Thursday, May 23, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 23, 2019 -- "Twins!"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"Ah, the catchers. The best season any single catcher has ever had at the plate was by Mike Piazza in 1997. Piazza, riding the crest of a hitters’ era, hit .362/.431/.638 with 40 homers, for a 185 OPS+. Twins catchers -- Astudillo, Garver, and Jason Castro -- are hitting .307/.389/.699 with 17 homers already, a 198 OPS+. Garver and Castro are both way out over their skis, but a surprise team usually has a performance or two like this in it. If the Twins do win the division, 'randomly assembling peak Mike Piazza' will be a big reason why."

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 21, 2019 -- "No IBB"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"The Astros, a year after setting the record for fewest intentional walks granted with four (and none in their seven postseason games), have yet to issue a single free pass this season. They are the only team in baseball to have called for no intentional walks. We don’t necessarily need a new reason to praise the Astros, the best team in baseball, one of the best organizations in baseball, and the favorite to win their second World Series in three years, but here we are."

Monday, May 20, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 20, 2019 -- "#lolmets"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"If we just restrict this analysis to the current GM, you have the Cano/Diaz trade, which was supposed to be a short-term improvement. It’s added less than a win to the team in 2019, and all the costs are paid in future seasons, in increased payroll and the absence of Kelenic and Dunn. You have the signings of Lowrie, Ramos, Familia, Justin Wilson, and Luis Avilan: a combined one win below replacement level for $20 million. Throw Keon Broxton in there at sub-replacement work for near the minimum. Brodie van Wagenen has done a better job of getting players money for nothing as a GM than he ever did as an agent."

Friday, May 17, 2019

Turning Nine


On May 17, 2010, I sent an email to fewer than 100 people, the first edition of the second run of The Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter. In those nine years, we’ve seen the Giants win three World Series, and the Yankees not win any. We’ve seen the game’s highest salary go from $33 million (Alex Rodriguez) to $42 million (Max Scherzer). We’ve had no strikes or lockouts, but plenty of labor unrest. We’ve seen Albert Pujols go from legend to laggard, and Mike Trout go from unknown to unbelievable.

We’ve seen the Newsletter go from 100 people to nearly 2,000, and growing.

In those nine years, the state of baseball, and baseball writing, has changed. The baseball world accelerated the trend of picking off writers from the stathead world, granting legitimacy to a field of study that had been scorned for much of the first 15 years of the nominal “Prospectus Era.” A once-unimaginable stream of data was invented that we’re still only barely tapping into today, one that has helped teach us things about players and the game itself that, a decade ago, we could have imagined knowing. With nods to everyone who came before, my colleagues at BP included, we’ve learned more about baseball in the last decade than in any ten-year period ever.

The data has changed the way the game has played, and it’s changed the way we analyze the game. Career paths are, if not a myth, a fragile idea when players can use data to re-invent themselves. Facile explanations for league-wide trends are dismissed when we can measure the spin, the exit velocity, the drag on baseballs. It’s harder to criticize some micro-level decisions, ones that could very well be based on data that’s simply unavailable to the public. Is that pitching change actually daft, or designed to exploit a specific skills matchup between the batter and new pitcher?

Next year, the 25th edition of the Baseball Prospectus annual will be published. I’ve already lived the first line of my obituary, and I couldn’t be more proud of having helped build a company that continues to cover the game today. The hundreds of people who have worked under the Prospectus banner, from the original five through today, have built something wonderful.

That this Newsletter carries just my name, however, doesn’t make it a solo venture. Scott Simon has been making my copy better for half the life of the Newsletter. (His value will be illustrated by the condition of the pre-Simon era piece below.) Bil Burke has pushed me to have a stronger Web presence and helped build that presence. I’ve been able to lean on friends and colleagues like Will Carroll, Rany Jazayerli, Jeff Erickson, David Donovan, Cee Angi, Chris Stone, and Stephen Cannella for advice, for support, for the occasional guest piece. I appreciate every single reader, but some have made their presence known in greater volume, making me smarter, holding me to first principles, making the Newsletter better in their own way.

I was a new father nine years ago. The Newsletter is exactly 46 days younger than Marina is, and much of what drives me every day is wanting to leave a legacy of success that she can some day understand and appreciate. We think about our kids making us proud as parents, but I want to make her proud of me as well. Nothing, not money, not fame, not truth, not craft, not baseball itself drives me the way she does. Guys, have a daughter. She’ll change everything.

Nine years ago, I sent out the following. Today, it goes to 20 times as many people. That’s a pretty good run. Thanks for being here for it. Thanks for being the best group of readers I could have hoped to have.

Joe Sheehan
May 17, 2019

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 16, 2019 -- "Taking a Challenge"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"I was out last night with baseball friends, some excellent company over dinner, and amid conversations about children new and old, the new sports books in New Jersey, documentaries, passing around 1990 baseball cards, and everything else, there was baseball chatter. At one point, two of us were going through the NL East when I was challenged: You can’t make one good bullpen from all the rosters in the NL East."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Fun With Numbers: Triple Trouble [Updated]

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

[Updated on May 15]

In yesterday’s piece on the Marlins, I mentioned in passing that they had yet to hit a triple. They’re not the only ones. The Indians haven’t hit a three-bagger yet. In a related story, the Indians and Marlins have the lowest slugging percentages and lowest wRC+ marks in baseball.

It is uncommon for any team to have no triples at this late date. Prior to 2019, in fact, just four teams since 1908 (the Play Index era, and for all intents and purposes, all-time) had reached May 14 without having hit a triple.

Stopping At Second (Latest Date Hitting First Triple)

Expos    1973   5/28
Giants   1982   5/23

Indians  2019    ???
Marlins  2019    ???
Braves   2016   5/14
Braves   1957   5/14


Two more teams, the ’72 Orioles and the ’35 Phillies, hit their first triples on May 13. The Marlins and Indians are now in a tie for third on this list, two weeks from holding the record. No team in baseball history has entered June without hitting at least one triple.

The date of a team’s first triple is interesting, but a bit of a moving target. The baseball season now starts earlier than ever before, three weeks earlier than it did for most of the game’s history. (Three weeks earlier than it should, but that’s a subject for a different day.) The more salient measure here might be games. Viewed through that lens, the Indians are on the brink of history, the Marlins right behind them.

Stopping At Second Every Time (Most Games w/o a Triple to Start Season)

Giants   1982   41
Indians  2019   41
Marlins  2019   40

Expos    1974   38
Braves   2016   36


The Cardinals made a run at this record last year, getting 31 games into the season before poking their first triple on May 6. This year, we’re getting a rematch of the 1997 World Series, as the Indians and Marlins try to out-do each other.

