Thursday, December 31, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 31, 2020 -- "May 7, 1967"

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.

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 Chairman of the Board. Hoot. The Franchise. Mr. Tiger. Knucksie. Tom Terrific. The Little General.

"The year 2020 took so much from us. As we leave it behind, let’s do so while remembering all that these men gave to us."

 
 
 

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 30, 2020 -- "One Embarrassing Trade"

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.

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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"Ricketts, though, doesn’t need the Cubs to win anymore. Ricketts got his basemall, and he got his own regional sports network. He used the incredible amount of money generated by that first Cubs title in 108 years to fund ventures that have nothing to do with wins and losses, ventures that will produce millions upon millions that don’t have to be shared with the other owners, that don’t have to be spent on baseball players. By his actions, Ricketts has proven to be the worst type of sports owner: He wants the next dollar more than he wants the next win."
 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 28, 2020 -- "Padres/Rays Trade"

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.

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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"If we’re going to evaluate free-agent deals and contract extensions as if the money doesn’t matter, then we have to do it with trades, too. A team can send away the most famous and highest-paid player in a trade and still make a good baseball deal. The Rays did just that."

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

From the Archives: "40 Years Ago"

 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.

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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--

 

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 7, No. 127
December 23, 2015

Mike Leake signed with the Cardinals yesterday for $80 million over five years, with an option for 2021. On its face, it's a huge deal for a pitcher who in six seasons has never received a Cy Young vote, who has never had an ERA below 3.37 (or an ERA+ above 112), who has thrown one 200-inning season. Mike Montgomery threw as many shutouts in a week last year as Leake has in his career. In six seasons, 177 games, 1083 2/3 innings, Leake has been worth 9.1 bWAR. At his best, including in 2015, he's been a three-win pitcher. It's hard, with no context, to understand how a pitcher with Mike Leake's track record, a pitcher who the casual fan had never heard of before yesterday, a pitcher who probably spent time on the waiver wire last year in your fantasy league, is now going to make a half-million bucks a start.

The seeds for Leake's contract weren't planted when he was drafted in 2009, though, or when he first picked up a baseball as a kid in California. They were planted 40 years ago today, far away from a baseball field, far away from baseball weather. They were planted on a piece of paper that changed the baseball industry, changed the sports industry, forever. On December 23, 1975, arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that the reserve clause in the standard player's contract could not be renewed in perpetuity, but rather, for one year after the last signed deal. A player -- in this case, Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith -- who played through a season without signing a contract, playing on the renewed terms of his old one, would be a free agent after that season.

Baseball's owners reacted with their usual calm and forward thinking, locking out the players after the decision. Eventually, the MLBPA negotiated the terms with which we are familiar today, that a player with at least six years of service time can play out his current contract and seek employment with any team. At the time, MLB's owners claimed that free agency would destroy the game. What they learned, what we all learned, was that forcing teams to compete for talent would enrich not just the talent, but the teams themselves beyond anyone's imagination. Mike Leake's contract is one product of the Seitz decision. Another is $75 million a year for the rights to televise Arizona Diamondbacks games. Another is the average team being worth $1.2 billion. In 1975, Bill Veeck bought the Chicago White Sox, a historic team in a big market, for $10 million; in 2012, Ron Fowler bought the San Diego Padres, a 1969 expansion team with the smallest reach in the majors, for $800 million.

Forcing the owners to compete for talent brought baseball's business into the 20th century. An industry filled with sleepy family ownerships had to innovate, to grow, to compete not just for that talent but for revenue to pay that talent. The reserve clause was not just a barrier to the free flow of baseball talent, it was a binky for teams that were happy to throw open the doors in April, lock them up again in September, and consider that their business plan.

Those numbers above aren't just about free agency, of course. George Steinbrenner didn't invent cable television or the societal trends that have made televised sports the mother's milk of that dying industry. He did, however, lead the race to cable by moving Yankees games from free TV to cable in the 1980s, and later, to a team-owned network in the 2000s. Bud Selig wasn't the first owner to play cities off one another in an effort to get craven politicians to hand over the public purse. He just perfected the plan as the sport's commissioner for 20 years.

When you look at the big picture, though, you have to go back to 40 years ago, to Seitz examining the standard player's contract not as a vested party, but as a lawyer. You have to respect his dispassionate judgment in the face of incredible pressure; Seitz was fired by the owners, as was their right, immediately upon issuing his ruling. You have to appreciate his fealty not to arguments about the merits of freedom or the survival of baseball, but to the letter of the contract. It's a measure of how lazy the owners were, how convinced they were of their sacred right to the work product of baseball players, that the reserve clause was worded as weakly as it was. Had they simply written the clause differently at a time when they held all the power to do so, perhaps Seitz would have had to rule in their favor. Perhaps there would have been no weak contract clause to challenge. Perhaps players would have been bound to the teams holding their contracts in perpetuity, those teams would never have been forced to compete for talent, and baseball would never have moved into the 20th, much less the 21st, century.

We'll never know, of course. What we know today is that baseball is an industry that generates $9.5 billion in revenue, with franchises worth $36 billion, with players being paid close to $4 billion. The Peter Seitz decision made baseball players wealthy, but it made baseball's owners wealthy as well.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 22, 2020 -- "Howie Kendrick"

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.

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 Nationals had been losing Game Seven of the World Series, and now they were winning, because Howie Kendrick hit a home run. He was, in that moment, every eight-year-old baseball fan who has ever had the dream, everyone who ran around his bedroom in his pajamas, who slapped rocks over the barn, who wanted nothing more than to be the biggest baseball hero in the world."
 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 21, 2020 -- "Chris Young and 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 nearly 25 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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"Daniels, having lost half his job description, has bet the other half on someone who has never done the job being asked of him. It’s a fascinating experiment, a big bet by Daniels that front-office experience just doesn’t matter. There are recent examples -- Brodie van Wagenen with the Mets, Dave Stewart with the Diamondbacks -- that show this can set an organization back by years when it goes wrong."
 
