Not that the Yankees needed a reminder, but Aaron Judge’s sky-high popularity in a sport always fighting for a bigger market share was reflected again in the All-Star voting results, which were released for the first time this past week.
Don’t ask me to go through the increasingly complex machinations of the process — I still have fond memories of collecting a stack of punch cards at the ballpark and using my dad’s car keys to poke through the chads. But Judge is the runaway overall leader with 1,512,368 votes, followed by Mookie Betts, who is tops in the NL with 1,446,050.
It’s hardly a new phenomenon for Judge, who avoided having to (again) prove his value to the Yankees when his Zoom arbitration hearing was aborted on Friday. The two sides settled on a $19 million salary for this season, picking the midpoint of the arbitration numbers.
Judge is on track for his fourth career All-Star appearance (in seven seasons) and also was the AL’s top vote-getter in 2017, when he was named Rookie of the Year. If he stays on this pace, he will become the first Yankee to lead all of MLB in voting since Alex Rodriguez in 2008.
While Judge’s campaign hardly is a surprise, two others with a local angle will be interesting to watch. One is Jose Trevino, who was second in the AL catcher’s race with 387,983 votes, trailing the Blue Jays’ Alejandro Kirk (1,057,008). Though that isn’t particularly close, when the balloting moves to Phase 2 on June 30, it will be whittled down to the top two at each position (six for the outfield) and the totals will be reset to zero. That could give an opening to Trevino if he stays in the running.
Credit to Trevino, who’s turned an April trade from the Rangers into a pivotal career-altering event, but no one would have expected this meteoric rise on the national stage.
“Second?” Aaron Boone said, maybe double-checking that he heard the statement correctly. Even so, he had no problem validating Trevino’s electoral surge: “I think he should be there based on his offense, and that’s considering who he is defensively.”
Trevino ranks first among AL catchers in just about every defensive metric, including defensive runs saved (DRS) with 11; Kirk is second (eight) in that category. Trevino’s .282 batting average and .806 OPS trail only Kirk’s .321 and .919.
Another noteworthy name in the running, at least from a Flushing perspective, is the Guardians’ Andres Gimenez, forever known as one of the two infielders (along with Amed Rosario) the Mets sent to Cleveland for Francisco Lindor. Gimenez, in third place among AL second basemen with 514,982 votes, is close on the heels of the Blue Jays’ Santiago Espinal (522,154); the Astros’ Jose Altuve is first with 710,708. Gimenez leads the AL in WAR (2.4) at the position (minimum 200 plate appearances) as well as slugging percentage (.516). He’s second in batting average (.314) and RBIs (34).
Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil sits third (580,257) in the National League race behind the Marlins’ Jazz Chisholm Jr. (634,762) and Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies (589,804). Lindor is third (521,489) among NL shortstops, trailing Trea Turner (811,839) and Dansby Swanson (599,251).
As part of MLB’s ongoing efforts to make the game played with more consistency, a memo (obtained by Newsday) was issued this past week to all 30 teams as sort of a refresher course in how to prepare the baseballs, specifically relating to mud-rubbing and humidor use.
Yes, here in 2022, the baseballs still are hand-rubbed at every ballpark with a custom-tailored mud mixture to take the shine/slickness off the freshly unboxed Rawlings product. With MLB yet to settle on a manufacturing method to make the cowhide more suitable off the assembly line, the dirt will have to do, and new specifications were adopted on Wednesday.
The mud must be applied within three hours of all the other game balls on the same day they will be used. It must be rubbed on directly by hand, with the same mud-to-water ratio for each ball. MLB has provided a poster that illustrates the range between the optimal “target” shade and “dark” sample (the color needs to be consistent).
As for the humidors, now used by all 30 teams, baseballs should not be removed more than two hours before first pitch.
In the past, it wasn’t uncommon for some starting pitchers to have their own stadium personnel rub extra/less mud on the baseballs according to preference for what likely was a competitive advantage. MLB has cracked down on that in recent years, and these latest measures — coming after a two-month survey of all 30 clubs’ practices — were implemented in response to complaints this season about the irregularities with the baseball.
Long at short
New York’s two shortstops, Lindor and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, are listed at 5-11, reasonable height for a premium defensive position that requires agility and speed over size and strength.
Then there is the newest member of the MLB shortstop fraternity, the Pirates’ Oneil Cruz, who wowed observers this past week by looking like a power forward stationed in the middle infield. Cruz, 23, is listed at 6-7, same as Aaron Judge. He could radically alter how we view that position, considering that he became the tallest shortstop in MLB history when he took the field Tuesday night at PNC Park.
But Cruz’s height is only a small part of his story. His 96.7-mph throw to first base was the highest velocity recorded for an infielder this season and the third highest since 2015, the introduction of Statcast. Cruz also had the hardest-hit ball by a Pirate (112.9 mph) and the three fastest sprint speeds by a Pittsburgh player (31.5, 30.7, 30.3 feet per second). Through Thursday, Cruz was 4-for-18 with a pair of doubles and seven RBIs in his first four games.
With multiple bases, a run scored and an RBI in each of his first three career games, Cruz became only the second player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 to accomplish the feat, joining Joe DiMaggio, who did it in 1936 at the age of 21.
Despite the high expectations and obvious talent, Cruz began the season at Triple-A as the Pirates used a revolving door at shortstop. Unlike previous years, however, he wouldn’t appear to be a victim of service-time manipulation, and new rules in the CBA could render that point moot anyway. Cruz will be credited with a full year of service time if he finishes first or second in the Rookie of the Year voting.
Another new feature: Teams can be rewarded with extra draft picks if they promote top prospects on Opening Day. If those prospects receive a full year of service time and finish in the top three in ROY voting or MVP/Cy Young, their team gets an extra pick after the first round.
And for those wondering how Cruz wound up a Pirate, no, it wasn’t tanking for draft picks. Pittsburgh got Cruz from the Dodgers’ overflowing farm system in 2017 along with pitcher Angel German for lefty reliever Tony Watson, who had a 2.70 ERA in 24 appearances for an L.A. team that lost to the (cheating) Astros in the World Series that year.