Monday, September 16, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 16, 2019 -- "What I'm Watching"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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Worst NL Teams, Second Half

Marlins   19-42   .311
Pirates   21-40   .344
Rockies   21-40   .344
Padres    23-36   .390
Reds      29-34   .460


Those five teams are also five of the Brewers’ final six opponents in 2019. The Brewers, out of playoff position at the moment, have to be thinking not just about a wild-card slot but about stealing the NL Central.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 15, 2019 -- "Twins, Killing"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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"Down 5-2 in the fourth, the Twins got 5 1/3 shutout innings from Cody Stashak, Brusdar Graterol, and Trevor May, who allowed just one hit and no walks to the game’s final 17 batters. Graterol, a hard-throwing rookie who is bucking for a role as 2019’s version of Francisco Rodriguez, struck out three of the six men he faced. He needed just 25 pitches to get through his two innings, and looked for all the world like a devastating late-inning weapon."

Friday, September 13, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 13, 2019 -- "The AL Wild Card Race"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"The current standings say the Indians are the odd team out, and the third-order records say the Indians are the odd team out. If you examine these teams as they stand today, the rosters that will play out the season, you will probably reach the same conclusion."

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 11, 2019 -- "Christian Yelich"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"Every game counts the same in the standings, but not in the history books, not in the zeitgeist, not in the way we remember some great players and forget others. This is September, and if the Brewers aren’t likely to win the NL Central, they’re in position to snag a wild-card berth, to win a big game, to get another crack at a Dodgers team they took to seven games in last year’s NLCS. Yelich’s story, the thing we’ll talk about 25 years from now, isn’t about the .8362 bWAR he won’t get, it’s the gamebreaking double he won’t hit, the gapper he won’t take away in left-center, the scamper home with the winning run that never happens."

Monday, September 9, 2019

Newsletter Preview, September 9, 2019 -- "Dave Dombrowski Done"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 77
September 9, 2019

The Red Sox lost to the Yankees 10-5 last night, running their record in this key week against the Twins and Yanks to 2-4. They had long lost any chance to win the AL East -- they can, in fact, be mathematically eliminated tonight -- and they’ve now dropped nine games behind the Rays, eight behind the A’s, and 6 1/2 behind the Indians in the AL wild-card chase. Fangraphs has them down to a 250-1 shot to make the playoffs, and that sounds about right to me. It’s over.

The team seems to agree. After last night’s game, as attention in New England more or less officially shifted to the Patriots, the Sox fired president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. The move was a surprise for the timing; we’re not a year removed from a 108-win Red Sox team winning the World Series without dropping more than a game in any postseason series. If Dombrowski’s work since then had been lacking, both in quality and volume, it’s rare for a baseball team to move on from a successful executive this quickly. It’s an NHL move, a Premier League move, and you remember that the owners of the Red Sox also own Liverpool and wonder if they’re getting their sports mixed up.

Dombrowski may well have been a victim of that postseason run, driven by a number of randoms who had unremarkable performances both before and since. From last October:

“The fascinating thing about the Red Sox, though, is how those two elements -- the great regular season and the great postseason -- were achieved by, exaggerating only slightly, two different teams. Boston’s romp through October is illustrated nicely by a platoon first baseman who joined the team in June becoming World Series MVP. It’s not that Steve Pearce is undeserving -- he slugged 1.157 and had huge hits in Games Four and Five -- but, rather, that he represents the back half of a roster, featuring players who the Sox and their fan base had tried to bury at various times, that simply went off this month.

The Turnaround (ERAs, Selected Red Sox Relievers)

                 2018     2H    Sept    Post
Joe Kelly        4.39   4.50    8.31    0.79
Matt Barnes      3.65   6.41    5.06    1.04
Ryan Brasier     1.60   1.88    2.31    1.04   


The Red Sox were supposed to be at their most vulnerable between when the starters left the game and when Craig Kimbrel entered. In the sixth through eighth innings across 14 postseason games, the Red Sox outscored their opponents 31-14, including 11-5 in the World Series. (Seven of the 14 runs they allowed were by Eduardo Rodriguez.)”

