Inside: Best Articles of the Week
Happy Monday, everyone. On tap for this week is the normal MLB coverage plus a recap of the NFL Draft. Thank you for reading.
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What I Watched This Week
Hitter of the Week: Taylor Ward, 3B
Taylor Ward has experienced his fair share of trials and tribulations on his path to becoming this week’s HotW. Before this season, Ward’s spot on the roster was far from guaranteed as he was optioned last July and failed to return to the majors. Manager Joe Madden’s stance on Ward: “I’m not saying he can’t be a starting outfielder, but probably a good fourth outfielder would be his best lot in life.”1
During the pandemic shutdown, assistant hitting coach John Mallee gifted Ward the book Mind Gym: An Athlete’s Guide to Inner Excellence. The book provided the impetus to overhaul his swing and approach at the plate:
It’s the same game, just the lights are brighter. Going up and down these last few years, I’ve really started to understand. Keeping my approach in the box, staying with it every pitch. Not letting anything dictate what I’m thinking in the box. That has really been the separator. — Taylor Ward 2
The changes have paid off for the Fresno State alum.
In his words, “the count … it doesn’t matter. Just waiting for the ball to show up in the spot. That’s all that matters. No count. No lineup. It doesn’t matter. I’m just in the box, doing my thing. Don’t think about it at all.”3 When the ball shows up “in the spot,” Ward is barrelling it at a career-best 15.6% clip.
Defenses have failed to account for his 44.4% pull rate as they shifted on only 1.4% of his plate appearances thus far. Ward deserves the praise after meandering around the minors during the majority of his career. His breakout in 2022 adds an exciting piece to a dangerous Angels lineup. I am excited to see how his numbers fare once defenses adjust to his pull-happy approach.
Pitcher of the Week: Kevin Gausman, SP
The Blue Jays and Gausman have a long-standing love affair that has fallen through on several occasions. Two years ago, Gausman’s first foray into free agency led him to spurn the Blue Jays for the Giants. Last year, he opted to resign the Giants’ qualifying offer over an offer from Toronto. He had an inkling that GM Ross Atkins “was going to call again.”4 The prediction reigned true after signing a 5-year, $110 million contract with the Blue Jays this past offseason.
Gausman has been a bonafide ace for two years. Still, no one expected this: he has allowed 0 walks and home runs through five starts while racking up 41 Ks. The Athletic’s Eno Sarris’ model has Gausman as the fifth-best pitcher in the majors thus far.
He boasts the best splitter in the majors; it has subsidized the rest of his arsenal this season. His changeup, slider, and 4-seamer have graded out with negligible run value, while his splitter has erased six runs.
With the tight AL East race, Gausman could make the difference down the stretch.
The NFL draft was one of its most exciting iterations in recent years. I wanted to highlight a few hauls.
The Patriots netted the lowest ROI, encapsulated by their selection of Cole Strange in the first round; many anticipated Strange to be a midround selection. While it is unfair to judge a draft immediately after, the Patriots have ranked 31st, 29th, and 32nd in drafting efficiency during 2018-2020.5 Questions of Bill Belichick are more than warranted at this point.
The chart below takes the Wins Above Replacements gained by selecting a specific player (in-depth explanation). The Patriots reached heavily on their early picks and failed to extract fair value for nearly all of their selections.
It’s a great juxtaposition of the first team that I wanted to highlight: the Ravens.
The Ravens opted to forego investing in premium positions (QB, WR, EDGE, OT, IDL, & CB) and stayed true to their board. The Ravens ranked 5th in ROI and 1st in total value. They took advantage of Kyle Hamilton’s slip as teams were concerned with his subpar 40-time in conjunction with the decreasing impact of safeties. Still, Kyle Hamilton and Marcus Williams will combine to form the premier safety duo in the NFL. Adding a dominant center in Tyler Linderbaum, plus tackle Daniel Faalele will fortify the interior and exterior of their offensive line.
I am still in awe of the Jets’ draft. According to several big boards, they netted the premier corner, receiver, and most pro-ready pass rusher in the first round. They followed an impressive round one, with the top consensus running back in round two in Breece Hall. Their investment in premium positions will only aid Zach Wilson’s development in his sophomore campaign.
Armed with the most draft capital, the Giants lucked into a fantastic round one with Kayvon Thibodeaux and Evan Neal falling into their laps. Yet, their selections in rounds 2 & 3 were significant reaches: Wan'Dale Robinson, Joshua Ezeudu, & Cordale Flott.
Their strong round one makes up for the value lost in the later rounds as Thibodeaux and Neal both slot in as day one starters.
Only time will tell which teams performed the best, but I came away impressed with the process of the Ravens, Jets, and Giants. To group the latter two franchises, typically synonymous with inept drafting, with the Ravens is a rare compliment.
What I’m Reading
*** Must Read
** Very Good