Thursday, April 25, 2024

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, April 25, 2024 -- "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.

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"Thinking Inside the Box" is an occasional Newsletter feature that pulls topics from a reading of the box scores. The lines in fixed-width are the player's box score line for the game in question.


Mets 8, Giants 2

               AB  R  H  BI
Lindor SS       5  2  4   4 2 HR

Mr. Smile needed this one. Francisco Lindor opened the year hitting .174/.267/.272 through Wednesday night. He had not hit a single ball 100 mph or harder, and just 10 of 75 at 95 mph. He had one barrel all year, just two homers. Yesterday, he tripled his barrel count and doubled up his homers. 

Now, Lindor hadn’t been quite as bad as that slash line indicates. Today, a day after his explosion in San Francisco, his expected wOBA is .320, a full 70 points ahead of his actual. Lindor still manages the strike zone well, and in fact he is running his best strikeout rate since 2019. The rest of his game, his baserunning and defense, remains top notch. Yesterday’s game yanked his WAR into positive territory and continued his Hall of Fame trajectory. 

Lindor is 13th among active players with 43 bWAR, and the second-youngest player with at least 40 bWAR. While there’s nothing that says he has to continue on this path -- we’ve been talking a lot about the struggles of older players lately -- Lindor is the type of player, with a broad skill set, who tends to age better than most. He needs just another 20 WAR to be a serious candidate, 25 to just about lock up a spot in Cooperstown. He will at least come under consideration so long as he doesn’t collapse in his thirties. Me, I think he’ll end up going in easily, and at the moment is one of the game’s underappreciated superstars, slow start and all. 

Orioles 6, Angels 5


CS: Adell (4)

I suppose a box-score line isn’t enough, so see for yourself why it’s here.

With two outs and the Angels down one in the bottom of the ninth, Jo Adell stole second base. He took off from first, slid into second, beat the tag. That’s what happened. Second-base umpire Nic Lentz blew the call, declaring Adell out and the game over. That happens, has happened for 150 years of baseball history. 

The thing is, we can fix it now. We have an elaborate, expensive system in place to make sure that baseball games are decided by what the players do, not what a middle manager thinks they did. The Angels challenged the call, which sent the whole thing to a room in New York filled with screens, and with one umpire charged with using those screens to get the call right.

They still couldn’t do it. 

The problem stems from an archaic detail in the replay rules that privileges the call on the field. Rather than the replay umpire determining what happened, his job is...I’ll just quote MLB here:

Replay officials review all calls subject to replay review and decide whether to change the call on the field, confirm the call on the field or let stand the call on the field due to the lack of clear and convincing evidence.

The players, the plays, the baseball game aren’t mentioned. The call on the field is mentioned three times. Whereas the replay system should be centering baseball, it instead centers umpiring. That’s the error, borne of a thought process that envisions replay not as a solution, but as an intrusion.

Once a play on the field goes to the replay room, the call on the field should disappear. It never happened. The umpires in New York should not think of themselves as changing, confirming, or letting stand a call -- as centering the actions of the umpire -- but rather determining what happened in the baseball game. Taking the umpires out of the picture and re-focusing replay on the players is the step that’s missing, and the omission leads to most of the replay mistakes we see. Replay errors are hardly as common as ball-strike errors, but because they flip out to safe, and sometimes out to a run (and vice versa), they have outsized impact. The error yesterday was one of the biggest plays of the game, turning two outs and a runner on second into game over, about an 11% swing in win expectancy.

Replay has been good for baseball. As we saw yesterday, though, it can be better. Make it about baseball, not the umpires.

Braves 4, Marlins 3 (10 inn.)

                     IP  H  R ER BB  K
Lopez, R.           7.0  3  1  1  2  6

That’s Reynaldo Lopez’s fourth quality start in four outings. He has a 0.72 ERA and a 2.72 FIP, with a 26% strikeout rate. I had my doubts about Lopez as a starter, as a trip through my archives will show...

December 30, 2019: “A reliever shoved into a starting role.”

November 22, 2021: “finally turned into a reliever, had a 22/3 K/BB out of the bullpen.”

April 25, 2022: “Reynaldo Lopez has made 96 starts for the Sox and in every one of them has been a reliever asked to do too much; here’s hoping they just leave him in the pen, where he has a 2.85 career ERA (4.75 as a starter), for everyone’s sake.”

February 10, 2023: “I would love to see Reynaldo Lopez used as a fireman.”

Lopez had started and held up before. He made every start for the White Sox in 2018 and 2019, leading the AL in runs allowed in the second year. The issue for me has always been effectiveness rather than endurance, though after Lopez spent the last two years as a reliever, I had doubts about both coming into 2024. So far, he’s quelled them.

What’s interesting to me is that Lopez has pretty much been the same pitcher as a starter that he was as a reliever: Four-seamers more than half the time, a slider about 30% of the time, occasional curves and change-ups to lefties. He picked up 2-3 mph on the heater when he went to the pen, and dropped the same speed as a starter. This year, he’s getting more swing-and-miss than ever before, especially on his breaking balls, both of them posting 45% whiff rates.

The Braves desperately needed something to go right after the Spencer Strider injury. There are still reasonable concerns about Lopez’s ability to pitch through the season after two years of relief, but at least for the moment, he looks like a playoff starter.

