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Three Outs: New Year Edition

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A New Year cometh, and so does a new column

First baseman Ryan O’Hearn #66 of the Kansas City Royals in action against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri.
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn #66 of the Kansas City Royals in action against the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri.
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

It’s the offseason. There’s not a whole lot to talk about that hasn’t already been discussed in the last two months and no new baseball to analyze. Unfortunately, we’ve got two entire months to go.

So I’m kicking off a new weekly column, because I have the power to do that, and because the new year is right around the corner. This column is titled Three Outs, for the three outs that a baseball team has in an inning (shockingly creative, I know; contact my agent (read: me) for more naming possibilities for YOUR business or creative endeavor). It’s an old school blog, because when I sit down to write normal articles they often balloon in size and suddenly I’m sitting on 1500 words when I meant to write half that, and old school blogs are, like, totally freeform, dude.

Anyway, one out will be Royals baseball related. Another will be MLB related—Royals or otherwise. The third will be writer’s (read: me, again) choice. Let’s begin.

Out One: Ryan O’Hearn and Lefties

Ryan O’Hearn was surprisingly good in 2018, when the lefty first baseman hit 53% above league average by wRC+ in his 170 plate appearances. He took walks (walk rate at 11.8%), hit for power (.336 ISO), and managed to still hit for some average (.262). Could he be the Next Big Thing, we all asked ourselves with the knowledge that the answer was probably no because that’s just how things work in Royals-land when it comes to non-prospects?

Well, you all saw 2019. It’s been a hard no.

There’s been a lot of interesting and somewhat contradictory analysis of O’Hearn, even on our own site, as to why he went from season one of Game of Thrones to season eight of Game of Thrones in less than a year and whether or not it’s fixable. But I think the core problem is actually really simple: dude can’t hit lefties.

In his big league career, O’Hearn has a .233/.320/.483 slash against righties—good for a wRC+ of 110. However, against lefties, his split is a ghastly .144/.235/.256—“good” for a wRC+ of, um, 31.

If O’Hearn wants to stick in the big leagues, he’ll need to hit lefties at least enough that he isn’t totally unplayable against anybody who throws southpaw. It’s that simple.

Out Two: Giving Thanks for the AL Central

In some sports, divisions aren’t terribly important. This is true for both the NFL and NBA, where conference ranking is much more important than division ranking. But both sports have salary caps, making it theoretically possible that any franchise can put together a competitive team against any other franchise—even if that’s not totally true in practice.

But baseball doesn’t have salary caps, and the way the wild card round now works, winning your division is a gigantic deal. Unfortunately, what division you’re in is hugely important, and some teams are just stuck in crappy situations for eternity.

Consider the Tampa Bay Rays, who must compete with the always good New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox every single year. Or consider the Cincinnati Reds, who must compete against the consistently good St. Louis Cardinals and the large market strength of the Chicago Cubs. Other divisions have clear juggernauts—the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL West and the Houston Astros in the AL West, for instance.

We ought to be thankful that the Royals are in the AL Central, because there isn’t a single large market team or consistent winner to butt heads with. Yes, some years will be more competitive than others. That might be the case in a few years when the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers come out of their rebuilds. But there isn’t a looming goliath to destroy year in and year out.

Out Three: The Rise of Punditry

The internet has done a lot of very different things to society. On one hand, you can do all your banking online so that you don’t have to set foot in a bank but once or twice a year. On the other hand, brands are horny now. So it goes.

One of the unintended consequences of the World Wide Web has been very obvious recently with the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Fans have...thoughts. So many thoughts. And while the whole thing is fascinating—what input should fans have on the media they consume, and what duty do creators have to create things that people will like?—I’m mostly interested in how it’s become cooler to hate things than it is to like things.

This has always been the case, to be honest; the phrase “too cool for that” has been around for a while. Kids are especially good at separating themselves into groups based on shared likes and dislikes, and shared dislikes do matter.

But it’s felt different recently. To me, so much “criticism” isn’t really criticism in its own right but is instead a way for people to inform others how smart, cultured, and savvy they are. It’s virtue signaling. Chest thumping.

That’s not to say that you can’t have opinions on things, or that criticism is bad. Rather, I think it’s valid to examine whether we’re discussing things based on the things itself or whether we’re only discussing them so that it frames ourselves in a way we want to be seen.