Friday, March 29, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe 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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Boston Red Sox (95-67). The Red Sox are returning just about everyone from the team that dogpiled on the Dodger Stadium mound just five months ago. They retained midseason trade pickups Steven Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi, while doing nothing to bolster a bullpen that is the team’s weak link -- especially in the absence of free agent Craig Kimbrel.

Dating to the 2003 Angels, I’ve cringed when championship teams largely choose to run it back with the players they won with, rather than make improvements. Boston's 25-man Opening Day roster included just one player, reliever Colton Brewer, who wasn’t in the organization last year. The Red Sox did spend so much last season that they triggered the most vicious investment penalties, serving as a serious disincentive to do so again, but they still chose to pay Eovaldi $17 million a year, so it’s hard to paint this as an organization being cheap. The Sox just have a large core of controlled players, and no clear places where they might have added to the team.

With that said, I still have them slipping by 13 games from their record last year. That reflects a conviction that their offense won’t be quite as good, as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez come down to earth a bit. Rafael Devers, who I’m over the moon for this year, and Jackie Bradley Jr. should make up some of the shortfall.

The biggest concerns are, once again, the relief pitchers, and it’s worth remembering that they were also the biggest concern heading into last year’s postseason. The Red Sox should get a lot of innings from their starters, making them less reliant on a strong pen than many other teams. A bullpen is also that part of a contender most easily fixed in-season, as even bad teams, ones selling at the trade deadline, will have arms available. Mark Melancon, Sergio Romo, Mychal Givens, Ken Giles, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera and more are all possibilities to be in the Sox bullpen come August. Panic over the Sox pen is exacerbated by a direct comparison to the Yankees’ deep group, of course, but the Yankees can’t match what the Sox have in the first five innings every night.

As you’ll see below, I had the Sox falling short of the division crown until very recently. As it is, this should be a much more interesting race than it was a year ago.

One Stat: Chris Sale, now the possessor of generational wealth, has proven to be more durable than many observers, myself included, expected him to be when he was coming up with the White Sox. With that said, Sale has often struggled to finish seasons. His career September ERA of 3.78 is by far his highest; his August ERA of 3.16 is his second-highest. October? A 5.76 mark in 25 innings, with no quality starts in four tries, and a peak Game Score of 56. Sale has never gotten more than 16 outs in a playoff start. That’s more than one stat, but they all stem from the same idea: Sale has stayed healthy, mostly, but maybe you don’t want to bet on him for five more years.

One Guy: If you haven’t read my Valentines to Rafael Devers in the Rotowire magazine or the SI baseball preview issue, well shame on you. I love the guy and think he’s going to blow up after an adjustment year in 2018. He’s still just 22, and even last year there were signs of growth in his profile. What he needs, more than anything else, is to be left alone for six months.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Opening Day



Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Noah Syndergaard, Ronald Acuña Jr., Francisco Lindor, Jacob de Grom, Aaron Nola, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Christian Yelich, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Giancarlo Stanton, Michael Conforto, Blake Snell, Buster Posey, Trevor Bauer, Jameson Taillon, Edwin Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Diaz, Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Paul Goldschmidt, Eloy Jimenez, Jose Berrios, Jonathan Villar, Corey Seager, Gleyber Torres, Joey Gallo, Brian Anderson, Zack Greinke...

Box scores.

The Green Monster, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda,  the Judge’s Chambers, the King’s Court, the Rally Monkey, the Rockpile, McCovey Cove, Bernie Brewer, Mr. Met, the Phanatic, Dinger, Fredbird, Wally, play Sinatra, Fly the W, fly the Jolly Roger, the sausage race, the presidents’ race, the pierogi race, The Freeze, the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the pool, the fountains, the ivy, the train tracks, Fenway Franks, Cha-Cha Bowls, Dodger Dogs, Boog’s, walleye on a stick, bacon on a stick, Ben’s half-smoke...

Peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Tom Verducci, Will Leitch, Joe Posnanski, Jeff Passan, Rany Jazayerli, Emma Baccellieri, Ben Reiter, Mike Petriello, Jay Jaffe, Rob Mains, Joel Sherman, Pete Abraham, Ken Davidoff, Ken Rosenthal, Meg Rowley, David Schoenfield, Peter Gammons, Eno Sarris, Jayson Stark, Sheryl Ring, Nick Piecoro, Jamal Collier, Mark Simon, Jamey Newberg, Rob Neyer, Maury Brown, Marly Rivera, Sam Miller, David Laurila, Ben Lindbergh, Katie Sharp, Matthew Leach, Derrick Goold, Jessica Quiroli, Sarah Langs, Craig Calcaterra, Travis Sawchik, Dayn Perry, Meghan Montemurro, Ben Badler, Jim Callis, John Sickels, Scott Miller, Matt Snyder, Bill James...

