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.


Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, more than 150 mailings (more than 200,000 words) a year full of smart, fun baseball writing that you can't find in the mainstream. Subscribers can also access the new Slack workspace, to talk baseball with me and hundreds of other Newsletter subscribers.

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--
 
"This 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.


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 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.


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 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.

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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.

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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.

--
 
"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.

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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.

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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.
 
 

Newsletter Excerpt, October 14, 2020 -- "Rhythms"

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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--
 
"For years we’ve been used to the rhythms of playoff series. Two games, take a breath, home team changes, bullpens reset, hitters get a mental-health day, managers get a chance to consider their options...and then we play again. 2-2-1 and 2-3-2 formats have a flow, and while perhaps more fair, the 2-2-1-1-1 preferred by the NBA and NHL have always seemed more disjointed to me."
 

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 13, 2020 -- "It's Just Baseball"

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 made sense, a decade ago, to call it 'shifting.' It didn’t happen much and it definitely looked weird. That verbiage is long dated when more than a third of batted balls are hit into data-driven positioning. It’s not shifting, it’s defense. It’s putting your players in position to succeed. It’s exploiting a known weakness of your opponent.

"It’s playing baseball."

Monday, October 12, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 12, 2020 -- "Dodgers/Braves 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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--
 
"We saw Dave Roberts flinch last week, lifting Kenley Jansen from a save situation with two outs in the ninth; we also saw what happens when he does that, as Joe Kelly walked the first two men he faced. The Dodgers’ closer right now is Score Enough Runs to Not Need a Closer. We’ll see what Roberts does, but the Braves’ best path through this series is almost certainly through picking off Jansen, Kelly, and whoever else Roberts turns to in big spots. The Braves make this harder for Roberts with all their right-handed power; against a more balanced team he could turn to Jake McGee and Victor Gonzalez."
 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 11, 2020 -- "Rays/Astros 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 team with the better regular-season contact rate went 5-2 in playoff series in 2017, with the Astros winning the World Series. They were 3-4 in 2018, with the Red Sox, third in MLB in contact rate, winning it all. Last year, they went 5-2 again, with the Nationals (third in MLB) beating out the Astros (first). That’s 13-8 in playoff series the last three years, for 50-27 in the 11 years I’ve tracked."
 

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 11, 2020 -- "As Good As It Gets"

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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--
 
"You can say that the game we love has issues. Acknowledge this, though: Game Five of the ALDS was the best version of this kind of baseball we can get. It had amazing pitchers and talented hitters and, when called upon, good fielders using the 2020 mix of data to know where to be, and their skills to know what to do when the ball was hit to them."
 

Friday, October 9, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 9, 2020 -- "What I'm Watching"

 

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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"This October, I’ve laid off the Ball Go Far... stuff, because I think the point has largely been made outside of a number of broadcast booths. Short sequence offense wins in the playoffs, and it’s gratifying to see, some days, my entire Twitter feed making the point for me. This series, it must be said, has been all about the dingers: The Yankees have 16 of their 23 runs on homers, the Rays have 15 of their 19. That’s more than three-quarters of the runs in a postseason series coming on the long ball."

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 8, 2020 -- "Sibling Rivalry"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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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"This game, this series, this fraternal rivalry that dates to the Nixon Administration...it was decided in a small space just over and behind the center field wall in a ballpark not even a year old itself. That’s where big brother blocked the punch, and reminded little brother that he’ll always be bigger, and stronger, and older."
 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 7, 2020 -- "Division Series Notes"

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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"I hated the decision to treat Deivi Garcia as an opener last night before J.A. Happ ever threw a pitch.
 
"It’s just dumb to waste Garcia this way. It may be that doing this with Michael King or Nick Nelson telegraphs the play, but that puts the onus on Kevin Cash to build a lineup based on what he expects the Yankees -- I’ll take this off Aaron Boone’s shoulders for the moment, as the consensus is it was an organizational choice -- to do. All the team did last night was take out the better pitcher for the worse one, and while you don’t judge any decision by its outcome, the outcome was terrible and may have cost them the game."

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 6, 2020 -- "Dodgers/Padres 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.

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 Padres’ chance to beat the Dodgers in a five-game series the way they beat the Cardinals -- getting 18 outs from their starting pitchers -- is zero. They don’t need Clevinger to be the pitcher he was in 2018 and 2019, but they need him to give them innings. They’ll need Chris Paddack and Zach Davies [pats back for not writing “Kyle”] to work deeper. The Padres have a deep and talented bullpen; pitchers outside of Paddack and Davies combined to allow six runs in 22 2/3 innings and throw a shutout in the clincher. No pen, though, is deep enough to throw six or seven good innings a night for three, four, five nights straight."