 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 20, 2020 -- "Money's Too Tight (To Not Mention)"

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.

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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"This is a very detailed report, released by the league, of just what the players made in 2020. Wages and bonuses and buyouts and even information, if implied, of the value of non-wage benefits such as health insurance. It’s a remarkable amount of data on what teams are investing in the players. It’s also not unusual to get this; the league releases this information pretty much every year around this time. The teams tell you what the players have earned, every single year."
 

Friday, December 18, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 18, 2020 -- "2021 Top 100"

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.

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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--
 
"1. Fernando Tatis, Jr.

A little bit position, a little bit that he’ll run a lot, a little bit I want to have even more reason to watch him. I don’t think much separates the top three guys here. --J.

2. Mike Trout
3. Ronald Acuña, Jr.
4. Mookie Betts
5. Gerrit Cole

The one pitcher I trust right now, a lot more than even the guy at #14. --J.

6. Trevor Story
7. Trea Turner
8. Juan Soto
9. Christian Yelich
10. Francisco Lindor"

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 17, 2020 -- "Fun With Numbers: The Shortest Year"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"The minor-league doubleheader rule, shortening games played in doubleheaders to seven innings apiece, was the bigger factor. Some scheduled seven-inning games needed extra innings -- creating “runner on second to start the eighth” weirdness -- so teasing them all out is a bit of a challenge. There were 101 wins, though, in games in which the winning team threw exactly seven innings, a decent approximation of the total number of seven-inning games scheduled. There were 898 games played, so seven-inning games accounted for about one in every nine last year -- enough to make this the shortest season in baseball history by any measure."
 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 15, 2020 -- "Why We're Bored"

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.


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 teams aren’t looking at two months to camps, but something closer to ten weeks and maybe as much as three months. Front offices have more time to wait and see what reaching for that 84th win will be worth, and whether Nelson Cruz is a fit for their roster or not. If home games in April are eventually traded for home games in October, the whole season pushed back a month, they’ll know they have a few more bucks coming in as well. The intransigence of these front offices isn’t much fun, but it’s understandable."

Friday, December 11, 2020

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, December 11, 2020 -- "Dave Dombrowski 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 nearly 25 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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 12, No. 105
December 11, 2020

After months of denying he wanted back into a major-league front office, repeatedly averring his commitment to a group trying to bring an expansion team to Louisville Nashville, Dave Dombrowski apparently changed his mind. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Dombrowski is now ready to take his talents to South Broad, joining the Philadelphia Phillies as their president of baseball operations.

Dombrowski was last seen being dumped by the Red Sox not a year after a team he helped build a team that won the World Series. That 2018 squad, a mixture of Ben Cherington’s talent base and Dombrowski’s acquisitions, was one of the best of the last decade. Its title, however, came at significant cost in prospects and contract commitments. The Red Sox, under Dombrowski, had the highest payrolls in franchise history in 2018 and 2019, and, in fact, the highest in baseball in both those years. John Henry was fine with that when he had a .600 team running away with the AL East, less so when the Sox slipped under .500 a season later.

John Henry, having watched his team win four World Series in 15 years, had the luxury of becoming patient, the luxury of emphasizing, at least for a little while, process rather than results. In Chaim Bloom, he has a team-builder also likely to assemble a great team, but one who is steeped in how to do so without writing the biggest checks.

John Middleton, who owns the largest piece of the Phillies, may not think he has that luxury. Middleton has owned a piece of the Phillies since the 1990s, but it is only since 2015 that he’s been the most prominent member of the ownership group. David Montgomery, not Middleton, got to ride the biggest float in 2008, when Chase Utley and Cliff Lee Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard brought home the hunk of metal. Middleton has presided over a rebuild that started late and has gone sideways. Poor drafting, in particular, has stalled the Phillies short of a playoff berth. Just three drafted-and-developed Phillies -- Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, and Alec Bohm -- were positive contributors last year. Middleton signed off on the two highest payrolls in team history the last two years, pushing up against the luxury-tax threshold in 2020, and got a 109-113 record for his trouble.

Enter Dombrowski, who has as strong a record as any executive over the last 30 years. Dombrowski was responsible for developing much of the 1994 Expos team that lost its chance at a title to the strike. By ’94, though, he’d moved on to Florida, where he was the architect of the 1997 champion Marlins and had a significant hand in the roster of the 2003 champs as well. Again, though, he was gone by the time the latter team won, on to Detroit. Dombrowski’s Tigers won four AL Central titles and two AL pennants in 13 seasons. Let go in 2015, he then quickly moved to Boston and built that 2018 team.

If the first part of Dombrowski’s career was marked by player development in Montreal and Miami, the second part has been much more about going outside his organizations for short-term gain. Those 1997 Marlins had Charles Johnson and Edgar Renteria and Jeff Conine, scouting finds to one degree or another, but the pitching staff was built with money, as was most of the lineup. In Detroit, Dombrowski took over a team that had not reached the playoffs since 1987 nor finished above .500 since 1993. His second team lost 119 games. Three years later, the Tigers had doubled their payroll and reached the World Series. That was the most balanced of his good teams, a mix of free agents, trade acquisitions, and two of the best Tigers draft picks ever: Justin Verlander and Curtis Granderson. Dombrowski would follow that by trading for Hall of Famers Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer over his next decade in Detroit.

With the Red Sox, Dombrowski didn’t need to do a slow build. The Sox were two years removed from a World Series. They had a championship-caliber young core in Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eduardo Rodriguez, along with a top-five farm system about to cough up Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi. Dombrowski tapped into that system, trading top prospects for Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel. He then signed J.D. Martinez and David Price to big free-agent deals.

If Middleton expects that kind of result here, he’d be well advised to look through that paragraph again. The Phillies’ miserable drafting during their rebuild has put them far behind where the Sox were five years ago. They blew the top pick in the 2016 draft, taking high-school outfielder Mickey Moniak, who might be a fifth outfielder in the majors. Top-ten picks Cornelius Randolph (#10, 2015) and Adam Haseley (#8, 2017) are not impact players. There’s no Betts or Bogaerts on the field, no Devers or Benintendi on the way. You have to go back quite a way to find the Phillies’ last good international signings. Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis in 2006; Maikel Franco and Hector Neris in 2010; Seranthony Dominguez, if you want to push “good,” in 2011.