Baseball-Reference.com.

Len Kasper, Boog Sciambi, Jason Benetti, Jon Miller, Bob Uecker, Kruk and Kuip, Marty Brennaman, David Cone, Dan Shulman, Todd Kalas, Jerry Remy, Joe Davis, Don Orsillo, Brian Anderson, Mike Ferrin, Dave O’Brien, Chip Caray, Dave Flemming, Mike Shannon, Denny Matthews, John Sterling, Eric Nadel, Chris Welsh, Matt Vasgersian, Joe Buck...

Gary, Ron, and Keith.

The trade deadline, the rumor mill, the standings, the live scoreboard, 91-mph sliders, 64-mph curves, Quick Pitch, batting practice, getaway day games, makeup doubleheaders, #weirdbaseball, getting to the park early, staying to the final out, sneaking into better seats, MLB At Bat, the Subway Series, the Freeway Series, the Crosstown Cup, the Vedder Cup, cup checks, shirseys, snapbacks, going home with a foul ball, going home with a story of how you gave your foul ball to a kid, sunburn, keeping a scorecard, dot races, Centerfield, YMCA, Sweet Caroline, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, California Love, Thunderstruck, Go Cubs Go, Seven Nat...nope...

Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Opening Day.

Let’s. Go.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe 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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Chicago White Sox (70-92). This was supposed to be the year the White Sox took their first step forward. Then Yoan Moncada struck out 217 times, and Michael Kopech blew out his elbow, and Dane Dunning did the same, and the Sox took the offseason, well, off. The optimism that was here just a season ago has definitely faded. While the Sox still have a strong farm system and an interesting group of young veterans in the majors, a permanent failure to launch is definitely in play.

Which way it goes will come down to the products of the trades that rebuilt this farm system. I’m bullish on Moncada, though less so now that he’s been moved to third base. Any reduction in strikeout rate should redound to his batting average, and he only needs to bat .265 to be a very good player. Lucas Giolito was terrible last year, but just staying in the rotation all season at 23 was a positive. Reynaldo Lopez did the same, and finished the season strong. Eloy Jimenez has arrived and will push Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for top rookie honors. There is absolutely talent here. If we’re picking a watchable bad team this year, it’s the White Sox.

Maybe next year the Sox will sign Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole, finally silencing the criticism that they like to be in on players without ever actually closing the deal. Until then, you should take the White Sox exactly as seriously as they seem to take themselves.

One Stat: Other than some James Shields ABs in interleague play, the White Sox didn’t give a single plate appearance last year to a player older than 31. No other team in MLB did that.

One Guy: The White Sox became the latest team to use the service-time rules as leverage, signing Eloy Jimenez to a six-year contract with options that could lock him up until 2026. With Jimenez-the-asset now covered, we can focus on Jimenez-the-player. That guy is a 22-year-old with all-fields power and excellent bat-to-ball skills (16% strikeout rate in the upper minors). He will be a very good major-league hitter starting Thursday.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Newsletter Preview: 2019 Predictions

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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Projected 2019 standings, postseason and awards picks:


Team        W-L   Pct  GB   RS   RA

Red Sox    95-67 .586  --  836  690  
Yankees*   94-68 .580   1  821  691
Rays*      94-68 .580   1  736  626
Blue Jays  70-92 .432  25  688  801
Orioles   54-108 .333  41  589  867  

Indians    90-72 .556  --  746  649
Twins      84-78 .519   6  776  752
White Sox  70-92 .407  20  698  825
Royals     64-98 .395  26  621  787
Tigers     64-98 .395  26  657  819

Astros    108-54 .667  --  815  543
Athletics  82-80 .506  26  738  731
Angels     79-83 .488  29  708  729
Mariners   70-92 .432  38  672  775
Rangers    68-94 .420  40  736  871



AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Astros
AL Rookie of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

Rays win Coin Flip Round
Astros win ALDS over Rays, 3-1
Red Sox win ALDS over Indians, 3-1
Astros win ALCS over Red Sox, 4-2


Team        W-L   Pct  GB   RS   RA

Braves     91-71 .562  --  781  664
Nationals* 88-74 .543   3  754  690
Mets       85-77 .525   6  725  689
Phillies   82-80 .506   9  755  731
Marlins   60-102 .370  31  568  771

Cubs       93-69 .574  --  803  683
Cardinals* 91-71 .562   2  808  701
Brewers    86-76 .531   7  724  680
Pirates    78-84 .481  15  682  716
Reds       78-84 .481  15  750  782

