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Milwaukee Brewers seeking answers for Christian Yelich’s hitting struggles

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MILWAUKEE — Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns says nobody has been able to figure out the cause of Christian Yelich‘s hitting struggles over the past couple of seasons.

“I think if we did, if Christian knew exactly what happened, it’s easier to solve,” Stearns said Friday during a news conference wrapping up the Brewers’ season. “It’s certainly frustrating for Christian.”

Getting Yelich back on track is a major offseason priority for the Brewers as they continue chasing their first World Series title. Yelich will make $26 million each of the next seven seasons, though $4 million of that will be deferred each year.

Yelich was the 2018 National League MVP and finished second in the 2019 MVP balloting his first two seasons in Milwaukee — leading the NL in batting average and OPS each of those years — but he hasn’t come close to approaching that production since.

He hit .248 with nine homers and 51 RBIs in 117 games this year and struck out looking with the tying run on first to end the Brewers’ NL Division Series loss to the Atlanta Braves.

“I have to be better,” Yelich said after Game 4. “I came up in a lot of big spots throughout the year and in the postseason as well and came up short. That’s how it goes. It’s part of the game. You just have to take it all in, pick yourself up afterward and keep moving.”

Although Yelich spent over a month on the injured list with a lower back strain early in the season and later tested positive for COVID-19, Stearns said the 29-year-old outfielder wasn’t dealing with any physical limitations down the stretch.

This marked Yelich’s second straight disappointing season. He hit .205 with 12 homers and 22 RBIs in 58 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, though many star players struggled that year.

“We have to do everything we can to help Christian get closer to where we were in 2018 and 2019,” Stearns said. “I don’t think it is realistic to hold that level of production up. Those were two MVP-caliber years. But clearly he wasn’t right this year, and he wasn’t right last year either. There may be different reasons in each of those two years why we couldn’t quite get it going, but it should be a priority for the organization.”

Yelich had a career-low .373 slugging percentage this season as he hit ground balls more often than he has in the past. His slugging percentage was .430 last year, .671 in 2019 and .598 in 2018.

He still has good plate discipline, as evidenced by his 70 walks that resulted in a .362 on-base percentage this season.

“There are still a lot of really positive underpinnings here,” Stearns said. “He’s hitting the ball plenty hard enough to hit for power. So I don’t think the power has necessarily disappeared. Clearly, getting the ball in the air on a consistent basis has diminished, and I think that’s something that Christian is certainly aware of and is open to working on.”

The Brewers ranked 12th out of 30 major league teams in scoring this season without getting much from Yelich. That was good enough for Milwaukee to go 95-67 and win the NL Central title, thanks largely to a starting rotation featuring All-Star right-handers Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta.

Milwaukee has reached the playoffs a franchise-record four straight times but hasn’t reached the World Series since 1982.

“With some of Christian’s struggles this year, he still helped and contributed to a 95-win team,” Stearns said. “I think that’s important to note. The fate of the Milwaukee Brewers is not on Christian Yelich’s shoulders. It’s not exclusively on one person. We’re all involved in this, everyone in the organization is involved with this, and we all take our share of ownership.”

Game notes
Stearns said infielder Keston Hiura will have a procedure to remove “loose bodies” from his throwing elbow. … Stearns acknowledged this playoff loss felt worse than others. “And that’s not a bad thing,” Stearns said. “It means we had really high expectations here this year. It means that we thought we had a really good team. We did have a really good team.”

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These MLB players deserve more love from Hall of Fame voters

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Who will make this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame class? We don’t quite know that yet (results will be announced Tuesday), but there are a number of players who we’re pretty sure won’t make it. Either they’re not getting enough support on public ballots or they’re staring at a too-significant deficit from their previous year’s vote totals, among other factors. For many of these players, that’s justified — there’s no shame in lasting long enough to make a Hall of Fame ballot — but for others, we’re not quite sure it’s fair. We asked some of our experts to make their best cases for players who really should be getting more love from the voters.

Bobby Abreu

Bobby Abreu was a five-tool player in the truest sense — a patient hitter with power who acted as a perpetual stolen-base threat and could alter a game both with his arm and with his glove. But his career has also been defined by glaring slights, such as:

The final bullet represents the percentage of Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballots Abreu appeared on last year, in his second year of Hall of Fame eligibility. The year prior, he just barely reached the 5% threshold required to remain a candidate. This year, with 42.1% of ballots revealed, Abreu has pulled in only 11.5% of the vote, according to the data compiled by Ryan Thibodaux.

Abreu is admittedly not a surefire Hall of Famer. But his case is a lot closer than it appears, and he deserves far more consideration than he has been granted. From 1998 to 2004, Abreu ranked fifth in FanGraphs wins above replacement, behind only Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Scott Rolen and Andruw Jones. He played in at least 142 games in 14 straight seasons and frequently finished with at least a .300 batting average (six times), a .400 on-base percentage (eight), a .500 slugging percentage (five), 20 home runs (nine), 20 stolen bases (13), 100 RBIs (eight), 100 runs (eight), 100 walks (eight) and 3.0 FanGraphs WAR (10).

