Thursday, July 18, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 18, 2019 -- "Hot Trout"


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.

--

"Trout’s injury paused his monster start to the second half, with homers in both of the Angels’ first two games out of the break. Trout is hitting .375/.488/1.188 in July with eight homers in 41 plate appearances, and more walks than strikeouts. The idea that we might be getting the kind of peak-peak performance from a player who could be the best who has ever played the game is tantalizing. Trout’s greatness has been about the breadth of his skills and the consistency of his play. Strangely, he’s rarely had the kind of run like, say, Christian Yelich did last year."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 15, 2019 -- "A Year of Yelich"


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.

--

"One year ago today, Christian Yelich was having the same season he’d had the previous two. He was hitting for average, drawing walks, hitting the ball pretty hard but on the ground a lot. He was providing value on the bases and in the field. He also wasn’t the best player in his own team’s outfield, being outplayed by Lorenzo Cain, who had the best MVP case on the Brewers deep into August. I would argue that a year ago today, we had as good a read on what Christian Yelich was, and would continue to be, as we did on any player in baseball. Yelich was exactly the same hitter in the first half as he’d been the previous two seasons, and in the period just prior to the break he’d doubled down on his worst traits, hitting the ball on the ground as much as anyone in the game.

"That guy has hit 57 homers in the last year."

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 11, 2019 -- "Experimentation"


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.

--

"There is enormous value in having a space for ideas, from the long overdue to ones borrowed from Calvinball, to be tried. Maybe none of this ever gets out of Somerset and York and Lancaster, but we’ll have given the ideas a chance, and we’ll have gathered information, and we’ll be able to offer informed opinions. These ideas are so far away from showing up in a Yankees/Red Sox game that the panic over them is wholly misplaced. What’s important is that we’ll be able to see them, see their effects on the game, and over time, pick and choose what actually works from all of the changes."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt: "Thinking Inside the Box, All-Star Game Edition"


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.

--

"Before these guys are left fielders and third baseman and first basemen, they’re just baseball players, and then they’re mostly shortstops and center fielders and pitchers until they get to the pros. The willingness of MLB teams to look at them as just baseball players, and task them accordingly, may be driven by roster madness, but it isn’t an adaptation so much as it’s a reversion to the way they, we, all grew up: Just playing ball."

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

2019 All-Star Draft with Will Leitch


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.

--

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 52
July 9, 2019

A year ago, I dragooned the great Will Leitch into drafting teams from the initial pool of 62 All-Stars. It was a lot of fun, aping what the NBA and NHL have tried in attempts to pump up interest in their All-Star Games.

We’re back at it again this year, with one extra round in the absence of the “Final Vote.” The rules are simple: We’re drafting teams as if we’re playing one game, from the first 64 All-Stars announced by Sunday, June 30. (Sorry, Felipe Vazquez stans. He would have gone pretty high in the draft.) The draft was conducted over email from July 1-5.

For more from Leitch, check out MLB.comNew York magazineSI TV, and his wonderful weekly newsletter.

Given the option to pick first or at the 2-3 turn, Will chose the second option.

--

Joe Sheehan: Yay, I get to build around Mike Trout.

Will Leitch: You may remember last year, I went heavy on pitching. I no longer think this is the correct strategy. Even the best pitchers are giving up homers; you can throw a perfect pitch, and the way these guys are swinging and the way the balls are hopping, it can still go out. My goal for pitching will be to avoid the obvious dangers, but I don't think I can just shut you down any more. Besides, what's the fun of that? Heck, maybe we should just having batting-practice pitchers throw the All-Star Game anyway. We can play it in London.

If you're not going to over-complicate this, neither am I: I'll take Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. Even though putting Bellinger on my team means I have to hire a bouncer to patrol the stands, apparently.

Speaking of All-Stars, We're going to see my wife's family in Buffalo, including a Buffalo Bisons game tomorrow night. Bo Bichette and...John Axford! Still hanging around, good for him.

Joe: I got out to a Brooklyn Cyclones game last month. It was fun to be at a game where I had neither a professional nor personal expectation of knowing any of the players. Need to do that more. Of course, the Mets affiliate got run off the field. Plus ça change...

Hmm…I’d anticipated building a 1500-run offense, and you have damaged that terribly. So I’ll zig while you zag and take Max Scherzer, who your teammate Jamal Collier pointed out may have had one of the best pitching months ever, and Josh Hader, the most unhittable pitcher in the world right now.

Will: I go to way more minor-league games than I should -- Joe, it turns out I am addicted to this sport -- and so I've ended up on the mailing list of a ton of teams. So I'm pretty sure I've gotten some sort of alert about where Tim Tebow is playing and where I can buy tickets to seem him at least twice every day for a month. Just wait until the Mets finally decide to get a piece of that action themselves come September.

I like that I threw you off by going the opposite of last year's strategy. I'm gonna stay with that and make sure i have a center fielder: Mookie Betts it is. (You took the only real center fielder on either roster. It was Betts or maybe Gallo, who pretends sometimes.) Then I'll take Javier Baez, because this is an All-Star game and I want perhaps the most purely enjoyable player to watch on my side. Also, this reminds me, I think whatever team's players annoy John Smoltz more should be awarded an extra run.

Joe: I don’t get to enough games, which I think would be different if I lived somewhere else. I just don’t like the local parks very much. More excursions to Coney and Staten Isles might be the solution, but both are geographical challenges given where I live.

You broke the seal on the benches by taking Mookie over the remaining AL starters. I’ll follow your lead with Anthony Rendon, who is probably the current most underrated player in baseball. Also, the Nationals are just winners. This second pick has been harder; I’ll take one of three Dodgers starters on the NL roster in Walker Buehler.

Will: It is one of my proudest achievements that my seven-year-old now keeps score at games (using the same CS Peterson scorebook model I used as a kid). He actually told me the other day that he hasn't seen Mike Trout yet, and that makes him sad. I told him not to feel bad: Most of America is the same way.

I want more players to root for on my team, which is going to get tougher when Aroldis Chapman becomes a value pick. So I"ll take Alex Bregman and...well, maybe it's those three homers he just hit, but I've got Josh Bell fever right now. Remember that anonymous scout guy who hammered him in SI at the beginning of this year? I basically just assume it has been the same anonymous scout all these years, just an angry sad old dumbass who only signs players who look like Dustin Pedroia.

