Friday, January 15, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 15, 2021 -- "From the Archives: Chief Baseball Officer"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"With that said, though, hiring Epstein is the first signal we’ve gotten from MLB that it recognizes that pushing a 25% strikeout rate, with close to half of all runs scored on home runs, is a potential problem. In hiring Epstein to focus on gameplay, those running the league have not only acknowledged a problem, they’ve brought someone in whose primary task is thinking about how to fix it."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 14, 2021 -- "The Orioles and Pirates"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"This is a bad, and not terribly watchable, baseball team. Adley Rutschman is a wonderful prospect but given the lost year there’s no reason to push him to the majors. Hall and Rodriguez would help the watchability if they make the team this summer. Mostly, though, the Orioles are about where the Astros were in 2011, needing to build the talent base, and with the actual team on the field a tertiary concern."
 
 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 13, 2021 -- "Liam Hendriks and the White Sox"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"I think the Sox are done making moves, but man, signing Joc Pederson or Michael Brantley would just make this lineup ridiculous. Nothing against Engel, coming off the best offensive season of his career, but he’s a non-hitter better suited for the role of fifth outfielder and defensive replacement. Adding a free-agent outfielder would also strengthen a weak bench."
 
 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, January 7, 2021 -- "A Grand Bargain"

 

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 12, No. 115
January 7, 2021

You’ve surely seen that league owners have expressed a desire to begin the 2021 season at some point after the scheduled Opening Day of April 1. With SARS-CoV-2 spreading uncontrolled in the United States, and the vaccine rollout unlikely to make an impact on public life for at least a few months, teams would rather push back the start of the season or perhaps shorten it altogether, in the hopes of playing as few games as possible without fans being permitted to attend.

This isn’t an entirely unreasonable position -- it’s a spectator sport, after all! MLB pushed through a nine-week season with zero attendance last year, nearly the bare minimum it was willing to put on without fans in the stands. That partial season resulted in losses totaling eleventeen trillion dollars, by MLB's claims, or about $1.4 billion, per research by Baseball Prospectus’s Rob Mains.

On the other hand, that $45 million or so in losses per team is comparable to the average profit in 2019, and 2019 was at least the 16th consecutive season in which the league ran in the black. That doesn’t include the $2 billion team owners gained by selling off BAMtech to Disney, money that never made it into the baseball ecosystem. Owners and their defenders will tell you that baseball is a business, and in business there is no guarantee of profits or guaranteed immunity to losses. Yet for most of MLB's 21st century the latter had been the case.

The players, for their part, have no interest in a shorter season, certainly not after a 2020 in which they made a third or so of their expected pay. Their interest in a 162-game season in which they make every dollar they have coming to them is no doubt heightened by the impending threat of a lockout in 2022. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December, and the upcoming negotiations have long been expected to be contentious. Nothing that happened in the last 12 months has lessened that expectation.

I’ve been trying to figure out where the middle ground is, at least in the short term. The medium and long term, shaping the business of baseball, we can get to later. The question at hand is how to bridge the owners’ reasonable desire to have fans in the stands for as much of 2021 as possible, with the players’ reasonable desire to get 100% of their 2021 pay. That’s the default setting, remember; the CBA mandates the length of the schedule absent a collectively bargained agreement to change it.

At first I thought about deferral schemes. Players could agree to a shorter schedule but be paid, over an extended period of time, for a full one. Say, a 132-game schedule starting in May; that’s 81.4% of 162. The remaining 19.6% of a player’s salary might get paid in 2022 and 2023, with interest. The players could even agree to a token pay cut as an acknowledgement of the circumstances, maybe instead of deferring it all, take a 5% haircut and defer 14.6%. Maybe a sliding scale that takes a bit more from the highest-paid players while protecting the large and growing number of players who make the minimum or not much more. The structure seems reasonable, and you can play with the amounts.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think taking less isn’t going to fly for the players heading into 2022, and effectively financing lockout insurance isn’t going to fly for the owners. From a labor dynamics standpoint, it would mean that each day of a lockout next March moves the owners closer to those back payments for 2021, payments that would come against a backdrop of no revenue coming in. While I think this would do wonders for the chance of a 2022 season, it’s probably a non-starter for the league.

The pandemic is a problem, but for baseball, 2022 is the problem. The players have to get out from under a bad CBA on the heels of the previous bad CBA. They’ve been working almost a decade now under a rule set that is costing them money every day. For the first time since 2002, it seems likely that it will take a work stoppage of some kind to get to a new rule set. Any decision the players make about 2021 affects their ability to fight a war in 2022. The upcoming labor battle would have been difficult under most circumstances; it is now going to occur after two years in which baseball had total attendance of around 20 million, combined, and revenues of 40-60% of what they were in 2019. Baseball team sold 68 million tickets in 2019, and league revenues were $10.5 billion.