Triples were once more common than home runs, and they remain one of the game’s most exciting plays. They’re also increasingly rare, with the rate of triples per PA, per contact, per game, at or near all-time lows. The Indians and Marlins have taken triple avoidance to an extreme this year, so much so that they’re set to wipe a 40-year-old record from the books.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 13, 2019 -- "The MarLLLLLins"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"The 2019 Miami Marlins have a 65 wRC+, two percent worse than those Philly A’s, even worse than the gold standard for bad baseball, those ’99 Spiders. The Marlins can’t hit. They’re last in the NL in everything: doubles, triples (they haven’t hit one yet), homers, walks, average, OBP, and SLG.

"The 2019 Marlins have a chance to be the worst offense in baseball history."

Friday, May 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 10, 2019 -- "O-H-I-O!"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"If the Indians want to defend themselves, they can stay in-state to do so. The Reds’ Opening Day payroll has moved from $95 million two years ago to $127 million, and the team is in last place, despite playing better ball than the Indians have. Prospectus’s Adjusted Standings pegs the Reds as a 20-18 team to date, accounting for their underlying performance and schedule. The Indians have, by comparison, been a 15-21 squad. I’m not saying we should award playoff berths based on these numbers, but there’s a real case that for the first time in a while, the Reds are the best team in Ohio."

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 8, 2019 -- "Mike Fiers"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"I understand the extreme stathead position on no-hitters, that they’re not such a big deal relative to, say, a one-hitter with a lot of strikeouts. I simply don’t agree with it. We’ve been tracking these games for close to 150 years. There have been 300, give or take around various rules changes, or about two a year. They’re a part of the game’s fabric, the history, and that they don’t always map to a great career or even great pitching just makes them that much more notable."

Monday, May 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 6, 2019 -- "Cubs and Cardinals Swap Places"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

"Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez are all getting the ball up more than they did a year ago. All four of them have their highest expected slugging of the last three years, with big jumps over last season. Yes, Baez broke out last year, and Bryant was hurt in 2018, but those four are collectively on their way to being 75 runs better in 2019. (Jay Jaffe had some good stuff on Bryant over at Fangraphs.)"

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 4, 2019 -- "Something's Up"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"           AVG   OBP   SLG    HR%   ISO   HR/FB
4/6-4/19   .248  .324  .433   4.1%   185   15.3%
4/20-4/26  .253  .328  .434   4.0%   181   15.6%
4/27-5/3   .234  .304  .381   3.1%   147   12.2%


"Is this what a change in the composition of the baseball would look like in the stats? I don’t know. I do know that there’s precedent for things changing on a dime within a season. This “era” started in the middle of 2015, when a league that had been slugging under .400 for 2 1/2 seasons suddenly jumped to .403 in July, .417 in August, and .415 in September."

Friday, May 3, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 3, 2019 -- "Orioles and Homers"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"That’s the thing about records, though. They’re set when the underlying conditions raise the baselines, and then an individual or team has an outlier year on top of that. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA in 1968 because he was Bob Gibson, and because the league ERA dropped under 3.00. That spate of 60+ homer seasons at the turn of the century doesn’t happen if the overall environment -- and what I wouldn’t give to X-ray or deconstruct the baseballs from that era -- doesn’t allow for it. No one is going to win 30 games when the best starting pitchers make just 32 starts.

"The 2019 Orioles have an execrable pitching staff, and it’s pitching at a time when the penalty for throwing bad pitches is as high as it’s ever been."

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, May 1, 2019, "Thinking Outside the Box"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"What Gallo is doing this year is taking that skill set and pairing it with a bit more contact, a bit more patience. He’s swinging less than he ever had before, a tick more than 40% of the time. He’s swinging and missing less than he ever has before, continuing a career-long trend. Pair those two, and you have a player with the highest walk rate and lowest strikeout rate of his career. Gallo never had to be Jeff McNeil; he just needed to get the bat to the ball a little more often to become one of the scariest monsters in the game. He’s doing that now. Aaron Judge’s 2017 season -- 52 homers, 171 OPS+, second in the MVP race -- is absolutely in play here."

Monday, April 29, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 29, 2019 -- "Joey Votto"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"As of this morning, Votto is hitting .233/.340/.407 (95 OPS+), with an astonishing 26 strikeouts against just 13 walks. Votto hasn’t struck out more than he’s walked since 2016, and he hasn’t had a ratio anything like this since his rookie season in 2008. Votto’s 26% strikeout rate would be the highest of his career by far; he’s been up around 20% a few times in the past. His walk rate of 13% would be his lowest since 2009. A hitter defined by his command of the strike zone has badly misplaced that skill in the first month of 2019."

Friday, April 26, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 26, 2019 -- "A Month of Parity"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

"The extremes we saw in 2017 and 2018, the game dominated by a handful of great teams at their peaks, beating up on an underclass of squads indifferent to that night’s score, was not always entertaining. The rules that inhibit the teams at the top from getting better -- revenue sharing, the luxury tax, draft-pick penalties for very high payrolls -- are dragging the top back towards the middle. Teams like the Padres, Twins, and Phillies are emerging from rebuilding cycles to punch up at that weakened top tier."

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 23, 2019 -- "Expectation"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

"When you throw those numbers together, you see how pitchers are changing the game. In 2008, when a team had a runner on third with less than two out, the pitcher got a strikeout 12.7% of the time. In 2019, that figure is 22.4%, nearly twice as often."

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, April 18, 2019 -- "Let the Kids Play"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--


The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 22
April 18, 2019

You’ve probably seen yesterday’s dustup in Chicago between the Royals and White Sox. Tim Anderson launched a home run off Brad Keller in the fourth inning, took a good look at it, threw his bat towards his dugout and gave the eye to catcher Martin Maldonado. In Anderson’s next at-bat, Keller intentionally hit him with a fastball in the hip. Let’s not get bogged down in an argument over the adverb; watch Maldonado, who immediately gets up and puts himself in front of Anderson. He knew what was happening. Anderson was rightly angered, and we ended up with the benches clearing and some light scuffling, with Keller and Anderson eventually being ejected.

This is the second one of these we’ve had in the season's early days. Chris Archer intentionally threw behind Derek Dietrich after Dietrich hit a long homer off him back on April 7. You’ve surely seen the memes generated by the ruckus that followed. MLB eventually suspended Archer, who committed the assault, for five games -- an immaterial suspension for a starting pitcher in 2019 -- and Yasiel Puig, who came to the defense of his teammate in the brawl, for two games.

These events are happening against a backdrop of MLB’s marketing arm clearly taking sides in the game’s culture war. “Let The Kids Play” started last fall, and continues into this season. It has a site, and a Twitter feed, dedicated to the youngerfreer, expressive way of playing the game, one heavily influenced by the way it’s played in countries other than the U.S. Even MLB’s official account comes down on the side of fun.

Now, you can, if you want, draw a very thin line here, say that what the marketing side does has to be different than what the league office does. Today is a day, of course, for drawing very thin lines around very sketchy behavior in an effort to separate truth and consequences. So maybe you don’t think MLB, the office, should be beholden to the positions taken by MLB, the salespeople.