Joe: [checks current freelance schedule, whistles pass the SI criticism]

So is it harder to find players to root for now, or have we just raised the standards so high by caring about things we maybe didn’t care so much about in 1998 or 2008? Every time I write or talk about Addison Russell, I feel almost like I have to apologize for looking at him as a baseball player. There has to be a middle ground between that Reds broadcast the other day, which was appalling, and still being able to talk about baseball players in a baseball context. Or does there?

Having said that, I’ll now take some guys who make people smile. First, Francisco Lindor, whose numbers will be down because of the time lost to ankle and calf injuries, but who is still a top-ten player in all of MLB. Second, Ronald Acuña Jr., who is headed for a six-win season for a division champ and it’s almost like he’s been forgotten already. There’s so much young talent out there right now.

Will: [checks contract with SI.tv for "The Will Leitch Show”]

[blames the scout, not the writer]

[still gets a little nervous]

This is an extremely complicated question that probably can't be answered: I think everyone has to make his or her own choice on this. (I wrote about this last year when the Cubs traded for Daniel Murphy.) I'm pretty sure it's impossible to be a truly ethical sports fan, just like it's impossible to be a truly ethical anything. You just do your best and try to make the world a little better rather than a little worse. I'm glad I don't have to decide whether or not to cheer for Aroldis Chapman on my team. It doesn't mean that every Yankees fan who does is necessarily wrong.

Anyway! The world these days, right?

I should probably get a pitcher. I have taken the exact opposite strategy of last year. I'm gonna get me some Veteran Grit: Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. I just want to be able someday to say I was in the same dugout as they were, even if it's manager of this hypothetical team. I'm pretty sure they'd kick me out pretty quick for making everyone listen to Wilco in the clubhouse all the time.

Joe: I almost took Kershaw last time through. He’s my favorite active player, and it’s been fascinating watching him make the All-Star team as 65% of himself. I remember Greg Maddux’s post-1995 transition from “all-time peak” to “very good pitcher.” This feels similar, but with a lot of health issues tacked on. Do you have a favorite active player? I presume Albert Pujols isn’t still that guy.

With two really good starters gone, I’ll pass on the category and take Freddie Freeman, another underrated star, and Joey Gallo. On teams with a lot of guys who can make your jaw drop, Gallo is my pick to lead SportsCenter (kids, ask your parents) Tuesday night.

Will: My favorite player of all time is Darrell Porter, for reasons that don't have much to do with aesthetics, that's for sure.

I have to say: My favorite active player is probably...Javier Baez? It's sort of embarrassing to say that about a Cub, but if I had never seen a baseball game in my life, and I sat down to watch one involving the Cubs, I'm pretty sure I'd walk away thinking that guy was the best baseball player who ever lived. Though I can see Fernando Tatis Jr. taking over that spot. Others I truly love watching, now that you mention it: Tommy Pham (I even have a Pham Rays jersey), Carlos Martinez, Joey Votto, and Trout of course.

I need a DH, so I'll take the best one in J.D. Martinez. And then I"ll grab Kris Bryant, who still seems somehow underrated?

Joe: Since coming off the DL, Tatis Jr. has totally dominated my timeline. I love that the decision to put him on the Opening Day roster has turned out so well for both him and the Padres. We could use more examples like that, and the Mets with Pete Alonso, to encourage more teams to operate similarly.

One thing about this draft is I’ve definitely leaned towards players I like watching, rather than necessarily the best ones. With that in mind, I’ll take Alonso as my DH. The most impressive moment I’ve seen at a ballpark this year was his homer off James Paxton back in June at Yankee Stadium. Just a rocket. And then give me Gerrit Cole, because all those AL pitchers sitting there is beginning to feel weird.

Will: Well, I was at the Pujols series in St. Louis, so that laps anything else I've seen in person this year. As we're seeing with this year's team -- and I know you don't agree on this; you've always been a "Cardinals fans don't know how good they've got it" guy, which I understand but you're still wrong -- there has been such an erosion in what has been generally understood to be Cardinals baseball over the last three or four years that much of the outpouring of affection for Pujols was about nostalgia for what the organization was when he was there than it was about him. I honestly have never seen the fan base angrier and more defeated in my lifetime...and I remember the Bob Horner and Scott Cooper years!

Time to get some more pitchers, and look, Joe: It's a run on Mets! I"ll take Jacob deGrom and then Will Smith, who isn't Hader but will serve just as well for my purposes.

Joe: I am right. When the Cardinals have their next sub-.500 season, their next year in which September is completely meaningless, let me know. I understand a certain level of frustration, truly, but since 2000 the Cards have finished below .500 once. Even the Joe Torre Cards mostly hung out above .500. In your lifetime, who’s had it better? The Yankees, the Red Sox, maybe the Giants if you weight championships heavily.

I understand you’re speaking to something ineffable, but if Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez combine for 500 innings the last 2.5 years, I don’t think we’re having this conversation. The Cards were a 90-win team whose best pitching talents got hurt, and the locals talk about them like they’re the Midwest Marlins.

My daughter is nine years old and has never seen the Yankees win the World Series. That’s tragedy, my friend. That’s pain.

In that vein, let’s snap up Gary Sanchez, as I accidentally build Team Exit Velocity while also addressing the embarrassing number of AL players remaining. I guess I’ll take Ryan Pressly, too. These teams are…uninspiring?

Will: Well, honestly, I think that sub-.500, no-September season is going to be this season. So I'll let you know pretty soon! It is also worth noting that this standard has been set by the team itself. They have come into the last three seasons saying "we're a World Series level team" and then played nothing like it...but consistently have refused to acknowledge it. The idea that the fans are being unreasonable isn't supported by the team moving the goalposts constantly, which led to the worst moment of Mike Shildt's tenure last week, which he was basically like, "Sure, we're under .500 and 10 games under over the last two months...but what about our baserunning, right?"

I am not saying that Cardinals fans haven't had it good. I am saying they do not have it good right now, and frankly haven't for a while. Does that make them spoiled? Probably. But you find me a fan base out there that's totally OK with missing the postseason four years in a row, let alone one that sells out the stadium every night. Fans have a right to be frustrated when they are not getting what they pay for.

