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The Nine Best Aprils of the Last 10 Years

Clip art illustration of a Cartoon Tiger with a Missing Tooth

With April 2013 winding down and players such as Adam Wainwright and Justin Upton producing at very high levels, I thought it might be fun to revisit some of the best Aprils in recent memory. A few notes to start. First, March numbers are included for the few years that included 1-2 games in March because it’s simply too difficult to separate out that data and let’s face it, it’s pretty much the same thing. Second, I’ve determined these ranks by Wins Above Replacement (WAR) because it’s the easiest way to boil players down to one number who play different positions during different seasons. One shouldn’t treat this as a precise measure, but it’s the best we can do without inundating ourselves with information. Third, I haven’t included 2013 because it isn’t over yet and this is meant for you to compare this year’s performers with those performances past. For the years 2003-2012, The Nine Best Aprils follow.

9. Ryan Braun, 2011 (2.0 WAR)

Braun opened his MVP campaign in style with 26 games in April 2011. He hit 10 HR and posted a .367/.457/.724 line, good for a .496 wOBA and 220 wRC+. He would wind up hitting 33 HR over the course of the season with a 173 wRC+ and 7.3 WAR.

8. Alex Rodriguez, 2007 (2.1 WAR)

A-Rod, too, won the MVP in 2007 after a great April. He hit 14 HR and hit .355/.415/.882 to go with his .521 wOBA and 226 wRC+ during the first month and ended the year with 54 HR, a wRC+ of 175 and 9.6 WAR.

7. Alex Rodriguez, 2003 (2.1 WAR)

No this isn’t a typo and yes, Alex Rodriguez posted two separate 2.1 WAR in April in two separate MVP seasons in the last ten seasons. In this particular season, he hit 9 HR and posted a .355/.444/.673 slash line which produced a .472 wOBA and 188 wRC+. His season totals for 2003 were also impressive, with 47 HR, a .298/.396/.600 line, a 151 wRC+, and 9.1 WAR.

6. Matt Kemp, 2012 (2.2 WAR)

Just last year, Matt Kemp turned in an elite opening month by hitting 12 HR and delivering a .417/.490/.893 slash line to go with his .566 wOBA and 270 wRC+. Unfortunately for Kemp, injuries would shorten his season to 106 games and while he hit 23 HR and posted a .303/.367/.538 line, it would only be good for 3.2 WAR due to limited playing time.

5. Brian Roberts, 2005 (2.3 WAR)

Once upon a time, Roberts played an entire month of baseball without getting hurt. In April 2005, he hit 8 HR and stole 10 bases while posting a .379/.459/.726 line and a .496 wOBA and 214 wRC+. Roberts played well the rest of the season, and hit 18 HR and stole 27 bases to go with 140 wRC+ and a 9.4 UZR, but his 6.6 WAR wouldn’t be good enough to get him the MVP award that others on this list had coming.

4. Jose Bautista, 2011 (2.3 WAR)

2011 wouldn’t be an MVP year for Joey Bats, but his 9 HR in April and .366/.532/.780 line, wOBA of .541, and wRC+ of 249 would be good enough to put him on the path to a third place finish behind Justin Verlander and Jacoby Ellsbury. Bautista would finish the year with 43 HR, 182 wRC+, and 7.8 WAR. Nothing at which to sneeze.

3. Albert Pujols, 2006 (2.4 WAR)

Pujols delivered a superb April in 2006 enroute to a World Series win and 2nd place MVP finish. He hit 14 HR and .346/.509/.914 with a .548 wOBA and 240 wRC+. He’d finish the year with 8.2 WAR, 49 HR and a wRC+ of 174, but the voters wouldn’t ignore Ryan Howard’s 58 bombs.

2. Chase Utley, 2008 (2.5 WAR)

Howard’s teammate comes next on the list as Chase Utley posted great April 2008. His 11 HR, .360/.430/.766 line look awesome night to his .491 wOBA and 202 wRC+. He’d finish with 33 HR, 134 wRC+, and a 19.5 UZR, good for 8.0 WAR, but Pujols (who had a nice April 2008) beat him out for MVP. That doesn’t bother me much, as Pujols had a slightly better season. What does bother me, however, is that Utley somehow finished 14th despite having the second highest WAR.

1. Barry Bonds, 2004 (2.8 WAR)

Well you knew this was coming. 2004 would be Bonds’ final MVP season and he (and maybe some chemicals) certainly earned it. In April he hit 10 HR and posted an insane .472/.696/1.132 line to go with an otherworldly .673 wOBA and 322 wRC+. No one else is even the same conversation. He would conclude that season with 43 HR and a 233 wRC+ and 11.6 WAR.