The Phillies went into a rebuild in 2013 and have precious little to show for it seven years later. Nola is a #2 starter, a legitimate core player. Hoskins is a bat-only first baseman who is probably a three-win player at his peak, which is happening right now. Scott Kingery will be 27 in April and has a career .233/.284/.393 line. Andrew Knapp is a decent backup catcher. The Phillies traded good prospects for Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto, both of whom played well in Philadelphia without pushing the team into October. On the horizon are Alec Bohm -- who may not stick at third base -- and Spencer Howard, a #3 to Nola’s #2. Maybe Adonis Medina, a right-handed starter, will contribute in 2021. Beyond that group, there’s nothing much coming for a while.

The 2021 Phillies aren’t close to the 2015 Red Sox, and the competition they face in the short term is deeper than what the AL East put up from 2016-18. If they don’t sign Realmuto, they’re one of the weakest teams in baseball up the mid....oh, what the heck, we’ll do this.

Lineup


LF-R Andrew McCutchen
3B-R Alec Bohm
RF-L Bryce Harper
1B-R Rhys Hoskins
CF-L Adam Haseley
2B-R Scott Kingery
SS-R Jean Segura
C-B Andrew Knapp

That could be a good offensive lineup. The error bars are very wide on what McCutchen and Haseley and Kingery could provide in 2021. What I’m more sure about is that it will be a bad defensive team for the 135 games Roman Quinn is on the injured list.

Bench

OF-B Roman Quinn
OF-L Mickey Moniak
OF-R Kyle Garlick
C-B Rafael Marchan
IF-R Ronald Torreyes
IF-L Kyle Holder

(This is mostly straight from Roster Resource. It’s December 11 and no one’s done anything yet.)

Rotation

SP-R Aaron Nola
SP-R Zack Wheeler
SP-R Spencer Howard
SP-R Zach Eflin
SP-R Vince Velasquez
SP-R Adonis Medina

That’s a very good top two, and a lot of speculation behind it. Velasquez, like Kingery and Quinn, is a player who has exhausted his rope with me. If this is the year the three of them finally meet expectations, the Phillies could run away with the division.

Bullpen

The Phillies had every one of their relievers back to Don Carman get hurt in 2019, and of course 2020 was far too short to evaluate individuals. Hector Neris will be here; the next four Phillies relievers in 2020, by appearances, are all free agents. Check back in February.

This is a much different job for the new employee. Dombrowski isn’t inheriting a pre-peak core the way he did in Boston. He doesn’t have prospects the caliber of Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to trade for a superstar. He may not have as much room to bump the payroll as John Henry gave him five years ago. He also can’t punt four years while building the team the way he did in Detroit; Middleton didn’t hire him to restart the rebuild.

What can he do? Well, the top three free agents -- Realmuto, Trevor Bauer, and George Springer -- all make the Phillies four to six wins better than they are right now, and all fit the roster. The projected 2021 payroll is around $141 million, per Cot’s, down $60 million from last year’s full-season projection, so sliding in one of those guys wouldn’t be too hard, and adding two of them not out of the question. Given the defensive issues with both players, Dombrowski could trade one of Hoskins or Bohm in a deal for a starter or a center fielder, or Spencer Howard for a more contention-ready starter. One of the things we saw from him in Boston was a willingness to cash in the chips he inherited.

Looking past this year, it seems certain that the Phillies will be in the mix for one of the five shortstops next winter. Segura hits free agency after the 2022 season and the Phillies have no shortstops ready to follow him.

Success has followed Dave Dombrowski from Montreal to Miami to Detroit to Boston, but the specifics of this job, the team he’s inherited, will make continuing that streak a challenge.  

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Newsletter Preview, December 10, 2020 -- "The Money Doesn't Matter"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
(Today's excerpt originally was published in November 2013.)
 
"The money doesn't matter. It's not about whether the marginal cost of a win on the free-agent market is five million bucks or $7 million or $13 million; it's about that framework no longer being the way to evaluate signings. The extra dollars a team might spend to bring a player into the fold -- and turn a contract from a sabermetric win to a sabermetric loss -- are meaningless in the big picture because there's just no other good application of those dollars. The opportunity cost of not signing the player isn't 'having the money to sign someone else,' it's 'having cash and no good way to use it.'" 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 9, 2020 -- "Baseball and Television"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"This is where we are now. Fifty years ago, baseball teams were businesses built on bringing people to the ballpark, giving those people a good team to watch, a fun day in the sun, so they would come back again and again. The better the team, the more money you could make. Television was an additional revenue stream, valuable but not dominant. Today, baseball teams are television programming."

Monday, December 7, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 7, 2020 -- "Limbo"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--
 
"This week, though, there is just too much that is unknown. The actual rules by which the 2021 season will be played remain up in the air. Most prominent is the question of whether the National League will again have the designated hitter. Tied to that, because the league wants it to be, is how many teams will qualify for the 2021 postseason. If you’re, say, the Cubs, it’s extremely hard to make decisions about adding or not adding a hitter given those two factors."
 
 

Friday, December 4, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 4, 2020 -- "Mailbag"

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.


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 funny, I’ve been holding off writing about 2021, although some of my concerns have leaked into recent pieces. I don’t think the business model works without fans in the stands. It was one thing to do it over 60 games ad hoc with all the attendant pressure to return. It’s quite another to do it intentionally over 162 games. It seems more and more like there will be some attendance allowed in some places in 2021, but it will vary by market and maybe by month."

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 3, 2020 -- "Non-Tenders"

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.


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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--
 
"Not many other names stand out. Schwarber is popular and famous and has five career WAR through his age-27 season. For all the power he is supposed to have, he’s slugged .500 once in the greatest slugging environment in baseball history. At his best, he has been a two-win player. Another five-plus guy, he might have made $10 million next year in arbitration, and you can find his skill set in a lot of cheaper packages.