I always forget to get catchers. They're like when I do this with the kickers in fantasy football. I'll grab Willson Contreras so you don’t get the two best ones, and then Zack Greinke, who I fully expect to still be doing this when he is 50.

Joe: I think contending every year is pretty good. I can drop this, however. (That Shildt monologue was a doozy, though. Yeesh.)

In many seasons the catchers are an afterthought. The starters this year are great, however.

There are 22 AL players left and 15 NL players. I think that’s a pretty good summary of where the two leagues are right now. I’ll take Kirby Yates, a concept that would have sounded insane 18 months ago, and DJ LeMahieu. What a story he has been.

Will: Last bit on the Cardinals: One of my good friends here in Athens is a diehard Orioles fan. Obviously it is not a good time to be an Orioles fan. They're truly horrible! But they are already, simply by who they have in charge and that they are trying something new, better off than they were last year. They will be better off the year after that, and then after that. The Cardinals have been worse off every year since 2013. They've still been good in that time. They've just been a little worse every year, and may well be worse next year. No fanbase would be able to handle consistent degradation every year for six years. That the current Cardinals brass fails to recognize this is the most searing indictment against them.

(Listen to me and Bernie Miklasz talk about this every week on the Seeing Red podcast...IF YOU DARE!)

I have been avoiding getting a second baseman because I refuse to admit that Mike Moustakas is one and that Ketel Marte doing this makes me admit that I honestly have no idea how baseball works anymore. But i'll embrace the mystery by picking Marte and then taking Nolan Arenado because, whoa, no one has taken Nolan Arenado yet.

Joe: I would listen to you and Bernie talk about your favorite childhood toys. Polos versus button-downs. Ranking hamburgers by the eye test. Anything.

Arenado is the steal of the draft so far. You have Bregman, Arenado, and Bryant, which, I gotta tell ya, seems like a recipe for problems in the clubhouse. Those two picks also clean out the NL starters, while there are five AL starters remaining.

(Aside: I just read your Knicks thing. I mean, isn’t that what real fan frustration, and true ownership incompetence, looks like?)

All right, we’re to the part of the draft where you start to think about the players you don’t want to get stuck with, and pick accordingly. With that in mind, I’ll snag Jorge Polanco, who has been the best player on the team that’s the best story in baseball, and is the best shortstop left. Then give me Hyun-Jin Ryu, because it’s a little silly he’s still there and I need another lefty.

Will: It is true: The Cardinals are not the Knicks. No argument there!

We have gone on long enough that I can’t pretend Aroldis Chapman wouldn't come in handy. I'll just make sure he doesn't close, so the last highlight of my team's victory over you isn't him throwing the last strike. (I know many Cubs fans who were concerned about this very thing. No reason to be embarrassed of Mike Montgomery.) I am tempted to take Matt Chapman just so we can have a College Football Playoff of incredible third basemen, but I'll go with Luis Castillo, who's the perfect example of why the Reds pitching is so much better, which must be so, so frustrating for Reds fans.

Joe: Can you imagine telling Reds fans in March that they’d have the best pitching in the division and still be in last place? Crazy. I like watching Castillo, one of the guys whose innings are a priority for me.

I’ll take another one of those in Mike Soroka. I just hope his shoulder holds up. You do know your boys are going to be Braves fans in a few years, right?

[ducks]

This NL/AL thing has gotten a little out of hand, and there are some very good players left from the junior circuit. I’ll take George Springer.

Will: I have told my two sons on several occasions exactly what my father told me when I was a kid: It's OK if they don't want to be Cardinals fans; they just have to work hard enough to make enough money to find somewhere else to live.

I'm gonna cut you off at the pass and get me a late-inning base stealer, since this is just one game. It always baffles me that some teams don't groom a stray minor leaguer or two for just this purpose. A dude who can steal like Billy Hamilton but do nothing else -- I guess I'm just describing Billy Hamilton -- has outsized importance in one game; ask Dave Roberts. (The player, obviously, not the manager.) So hi, Whit Merrifield!

Also, Charlie Morton. Charlie Morton is going to do for late 20s pitchers with no stuff what Jose Bautista did for slap-hitting utility infielders.

Joe: The Royals have kept Terrance Gore around since the Clinton Administration for just that purpose. I don’t love the roster expansion next year -- I would rather have seen them stay at 25 and cap pitchers at 11, probably with an inactives list -- but I am hopeful that it could bring back pinch-runners/pinch-hitters a little bit. Even if you do, though, you have the no-singles problem operating against stealing bases. I’ll stop there lest I wander into another “we need more baseball in the baseball game” rant.

I’ll also reiterate that we’re picking from the All-Stars as announced on June 30, not accounting for injury replacements. Jake Odorizzi went on the IL as we were doing this.

I didn’t realize how little speed was left. Hmmm. I guess I’ll take, oh, one of the three or four best players in the AL in Matt Chapman, and then the league ERA leader in Mike Minor. Chapman is the AL’s Arenado with even less fame.

Will: I might need a late-inning guy to get on base for me, so Carlos Santana will work. (Do you think he even remembers being in Philadelphia at this point?) Also, Brad Hand, because we're single-handedly saving the LOOGY from its impending extinction over here.

My lord, there are still so many players left. This is like the Democratic debates combined with the 2016 Republican debates combined with British actors in the Harry Potter films.

Joe: All-Star rosters are too big. We don’t need 24 pitchers for one game. Once being an All-Star became a contract incentive, it became nearly impossible to make the rosters smaller. I don’t judge it, but I’d love to see 64 guys named, and then maybe 14 of those not active for the game. The Made Cut, Didn’t Finish for baseball.

I’m really selling these next picks hard, huh?

Give me Jeff McNeil, who has such an unusual game for 2019. I’ve compared him to Frank Catalanotto, but he may even have less power. Michael Brantley is probably the best player left, so I’ll throw him in as well.

Will: At this point ... I think I"m OK with them playing two separate All-Star Games at the same time. That'd be fun, actually: It'd be like March Madness, or maybe when they play the two final games in a World Cup pool at the same time. Or start one a little bit earlier so they overlap but not entirely, also like March Madness. I went to a Buffalo Bisons game -- Bo Bichette! -- last night that was a doubleheader with both games  seven innings long. It was so fun! Just two little amuse-bouche games that didn't matter and were therefore more purely enjoyable to experience. There are certainly enough players for it.

