Saturday, December 28, 2013

Excerpt: "Upending Free Agency"

"At some point, though, some player is going to decide that the best choice for him is to maximize his raw cash earnings at the expense of everything else. It will probably be a superstar. It will be a player who is young and unattached, maybe someone who sees through the superstructures we build around sports, who understands that fans don't root for him so much as they root for him as long as he's on their team, who takes the Seinfeldian 'laundry' notion to its natural end. It will be a player of tremendous talent and self-confidence. I'm thinking, I suppose, of Barry Bonds, only if Bonds had come along at a time when the rising tide of MLB revenues meant he had already banked $10-15 million by the time he reached a decision point."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, NL West"

"Other than that, the Padres look a lot like they did when I picked them to win the division last year. No projected starting position player is older than 31, with most in that 25-27 sweet spot that allows you to project collective growth. It's going to again come down to the rotation. Cashner and Tyson Ross established themselves at the end of last year, but they're mid-rotation starters, as is Eric Stults -- at best. This is where the Padres can really help themselves, and by using only money. There are still three starting pitchers out there (plus Masahiro Tanaka) who would make this team better. While it would be nice to see the Padres make a run at Tanaka, they can use the focus on him to go hard after Matt Garza instead. Garza isn't a true #1, but he is a #2, he doesn't require sacrificing a draft pick and he'd be this team's best starter. I'm not going to get into the issue of "afford" in detail again, except to say that the Padres will piss away $16.5 million next year on a homer-prone closer and a DH -- and Garza will actually help them win."

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. IV, No. 133
December 30, 2012

I have largely kept my discussion of the 2013 Hall of Fame ballot and the related issues to Twitter. This year's ballot, loaded with the villains of the era, has been coming for a while, and we're of course familiar with how sports-drug usage has affected the vote totals of Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro in their time on the ballot. The number of problems with Hall of Fame voting in the early days of the 21st century start with the way the voters seem to be folding this particular brand of bad behavior into their evaluations, but they extend beyond that to the issues of narrative versus fact, and the way things like the 5% rule and the 15-year eligibility queer relative results, and the Hall's insistence on retaining the concept of the Veterans Committee decades past its useful life.

An exhaustive examination of many of these issues -- a couple are, admittedly, my own hobby horses -- would take a year, and I'm not signed on to write the update to The Politics of Glory, so I won't be tackling them all. Today, though, I want to focus on one particular point that undergirds the decision by many writers to withhold votes for some of the greatest players in baseball history. There's a belief among many writers and fans that the use of sports drugs with the intent of gaining strength queered the statistical output of baseball players during what is popularly known as "the Steroid Era". Specifically, it's a belief sports-drug usage caused a peak in overall home runs hit and a peak in the individual leaderboards. This is the distinction that separates strength-enhancing sports drugs from other forms of cheating, most specifically amphetamines.

This belief provides a veneer of statistical viability to a set of opinions that isn't backed by even 200-level analysis. It's an argument that requires you to ignore the majority of data points and nearly all of the factors that contributed to the spikes. What I find most interesting, though, is that it requires you to ignore the statistical evidence of amphetamine use that is exactly in parallel to what believers see as the statistical evidence of steroid use.

Labeling anything "the amphetamine era" is problematic, but we can say with confidence that amps were a big part of the game from the 1960s -- an era described by Jim Bouton in Ball Four -- through the 2000s, when testing for amps was put in place, with first counseling and then suspensions the punishment for testing positive. How deep the penetration of amphetamines, we'll probably never know, but we do know that some of the greatest players of the era have said that they did use, if perhaps only on occasion. (Remember that a single positive test for steroids has been enough to end Rafael Palmeiro's chance at the Hall of Fame.)

Historically, stolen bases were at their peak usage in the dead-ball era that ran through World War I. No season since 1919 has featured more than .9 stolen bases per game. Since 1920, however, there was one era in baseball history in which stolen bases were more prevalent than any other:

Peak SB/game, since 1920:

1987    0.85
1976    0.79
1983    0.79
1986    0.79
1988    0.79
1980    0.78
1990    0.78
1992    0.77
1982    0.75
1985    0.74

Were I to go past ten, you would find that there has been just one season since 1920 -- 1920 itself -- outside of the amphetamine era in which there were at least .7 SB/G. The league stolen-base totals in the "amp era" are as distorted as the league home-run totals were in the "steroid era". This extends to the individual leaderboards as well. There have been 23 seasons since 1901 in which one player has stolen at least 80 bases. Eighteen of those (78%) occurred from 1962 through 1988 -- the other five all occurred from 1910 through 1915.

Using the same "logic" that underpins the idea that steroids caused a bunch of home runs and caused a bunch of 60-homer seasons leads to the conclusion that amphetamines caused a bunch of stolen bases and a bunch of 80-steal seasons. Let me be clear: this is not my argument. It is, however, the counter to the wildly prevalent ideas that steroids caused home runs and were somehow different than amphetamines. You cannot look at the data and hold both of those ideas in your head.

Let's run at this from a slightly different direction. There have been 14 instances in MLB history of a player playing in at least 700 consecutive games. Six, including four of the top six, occurred during the amphetamine era. That's a small enough data set that it may not be meaningful, so let's look at something else. Baseball went to a 162-game schedule in two stages, the AL in 1961, the NL in 1962. From 1961 through 1972, there were a total of 20 instances in which an individual player played in at least 162 games -- a bit less than two a season. Here are the totals starting in 1973, through the end of the 26-team era:

1973: 6
1974: 5
1975: 3
1976: 3
1977: 4
1978: 5
1979: 10
1980: 9
1981: 0 (strike)
1982: 8
1983: 4
1984: 5
1985: 5
1986: 6
1987: 2
1988: 2
1989: 7
1990: 2
1991: 3
1992: 4

The widespread use of amphetamines certainly seemed to make it more likely that players would play in every game, with a clear peak in the 1979-82 period, broken up by the strike-shattered season of 1981. Once expansion pushed the industry to 28 and then 30 teams, the number of players playing in 162 games settled in at around five a year, with occasional spikes above that number through 2008. What is very interesting is that in the last four seasons -- since testing positive for amphetamines a single time became punishable by a 25-game suspension -- the average has dipped back to the 1960s figure of two a year -- just eight players have played in 162 games since 2009. In 2007 alone, seven players did.

In the early days of baseball, individual pitchers routinely through nearly all of their team's innings pitched. When "pitching" went from just that to more of a skill, individual innings pitched totals dropped, and they dropped further as pitchers threw harder spun the ball in an effort to miss the bats of hitters swinging as hard as they could. There have been 371 seasons of at least 300 innings pitched since 1901. They break down, by decade, like this:

1901-10: 142
1911-20: 89
1921-30: 34
1931-40: 19
1941-50: 13
1951-60: 8
1961-70: 29
1971-80: 37
1981- the end of time: 0

There were 40 300-inning seasons from 1931-1960. There were 37 from 1971-1980. There has not been one since then. The period from 1963 through 1987 also was the peak for reliever usage; 130 of the 166 seasons in MLB history in which a pitcher threw 120 games while making 90% of their appearances as a reliever occurred in this 25-year span. No pitcher has done this since 1991.

The amphetamine era featured just as many statistical anomalies as did the steroid era, but there was no connection between the two reported. No one cared. Why that is the case is a topic for a book, I'd imagine, but you cannot defend the idea that steroids alone fundamentally changed the game's statistics in a way that the previous generation's drug of choice didn't. The correct answer, or course, is to see the whole board and acknowledge that peak homer was the product of a dozen factors, with the number "73" an explicable statistical outlier in that context, just as peak steal (and "130") were the same, just as peak playing time was the same, just as peak innings pitched was the same.

We build assumptions into the language. Steroids are "performance enhancing" and amphetamines -- or cocaine -- are not, for no reason other than that's just the way the language developed, borrowed by and large from Olympic sports that have little to to with the practice of a major-league baseball season or an individual baseball game. This is important in the context of Hall of Fame voting because the Baseball Writers Association of America has already honored many men who used sports drugs. The only way to argue that they have not is to define amphetamines and steroids as dramatically different, and there is simply no rational case for doing so, not based on legality, not based on notions of cheating, and certainly not based on the populist approach to seeing drug use in statistical lines. If you see steroids here, then you should see amphetamines here.

The cadre of writers who see themselves as defending the Hall against cheaters and drug users who distorted the game is wrong. It's not a point of debate, it's not "reasonable minds can disagree", it's not a moral stance. These people are wrong. MLB turned a blind eye to drug use of all kinds for decades, as did the writers covering the game. Those same writers elected player after player after player from an era in which we know amphetamine use was popular without ever raising the issue of illegal drug use in the context anyone's candidacy. To draw the line at steroids as if they represent a bridge too far is ignorant of history, ignorant of statistics, and ignorant of baseball.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Excerpt: "The Ballot Frontlog"

"The only way to address this is for the Hall to issue clear directions to the voters…and it's clear what those directions need to be. See, whether your dad likes it or not, some day Barry Bonds is going to be on that wall. So is Roger Clemens. So are Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell and probably the other three guys as well, along with the players like Alex Rodriguez who will come along after them. As steroid hysteria and all of the bad math, history and chemistry that came with it fade into the past, smart people who weren't invested in our narratives will recognize that a place that honors the greatest players ever, but doesn't acknowledge these all-time greats, cannot stand; that a Hall of Fame without Bonds and Clemens creates more questions than it answers. There'll be a committee, maybe in my lifetime, certainly in my daughter's, that corrects the mistakes being made now, that inducts these players, that acknowledges that in the heat of the moment, a lot of people got it wrong in the early days of the 21st century."