Dodgers    97-65 .599  --  782  622
Rockies    82-80 .506  15  777  761
D’backs    81-81 .500  16  656  650
Giants     77-85 .475  20  633  685
Padres     76-86 .469  21  666  720




NL MVP: Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
NL Rookie of the Year: Victor Robles, Nationals

Nationals win Coin Flip Round
Dodgers win NLDS over Nationals, 3-2
Cubs win NLDS over Braves, 3-2
Cubs win NLCS over Dodgers, 4-2

Astros win World Series over Cubs, 4-1

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series: "Report Card"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"Anthony Rizzo NL MVP +1200 (L)
Christian Yelich NL MVP +20000 (W)

"I mean, you can go a whole writing career and never give out a recommendation this good. I’d have voted for Jacob de Grom, myself, but Yelich got the hardware."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 19, 2019: Mike Trout

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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It appears that Trout and the Angels are closing in on a contract extension that will keep Trout in Anaheim (or Long Beach or Encinitas or Westlake Village or wherever the Angels end up) into the 2030s. The deal is, as these things go, a bargain, a rumored total of $430 million over 12 years. That’s the largest contract in professional sports history, sure, and also a pittance for the best player who has ever played the game.

Trout seems to have chosen security and the Angels, whatever their flaws, over the risks of the market two years out and playing for a team that might be better positioned for success. By signing, Trout takes the Angels out from under the gun, and allows them to aim for a 2021-24 window in which he’ll still be great, players like Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh will be joining him, and $30 million a season won’t be committed to Albert Pujols. Come 2023, Trout is the only Angel making any money at all, although Shohei Ohtani could be getting expensive by then. By signing Trout, the Angels have altered the future of their franchise.

I don’t question Trout’s decision at all. I will say this: Fairly or not, in the era of expanded playoffs and an overwhelming emphasis on the postseason relative to the regular season, baseball players are judged on October. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher who ever lived, and the larger conversation about him still begins with his postseason work. Trout has played in three postseason games, never played in a postseason win, never advanced. He’s lost MVP awards by being on a lesser team than players who made the playoffs. (He’s lost one by being on a better team than one that made the playoffs.) In our world, Trout’s greatness is unassailable, but for general sports fans, the ones who watch “First Take” and listen to sports radio and read ESPN.com, Trout’s just a guy who doesn’t have a ring.

It may seem that the Angels have made a big bet on Mike Trout today, but it’s Trout who has put much, much more on the line by betting on the Angels.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 15, 2019 -- "Finishing a Series and the Rays"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"It’s not that the Rays aren’t good at putting quality teams on the field with a low budget. They’re aggressive traders, they find an Alvarado here, a Wendle there. It’s a well-run organization. Sometimes, though, you have to do the simple thing, the non-subtle thing, and just write a check. As good as the Rays can be this year -- they’re the fifth- or sixth-best team in the AL -- I’ll always wonder what they would have been had they just added Harper or Machado. They can afford that kind of talent, and the signing might have forever changed baseball in Tampa."

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 12, 2019 -- "Stasis and the Cubs"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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Now, Tom Ricketts’s claims that the Cubs have no money are nonsense. The Cubs printed money when they were terrible, for crying out loud. It’s fair, though, to say that the two top-tier free agents on the market were awkward fits for a team set in the infield, and with both young players it likes and a very difficult contract in the outfield. The Cubs’ luxury-tax payroll also shoots up this year, as raises for Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kyle Hendricks kick in. Re-signing Cole Hamels helped push the Cubs, per Cot’s, nearly $20 million over the tax threshold, and there’s a strong chance the Cubs will live above that number for the next few seasons. Both 'the Cubs have plenty of money' and 'the penalties for going over the tax threshold are strong disincentives to do that' can be true."

Monday, March 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 11, 2019 -- "Player Development and the Astros"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"It has got to be nice to be able to get 33 starts from Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh in one year, turn them into medium-leverage relievers the next, and then yank them back to be starters the third year. The Astros have more pitching depth than they know what to do with. They’ll tap into it this year, what with Lance McCullers out for the season and Josh James possibly starting the year in the pen after suffering a quad injury a couple of weeks ago."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 7, 2019 -- "Luis Severino and the Yankees"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe 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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"The Yankees can be profligate on free-agent relievers because they’ve developed a core of inexpensive, highly-productive players. In 2018, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, and Severino combined for 16.6 bWAR and were paid $3 million in total. That group, even with Severino’s new contract, won’t make $7 million combined in 2019. We can talk all we want about payroll restrictions and revenue sharing and all of the other mechanisms in place to restrain competition, but the single biggest factor in on-field success is player development, in getting $100 million in value for 3% of the cost."