That’s a nonsense position, though. MLB can’t, out of one side of its mouth, embrace and encourage a style of play in an effort to bring young people to the game, while out of the other side tacitly endorse violent retaliation against that very style.

MLB, Rob Manfred, Joe Torre, the entire power structure, has a chance today to take the stand it failed to take after the Archer incident. It can finally take a stand against the ugliest part of the modern game, when one player stands 60 feet away from another and throws a hard object at him, intentionally, at upwards of 90 mph, for no reason other than spite. If your kid did this at school, he’d be suspended for a week. If you did this in your office, you’d be fired. If you did it on 86th St., you’d be arrested. The act -- throwing something as hard as you can at someone else out of anger in an effort to exact revenge -- is something we teach four-year-olds not to do. It’s just as wrong, just as dangerous, just as ripe for punishment, when grown men in pajamas do it.

Take a stand, MLB. Take the position of Cut4, and your own Twitter account, and hundreds of your players, and millions of your fans. Take the position that intentional violence has no place in baseball, that expressions of joy are to be celebrated, that the game’s culture is changing, and that you want to lead that change. Suspend Brad Keller, not for five games or six games, but for 20. Suspend Ned Yost for ten. Take a stand today that you’re going to lead the game’s charge out of the past and into the future. Take a stand that throwing at batters intentionally is wrong, full stop, and you’re going to harshly punish any pitchers who do so.

The only way this is ever going to stop is if MLB makes it stop. Take a stand, MLB. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 16, 2018 -- "Dingers!"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"For all of the complaints about the way batters approach their job now, what’s clear is that it works. Trading contact for power is producing the best on-contact results ever, despite what the old guy in the booth, who never in his life saw a 94-mph cutter, says. Five years ago, the league hit .251 and slugged .386 while scoring 4.2 runs a game. The pitchers are even better today, and it’s even harder to get a hit, but slugging is up 34 points and isolated power is up 40. Runs scored are up to 4.7 a game. We can have a debate about the aesthetics of it all, but you can’t argue the value of these approaches."

Friday, April 12, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 12, 2010 -- "Ozzie Albies"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"What this contract does is underline the challenge facing the MLBPA in the next CBA negotiation. For all the attention paid to free agents who have gone unsigned, or who signed contracts for far less than their comps in 2012 or 2002 might have, the real war is now over the likes of Ozzie Albies: excellent young players jammed up by a system that values service time rather than performance. Albies isn’t alone; there are dozens like him who have to be both good and healthy for nearly four seasons to gain any leverage at all in salary negotiations. Francisco Lindor was a top-ten player in MLB from 2015 through 2017, and he made $623,000 last year, about 10% over the league minimum. Corey Seager was one of the best players in baseball in 2016 and 2017, and was paid $605,000 in 2018. Aaron Judge has a section named after him at Yankee Stadium, one of the best-selling jerseys in the game, and a 2019 salary of $684,000."

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 10: "Thinking Inside the Box"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"We’re in an era in which managers have access to information that outside analysts do not. I’m reluctant, particularly this early in the season, to indict Kapler, because he may be picking his pitchers based on pitch type or arm action or the swing plane of the opposing hitters. What does seem to be certain is that he’s not picking them based on the save rule, or the inning-and-score model than has dominated reliever usage for a decade. How Kapler runs his bullpen -- a source of considerable controversy a year ago -- will be a fascinating topic this season."

Monday, April 8, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 8, 2019 -- "The Third Start"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"Who else is under a spotlight this week? Well, Corey Kluber hasn’t lost his fastball quite as rapidly as Sale has, but over two seasons his four-seamer has gone from 93.1 to 92.4 to 92.0, and his bread-and-butter pitch, the two-seam fastball, from 93 to 92.4 to 91.8. He hasn’t been getting the same amount of sink he did on the two-seamer as he did at his peak, either. I was wary of Kluber in the offseason, and will be watching his start in Detroit tomorrow carefully. Kluber’s five-year peak measures up to any of his peers, but at 33, we may be seeing the start of the decline phase."

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, April 4, 2019 -- "The Disappearing Single"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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"[Insert “Singles” Pun Here] (1B/PA)

2019  12.9%
2018  14.2%
2017  14.5%
2016  14.9%
2015  15.3%


"Singles are disappearing, and I mean quickly. From the end of World War II up until 2015, singles occurred in 15-17% of plate appearances and about 21% of events on contact. The only four seasons in baseball history in which singles haven’t been above 15% of PAs are the last four. The last time singles accounted for fewer than 21% of events on contact was 1888 (20.8%). The number was 21% last year, and is 19.7% in 2019."

Friday, March 29, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

Boston Red Sox (95-67). The Red Sox are returning just about everyone from the team that dogpiled on the Dodger Stadium mound just five months ago. They retained midseason trade pickups Steven Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi, while doing nothing to bolster a bullpen that is the team’s weak link -- especially in the absence of free agent Craig Kimbrel.

Dating to the 2003 Angels, I’ve cringed when championship teams largely choose to run it back with the players they won with, rather than make improvements. Boston's 25-man Opening Day roster included just one player, reliever Colton Brewer, who wasn’t in the organization last year. The Red Sox did spend so much last season that they triggered the most vicious investment penalties, serving as a serious disincentive to do so again, but they still chose to pay Eovaldi $17 million a year, so it’s hard to paint this as an organization being cheap. The Sox just have a large core of controlled players, and no clear places where they might have added to the team.

With that said, I still have them slipping by 13 games from their record last year. That reflects a conviction that their offense won’t be quite as good, as Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez come down to earth a bit. Rafael Devers, who I’m over the moon for this year, and Jackie Bradley Jr. should make up some of the shortfall.

The biggest concerns are, once again, the relief pitchers, and it’s worth remembering that they were also the biggest concern heading into last year’s postseason. The Red Sox should get a lot of innings from their starters, making them less reliant on a strong pen than many other teams. A bullpen is also that part of a contender most easily fixed in-season, as even bad teams, ones selling at the trade deadline, will have arms available. Mark Melancon, Sergio Romo, Mychal Givens, Ken Giles, Alex Colome, Kelvin Herrera and more are all possibilities to be in the Sox bullpen come August. Panic over the Sox pen is exacerbated by a direct comparison to the Yankees’ deep group, of course, but the Yankees can’t match what the Sox have in the first five innings every night.

As you’ll see below, I had the Sox falling short of the division crown until very recently. As it is, this should be a much more interesting race than it was a year ago.

One Stat: Chris Sale, now the possessor of generational wealth, has proven to be more durable than many observers, myself included, expected him to be when he was coming up with the White Sox. With that said, Sale has often struggled to finish seasons. His career September ERA of 3.78 is by far his highest; his August ERA of 3.16 is his second-highest. October? A 5.76 mark in 25 innings, with no quality starts in four tries, and a peak Game Score of 56. Sale has never gotten more than 16 outs in a playoff start. That’s more than one stat, but they all stem from the same idea: Sale has stayed healthy, mostly, but maybe you don’t want to bet on him for five more years.