Monday, December 16, 2013

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, NL Central"

"The Cardinals, just today, agreed to sign one more infielder, Mark Ellis. They got a great deal, committing just $5 million to an excellent defensive second baseman who has pop against left-handed pitchers. Ellis was miscast as the Dodgers' #2 hitter the past few years, yet still ran up bWARs of 2.5 and 3.0 at 35 and 36. Ellis is up there with Chase Utley as the best defensive second basemen of this era. For the Cardinals, he provides insurance and a platoon partner for Kolten Wong, and probably seals the move of Matt Carpenter back to third base. It's another nice tactical strike that serves to deepen a bench that was a problem in the postseason. I would absolutely rather have Ellis on this deal than Omar Infante on his, and I'm not sure I wouldn't rather just have Ellis period, money be damned."

Friday, December 13, 2013

Excerpt: "Offseason Catchup, NL East"

"The Mets should have simply stayed the course with the team they had, and patched with low-level free agents like Young and their own middling prospects. That's how they found Juan Lagares in the first place. No amount of money spent on third-tier free agents was going to change the team's short-term outlook, which was dimmed when Matt Harvey went under the knife. That injury actually gave the Mets an out for 2014, a chance to tell their fans that they're going to be ready for Harvey's return in '15, if the fans will just stick it out one more year. Instead, the front office chased the cheap thrill of signing veterans who aren't going to change things in Queens one iota. It's a shame, because enough good things happened in 2013, in the majors and on the farm, to create hope for 2015. Next year should have been more of the same. Now, it's not clear what it will be, other than more expensive."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Excerpt: "The Cano Deal"

"It's great if you can develop seven-win players. If you can't, this is the going rate for them: ten-year deals at more than $20 million per year. Baseball is coming up on $9 billion in revenue. It's capped expenditures in a whole host of areas, kept the best players in the game from ever becoming free agents and by doing so put a choke hold on the upper end of the salary and payroll scales. The money has to go somewhere, and when a player like Cano becomes available -- which happens very rarely -- it goes to him and it goes to him for a very long time."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Excerpt: "Robinson Cano, Kansas City Royal"

"Signing Robinson Cano is the single best thing the Royals can do to make the postseason next year. He's a seven-win player at a position of need available for the AAV of about half that. All it costs is money, something the Royals have plenty of. They have the cash flow to bump their payroll up -- to invest in labor with an eye towards generating additional local revenues -- and the cushion of a half-billion franchise valuation if it goes awry, with the medium- and long-term expectation of rising revenues behind that, all in the service of a man worth $300 million. "

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Excerpt: "The Perfectly Logical Ellsbury Signing"

"So in the absence of buying a unicorn, the money has to go somewhere. It goes to Jacoby Ellsbury, because Ellsbury is the best player on whom to spend it. I do think it's instructive that the Yankees -- who have seen the last few Collective Bargaining Agreements include rules specifically targeted at their business practices -- are the ones making these investments. No team has a greater incentive to get under the luxury-tax threshold, due to the vindictive repeater penalties in the latest CBA, and they're spending the money on top-of-market players anyway. They have cash, and their choices in an industry that has capped draft spending and international-amateur spending (and is trying to cap posting fees for Japanese veterans) are limited to paying Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann, or sitting on their money. They choose to pay. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think there's honor in that. The Steinbrenners want the next win more than they want the next dollar, which is the very definition of a good sports owner. (They also would like to not lose tens of millions of dollars over a period of years to rules designed by people who want the next dollar more than the next win, a position I also defend.)"

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Excerpt: "Tigers/Nationals Trade"

"I think the Doug Fister trade is a prelude to the Tigers signing Shin-Soo Choo. Choo would be an incredible fit between Kinsler and Cabrera, being well-protected from left-handed relievers, having the power to move Kinsler along and the OBP to ensure plenty of men on for the best hitter in the game. The Tigers have no left fielder blocking him, and right now they have no outfielders at all locked up after 2015. A 1-2-3 of Kinsler, Choo and Cabrera might well combine for a .400 OBP and all of the runs that come with that figure."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Excerpt: "The Kinsler/Fielder Trade"

Of course, this trade didn't happen in a vacuum, which is why it's such a fascinating deal. I'm certain that I've made fantasy baseball or Strat-O-Matic trades that were like this, where the fit between two teams was just so perfect that you could make a one-for-one swap that made both teams better the moment the deal happened. It's extremely rare to see it happen in MLB; the first one that came to mind was the Padres/Blue Jays deal that, similarly, swapped a second baseman in Roberto Alomar for a first baseman in Fred McGriff, with Joe Carter and Tony Fernandez along for the ride. The Jesus Montero/Michael Pineda deal wanted to be this type of trade before it drank battery acid. The allure of the never-was-happening Oscar Taveras-for-Jurickson Profar trade was just this: to make the puzzle pieces fit better.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Excerpt: "Money Don't Matter"

"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.'"

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Excerpt: "The Awards"

"In going over the ballots at, I was most taken by the affiliations. It was just five years ago, at the 2008 winter meetings, that the BBWAA first opened its membership rolls to writers who made their living online. Christina Kahrl and Will Carroll of Prospectus, along with's Rob Neyer and Keith Law, were the first to be admitted. It's 2013 now, and in addition to Law with and Carroll with Bleacher Report, voters for the major awards came from places like, Yahoo!, and I don't want to make a virtue out of necessity -- this is happening in no small part because newspapers are dying and the BBWAA needs members -- but it's a pretty significant change in a short time. I'm not ten years removed from having Rich Levin refuse my request for a winter meetings credential to my face with a team representative at my side backing the request, so seeing Will and Keith voting on awards…I've seen the revolution up close. It's something we should celebrate. (Now, if the organization would just drop its archaic objection to's professional and dedicated pool of writers….)"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Excerpt: "Our New Overlords"

"I don't believe the differences between 2011 and 2012 and 2013 were about soft factors. I believe it was those five guys being more healthy and effective this year, collectively, than they were in the previous season and the last month of '11. Those five were among the Sox' top nine players in the regular season, and four were among the team's top five. The Red Sox' three best players in the postseason were Ortiz, Lester and Ellsbury. Remember that 2011 collapse? Lester had a 5.40 ERA and Buchholz didn't pitch. In 2012, Ortiz played 90 games and Ellsbury played 74. In 2013, those numbers were 137 and 134. Pedroia played 19 more games than he did last year. Lester and Buchholz combined to be high-ERA innings munchers in 2012; this year, they had a 2.98 ERA in 49 starts. (Farrell may deserve some credit here, as the two pitchers show a with-Farrell/without-Farrell split.) Heck, John Lackey was ineffective for Francona, unavailable to Valentine and had a 3.52 ERA in 29 starts under Farrell."

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Games Five and Six"

"Game Seven is a dinner and a movie with your new bride. It's fun, it's exciting, there's no place you'd rather be, and you know exactly how the night is going to end. Game Six…Game Six is buying a drink for the cute girl on the other side of the bar, all upside and anticipation."

Monday, October 28, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game Four"

"Finally, there's the play that ended the game. There's no excusing Kolten Wong getting picked off first as the meaningless third run with two outs in the ninth. I think it's worth laying out how it happened, though. This wasn't 1926, with Babe Ruth getting caught stealing to end the game. Wong wanted to go first to third on a single, first to home on a double -- at that, not the way he should have been thinking -- but he didn't get picked off because of aggression. He wasn't taking a huge lead. What happened was that Uehara timed his throw to first perfectly, sending the ball over early, as Wong was stepping towards second to establish his lead. Wong, not expecting a throw at that point, had no hope of getting back, with all his momentum headed towards second. The timing of the throw is why it caught Fox's producer by surprise -- it was a baseball play during what usually is a lull between pitches, a time Fox feels the need to fill with faces, eternally, rather than anything about baseball. "


MLB does nothing as well as it does its work for Stand Up To Cancer, promoting the fundraising, research and collaboration organization throughout the year and spotlighting it during the World Series. The moment at the Series when everyone in the park stands up is emotional. I've been there. I was at the first one, in 2009, and it's incredible to realize that everyone, I mean everyone, has been touched in some way by this evil disease.

The moment was personal this year.

A friend of mine at the game sent me that picture last night. He'd written my mother's name on a placard and held it up. I couldn't do it myself, because I'm here in New York, where my mother is recovering from surgery last week that we hope moved her from cancer patient to cancer survivor. She's down a lung, but she's also down a rather large tumor, a trade you make every time.

If you've read me much, you know that I get my love of baseball from my mother and my late grandfather. He taught me how to bat left-handed, she taught me how to throw. She was a tomboy growing up, and I still can remember her occasionally playing stickball when I was a kid. She loves sports, just recently got a 60-inch TV to better watch them. Even at sixtymumble, she's an avid golfer with a regular game at Mosholu Park on Saturdays, one she had to put aside last summer as she endured first pneumonia related to the cancer, then the diagnosis, a regimen of chemotherapy and now the surgery. One of her golf buddies came by to see her last Wednesday after the surgery, and they were already talking about next spring, talking about their games.

That's my mother. Her mental game throughout this has been fantastic -- a hell of a lot better than mine, I'll tell you. When she was diagnosed in July, her only question was, "What do we do?" When the initial plan of surgery gave way to chemo -- and the associated effects -- she handled them without complaint. Eight weeks into chemo, mom was doing well enough to be at Yankee Stadium the night of Mariano Rivera's final appearance, standing and cheering, no outward sign at all that she was two months into the process. She was particularly happy with her outfit.

That's not the look of someone getting beaten by cancer. That's the look of someone kicking cancer's ass.

Today, mom is working on her breathing, working on getting her strength back, working on getting her endurance back, working on getting home so she can do all these things while watching golf in its flat-screen, HD glory. She's working. She was never a victim of cancer, not for a second. I've seen my mother do a lot of things, and I knew she was strong, but what she's done over the past four months has left me without words.

As the cameras scanned the crowd last night, as I thought about Mike holding up that sign, I didn't come close to keeping my composure. (No pics, sorry.) I thought about July 9. We were sitting in the office of her primary doctor, a pulmonary specialist, and hearing that her life was about to change. I was staring at the floor, holding her hand, shaking like a leaf. After the doc was done explaining his diagnosis, you know what mom did?

