Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 16, 2019 -- "The Nationals Win the Pennant"

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

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"The Nationals have a smaller number of good pitchers than most playoff teams do. The playoff schedule allows the Nationals to use their best pitchers more often. The deadened baseball helps keep those pitchers in games longer. Six pitchers -- six very good pitchers -- have accounted for almost 90% of their innings pitched in ten playoff games. That’s the biggest reason they won the NL pennant."

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

NLCS Game Four Note

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

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The Cardinals, as I wrote earlier, are pretty much playing to put extra money in the pockets of local hoteliers, by extending the series and keeping the various traveling parties on the road a day or two longer. As a competitive enterprise, the 2019 NLCS is over.

That doesn’t mean, of course, the Cardinals shouldn’t be trying to win the game. To do that, they’ll have to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities, given how few they’ve generated. Mike Shildt has already been too passive this month in chasing those chances.

Go back to NLDS Game Four, the bottom of the fourth inning, when Shildt let Dakota Hudson bat with two on and two out, the Cards up 3-1. Hudson had given the Cards four innings, and the Braves would turn the lineup over for a third time in the fifth. Hudson’s expected future performance, relative to the team’s relievers, was poor. The at-bat, however, was incredibly important. Shildt should have pinch-hit for Hudson. He didn’t, and 15 minutes later his team trailed 4-3.

This could very well come up again tonight, Hudson batting in the top of the fourth or top of the fifth, runners on, leverage high. Shildt must hit for Hudson if that situation occurs. The Cardinals have 12 pitchers, including eight relievers. They can fill the innings. Four of those relievers didn’t pitch last night -- their best four. Shildt’s team has two runs in three games. They have to take advantage of their scoring opportunities, and not squander them on a pitcher’s at-bat.

I’d go so far as to say that Shildt should hit for Hudson in the top of the second, in a two on or bases loaded, two-out situation. The Cardinals need runs more than they need innings, and they have their good relief pitchers well-rested and ready to go. Shildt can’t make the NLDS mistake again; if Dakota Hudson’s turn comes up in a big spot, he must send up a pinch-hitter to cash it in.

Newsletter Excerpt, October 15, 2019 -- "Ozuna's Glove"

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

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"We have no way of knowing how last night’s NLCS Game Three might have turned out had the Nationals not broken open the game in the third inning, but we do know the ball was in his glove. Marcell Ozuna’s, that is. Ozuna had made a long run to snare an Anthony Rendon pop-up with two outs, a run in, and a man on first. The ball was in his glove, and the Cards were going to walk off the field down 1-0 after three innings."

Monday, October 14, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 14, 2019 -- "LCS Catch-up"

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

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"Boone’s five good relievers threw 6 2/3 innings and allowed one run. He managed his staff exactly as he should have, and on a lot of nights, he would have walked away a winner. On this night, however, the Yankees got just those two runs, and Boone was left with his innings guys. J.A. Happ eventually coughed up a solo homer to Carlos Correa to end the game. If your take from last night is that the Yankees lost 3-2 in 11 innings because of the manager, you’re wrong. Boone did a great job. His hitters just got beat."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 12, 2019 -- "ALCS Preview"

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

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"The Yankees are a very good baseball team. The Astros are a great one chasing history. Astros in six."

Friday, October 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 11, 2019 -- "NLCS Preview"

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

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I’m no closer to having a feel for the series than I did yesterday. The Nationals have an incredible core, and not a lot of depth. The Cardinals don’t have many bad players, but they can’t match the Nationals up top. The Nationals will have the best starting pitcher, or a strong argument for it, in every game. I kind of want to see this go seven, because a Game Seven of Strasburg versus Flaherty would be fantastic, but I am not sure the Cards stretch it that far. Mike Shildt is a bit more likely to lose a game from the dugout, which is what swings me. Without much confidence, I’ll say Nationals in six. Nothing would really surprise me, though.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 10, 2019 -- "Hello, Soto"

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

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"It’s Soto, though, who has now had the most important swing in the Wild Card Game, and the most important swing in the Division Series, and who now moves on to the third round. It’s Soto who has become more than .282/.401/.548 and a host of age-related statistics. It’s Soto whose smiling face and tic-filled routine and violent swing will be seen not just by the seamheads reading this, but by football fans stumbling on baseball highlights and by ten-year-olds watching MLB Tonight with their moms and by that great mass of people who check into baseball for a few weeks every October. Soto is the breakout player of these playoffs, and he’s still 15 days from you being able to buy him a beer to celebrate that. This is how you become a star. All the WAR in the world can’t buy you what Soto’s team gave him last night: A chance to be a hero."