There were two effects here, both of which served Dombrowski poorly. One is that he bought in completely to his championship roster. The Red Sox re-signed Steven Pearce while they were still cleaning up after the parade, and they locked in Nathan Eovaldi not long after that. The two have provided nothing this year at a cost of $23 million. Of the 25 players the Red Sox used in the 2018 postseason, 20 returned to the Opening Day roster. A 21st, Pearce, was injured at the time. The four who didn’t were Kimbrel, Kelly, the backup catcher (Sandy Leon, who would return), and the rental second baseman (Ian Kinsler).

Dombrowski didn’t bring in any reinforcements from outside the organization, a choice that may have been influenced by Boston’s position relative to the highest tier of luxury-tax penalties. It nevertheless burned him when the relief pitchers went back to their level and Eovaldi, shockingly, couldn’t get through a season healthy.

The second, related effect was that winning a championship set the expectations for 2019. We now judge teams by their postseason performance almost exclusively, ignoring all that came before October. A 108-54 Red Sox team that flames out in the playoffs doesn’t get praised as one of the best teams of the century. That playoff run, however, was the product of the bottom half of the roster, almost entirely disconnected from the squad that won two of every three games for six months.

“Pearce, Kelly, Barnes...Rafael Devers was benched during the Division Series due to Alex Cora’s concerns about his defense. This after a second half in which Devers battled a left hamstring strain and questions about his defense, conditioning, and development as a hitter. He ended up hitting .294 in the postseason and making a key stop in the ninth inning of Game Four.

The Sox needed everything they got from the middle of the roster because the front of it didn’t play well. Mookie Betts, the likely AL MVP, hit .210/.300/.323. Xander Bogaerts hit .224/.303/.310. Andrew Benintendi hit .268/.328/.339, and it was that good a line thanks to a number of bloopers and cue shots in the Series. The Red Sox offense in the postseason was driven by the bottom of the lineup, not the top.

OPS by Batting Order Slot, Red Sox Postseason

       Reg   Post

1st   1028    623
2nd    759    587

3rd    871    888
4th    968    828
5th    796    719
6th    684    639
7th    667    916
8th    607    464
9th    704    917


That’s Jackie Bradley Jr. carrying the players on either side of him. Bradley Jr. hit .200, but it was an incredibly loud .200, with two doubles and three homers, all of them in enormous spots.

It was much the same on the pitching side. Chris Sale, who will finish second in the AL Cy Young balloting, got the last out of the Series, but in his three playoff starts he never got more than 16 outs and had a 4.73 ERA. Craig Kimbrel had six postseason saves; he allowed runs in four of them and had a 5.91 ERA overall.”

The run the Red Sox made was driven by the flawed back half of a roster playing out of its mind for four weeks. Flags fly forever, and I take nothing away from those Red Sox. The lesson Dombrowski seemed to learn, and again this happened in the context of the worst penalties any team has ever suffered under the payroll limiters, was that the back of his roster was to be kept together. It was running it back with that group, rather than looking to improve upon it, that set the 2019 season in motion. If the middle relievers don’t have the best month of their lives all at the same time, and the 2018 season goes down in a hail of Astros comebacks, the 2018-19 offseason almost certainly plays out differently.

Was that a firing offense? I think it’s rash to say so, given that Dombrowski had a 30-year track record within the game leading up his bad offseason. Forgive me for returning to this again, but MLB has put rules in place that by themselves aim to cripple the teams that have the most success. Some are able to work around it, at least for a while, but when you’re looking for scapegoats for the 2019 Red Sox, you alight on Rick Porcello and Chris Sale and Dombrowski before landing pretty quickly on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The 2020 team, now helmed by a front-office collective, will face similar challenges, as the payroll appears to be pushing against the tax threshold even if J.D. Martinez opts out, and it will be $20 million over it if he doesn’t.

Boston's four titles in 15 years have served to mask considerable instability and even chaos in how the Sox have been run under John Henry. Theo Epstein was more or less run out of town by ownership after 2011, and Terry Francona was let go with him, despite two World Series in eight years together. Ben Cherington inherited the GM job and lost a season to ownership’s foisting Bobby Valentine on him. In Cherington’s second year, with John Farrell managing, the Sox won the World Series. Not two years after that, though, Cherington was let go, and then Farrell followed after the 2017 season. Now, not a year after a title, Dombrowski is gone. I understand the argument that it’s worked, given the 2013 and 2018 championships, but we don’t talk about John Henry like he’s a lost Steinbrenner cousin, and maybe we should.