She stood up.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game Three"

"It means nothing that Kelly had a shutout going; those four innings are not predictive, a point that was made forcefully when Xander Bogaerts tripled two pitches into the fifth. Kelly was never going to pitch deeply into this game. At absolute best, Matheny was going to get two more innings from Kelly, and if Matheny doesn't think he can get two extra shutout innings from his relief corps, he's done a staggeringly bad job of assembling his roster. The value of a real hitter up in that spot, with a chance to stretch to a four-run lead or more, is huge -- and Matheny had Allen Craig in his back pocket! It wasn't the perfect spot for Craig, given that there weren't two outs, but it would have sufficed. Events would overtake Matheny's choice, but there is no question that batting Kelly there, rather than hitting Craig for him, was a huge mistake. Kelly would get just four more outs; I've lost count of the number of times Matheny has let Kelly bat in a leveraged spot and then removed him less than two innings later."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series, Game One"

"I haven't understood much about Matheny's pitcher management this October. The decision to flip through four relievers, including two of his top three, late in last night's game was curious. I feel like you'd rather not let the Red Sox see Kevin Siegrist or Carlos Martinez or Seth Maness in a low-leverage spot. I understand the counterargument; Matheny used Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal in Game One of the NLDS in a similar context, and the idea is that you let these young pitchers get their feet wet in postseason baseball, in the World Series. The problem is, I don't think the argument is that good. I think it reflects a generation gap, stemming from a time when the World Series had more cultural cachet and wasn't the fourth round of the MLB playoffs. I think Carlos Martinez has figured out how to pitch when there's bunting in the room."

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Excerpt: "World Series Preview"

"This series, that flips. Even with a true #1 starter in Adam Wainwright, it's hard to argue that the Cardinals' rotation is stronger than their bullpen. The Cardinals' bullpen has been just this side of untouchable, from Trevor Rosenthal in the back up through Carlos Martinez, the set-up man, the Cardinals overpower you in the late innings with high-90s fastballs. They've barely had to use Kevin Siegrist, who allowed two runs in 39 2/3 innings this year. They have a groundball machine in Seth Maness, a LOOGY in Randy Choate, and a leftover power arm in John Axford. This is the worst rotation and the best bullpen the Red Sox have seen this postseason, which means that forcing out the starters won't be nearly the game-shifting benefit it was in the first two postseason series."

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Excerpt: "LCS Wraps"

"Puig is 22 years old and he straight trucked the National League in his second professional season. Not second MLB season -- second professional season. It would be a shock if he did hit the cutoff man all the time, if he did always make the right choice on the bases, if he never misjudged how hard he hit a ball, if he sometimes overestimated his abilities to the detriment of his team. That he can be an above-average major-league player with those deficiencies isn't an indictment of the man, it's a tribute to him. A very small handful of players from the 2012 draft are in the major leagues; Puig is an age comp for many of them, and yet he hit .319/.391/.534 with acceptable plate discipline. He makes mistakes because he hasn't learned how to play baseball yet.

"Some people really don't like Yasiel Puig's style, so they trump up the legitimate charges and hope no one will notice how flimsy they really are. If the little things meant as much as Puig's detractors say they do, Miguel Cabrera would be a full-time DH who was pinch-run for 110 times a year, with MVP results to match. Also, Ben Zobrist would have a couple of MVP awards. Puig's baseball mistakes matter, and he should work to correct them, and if he doesn't in his whopping third year as a professional, then take him to task for it. But let's stop acting as if missing a cutoff man or overrunning a baseball are what we're really talking about when we talk about Puig."

Friday, October 18, 2013

Excerpt: "The Key Matchup"

"The Red Sox have a 3-2 lead in the ALCS because this rather anonymous, lightly-paid, injury-case reliever put down the greatest batter alive twice in massive-leverage situations on the road with the crowd going nuts. Last night, the matchup came in the seventh inning with the Sox holding a 4-2 lead, runners on first and third, no one out. Torii Hunter had just lined a single to right that launched the cold, damp crowd into a frenzy. Tazawa, following the Sox' plan, threw a four-seam fastball at 94 for ball one, then came back with the same pitch; Cabrera topped the ball weakly to Dustin Pedroia, who turned an easy double play, Jose Iglesias scoring from third. The rally was over, and in effect, the game; the Tigers would not get another baserunner."

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Excerpt: "Matheny's Blind Spot"

"In this postseason, however, Matheny has shown a consistent blind spot in one area: when to remove a starting pitcher. Matheny has not adjusted to the differences between the regular season and the postseason, which include the greater significance of any one game, the increase in the number of available pitchers for any one game, the greater number of off days and the greater importance of seemingly low-leverage at-bats. In the regular season, you're committed to your starting pitcher; in the postseason, you're hooking up with him."

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Excerpt: "Tuesday's Action"

"Like Hanley Ramirez, Cabrera is playing through injury, although in Cabrera's case, there's plural -- both groin and abdominal concerns that have turned a player already not blessed with speed into a stationary one. Facing almost all fastballs in the postseason, Cabrera is batting .226/.273/.419, and while his two homers have been critical -- one helped win Game Five of the ALDS, the other gave the Tigers a two-run lead in the fateful game on Sunday -- he's a shell of his MVP-caliber self. He's hurting the team at third base, he's unable to use his lower half at the plate, and when on base he's just in the way."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Excerpt: "Jim Leyland's Bad Night"

"The very first decision Leyland made, to take Scherzer out, isn't controversial. Scherzer had thrown 108 pitches, including 14 in the seventh, and while the velocity was fine -- 94 to 96, per Gameday -- Leyland's bullpen has been an asset for five months now. The opportunity to save Scherzer one inning deep in Game One of this series when you want him in Game Six and then twice in the World Series is one worth taking. Forget the individual decisions that followed and come back to one question: why did Jim Leyland decide to play matchup ball with a four-run lead and six outs to go when he has two very good complete-inning relievers at his disposal?"

Friday, October 11, 2013

Excerpt: "NLCS Preview"

"The absence of Paco Rodriguez helps swing the bullpen advantage to the Cards. In addition to the three power arms at the back who pitched frequently in the Division Series, there's a groundball machine in Seth Maness, a very good LOOGY in Randy Choate, a fourth power arm in John Axford. It's not that unreasonable to suggest that the Cards are starting their 11th man tonight. With the Dodgers having so many dead spots in their bullpen now, games in which the starter doesn't get deep and any extra-inning games are going to favor the Cardinals."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Excerpt: "Then There Were Six"

"So far in this postseason, the team that hits more homers in a game is 10-4. The team that gets more extra-base hits is 11-4. We have more instances of failed sacrifice bunting being a key moment in a game -- Josh Reddick, Matt Joyce, Juan Uribe -- than we do of successful bunts being turning points. We have many more instances of a hitter squaring up a ball and making the difference. It's time to let go of a model of winning baseball that no longer fits. Ball go far, team go far."

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Excerpt: "Love"

"That love can get lost in the work. You spend so much time bemoaning the business, the media, the things about the baseball industry that are necessary topics but which are far from that field and those upper-deck seats and the voices of Phil Rizzuto and Bill White. You watch the games you're supposed to watch, and at that, pieces of them while taking notes or catching up on news or other peoples' opinions. The game becomes work -- great work, fun work, to be sure, but work -- and the distance between you and the game grows. The marriage grows stale. You love, but maybe you're not in love.

"Then October 7 happens, and you fall all over again."

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Excerpt: "A Classic"

"Were 'postseason baseball' a dictionary entry, the illustration next to it would be a shot from the Coliseum taken last night: a crowd in full throat, a pitcher commanding the scene, the basepaths clear, the batters befuddled, fingernails chewed, the scoreboard devoid of integers. The A's 1-0, walkoff win over the Tigers was three hours of edge-of-your-seat tension as Sonny Gray and Justin Verlander hung zeroes, pitched out of jams and gave us the first great game of the 2013 playoffs."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Excerpt: "Spork Fight in Atlanta"

"When you let platoon considerations move you from Chris Withrow vs. Jose Constanza with a base open to Paco Rodriguez vs. Jason Heyward with the bases loaded, you've lost your mind. Player ability matters. Game state matters. With Constanza walking to the plate, Mattingly had three options for getting through the inning, and he chose by far the worst one. It was reminiscent, for lower stakes, of Ron Washington's work in the tenth inning of Game Six of the 2011 World Series, where he manipulated his way into the worst possible matchup despite having a number of other choices. Heyward underlined this point by driving a single that plated two very important runs."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Excerpt: "AL Division Series Previews"

"The A's have the best player by 2013 bWAR in Josh Donaldson. As you work through the rosters, though, you find that the Tigers have most of the better players in the series: they have three players with at least six bWAR; the A's have one. The Tigers have seven with at least three bWAR; the A's have three. Set the line at two wins, and the Tigers have a 12-8 edge. Postseason series are won with frontline talent, not depth; the Tigers' frontline talent dwarfs that of the A's."

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Excerpt: "NL Division Series Previews"

"To answer this, I checked all postseason series -- actual series, not the Coin Flip Round -- dating to 2009, when league K/PA jumped above 18% for the first time. (All stats from Fangraphs; I did not tease out intentional walks from PAs.) Here is the series record of the team with the better offensive contact rate during the regular season:

2012: 7-0
2011: 5-2
2010: 4-3
2009: 6-1"

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Excerpt: "2013 Award Ballots"

"AL Cy Young Award

1. Max Scherzer
2. Chris Sale
3. Yu Darvish
4. Hisashi Iwakuma
5. Anibal Sanchez

"The top four pitchers had roughly equivalent value in wildly divergent pitching environments. Figuring out how to order them gave me a headache. Scherzer, though, did win 21 games, and that's an indication that he knew how to…no, I'm kidding. He had the second-best strikeout rate of the group, threw the second-most innings, pitched in front of a poor defense, didn't give up the longball. Even as I'm writing this, I'm looking at the four pitchers' stats and questioning myself. I think you can justify any order. Scherzer will win because of "21-3", but it's a much more interesting discussion than that."