One Guy: If you haven’t read my Valentines to Rafael Devers in the Rotowire magazine or the SI baseball preview issue, well shame on you. I love the guy and think he’s going to blow up after an adjustment year in 2018. He’s still just 22, and even last year there were signs of growth in his profile. What he needs, more than anything else, is to be left alone for six months.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Opening Day



Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Noah Syndergaard, Ronald Acuña Jr., Francisco Lindor, Jacob de Grom, Aaron Nola, Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Christian Yelich, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Giancarlo Stanton, Michael Conforto, Blake Snell, Buster Posey, Trevor Bauer, Jameson Taillon, Edwin Encarnacion, Miguel Cabrera, Edwin Diaz, Matt Chapman, Whit Merrifield, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Paul Goldschmidt, Eloy Jimenez, Jose Berrios, Jonathan Villar, Corey Seager, Gleyber Torres, Joey Gallo, Brian Anderson, Zack Greinke...

Box scores.

The Green Monster, the Jackie Robinson Rotunda,  the Judge’s Chambers, the King’s Court, the Rally Monkey, the Rockpile, McCovey Cove, Bernie Brewer, Mr. Met, the Phanatic, Dinger, Fredbird, Wally, play Sinatra, Fly the W, fly the Jolly Roger, the sausage race, the presidents’ race, the pierogi race, The Freeze, the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the pool, the fountains, the ivy, the train tracks, Fenway Franks, Cha-Cha Bowls, Dodger Dogs, Boog’s, walleye on a stick, bacon on a stick, Ben’s half-smoke...

Peanuts and Cracker Jack.

Tom Verducci, Will Leitch, Joe Posnanski, Jeff Passan, Rany Jazayerli, Emma Baccellieri, Ben Reiter, Mike Petriello, Jay Jaffe, Rob Mains, Joel Sherman, Pete Abraham, Ken Davidoff, Ken Rosenthal, Meg Rowley, David Schoenfield, Peter Gammons, Eno Sarris, Jayson Stark, Sheryl Ring, Nick Piecoro, Jamal Collier, Mark Simon, Jamey Newberg, Rob Neyer, Maury Brown, Marly Rivera, Sam Miller, David Laurila, Ben Lindbergh, Katie Sharp, Matthew Leach, Derrick Goold, Jessica Quiroli, Sarah Langs, Craig Calcaterra, Travis Sawchik, Dayn Perry, Meghan Montemurro, Ben Badler, Jim Callis, John Sickels, Scott Miller, Matt Snyder, Bill James...

Baseball-Reference.com.

Len Kasper, Boog Sciambi, Jason Benetti, Jon Miller, Bob Uecker, Kruk and Kuip, Marty Brennaman, David Cone, Dan Shulman, Todd Kalas, Jerry Remy, Joe Davis, Don Orsillo, Brian Anderson, Mike Ferrin, Dave O’Brien, Chip Caray, Dave Flemming, Mike Shannon, Denny Matthews, John Sterling, Eric Nadel, Chris Welsh, Matt Vasgersian, Joe Buck...

Gary, Ron, and Keith.

The trade deadline, the rumor mill, the standings, the live scoreboard, 91-mph sliders, 64-mph curves, Quick Pitch, batting practice, getaway day games, makeup doubleheaders, #weirdbaseball, getting to the park early, staying to the final out, sneaking into better seats, MLB At Bat, the Subway Series, the Freeway Series, the Crosstown Cup, the Vedder Cup, cup checks, shirseys, snapbacks, going home with a foul ball, going home with a story of how you gave your foul ball to a kid, sunburn, keeping a scorecard, dot races, Centerfield, YMCA, Sweet Caroline, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, California Love, Thunderstruck, Go Cubs Go, Seven Nat...nope...

Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Opening Day.

Let’s. Go.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

Chicago White Sox (70-92). This was supposed to be the year the White Sox took their first step forward. Then Yoan Moncada struck out 217 times, and Michael Kopech blew out his elbow, and Dane Dunning did the same, and the Sox took the offseason, well, off. The optimism that was here just a season ago has definitely faded. While the Sox still have a strong farm system and an interesting group of young veterans in the majors, a permanent failure to launch is definitely in play.

Which way it goes will come down to the products of the trades that rebuilt this farm system. I’m bullish on Moncada, though less so now that he’s been moved to third base. Any reduction in strikeout rate should redound to his batting average, and he only needs to bat .265 to be a very good player. Lucas Giolito was terrible last year, but just staying in the rotation all season at 23 was a positive. Reynaldo Lopez did the same, and finished the season strong. Eloy Jimenez has arrived and will push Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for top rookie honors. There is absolutely talent here. If we’re picking a watchable bad team this year, it’s the White Sox.

Maybe next year the Sox will sign Anthony Rendon and Gerrit Cole, finally silencing the criticism that they like to be in on players without ever actually closing the deal. Until then, you should take the White Sox exactly as seriously as they seem to take themselves.

One Stat: Other than some James Shields ABs in interleague play, the White Sox didn’t give a single plate appearance last year to a player older than 31. No other team in MLB did that.

One Guy: The White Sox became the latest team to use the service-time rules as leverage, signing Eloy Jimenez to a six-year contract with options that could lock him up until 2026. With Jimenez-the-asset now covered, we can focus on Jimenez-the-player. That guy is a 22-year-old with all-fields power and excellent bat-to-ball skills (16% strikeout rate in the upper minors). He will be a very good major-league hitter starting Thursday.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Newsletter Preview: 2019 Predictions

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

Projected 2019 standings, postseason and awards picks:


Team        W-L   Pct  GB   RS   RA

Red Sox    95-67 .586  --  836  690  
Yankees*   94-68 .580   1  821  691
Rays*      94-68 .580   1  736  626
Blue Jays  70-92 .432  25  688  801
Orioles   54-108 .333  41  589  867  

Indians    90-72 .556  --  746  649
Twins      84-78 .519   6  776  752
White Sox  70-92 .407  20  698  825
Royals     64-98 .395  26  621  787
Tigers     64-98 .395  26  657  819

Astros    108-54 .667  --  815  543
Athletics  82-80 .506  26  738  731
Angels     79-83 .488  29  708  729
Mariners   70-92 .432  38  672  775
Rangers    68-94 .420  40  736  871



AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
AL Cy Young: Gerrit Cole, Astros
AL Rookie of the Year: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays

Rays win Coin Flip Round
Astros win ALDS over Rays, 3-1
Red Sox win ALDS over Indians, 3-1
Astros win ALCS over Red Sox, 4-2


Team        W-L   Pct  GB   RS   RA

Braves     91-71 .562  --  781  664
Nationals* 88-74 .543   3  754  690
Mets       85-77 .525   6  725  689
Phillies   82-80 .506   9  755  731
Marlins   60-102 .370  31  568  771