As for Dombrowski, well, he’ll be unemployed for exactly as long as he wants to be. At 63, he may decide that’s forever. One thing to keep in mind is that while he made his bones building for the long term in Montreal, Florida, and Detroit, of late he’s been a quick-change artist. He successfully dealt prospects for veterans and pumped up the payrolls in Detroit over the second half of his tenure there, and then did the same in Boston. He’s probably no longer the guy you hire to start a decade-long project, but rather, the one you hire when you’re ready to move from building to winning.

Eyeballing the landscape, it’s hard to find spots where a team has a positive short-term future due to a good MLB roster and a deep farm system, and is also unhappy enough with its current situation to make a GM change. The best farm systems in the game belong to the Padres, Rays, Dodgers, and Braves, and of those only the Padres’ A.J. Preller seems remotely like a candidate to be replaced. The Indians have a championship core, but a weaker system and I can’t see Dombrowski going to a team that won’t spend.

If you broaden the search, though, you do see some landing spots. The Blue Jays and Tigers are more like the places Dombrowski landed earlier in his career, and perhaps bad fits for someone eyeing his first Social Security checks. They’re longer burns, and behind the front-line young talent, there’s not a ton of depth for trading. To the extent that the Marlins have any history, it was built by Dombrowski, and heaven knows Michael Hill hasn’t done much to secure his job. Again, though, I can’t see him going into a long-term build.

Reach back into Dombrowski’s career, though, and you’ll find that before he began building his own name in Montreal, he spent a decade on the South Side of Chicago, working his way up through the organization from the minor leagues. More than 30 years after he was fired by Ken Harrelson, an early sign he must have been good at his job, the White Sox seem like a strong fit for his talents. They have a core at the MLB level that is coming together. They have prospects who will be joining that core but enough minor-league depth to provide fodder for trades. It’s been a decade since they’ve reached the playoffs, and the current GM, Rick Hahn, has been in his post for six seasons without producing even a .500 team. In the same way that Dombrowski came in to profit off the work Cherington did in Boston, he could do the same with Hahn’s building blocks in Chicago.

This isn’t to say Hahn’s job is in trouble, but just to point out that if Dombrowski wants to move into his next job quickly, like Theo Epstein before him, the Windy City may be his most inviting landing spot.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 7, 2019 -- "Bad Tigers. Bad."

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"This is probably the low-water mark for the Tigers, who should get better starting pitching in 2020 and almost have to have a better offense. Until we see the tide turn, though, it’s fair to wonder how much more time Al Avila should get. He simply hasn’t brought in enough talent to accelerate the rebuild."

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 5, 2019 -- "Fun With Numbers"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"That’s Acuña's peer group, with Mays at the top, Beltran the midpoint and Davis the downside risk. He’s a player who, at 21, is at the height of his powers. He leads the NL in steals and in runs scored. He’s hit 36 homers. He’s a plus center fielder, a Gold Glove candidate, playing the corners because Ender Inciarte is his teammate. Like almost all players of his era he has swing-and-miss in his game, 163 strikeouts. But on a rate basis he doesn’t stand out (25%) and his K/UIBB, 163/63, is essentially average, better than that for a player with his power."

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 4, 2019 -- "Diamondbacks"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"Can the Diamondbacks finish this run with a playoff berth? As mentioned yesterday, they have just two series left with contenders, and neither may end up that helpful. The Mets are now behind the Diamondbacks in the standings, and the Cardinals could end up winning the NL Central. Outside of those games, the Snakes are set up nicely: seven games with the slowly-shutting-it-down Padres, six with the Reds, three hosting the Marlins. If you figure 87 wins gets you an extra game, the Diamondbacks need to close 15-8. Given the soft slate, that doesn’t seem unreasonable."

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 3, 2019 -- "Labor Day Check-In"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"Anyway, we’re left with the Cubs and Cardinals fighting for the NL Central title, always the dream scenario but one we very rarely see play out. The Cardinals will continue to have the opportunity to beat up mediocre teams, as they still won’t see a contender until September 13, when the Brewers -- who may not be a contender at that point -- come to town. Then they finish with a gauntlet: hosting the Nationals, a trip to Wrigley and Phoenix, and home for the final three games against the Cubs. The seven games these teams play head-to-head almost makes the playoff odds moot, as each controls its destiny in those contests. Just writing it up now, I can feel myself getting excited for that series at Wrigley in two weeks. It’s probably the biggest one left on the schedule."