The Cardinals scored five runs in the ninth last night, so I'm now convinced they're going to go off on a run and win the division by ten games. (Being a baseball fan is very stupid.) So I'll take Paul DeJong -- who despite a recent downturn has added plate discipline this year, and he's an underrated defender -- and Lucas Giolito. If I were a young baseball fan with no affiliation, the Padres would be my NL team and the White Sox (or maybe the Rays) would be my AL one. (Who am I kidding? It'd be the Yankees.)

Joe: You’re starting to describe something eerily similar to the NHL All-Star “Game,’’ which is almost intentionally inscrutable. All I really want is more Trout, Mookie, Cody, Max, and less of the mandatory selections.

We’re not entirely down to the mandatory selections, but it’s close. I’ll take Yasmani Grandal, to have a lefty option off the bench, and…man, just five pitchers left and four of them were forced picks. I’ll take the only one who wasn’t, Jake Odorizzi, even though he’ll miss the game.

Will: It's probably time for my duo of Rockies: Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. I think they're getting in the wild-card game again. (Against Washington, if you're asking.)

Joe: I don’t need to be sold. I have always had them in the wild-card game (against the, uh, Cards). At the risk of alienating you, as I know what you think of sports betting, I was texting a friend a week or two ago that I thought their then-odds of 8-1 to win the division seemed light. The seeming decade of disappointment they’ve provided serves to mask just how ridiculously good their core is.

I’ll make it three straight Rockies with David Dahl, and grab Dan Vogelbach in a “maybe he’ll run into one” play.

Will: While we've been doing this draft, the Cardinals have gained two games on the Brewers and are now a game-and-a-half out of first and the wild card. I'm going to insist that this draft go on through August.

I'll go with Austin Meadows (the Pirates honestly might have ruined the next three to four years of their franchise with that trade) and Marcus Stroman (so I can have at least one player who might get traded during the game).

Joe: Marcus Stroman’s FIP, by year, since 2016: 3.71, 3.90, 3.91, 3.82. He very much is what he is, year in and year out. I doubt there’s a starting pitcher in baseball with a range that small over even three years.

I’m happy to stretch this out as long as you care to. What should we draft next? Writers? States? Fruits and vegetables? (I think we’re horning in on Joe Posnanski’s shtick here.)

Will: We could really anger everyone and draft Democratic presidential candidates. Is John Means the Mike Gravel of this draft?

I'll take Mike Moustakas and...you know, I'm so giddy that Hunter Pence is doing this now that I’ll take him.

Joe: Our Elizabeth Warren versus Kamala Harris divergence alone might be worth doing. Although I am absolutely certain I can’t name even all 20 candidates who made the debates. I have some pretty strong opinions not so much about the candidates, but about a presidential race that starts 20-odd months before an election. I’ll leave it there.

J.T. Realmuto and Sandy Alcantara.

I think this locks in the last three picks, too.

Will: You know, I hear people say that a lot, and I don't entirely understand it. I mean, this is the most important decision we make as a democracy; we just saw what happens if we get it wrong. It should take a long time. We should put these candidates through the ringer. We should take a long time to look at everyone and decide.

I'm for Harris over everyone else right now, but that could change. A lot can happen. I'm honored to get to have these highly qualified, highly intelligent people -- and they really all are -- making the case to me and the rest of the country why they think the world will be better if they are President. I mean, those debates were great. Sober-minded, thoughtful people talking about issues that matter to me and my children and everyone I know and care about? Acknowledging serious problems and attempting to come up with actual solutions? Two hours of highly watched television about the most serious, precious issues of this incredible period in human history? YES, PLEASE! I am giddy to get another year of this.

I'll take John Means, because I want to have the Bryan LaHair of this year, and James McCann in case all my catchers fall in a well.

Joe: I finish with Tommy La Stella, who probably is more like the Bryan LaHair of this year.

I would agree with you if attention were an infinite resource, and if an electoral process and a governing process were independent of one another. Neither is true, so focus on, and the solving of, problems ends up taking a back seat to the never-ending election cycle. Unholy amounts of money are spent on our elections, money that makes TV-station owners in Ohio and Pennsylvania rich, but doesn’t really do anything for the citizenry.

A two-year presidential election cycle exacerbates all of these problems, and that’s before even addressing the content that emerges from the cycle. I disagree that the pool consists largely of “highly qualified, highly intelligent” people; there are some, yes, and then there are…others.

I think you’d be right in a better-functioning society. In ours, we need more people fighting the fires, rather than arguing for two years over who eventually gets to hold the hose.

Will, we have distributed 64 baseball players, some the Warrens and Harrises of baseball, some the Williamsons and de Blasios. There would normally be a bonus round here, but the “final vote” has mercifully been put to rest.

So let me just say how much I appreciate you taking the time to do this. You are my favorite active writer, and I am always in awe of both your dexterity with words and the range of topics to which you’re able to apply it. It helps, in this era in which our favorite artists can so often not turn out to be our favorite humans, that I can admire you as a person, a father, and a citizen as well. I’m looking forward to reading more of you, and hopefully soon, sitting in a ballpark together kvelling about Mike Shildt and Dexter Fowler.

Will: It was an honor, as always. As I've said before, I'm pretty sure I've read every word you've written for about 15 years, so almost all of my baseball opinions have been run through the Joe Sheehan laundry once or twice already anyway. I'm just trying to keep up. I'll see you at the Yankees/Cardinals World Series. One's gotta happen sometime in my lifetime.

Here’s my starting lineup:

CF Mookie Betts
LF Cody Bellinger
RF Christian Yelich
3B Alex Bregman
DH J.D. Martinez
SS Javier Baez
1B Josh Bell
C Willson Contreras
2B Ketel Marte (though I'm half a mind to put Kris Bryant there anyway)
P Justin Verlander

Joe: That top four is insane. I’ll go with:

RF Ronald Acuna Jr.
CF Mike Trout
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Joey Gallo
DH Pete Alonso
SS Francisco Lindor
2B DJ Lemahieu
C Gary Sanchez
P Max Scherzer

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 7, 2019 -- "The Baldelli Maneuver"

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.