Cubs       93-69 .574  --  803  683
Cardinals* 91-71 .562   2  808  701
Brewers    86-76 .531   7  724  680
Pirates    78-84 .481  15  682  716
Reds       78-84 .481  15  750  782

Dodgers    97-65 .599  --  782  622
Rockies    82-80 .506  15  777  761
D’backs    81-81 .500  16  656  650
Giants     77-85 .475  20  633  685
Padres     76-86 .469  21  666  720




NL MVP: Ronald Acuña, Jr., Braves
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard, Mets
NL Rookie of the Year: Victor Robles, Nationals

Nationals win Coin Flip Round
Dodgers win NLDS over Nationals, 3-2
Cubs win NLDS over Braves, 3-2
Cubs win NLCS over Dodgers, 4-2

Astros win World Series over Cubs, 4-1

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, Season Preview Series: "Report Card"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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"Anthony Rizzo NL MVP +1200 (L)
Christian Yelich NL MVP +20000 (W)

"I mean, you can go a whole writing career and never give out a recommendation this good. I’d have voted for Jacob de Grom, myself, but Yelich got the hardware."

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 19, 2019: Mike Trout

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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It appears that Trout and the Angels are closing in on a contract extension that will keep Trout in Anaheim (or Long Beach or Encinitas or Westlake Village or wherever the Angels end up) into the 2030s. The deal is, as these things go, a bargain, a rumored total of $430 million over 12 years. That’s the largest contract in professional sports history, sure, and also a pittance for the best player who has ever played the game.

Trout seems to have chosen security and the Angels, whatever their flaws, over the risks of the market two years out and playing for a team that might be better positioned for success. By signing, Trout takes the Angels out from under the gun, and allows them to aim for a 2021-24 window in which he’ll still be great, players like Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh will be joining him, and $30 million a season won’t be committed to Albert Pujols. Come 2023, Trout is the only Angel making any money at all, although Shohei Ohtani could be getting expensive by then. By signing Trout, the Angels have altered the future of their franchise.

I don’t question Trout’s decision at all. I will say this: Fairly or not, in the era of expanded playoffs and an overwhelming emphasis on the postseason relative to the regular season, baseball players are judged on October. Clayton Kershaw may be the best pitcher who ever lived, and the larger conversation about him still begins with his postseason work. Trout has played in three postseason games, never played in a postseason win, never advanced. He’s lost MVP awards by being on a lesser team than players who made the playoffs. (He’s lost one by being on a better team than one that made the playoffs.) In our world, Trout’s greatness is unassailable, but for general sports fans, the ones who watch “First Take” and listen to sports radio and read ESPN.com, Trout’s just a guy who doesn’t have a ring.

It may seem that the Angels have made a big bet on Mike Trout today, but it’s Trout who has put much, much more on the line by betting on the Angels.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 15, 2019 -- "Finishing a Series and the Rays"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--


"It’s not that the Rays aren’t good at putting quality teams on the field with a low budget. They’re aggressive traders, they find an Alvarado here, a Wendle there. It’s a well-run organization. Sometimes, though, you have to do the simple thing, the non-subtle thing, and just write a check. As good as the Rays can be this year -- they’re the fifth- or sixth-best team in the AL -- I’ll always wonder what they would have been had they just added Harper or Machado. They can afford that kind of talent, and the signing might have forever changed baseball in Tampa."

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 12, 2019 -- "Stasis and the Cubs"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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Now, Tom Ricketts’s claims that the Cubs have no money are nonsense. The Cubs printed money when they were terrible, for crying out loud. It’s fair, though, to say that the two top-tier free agents on the market were awkward fits for a team set in the infield, and with both young players it likes and a very difficult contract in the outfield. The Cubs’ luxury-tax payroll also shoots up this year, as raises for Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Kyle Hendricks kick in. Re-signing Cole Hamels helped push the Cubs, per Cot’s, nearly $20 million over the tax threshold, and there’s a strong chance the Cubs will live above that number for the next few seasons. Both 'the Cubs have plenty of money' and 'the penalties for going over the tax threshold are strong disincentives to do that' can be true."

Monday, March 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 11, 2019 -- "Player Development and the Astros"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

"It has got to be nice to be able to get 33 starts from Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh in one year, turn them into medium-leverage relievers the next, and then yank them back to be starters the third year. The Astros have more pitching depth than they know what to do with. They’ll tap into it this year, what with Lance McCullers out for the season and Josh James possibly starting the year in the pen after suffering a quad injury a couple of weeks ago."

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 7, 2019 -- "Luis Severino and the Yankees"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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--

"The Yankees can be profligate on free-agent relievers because they’ve developed a core of inexpensive, highly-productive players. In 2018, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Miguel Andujar, Gary Sanchez, and Severino combined for 16.6 bWAR and were paid $3 million in total. That group, even with Severino’s new contract, won’t make $7 million combined in 2019. We can talk all we want about payroll restrictions and revenue sharing and all of the other mechanisms in place to restrain competition, but the single biggest factor in on-field success is player development, in getting $100 million in value for 3% of the cost."

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 6, 2019 -- "Adam Jones"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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"In all, I found nine examples in the last six years of a player who was a terrible full-time center fielder in one season, and a corner outfielder in the next. Most, though not all, of these were older players who had been good center fielders but were asked to play there a bit too long. As a group, these players were worth -1.4 dWAR in their last season in center. After moving, they were worth -0.3 dWAR. Simply getting out of center field was worth a full win. Most of these players still had negative dWARs (the exceptions were the younger players in the pool, like Adam Eaton, Marcell Ozuna, and Cameron Maybin), but they gained value just by not being asked to do what they could no longer do."

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 5, 2019 -- "Not Bryce Harper and the Nationals"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

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--

"The Nationals have sacrificed some of their ceiling, watching a potential 10-win player move to their rivals 150 miles up the eastern seaboard. With all of the players they added, though, they’ve also raised their floor. With the Braves and Mets already seeing their 2019 dreams challenged by injuries, the Nationals are right there with the Phillies, and maybe a little ahead, as the teams to beat in this division."

Monday, March 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, March 4, 2019 -- "Losing Salvy"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"This has been affecting fantasy leagues for some time. No game takes framing into account, so there’s a massive disconnect now between what teams value and what fantasy players value. This is the best case for one-catcher leagues, although I still prefer the challenge of two. A player like Mathis or Max Stassi or Roberto Perez is a fantasy hole, while being important to a major-league team. There’s simply no way to bridge that gap right now, so when a Salvador Perez hits the injured list, especially in an -only league, especially in the AL, fantasy and real baseball collide in an ugly way."

Friday, March 1, 2019

Free Preview, March 1, 2019 -- "Bryce Harper and the Phillies"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 8
March 1, 2019

Completing what was always the best match between player and team, the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330-million contract that sets baseball records for length and overall value. The contract is unusual, in our modern game, for a lack of opt-outs -- there are none -- and deferrals, also none. It’s a straightforward contract that commits the Phillies and Harper to one another, at a perfectly reasonable cost, into the 2030s.

