sullivan, the best of the best at Fangraphs, wrote a piece the other day thinking about what a team of the highest paid players would look like and came to the conclusion that such a team would be a contender, but not a juggernaut. You can read the piece here.
Sullivan’s main argument is that the most expensive player is not the necessarily the best player. On that, we can all agree. What the Dodgers have the ability to do, given their vast financial resources, is outbid everyone for the best players. Put another way, in a world in which we could perfectly predict future performance, they Dodgers would have the best team.
But teams still need to predict future performance to get this right. Most MLB teams think Zach Greinke will be a better pitcher over the next five to six seasons than Anibal Sanchez, so Greinke will earn more money in free agency. But there is a decent chance we’re wrong about this prediction and Sanchez will be better.
If this occurs, Sanchez is the better player and the better investment. He will be worth more and earn less. If Greinke is the better player, Sanchez could still be the better investment because he will earn fewer dollars.
Think of it like this. A player’s value to his team is his WAR. A player’s value as an investment is his $/WAR. If Greinke is worth a healthy 30 WAR over this deal, he will help his team win 30 games, but those 30 wins will cost $4.9 million each.
If Sanchez adds 20 WAR over a five year deal but only makes $75 million, his team will only pay $3.75 million each. Greinke adds more value in the standings, but Sanchez adds more value per dollar.
The Dodgers have only conquered half of this equation. They can pay more per win than any team because they have the most money, but they still need to find the wins. If it turns out that Greinke is worth 25 wins and Sanchez is worth 30 wins over the same period, they should have signed Sanchez.
The Dodgers’ riches don’t make them better at making smart baseball moves, it means they can afford to spend more per win. They can pay Greinke more than any team, but that money will only work if they spend it on the best players. The Dodgers don’t care about the value of their investments, but they do care that their players are the best players.
They can pay $17 million to Josh Beckett to be a fifth starter when most teams would spend $7 million for that level of performance. They can pay Greinke $24 million to be a $19 million arm, but they can’t pay to make Greinke better.
This is the trap of being the Dodgers. The Dodgers are forking over a ton of cash to these players on long term deals because these big deals make sure the Dodgers get the free agent players (and trades/extensions) they wish. But if they choose the wrong players, they are stuck.
While they can buy more players if the current ones don’t perform, can they really afford to spend money to replace a big contract? Greinke makes $24.5 million a season now. If he flames out in two seasons, can the Dodgers replace him? Can they put a $25 million arm in the bullpen or on the waiver wire? Do they really have that much money?
The conflict they face is roster size and future commitment. If Carl Crawford turns out to be terrible for the Dodgers, can they just eat his contract, cut him loose and buy the next big free agent to replace him in LF? Do they have that much money? I don’t know.
The Dodgers can outbid you for the best players and spend more per win than any team in baseball, but can they spend their way out from under these contracts if they go bad?
They can afford at $250 million payroll. Can they afford to pay $250 million to an average team? What happens when they need to get better?
The flip side of this is a team like the Rays who constantly keep their costs down and derives value from young, pre-free agency players. It keeps them from having a high payroll, but it also provides something the Dodgers no longer have; flexibility.
This huge payroll limits the Dodgers flexibility. It creates a logjam. They can’t just go sign Hamilton to replace Crawford. With a $20 million guy at all 8 positions and 5 starter spots, they would pay $260 million plus the bullpen and bench. That’s workable for them I think, but only if those guys perform. What happens if one or more aren’t good enough and need to be replaced? Can they pay $40 million per position? $20 million for the new guy and $20 million for their new benchwarmer. Could they pay $60 million?
The Rays can easily jettison a $1.5 million outfielder and replace him with another, but I’m not sure you can do the same when the player you want to get rid of has four years left on his deal and is making $25 million annually.
The Dodgers can outspend everyone, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be a juggernaut and a force to be reckoned with. They still have to make the right choices. They still have to pick the best 25 players to put on their club. They’ll sign pretty much any player they want, but they have to want the right guys. If they make a mistake, I’m not so sure they can just replace them with a better player during the next offseason.