So let’s put 2022 on the table as part of a grand bargain.

The players agree to a shorter 2021 schedule and salary deferrals. The specifics are negotiable, but the numbers above seem like a starting point. Begin a 132-game season in May, with the players taking a small pay cut, one that is smaller than the proportion of the season lost, and deferring part of the remainder into the next two years. We’re guessing as to how many fans will be able to attend games this year, but I think “not very many anywhere, in April” is a pretty good call. Cut the season by much more than that, however -- I suspect the league would happily wait until summer -- and you start to create risks around fan habits, as well as real damage to players’ careers.

In exchange for the shortened season and pay concessions, the owners agree to not lock the players out through the end of the 2022 World Series. This means that deferred payments they would make in 2022 aren’t serving as a lockout fund for the players. It also gets that brutal negotiation away from these two terrible years for the baseball industry, and assures one hopefully normal season, with hopefully normal revenue, before the two sides have to sit at the table.

This isn’t perfect. For one, no-lockout pledges are normally paired with no-strike pledges. In 1994, the MLBPA’s Don Fehr tried to reach a deal with Hall of Famer Bud Selig to avert a war: Agree to not lock the players out in 1995, and the players won’t strike in 1994. Selig refused, because it was his plan to bargain to a false impasse, impose a new system, use replacement players if necessary, and have all of that thrown out of court by a future Supreme Court justice. OK, maybe not that last part.

Conceding the right to lock the players out without getting a no-strike pledge in return would be an imbalance. However, I don’t think the owners are taking a significant risk because I don’t think the players can pull off a strike. This isn’t the union of Marvin Miller and Don Fehr anymore. There is virtually no institutional memory, and not only are there no players left from 1994-95, there aren’t all that many who played with players who went through that.

Baseball alienated many fans last year with its protracted negotiation over what the 2020 season would look like. It has this labor war hanging over the 2022 season. What it doesn’t need is a nasty fight over what the 2021 season will be, or worse, another significantly shortened campaign followed by, potentially, another one in the aftermath of a lockout. You could play 200 games over three years. You could ruin a mini-generation of young players, and ensure that no one for a full generation makes a run at career records, the kind of stories that drive interest in the game. You could become the NHL, a sport that has never fully recovered from its lost 2004-05 season.

An agreement to play a shorter season in exchange for a no-lockout pledge gives the owners a break on playing games without fans in the stands. It retains most of the players’ 2021 pay. It gets everyone out from under the shadow of a lockout, at least for a year. It guarantees consecutive baseball seasons that look like baseball seasons, putting some buffer between a pandemic year and a possible lockout year.
 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"Trusting the Defense"

 
We’re embarking on three NFL playoff games today, ten hours of football, a red-letter day for American sports fans.

At some point during this pigskin feast, a team is going to be faced with a decision on fourth down, maybe something easy, like fourth-and-nine from its own 38, or harder, like fourth-and-three from the opponent’s 46. When that team elects to punt, it may go without comment, but if one of the broadcasters does make a remark, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll say something about the coach trusting his defense.

The thing is, he’ll have it all wrong. The coach isn’t trusting anyone. He’s trusting land.

The fourth-down conversation has come a long way since Bill Belichick went for it inside his own 30, 11 years ago. In the same way that baseball statheads can see their influence in the decline of the sacrifice bunt and the intentional walk, football statheads’ most visible imprint has come on fourth down. As Kevin Clark wrote in the linked piece, teams are going for it on fourth and short about twice as often as they did a decade ago.

When they don’t, though, we get the same tired refrain. In fact, there’s nothing a coach does that is less trusting of his team than punting. In that moment, he’s saying these things:

-- “I don’t trust you guys on offense to pick up the first down. You’re not good enough to advance the ball past the line to gain.”

-- “When the offense fails, I don’t trust you guys on defense to defend a shorter field. You’re not good enough to keep the other team from scoring from that spot.”

The coach is trusting land. He’s trusting the dimensions of the football field. He’s trusting, at best, his punter.

Consider, in contrast, what the coach who goes for it is saying.

-- “I trust my offense to get this first down.”

-- “If my offense doesn’t get this first down, I trust my defense to get us off the field, even from a disadvantageous position.”

The standard color guy’s analysis is just wrong. It’s the coach who goes for it on fourth down who is trusting his defense, not the one who punts.

As you’re gorging on football today, keep this in mind. Think about what actually happens when a coach orders a cowardly punt. When that ex-tackle chimes in to say that he’s trusting his defense, you’ll know the truth: He’s not trusting anyone. He’s trusting land.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 8, 2021 -- "Mets/Indians Trade"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"This trade is the Gallant version of Goofus’s Robinson Cano trade. The Mets kept Matthew Allan. They kept Ronny Mauricio. They did those things because they didn’t ask the Indians to pay part of the freight for Lindor and Carrasco."