There’s been some pushback against Harper taking this deal, and I’ll admit that the average annual value, a bit more than $25 million per season, is a surprise. I’d said, even after his poor walk year, that Harper could get more than $35 million per year on a long-term contract. He got a tick more than 2/3 of that, after four months of lukewarm bidding on his services. While the “$330 million” and “13 years” will be in bold type for casual sports fans and the generalists in the media, it’s that tepid AAV, Jake Arrieta money, that better reflects the current state of the baseball talent market. There just weren’t that many teams bidding aggressively on Harper, or on Manny Machado for that matter. The deals those two players eventually signed aren’t signs that the market is healthy; they’re signs the market isn’t.

For the Phillies, locking in Harper at $25.4 million per leaves them room to sign another superstar two years from now and still have plenty of room below the luxury-tax threshold. There’s no need to be coy; Mike Trout is scheduled to reach free agency at the end of the 2020 season, and he plays for a team that has made the postseason once in his seven full seasons, one that is unlikely to get to October in 2019. Trout is from southern New Jersey, and he has been a regular presence at Eagles games. It’s far from certain that he’ll move to the Phillies for the 2021 season, but the Harper contract won’t be a barrier to him making that choice. The Phillies, with $95 million committed to six players in 2021, will be able to sign him to a market-rate deal.

(Oh, I should mention...because I use Google Groups to distribute the Newsletter, the work under that link shows up without attribution. It’s from Cot’s Contracts, under the umbrella of Baseball Prospectus.)

If you think Harper sold himself light, it’s worth listening to what his agent, Scott Boras, had to say. Harper wanted length, wanted a commitment to one place, one team, for the rest of his career. The willingness to sign this deal without opt-outs is prima facie evidence that as attractive as, say, the Dodgers’ rumored 4/140 offer seems, it wasn’t what the player wanted. I’ve argued this over and over again, but this is a clear case: Scott Boras isn’t Svengali. He works for the player, and when the player expresses his desires, Boras works within that framework to make the best deal possible.

The Phillies needed Harper. They’d spent a lot of money and talent on the 2019 roster, but they were a player short, at least, and Harper was probably the last chance for them to leverage their local-TV money until Trout’s free agency. Adding him directly addresses the OBP deficiency of the 2018 team (.314, tenth in the NL), and while his 2018 defensive numbers were bad, there’s a strong case that those numbers were a one-year fluke. You can get a wide range of opinions on what the rest of Harper’s career will be, but if you’re selling, I’m buying. I think Harper lands north of 600 home runs, 75 bWAR, and walks into the Hall of Fame. I think the Phillies just got themselves a bargain.

Here’s what it gives them heading into the ’19 season:

2B-B Cesar Hernandez
1B-B Carlos Santana
RF-R Nick Williams
LF-R Rhys Hoskins
CF-R Aaron Altherr
SS-L J.P. Crawford
3B-R Maikel Franco
C-B Andrew Knapp

No, wait, that’s the Opening Day lineup from 2018. This is better:

SS-R Jean Segura
RF-L Bryce Harper
LF-R Andrew McCutchen
1B-R Rhys Hoskins
C-R J.T. Realmuto
CF-L Odubel Herrera
3B-R Maikel Franco
2B-B Cesar Hernandez

Now, you can oversell the improvement here. The Carlos Santana-for-Jean Segura trade represented an enormous defensive gain, mostly because it got Rhys Hoskins out of the outfield. Three months later, though, we see a team that doesn’t have a center fielder; Harper has had awful numbers there, and his time in center really should be over. McCutchen crossed that line three years ago. Odubel Herrera’s defensive statistics fell off a cliff last year in all measurements, and the Phillies were easing him out of center for Roman Quinn late last season. Quinn, however, is hurt again, with a right oblique strain. (For that matter, so is Herrera, nursing a strained left hamstring.) The Phillies’ defense will be better this year, because it has to be, but there’s a chance the outfield defense will still be an issue.

Bench-B Roman Quinn (OF)
Bench-L Scott Kingery (IF)
Bench-R Nick Williams (OF)
Bench-R Aaron Altherr (OF)
Bench-B Andrew Knapp (C)

Setting aside the question of whether the Phillies will go with 13 position players, I’m not sure this is a tenable alignment. Neither Nick Williams nor Aaron Altherr is a center fielder, so if Quinn can’t ring the bell, the team still needs a backup center fielder. Scott Kingery may push both Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez for playing time. He’d do better with one role, as irregular plate appearances and being stretched to play shortstop contributed to his poor rookie season.

The Phillies’ bench is awfully strong, should they keep it together. You wonder if a trade of Nick Williams is a better use of a player like that, what with the starting outfield now signed through at least 2021. The Catch-22 is finding a way to keep Williiams’s trade value high with playing time at a premium.

SP-R Aaron Nola
SP-R Jake Arrieta
SP-R Nick Pivetta
SP-R Vincent Velasquez
SP-R Zach Eflin

I am not sure what Dallas Keuchel’s asking price is, but this rotation is crying out for a high-floor lefty. Nick Pivetta has a lot of helium in the fantasy community, off a 27% strikeout rate. Vincent Velasquez is a relief pitcher, Zach Eflin is an up-and-down guy. This is where it could fall apart a bit for the Phillies, and adding another pitcher who is a good bet for 30 starts and 180 innings, like Keuchel, could close the gap between them and the Nationals.

RP-R Seranthony Dominguez
RP-R David Robertson
RP-R Juan Nicasio
RP-R Pat Neshek
RP-L Adam Morgan
RP-R Edubray Ramos
RP-L Jose Alvarez
RP-R Hector Neris

The additions of David Robertson (on a two-year free-agent deal), Juan Nicasio (in the Segura trade), and Jose Alvarez (in trade from the Angels) lengthen a bullpen that already had a lot of live arms. Gabe Kapler was all over the map last year, chasing matchups to the extremes at times, ignoring the save rule at times, using Seranthony Dominguez in a two-inning role at times. I wonder if the addition of healthy veterans, ones mostly used in one-inning roles, and the return of Pat Neshek, will tamp down Kapler’s excesses a bit.

The Phillies had a long way to come after last season, which saw them finish ten games out of first place after contending deep into August. Matt Klentak spent a lot of money and talent upgrading the roster, and while I think you can pick at individual decisions -- I don’t love the McCutchen signing, for one -- he’s assembled a better team than he had a year ago. There are still flaws, and the question now is whether Klentak has the authority to exceed the tax threshold to add a missing piece, specifically a high-end starting pitcher. It’s better to win 91 games, make the playoffs and pay the tax than to win 87 and miss everything.