Monday, September 2, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, September 2, 2019 -- "Justin Verlander"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"Verlander’s ability to weather career crises and continue pitching at a high level is a big part of his story. He reached the majors one month before Felix Hernandez did, and I basically wrote Hernandez’s career eulogy last week. In 2006, he won the AL Rookie of the Year award. Across both leagues, nine pitchers got Rookie of the Year votes in 2006; only Anibal Sanchez is still in the majors.

"While starting his career in 2005, Verlander is fifth in the 21st century in innings, and will be third by the end of the season. He’s second in strikeouts and will be first come early 2020. In 2007, when he was 24 years old, his four-seam fastball velocity was 95.0 mph. This year, at 36, it’s 94.9 mph. You don’t want to see the comparison to King Felix."

Friday, August 30, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 30, 2019 -- "What I'm Watching"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"Yesterday’s online cause célèbre was an article in USA Today in which 3% of Nicholas Castellanos’s career was used to make...I really don’t know what the point was. I do know that no analyst I’ve ever taken seriously would use 108 at-bats to draw broad conclusions, and no analyst I’ve ever taken seriously would be surprised that Castellanos, a career .274/.324/.459 hitter with almost exactly those numbers this year for the Tigers, would hit .350 for a month. Nick Ahmed can hit .350 for a month. With a few weeks of training, Nicholas Sparks might hit .350 for a month." 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 28, 2019 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"What I love about last night, and really this whole brief run by the Orioles, is that it highlights a point I’ve made over and over again: If you’re good enough to land in the majors, even for a bad team, you’re good enough to run hot for a month. You’re certainly good enough to toss six shutout innings on any given night. The guys I deride as Quad-A players, or up-and-down guys, or just bad, are still better at baseball than almost anyone who has ever picked up a glove. By the standards we use to talk about these things, Aaron Brooks is terrible. And yet he’s incredible."

Monday, August 26, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 26, 2019 -- "Sweeps Weekend"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

 "The Cubs aren’t really doing any of those things. This sweep exposed their pitching staff, which was repeatedly unable to finish off Nationals hitters. The Cubs struck out just 21 men in 29 innings, and walked 15 (plus an intentional pass). In the critical seventh-inning rally on Sunday, Cubs relievers allowed hits on 0-2 and 2-2, and a walk on a 3-2 count. The game-winning rally in the 11th was keyed by a 3-2 double off Tyler Chatwood. Cubs’ relievers have a 22.8% strikeout rate, 12th in the NL and in a group of teams largely known for their bullpen failures this year. They desperately needed to miss bats in big spots yesterday, and couldn’t do it."

Newsletter Preview: "Craig Kimbrel"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 40
June 7, 2019

For the fourth time in a bit less than three years, the Cubs have invested talent or treasure in a one-inning save specialist. In the wake of Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis, and Brandon Morrow now comes Craig Kimbrel, one of the best one-inning relievers of all time, to pitch the ninth inning and help Joe Maddon better construct his closercentric pen full of three-out guys.

Kimbrel, a free agent in June for reasons well covered, signed a three-year, $43-million contract with the Cubs. Accounting for the missing ten weeks or so, the contract is nearly identical to the three-year, $52-million contract Davis signed with the Rockies preceding the 2018 season. Davis is, in fact, an excellent comp for Kimbrel as a free agent, as a focus on their walk year shows.

Twinsies

          ERA   FIP    IP   SV     K%   K-BB%
Davis    2.30  3.38  58.2   32  32.6%   21.1%
Kimbrel  2.74  3.13  62.1   42  38.9%   26.3%


Kimbrel was a little better across the board, although both pitchers struggled with their command, and neither looked great in their respective postseasons.

If we drag prior seasons into this, it’s not going to help Kimbrel, as Davis posted one of the best three-year stretches, dating to 2014, of any reliever ever. In talking about Kimbrel online, I’ve had a lot of people throw his career numbers at me, his 1.91 career ERA and 333 saves. Those figures are interesting in building a Hall of Fame case, but that Craig Kimbrel was a dominant reliever in 2014 does very little, really nothing, to inform the decision about whether you want him pitching for you in 2019. As I’ve said over and over, you don’t get to sign Kimbrel’s 2013 Strat card, and you don’t get to put his Baseball Reference page on the mound.