The average Baseball-Reference WAR for Hall of Fame right fielders is 71.1, and Abreu falls noticeably below that at 60.2. But that list of Hall of Fame right fielders includes Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Al Kaline — inner-circle Hall of Famers. Abreu isn’t at that level, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of inclusion altogether. His JAWS score (Jaffe wins above replacement), famously developed by Jay Jaffe, ranks 20th at his position, sandwiched between a couple of Hall of Famers in Dave Winfield and Vladimir Guerrero.

Again, he’s close. Abreu’s career totals might not jump off the page — he finished just shy of a .300/.400/.500 slash line, 2,500 hits, 300 home runs and 1,400 RBIs, though he did steal exactly 400 bases — but he deserves far more consideration. — Alden Gonzalez

Andruw Jones

Andruw Jones, who is trending at 50% on public ballots in his fifth year of eligibility, is the most overlooked player on a ballot full of them. There are three reasons he should be garnering more Hall of Fame buzz:

1. He just might be the greatest outfielder who ever lived.

Baseball Reference measures the number of runs better or worse than average a player was by using defensive runs saved when available and its total zone rating when not. When doing so, Jones sits atop a list of some legendary outfielders:

Most runs from fielding
outfielders in MLB history

Andruw Jones 234.7
Roberto Clemente 204.8
Willie Mays 184.5

In all 10 seasons in which he was the Braves’ everyday center fielder (1998-07), Jones ranked in the top three among National League outfielders in putouts (and led the league six times). Over that span, Jones recorded 4,126 outfield putouts, 495 more than any player in baseball.

2. He enjoyed a brilliant peak, and it wasn’t short.

Jones played 11 full seasons for the Braves, from 1997 to 2007, and over that span, he produced 60.9 WAR. The only position players across baseball to generate more were Alex Rodriguez (85.7) and Barry Bonds (79.1), the two best players of their generation (albeit clouded by connections to performance-enhancing drugs).

Jones won a Gold Glove in 10 of those seasons (1998-07), in which he hit a total of 345 home runs. Only three players hit more homers in their Gold Glove seasons, and they are all first-ballot Hall of Famers.

Most HRs in Gold Glove seasons
Willie Mays 435
Ken Griffey Jr. 382
Mike Schmidt 369
Andruw Jones 345

3. He is as responsible for the Braves’ division dynasty as anybody.

That group is best remembered for its Big Three — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — all of whom were inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. So was Chipper Jones. Even manager Bobby Cox and general manager John Schuerholz have been enshrined.

But amid the Braves’ record streak of 14 consecutive division titles, Jones was, by WAR, their best player in a team-high five of those seasons, even though he didn’t play a full season until 1997.

Times Leading Braves in WAR
Division-Winning Seasons (1991-05)

Andruw Jones 5
Greg Maddux 2
J.D. Drew 1
Ron Gant 1
Marcus Giles 1
Tom Glavine 1
Chipper Jones 1
Terry Pendleton 1
John Smoltz 1

— Paul Hembekides

Billy Wagner

So far, eight relievers have snuck into Cooperstown, a number small enough that it remains debatable about where the line on their Hall worthiness should be drawn. Wherever that line ends up, Billy Wagner will be comfortably above it. He’s the best Hall-eligible reliever not yet enshrined in Cooperstown.

More than ever we can calculate the impact that elite relievers have on winning, and it is disproportionate to what you’d expect from aggregate raw statistics. You have to judge relievers through the prism of leverage-based statistics, and the practice of doing so is only going to become more necessary in the years to come, as increasingly those metrics determine how relievers are deployed in the first place.

Among the eight Hall relievers, five of them rate as the top five in Jaffe’s R-JAWS metric. Wagner is No. 6. He’s also sixth in both career saves (422) and win probability added among career relievers. He’s 44th all-time in win probability added among all pitchers, not just firemen. He was consistent and dominant for nearly his entire career — his 187 OPS+ ranks second among Hall-eligible relievers, behind Mariano Rivera.

Wagner appears to have gotten lost in the shuffle of a still-swollen backlog of qualified Hall candidates on the ballot. Seven years into his eligibility window, he has crept up on the 50% mark but hasn’t seen much growth in his support over past year. That needs to change and fast: Wagner has just three more years of eligibility remaining. — Bradford Doolittle

Andy Pettitte

Even Andy Pettitte’s old-school stats are better than you realize. He won 256 games in the majors, more than Carl Hubbell or Bob Gibson or Whitey Ford or Pedro Martinez. OK, sure, his 3.85 ERA would be the highest of any Hall of Famer other than Jack Morris, but his adjusted ERA+ of 117, well, that’s the same as Gaylord Perry, better than Dennis Eckersley or Steve Carlton or Fergie Jenkins or Robin Roberts or Nolan Ryan. Nobody is trying to kick those guys out of the Hall of Fame. As Sam Miller pointed out in an ESPN column, it was tough being a pitcher born in the 1970s and surviving the steroid era. Only Martinez and Roy Halladay have more career WAR than Pettitte among pitchers born in that decade.