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 9, 2019 -- "A Set of Fives"

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

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"This series has been brutally ugly at times, with nontroversies and laughably bad hitting in big spots and the worst managerial decisions of the round. It’s also been as tense and as closely played as you could hope for. The tying run has batted in every ninth inning. The winning team trailed in the eighth twice, and in the ninth once, and almost the entire series has been played with neither team up by more than two runs. Heroes have included a guy who was in the majors in 2004 and a guy who was in the minors on September 2. The best player in the series so far is 21 years old. The second-best, I’d argue, is 38. The Cardinals bullpen has blown a two-run lead in the ninth and then tossed 5 1/3 shutout innings in a comeback win the next."

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 8, 2019 -- "Hometown Heroes"

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

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"Sports fandom has become nationalized, with a talking head from Dallas sitting in a studio in Los Angeles screaming about a basketball team in New York, the same dozen voices chewing over the same dozen topics day after day. Baseball fandom, however, remains local. Molina matters to Cardinals fans. Zimmerman matters to Nationals fans. Kiermaier matters to the Rays fan. That these players have played their careers for one team doesn’t make them better people than the players who have moved on; it does, however, create a connection with the local fans that is greater than, say, what Astros fans might feel for Gerrit Cole, Yankees fans for D.J. Lemahieu.

"Moments like yesterday’s are better because the hero is, was, and has always been your guy. That matters. A playoff win that staves off elimination is a gift no matter who is responsible. The players at the center of the action yesterday just make that gift a little sweeter."

Monday, October 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 7, 2019 -- "Welcome, Managers"

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

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"In riding Wainwright and walking McCann, Shildt made mistakes his predecessor would have made, viewing players as their career numbers and not as what they are today. He got away with one of them, and he didn’t get away with the other; Rafael Ortega, running for McCann, scored the game-winning run."

Newsletter Excerpt, October 7, 2019 -- "ALDS Review"

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

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"Down 2-0, can either of these teams come back to win? The Rays have the stronger case. They’ll have their ace, Charlie Morton, on the mound in today’s Game 3, and they draw Jose Urquiddy, the Astros’ soft spot, in Game 4. Their pitching has kept them in these games, with a two-run error by Brandon Lowe due to miscommunication between him and Tommy Pham making Game One look a bit worse than it was. They have a very deep staff, and it’s pitched fairly well: 18 strikeouts over two games against the best contact team in the league, just six walks allowed. The Rays can keep throwing different looks at the Astros. In close games, they can make it a battle of the bullpens, where they have a small advantage. Two wins just puts them back in Houston against a rested Justin Verlander, but they’d take that outcome this morning."

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 6, 2019 -- "NLDS Review"

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

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"Overall in the Division Series, there have been 123 hits and 169 strikeouts. You’re 37% more likely to see a strikeout than a hit in any given situation. 28% of all plate appearances have ended in a strikeout. Now take the trends above, with a generation of pitchers that has learned how to get strikeouts in the biggest spots, and leave only the good pitchers, and you see that getting those big hits in the playoffs is harder than it has ever been before. Hence, trying to get as many runs as you can on one swing, regardless of who is on base."

Friday, October 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 4, 2019 -- "ALDS Previews"

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

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"Then there are the Astros, who went 107-55 and were never seriously challenged by even a very good A’s team. Prospectus calls Houston one of the best teams in baseball history, with a third-order record of 117-45 (116-46 if you want to round down). They had the best offense in baseball, by far. They had the best defense in baseball. They had the third-best pitching in baseball, although reducing staffs to just the pitchers who will be used in the playoffs makes up a lot of the gap between them and the teams ahead of them.

"It’s hard to underestimate a team that just produced the best record in baseball, that won a World Series two years ago, that has won 100 games three straight seasons, that had a book written about them, that traded for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher at the deadline. We might be there with these Astros, though."

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, October 3, 2019 -- Braves/Cardinals Preview

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

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 88
October 3, 2019

The Rule:
 The least important words in a playoff preview are the last ones.

Braves/Cardinals

This series, despite being between two longtime successful franchises and two division champions, runs the risk of being the one that gets a bit lost. It has late-afternoon start times through Sunday, and it’s the one Division Series that doesn’t feature one of the three top teams. At that, though, this could be the best of the first four.

The Cardinals come in having taken the NL Central away from the Cubs with a four-game sweep two weeks ago, then holding off the Brewers over the season’s final week. They did have to burn Jack Flaherty in the process, pitching him on the season’s final day to clinch, but the way the schedule falls there is very little cost to doing so; Flaherty starts Game Two on full rest and can start a Game Five on the same.

Flaherty struggled in the first half, allowing 20 homers in 18 starts, pitching to a 4.64 ERA. The stuff and the skills never left, though -- a 26% strikeout rate even at the worst of it. After the break he started throwing his four-seam fastball less and both his sinker and curve more, producing an Arrieta-like run: 15 starts, a 0.99 ERA, a .142 batting average against. The Cardinals’ path to a championship, and certainly through the Braves, rests largely on Flaherty’s right arm.