This problem is exacerbated by the competitive environment. The three best teams in baseball are in the American League, but you can make a case that eight of the next nine are in the NL, four of them in the NL East. The Phillies don’t have a lot of wiggle room. For all of the problems MLB has with teams not trying to win, the NL East’s top four teams have pushed the pedal down this winter.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, February 28, 2019 -- "Missed Opportunities and the White Sox"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"You can squint and see a path for this year’s White Sox team. Be optimistic about the combination of talent and reps in the infield and the starting rotation. Project 100 innings of good work at the back of the bullpen. Expect Eloy Jimenez to be a four-win bat from the jump. The AL Central is laughably weak. I’m putting my chips down on the Twins to benefit from that, but you can make a real case for the Sox as well.

"That case just would have been a lot easier to make with a five-win star added to the mix."

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, February 27, 2019 -- "Yasmani Grandal and the Brewers"

This is an excerpt from the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $39.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

--

"There’s a lot of potential regression in those top three lineup spots. Christian Yelich and Jesus Aguilar had career years at the plate, and Lorenzo Cain had his second-best season. The three combined to be worth 18 wins in 2018, and you don’t have to be pessimistic about the group to expect that number to be lower this year."

Monday, February 25, 2019

From the Archives: April 16, 2014, "State of the Game, Pt. 4"

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 6, No. 18
April 16, 2014

The baseball we watch today is unique in history, a max-strikeout, high-power, min-single environment that would be largely unrecognizable to baseball fans of 100 years ago and would look strange to those of even a generation ago. This week, I'm going to run a series of articles that looks at the state of baseball on the field, whether it's a problem and what might be done to change it.

In this final installment, I look at possible ways to change the game to address the strikeout issue.


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One of the most frustrating aspects of the baseball industry, particularly in the past two decades, is that it waits until a small problem has become a large one to address the issue. There are tendrils off this main problem -- a tendency to fix perceived problems, a tendency to let the media set the agenda, a complete blind spot about causes and effects -- but they all stem from passivity. At this moment, strikeouts haven't completely ruined baseball; they've made the game a bit less fun to watch relative to other eras, but that doesn't seem to have penetrated the awareness of the casual fan or the mainstream media, whose focus is still largely on home-run leaderboards and run scoring as measures of gameplay. Both of those figures are unremarkable, comparable to, as we hear so often, the way the game was played prior to 1993, so there's a notion that the game is back in balance.

It is not. Baseball is as out of balance as it has ever been. Velocity and strikeouts are today what muscles and home runs were 15 years ago -- at historical peaks that affect every single game. 2011-13 were for strikeout rates what 1999-2001 were for home-run rates, but while the latter was a product of short-term factors such as the double expansion; the shift in roster construction that created more pitching jobs and fewer hitting ones; bat and ball technology and a small de facto strike zone -- most of which washed out after '01 -- the former is the product of long-term trends in player development and player evolution that are unlikely to change. Despite the sports-drugs narrative that dominates this discussion, the reason strikeout rates are what they are today is because of the pitchers, not the hitters.

Pitchers have enormous incentives to throw hard and to strike batters out. Velocity gets you noticed from the time you're eating orange slices after a game, and it drives the selection process that turns amateurs into professionals. It's how pitchers are measured as they climb the professional ranks, and how they keep runs off the board once they reach the major leagues. Pitchers are selected for these two skills, and because of that, they've evolved to perfect these two skills. The curve, the slider, the splitter, the cutter all stemmed from the desire to throw a pitch a batter can't make contact with.

Teams, meanwhile, recognize that the way to combat the power all players have now -- nearly every player has some minimum of power thanks to end-weighted bats and big swings -- is to prevent contact. You may hear a lot of talk about pitching to contact and getting quick outs, but the trends are clear: teams pick pitchers who miss bats, or they end up like the 2013 Twins. Moreover, teams have learned that a great source of value is in one-inning pitchers with fairly limited skill sets who can be used until they break and then replaced. Look around MLB and you'll find an entire class of these pitchers making a million bucks a year or less for the task of throwing 65 innings with a 28% strikeout rate. Some do survive the selection process and eventually make better money, but for the most part these pitchers are asked to throw at max effort for a year or three, by which time they've lost effectiveness or health, and been replaced by someone else making the minimum. It's a brutal system, but it's on display every single night. Relief pitching is cheap, plentiful and increasingly fungible.

Everyone is acting in their own self-interest. Pitchers want jobs and money, teams want outs and wins. This isn't going to change, which only heightens the need for the game's administrators to address the matter. I am not sure there is a solution powerful enough to slow the trend towards higher strikeout rates that doesn't open the door to unintended consequences, but there have been some proffered. The most widely-read suggestion actually dates from the time of higher home-run rates and was designed with an eye towards homers rather than whiffs. In the New Historical Baseball Abstract, James suggested that a rule be added legislating the width of bat handles. Hitters were the first statheads, calculating F=ma and looking to a as much m as they could. Bats, once logs, have come to look ever more like paddles, with all the mass at the top, allowing for big swings and big rewards when contact was made.

I have never liked this idea, largely because I feel like it would have been a huge disadvantage for hitters to change the feel of a bat in their hands. Looking back at James' original writing, he does suggest that the rule be gradually phased in, with the minimums moving up a 1/20th of an inch of circumference a year to a final figure of 1.3 inches (from a bit more than half that today). That's a bit more palatable to players, I'd imagine; the problem is the players don't make bats, and James' suggestion puts a staggering amount of pressure on batmakers during the decade of transition. Enforcement would also be a problem -- you'd have to pre-approve every single bat in a dugout, because no one can visually ascertain the difference between a bat with a .9" circumference and .75". There's also the issue of the baseball world below the level of the professional game. Golf is currently dealing with this, as the technology of balls and clubs, placed in the hands of professionals, overwhelms the game's historic courses -- while making the game more accessible and enjoyable to millions of amateurs. Would the regulations on bat handles leak down to colleges, high schools, Little Leagues, or would there be a split between what the major leaguers use and what the rest of the world uses?

That's not even my biggest objection. No, while James' suggestion may have made sense in 2001, when home runs dominated the game and the goal was to hinder power while putting more balls in play, to make batters' lives more difficult now would make the problem worse. It's focusing on the wrong side of the equation; the strikeout peak is happening because the pitchers are too good, not because the hitters are being stubborn. Put thicker-handled bats in the hands of major leaguers now, and they'll hit for less power while striking out about as much. The hope is that they'd change their approach to value contact over power, creating more balls in play; the reality is that "approach" isn't the issue in today's game, it's pitchers globally averaging 92 mph with cutters.

(As an aside, James' other suggestion was to move the batter's boxes off the plate by a few inches. It was a different time, to be sure, but can you imagine being a left-handed batter in today's game and being asked to move away from the plate, given the way the outside "corner" is called? You'd have to retire.)