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Excerpt: "Pre- and Post-"

"Maybe that's Daniels' plan. Maybe he figures the Rangers can spend that sweet Fox Sports Southwest money on Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann, and trade one of the three infielders for another big bat, and give Washington what he had in 2010 and 2011: a team so good that it could overcome, almost all the way to a championship, Washington's faults. I mean, this did nearly work twice. Nearly. But spending money and talent to build up the team is going to fall short again if, 12 months and three weeks from now, Ron Washington is making the same mistakes all over again. The Rangers have the cover to solve a problem that's been weighing them down for a while, and their refusal to take advantage of that cover is both surprising and debilitating."

Monday, September 30, 2013

Excerpt: "Streaking Into the Postseason"

"This improvement wasn't evenly distributed. The Indians didn't just sneak up on the the field because of a soft September slate, but because they improved during the season. At the All-Star break, their starters had a 4.42 ERA. After, it was 3.21. That's a mix of talent and good fortune; the Indians went from the highest HR/FB in AL in the first half (12.9%) to the second-lowest in the second (7.4%). (Thanks, Fangraphs.) Ubaldo Jimenez gave up three homers in the second half while allowing 118 fly balls, and those numbers are "1" and "107" over his final 12 starts. That, as much as the velocity change and his strikeout rate, is why he kept runs off the board -- and as those team-level splits show, controlling the rate of home runs on fly balls isn't a skill most pitchers have. The Indians' pitching staff is improved, but its second-half performance may overrate that improvement, and that is why they may be a little overrated heading into the playoffs."

Friday, September 27, 2013

Excerpt: "Farewell, Mo"

"Mariano Rivera saved Andy Pettitte countless times over the last 19 years, but on this night, it was Pettitte who saved Rivera, providing a place for Rivera to unload the emotions of the moment, the night, the week. Two middle-aged men who would be walking away from the only life they've known, huddled together in a space they'd each made their own, a patch of dirt from which they'd done wonderful things, historic things. Just five years old, the latest iteration of Yankee Stadium has housed a championship team, has been the playground of Hall of Famers, has hosted football games and futbol matches, been filled with the music of Paul McCartney and the raps of Jay-Z. Nothing in the new Stadium's short life has been as pure as that 30 seconds, one friend crying in the arms of another as his career ends. Perhaps nothing ever will be."

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Excerpt: "One Step"

"It happens that quickly. Mickey Mantle defers to the great DiMaggio on a fly ball in his rookie season, trips on a drainage pipe and spends the rest of his life trying to get back to the player he was before that last step. Cliff Floyd, 22 years old and playing first base despite being the best prospect in baseball as an outfielder, breaks his left wrist chasing an errant throw. He'll be 25 before he gets back to the career he was supposed to have. Justin Morneau, on his way to a career year, the best player in his league, takes a knee to the head while trying to break up a double play and is never the same, never close to the same."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Excerpt: "It's Incredibly Hard"

"Last night's aLI? 5.35. Ron Washington took a pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery, who had been handled as a rehab case from the time he joined the team three weeks prior, and inserted him into a bases-loaded, two-out situation on the road in a game that the Rangers needed to win to hold onto their lead in the wild-card race.

"That's setting up a player to fail."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Excerpt: "Thinking Inside the Box"

"Thinking. That's what this article, all the stuff on Twitter, all of the debate dating back to Bill James' days with a flashlight in a pork'n'beans warehouse is about. Don't just do things because this is the way they're done. Think about what you want to accomplish and what the best way to get there is. There's no thought in pinch-bunting so that an overmatched left-handed-hitting rookie can face Mariano Rivera, or in a bunt that will lead you to Stephen Drew against a tough lefty, or in a bunt against a pitcher who's nine-for-nine missing the plate. All of that bunting is mindless repetition that leads a team nowhere, reflexive regression to a dusty to-do list scratched out with a quill pen on parchment."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Excerpt: "Clever A's Header Here"

"What the A's have done, though, is used the talent at their disposal to execute a baseball plan. Their park has a big outfield? Get pitchers who throw fly balls. Their pitchers throw fly balls? Get outfielders who can chase them down. The park kills batting average? Don't worry about strikeouts for hitters. The park is fair for home runs? Get batters who will hit the long ball. The farm system has gone a bit dry? Build an entire roster on the trade market. Just 1.3% of the A's plate appearances this year are by players they drafted, and most of those are by guys who were reacquired in trade (Kurt Suzuki) or have been dealt away (Grant Green). The A's are winning because the secondary prospects in deals -- Josh Donaldson, Derek Norris, Eric Sogard -- have panned out -- and because they've free-talented their way to Bartolo Colon and Brandon Moss and Nate Freiman and Grant Balfour. Moss is the evolutionary Geronimo Berroa."

Monday, September 16, 2013

Excerpt: "Ranger Danger"

"If the Rangers have a pitching problem right now, it's in who gets to go to the mound. Ron Washington's unimaginative use of his relievers has allowed some games to get away during this stretch. Joe Nathan, with a 1.46 ERA, hasn't pitched since September 8 -- eight days ago! Yesterday, Washington had Nathan available and warming and could have used him to preserved a 3-1 deficit in the ninth. That's not particularly high-leverage, but with Nathan having had the week off and Rangers Ballpark being a bloop-and-a-blast type of yard, preserving the two-run gap had some value. Washington chose Joakim Soria, who allowed two runs. Last Thursday, Washington used Joe Ortiz and Jason Frasor in the seventh down 4-2; the Pirates got two runs and eventually won 7-5. Holding the game to two runs might have made the next three the Rangers scored more relevant. Neal Cotts and Tanner Scheppers, Washington's next-best hurlers, are getting into games but perhaps not enough. It's a small thing, perhaps, and the Rangers are not managed by someone who gets the small things right."

Sunday, September 15, 2013

50 Ways To Dump Lane Kiffin

(With deepest apologies to the great Paul Simon.)

"50 Ways to Dump Lane Kiffin"

"The problem is right there on the field," she said to me.
The answer is easy if you look at Marquise Lee
I'd like to help you in your struggle to go deep
There must be 50 ways to dump Lane Kiffin

She said it's really not my habit to intrude
But I can't watch this team go down again behind this dude.
So I'll repeat myself, at the risk of being crude
There must be 50 ways to dump Lane Kiffin

You just buy off the deal, Neal
Raise a little cash, Flash
Maybe skimp on the snacks, Max
Just get the team free
Throw him under the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just tell him to scat, Pat
And get yourself free

She said it grieves me so to see Lee in such pain
I wish there was something I could do to make him score again
I said I appreciate that
And would you please explain about the 50 ways

She said why don't we both just blog on it tonight
And I believe in the morning you'll begin to see the light
Then she said "Fight On", and I realized she probably was right
There must be 50 ways to dump Lane Kiffin
50 ways to dump Lane Kiffin

You just buy off the deal, Neal
Raise a little cash, Flash
Maybe skimp on the snacks, Max
Just get the team free
Throw him under the bus, Gus
You don't need to discuss much
Just tell him to scat, Pat
And get yourself free

Friday, September 13, 2013

Excerpt: "The Greatest Young Player Ever"

"In thinking about Mike Trout, picture him going over the wall to rob a homer or driving a fastball into the left-field grandstand. See him going first to third, first to home. Heck, think about these numbers I've presented, and the names in this article, the greatest players in baseball history.

"Think about any of that, but don't think of three letters that have consumed far too much of the conversation during Trout's career. They don't matter. Mike Trout's greatness is about baseball, not ballots."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Excerpt: "Ned Yost and Chip Kelly"

"So we end up with Ned Yost making decisions he is, on a very basic level, not qualified to make for a business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. MLB picks its managers based almost entirely on soft factors: how they handle the media, how they relate to the people around them, how they build the confidence of the players in their charge. It's convenient, because there's no good way to measure whether managers actually do that. We end up with a version of Nichols' Law of Catcher Defense for managers, assuming that someone poor at the baseball stuff must be quite a leader of men because why else would he have the job? We end up with managers whose ability to pick the right batter with second and third and one out in the ninth inning of a must-win game never came up in the interview."

Monday, September 9, 2013

Post Excerpt: "Tom Seaver is Wrong"

"'Take a look at all of them, Marichal, Jenkins, Spahn, what do you think made them successful?' asked Seaver. 'They conditioned their arms by pitching more, not less, starting from when they signed their first contract.' Oddly, that didn't work for Wally Bunker. Bunker made his pro debut in 1963 with Stockton in the Cal League. He threw 99 innings in 14 starts, and while we don't have strikeout totals, we do know he walked 53 men, indicating he wasn't breezing through those starts. At 19, Bunker threw 214 innings, with 12 complete games, for the Orioles. By 22, he was back in the minors; by 26, his MLB career was over. Larry Dierker was in the majors at 17; he threw more than 300 innings in the majors as a teenager. He threw 39 1/3 as a thirtysomething. How about Joe Coleman? Joe Coleman was a horse, throwing 223 innings at 21 and at least 200 in eight straight seasons through age 28, peaking at 285 a year from 24 though 27. He was done at 32. He conditioned his arm by pitching more, no?"

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Excerpt: "Win #81"

"Two players who played at least seven positions for the 1988 Rangers, Jeff Kunkel and Cecil Espy, played in this game. Denny Neagle, who would eventually win a World Series ring, sign a disastrous free-agent contract and be forced from the game after a solicitation bust, played in this game. Jim Leyland managed the Pirates; he's won a World Series, quit on at least one team and smoked 237,195 cigarettes since this game. He looks, however, exactly the same."