Dodgers 11, Nationals 2

               AB  R  H  BI
Ohtani DH       6  2  3   2 3 2B

It was just yesterday that Joe Posnanski wrote about Shohei Ohtani and his 11 doubles in 25 games, and how it augured a run at a 60-double season. I’m with Joe -- I love doubles. I was a doubles hitter as a player, my favorite player ever was doubles machine Don Mattingly, my favorite hitter archetype is the line-to-line doubles hitter, one that largely has gone out of favor. 

Shohei Ohtani might just make doubles news again.

Double Your Pleasure (most doubles in baseball April, since 1901)

                         2B     G
Matt Chapman     2023    15    27    
Mike Lowell      2002    15    26
Garret Anderson  2003    14    27
Paul DeJong      2019    14    29
Derrek Lee       2007    14    24
Shohei Ohtani    2024    14    26
Alfonso Soriano  2002    14    26

Any April leaderboard is going to be populated by players of recent vintage, who play more games in baseball April (which includes March) than any players did in the 20th century, when seasons started on more reasonable dates. Ohtani should break and possibly shatter the record for April doubles. “Pace” is a silly construct. It’s fun, though, to see that a healthy Ohtani is on pace for 87 doubles. 

Here is where we have to start talking about Earl Webb. Webb, a journeyman outfielder from the 1930s, holds the single-season record for doubles with 67. He set the record playing most of his home games at Fenway Park during a high-offense season, 1931. The left-handed hitting Webb hit 43% of his career doubles in that one big year, was traded away the next summer, and his career was over by 1934.

No player has hit even 60 doubles in a season since 1936. Freddie Freeman hit 59 last year. He had 54 with 20 games to go, 59 with two left, and just couldn’t get over the line. One of the many reasons I remain angry about 1994 is that Chuck Knoblauch had 45 doubles with more than 50 Twins games left to play. He was on pace for 64 doubles when the strike ended the campaign. Ohtani, who has already done so many things we haven’t seen since before the second World War, may yet add to that list.

Twins 6, White Sox 3

                     IP  H  R ER BB  K
Crochet (L, 1-4)    4.0  7  5  5  2  6 HR

Opening day is a long way away. Garrett Crochet, making his first major league start, struck out eight Tigers in a strong six inning outing that ended in a 1-0 loss. Well, since then, Crochet has a 7.61 ERA in five starts, and he hasn’t gotten past the fifth in his last three. 

That’s not why we’re here, though. We’re here because Crochet’s work last night helped push the White Sox to 3-21, meaning they’ll end up in a prominent place on this list:

Slooooooooow Starts (worst record after 25 decisions, since 1901)

Orioles   1988   2-23
Reds      2022   3-22
Tigers    2003   3-22
Indians   1969   4-21
Browns    1936   4-21
Red Sox   1932   4-21
Superbas  1907   4-21

The Sox, who play the Twins this afternoon, will tie for the second-worst 25-game start ever with a loss. This is a team I picked to win the AL Central just one year ago, that was in the playoffs just three years ago. Now, it’s looking up at last year’s A’s (5-20).

Those A’s were never good, but they played better after that start, closing 45-92 and even ripping off a seven-game winning streak in June. I’m not sure these Sox have that in them. Those A’s had young talent they integrated throughout the season -- Zack Gelof, Mason Miller, JJ Bleday. The A’s did their usual free-talent thing to give them their best hitters in Ryan Noda and Brent Rooker. Because they had no significant financial obligations, they weren’t stuck playing bad veterans as sunk costs.

These White Sox don’t find good players on waivers or in other teams’ systems. Their fishing has brought in Robbie Grossman (.178/.315/.200) and Martin Maldonado (.048/.091/.071, basestealers are 13-for-14 against him). Tommy Pham will join this group shortly. Offseason trades added Dominic Fletcher (.203/.277/.271), Nicky Lopez (.203/.309/.203) and Braden Shewmake (.158/.175/.263). They did sign Erick Fedde from the KBO, and that’s worked well, but it’s the only thing that has. They’re probably stuck playing Andrew Benintendi, who has three years and five months left at $15 million a year, and is hitting .167/.205/.190. Pitchers in 2021, the last year before the universal DH, hit .110/.150/.142.

Mostly, though, I don’t see where the Sox can get better. Their top prospect, shortstop Colson Montgomery, has a .310 OBP in Triple-A, as does last year’s disappointment Oscar Colas. Zach DeLoach, another offseason trade pickup, has a .284 SLG for Charlotte. Infielder Lenyn Sosa started hot, got called up, and went 5-for-38 in the majors. Most of the Charlotte staff is bad, old, or both; Jonathan Cannon made two good starts there and got promoted; he’s allowed seven runs in 8 2/3 innings in the majors.

The team has some pitching at Double-A in offseason trade additions Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte. No matter how well they pitch, though, I’m not sure they’ll be better off pitching for a 115-loss White Sox team in an empty ballpark than working on their games in the minors.

Most teams that start out this bad can turn over the roster, promote some young talent, dump the veterans, and count on regression to help it all look a little better. I’m not sure the White Sox can do any of that. The worst 50-game start in baseball history is 9-41 by the 1904 Senators. Next is last year’s A’s at 10-40, along with the ’32 Red Sox at 10-40. The White Sox have to go 7-20 to keep from tying the record, and I don’t think they have it in them.

#120Watch is coming.