The Dodgers can outbid you, but they can’t necessarily outsmart you. If Anibal Sanchez is worth more wins than Greinke over the next few years, it will be proof of that.
Apparently, the new market inefficiency is backup catchers. The Tigers got another one today when they signed Brayan Pena to a one year deal to backup Alex Avila.
Prior to this deal the Tigers were short on backup catchers. They only had Holaday, Cabrera, and McCann. Everyone needs four backup catchers.
I kid. This deal costs them nothing, so it’s not a bad move. But like, man, how many backups do we need?
Here are Pena’s numbers for his career:
Nothing much to look at here. Not a hitter. Not a fielder. He’s a backup catcher and not a great one. But good backup catchers are getting two years deals this season (Laird and Ross). I’d have gone with Holaday from the start, but there’s no harm in this move.
On Sunday night, the Royals went for it and Tampa Bay just let them do it. The Royals traded top prospect OF Wil Myers, RHP Jake Odorizzi, LHP Mike Montgomery, and 3B Patrick Leonard to the Rays for James Shields and Wade Davis.
This trade is rich with analytical possibilities, so bear with me here. From an actual value standpoint, it’s hard not to think the Rays robbed the Royals like they hadn’t eaten in weeks. Two years of James Shields at $9 million plus matched with a couple cheap years of Wade Davis followed by some more expensive years of Wade Davis for six years of all of those prospects who will earn the league minimum for the first three years.
Myers is perhaps the best hitting prospect in baseball. Odorizzi is a top arm. Montgomery is risky, but has a high ceiling. Leonard has power.
We know Shields is a great pitcher and Davis is at worst a great reliever and at best a solid starter.
The Rays got more total value, but if the Royals are truly trying to win in 2013, they are taking a risk that they believe will pay off. The Royals will be better in 2013 because of this deal, but they will be worse in the future because of it. That’s a generous way to put it.
But should the Royals have made this choice? They added a very good starting pitcher and a potentially solid starter, but as a result, they will keep the much worse Jeff Francouer in RF instead of Wil Myers. How many wins will that net them? I’ll be generous and call that 4 to 5 wins. That’s certainly not enough to win the division in 2013. And we’ve already decided that after the two years of Shields are over, this deal slants heavily in favor of the Rays.
So why did the Royals do it? Simple, I think. The Royals owners told GM Dayton Moore to win in 2013 or he’d be fired. Therefore, Dayton Moore traded away the future to improve his 2013 chances. All he cares about is 2013. This is a net gain in 2013 and a net loss everywhere else. Moore doesn’t care about that because he has to save his job. That’s the only explanation.
From the Rays side, this is another awesome Rays move. They traded Shields and Davis, but they have a ton of pitching depth and they got two more back. Myers slots into RF this year and the team is better off and cheaper because they can replace Shields in-house in a way that no other team could.
The Rays got four good to great players who cost nothing in exchange for two more expensive pitchers and one is a free agent after 2014.
Bu this deal is also a proven player versus prospect story. Lots of old school people are talking about Shields as a lot more valuable than Myers because he’s a proven guy. But the reality here is much different. Myers may turn out to be a bust, but he’s one of the safest bets as far as prospects go. He’s a young, good position player who hit well in the minors. His bust chances are low relative to other prospects.
Shields has shown he can play in majors for years, but if he blows out his elbow in April, this trade is a disaster. The Royals didn’t take on much less risk. Veterans are risky too. Everything is risky.
This is a bad deal for the Royals. They gave up some of their best prospects including one of the best in the game for a shot at winning in 2013 and 2014, but they didn’t get much better and aren’t close enough to contending for that to even matter. This was a desperate trade by a GM who is on the hot seat.
This is a great deal for the Rays because they can replace Shields and Davis, they saved money, and they get a great young outfielder.
This is all coming from a place in which I love James Shields. I think Shields is one of the most underrated players in the game. Innings eating pitchers with great changeups are my favorite. The Royals got a good one, they just paid way too much after they tricked themselves into thinking that they could contend this season.