Newsletter Excerpt, October 6, 2020 -- "Braves/Marlins 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.

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 Braves aren’t the Cubs in a more important way. The latter was near the bottom of MLB in production against fastballs, actually losing ground against them. The Braves were the very best team in baseball against heaters. Marlins hurlers threw the seventh-highest rate of fastballs in baseball, with Alcantara near 60% and Pablo Lopez at 55%. If Trevor Rogers gets tabbed for a start, he’ll bring a 60% fastball usage rate to the mound. If the Cubs were the best possible matchup for the Marlins, the Braves are the worst. The Marlins held the Cubs to one run in two games, and the Braves might beat that in the bottom of the first this afternoon.
 
 

Monday, October 5, 2020

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, October 5, 2020 -- "Rays/Yankees 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.

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. 12, No. 71
October 5, 2020

If I ask you to name the teams in history that won two-thirds of their games, you could probably put together about half the list. You’d pick off the 1998 Yankees and 2001 Mariners and 1908 Cubs. Next would be the 1954 Indians, and that would remind you that the 1995 Indians did it in a shortened season. The 1986 Mets and 1969 Orioles might take you a second. In all, 39 teams have done it since 1904, when the two major leagues started playing 154-game schedules, which is more than I would have guessed.

The 2020 Rays may never have the gravitas of those teams that got to play full seasons, but they’re now included in this select group, having gone 40-20 in their 60 games. I’ll admit to some surprise; I tracked the Dodgers' attempt at a .700 winning percentage pretty closely without ever noticing what the Rays were up to. In my defense, they made a late run, winning their final four games, and nine of their last 11, to get to .667.

As we enter the Division Series round, though, the Rays are being positioned as “opponent” to the Yankees, who scored 22 runs in 18 innings while sweeping the Indians out of the playoffs. The Rays, like the Indians, have an excellent pitching staff that misses bats and doesn’t give up the long ball. Unlike the Indians, the Rays have actual major-league outfielders playing in support of that pitching staff. This team went 40-20 against an above-average schedule, and they finished seven games ahead of the Yankees in the shortened campaign. They’re not extras here.

It’s an interesting note that the Rays, who pioneered the use of an opener two years ago, mostly moved away from the strategy this year. That reflects the quality of the rotation they’ve assembled. Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell, and Charlie Morton were never, uh, opened. Ryan Yarbrough was twice, both in the season’s final weeks as Kevin Cash experimented a bit. Josh Fleming made five starts of at least 18 batters, and in two others came in after an opener. For all the experimentation they have done with pitcher usage, their model for getting through the next two compressed weeks is likely as traditional as you’ll find in MLB. They’re a rare team with four above-average starting pitchers.

Where the Rays are different is in how they run their bullpen. They have one truly dominant reliever in Nick Anderson, and they don’t tie him to the save rule. Anderson will come in as early as the seventh, he’ll pitch the eighth if that’s where the danger is, he’ll pitch the ninth. If there’s a pattern, it’s that Kevin Cash doesn’t use him to inherit runners very often: just twice since early August, plus one appearance starting the tenth with the ghost runner on second.

Cash has other options for just about any scenario. Even with injuries picking off many of his effective relievers, he can fill a 13-man playoff staff without wasted roster spots. The Rays had 17 pitchers produce positive value this year, second only to the, uh, Orioles. They have eight who produced at least half a win, tied for third behind the Blue Jays and Astros. (The Yankees had four.) It’s a largely anonymous group, and like Anderson, consists of many pitchers not originally drafted or signed by the Rays, but developed into effective relievers by them. Just three pitchers on their Division Series staff were Rays originals: Snell, Fleming, and Diego Castillo.

The bullpen may be their biggest advantage against a Yankees team built almost entirely out of right-handed hitters. They have a lot of depth in guys who just eliminated righties this year.

Right-on-Right, Right? (vs. RHB, selected Rays’ relievers, 2020)

                  AVG   OBP   SLG

Nick Anderson    .034  .097  .103
Aaron Slegers    .175  .230  .246
Diego Castillo   .164  .246  .364
Oliver Drake     .176  .211  .412
John Curtiss     .250  .288  .446



Since joining the Rays in August 2019, Nick Anderson has allowed four hits to right-handed batters.

The Rays boost their pitching staff with an excellent defense. At times, they play Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier, and Hunter Renfroe across the outfield, which is the best defensive outfield in the majors right now and one of the best in recent memory. The infield isn’t quite as strong, though it's better when Joey Wendle plays. In what could be a downside to their aggressive defensive positioning, Rays opponents led MLB in steal attempts of third (nine) and were second in successful steals of third (seven).