This point is brought into relief when you consider where the pitchers closest to Kimbrel, as peers, have gone at a similar age. Kimbrel has already been an exception to the rule that these power relievers burn fast and hot. By signing him at 31, the Cubs are taking on not just financial risk, which they can afford, but performance risk, which they cannot. Through age 30, Kimbrel is the most dominant relief pitcher ever. That guarantees nothing. Here’s what the pitchers closest to him in career performance did at 31.

The Present (age-31 season, for best RPs ever (ERA+) through age 30)

              IP     ERA     FIP
Papelbon      70    2.44    2.90
Chapman     24.2    1.46    1.89
Rivera      80.2    2.34    2.28
Betances             DNP
Jansen      25.2    3.16    3.15
Harvey      10.1    5.23    3.61
Holland     57.1    3.61    3.72


Both Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are 31 this year, so those are 2019 stats listed. Betances is also 31 and has yet to pitch. Bryan Harvey’s career basically ended at 31. Holland was coming off missing his age-30 season.

Jonathan Papelbon is probably the comp you’re looking most closely at if you’re a Cubs fan. By ERA+, he’s the second-best reliever ever to Kimbrel through age 30. Boston’s closer was converted from starting in 2005 and made his MLB debut that same season. He would go on to close out a World Series and make four All-Star teams before leaving the Red Sox -- this sounds familiar -- at 30 years old. Signing with the Phillies, Papelbon had a 2.36 ERA over the life of his four-year contract, and even his final season, at 35, wasn’t bad: a 4.37 ERA and a 3.69 FIP.

Kimbrel throws harder than Papelbon did, and his secondary is a curveball, as opposed to Papelbon’s slider and splitter. Papelbon hit the market off a better season, and at no time showed the kind of problems throwing strikes that Kimbrel has in recent seasons, save for 2017. Kimbrel had a higher peak and, even in his down seasons, was more dominant with much higher strikeout rates, even relative to the league. I’ve been looking at Kimbrel through the lens of Davis, largely due to that spike in walk rate, but the arc of Papelbon’s career makes me a little more optimistic that Kimbrel can at least sustain his recent performance rather than decline.

Comps aside, Kimbrel does appear to be losing something. In the first four full seasons of his career, he had a 1.51 ERA and a 1.52 FIP, striking out 42% of the batters he faced and walking 8.6%. At the end of that stretch the Braves traded him to the Padres, who then sent him on to Boston. Over those four years, he had a 2.47 ERA and a 2.49 FIP, with a 41% strikeout rate and a 10% walk rate. It’s that last figure that drives my pessimism.

Ball Four. Ball Eight. Ball Twelve.

        UIBB%
2015     8.9%
2016    13.6%
2017     5.5%
2018    12.6%


Last year, Kimbrel lost a full tick off of his four-seam fastball, from 98.6 mph in 2017 to 97.5 mph in 2018. That’s the slowest average fastball he’s had since 2011, and the least effective fastball of his career. Kimbrel threw the fewest pitches in the strike zone he had in his career (43%), and when he threw balls in the zone, batters made contact at well above his career averages (77% last year). When you look at his breaking-ball command in the four years above, you see that 2017 really stands out.

“Curve, Low and Away, Count Goes to 2-1...”

        CB K%
2015    55.5%
2016    58.4%
2017    66.5%
2018    58.4%


So I look at Kimbrel and see a reliever who is losing a little fastball velocity and a little breaking-ball command. He’s throwing fewer strikes and the ones he throws are a bit more hittable. Kimbrel started at such a high level that he’s been able to maintain a reasonable level of effectiveness, but the arrows aren’t pointing in the right direction. I said often this winter that while the focus, with respect to Kimbrel, was on the free-agent market and its issues, there were also perfectly good baseball reasons to avoid signing him for the costs involved. I’ll stand by that today.

