The sports world was rocked Friday when LeBron James announced he was going to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. In the NBA, having a superstar changes everything, hell, you can't even truly contend without one, and these days, they have to be surrounded by other stars to start winning rings. But is that true in baseball, too? Certainly having a superstar ballplayer is never a bad thing, but is having one a prerequisite to making the playoffs, the World Series? The last eight World Series champions have had at least one, but what is the value of these superstars in Baseball.
Assuredly, the Colorado Rockies have a superstar in Troy Tulowitzki. You wouldn't find too many folks out there who could disagree that a healthy Carlos Gonzalez is a superstar as well. So, the Rockies have two superstars on the roster, but are 13 games under .500. Baseball, a highly individualized sport, is actually more of a team game than basketball. A player can dominate on the diamond, but if his teammates are committing errors, striking out and pitching poorly, he can't get them the W by himself. He might get all the cash and all the girls (ask Derek Jeter), he can't carry a team for more than one playoff series, let alone an entire 162 game season.
A superstar can't carry a team, but who really cares about that? No one would turn down a Yasiel Puig or a Mike Trout or even an Albert Pujols. That's because superstars make the game easier for those other 8 guys on the field with him and for everybody else in the dugout. If the superstar is a pitcher, that's obvious. It's easier to field behind a dominant hurler and there's less pressure at the plate knowing the team only needs to come through two or three times to get the win on an average night when he's going. The problem with a superstar pitcher is that he only plays every five games. So then there's the position players, the guys who are out there day in and day out. A guy who's going to come through in the middle of the lineup more times than not to drive in runs makes it easier for the guys hitting around him. The guys in front know the pitcher is focusing on the big bopper behind them and the guys behind know they're going to be batting with a guy or two on base once or twice a game. And whomever is out on the bump is going to have an easier time pitching with a lead.
A lot of analysts on TV measure NBA superstars by how they make their teammates better, but the simple presence of one in the lineup or on the mound makes a baseball team better.
Superstars matter nearly as much in baseball as in basketball, just take a look at the teams currently in the playoff picture. The Braves have Freddie Freeman and Craig Kimbrel, the Brewers have Carlos Gomez and Ryan Braun, the Dodgers and Angels have half their respective payrolls, Washington has Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg, the Tigers have Miggy, the O's have Adam Jones. The only team without a bona fide superstar are the Oakland A's, the best team in baseball, but also a team not known for postseason success. The Yankees, the Cardinals, the Dodgers and the Giants are currently and have always been built with superstars, and they also just happen to have the most World Series appearances ever. Connection? Uh, yeah.
Just imagine this Rockies team, when healthy, with an Adam Wainwright or a Clayton Kershaw or any other superstar starting pitcher. All of a sudden, the Rox are not only contending, but they might even be favorites to win it all with their destructive offense and golden defense. Wouldn't that be nice?
Having a superstar matters. In basketball it's the difference between relevency and the doldrums. In baseball it's the difference between playing in October and collectively chanting, "We'll get 'em next year" every season.Tags: Baseball, Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado, Colorado Rockies, MLB, Troy Tulowitzki