The Rays support their run prevention with maybe the best offense in franchise history, posting a 109 wRC+ that ties the 2009 squad for their best ever. The catching situation is a mess -- Mike Zunino and Michael Perez frame and catch and throw and hit .157 between them. The rest of the Rays draw walks (second in the AL) and hit for power (second in the AL in doubles+triples, third in isolated power). They were 48-for-57 stealing bases and six Rays had at least three.

The Yankees seem a lot more threatening than they did a week ago. Anything can happen in two games, but when you erase Shane Bieber, and then come back against Carlos Carrasco, James Karinchak, and Brad Hand, you remind skeptics (ahem) that you can hang a dozen on almost anyone, anywhere, at any time.

Let’s update some Yankees numbers. After the two wins in Cleveland, the Yankees are now 19-7 when both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton are in the starting lineup. That’s the Death Star team that started 10-4 and then disappeared for most of the rest of the shortened season. That’s the team they have now, at least until the next nagging injury takes out one of the two sluggers. With dingers in their two playoff games, the Yankees are now 33-13 when they go deep, and just 2-14 when they do not. The Indians, one of the best homer-prevention teams in the regular season,* allowed seven Yankee homers in 18 innings.

(*With all seven Central division playoff teams losing in the first round, the conversation about how good any of those teams were became louder. I doubt a satisfactory answer is coming, but any Central team’s accomplishments do come with a bit of a question mark at the end of them.)

The Yankees have the best starting pitcher left in these playoffs in Gerrit Cole. The new format hurts them, as they can’t likely get more than three starts from Cole over the next two rounds. Cole has never started on three days’ rest, and while many of the pitchers who have done so in the playoffs in recent years also had little experience doing so, the Yankees have 300 million reasons to not mess with Cole. This will become a story as the series plays out if a Game Five comes into view. We’ll probably see the Yankees use a tandem model in Game Four, with some combination of Deivi Garcia and Jordan Montgomery.

This isn’t the recent-vintage Yankees with a deep and terrifying bullpen. The names will be familiar; Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman were effective in and around injuries, and Chapman showing up with a splitter may literally render him unhittable. However, the right side of this pen was a problem all season long; no Yankees right-handed reliever of note had a FIP lower than 3.52. Only Luis Cessa had an ERA below 3.50. There will be no way to avoid that part of the roster in this series, so the Yankees’ fate may very well come down to what they get from Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga and maybe even Adam Ottavino in leveraged spots in the sixth, seventh, and eighth. The revised schedule affects both managers -- each used a reliever three straight days exactly once all year -- but it probably affects Boone, with a less-deep bullpen, more.

The Yankees and Astros have eaten up five of the last six spots in the ALCS. The Rays and A’s, famously, have struggled to even climb to that level; the Rays haven’t been there since 2008, their only trip. The A’s haven’t been to an ALCS since 2006, their only trip since 1992. The Rays and A’s were the far better teams over 60 games, but 21st-century baseball standards mean that their next five will be what fans remember.

 

Newsletter Excerpt, October 5, 2020 -- "A's/Astros 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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $49.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"All four Division Series matchups this season feature teams from the same division playing one another, something not possible prior to this year. Since MLB went to the ten-team postseason in 2012, there have been six instances of teams from the same division meeting in a full playoff series (i.e., not the wild card game). The better regular-season team is 5-1 (the 2015 Cardinals, who lost to the Cubs, are the exception). If you take it back to playoff expansion in 1995, the better team is 11-5. (There was one matchup, the 2007 NLCS, in which two division rivals with the same record met.)"

Friday, October 2, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 2, 2020 -- "Three Straight Days"

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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"In just four years, the number of times pitchers were called upon to pitch for three straight days or more dropped nearly in half, from 437 to 233. This is a radical change in gameplay, as teams have developed relievers for maximum effort, loaded their rosters with those relief pitchers, and never asked too much of any one of them. These appearances have dropped even more sharply as a percentage of overall relief appearances, certainly relative to the previous few decades. As starters take on fewer and fewer innings, and individual relief appearances get shorter while rising in volume, these instances grow increasingly rare."

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Newsletter Excerpt, October 1, 2020 -- "A Decisive Game Three"

 

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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"My guess is both teams will need their bullpens today behind Dane Dunning and Mike Fiers. How Melvin deploys his deeper unit, and whether he forces his tired closer into the game, could very well be the difference between winning and losing."