Whether the Cubs needed to do this is another question. Their bullpen ERA of 4.14 is fifth in the National League, and their bullpen FIP of 4.34 is seventh. They’re allowing fewer runs in the seventh and eighth innings than the league is, and as many as the league does in the ninth. The absence of Brandon Morrow and the need to rebuild Carl Edwards Jr. created some depth issues over the first two months. This may just be a reaction to a handful of frustrating moments: The Cubs have lost three games in which they led at the start of the ninth inning; all other NL teams have 11 losses, total, in that spot. Overall, though, the bullpen hasn’t been a barrier to success.

Record When Leading or Tied Starting the Inning

      Cubs     NL

7th   .829   .779
8th   .842   .844
9th   .846   .872


The Cubs are 3-3 in extra-inning games, 11-10 in one-run games, just to look at a few more places where the bullpen could have been dragging them down.

The Cubs may be a bit better today, because Kimbrel is surely better than whoever he displaces in the bullpen, probably Brad Brach. Over maybe 40 innings, though, this isn’t a high-impact signing, and it comes with more downside risk than upside.

--

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Sunday, August 25, 2019

Newsletter Preview: "Shohei Ohtani"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

[From June 14, 2019]

Last night, Shohei Ohtani became the first Japanese-born player to hit for the cycle, racking up four hits in a 5-3 Angels win over the Rays. The big game pulls Ohtani’s sophomore year numbers to .281/.350/.512. He's done that over about a month since starting his season late as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery.

In 135 career games, a tick more than 500 career plate appearances, Ohtani has shown himself to be one of the best hitters in baseball: .284/.358/.550, a 144 OPS+, with 11 steals in 16 attempts. While he’s yet to play a defensive inning as a position player Stateside, his baserunning has been impressive enough to support the reports we had on his NPB work. Ohtani would almost certainly be a good, perhaps even great, corner outfielder in the majors.

It’s been just over a year now since Ohtani took his last regular turn in the rotation, a four-inning start in Kansas City abbreviated by a blister on his right middle finger. Ohtani would make a seemingly random start in September, going 2 1/3 innings against the Astros. So it’s reasonable to say that for the last year, Ohtani hasn’t been the two-way player of mythology but, rather, a one-way player. In that year, Ohtani has hit .282/.353/.556. Left alone to rake, he’s been one of the 15 best hitters in baseball, with a 146 wRC+. Here are his comps in that time.

Oh! -tani (Hitting since June 14, 2018, min. 250 PA)

                     PA     AVG   OBP   SLG   wRC+

11. Max Muncy       589    .286  .380  .551   149
12. Mookie Betts    711    .307  .416  .524   149
13. Shohei Ohtani   375    .282  .353  .556   146
14. Josh Bell       602    .299  .385  .544   145
15. Pete Alonso     277    .258  .339  .598   145


Mind you, a lot of that production has come with a torn or surgically repaired right ulnar collateral ligament. We’ve yet to see what Shohei Ohtani can do at full health.

I understand the desire to see someone do that which hasn’t been done since Babe Ruth was hitting dingers and committing all seven deadly sins before lunch. Isn’t it clear, though, a year and a half into this, that Ohtani is a potential MVP candidate even if he never takes the mound at all, and that pushing the latter task onto his desk offers more risk than reward?

Ohtani was a good, not great, pitcher last year, a Statcast darling used on a six-day schedule who still didn’t provide volume when he pitched, who walked more than 10% of the batters he faced, who left a hole in the lineup on the days before and after he took the mound. If we pick this up again in 2020, his pitching duties will once again eat into his at-bats, even as the Angels have to manage his innings. Come Opening Day 2020, Ohtani will have thrown just 77 innings in the last 3 1/2 years. It will be 2021, maybe 2022, before he carries a true starter’s workload, if ever, and the effort to put that on him will keep him out of the lineup -- keep a top-20 hitter in MLB out of the lineup -- 40% of the time.

I wrote this on April 9, 2018, and I stand by it today:

“I’m pretty sure Shohei Ohtani is a five-win pitcher, and I can be convinced he’s a five-win outfielder. I just don’t know if we’re taking those players and making them into a four-win P/DH.”

I loved what we saw last night. I want to see more of it. Maybe that should be enough.

--

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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Newsletter Preview: "The King"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--


The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 11, No. 71
August 24, 2019

Tonight in Seattle, a weary king will claim his throne, and his subjects will rise as one to honor him.