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 6, 2019 -- "Adam Jones"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"In all, I found nine examples in the last six years of a player who was a terrible full-time center fielder in one season, and a corner outfielder in the next. Most, though not all, of these were older players who had been good center fielders but were asked to play there a bit too long. As a group, these players were worth -1.4 dWAR in their last season in center. After moving, they were worth -0.3 dWAR. Simply getting out of center field was worth a full win. Most of these players still had negative dWARs (the exceptions were the younger players in the pool, like Adam Eaton, Marcell Ozuna, and Cameron Maybin), but they gained value just by not being asked to do what they could no longer do."

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 5, 2019 -- "Not Bryce Harper and the Nationals"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe 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 Nationals have sacrificed some of their ceiling, watching a potential 10-win player move to their rivals 150 miles up the eastern seaboard. With all of the players they added, though, they’ve also raised their floor. With the Braves and Mets already seeing their 2019 dreams challenged by injuries, the Nationals are right there with the Phillies, and maybe a little ahead, as the teams to beat in this division."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 4, 2019 -- "Losing Salvy"

This is an excerpt from 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 Joe and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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"This has been affecting fantasy leagues for some time. No game takes framing into account, so there’s a massive disconnect now between what teams value and what fantasy players value. This is the best case for one-catcher leagues, although I still prefer the challenge of two. A player like Mathis or Max Stassi or Roberto Perez is a fantasy hole, while being important to a major-league team. There’s simply no way to bridge that gap right now, so when a Salvador Perez hits the injured list, especially in an -only league, especially in the AL, fantasy and real baseball collide in an ugly way."

Friday, March 1, 2019

Free Preview, March 1, 2019 -- "Bryce Harper and the Phillies"

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. 11, No. 8
March 1, 2019

Completing what was always the best match between player and team, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330-million contract that sets baseball records for length and overall value. The contract is unusual, in our modern game, for a lack of opt-outs -- there are none -- and deferrals, also none. It’s a straightforward contract that commits the Phillies and Harper to one another, at a perfectly reasonable cost, into the 2030s.

There’s been some pushback against Harper taking this deal, and I’ll admit that the average annual value, a bit more than $25 million per season, is a surprise. I’d said, even after his poor walk year, that Harper could get more than $35 million per year on a long-term contract. He got a tick more than 2/3 of that, after four months of lukewarm bidding on his services. While the “$330 million” and “13 years” will be in bold type for casual sports fans and the generalists in the media, it’s that tepid AAV, Jake Arrieta money, that better reflects the current state of the baseball talent market. There just weren’t that many teams bidding aggressively on Harper, or on Manny Machado for that matter. The deals those two players eventually signed aren’t signs that the market is healthy; they’re signs the market isn’t.

For the Phillies, locking in Harper at $25.4 million per leaves them room to sign another superstar two years from now and still have plenty of room below the luxury-tax threshold. There’s no need to be coy; Mike Trout is scheduled to reach free agency at the end of the 2020 season, and he plays for a team that has made the postseason once in his seven full seasons, one that is unlikely to get to October in 2019. Trout is from southern New Jersey, and he has been a regular presence at Eagles games. It’s far from certain that he’ll move to the Phillies for the 2021 season, but the Harper contract won’t be a barrier to him making that choice. The Phillies, with $95 million committed to six players in 2021, will be able to sign him to a market-rate deal.

(Oh, I should mention...because I use Google Groups to distribute the Newsletter, the work under that link shows up without attribution. It’s from Cot’s Contracts, under the umbrella of Baseball Prospectus.)

If you think Harper sold himself light, it’s worth listening to what his agent, Scott Boras, had to say. Harper wanted length, wanted a commitment to one place, one team, for the rest of his career. The willingness to sign this deal without opt-outs is prima facie evidence that as attractive as, say, the Dodgers’ rumored 4/140 offer seems, it wasn’t what the player wanted. I’ve argued this over and over again, but this is a clear case: Scott Boras isn’t Svengali. He works for the player, and when the player expresses his desires, Boras works within that framework to make the best deal possible.

The Phillies needed Harper. They’d spent a lot of money and talent on the 2019 roster, but they were a player short, at least, and Harper was probably the last chance for them to leverage their local-TV money until Trout’s free agency. Adding him directly addresses the OBP deficiency of the 2018 team (.314, tenth in the NL), and while his 2018 defensive numbers were bad, there’s a strong case that those numbers were a one-year fluke. You can get a wide range of opinions on what the rest of Harper’s career will be, but if you’re selling, I’m buying. I think Harper lands north of 600 home runs, 75 bWAR, and walks into the Hall of Fame. I think the Phillies just got themselves a bargain.