"With all that said, there’s maybe a 20% chance he has David Ortiz’s career from here on out. Some team could pick up him, tell him to leave his glove home, and unleash the four-win DH that has been locked inside. When Schwarber hits .285/.390/.555 for the Rays next year, don’t say you weren’t warned."
 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, December 1, 2020 -- "The Minors"

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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"MLB has done an exceptionally poor job of making what should have been a simple case: The affiliation system built in the 1960s is antiquated and needs to be streamlined to match the way ballplayers are developed in the 2020s. MLB was never taking teams away from cities -- certainly not the way minor-league owners routinely do -- just ending its practice of providing paid players to those teams."

Monday, November 30, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 30, 2020 -- "Random Player Comments, 11/30/20"

 

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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"Ozuna caught pretty unlucky here. He bet on himself by taking the one-year pillow contract, went out and had a monster season in the games that were played, and now is a free agent again in the worst player market since collusion. He is the type of player -- age 30, bat-first, unlikely to ever repeat his last season -- I would normally avoid. Ozuna’s 2020 batting line, though, isn’t as out of context as it looks at baseball-reference. He is likely a .280/.340/.490 hitter in 2021 and maybe for a couple years after that. We talk a lot about pitchers who are either hurt or good, and Ozuna may be the position-player analogue to that. The number of teams that could use a pure bat is unusually high for a high-offense era like this, but when you look at how little teams like the Rangers, Indians, Brewers and Rockies got from their left fielders last year, the market for Ozuna on a three-yearish deal should be strong."
 
 

Monday, November 23, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 23, 2020 -- "Non-Tenders"

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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"Those are all pre-pandemic numbers, based on that cycle above: pay player, win games, raise revenues. You can think the owners are collectively wrong and behave badly most of the time, while also seeing that the 2020-21 cycle is sui generis, and justifies conservative behavior given what could be 20 million fans in attendance, total, over two years."

Friday, November 20, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 20, 2020 -- "Random Player Comments"

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.


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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"Paxton will end up with some kind of 1+1 deal, probably for a team that needs to gamble on less-expensive upside with an eye towards winning in 2021: Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, Brewers all come to mind, and that’s not an exhaustive list. Me, I think I’d make my pitching investment elsewhere."
 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 18, 2020 -- "My 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 nearly 25 years.


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"As with award voting, the Hall of Fame conversation is one in which I’ve lost interest in over the years. It became a proxy for how to evaluate players (Bert Blyleven), and then a proxy for an intergenerational war over, well, reality (Jack Morris, Jim Rice), and then a proxy for the war over sports drugs (Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, et al.). I might have survived all of that, but when Bud Selig -- who did more to hurt baseball than anyone since Chick Gandil -- was escorted through the front door a few years back, that broke me. I just can’t care any more. "

Monday, November 16, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 16, 2020 -- "Kim Ng"

 

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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"A baseball team run by Kim Ng would have been unimaginable in an era when most baseball executives came from the playing ranks, whether major-league or minor-league. The biases in baseball weren’t divided along the lines of man/woman, but rather did/didn’t you play. It was only when that changed, when Brian Cashman and Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman built championship teams, when the game came to be run not by former players but by the executive class, that the door opened to allow women. When the key question was, 'Did you play?' Ng never would have had a chance. Now the question is, 'Can you think?' and Ng steps in, fully qualified.
 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 13, 2020 -- "Uncle Steve"

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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"If the 2000s were about Moneyball and its offshoots, the 2010s were about pairing the modern best practices described in that book -- or perhaps more to the point, the type of thinking driving those practices -- with financial might. The Cubs sold to Tom Ricketts, hired Theo Epstein, and won the World Series. The Dodgers sold to Guggenheim Partners, hired Andrew Friedman, and won the World Series. The Mets have now sold to Steve Cohen, will hire a GM, and try to be the next team in this sequence. There is little reason to think, today, that the Mets won’t win a World Series in the 2020s."

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 3, 2020 -- "Awards"

 

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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American League MVP: Shane Bieber
National League MVP: Freddie Freeman
 
AL Cy Young Award: Shane Bieber
NL Cy Young Award: Yu Darvish
 
AL Rookie of the Year: Sean Murphy
NL Rookie of the Year: Tony Gonsolin

I declined to pick Managers of the Year this year.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, November 2, 2020 -- "The New Reality"

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 cycle of performance to wins to revenue to pay, the one that has driven salary market conversations for decades, is broken, and that changes how players can be paid. Teams can’t do anything about the money they agreed to pay in the Before Times. That $2.2 billion is booked. What they can do, and what they most assuredly will do, is adjust future pay to the realities of the After Times. Those record-low six qualifying offers? That’s in part because the QO salary of $18.9 million is a Before Times number. (At that, teams extended offers to Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman, whose After Times market value isn’t close to $18.9 million a year. Both should snap-call the offers.) The declined options are teams rejecting Before Times numbers."
 
 

Friday, October 30, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 30, 2020 -- "Coda"

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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"Keep in mind that had Snell been allowed to face Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, it would have been his sixth time seeing them in a week. On Tuesday night, Anderson faced Mookie Betts and Corey Seager for the second time in the Series. I think you have to really want to believe facing a reliever a second time is a greater repeat risk than facing a starter a sixth time to make that argument."

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, October 28, 2020 -- "Game Six"

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. 12, No. 91
October 28, 2020

The three-batter sequence that flipped Game Six and helped send the Dodgers to victory was one of the most controversial ones of the entire postseason. It once again pitted subjectivity against data, tradition against new thinking, process against outcomes. I suspect you already know on which side of the fight I’ll land, but it’s worth working the problem, given the attention the decision drew.

We start with one out and one on in the bottom of the sixth, the Rays up 1-0, the Dodgers bringing the top of their order to the plate a third time. On the mound, Blake Snell is nursing a two-hit shutout and has retired 16 batters on just 73 pitches, striking out nine and walking none. He is, in the parlance, “dealing.”