Felix Hernandez, who at 33 may be nearing the end of a memorable career, will come off the injured list to start for the Mariners. Hernandez hasn’t pitched since May 11, when a lat strain sent him to the IL with a 6.52 ERA. Subsequent problems with his throwing shoulder extended his absence, leaving him to make his return to the majors with just a few weeks left in the season and on his contract. It’s possible that Hernandez doesn’t have much left in his body, making tonight potentially one of his last starts, maybe even his last start, at T-Mobile Park.

It’s been an awful end for Hernandez, who was on a Hall of Fame path throughout his twenties. He won the AL Cy Young Award in 2010, leading the league in ERA and innings pitched, and had a pair of second-place finishes in 2009 and 2014. Hernandez, born in 1986 and making his MLB debut in 2005, will almost certainly be the last young pitcher handled the way he was. Hernandez threw 84 1/3 innings as a teenager, the most of any teen since Dwight Gooden. Teenagers since Hernandez have thrown a total of 116 innings. Draw the line at age 21, and Hernandez stands out even more.

Never Again (IP through age 21, pitchers born after Dwight Gooden)

                               IP
Felix Hernandez   2005-07    465.2
CC Sabathia       2001-02    390.1
Jeremy Bonderman  2003-04    346.0
Rick Porcello     2009-10    333.1
Zack Greinke      2004-05    328.0


Just two pitchers since Hernandez, Rick Porcello and Madison Bumgarner, have thrown even 300 innings through their age-21 seasons. Porcello looks like he’s on Hernandez’s path; Bumgarner carried huge workloads, counting the postseason, but is still effective at 30. In the same way that Roy Halladay was the last horse, with complete-game figures we’ll never see again, Hernandez was the last pony, the last young pitcher we’ll ever see ridden as hard as he was.

The numbers, and they are legion, don’t quite do Hernandez justice. At his best, he was as watchable as Pedro Martinez, a big kid on the mound, as happy to be playing as you were to be watching, never missing a start, never letting down those raucous Safeco Field crowds. Even when the Mariners were just Hernandez and Ichiro and 23 guys named “other,” they were incredibly watchable for having those two.

It was easy for Hernandez at first, the big kid pounding a two-seam fastball low in the zone and generating both big strikeout totals and big groundball totals. When he lost a few ticks off that fastball in the early 2010s, at the young age of 26, he adjusted by using his changeup and curve more, posting the highest swinging-strike rates of his career after the first velocity dip. It was this version of the King, on August 15, 2012, that made history:

“If you were going to design a perfect game, you might not end up exactly with Felix Hernandez on a getaway day at home in Safeco Field against the Rays, but your design would certainly get you to the interview stage. Take one of the best pitchers alive, one whose upside on any given day is matched only by that of Justin Verlander. Give him a start in a park that suppresses offense like the '85 Bears. Throw him out there against a team that is as poor at getting safe hits -- not just this year, but over a period of years -- as any team in baseball. Have that team playing on the road in a day game after a night game with its best hitter for average on the bench.

“When I think about what happened in Seattle yesterday, my takeaway won't be Hernandez's electric stuff and superb command, though. I mean, those are on display every fifth day for the pro-rated price of the MLB.tv package, and if you hadn't appreciated the greatness of Hernandez prior to yesterday, that's on you, not him. It didn't take 27 straight outs to validate what Felix Hernandez can do with a baseball to guys standing across the way with bats in their hands. No, what I'll remember is Hernandez's reaction when that final slider crossed the plate and etched his name in the stone tablets of history. There was no been-there coolness, no professional reserve, no just-doin'-my-job handshakes. Hernandez saw the strike call, pumped his fist and yelled, then raised his arms in triumph as his teammates -- without whom no pitcher has ever found his name on those tablets -- rushed to embrace him.

“Hernandez has never pitched in a postseason game, rarely even pitched in a critical game. He's been on national television terribly infrequently for a pitcher who might be the best one alive. He's spent his career working in a small market for mostly bad teams as guys like me talk about him not as a Mariner, but as a potential Yankee or Red Sox or Phillie. In that moment, though, he wasn't a repertoire or a strikeout rate or a contract; he was a 26-year-old having the best day of his career in the sunshine in front of his fans for his teammates.”