Monday, September 2, 2013

Excerpt: "Rays Raise Questions"

"The dearth of effective right-handed relief, largely due to Rodney's waking up and the absence of Davis, has cost the team late in games. The 2012 Rays lost just three games they led after seven innings. They've lost eight already this year. Last year's team lost just two games they led after eight innings; this year, it's already five. That's the difference between pushing for a division title and holding on to the wild-card slot."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Excerpt: "Cesar Cedeno"

"There's no sense quantifying any of these trades, because the tools we use to evaluate transactions break down in guesstimating the impact of any player over four weeks. I'll use Morneau to illustrate. The former Twins' first baseman, in his third season removed from the nasty concussion that ended his 2010 campaign, is batting .259/.315/.426 for a 102 OPS+ -- basically a league-average hitter. In August, Morneau batted .250/.293/.543 with nine homers, a stretch that probably helped generate interest in him. In July, Morneau -- the same guy -- hit .175/.266/.330. In June, he hit .298/.344/.476. Based on that, we can say that in any one month, Morneau could be productive or a black hole. Helpful. The Dodgers' new pinch-hitter? Much the same -- Young's OPS figures, by month: 829, 567, 839, 776, 629. Predicting what any player is going to hit next month is virtually impossible. Any player good enough to play in the big leagues is capable of going nuts for 30 days, but they're also capable of tanking for that same period of time. Variance swamps everything, especially when we're talking about the great middle of the baseball talent bell curve."

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Excerpt: "Shane Victorino"

"Victorino isn't one of those guys, but at least for the moment, he's committed to this plan. Last night, Victorino came up in the bottom of the seventh with the Red Sox down 3-1, with one out and runners on second and third, to face Darren O'Day. O'Day is incredibly tough on right-handed batters: .202/.271/.295 career (and better than that during his time as a healthy, established reliever), .163/.229/.240 this year. If there was ever a time for Victorino to go back to the left side, it was this high-leverage spot against a tough righty. Instead, he fell behind 0-2 and lined softly to second base."

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Excerpt: "Matt Harvey, Turning Point"

"Let's play it out. If pitcher injuries are, for practical purposes, random, what does this mean for baseball management? Well, for one, I think it can put an end to the hyper-limiting of workloads in the minor leagues. If a pitcher is healthy and effective, you let him pitch, subject to reasonable restrictions on in-game pitch counts tied to a pitcher's age -- ideas that have been around since Craig Wright was promoting them. You advance pitchers more quickly; the practice of taking college starting pitchers in the draft and sending them to A ball has never made sense. If you didn't think Mark Appel could handle the Midwest League you probably wouldn't have taken him first overall. Start these guys at Double-A and stop making them waste pitches at a level that's beneath them. And when they're ready, they're ready; there's no career path with pitchers the way there is with hitters, where you want to hold them back to make sure you get as much of the peak under team control as possible. A pitcher can start the All-Star Game in July and be out for the next season come August -- so if he can help you now, let him help you now. No shutdowns, no Verducci effect, no nothing. Let the best pitchers pitch in the major leagues, because none of us are good enough to know when they'll stop being able to do so."

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Excerpt: "How to Break Pitchers"

"Ogando and Davis are the latest victims of a new phenomenon: moving young pitchers from starting roles to one-inning relief roles and back. Up until the last 10-15 years, young starting pitchers could be broken in with long-relief work. It was Earl Weaver who said that the best place for a young pitcher was in the bullpen, and he practiced that. In 1965, a 19-year-old Jim Palmer relieved 21 times for the Orioles, making two six-inning appearances and seven others of at least three innings, with just seven of fewer than two innings. Ogando has made 103 relief appearances in his career and has gone more than two innings four times. Davis made 54 appearances in 2012 and went more than two innings three times. Palmer was pitching out of the bullpen in much the manner he would as a starter, facing hitters multiple times, having to pace himself, getting to throw all his pitches. Ogando and Davis were…not doing that."

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Excerpt: "The Tigers' Bullpen"

"The real keys, though, are the same pitchers who have been effective for Leyland for two years now: Joaquin Benoit and Drew Smyly. Benoit inherited the closer role from Valverde. Since his first post-Valverde save on June 16, Benoit has a 1.17 ERA in 23 innings, with a 25.5% strikeout rate and a 24/7 K/BB. The Tigers are 22-1 in the 23 games he's pitched, the one loss coming when he made a get-work appearance with the Tigers down 3-1 in the ninth on June 27. At 35, Benoit is posting the highest groundball rate (41.6%, per Fangraphs) of his career, which is one reason why his low home-run rate -- just two this year -- isn't entirely a fluke. Benoit's HR/FB of 6.7% isn't out of line with his rates since he moved to the bullpen in 2005. Benoit is example N+1 supporting the idea that a pitcher good enough to pitch the eighth inning is good enough to pitch the ninth."

Monday, August 19, 2013

Teach Your Children? Well.

Last night's Yankees/Red Sox game provided any number of memorable moments, ones that will stick with us for a while. There was Ryan Dempster's repeated attempts to injure Alex Rodriguez. There was Rodriguez's revenge, a monster home run that kicked off the Yankees' game-winning rally. There was Joe Girardi just missing Brian O'Nora with a right hook.

Me, I'll remember the crowd. I'm going to remember more than 30,000 people standing and cheering a man repeatedly throwing a small, hard object at another man. I'll remember how the crowd…a mob, really…egged on Dempster, rewarded his failed efforts with applause, encouraging his violence and imploring him to take another shot at hurting another man. I'll remember the savagery. I'll remember the glee. I'll remember the moment when our inability to properly place "acquired and used substances we don't approve of" in the hierarchy of offenses reached a peak, forever making clear the hypocrisy of the last decade.

Last night happened for a lot of reasons, but one is that we've demonized sports drugs as part of a laughable notion that athletes are responsible for parenting other people's children. "The children" has become a loaded phrase, something of a joke, really, shorthand for nonsense in the nominal protection of the vulnerable. When Congress allowed a grieving father's erroneous beliefs to sidetrack an already ill-conceived hearing into excessive hitting of home runs, it sealed the idea that you could force baseball players to have their behavior tested, monitored, investigated and, if necessary, punished, all for the sake of the children. It was critical that baseball players be shown clean so as to create an example for the young athletes of America, then punished if they broke the rules, to show those same young athletes that cheating in this area would be taken seriously. Baseball gave in to the testing-industrial complex, itself a morass of moral hazard, and sacrificed the privacy rights of its workers for some poorly-reasoned greater good.

We saw how fraudulent that idea was last night, when on national television in a high-visibility game, the children of America were shown that not only was violence the answer to dispute resolution, not only was persisting in violence -- pitch two, pitch three, pitch four -- the path to justice, but that being repeatedly violent would garner you a standing ovation and no discipline. If the point of forcing a prove-your-innocence program, of investigating the behavior of baseball players without bounds, is to establish baseball as a moral force for the good of the children of America, then last night, in its embrace of violence, its encouragement of savagery, set that effort back. I don't care what a man puts in his body or how he defends himself for doing so -- throwing baseballs at him is wrong. Cheering it is disgusting. What did the children at Fenway Park learn last night?

It's never been about the children, of course, They're a red herring. I know this because discussions about the evils of sports drugs are often interrupted by advertisements for beer and Scotch and lottery tickets. We care about the children? Let's ask them. Ask the children of American what is worse for their well-being: beer or synthetic testosterone. I'm serious. Put Gallup in the field to find out whether scratch-offs or HGH have a more deleterious effect on the lives of fourth graders. For that matter, while we're asking, let's see if they're more traumatized by the prevalence of sports drugs or by having things thrown at them by bullies while authority figures stand and watch.

We are completely around the bend on this issue. There's no longer any place in the discussion for facts, for perspective, for placing the issue of sports drugs in the context of other issues that challenge both baseball and society, for placing the issue of sports drugs in the context of the history of both baseball and society. These are complicated issues and they've been reduced to a nonsensical heroes-and-villains narrative because it's easier to talk about the people than the ideas. The ideas are what matter. Ballplayers come and go, chemists comes and go, drugs come and go, ballgames come and go and we're no smarter about the relationships among ballplayers, chemists, drugs and ballgames then we were when this all started.

Thirty thousand people cheered as one man threw a baseball over and over again at another man. What do we tell the children about that?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Excerpt: "Go to Replay on Replay Plan"

"If you wanted replay to be a fiasco, this is the system you would implement. It's complicated, it's slow, it shifts responsibility for getting the calls right from the umpires to managers, it may disenfranchise fans at the park. It makes an assumption -- that the number of erroneous calls is evenly distributed -- that is demonstrably false. It grandfathers in, for no earthly reason, the current process of reviewing home-run calls, with the idiocy of all four umps leaving the field.

"It's not enough to say, 'But it's cool that we're getting more replay.' You want your kid to go to college, but if they come home one day and say they're going to clown college or beauty school or UCLA, you don't praise them for getting it half right."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Excerpt: "Dodgers, History; History, Dodgers"

"If the Dodgers win their next four games, they'll have played the best stretch of baseball since World War II. That Cardinals team, which benefited from having Stan Musial in a war-depleted league, closed 42-8 to edge out the Dodgers by two games; they went on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. The other two teams to go 42-8 won their league, and those 1897 Boston Beaneaters (eventually Braves) snapped the old Baltimore Orioles' hold on the NL. Those Orioles' teams are remembered as an 1890s dynasty, while the Beaneaters -- who won the NL four times in seven years in the same decade -- are forgotten."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Excerpt: "Sacrifice Bunts in the Time of No Singles"

"One-run strategies like the straight sacrifice and the steal are built around the idea that second base and third base are scoring position and first base is not. In our modern minimum-single environment, that premise no longer holds. Among successful hits, singles are still more likely than extra-base hits, but about twice as likely, as opposed to three times as likely for much of baseball history and four times as likely when these strategies were invented. Home runs and extra-base hits make up such a large percentage of safe hits that it's a waste to burn an out to move a runner up anticipating a single."