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--

"Rogers’s save yesterday was the Twins’ fourth this year of six to eight outs. Just one team in baseball, the Brewers -- hi, Josh Hader -- has more. Just one other good team, the Braves, has even two. Baldelli isn’t using Rogers in exactly the same way Craig Counsell is using Hader, but he’s the only manager in baseball who seems to be trying."

Friday, July 5, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 5, 2019 -- "Finding Upgrades"

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.

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--

"One of the truisms of team-building is that it’s easier to get better when you have an obvious hole than when you have a lot of average players. You can upgrade from a 2 or a 3 much more easily than from a 6 or a 7. (Ask any woman who has dated me.) This puts teams like the Cardinals and Cubs in a bind. The Cards have five players who have been worth at least one win. Three others, Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Carpenter, and Yadier Molina, have large, fairly recent contract commitments from the team that make their lineup spots safe. The Cards’ offense is bad, but it’s also hard to find a trade target that makes the team better. The Cubs, similarly, have seven average or better hitters, and the two spots where they might upgrade, second base and center field, are manned by superior defensive players in Addison Russell and Albert Almora Jr. Every Cubs regular save for Kyle Schwarber is on pace to be worth at least one bWAR this year."

Monday, July 1, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 1, 2019 -- "July's Most Important Person"

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.

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--

"So for the next 30 days, Farhan Zaidi is the most interesting man in baseball. There’s not a decision maker in the game who has more to sell than does Zaidi, and unlike some teams who might lay claim to that descriptor, he isn’t nursing dreams of a second-half run to the playoffs. The Giants have the second-worst record in the NL, and that’s an accurate reflection of what they are. Any team, like the seven mentioned above or the ten others with an eye on October, that needs pitching should be lighting up Zaidi’s phone regularly."

Friday, June 28, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 28, 2019 -- "All-Star Voting"

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.

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--

"Pham is wrong to want the teams picked by ten-week WAR because the game isn’t supposed to be a reward for ten weeks of good play, and because all our advanced stats -- especially ones that incorporate defense -- break down as the samples get smaller. Martinez is wrong to want the players to vote because the game isn’t supposed to be a reward for ten weeks of good play, and because we have a decade of evidence that that’s all the players are voting on -- except they’re not even using wRC+ and WAR, but rather, the baseball-card stats on the ballot."

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 26, 2019 -- "The Yankees Get Healthy"

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.

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--

"The Yankees beat the Angels that night, and they won again the next night, and they kept winning. From April 23 through June 20 -- Judge came off the DL on June 21, more or less making the Yankees lineup whole -- the Yankees went 35-17. Aaron Boone managed a bench to two wins in every three games, and took his team from a battle for the second wild card to a six-game lead in the division. Rocco Baldelli will win the AL Manager of the Year, but what Boone did over two months stands with anything any manager will do this year."

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 25, 2019 -- "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 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.

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--

"Three years ago, the White Sox launched an aggressive rebuild by trading Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and, eventually, Jose Quintana. They’ve developed some of their own talent alongside of the players they acquired in those deals. The next step, however, demands more than just “being in on” players who sign for market value somewhere else. The White Sox have to use money to buy wins, have to go out and get the four- and five-win players who will supplement the wins they will be getting, at laughably low prices, from the likes of Giolito and Jimenez and Anderson and Kopech."

Friday, June 21, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 21, 2019 -- "No Surprise"

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.

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--

"The way the game is played is changing rapidly, but the way the game is watched isn’t. Get people excited in December, give them a winning team to watch in June, and they’ll show up. We need more surprise teams, and to get them, we need more ownership groups and front offices trying to win, rather than just promising to win at some future date."

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 19, 2019 -- "Same Ol' A's?"

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.

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--

"The 2019 A’s are outplaying the 2018 team through this point on the calendar. Their pitching has been about the same, while the offense, building off of last season, has been significantly better. This is very good news, if you’re an A’s fan, because the pitching may be about to get a whole lot better."

Monday, June 17, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 17, 2019 -- "1,100 Homers a Month"

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.

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--

"Sunday featured a full slate of baseball games, with all 30 teams in action. A full third of those teams scored at least eight runs. Six of them scored at least 11. One of those six even managed to lose. We can point to Planet Coors and hand-wave away the record-setting Padres/Rockies series, but at any altitude, the trends of 2019 are not abating at all. In fact, they’re accelerating -- and it’s not even summer yet. Through 16 June days, we’ve seen 609 homers, 1.42 per team per game. At that pace, 2019 will have given us the three biggest home-run months in baseball history."

Friday, June 14, 2019

Shohei Ohtani

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.

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Last night, Shohei Ohtani became the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, racking up four hits in a 5-3 Angels win over the Rays. The big game pulls Ohtani’s sophomore year numbers to .281/.350/.512. He's done that over about a month since starting his season late as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.

In 135 career games, a tick more than 500 career plate appearances, Ohtani has shown himself to be one of the best hitters in baseball: .284/.358/.550, a 144 OPS+, with 11 steals in 16 attempts. While he’s yet to play a defensive inning as a position player Stateside, his baserunning has been impressive enough to support the reports we had on his NPB work. Ohtani would almost certainly be a good, perhaps even great, corner outfielder in the majors.

It’s been just over a year now since Ohtani took his last regular turn in the rotation, a four-inning start in Kansas City abbreviated by a blister on his right middle finger. Ohtani would make a seemingly random start in September, going 2 1/3 innings against the Astros. So it’s reasonable to say that for the last year, Ohtani hasn’t been the two-way player of mythology but, rather, a one-way player. In that year, Ohtani has hit .282/.353/.556. Left alone to rake, he’s been one of the 15 best hitters in baseball, with a 146 wRC+. Here are his comps in that time.

Oh! -tani (Hitting since June 14, 2018, min. 250 PA)

                     PA     AVG   OBP   SLG   wRC+

11. Max Muncy       589    .286  .380  .551   149
12. Mookie Betts    711    .307  .416  .524   149
13. Shohei Ohtani   375    .282  .353  .556   146
14. Josh Bell       602    .299  .385  .544   145
15. Pete Alonso     277    .258  .339  .598   145


Mind you, a lot of that production has come with a torn or surgically repaired right ulnar collateral ligament. We’ve yet to see what Shohei Ohtani can do at full health.