Grade (Royals): D, Grade (Rays): A
I can’t pretend to have read everything ever written about baseball, but I wish that I could. I love baseball and I love reading. As you might expect given that information, I also love books about baseball. Here are some of my favorites and no fan’s library is complete without them. Feel free to recommend more in the comments section.
[Editor’s Note: You can find a crowd-sourced list of favorite baseball books here]
9. Men at Work by George Will (Amazon)
Will’s book tells the story of the game through discussions of specific players and managers. It’s the ultimate case study of the thinking baseball man. It’s about two decades old at this point, but it’s just as easy to pick up now and feel smell the fresh cut grass in every page.
8. Fantasyland by Sam Walker (Amazon)
This may be the only book about fantasy baseball on this list, but that doesn’t make the story any less real. Walker, a WSJ writer, spent a year chronicling his participation in one of the oldest and most competitive fantasy baseball leagues. It’s a great read and it’s about seven years old at this point, so it’s a quaint version of fantasy sports that doesn’t include Twitter.
7. Now I Can Die in Peace by Bill Simmons (Amazon)
Simmons is famous for his work as the Sports Guy and as editor of Grantland, but way back when, he was actually a fan of baseball and his hometown Red Sox. This book is a compilation of columns he wrote about the Sox leading up to their improbable 2004 World Series run. The title says it all, but it’s still a fun read even though the Red Sox have now become as annoying to all baseball fans as the Yankees.
6. 3 Nights in August by Buzz Bissinger (Amazon)
Bissinger, of Friday Night Lights fame, spend three nights in August trailing around Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa in 2003. I honestly haven’t picked this one up in a long time, but I remember finding it to be a great love letter to baseball.
5. Perfect by James Buckley (Amazon)
This book is great for a couple reasons. First, it’s the story of every perfect game in baseball history, which should be enough for you to buy it immediately. But it’s also the story of every perfect game that almost was. There’s an entire chapter devoted to pitchers who made it 8 2/3 innings before giving up a hit or a walk to the final batter. The other great thing about this book is that I read it a couple years (2008?) after Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2004. Within the following four years, there would be like six more perfect games. I read this entire book and now it’s 33% longer!
Editor’s Note: Wait to buy this one until the three(!) 2012 perfect games are included.
4. Moneyball by Michael Lewis (Amazon)
This is probably the most famous book on the list. It’s become a target in the last few years, especially after the Hollywood adaptation. But the book itself is brilliant and wildly misunderstood by people who obviously didn’t read it. Moneyball is about the cash strapped A’s and their quest to exploit market inefficiency in order to win an unfair game. A lot of people turned this into a stats v. scouts book, and it absolutely wasn’t. This was a book about a team that folded statistical analysis into their player evaluation model because scouts were missing something. Scouts don’t miss these things as much anymore. The A’s spend more on their scouts than they did when the book was written because they do value that perspective. They just needed to find out what everyone else was undervaluing so that they could win without big dollar sign
3. 56 by Kostya Kennedy (Amazon)
56 is a really simple concept. It’s the story of the greatest athletic achievement in sports history. It’s the story of Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak in 1941. The book is a lot of fun and folds in a lot of great baseball history and its connection to the history of the nation. Kennedy also does a great job interspersing short analysis and commentary between chapters of the narrative to help you think about the streak from a modern point of view.
2. Heart of the Game by S.L. Price (Amazon)
This is the heartbreaking story of Mike Coolbaugh and the line drive that ended his life. He was coaching first base at a minor league game when a foul ball caught him in the neck and the book tells his story and the story of the man who hit the baseball. It’s a story about trying to make it in a tough game and also about coping with tragedy and loss. It’s a heavy read, but it’s as brilliant as it is sad.
1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Amazon)
Fielding is the only work of fiction on this list, but it has a well-earned spot at the top of this list. Harbach’s first novel is a bit soapy at times, but that doesn’t detract from its wonderful treatment of a college baseball team at a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin. The story itself is great, but the way Harbach handles baseball tells you he’s not only a fantastic writer, but a true fan. The occasional uncomfortable sex scene is not nearly enough to make you want to put down one of the most compelling arrangements of sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever read.