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Excerpt: "Third Third Previews, Part III"

"Oakland A's (13): It was pretty easy to figure out why the A's were winning last year: they hit a ton of homers. This year's team doesn't have that signature, and most of the guys who drove that team to a division title aren't repeating their success. Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes haven't hit, while Brandon Moss and Seth Smith have been just OK. The pitching isn't as good as it was a year ago, but the A's staff has done a good job of avoiding walks -- tops in the AL -- and letting the best defense in baseball go to work. It looks a bit like the post-Moneyball A's teams that got away from OBP and emphasized defense.The A's outfield defense is excellent; despite the highest flyball rate in the AL, they've allowed the second fewest doubles-plus-triples (179, bested only by the Royals). Have they been a bit lucky? Neither Jed Lowrie nor Coco Crisp has been hurt this year, and they've used just six starters, with no one missing a start other than, if you can believe it, Brett Anderson. We've seen this again and again: a stable rotation has value even if it's not great, simply by keeping a team from digging into its seventh, eighth and deeper starters. I'd have said the Rangers would catch the A's, but with Nelson Cruz out for the season it's a different story. This will be a good race."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Excerpt: "Third Third Previews, Part I"

"Chicago Cubs (24): Contrast the Mets with the Cubs, who flipped Scott Hairston and Scott Feldman for whatever they could get, and gouged a good price for Matt Garza from a market that gave them an upper hand. They reportedly even dangled their #1 starter, Jeff Samardzija, which reflects a recognition that his being a good pitcher in 2013 may mean more to the 2015 Cubs in trade than in anything else. The Cubs are the first team in their market and the Mets the second, but the Cubs aren't playing in a new park and don't own their own RSN; despite this, I'd take their future over that of the Mets, and it's not all that close. I'm certain that when the Cubs are ready to contend, Tom Ricketts will sign off on the big-ticket items they'll need to get over the top. I have no reason to believe the Wilpons will do the same.

"Even post-deadline, the Cubs can be competitive behind Samardzija, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson, who's pitched better than his ERA. The young players who were supposed to make the Cubs better haven't really done so this year, as Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and Wellington Castillo have all been various shades of disappointing. How those three play these next two months is maybe the biggest story around this team.

"There's a very real chance that Theo Epstein is going to, over a period of 20 years, be the GM of a World-Series-winning Red Sox team and the President of a World Series-winning Cubs team. Once you do that, don't you have to run for president? At least, you'd have to take a shot at fixing the Cleveland Browns, no?"

Excerpt: "The Big Lie"

"There is no difference in what happens when a bat meets a baseball in a post-steroid-testing world than there was for most of the 'steroid era'. 1995-98 and 2008-11 are indistinguishable from each other in terms of home runs on contact and slugging on contact and isolated power on contact. There's no break in the record between 2003 and 2004, when testing with penalties began. There's no break in the record between 2005 and 2006, when penalties were ramped up. (In fact, in both seasons when the Joint Drug Agreement changed, power on contact rose.) Last season, 2012, had the highest rate of home runs on contact since 2006, and the highest slugging on contact since 2009. The big lie of steroids -- that they caused players to hit for more power in a way that distorted the statistical record -- is put to rest by these numbers."

Excerpt: "A Sad Day"

"Saying you want a drug-free game is an abstraction, buying in to an image of sports, of baseball, that has simply never reflected reality. In the same way that there was no such thing as loyalty before free agency, there's no such thing as clean before testing. If you could turn the Bud Squad loose in 1965 or 1982 or 1993, you'd find what reasonable people know to be true: many hypercompetitive athletes will do anything to be the best, ethics and laws be damned. With testing, with witch hunts, with 800-word screeds, we're trying to hold the present to the standards of the past -- standards that never, ever existed except in our sepia-toned fondest wishes."

Excerpt: "Third Third Preview, Part II"

"Kansas City Royals (17): I never get to talk about the Royals…. They've won 12 of 13 and 14 of 17 since the All-Star break, which makes Dayton Moore -- who said they could win 15 of 20 at any time -- prescient. Credit where due. It's not just the schedule; they went 5-2 on a homestand against the Tigers and Orioles, and going 9-1 even against a weak slate since then exceeds expectations. The decision to release Jeff Francoeur is mitigated by their burial of Johnny Giavotella -- their only real second-base option -- and continued use of Wade Davis as a starter. Their best hitter is a catcher batting .174 and they still don't do anything well on offense but steal bases. Going 14-3 gets them to -- or close to -- what will be a high point this season, but they're not going to catch the Tigers and even at this high point, they're the eighth-best team in a 15-team league.

"Call me in 12 days. Once the Twins leave town, the Red Sox come in, followed by the Marlins. Then the Royals go to Detroit for five games in four days. If the Royals have closed ground on the Tigers when they leave Detroit, if they're not still chasing three teams better than them in the wild-card race, then we can take all of this seriously.

"I suppose, after it all falls apart, the goalposts will be moved again, and staying sort of relevant in August and early September, finishing above .500, will be deemed a success. We'll hear about the challenges of a small market and the unfairness of it all, probably on a radio show while the Rays are preparing for a Division Series game, probably while Wil Myers takes batting practice, probably while votes are counted for Rookie of the Year."


From the latest edition of the Joe Sheehan Newsletter:

"Kansas City Royals (17): I never get to talk about the Royals…. They've won 12 of 13 and 14 of 17 since the All-Star break, which makes Dayton Moore -- who said they could win 15 of 20 at any time -- prescient. Credit where due. It's not just the schedule; they went 5-2 on a homestand against the Tigers and Orioles, and going 9-1 even against a weak slate since then exceeds expectations. The decision to release Jeff Francoeur is mitigated by their burial of Johnny Giavotella -- their only real second-base option -- and continued use of Wade Davis as a starter. Their best hitter is a catcher batting .174 and they still don't do anything well on offense but steal bases. Going 14-3 gets them to -- or close to -- what will be a high point this season, but they're not going to catch the Tigers and even at this high point, they're the eighth-best team in a 15-team league.

"Call me in 12 days. Once the Twins leave town, the Red Sox come in, followed by the Marlins. Then the Royals go to Detroit for five games in four days. If the Royals have closed ground on the Tigers when they leave Detroit, if they're not still chasing three teams better than them in the wild-card race, then we can take all of this seriously.

"I suppose, after it all falls apart, the goalposts will be moved again, and staying sort of relevant in August and early September, finishing above .500, will be deemed a success. We'll hear about the challenges of a small market and the unfairness of it all, probably on a radio show while the Rays are preparing for a Division Series game, probably while Wil Myers takes batting practice, probably while votes are counted for Rookie of the Year."

Monday, August 5, 2013

Excerpt, v2.0

From the latest edition of the Sheehan Newsletter:

"Saying you want a drug-free game is an abstraction, buying in to an image of sports, of baseball, that has simply never reflected reality. In the same way that there was no such thing as loyalty before free agency, there's no such thing as clean before testing. If you could turn the Bud Squad loose in 1965 or 1982 or 1993, you'd find what reasonable people know to be true: many hypercompetitive athletes will do anything to be the best, ethics and laws be damned. With testing, with witch hunts, with 800-word screeds, we're trying to hold the present to the standards of the past -- standards that never, ever existed except in our sepia-toned fondest wishes."

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Next Big Step

There's a story I like to tell about the way my career developed. When I got involved with Gary Huckabay, Clay Davenport and the rest of the founding five at Prospectus, I wasn't looking for a writing career. I had a fiancĂ©e, student-loan debt, a journalism degree, a new job and a burning desire to work in baseball. I read Rob Neyer; I didn't want to compete with him. The job that developed, first through the BP annuals and then the Web site and writing for, just kind of happened. I looked up one day and realized that I wasn't on a path to something better, but that I actually had a great job.

I recognize now that I've gone through a similar path with the newsletter. I launched it -- well, relaunched it, after the first run in 2002-03 -- in May of 2010 because I wanted an outlet for the work I'd been doing while at BP. I saw it as a means of generating some money for work I enjoyed doing, while waiting to figure out what I would be doing next. It's more than three years later, and I look up, and the newsletter isn't a side project. It's what I do. I write more frequently and in greater depth for it than I do for any other outlet, and I put more non-writing time into it each year. The newsletter may not yet be my largest project by some measures, but it is the one I am most passionate about.

To date, I have always left a window cracked. Each year, I've set a fixed end date for the newsletter, usually the end of January, so as to maintain maximum flexibility to jump for other opportunities, or to bail out if the newsletter was no longer viable. If the Yankees call me and offer me a chance to play third base -- I have as many functioning quads as the starting left side of the Yankees' infield and I'm not that much older than those guys are -- I can't have an obligation to write hanging over my head. I also wanted to be careful about the date my commitment to the newsletter ends becoming a burden if subscriptions didn't keep up with expectations, where I'm writing at a huge loss for a dwindling audience.

I look up, though, and once again, I realize that I'm not on my way to something. I'm already here. The newsletter is successful and growing and fun and rewarding. It's what I do. I write for Sports Illustrated -- with tremendous pride, I should add -- and and I talk to great radio hosts around the country and, good Lord willing and the creek don't rise, soon enough someone will put my Charlie Brown head on TV again.

But the newsletter is where I live. It's been good to me, and it's time I start treating it as well as it's treated me. Effective today, newsletter subscriptions will be sold in rolling intervals. Instead of a fixed end date, new subscribers and renewals will be able to purchase subscriptions that will end not on January 31 of the following year, but 12 months to the day they subscribe. (Six-month subscriptions will also be available, and I may expand the options over time.) The annual subscription rate will be $29.95; I am going back to that price point for a few reasons, none all that significant in isolation but when combined, they push me back to the higher figure.

If you are a current subscriber as of July 22, having purchased a subscription for $24.95 or $19.95 or being given a Friends and Family subscription -- basically, if you're getting this in your inbox -- your subscription will end on February 14, 2014. That tacks two weeks on to every active subscription. Through August 30 -- operators are standing by! -- you can renew for a full year for $24.95! No matter when you renew, a renewed subscription will run through February 14, 2015.

I've doubled the subscriber base over three years despite having some life-sized monkey wrenches tossed into 2012. My renewal rate is nearly 80% despite not having an auto-renewal program (I still won't). As of this afternoon there are 1,418 paid subscribers. There are those of you who see an upside here I don't necessarily see, but I may be too close to it. Maybe I can get to 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 subscribers. Maybe there are that many people who will, to get back to first principles, recognize and support quality if given that option. We live in a media environment where something as high-quality as "Outside the Lines" is being buried by ESPN, and where the new Fox Sports One is building its brand around ex-athletes cracking jokes. Surely there's room for an alternative. Surely there's an audience for an alternative.