The last time MLB wanted to fix the balance between hitters and pitchers, it lowered the mound from 15 inches to ten, redefined the strike zone to make it smaller and, when those changes didn't move the needle, introduced the DH in the American League. (Note: it wasn't "MLB" back then, it was two independent leagues making their own decisions.) As I've written, I've done a 180 on the DH and now believe it to be a good idea for the game, because pitchers are not selected for their batting and haven't been for 120 years. The "strategy" added by pitcher hitting amounts to "if runner(s) on and less than two outs, bunt", because pitchers are so bad as hitters the risk of a double play outweighs the chance of a positive outcome. Pitchers are extreme specialists, and denying that in the interest of tradition or symmetry or whatever other nonsense is countered by this: .119/144/.161. Unfortunately, the DH issue is to baseball what the abortion issue is in U.S. politics, and it's really a non sequitur here, so we'll leave it be.

Mound height is an interesting idea. There's not a ton of room between ten and zero, but if current trends continue, that would be one area to examine. We know that a higher mound helps pitchers, and I'll speak just from one experience pitching in a real game off flat ground as a kid that it's freaking weird and difficult. Lowering the mound from ten inches to eight or nine would likely increase offense, but it's not clear if it would increase balls in play or just make the game even more TTO-oriented. We don't have a big lever, moving the mound five inches, the way they had in '69. As with anything under discussion, changing the mound height in 30 ballparks invites the question of what to do in hundreds or thousands more. In an age in which we're dealing with a rash of pitcher injuries, at great cost to the industry, lowering the mound comes with the unknown of what it would mean for pitcher health -- that's the best argument against doing so. Lowering the mound an inch is one of the most likely outcomes should strikeout rates continue to rise.

James wanted to modify the bats, but what about the baseballs? We know that the mid-1990s changes to the ball helped trigger the power game that followed, rewarding fly balls and the swings that generate them. It seems that if you deaden the baseball a bit, you change that equation and encourage hitters to trade power for contact without messing with their bat grips. We wouldn't want the balata ball of World War II, but if the baseballs produced were at the lower range of tolerances rather than the higher ones, you might see some results. The problem here is that it could take years for hitters to adapt, during which time you could easily create a Deadball Era III; the only thing propping up run scoring right now is home runs, and if you turn a bunch of them into F8s, baseball will start to look like soccer.

Both equipment solutions come at the problem from the wrong direction, trying to force batters to behave differently in the interest of aesthetics. While there is some choice, some evolution of batters, in today's strikeout rates, the real reason they are so high is the improvement by pitchers. Solutions for taking strikeouts out of the game should address pitchers, not hitters.

At a 10,000-foot level, strikeout rates are higher because we've reduced the workload on all pitchers individually, allowing them to work at maximum effort over shorter periods of time. Starters go six rather than nine -- just two pitchers averaged seven innings per start a year ago -- and relievers go one rather than three. Because games are still nine innings long and seasons still 162 games long, this has meant more pitchers have to be available for any given game or series or season. There were 11 games played Tuesday, and 79 relievers were brought into those 11 games. Sixty-three of those 79, four in five, pitched one inning or fewer.

If you're going to fix the strikeout problem, one that is most prevalent in the late innings, this is where you start. The people who obsess over the pace of the game often make suggestions that target specialization and batter-by-batter baseball -- usually mandating that a pitcher must face multiple batters before he can be removed. That's a half-measure. The simplest, most elegant and most effective way to start fixing the strikeout problem is with one rule change:

No pitcher can be removed once an inning has begun, absent evidence of an injury or at least six batters faced in the inning. A pitcher removed due to injury must immediately be placed on the 15-day disabled list.

This rule would get at the strikeout problem in a number of ways. First, relievers with large platoon splits would become less valuable, and those relievers tend to have high strikeout rates when facing their preferred hitters. The "six batters" clause virtually eliminates tactical relief usage, and ensures that a pitcher being removed mid-inning is coming out due to ineffectiveness and having allowed at least one run. The race to the bottom in IP/app -- and with it, the acceleration in K% -- would end, and with that, value would begin to accrue to pitchers with the durability to go two innings effectively, with the tradeoff in K% that implies. Pitchers whose command is unreliable -- often power pitchers -- would come with much greater risk because they couldn't be removed quickly if they didn't have command on a given day. With tactical reliever usage eliminated and IP/app on the rise, teams would be free to buy back a roster spot or two from their pitching staff and use it on hitters. This would, theoretically, improve the quality of late-inning at-bats, allowing for more good hitters on benches.

To be clear, I am not advocating this. I don't like rules that take strategy out of the game, and while a new set of strategies would pop up -- the decision whether to send a starter out for a seventh, an eighth or a ninth inning would become incredibly sensitive -- I think this would be a net negative. However, this change should force teams to value different skills in their pitchers, especially in their relief pitchers, which would go a long way to arresting strikeout rates.  It would, although this is not the primary reason I suggest it, reduce the number of commercial breaks that occur late in games. I continue to think this is a perceived problem rather than an actual one, in terms of fan interest, but the change would generate a lot of positive coverage from the one group most vested in shorter games, beat writers.

Because some significant part of the strikeout problem is roster construction, I could get behind a change that mandated a gameday roster. The completed-inning rule should push most teams back to 11 pitchers or even ten, with bench spots opening up in concert, but in may also be time for an explicit recognition that starting pitchers are their own category. There are a small handful of times when a starter is used as pinch-runner or pinch-hitter or emergency reliever, but for the most part, teams play every game with 21 men available. Let's make that a rule, then; expand rosters to 28 men, and allow managers to activate 25 for each game, with a maximum of ten pitchers. Ten pitchers will be more than enough under the new rule and would even be plenty under the current ones. (Just a tiny handful of games in MLB history have seen a team use more than ten pitchers.) This is a spot where I think MLB would be right to use force to reverse the trend away from carrying pinch-hitters and pinch-runners and platooning. Having ten pitchers available for a game is far from a hardship, and trading off three dead roster spots for three live ones is an absolute good. Too many critical PAs late in games happen between a dominant relief pitcher and an overmatched hitter -- let's bring back Johnny Grubb and his ilk to make those moments more interesting.

Finally, and there's a larger piece about this coming, you have to fix the strike zone. Some not-insignificant part of the higher strikeout rates in today's game is the outside corner to left-handed batters. It doesn't just affect pitches called out there; it affects every at-bat in which a hitter has to protect not just the outside corner, but the corner of the other batter's box. We need automated ball-and-strike calling as soon as is reasonable, because there are too many unhittable pitches being called strikes, and it's distorting the game.

Major-league baseball in the 2010s is unlike any version of the game ever played. While still enormously popular, the problem of fewer balls in play and ever more dominant pitching is eroding at the watchability of the game. We have not reached a tipping point yet, where the game loses its entertainment value, but if current trends continue, that point may not be far off. It is imperative that MLB, at its highest levels, displays the recognition that there is a problem, the commitment to understanding its causes, and the conviction to proffer solutions that make the game better, protect all its stakeholders and minimize unintended consequences.