Friday, May 17, 2019

Turning Nine


On May 17, 2010, I sent an email to fewer than 100 people, the first edition of the second run of The Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter. In those nine years, we’ve seen the Giants win three World Series, and the Yankees not win any. We’ve seen the game’s highest salary go from $33 million (Alex Rodriguez) to $42 million (Max Scherzer). We’ve had no strikes or lockouts, but plenty of labor unrest. We’ve seen Albert Pujols go from legend to laggard, and Mike Trout go from unknown to unbelievable.

We’ve seen the Newsletter go from 100 people to nearly 2,000, and growing.

In those nine years, the state of baseball, and baseball writing, has changed. The baseball world accelerated the trend of picking off writers from the stathead world, granting legitimacy to a field of study that had been scorned for much of the first 15 years of the nominal “Prospectus Era.” A once-unimaginable stream of data was invented that we’re still only barely tapping into today, one that has helped teach us things about players and the game itself that, a decade ago, we could have imagined knowing. With nods to everyone who came before, my colleagues at BP included, we’ve learned more about baseball in the last decade than in any ten-year period ever.

The data has changed the way the game has played, and it’s changed the way we analyze the game. Career paths are, if not a myth, a fragile idea when players can use data to re-invent themselves. Facile explanations for league-wide trends are dismissed when we can measure the spin, the exit velocity, the drag on baseballs. It’s harder to criticize some micro-level decisions, ones that could very well be based on data that’s simply unavailable to the public. Is that pitching change actually daft, or designed to exploit a specific skills matchup between the batter and new pitcher?

Next year, the 25th edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual will be published. I’ve already lived the first line of my obituary, and I couldn’t be more proud of having helped build a company that continues to cover the game today. The hundreds of people who have worked under the Prospectus banner, from the original five through today, have built something wonderful.

That this Newsletter carries just my name, however, doesn’t make it a solo venture. Scott Simon has been making my copy better for half the life of the Newsletter. (His value will be illustrated by the condition of the pre-Simon era piece below.) Bil Burke has pushed me to have a stronger Web presence and helped build that presence. I’ve been able to lean on friends and colleagues like Will Carroll, Rany Jazayerli, Jeff Erickson, David Donovan, Cee Angi, Chris Stone, and Stephen Cannella for advice, for support, for the occasional guest piece. I appreciate every single reader, but some have made their presence known in greater volume, making me smarter, holding me to first principles, making the Newsletter better in their own way.

I was a new father nine years ago. The Newsletter is exactly 46 days younger than Marina is, and much of what drives me every day is wanting to leave a legacy of success that she can some day understand and appreciate. We think about our kids making us proud as parents, but I want to make her proud of me as well. Nothing, not money, not fame, not truth, not craft, not baseball itself drives me the way she does. Guys, have a daughter. She’ll change everything.

Nine years ago, I sent out the following. Today, it goes to 20 times as many people. That’s a pretty good run. Thanks for being here for it. Thanks for being the best group of readers I could have hoped to have.

Joe Sheehan
May 17, 2019

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 16, 2019 -- "Taking a Challenge"

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 more than 20 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 $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"I was out last night with baseball friends, some excellent company over dinner, and amid conversations about children new and old, the new sports books in New Jersey, documentaries, passing around 1990 baseball cards, and everything else, there was baseball chatter. At one point, two of us were going through the NL East when I was challenged: You can’t make one good bullpen from all the rosters in the NL East."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fun With Numbers: Triple Trouble [Updated]

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 more than 20 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 $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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[Updated on May 15]

In yesterday’s piece on the Marlins, I mentioned in passing that they had yet to hit a triple. They’re not the only ones. The Indians haven’t hit a three-bagger yet. In a related story, the Indians and Marlins have the lowest slugging percentages and lowest wRC+ marks in baseball.

It is uncommon for any team to have no triples at this late date. Prior to 2019, in fact, just four teams since 1908 (the Play Index era, and for all intents and purposes, all-time) had reached May 14 without having hit a triple.

Stopping At Second (Latest Date Hitting First Triple)

Expos    1973   5/28
Giants   1982   5/23

Indians  2019    ???
Marlins  2019    ???
Braves   2016   5/14
Braves   1957   5/14


Two more teams, the ’72 Orioles and the ’35 Phillies, hit their first triples on May 13. The Marlins and Indians are now in a tie for third on this list, two weeks from holding the record. No team in baseball history has entered June without hitting at least one triple.

The date of a team’s first triple is interesting, but a bit of a moving target. The baseball season now starts earlier than ever before, three weeks earlier than it did for most of the game’s history. (Three weeks earlier than it should, but that’s a subject for a different day.) The more salient measure here might be games. Viewed through that lens, the Indians are on the brink of history, the Marlins right behind them.

Stopping At Second Every Time (Most Games w/o a Triple to Start Season)

Giants   1982   41
Indians  2019   41
Marlins  2019   40

Expos    1974   38
Braves   2016   36


The Cardinals made a run at this record last year, getting 31 games into the season before poking their first triple on May 6. This year, we’re getting a rematch of the 1997 World Series, as the Indians and Marlins try to out-do each other.

Triples were once more common than home runs, and they remain one of the game’s most exciting plays. They’re also increasingly rare, with the rate of triples per PA, per contact, per game, at or near all-time lows. The Indians and Marlins have taken triple avoidance to an extreme this year, so much so that they’re set to wipe a 40-year-old record from the books.