I understand the desire to see someone do that which hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth was hitting dingers and committing all seven deadly sins before lunch. Isn’t it clear, though, a year and a half into this, that Ohtani is a potential MVP candidate even if he never takes the mound at all, and that pushing the latter task onto his desk offers more risk than reward?

Ohtani was a good, not great, pitcher last year, a Statcast darling used on a six-day schedule who still didn’t provide volume when he pitched, who walked more than 10% of the batters he faced, who left a hole in the lineup on the days before and after he took the mound. If we pick this up again in 2020, his pitching duties will once again eat into his at-bats, even as the Angels have to manage his innings. Come Opening Day 2020, Ohtani will have thrown just 77 innings in the last 3 1/2 years. It will be 2021, maybe 2022, before he carries a true starter’s workload, if ever, and the effort to put that on him will keep him out of the lineup -- keep a top-20 hitter in MLB out of the lineup -- 40% of the time.

I wrote this on April 9, 2018, and I stand by it today:

“I’m pretty sure Shohei Ohtani is a five-win pitcher, and I can be convinced he’s a five-win outfielder. I just don’t know if we’re taking those players and making them into a four-win P/DH.”

I loved what we saw last night. I want to see more of it. Maybe that should be enough.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 13, 2019 -- "The Rangers"

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.

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--

"This is a team whose young hitters have stagnated, and whose offense is largely being carried by players who haven’t hit like this in years. As good as their top two starters have been, there’s very little depth behind them, although the June plan sure looks a lot better than the April one did. Their third-order record, and their projected playoff chances, reflect the reality: This is a team in transition that has had a lot of things go its way in 2019. Come July 20, they’ll be better off looking to turn Minor, Choo, Pence, Shawn Kelley, and the other thirtysomethings into 2022 Rangers than trying to ride them to a road game against Chris Sale or Blake Snell or James Paxton."

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 11, 2019 -- "Who Says No?"

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.

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--

"Unfortunately for Trout, it was enough to contribute to a win that pushed the Angels to just 32-35. They’re 13 games behind the Astros in the AL West, four games behind the Rangers and three other teams for the second wild-card slot. Trout hasn’t played in a postseason game since 2014; Bellinger, about four years his junior, has played in 31 since then. Trout has never played in a World Series game; Bellinger has played in the last 12 and is the favorite to extend that streak. Watching the two of them last night sharing a field, one maybe the greatest player ever, one matching him shot for shot for two months at 23 years old, I wondered what it would look like for them to change places."

"Cody Bellinger for Mike Trout. Who says no?"

Monday, June 10, 2019

From the Archives: "Rivalry?"

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.

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--

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 10, No. 45
June 11, 2018

I was flipping back and forth between Sunday night’s Yankees/Mets game and the season finale of “Billions,” which is why I had my TV sound on and was able to hear ESPN’s Matt Vasgersian refer to the baseball matchup as a “rivalry.”

Is it, though? Chuck and Axe are...well, were...rivals. The Yankees’ rival, however, is the Red Sox. Outside of the 2000 World Series, and George Steinbrenner’s obsession with the defunct Mayor’s Trophy Game, the Mets have been an afterthought for the Yankees and their fans, the little brother occasionally making good. It’s like with USC, my alma mater; UCLA’s rival is USC, but USC’s rival is Notre Dame.

I don’t think it makes much more sense from the Mets’ side, either. Who is the Mets’ rival? Probably the Cubs, although it could be the Securities and Exchange Commission, or maybe just the concept of human frailty. The relationship with the Yankees isn’t a rivalry, even in the era of interleague play. A rivalry isn’t just about geography, although it helps. The Dodgers and Giants were rivals in New York, and they ported that out west, helped along by the established rivalry between the two flagship cities in California. The Cubs’ rival isn’t the White Sox, it’s the Cardinals. You build a rivalry by competing directly with another team for championships. Nebraska and Oklahoma were rivals for decades, but come 2030, a generation of Huskers and Sooners will have grown up not thinking of the other at all.

The Yankees and Mets have not only never had that, pace a week in 2000, but they’ve rarely been good at the same time. The history of New York baseball since the Mets came into being in 1962 is the two teams mostly trading off periods of superiority. They’ve participated in the same postseason just four times in more than 50 years, and only twice, in 1999 and 2000, have they both reached the LCS round in the same year. They’ve finished over .500 in the same year less than half the time. The Mets have six players on their active roster who weren’t alive the last time the Yankees finished under .500.

The most recent of those periods was 2015-16, when the Mets won the NL pennant and then a year later returned to the NL Wild Card Game. The Yankees won a wild-card slot in ’15 and then missed the playoffs in 2016 with an 84-78 mark, making their first present-for-future trades that season in close to 30 years. If you’d taken a snapshot of the the two teams at the start of the 2016 playoffs, you would have seen the Mets with an exciting, young starting rotation, with a strong farm system, with their relatively new ballpark, with an ownership group seemingly inclined to once again spend money. They’d been to the playoffs and to the World Series more recently than the Yankees, who seemed content to focus on lowering their luxury-tax payments and waiting for their own farm system to turn around.

Less than two years later, it’s a Yankees town again. Even that’s a misnomer. New York is always a Yankees town, one that makes room for the Mets when the Mets warrant it. There’s some geographic fudging around that idea, with the Yankees more the team of Manhattan, the Bronx, and New Jersey, and the Mets more popular in Queens, Brooklyn, and Long Island. Apart perhaps from the 1980s, when the Mets had an incredible group of young, exciting stars and the Yankees had Steinbrenner ruining my adolescence, there’s never been equality or anything like it.

The Mets failed to keep those starting pitchers healthy. Since 2015, Matt Harvey’s career foundered due to injury. Noah Syndergaard has made 18 starts since Opening Day 2017. Steven Matz has 258 innings in just shy of 2 1/2 seasons. The 2015-18 Mets have shown both the potential upside of building around a young rotation, and the potential downside; the similarities to the 1984-90 Mets, in that regard, are uncanny.