It’s not just Flaherty's overall skill set that makes that true. Flaherty (6.8% walk rate) is one of a small handful of Cardinals pitchers who routinely throws strikes. Another, Miles Mikolas (4.1%), is the Game One starter. Even with those two lapping up 380 innings, the Cardinals had the fifth-highest walk rate in the NL. Cards relievers had the fourth-highest walk rate in the league, and you can’t wave that off as a product of short-timers. Carlos Martinez, Andrew Miller, John Brebbia, John Gant...these guys are important pitchers for Mike Shildt and they don’t throw strikes.

The Braves are built to exploit just that flaw. They were second in the NL in walks drawn, with the fifth-lowest chase rate in the league. Of the nine position players -- including the catching platoon -- who will play the most for the Braves in this series, seven have above-average walk rates. The late innings of these games, and the entirety of games not started by Mikolas and Flaherty, will be all about the Cardinals looking for swings and the Braves not giving them. The Cardinals’ bullpen flies awfully close to the sun, with the lowest HR/FB rate and the second-lowest BABIP in the league, numbers that don’t have to regress this month but are worth noting.

Watch how Shildt uses Giovanny Gallegos, the hard-throwing rookie righty who had a 93/14 K/UIBB in 74 innings. Gallegos faded under heavy usage in September: no strikeouts in his final four appearances, just two over his final seven (22 batters faced).

The frustrating part about this, if you’re Mike Shildt, is that Cardinals pitchers have good reasons to throw strikes. Just two NL teams were better at turning balls in play into outs this year. The single best thing Shildt has done as Cards manager is free Kolten Wong to play without fear that every 0-for-4 would mean a benching. That, and playing Harrison Bader in center (around a demotion, it should be noted), gives the Cards a rangy defense up the middle. Every walk is an opportunity not given to this defense to make a play.

A year ago, the Braves rebuilt their bullpen heading into the playoffs. They did it a bit earlier this year, with deadline trades for Shane Greene, Mark Melancon, and Chris Martin that turned out...fine, I guess. Melancon saved 11 games after Greene had a rough few outings to lose the closer job. Combined, they had a 3.98 ERA in 63 innings with the Braves, although the underlying numbers, including a 67/8 K/BB, are much better. Darren O’Day did make the roster after eight regular-season appearances. Throw in the Dallas Keuchel signing, and there’s been a lot of turnover from the Opening Day staff.

Keuchel gets the Game One, and presumably Game Five, starts, to my dismay. The Braves are burying their ace, Mike Soroka, in Game Three, guaranteeing him just one start in the series, while setting Keuchel up for two and using Mike Foltynewicz as the #2 starter. There’s no matchup reason for this; the Cardinals have a small platoon split as a team and just one left-handed hitter you’d bother planning around. Maybe not even that, given Matt Carpenter’s year. This choice seems to be motivated at least in part by Soroka’s home/road split in 2019, numbers that are entirely noise, no signal, for any pitcher in a single season. Soroka has great strikeout rates and K/BB both home and road; he’s allowed a .323 BABIP on the road, .248 at home, which is, again, noise over this number of innings. This is a clear mistake by Snitker.

In a best-of-five series, small things matter. The Cardinals are getting their best pitcher two starts. The Braves are getting their best pitcher one start.

The Braves should get away with it. The edges they have when facing Dakota Hudson, Adam Wainwright, and most of the Cardinals’ bullpen should define this series. I expect them to control a middling Cards offense that doesn’t really do anything, while drawing enough walks and hitting enough homers to make the Cards’ strong defense a non-factor. Late-season injuries to Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr. were minor and not a big concern heading into this series.

The Cards’ path through this series is winning the two Jack Flaherty starts and stealing one more, most likely tonight’s game behind Mikolas. It’s getting to that second Flaherty start that will be the challenge. Braves in four

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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 2, 2019 -- "The New Model"

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

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"This is the new normal. The model that got a team through 162 games in 186 days was, for a long time, the model teams used to win 11 games in 30 days. No more. Teams head into the postseason expecting that they may call on their best starting pitchers out of the bullpen on their throw days, and sometimes on other days too. What Craig Counsell did last year in taking the Brewers to within a win of the World Series was a model a number of teams will ape now and in future seasons. There are no SPs and no RPs. There are just pitchers, and the next out, next three outs, next 27 outs."

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, October 1, 2019 -- "The Coin Flip Round"

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

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"This is the eighth season in which we’ve had ten playoff teams, with four of them squaring off in one-game 'rounds' to advance to the Division Series in each league. I’ve called it the 'Coin Flip Round' from the start, because when two good teams play a single game, the outcome is akin to flipping a coin. Heck, when a good team plays a bad team, you sometimes get results like Orioles 13, Indians 0. (Twice.) So when the Nationals play the Brewers, or the Rays play the A’s, variance swamps everything."