It’s probably worth noting that the only one on this list who didn’t have a fantastic season was Matt Kemp, who simply got hurt. So if you have a 2.0 WAR type April, you’re probably in line for an awesome season. You have a great shot at an MVP award, too. Mr. Upton and Mr. Wainwright, things look good.

If Not A-Rod, Who?: Five Players Who Could Get to 763

Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Tuesday’s steroid allegations and the writer believes the situation will likely not improve for him, even if it doesn’t get worse. 

There was a time, not long ago, that it seemed inevitable that Alex Rodriguez would break Barry Bonds’ all-time homerun record of 762. Today, that certainty is slowly fading.

Ken Rosenthal and the rest of the crew on MLB Network’s Hot Stove yesterday considered the possibility that A-Rod might never make it back to a big league lineup, but at the very least is unlikely to play in 2013. With the loss of an entire season quite possible, A-Rod’s shot at hitting another 116 homeruns is dwindling.

He’ll be 38 in July, which means he’ll be 38/39 in 2014. If we assume 2013 is a lost cause, that gives him four seasons to get to the end of his contract and hit 116 homeruns. Given that he’ll be 42 when the deal is up and that his body is already breaking down, I don’t think it’s likely that he’ll play beyond 2017.

If these assumptions hold, does A-Rod have a shot at the record? He would need to average 29 HR a season to get to 763. He hasn’t hit that many since 2010. Granted, he hit 30 or more in every season before 2010, but still. He hasn’t even hit 20 in either of last two seasons. His batting average and walk rate are down from his peak. He’s no longer a great defender and his baserunning is not much to look at.

He’s an aging slugger who is breaking down and losing his athleticism. That doesn’t make for a good formula going into his late 30s and early 40s.

So while 116 more homeruns aren’t out of the question, it doesn’t look likely. Only Barry Bonds hit more homeruns as he got really old, but most don’t. This is a lesson in inevitability and prediction. In baseball, there is a lot of uncertainty and a lot can go wrong.

A-Rod, for all of his talent, is likely going to come up short of a mark he looked certain to achieve. And Bonds’ record will stand a little longer. Not that A-Rod breaking the record would make us feel better. He admitted to using PEDs during his Rangers days. He’s one of the least popular star athletes of our lifetime and is a constant source of ridicule.

So I’m not going to get nostalgic and upset about A-Rod’s demise, but I am going to get inquisitive. If not A-Rod, then who? Who among the active baseball world could get to 763 homeruns and unseat Bonds?

Here are five candidates who could get there if they place into their early 40s:

5) Mike Trout (Angels)

Trout is 21 and has 35 homers. He’s probably not going to hit 30 a year every season for 20 years, but even that wouldn’t be enough. He’s good enough to make a run at it, but it’s important to remember that young players have a disadvantage because they have a lot of ground to cover, even if they do have time to do so. Needs: 20 years of 37+HR

4. Bryce Harper (Nationals)

The same goes for the 19 year old Harper who already has 22 homeruns. He’s a generational talent and is very young. He could do it, but the odds are still long given how many he still has in front of him. Needs 22 years of 34+HR

3. Miguel Cabrera (Tigers)

Cabrera is a still under thirty for a couple of months and he’s already 321 homeruns into the race. He hit a career high 44 in 2012 and a few more years at that pace will give him a shot at Bonds’ record. But Cabs has always been more of a pure hitter than a power hitter, so 40 homer years might be the exception to a 30 homer pace. Needs 12 years of 37+HR

2. Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins)

Stanton is only a couple years older than Trout and Harper but he’s 93 homers deep into the chase. Don’t get me wrong, a lot has to go right for him to make it to 763, but I like his odds better just because he’s already near 100. Needs 20 years of 34+ HR

1. Albert Pujols (Angels)

Pujols is easily the furthest along in the race at 475 homeruns, but he’s also the oldest. If we figure he’ll play out the final nine years of his deal in LA, he’ll need to hit 32 a year to make it happen. The task is easiest for him, but he’s also the only player on this list on the wrong side of 30. Needs 9 years of 32+HR

Steroid Users and the Hall of Fame: The Time Has Come to Decide

The 2013 MLB Hall of Fame ballot is out, and it’s time to start yelling and screaming. Why you ask? Well because we’re welcoming a wave of suspected steroid users into the conversation and people seem to have strong opinions about that.

Here is the official ballot, and you can see a lot of first timers are controversial like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Roger Clemens along with previous question marks like Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell. Curt Schilling, Mike Piazza, and Craig Biggio are others of note joining the party for the first time.