Across the East River, the Yankees did a better-than-expected job of developing their own homegrown talent. Aaron Judge became one of the most famous players in the game, the poster boy for the Statcast Era. Luis Severino, Gary Sanchez, and Jordan Montgomery helped push the Yankees to within a game of the World Series while the Mets slipped under .500. This year, the Yankees took advantage of the Marlins’ fire sale to add Giancarlo Stanton, and are on pace to set the MLB record for home runs in a single season. They have the best record in baseball, and last night’s result aside, have once again buried their neighbors to the east.

The Mets started 2017 looking to build on two playoff appearances and an NL pennant. They’re 98-126 since then. Syndergaard is on the DL, as are Juan Lagares, Wilmer Flores, Travis d’Arnaud, Yoenis Cespedes, and Jeurys Familia. Amed Rosario, their top prospect coming into 2018, has a .275 OBP. Michael Conforto, arguably rushed back from shoulder surgery, is hitting .215/.335/.359. There’s more talk about the Mets dumping a starting pitcher than about them contending. You look ahead, and you wonder if a team whose best contributors this year (save Brandon Nimmo) are all at least 30 years old is going to be able to compete with the young talent of the Braves and Nationals in 2019 and beyond. The Syndergaard/Cespedes Mets may already be done.

If so, New York will return to its natural state, the sounds of Severino and Sterling and Sinatra blasting from sports bars and car radios from Parkchester to Park Avenue, Woodlawn to Wall Street. The biggest games won’t be against the blue and orange, but the red and white, as they’ve been for a century. That’s what a rivalry looks like.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 7, 2019 -- "Craig Kimbrel"

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.

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--

"So I look at Kimbrel and see a reliever who is losing a little fastball velocity and a little breaking-ball command. He’s throwing fewer strikes and the ones he throws are a bit more hittable. Kimbrel started at such a high level that he’s been able to maintain a reasonable level of effectiveness, but the arrows aren’t pointing in the right direction. I said often this winter that while the focus, with respect to Kimbrel, was on the free-agent market and its issues, there were also perfectly good baseball reasons to avoid signing him for the costs involved. I’ll stand by that today."

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

All-Star Ballot

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.

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--

American League

1B: Carlos Santana, Indians
2B: Jose Altuve, Astros
3B: Alex Bregman, Astros
SS: Francisco Lindor, Indians
C: Gary Sanchez, Yankees
OF: Mike Trout, Angels
OF: Mookie Betts, Red Sox
OF: George Springer, Astros
DH: J.D. Martinez, Red Sox

National League

1B: Freddie Freeman, Braves
2B: Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks
3B: Nolan Arenado, Rockies
SS: Javier Baez, Cubs
C: Willson Contreras, Cubs
OF: Christian Yelich, Brewers
OF: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
OF: Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves



Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 4, 2019 -- "The MVP Machine"

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.

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--

"The MVP Machine describes an entirely different world, a playercentric one in which all talent can be undervalued, in which all players have the agency to become not what the scouts or the stats say they are, but whatever they’re willing to put in the work to become. It introduces a cast of characters who are new to the game, outsiders like Driveline Baseball’s Kyle Boddy and the Ball Yard’s Doug Latta, who practice independent thinking and use rafts of new technology to develop the skills players already have. Even those teachers, though, aren’t the stars of the book."

Monday, June 3, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, June 3, 2019 -- "Signing Day"

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.

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"The Royals and Dodgers led the way on baseball’s signing day, combining to commit nearly $100 million to amateurs in the first hours of the market. The Royals emphasized pitching, while the Dodgers loaded up on bats and, as has become their wont, focused on talent from Southern California. The biggest deal of the day, however, was made by the Rangers, who, 34 years after making Bobby Witt the third pick of the 1985 draft, signed the right-hander’s son to a contract featuring a $12 million bonus and salary escalators that could pay the shortstop $46 million through 2028."

Thursday, May 30, 2019

From the Archives: "Rockies on the Rocks"

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.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 10, No. 83
September 19, 2018

So, one way to alter a timeline is to say something like, “I’ll be writing about the Rockies for Tuesday’s Newsletter.” On Monday, the Rockies got run out of the gym by the Dodgers, 8-2, turning over first place in the process. That wasn’t even the worst thing that happened to them; shortstop Trevor Story, who had become the team’s second-best hitter behind Nolan Arenado, injured his right elbow on a swing during the defeat. The initial concern was that Story had torn his UCL; an MRI showed that there was no structural damage. Story should be back in the lineup shortly.

The Rockies responded to this good news by losing 3-2 in extra innings. In two days, they’ve gone from division leader to out of the playoff picture, a game-and-a-half behind the Dodgers in the NL West and the Cardinals for the second wild card.

However this ride ends for the Rockies, it’s worth taking a look at this remarkable season. On the heels of an 87-win 2017, 2018 will be just the third time in franchise history the Rockies have had consecutive winning seasons (1995-97 and 2009-10 being the others). As it was in ’09-’10, it’s been about the caliber of pitching. The 2018 Rockies have a FIP- (fielding-independent pitching ERA, adjusted for run environment and scaled to an average of 100) of 95. That’s the third-best mark in franchise history; the three ahead of it are 2017, 2010, and 2009.

I’ve argued vociferously that the way for the Rockies to win is to build a thousand-run offense and let the pitching fall where it may. The team’s history, however, shows that its success is driven not by run creation, but by run prevention. I’m simply wrong about what works in Coors Field. When the Rockies pitch well, they win. The Rockies are pitching very well; that FIP- is the third-best in the NL behind the Dodgers and Phillies. They’re sixth in K-BB%, fourth in xFIP. They’re not getting particularly fortunate on contact, with a DER than ranks 13th in the league (the size of the Coors outfield is a big factor in this number), and as you would expect, the third-highest HR/FB (13.7%) in the league.

Speaking of being wrong...the other plank in my Coors Field case has been that because of the effect of thin air on breaking pitches, the Rockies would need to find the hardest throwers they could. They wanted fastball pitchers, and lots of them. This year’s team? It throws fastballs at the lowest rate in the NL, by far the lowest rate in team history, and down more than 10% from a year ago. The Rockies may throw more non-fastballs than fastballs this year for the first time, aligning themselves with the Yankees, Astros, Indians, and Red Sox as teams moving rapidly away from the country hardball of yore.