And if the Yankees give up on Luis Cruz and call me, well, we'll all figure something out.

Monday, July 1, 2013


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Sunday, March 17, 2013

From 347* to 68: Final

*I have been calling this "From 348 to 68" all week. I thought we were up to 348 D-I teams. My bad.

I've spent less time on sussing out the bubble and writing about the process than I have in decades. No one reason -- the World Baseball Classic and day-job deadlines have certainly been a factor -- but unquestionably part of the reason is the data set we're working with. I wouldn't call this the "worst bubble ever"; the pool of teams under consideration for the final at-large berths is stronger than it was a year ago. It is, perhaps, the least interesting bubble ever. There just aren't hooks to argue about, and there aren't that many teams who are going to fall on the other side of the line. I have felt all week like I have less to contribute to the general discussion that I have in most years.

Championship Week was unusually boring. Very few teams -- Mississippi, maybe Maryland, maybe Southern Mississippi -- changed their case in a substantial way. Many more teams fell aside meekly, which meant that teams in the clubhouse who we expected to see get passed didn't.

I don't think this year's bubble discussion speaks to any larger truths about the game of college basketball, at least not any more than other years do. There's still a massive gap in the middle of the sport, where teams in the #7 through #16 conferences have very little access to quality non-conference games, and no access to quality non-conference games at home. While I appreciate the economics involved, it leaves us with an almost football-like lack of data points to determine relative quality. There's simply no reasonable way to compare the work of Middle Tennessee State and Virginia, or LaSalle and Iowa State. They play virtually different sports. Until and unless the second and third quartile of NCAA basketball teams get more opportunities to play the first, we're going to be in this position every March, guessing whether 28-5 over here should mean more than 20-11 over there.

Here's my best guess for 2013. Through Saturday:

Automatic Bids (30): SUNY-Albany (America East), Florida-Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Louisville (Big East), Montana (Big Sky), Liberty (Big South), Kansas (Big 12), Pacific (Big West), James Madison (Colonial), Memphis (Conference USA), Valparaiso  (Horizon), Harvard (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Akron (Mid-American), North Carolina A&T (Mid-Eastern Athletic), Creighton (Missouri Valley), New Mexico (Mountain West), Long Island University-Brooklyn (Northeast), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Oregon (Pac-12), Bucknell (Patriot), Davidson (Southern), Stephen F. Austin Northwestern State (Southland), Southern (Southwestern Athletic), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), South Dakota State (Summit), New Mexico State (Western Athletic), Gonzaga (West Coast).

In (7):
Miami (FL), North Carolina, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Florida.

Those teams will account for at least three and no more than four at-large bids.

On the Board (24): Wichita State, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Marquette, Illinois, Michigan, Duke, Georgetown, Temple, Notre Dame, San Diego State, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Colorado State, Missouri, North Carolina State, Butler, Indiana, Michigan State, Kansas State, Nevada-Las Vegas, Syracuse, UCLA.

We started the week with 23 teams on the bubble. Baylor, Louisiana Tech and Iowa played themselves off the bubble the bad way. Illinois and Oregon played themselves off it the good way. (Oregon eventually won an automatic bid, but had become a lock before that.) Akron and Stephen F. Austin won their conference tournaments. (Edit: Northwestern State beat Stephen F. Austin in the final. Not sure why I forgot that, as I watched the game. SFA's profile takes too large a hit with the loss to remain under consideration for an at-large bid.--JSS) This morning, we have 16 teams for nine or ten spots, pending the SEC tournament final. Here they are in RPI order (source: CBS Sports):

Middle Tennessee State (29): Left for dead when they took a bad loss in the Sun Belt quarterfinals, MTSU may find the back door as the SEC collapsed and a number of other bubble teams failed to make a move. Comparable to some Utah State teams in the 2000s, the Blue Raiders dominated a mid-major league that didn't have a good year and that has become bottom heavy. Their best win is an increasingly valuable one over Mississippi -- barely a top-50 win as of today -- but it's also their only top-100 win. They have the low RPI on the board, but it wouldn't be historic for them to be left out. Their 1-3 mark against the top 100 damns the Sun Belt more than it does them. Their non-conference SOS of 6 is being heavily cited in their favor; as with Davidson a few years back, you have to win some of the good games you schedule, and they just didn't. Two road wins in the top 150.

Saint Mary's (30):
Living off their BracketBusters win at home over Creighton, their only win over a tournament-quality team. They beat Harvard a year after that would be very meaningful, and that win and one of their wins over Brigham Young were both extreme squeakers. The Gaels' 7-5 mark against the top 100 isn't all that bad, they were 9-2 on the road and the subjective arguments break their way -- they have a lot of talent and "look" like a tournament team, for whatever that may be worth.

Southern Mississippi (31):
On the margins, losing the conference championship game in double-overtime in a time slot where they were likely to have a lot of eyeballs on them might not have hurt them. They have two wins over teams in the field: Western Kentucky and Liberty. Their best win is at home over Denver. They were 3-7 against the RPI top 100.

These three teams are of a kind. I rate them St. Mary's, Middle Tennessee State, Southern Mississippi, and while I wouldn't go to war over that ranking, I'm good with it.

Minnesota (34): This is me being stubborn. 8-10 (or 8-11) in their conference, they have two decent wins in two months, both of which were squeakers, and they lost to Purdue, Nebraska and Illinois in their last three games -- and were a miserable 3-8 on the road, 5-10 R/N. With that said…5-8 against the top 50 and 11-9 against the top 100 are impossible to overlook. They're pretty much at the top of this list, and I'm about the only guy who hasn't officially put the Gophers in at this point. Could win two games, could lose by 35 Thursday at noon.

Colorado (38): The Pac-10 just isn't that good, substituting, as John Gasaway has noted, a different kind of mediocrity, a flatter one, for its more recent brand of one-bidness. So the pool of at-large teams looks a little better, but their qualifications are largely that they all beat up on each other, and they're five percent better than they were a year ago. Meh. Colorado's best road win is at a Dominic Artis-free Oregon, and they beat Baylor on a neutral court back when that almost meant something. 4-4 top 50, 9-9 top 100 get them in.

I'll come back to both those numbers a lot. "Did you beat tournament-quality teams?" and "Did you beat good teams?" are the coin of the realm. It's hopelessly biased towards teams in the big football leagues, but it's what we have.

Oklahoma (39): One win swings so many of these teams' chances. Take away Oklahoma's win over Kansas in Norman, and the Sooners are sweating out today. You can't take that away, of course, but there are a lot of teams in the mix that would love to have a team as good as Kansas forced to come play them at home. Florida and Missouri tried to get half the SEC in, and Duke did their best with Virginia and Maryland. Oklahoma is just 3-7 against the top 50, but 9-9 against the top 100. They're home.

Boise State (41): Were this the Sheehan Invitational, Boise State might be wearing white this week. It's not clear to me why they're not. Their road win at Creighton is better than the best road win of almost every team in this mix, and it's one of four top-50 wins (4-7) and eight top-100 wins (8-8). Boise State, in the Mountain West, played 11 top-50 games; of the teams under consideration, only Minnesota and Iowa State played more, and only Minnesota and Cal had more top-50 wins. Three of their losses came without Jeff Elorriaga. If this were Baylor, they'd be long in. This is the one team who, if left out, would represent a clear mistake by the committee.

Iowa State (45): It's hard to avoid the subjective here, as two losses to Kansas might have been two wins but for a fluke shot and a bad call. Not much separates them from Oklahoma but for their comeback win Thursday in the Big 12 tournament. Like St. Mary's, they look better on the court -- a better team than tournament case, if you will. I think they're closer to the line than most people do, but they're on the right side of it.

LaSalle (46): They beat the two best teams in the Atlantic N (edit: two of the best three, they didn't beat Saint Louis.--JSS) and picked up a Big Five win over Villanova before that seemed like it would matter much. The Explorers are one of the many, many teams that could have made their case by winning their final game this week. Their 6-8 mark against the top 100 isn't anything, and actually fairly week by the standards of this group. Maybe the one team on the bubble I'm genuinely lost in evaluating, and probably #37 or #38 in the end.

Mississippi (50):
No big-conference school with 24 D-I wins has ever been left out of the tournament. Mississippi would have 25 as an at-large candidate. That doesn't have to carry the day, but leaving them out would be setting a new standard, and it's the biggest reason I think they're in. The SEC is barely a big conference this year, to be sure, but if I'm thinking like the committee, I can't see them not putting in a 25-9 SEC team that reached its conference final. even if in doing so all it did was beat the 6-10 version of Missouri and Vanderbilt. (Aside: why aren't we discussing Missouri, which is a hideous road team?) Mississippi's only tournament-caliber wins are over Unhome Missouri. However, 8-6 against the top 100 -- 8-7 if they're an at-large team -- and the 25 wins and the SEC runner-up status should be enough. Should.

California (53): Take everything I said about Colorado, right down to beating a weakened Oregon in Eugene, and throw in a loss to Utah in the Pac-12 quarters. They won an exempt event in November without getting a top-100 win in the deal. (I love the four-day ESPN events, myself, but the fields have been growing weaker, especially the Thanksgiving weekend ones.) Back to the standards: 5-5 top 50, 7-10 top 100. They'll be in.

(I was unusually stubborn about some of these teams this year. Not sure why.)

Massachusetts (56): They played a four-half stretch in February in which they blew a lead to VCU, lost to Temple by a point and fell behind to St. Bonaventure. That was fatal. Could have gotten in by beating VCU yesterday in Brooklyn, but fell apart late. Wouldn't surprise me if they were back in New York in three weeks. 0-5 top 25, 2-7 top 100 are bad numbers.

Kentucky (57), Tennessee (59), Alabama (60): Kentucky is 4-4 without Nerlens Noel and hasn't been competitive on the road without him. Alabama is 0-6 against the top 50, which is a strong indication you're not good enough. Tennessee has the best overall set of qualifications -- wins over Wichita State and Massachusetts carry some heft -- but that's a tallest-midget thing. I'm prepared for any outcome here, but Tennessee-Alabama-Kentucky is how I rate them, and only Tennessee seems to have a shot.