Kevin Cash is, in the parlance, “walking to the mound.” Sticking to his season-long handling of Snell, and in fact his whole staff, Cash is removing the starter in favor of right-hander Nick Anderson, with Mookie Betts coming to the plate.

There are some ideas that, over the past decade, have taken hold in the baseball world. The importance of short-sequence offense to winning postseason games: Ball go far, team go far. The importance of funneling as many innings as possible to your best pitchers, to winning the game you’re playing even if it complicates the next one. The importance of the third-time around penalty, that pitchers get considerably worse when facing a lineup a third time, is increasingly accepted. It’s not about pitch counts so much as it is the repeated exposure. The penalty is more actionable than in eras prior because teams have many good relief pitchers, so the average reliever the first time around is better than most starters -- in broad strokes, #3s and worse -- the third time around.

What hasn’t penetrated the same way is that intragame performance isn’t predictive. A pitcher who has thrown five shutout innings isn’t any more likely to throw a sixth shutout inning, all things considered, than he would have been had he allowed a run or two runs or three runs. All pitchers are dealing until they’re not, and we have plenty of examples of this phenomenon. Still, every single time a pitcher is lifted while throwing a shutout, an uproar ensues. There’s no one reason. A general risk aversion among fans contributes to it. A desire to see baseball played the way it used to be played is part of it. A desire to see great individual performances is part of it. A resistance to the idea that the third-time-around penalty is as strong as it is is definitely a part of it.

Snell, to pick the example in play, has a 592 OPS allowed when facing batters the first time, 711 the second time, and 742 the third time. That understates his decline; Snell’s strikeout-to-walk ratio drops from 3.5 to 2.4 to 2.0 with each pass through the lineup. His strikeout rate drops from 34% to 26% to 22%. Letting Snell face a lineup a third time is a bad idea, and Kevin Cash knows this. In five postseason starts prior to last night, Cash had let Snell face 11 batters a third time. They were 3-for-10 with a homer, a double and a walk off him, roughly what Randy Arozarena is hitting. Just last Wednesday, Cash tried to get Snell through the bottom of the fifth facing the top of the Dodgers' order; a walk to Mookie Betts and a single by Corey Seager forced him to go to the pen.

In that start, as long as we’re talking about “dealing,” Snell had a no-hitter through 16 batters on 71 pitches. The next four batters: walk, homer, walk, single. Tonight, Cash went and got him after 18 batters and 73 pitches.

Every pitcher is dealing until he's not, and you literally need only go back to Blake Snell’s last start to see that.

A manager’s job isn’t to sit there and wait until his pitcher makes it plainly obvious he needs to be removed. His job, especially in Game Six of the World Series with a one-run lead, is to make sure it never gets to that point. Blake Snell isn’t handled like Jack Morris, and treating him that way is how you lose baseball games.

This was the big topic of the night, at least until events overtook it. Cash, though, made the right decision. He made the decision he’s been making with this team all year long, not letting the starters lose the game, getting them out before they deteriorate, knowing -- based on the numbers both general and specific -- that they will deteriorate, knowing that he has a deep and powerful bullpen for just this task. This is how they win games, how they won 51 of the 80 games they played, how they got to within two wins of a championship on a payroll that wouldn’t cover the Dodgers’ coffee budget. This is how the Rays have won all year, and dunking on it because it didn’t work in Game Six of the World Series may not be emphasizing the second part of that clause enough.

There was a strain of criticism that really grated at me, that amounted to TV scouts asserting that what they observed overrides Cash’s judgment. If we want to make this a subjective conversation, I’m fine with that, but then it’s about whose judgment we’re going to take more seriously after we throw out the data: Kyle Snyder and Kevin Cash, 50 feet away from a guy they’ve managed for five years, or @TBRays420_69 watching on television?

If Cash made a mistake, it may have been in continuing to trust Nick Anderson. Anderson didn’t get rocked; he gave up a groundball double to the second-best player alive, then a wild pitch and another groundball that scored a run. Missing in that sequence, of course, are strikeouts, which had been Anderson’s stock-in-trade all year, and which he seemed to run out of in October. Anderson struck out 21% of the batters he faced in the playoffs, less than half his regular-season rate.

I heard a lot of “Anderson had given up runs in six straight appearances,” which is true. What I hadn’t heard before the game was the idea that Anderson should be buried, treated as a mop-up man, or for that matter slotted after Diego Castillo and Peter Fairbanks. The idea that he shouldn’t have been in the game at that point seems results-oriented. Cash had used him for just 23 pitches over the previous five days, all in Saturday’s Game Four.

Anderson entered that game with second and third and one out, the Rays holding a 5-4 lead. It was the third straight time Anderson had been brought into a game with two runners on, and the fifth time in nine postseason appearances. It was the sixth time he’d come into a game mid-inning. I mention all this to note that Nick Anderson may have faced a greater degree of difficulty than any postseason reliever in two generations. I also mention it to note that Kevin Cash had very clearly not changed his usage patterns; whatever Anderson’s output had been, Cash was seeing the same guy who had been a monster for him all year.

On Saturday, Anderson’s four-seamer ranged from 94 to 97, standard velocity for him. He struck out Will Smith on three pitches, then was ordered to walk Cody Bellinger intentionally to load the bases, a terrible choice. On 3-1, Anderson was brought in against Joc Pederson and allowed a single at 94 mph off the glove of Brandon Lowe, giving up the lead. In the eighth, Anderson allowed a double on a curve and a very soft two-out single to give the Dodgers the lead again.

Anderson has not been the pitcher he was in the regular season. He has been giving up more contact, not getting as many swings and misses. His velocity is unchanged but his curveball hasn’t been effective. Mookie Betts, having seen two fastballs to get to 1-1, could reasonably expect a third because Anderson’s curve wasn’t the threat it had been all year. That’s the pitch he hit for a double.