Here’s what it gives them heading into the ’19 season:

2B-B Cesar Hernandez
1B-B Carlos Santana
RF-R Nick Williams
LF-R Rhys Hoskins
CF-R Aaron Altherr
SS-L J.P. Crawford
3B-R Maikel Franco
C-B Andrew Knapp

No, wait, that’s the Opening Day lineup from 2018. This is better:

SS-R Jean Segura
RF-L Bryce Harper
LF-R Andrew McCutchen
1B-R Rhys Hoskins
C-R J.T. Realmuto
CF-L Odubel Herrera
3B-R Maikel Franco
2B-B Cesar Hernandez

Now, you can oversell the improvement here. The Carlos Santana-for-Jean Segura trade represented an enormous defensive gain, mostly because it got Rhys Hoskins out of the outfield. Three months later, though, we see a team that doesn’t have a center fielder; Harper has had awful numbers there, and his time in center really should be over. McCutchen crossed that line three years ago. Odubel Herrera’s defensive statistics fell off a cliff last year in all measurements, and the Phillies were easing him out of center for Roman Quinn late last season. Quinn, however, is hurt again, with a right oblique strain. (For that matter, so is Herrera, nursing a strained left hamstring.) The Phillies’ defense will be better this year, because it has to be, but there’s a chance the outfield defense will still be an issue.

Bench-B Roman Quinn (OF)
Bench-L Scott Kingery (IF)
Bench-R Nick Williams (OF)
Bench-R Aaron Altherr (OF)
Bench-B Andrew Knapp (C)

Setting aside the question of whether the Phillies will go with 13 position players, I’m not sure this is a tenable alignment. Neither Nick Williams nor Aaron Altherr is a center fielder, so if Quinn can’t ring the bell, the team still needs a backup center fielder. Scott Kingery may push both Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez for playing time. He’d do better with one role, as irregular plate appearances and being stretched to play shortstop contributed to his poor rookie season.

The Phillies’ bench is awfully strong, should they keep it together. You wonder if a trade of Nick Williams is a better use of a player like that, what with the starting outfield now signed through at least 2021. The Catch-22 is finding a way to keep Williiams’s trade value high with playing time at a premium.

SP-R Aaron Nola
SP-R Jake Arrieta
SP-R Nick Pivetta
SP-R Vincent Velasquez
SP-R Zach Eflin

I am not sure what Dallas Keuchel’s asking price is, but this rotation is crying out for a high-floor lefty. Nick Pivetta has a lot of helium in the fantasy community, off a 27% strikeout rate. Vincent Velasquez is a relief pitcher, Zach Eflin is an up-and-down guy. This is where it could fall apart a bit for the Phillies, and adding another pitcher who is a good bet for 30 starts and 180 innings, like Keuchel, could close the gap between them and the Nationals.

RP-R Seranthony Dominguez
RP-R David Robertson
RP-R Juan Nicasio
RP-R Pat Neshek
RP-L Adam Morgan
RP-R Edubray Ramos
RP-L Jose Alvarez
RP-R Hector Neris

The additions of David Robertson (on a two-year free-agent deal), Juan Nicasio (in the Segura trade), and Jose Alvarez (in trade from the Angels) lengthen a bullpen that already had a lot of live arms. Gabe Kapler was all over the map last year, chasing matchups to the extremes at times, ignoring the save rule at times, using Seranthony Dominguez in a two-inning role at times. I wonder if the addition of healthy veterans, ones mostly used in one-inning roles, and the return of Pat Neshek, will tamp down Kapler’s excesses a bit.

The Phillies had a long way to come after last season, which saw them finish ten games out of first place after contending deep into August. Matt Klentak spent a lot of money and talent upgrading the roster, and while I think you can pick at individual decisions -- I don’t love the McCutchen signing, for one -- he’s assembled a better team than he had a year ago. There are still flaws, and the question now is whether Klentak has the authority to exceed the tax threshold to add a missing piece, specifically a high-end starting pitcher. It’s better to win 91 games, make the playoffs and pay the tax than to win 87 and miss everything.

This problem is exacerbated by the competitive environment. The three best teams in baseball are in the American League, but you can make a case that eight of the next nine are in the NL, four of them in the NL East. The Phillies don’t have a lot of wiggle room. For all of the problems MLB has with teams not trying to win, the NL East’s top four teams have pushed the pedal down this winter.