I get it: Pettitte’s peak performance doesn’t scream Cooperstown — two qualified seasons with an ERA under 3.00, four top-five Cy Young votes, only three seasons above 5.0 WAR. He was a bit of a compiler, a guy who churned out his 200 innings every season, although of course there is a lot of value in doing that. With Pettitte, however, we also need to consider the postseason. For modern players, with multiple rounds of playoffs and so many more opportunities to pitch, this can add a lot to a player’s legacy.

Pettitte has won more games than any pitcher in postseason history (19), started the most games (44) and pitched the most innings (276). He went 19-11 with a 3.81 ERA and, yes, volume is again part of the success, but he allowed two runs or fewer in 23 of those 44 starts and pitched at least six innings in 35 starts. Yankees fans happily remember his greatest moments, including 8⅓ scoreless innings in Game 5 of the 1996 World Series and two wins in the 2009 World Series. Maybe he’s a borderline candidate via his regular-season numbers, but the five World Series rings are the exclamation point to his career. –– David Schoenfield

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Free agent Carlos Correa hires Scott Boras to represent him

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Star free-agent shortstop Carlos Correa has hired agent Scott Boras, Correa told ESPN over the phone Tuesday night.

On the 47th day of Major League Baseball’s lockout, with transactions frozen and Correa still without a team, the 27-year-old joined Boras, the veteran agent who before the work stoppage negotiated $630 million in deals for Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Max Scherzer.

Correa, who in seven seasons with the Houston Astros made two All-Star teams and won the 2017 World Series, entered this winter on the top of most free-agent boards. While multiple teams expressed interest in Correa, Seager signed the pre-lockout mega-deal with the Texas Rangers for $325 million over 10 years.

In a statement Correa gave to ESPN, he said: “I have made the decision to hire Boras Corporation to represent me moving forward. Boras Corporation offers the highest level of baseball expertise and proven experience.” He said he would not comment beyond that.

How the market unfolds after the lockout ends could depend on how quickly a deal comes together between the league and the players’ association. After a proposal from the league last week, a counter from the union could come as early as this week.

Whenever the work stoppage is over, Correa’s market — and where he goes after finishing fifth in American League MVP voting last season — will be perhaps the biggest story in the game. Though other big names remain free agents — among them Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story, Clayton Kershaw, and the Boras-represented Kris Bryant and Nick Castellanos — Correa is seen as a franchise-level player who should command the most.

He hit .279/.366/.485 in 148 games for the Astros, who lost the World Series against the Atlanta Braves. Correa was a part of all five consecutive Houston teams that went to at least the AL Championship Series, and he was a linchpin on the 2017 team that later was exposed for its use of a sign-stealing scheme.

Correa weathered the boos of fans during a 2021 postseason in which he starred in the division series but was slightly below average with his bat the rest of the playoffs. His glove was exceptional as usual, and among the ability of his bat, a Gold Glove at the most important position in the field and his young age, Correa has all the characteristics that typically lead to monster free-agent contracts.

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Los Angeles Dodgers promote Brandon Gomes to general manager

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Brandon Gomes, a former major league pitcher just six years removed from his playing days, has been named general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a position left vacant since Farhan Zaidi’s departure to the San Francisco Giants.

Gomes, 37, has a long history with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who originally traded for Gomes when he served as GM of the Tampa Bay Rays in December 2010.

Shortly after Gomes retired at the end of the 2016 season, Friedman — two years into his tenure with the Dodgers at that point — hired him as the organization’s pitching performance coordinator.

A year later, in 2018, Gomes was named director of player development, replacing Gabe Kapler, who became manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. A year after that, Gomes was named vice president and assistant general manager, a role he held for three seasons.

Friedman operated without a traditional GM after Zaidi was hired away from the division rival Giants in November 2018 but has said the front office tackled the traditional duties of that role collaboratively.

That will continue to be the case, though Gomes — reportedly a candidate for the New York Mets‘ GM vacancy before Billy Eppler got the job — will have his hand on more aspects of the Dodgers’ baseball operations department moving forward.

The Dodgers also announced Tuesday that Damon Jones, formerly chief legal officer for the NFL’s Washington Football Team, has been named vice president, assistant GM and baseball legal counsel for the Dodgers. Alex Slater (now the vice president and assistant GM), Brandon McDaniel (vice president of player performance) and Thomas Albert (head athletic trainer) all received promotions.

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