We have seen this before, of course, and very recently. The Indians’ Andrew Miller ran out of steam in 2016, the Dodgers’ Brandon Morrow did in 2017. It may be that in using Anderson in any inning from the third through the ninth, using him over and over again with runners on, Cash finally asked too much of him. I’m reluctant, looking at Anderson’s last couple of outings, to say for sure he was the wrong pitcher in the sixth last night. However, the argument that Cash shouldn’t have brought in Anderson -- and instead used Castillo or Fairbanks -- is much stronger than the argument that he should have left in Snell. If Cash made a mistake, it was in the reliever he chose, not in choosing one at all.

Then again, no reliever Cash chose was likely to fix the Rays’ biggest problem. From the game preview:

“Arozarena has absolutely carried the Rays’ offense. Eno Sarris had the breakdown:  Arozarena is hitting .370/.439/.808 this postseason. His teammates are hitting .193/.266/.356.”

Last night, Arozarena went 2-for-4 with a home run, and everyone else went 3-for-29 with a double and two walks. That’s the ballgame, and the World Series. Arozarena, Kevin Kiermaier, and a part-time Yandy Diaz were the only Rays to hit for an 800 OPS or better this week. Brandon Lowe hit three big home runs...and went 0-for-21 with a walk outside of those swings. They just got beat.

It will sting today, but you’d take the Rays’ future above anyone's but the team that just beat them and maybe three others. Of the 28 players who appeared in the World Series for the Rays, 28 are under club control for 2021. The big question is Charlie Morton, who seems willing to delay retirement if the club picks up his $15 million option. The Rays can hope to integrate Brendan McKay (shoulder) and Shane Baz into next year’s rotation, as well as allow overall #1 prospect Wander Franco to take over at third base. It’s a bit callous to say, but few teams take less of a hit from lost attendance than do the Rays. How baseball’s new finances affect local revenue sharing is probably a larger factor in the short term. I doubt they’ll chase George Springer, but we’ll see if they move on from Choi at first to create some additional offense. Pending the health of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the 2021 Rays could be AL East favorites.

Newsletter Excerpt, October 28, 2020 -- "Eight is Enough"

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 not as if we don’t know what Mookie Betts can do. This October, though, was one of the most incredible stretches of complete play I can remember. Taking nothing away from Randy Arozarena or Corey Seager, or from postseasons past by George Springer and Madison Bumgarner and Albert Pujols and so many other stars, I have hard time remembering a single player going Kelly Leak on the baseball playoffs the way Mookie Betts did this month. He did everything, including ending eight long years of frustration for Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen."

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 27, 2020 -- "Game Five"

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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"Margot had been planning this for ten pitches, and on the 11th, he went. Kershaw looks over his right shoulder, and Margot knows, from the last ten pitches, that he won't look again. Margot takes a couple of steps, and as Kershaw raises his arms, he breaks for the plate. Margot gets one of the best jumps any baserunner has gotten this October, and at the point when Kershaw breaks his hands to throw to the plate, I thought Margot had stolen home. When Barnes caught Kershaw’s throw, I thought Margot was going to be safe. Even when Barnes put the tag down, I thought for sure I had just seen a straight steal of home to tie Game Five of the World Series."

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 25, 2020 -- "Game Four"

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 game found him. It needed three trades and two postseason roster moves and a two-out single that pushed his manager to pinch-run and another bloop single in the ninth that brought him to the plate, but it found him. Baseball sifted through 20,000 guys, tapped Brett Phillips on the shoulder, and said, 'you’re up.'"
 
 

Friday, October 23, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 23, 2020 -- "Game Three Pregame"

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 could use a pitchers’ duel, a game in which two highly-skilled starters throw strikes and get outs and pitch deep into the game. There’s been one game this postseason in which both starters went seven innings -- it was the first one in the NL, between the Reds and Braves. There were three last year, all of which involved a Cardinals team that couldn’t hit. There was one in 2018, none in 2017, two in 2016. That’s seven in five years, even as the postseason is as large as it has ever been. It’s not that postseason pitchers’ duels are some ideal brand of baseball. It’s that they are a particular type of game, one with a rich history, that has gone almost extinct."

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 22, 2020 -- "Game Two"

 

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 was no fluke; Lowe has a lot of Jeff Kent to him, an offensive second baseman who is better defensively than he’ll get credit for. Kent didn’t reach the majors until he was 24 and he never had a bad year once he got there; his one season with an OPS+ below average was his final one, when he hit .280/.327/.418 (96 OPS+) for the Dodgers. Projecting Lowe to a 55-WAR career and a Hall of Fame case is asking a lot, but he profiles as an 875 OPS hitter at a key defensive position."
 

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 21, 2020 -- "Game One"

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 thing is, I was wrong. Starting the inning with Glasnow is fine. Once he walked Betts and Seager, though, the latter stymieing three two-strike deliveries in drawing an eight-pitch walk, the jig is up. You have to bring in one of your one...two...five right-handed relief pitchers to face Turner, Muncy, and Smith, and have a lefty available if the inning continues past there. Cash will have to be a bit unfair to his relievers this week, getting them up more on spec and living with an increased possibility of warming them up without using them. Once taking out the starter is on his radar, he may need to have a couple of guys ready to go at almost all times."

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 20, 2020 -- "World Series 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.


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 Dodgers led NL teams in runs scored even while hitting for the eighth-highest average in the league. They hit more homers than anyone else, and they drew an above-average number of walks. Related to the latter, they got ahead in the count more than almost any other team. Just four teams had more plate appearances get to 1-0 than did the Dodgers. Just three teams -- one of them the Rays -- hit better once getting to 1-0. The Rays deny walks as well as anyone, with a 7.6% walk rate bettered only by the Indians and Dodgers. They also had the sixth-fewest PAs in MLB that started 1-0, and even when they fell behind, only the Indians and Dodgers held their opponents to a lower relative OPS+."

Monday, October 19, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 19, 2020 -- "One Great Baseball Game"

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.


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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We’ll have time to dig into this matchup between the two best teams in baseball, the kind of matchup we don’t often get anymore in the Series. At the other end of this World Series, though, there’s going to be a conversation, and I want to get out ahead of it today.

F**k your asterisks.

