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.

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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"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.

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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"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.

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. 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.

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 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."