The bottom of the SEC has just fallen apart. Yay, football and all, but they've got to get it together. For teams to go 12-6 in conference and have RPIs this poor is terrible.

Virginia (75): This is USC from 2011, with a bunch of good wins and a bunch of bad losses. Forget the RPI and look at this: 4-3 against the top 50, 8-4 (!) against the top 100. No, you shouldn't lose to Old Dominion, but… Then again, 3-8 on the road and 3-10 R/N. It's a fascinating profile. More and more, I think the committee ends up picking the last few spots based on who you beat, and Virginia's track record against tournament-quality teams is as good as anyone's.

Minnesota, the Big 12 and Pac-12 schools are at the head of the line. Put the five of them in and that leaves four or five spots for 11 teams. Actually, four for ten, as Mississippi is going in one way or another. Kentucky is out, as is Massachusetts. So the final bubble looks like….

Last four in: Virginia, Middle Tennessee, St. Mary's, Boise State
Last four out:  Southern Mississippi, LaSalle, Tennessee, Alabama

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Newsletter Extra: Perceived Problems and Actual Problems

The United States was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic last night by Puerto Rico 4-3. The loss means that the U.S. misses the semifinal round for the second time in three Classics, a result that has caused a substantial amount of hand-wringing this morning.

That the U.S. has not shown well in three WBCs is a perceived problem, not an actual one. The WBC isn't about showing what nation is the best at baseball. The design and timing of the event should make that abundantly clear. If you were serious about a global baseball tournament, you wouldn't hold the thing in March and you wouldn't play one-game round-robins and you really wouldn't invite China and Brazil and you wouldn't tell pitching-short teams they could only use their best pitchers for 65 pitches. The WBC's current design is like the MLB postseason, only much worse for gathering useful information about the relative quality of teams. Since the baseball media can't get their hands around the uselessness of a best-of-seven for determining relative quality, it's probably too much to expect them to not draw conclusions from a single game between the U.S. and D.R., or between the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

So we get this perceived problem of the United States not showing well in the World Baseball Classic. If there's one thing MLB does with passion and aggression, it's address perceived problems, be it pushing for increased penalties for positive drug tests despite a well-functioning testing program, or adding a ridiculous incentive to prop up the decaying All-Star Game, or introducing a one-game playoff round out of a sense of embarrassment that teams acted in their own self-interest in a division race. MLB loves fixing that which isn't really broken in an effort to placate a media completely unwilling to address complex, multi-faceted issues in all but the most simple of terms.

I make this prediction against that backdrop. The United States team at the 2017 World Baseball Classic will include almost all of the best American players at that time. The perceived failure of the U.S. team will cause the league and Bud Selig to place undue pressure on the game's stars -- most likely with a healthy dose of MLBPA-bashing -- to participate in the event regardless of how the players or their teams believe it may affect their preparation for the season. The perceived problem of the U.S. not showing well at the WBC  will be addressed by a faux solution that does nothing about the WBC's issues of timing and format.

The WBC is a marketing event, not a championship event. Anyone taking more than nine seconds to look at the thing -- held in March, including nations that absolutely suck at baseball but are included for their potential as markets, seeded in comical fashion, with far too few games to carry legitimacy -- can see that. Rather than address those problems, or better still, acknowledge that it's a marketing event, MLB will, in the grand tradition of the Coin Flip Game and "This Time It Counts", take the easy way out and raise up the issue of American player participation as the event's biggest problem. The 2017 U.S. team will be the best ever in the history of the World Baseball Classic.

And the WBC will still be a marketing event, not a championship one.

Friday, March 15, 2013

From 348 to 68: Friday, 2:30 p.m.

In a week when tournament bids are just there waiting to be taken by teams that can win a single game, yesterday featured missed opportunities at every turn. Baylor and Louisiana Tech played their way off the bubble. California, Colorado, Oklahoma and Minnesota left the door open for them to be passed. Only Illinois and Oregon pushed their way into the field, although you could argue I'm being overly conservative about Iowa State. As ever, I am reluctant to move teams onto the board, because I hate having to take them off of it.

Friday is moving day. Of the 19 teams I have on the bubble, Five are playing "win and in" games -- LaSalle, Iowa State, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia -- and seven others are playing games that they can't lose and remain under consideration. Tennessee/Alabama is pretty much an elimination game. For the record, I can't for the life of me ever remember having so few bubble teams this early in the process. It's just a strange year for this stuff.

Through the first four games on Friday:

On the Board (6): Wichita State, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Marquette, Illinois.

Automatic Bids (14): Florida-Gulf Coast (Atlantic Sun), Liberty (Big South), James Madison (Colonial), Valparaiso  (Horizon), Harvard (Ivy), Iona (MAAC), Creighton (Missouri Valley), Long Island University-Brooklyn (Northeast), Belmont (Ohio Valley), Bucknell (Patriot), Davidson (Southern), Western Kentucky (Sun Belt), South Dakota State (Summit), Gonzaga (West Coast).

In (30): Duke, Miami (FL), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Temple, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Georgetown, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Memphis, New Mexico, Colorado State, Nevada-Las Vegas, San Diego State, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon, Florida, Missouri.

Those teams will account for at least 21 and no more than 28 at-large bids, leaving three to ten slots for bubble teams. I'm going to wait another day before writing a lot, largely because I think this picture is going to self-clarify a lot today.

Bubble (19):
Iowa State, Colorado, Kentucky, Oklahoma, California, Minnesota, Virginia, LaSalle, Saint Mary's, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Middle Tennessee State, Boise State, Massachusetts, Southern Mississippi, Iowa, Akron, Stephen F. Austin.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

From 348 to 68: Welcome Back

I'm getting a late start this year for a few reasons. One, Jerry Palm's move to CBS Sports was great for Jerry and for college-basketball fans in general, but lousy for the loss of as a resource. His team pages, his entire site, were essential to my process, and even in starting the work I haven't found anything that apes it. As someone who uses and the Play Index about as often as I do hand soap, it's a reminder that we're very lucky to have Sean Forman's great work -- and very lucky he never made a similar move.

If you're new to this, hi. I mostly write about baseball, but since I was a kid I've loved college hoops as well, and for the past 20 years ago I've worked to figure out what teams would make the tournament as at-large selections. I'm not Jerry or Joe Lunardi or Andy Glockner; I don't build brackets and I don't start doing this the previous fall. I parachute in during Championship Week and do what I can, generally missing one or two teams a year, although I have nailed the field twice. I used to just have this conversation with my best friend (@MikeReganNC), and later I'd send out this stuff to a small group of friends. When Basketball Prospectus launched, I did it there for a couple of years. I got some attention a few years ago for 1) having Virginia Commonwealth in my field, and 2) for a bit of a screed I wrote when reacting to the reaction to their selection.

I'm trying to ape the committee here, not set up the Sheehan Invitational. I do have a preference for teams that do well in smaller conferences, because they get few opportunities to post quality wins, and they never get the kind of home opportunities majors do. If the choice is between the #6 team in a Big Six league and the MAAC champ, I'd like to see the committee choose the latter, even if the former beat a couple of top-ten teams at home. I try to keep that out of my predictions, and it's pretty easy to do so this year. For a variety of reasons, there just aren't very many viable candidates for at-large berths from outside the top nine conferences. Here's the complete list of teams below that line that are or would have been under consideration for a bid: Gonzaga, Creighton, Wichita State, St. Mary's, Belmont, Middle Tennessee State, Bucknell, Louisiana Tech, Akron, Stephen F. Austin. That's it. The Colonial tanked this year. The WAC has been ruined by realignment. Everybody else in the Valley tanked. Butler and VCU moved into top-nine conferences. Teams that have been in the mix in previous years -- Davidson, Long Beach State, Iona, Kent State, Brigham Young -- didn't make the cut this year.

There's also an odd dynamic in the power conferences, which split more cleanly this year than in other years. The combination could make for a week without much drama. There just aren't that many teams in contention for the available bids, and the ones that are will find themselves in fairly clear win-and-in, lose-and-out spots over the next two days. There is the unknown of how much the off-board metrics -- Ken Pomeroy, Jeff Sagarin, the fabled "eye test" -- are playing a role in the process. I think I had a better handle on the committee's approach five years ago. They may be doing a better job of selecting the field today, while making that job slightly more opaque while doing so.

As I start this process Thursday morning, I have one team already on the board in Wichita State. I have 33 locks, which will combine for somewhere between 24 and 31 at-large spots depending on who wins the conference tournaments. That leaves at least five, and as many as 12, slots for bubble teams. There are no bid thieves left in the Big East or Mountain West tournaments. I am exceptionally conservative; if there's a chance a team could lose its next game get left out, they stay on the bubble. We have some win-and-in games Thursday -- Minnesota vs. Illinois, Iowa State vs. Oklahoma -- where the loser is probably in as well, but I'm leaving both teams on the bubble this morning. Boise State vs. San Diego State was a similar game last night.

On the Board (1): Wichita State.

In (33): Duke, Miami (FL), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Saint Louis, Virginia Commonwealth, Butler, Temple, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Georgetown, Marquette, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Villanova, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Memphis, New Mexico, Colorado State, Nevada-Las Vegas, San Diego State, UCLA, Arizona, Florida, Missouri.

Those teams will account for at least 24 and no more than 31 at-large bids, leaving five to 12 slots for bubble teams. Here are those teams in rough order as of Thursday morning. We'll go deeper on them after the list gets culled Thursday. There's at least some chance we're going to be down to just a few spots by the morning.

Bubble (23): Oklahoma, Illinois, California, Colorado, Minnesota, Kentucky, Iowa State, Virginia, LaSalle, Oregon, Saint Mary's, Tennessee, Mississippi, Baylor, Alabama, Middle Tennessee State, Boise State, Massachusetts, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech, Iowa, Akron, Stephen F. Austin.