The 2020 season included just 60 games due to a pandemic, one that has taken millions of lives and that we don’t, nine months on, have a handle on. Whether MLB should have put on any season at all was a point of contention, and that they did so without known incident is a credit to the people involved, to a willingness to treat the 2020 season as sui generis, and to dumb luck. it’s the shortest baseball season since “season” was a more fluid concept, and the shortest modern one ever, shorter still when you consider that the games themselves were often foreshortened.

All 30 teams played that shortened season. MLB elected to expand the playoffs to make up for some of the revenue they lost this year, which created a chaos agent that, fortuitously, has been neutralized. The 2020 champion will be one of the teams that, on February 15, would have been considered one of the best in the game. Neither is a fluke borne of a shortened season that didn’t expose its weaknesses, or of a schedule larded with shortened games, or of an expanded playoff format. The 60-game season is no longer a consideration.

In fact, those expanded playoffs mean that the champion we crown will have run the hardest gan...route...in playoff history. The 2014 Giants won 12 playoff games in winning the World Series. Next week’s winner will have won 13. They will have done it with just two playoff games at home, spending the final three-plus weeks of the year living in a hotel and playing at neutral sites. They will have done it against a backdrop of a global pandemic.

There are adjustments we have to make for 2020, analytically, historically, even economically as we look to 2021. What we don’t have to do is consider the winner of this World Series as anything less than the ones who came before, or the ones who will come after. The two best teams in baseball are playing for a championship, having come through the hardest playoff bracket ever. Do not, for a second, consider the winner of this World Series as anything less than a champion.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 18, 2020 -- "Rays Take the AL"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"To many people, what Cash did last night was risky, even wrong. It wasn’t, because the decision to lift Morton wasn’t made ad hoc in the heat of a ballgame. It was made at 3 p.m., it was made last week, it was made as part of a plan for winning baseball game that produced a 40-20 record and the second AL pennant in franchise history. This is how the Rays beat you, by getting the lead and then bringing 96 and then 98 and then 100 to the mound and daring you to come back against that heat and their swarming defense."

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 17, 2020 -- "Astro 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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"So what George Springer did in the fifth inning was important both to winning a baseball game, and winning an argument. With second and third and one out, and the Rays positioning three infielders on the left side of second base, Springer slapped a 1-0 sinker that Diego Castillo left up through the huge hole right of the bag, scoring two runs and setting the Astros on their way to a 7-4 win that tied the ALCS at three games apiece. You don’t need rules that ban the shift. You just need players trying to beat it. Springer’s ball, per MLB, becomes a hit 19% of the time; it’s a lot higher when you hit it where they ain’t."
 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 16, 2020 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"Going to the bullpen wouldn’t have guaranteed anything -- Brusdar Graterol came in and allowed three hits to four batters -- but by leaving in Kershaw too long, Roberts showed that he has just not learned. He still looks at Kershaw and sees the unhittable Cy Young winner, one of the very best pitchers in human history. That pitcher has not existed for years. Whether it’s calling Kershaw out of the bullpen, or using him on short rest, or leaving him in too long, Roberts’s blind spot with the lefty has repeatedly cost the Dodgers. What we call “the Kershaw narrative” is in large part a story about Dave Roberts, not Kershaw."
 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 15, 2020 -- "Bullpen 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 nearly 25 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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"The Rays, among the final four, are the cute low-payroll, small-market team. What’s interesting is how they’re not as homegrown as you would expect given those labels. There were 18 Rays worth at least a half-win this year; of those, just four were drafted by the Rays, and just six were originally signed by them. One was Division Series hero Mike Brosseau, famously undrafted back in 2016."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, December 20, 2018 -- "The Shift"

 

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.


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 $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 10, No. 131
December 20, 2018

Two weeks ago, Jayson Stark (congrats, sir, well deserved) reported that MLB, led by Commissioner Rob Manfred, was seriously considering rule changes to limit how the defense can position its fielders -- what we popularly call “the shift.” Jayson’s deeply-reported piece reminded me that I’d promised someone, I think on Twitter, that I would do my own shift piece in the offseason.

My position on this is established, although I am not sure I’ve ever done a full column on it. Simply put, to limit how a team can play, how it can best align its talent to win games, is a generally bad idea. The shift, as much as it has become more common in recent seasons, isn’t a new concept. Teams were shifting on Ted Williams 60 years ago, and did so on comparable hitters in each succeeding generation. We’ve seen four-outfielder concepts as well, back to Willie McCovey in the 1960s and Jim Rice in the 1970s.

Even the standard defensive alignment to which traditionalists cling is an adaptation; the various basemen don’t stand on their bases, but rather, in the general vicinity of them, because early in baseball prehistory they noticed that’s where the balls were being hit. 

What’s changed is the collection of data. The shift is the most visible representation of the data revolution within the game. Whereas teams, as recently as the last decade, had to rely on scouting information to determine where players were most likely to hit the ball, we now have perfect information for every player in the majors on their tendencies.

The shift isn’t new; the reliability of the information about when to shift is new. If you’d given this information to Joe McCarthy in the 1930s, he’d likely have shifted on Hal Trosky and Earl Averill. If Casey Stengel had it in the 1950s, Billy Martin would have been playing short right field against Larry Doby. You think Earl Weaver wouldn’t have welcomed knowing exactly where Reggie Jackson and Carl Yastrzemski were hitting their grounders, wouldn’t have used that information to put Mark Belanger exactly where he damn well pleased?

The entire point of having defensive players is to turn balls in play into outs. They’re not decorative, they’re not out there to conform to some airy notion about what a baseball game should look like. Forcing someone to stand somewhere near third base against a player who hits a ball on the ground that way once a month is nonsense. Every manager in baseball history would agree; it’s just the current ones who can act on the idea. Limiting defensive positioning is just the league forcing teams to play baseball badly, and isn’t that what we have pitcher batting for?