It’s something to consider just how planned this has been. The Rockies have used just seven starters this year. None have ever thrown an inning for any other team. Five were originally signed by the Rockies, and the other two were acquired as prospects. We talk about the Rays being able to use “the opener” in part because they have a lot of young pitchers years from being able to go to arbitration, pitchers who may be eager to have a job and worry less about their role. What the Rockies have done is brought together a group of young starters -- no one over 29 has started a game for the Rockies -- and gotten them to buy in. Unlike the Pirates, though, who tried to jam Gerrit Cole into their two-seam fastball approach with poor results, the Rockies are flexible. Antonio Senzatela is throwing his four-seam fastball almost two-thirds of the time.

The biggest success story this year is Kyle Freeland. Freeland, the eighth overall pick in the 2014 draft, came to the majors throwing 64% fastballs last year. This year, that figure is 52%, with a greater reliance on his change-up. Freeland doesn’t throw hard, and what I see when I watch him is Dallas Keuchel: a lefty with terrific command of average-plus stuff. Freeland’s run prevention is running a bit ahead of his performance -- he’s allowed a .276 BABIP and a 9.2% HR/FB, both far from the Rockies’ team numbers -- but in that way he’s having Keuchel’s 2015 season, when he won the Cy Young Award. Freeland isn’t a #1, despite having a #1’s ERA. He’s a low #2, though, and he’s going to be inexpensive for a while.

Freeland, Senzatela, Jon Gray, Tyler Anderson...all homegrown Rockies. This is where we get to...the rest of the story. There are few teams in baseball getting the kind of value from homegrown ballplayers that the Rockies are. There are also few teams in baseball burning money the way the Rockies are. There’s no team in memory with such a split between the players it has developed and the players it has acquired, and if the Rockies don’t make the playoffs, they have no choice but to blame the work Jeff Bridich has done in the free-agent market the last few years.

Uh, Jeff? (Rockies’ Roster, by origin and 2018 bWAR)

Developed         30.4
Traded For, MLB    0.4
Free Agents       -3.3
Other              0.3


Nitpicky note: Players like Gabriel Marquez and D.J. Lemahieu, who were acquired as low- or no-profile minor leaguers, go in the first bin. If you never played for anyone else in the majors, you’re in that first group. Season to taste.

So the Rockies have developed, within their system and using the work their prospect team has done in identifying prospects to acquire in trades, a championship-caliber team. Around that team, with all the other work they have done, they have provided sub-replacement talent. That “-3.3” above is the work of a dozen players who are making about $80 million this season. That’s “sign Machado and Harper” money, and it’s being spent on pushing the Rockies away from the postseason. The Rockies tried to bolster their offense, and their offense is terrible: 11th in the NL in wRC+. It’s one of the worst offenses in franchise history.

Seriously, Jeff?!? (Worst wRC+, Rockies, 1993-2018)

      wRC+
2002   82
2000   82
1999   84
1993   84
2005   85
2018   85


The Rockies are the best current example of a team that simply doesn’t get free agency. Buying from the middle of the market is death; it’s how you end up with Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra and Chris Iannetta killing a lineup. Now and again, it works and you land on Nelson Cruz; more often than not, you simply end up paying for past performance that is never going to happen again.

If the Rockies miss the playoffs, they will have paid dearly for the privilege of doing so.


Newsletter Excerpt, May 30, 2019 -- "A Blind Alley"

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.

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--

"Add it all up. Games are still nine innings long, the season still 162 games. Less is being asked of starters, though, so relievers have to pick up the burden. Less is being asked of relievers, too, so you need more of them. On a daily basis, relievers are being handled more carefully, never pitching on four straight days and rarely on three, so on some days managers have big Xs through two or three of their better guys.

"What if we’re just running out of pitchers? What if -- with pitchers making up 55% of Major League Baseball on most days, except when they make up more -- we have finally run out of arms?"

Monday, May 27, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 27, 2019 -- "Ryne Stanek"

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.

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--

"It’s also going to screw with our statistics. Stanek’s 14 starts put him on pace to make more than 40, which is a number no one reaches any more. No one has made 40 starts in a season since knuckleballer Charlie Hough did it in 1987. No one has made more than 40 starts since another knuckleballer, Phil Niekro, made 42 in 1979. (Pitching stats from the 1970s are a sight to see.) The last non-knuckleballer to make more than 40 starts in a season was Jim Kaat in 1975, who made 41. Since the pitching rubber was moved to 60 feet, six inches in 1893, there have been 130 seasons of at least 41 starts. Eighty-seven of them happened from 1893 through 1917, and 38 happened from 1962 through 1979."

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 23, 2019 -- "Twins!"

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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"Ah, the catchers. The best season any single catcher has ever had at the plate was by Mike Piazza in 1997. Piazza, riding the crest of a hitters’ era, hit .362/.431/.638 with 40 homers, for a 185 OPS+. Twins catchers -- Astudillo, Garver, and Jason Castro -- are hitting .307/.389/.699 with 17 homers already, a 198 OPS+. Garver and Castro are both way out over their skis, but a surprise team usually has a performance or two like this in it. If the Twins do win the division, 'randomly assembling peak Mike Piazza' will be a big reason why."

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 21, 2019 -- "No IBB"

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.

--

"The Astros, a year after setting the record for fewest intentional walks granted with four (and none in their seven postseason games), have yet to issue a single free pass this season. They are the only team in baseball to have called for no intentional walks. We don’t necessarily need a new reason to praise the Astros, the best team in baseball, one of the best organizations in baseball, and the favorite to win their second World Series in three years, but here we are."

Monday, May 20, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 20, 2019 -- "#lolmets"

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.

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--

"If we just restrict this analysis to the current GM, you have the Cano/Diaz trade, which was supposed to be a short-term improvement. It’s added less than a win to the team in 2019, and all the costs are paid in future seasons, in increased payroll and the absence of Kelenic and Dunn. You have the signings of Lowrie, Ramos, Familia, Justin Wilson, and Luis Avilan: a combined one win below replacement level for $20 million. Throw Keon Broxton in there at sub-replacement work for near the minimum. Brodie van Wagenen has done a better job of getting players money for nothing as a GM than he ever did as an agent."

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.

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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.