I’m not going to assess each candidacy individually, but I will say that there are some players who clearly belong in the Hall based on their numbers, but might have a tough time getting in because of their conduct. Presumably, in a world in which we could know with certainty that Barry Bonds never used steroids, he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer easily. Same goes for Sosa and Clemens. No question.

The rest of the players I’ve named are all Hall-worthy, but some of them are under suspicion to varying degrees. Let’s ask the more important question here. Should steroid use matter in Hall of Fame voting?

We can never know who used and who didn’t, so all of this is based on suspicion because none of these guys ever failed a test (although McGwire has admitted to using). Let’s assume for a moment that all of these players would make the Hall of Fame if there was no suspicious on steroid use and that higher suspicion decreases an individual’s likelihood of election.

There are different scenarios for how to address this.

1) Suspicion versus Evidence?

Should we keep players out of the Hall because we think they used? This is an important question. Manny Ramirez, who won’t be eligible for four more years, failed two tests. We know he used banned substances. Bonds never failed a test; we just think he used banned substances. Should we vote based on a feeling, in the absence of true evidence? I would argue that we probably shouldn’t.

We think certain players used, but we don’t actually know. A lot of players used steroids and we’ll never know exactly who did. That includes the players who competed against each of these stars. That doesn’t make their choices to use morally okay, but it does make me think that we can’t just decide certain players don’t belong in the Hall because we think they may have done something wrong. We don’t have evidence. We want to punish users because they corrupted the sport, but we can’t just keep people out of the Hall of Fame because we think they did something wrong.

A jury shouldn’t convict someone just because they look like a murderer if there is no evidence they murdered someone. Certainly, the stakes are different, but the logic is the same.

If we don’t have proof, can we really say who is clean and who isn’t?

2) Is excluding suspected users immoral?

This is an interesting perspective. If we exclude users, are we punishing them or are we trying to hide from a black mark on the game’s record. Wouldn’t we be pretty upset if Germany just stopped putting Nazis in history books because they were bad people? Isn’t the Hall of Fame a museum to baseball? Shouldn’t it include the good and the bad?

I could understand not wanting to celebrate Bonds, but his absence from the Hall would just be strange. He’s the all-time HR leader and one of the best players of all time. He may have cheated to get that far, but we can’t just say he never happened, can we?

If we hide from what brings us shame, we’re trying to pretend it never happened.

3) The Story of the Game

How can we exclude steroid users when they were such a big part of baseball? How can I take my kids to a Cooperstown that doesn’t include the best players of my childhood? They might not be the heroes we want them to be, but they were the best.

We don’t just ignore Nixon because he broke the law. He’s a critical character in American history for that very reason. Bonds can be a villain, but all great stories need villains. These guys were bad guys, we can say, but they are part of our history and we were really happy when clean players broke their records and stole their limelight.

4) What about the Type II Error?

This is a problem in the same vein as #1. What if we exclude a player who earned his way into the Hall cleanly because we thought he used. What if Bonds was totally clean? Wouldn’t we rather have a few bad apples in the Hall if it means all of the innocent people made it in for sure instead of keeping innocent people out in order to make sure none of the guilty get in?

This is a serious dilemma for the voters. Which is better? I’d feel a lot worse if a clean player was left out that if a steroid user got in.

All said, what should we do about the steroid era and the Hall of Fame? I’ve waivered about this for a while, but now that the day has come, it’s time to decide. How do we handle such a complex problem?

I think we have to let them in.

It’s wrong to punish someone on suspicion alone and we shouldn’t try to whitewash over a black period of history. We need to tell the whole story and I don’t want anyone punished for something they didn’t do.

It’s our responsibility as fans to teach our kids about the game in the most honest way possible. When the time comes, my kids will know I think Barry Bonds cheated, but they’ll also know that I can’t prove it. I’ll tell him he was a force to be reckoned with in the box, but I don’t know if he or anyone else was using something they shouldn’t have.

I’ll tell him he’s in the Hall because the Hall is a museum to the game, not a reward for the best behaved.

Most importantly, I teach my kids the important lesson of Bonds and Clemens and Sosa. I’ll teach them that cheating might be a good short term answer, but it’s never the right choice in the long run. I’ll tell them about how I sat up at night watching Barry Bonds break the homerun record in a quiet house. I’ll tell them that no one celebrated outside of San Francisco.

I’ll tell them how everyone said Bonds’ name with disgust, disappointment, or indifference.

He broke the most hallowed record in sports and almost no one really cared. Compare that with the excitement of Aaron passing Ruth and you’ll learn the valuable lesson. Cheating might earn you some hardware. It might make you some money. You might even make it into the Hall of Fame.

But it won’t earn you respect and it won’t make you happy.

We should let the suspected users into the Hall because if they cheated, they’ll be the ones living with the lie, not us.


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