The argument against the shift is largely aesthetic. There are people with voices and platforms who just don’t like the way it looks when a hard grounder up the middle or a line drive to short right field becomes an out, rather than a single. To whatever extent there’s a “hard” argument for eliminating the positioning that creates those outs, it’s that doing so would create some more hits, more baserunners, more movement. I’m certainly in favor of that, and in the linked piece, Stark cites Sports Info Solutions data that show eliminating the shift would turn 500 outs into singles, mostly for lefty pull hitters. That’s not nothing -- the league batting average would jump three points, and that’s before you consider any knock-on effects, like more pitchers throwing out of the stretch, etc.

On the other hand, Russell Carleton has made a strong case that shifting’s effect on pitcher effectiveness neutralizes its effect on hits on balls in play, so if pitchers pitch better under a new rule set, even a little bit, the effect on overall offense will be muted. Also, the hitters getting those singles back won’t be, for the most part, lively baserunners, so you’re not suddenly bringing back the 1970s. 

The fact is, while it’s a highly visible practice whose successes you notice, the shift isn’t that big a factor in the modern offensive environment. It’s taking 500 singles (a handful of doubles are in there, too) a year and turning them into outs, largely from a group of players who aren’t dynamic baserunners. Singles themselves aren’t a key element in run scoring in the modern game, because they require other events, other balls put in play, to have value. One-run strategies and long-sequence offenses have largely been killed by strikeout rates. 

There’s a pretty serious causation error driving the thinking about the shift. The idea is that batters are swinging for the fences because the shift has taken away hits on the ground. That’s completely backwards. Batters are swinging for the fences because it’s the most effective way to combat pitchers who throw 97-mph cutters and 90-mph sliders. You’ll hear citations of players like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn from people who never saw anything faster than 70 mph in high school. Well, pitchers have evolved, mostly by throwing harder but also by getting more movement, into witches, and you can’t just slap the ball against the witches. That kind of batting style is obsolete. Batters have always tried to hit the ball hard and far; we just call those things Exit Velocity and Launch Angle now. 

The dominant batting style of the day is an effect, not a cause. If pitchers couldn’t throw above 90, couldn’t get unreal spin on their breaking stuff, you’d see more contact hitting. Hitters have sold out for pull power as a strategy, and defenses have adapted to that by moving their infielders to where the balls land. The shift is the third thing that happened, not the first, and any rule changes that address the shift without addressing the pitcher/batter conflict are intentionally missing the point. Everything. Comes. Back. To. Velocity.

That’s not even my argument, though.

Eliminating the shift is actually going to incentivize the hitters who are being shifted to double down on their behavior. As it stands now, Joey Gallo and his ilk can do what they always do, and risk hitting a one-hop single to right that becomes a 4-3. They can, if they’d rather, drop a bunt down the third-base line or slap a ground ball anywhere to the left of the pitcher’s mound for a single. The incentives for them to change their behavior are clear...and they’re not changing their behavior. Oh, you’ll see the occasional bunt, and any time a guy like Gallo gets jammed and fists a four-hopper into left, the play-by-play guy will excitedly exclaim, “He beat the shift!” For the most part, though, this class of player has made his choice.

If you force a team to leave short right field open and cover the left side of the infield against someone like Gallo, you’re giving him a gift. Now he can employ his preferred style of hitting with much of the penalty for it removed. If you thought these guys were swinging for the fences now, what do you think will happen when you give them 20 extra singles a year for doing so?

That’s not even my argument, though.

In Jayson’s piece, he cites The Bill James Handbook: Of the 30 hitters who saw the most shifts, 29 were left-handed batters. (Edwin Encarnacion is the 30th.) The shift is aimed at hitters with predictable tendencies, which is largely pull hitters with power. The need, within the rules of baseball, to keep first base covered, means you can only do so much against right-handed batters. So the main targets of the shift are left-handed pull hitters with power. Anthony Rendon isn’t seeing many shifts. Andrelton Simmons isn’t. Christian Yelich isn’t. 

There have been times in baseball history when rules changes have been necessary to balance offense and defense. We’ve outlawed flat bats and fair-foul hits. We’ve stopped letting pitchers put everything short of Play-Doh on the baseballs. We’ve raised and lowered the mound, manipulated the strike zone. All of these rules have served to balance the scales between the guys trying to score and the guys trying to keep them from scoring.

Outlawing the shift would be the first change in baseball history that is specifically benefitting a subset of hitters or pitchers. Remember, while there’s a gameplay issue right now, there isn’t an overall offense one. There were 4.45 runs scored per team per game last year, pretty much baseball’s historical average. This isn’t 1968, or even 1992. As we’ve seen, too, banning the shift isn’t going to move the needle on offense very much, anyway. It’s 500 singles and a few doubles a year over 185,000 plate appearances. 

What banning the shift will do is provide an enormous benefit to the small class of hitters who are losing lots of hits to the shift each year. It’s the Logan Morrison Career Revival Act of 2019. It’s MLB literally picking winners and losers, saying that, aw, poor Travis Shaw, it’s not fair that they know exactly where you’re going to hit the ball, we’ll stop them from putting players there.

How is there any difference between saying you can’t put your fielders where the batter will hit the ball, and you can’t throw the batter pitches you know he can’t hit? Two years from now, will we have a rule that says you can’t throw Cody Bellinger curves down and in? Or that throwing Javier Baez a slider off the plate is an automatic ball? 

Banning the shift is doesn’t balance offense and defense. It is a welfare program for a subset of players who won’t adjust on their own. Baseball has never, in its long history, picked out handful of players and made a rule just for them. That’s what banning the shift would be, and it’s a terrible precedent to set.

That’s my argument.

Mandating where a team can play its defenders is a terrible idea. It’s a subsidy for a specific class of players. It won’t put more action into the game. It won’t slow the trend towards dead-pull power hitting, and in fact, it will encourage it by taking away the penalty for doing so. It will provide the illusion of a solution while ignoring the real problem, the evolution of pitchers. 

Baseball’s gameplay problem isn’t the fate of balls put in play, it’s the lack of balls put in play. Again, I say to Rob Manfred, if you want to baseball to look more like baseball, stop worrying about where the shortstop is and start giving him more to do.