That was, that remains, the greatest moment of his career. As has been well covered, Felix Hernandez has never played in a postseason game, despite playing in an era in which it’s easier to make the playoffs than it’s ever been before. Hernandez was let down by his organization and his teammates for most of his career. In recent seasons, that relationship was reversed. Mariners teams desperate for starting pitching watched Hernandez, fighting the second big loss of velocity of his career, become first an innings guy and then a drag on the team. Since the start of the 2018 season, Hernandez has a 5.74 ERA in 194 1/3 innings, suffering the indignity of a demotion to the bullpen during last summer’s pennant race.

Maybe Hernandez isn’t done. It’s an age of miracles, and in that age I’m loath to write off anyone, especially one of the greatest pitchers I have ever seen. In this moment, though, with a ERA like a shaky credit score and the injuries mounting and the fastball fading, it feels like an end.

I recently watched a clip of Elvis Presley in 1969. The King of Rock ’n’ Roll had lost his crown, too many bad movies, too much bad music, far too little care for himself. He took the stage at the old International hotel in Las Vegas on a hot summer night a fallen monarch, the charts and the jukeboxes and the airwaves given over to artists influenced by him just as he’d been influenced by the black artists of the south.

On this night, though, there was no bad acting, no misbegotten pop songs, no what-might-have-been. Presley ripped through his hits to get to his new songs, including my personal favorite Elvis, “Suspicious Minds,” unknown in July 1969. He brought joy and soul and passion to the stage, taking the performance to a level only the greatest ones have.

Presley reclaimed his crown that night, and if his story would end tragically eight years later, it would not end without him reminding us of just who he was. The King.

I wish for that for our baseball King tonight. Let’s hope for one more moment under Seattle’s skies, roof open to a cool August evening, Cascades in the distance. Let’s hope for a diving sinker and a darting changeup and just enough fastball to make them both work. Let’s give the King’s Court reason after reason to wave their placards and cheer their ruler. Let’s hope this man can rise, one time, to a moment the way he did when he was young.

Tonight, we are all King Felix’s subjects.

--


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Friday, August 23, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 23, 2019 -- "The Complicated Mets"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"We talk a lot about what the industry leaders, teams like the Astros and Dodgers, do to put championship-caliber teams on the field. When it comes to player development, though, the Mets are right there with them. The Mets’ top seven players, by bWAR, have been Mets their entire MLB careers. Five were originally drafted or signed by the team, and two others, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, were acquired as prospects in 2012 and 2011, respectively. Steven Matz, just outside that group of seven, is a Mets draftee, as is Seth Lugo, the current closer. Nine of the Mets’ 12 one-win players are products, to some extent, of their player-development program."

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 21, 2019 -- "TOOTBLAN Talk"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"I want to see Cody Bellinger hit bombs and Jacob deGrom steal souls just like the next guy. I also want to see Javier Baez snap tags, and Yasiel Puig cannon throws, and Byron Buxton on a dead sprint anywhere. It’s not because I was 12 in 1983. It’s because I like a lot of baseball in my baseball game. That’s the entire argument: We want more baseball in the baseball game."

Monday, August 19, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 19, 2019 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"Gausman had already become a two-pitch pitcher in Atlanta, emphasizing his fastball and splitter and throwing just a small handful of sliders and changeups all year long. In four games out of the Reds’ bullpen, Gausman has a 2.57 ERA and has struck out 11 of the 27 batters he’s faced. His fastball velocity has jumped just a half a tick, from 94 to 94.5, but his real gain has come in attacking hitters, throwing 70% strikes out of the pen."

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 17, 2019 -- "The Cubs' Problem"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"Even conceding that, though, the numbers are horrifying. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s first Cubs draft was in 2012. Just four pitchers they’ve drafted have pitched even an inning for the Cubs, and in total, those pitchers have thrown 56 innings and allowed 30 runs. Rob Zastryzny is the 'success' of that group, with 34 2/3 career innings. The Cubs haven’t drafted a pitcher who has pitched for them in the majors since 2014 (James Norwood, 12 IP). "

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 15, 2019 -- "Radio Thoughts"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"I’ve been vocal in my defense of the Red Sox, in thrall to their offense and willing to believe that the pitching will be just good enough. That’s in part staying true to my preseason picks, but it’s also just thinking they’re more talented than the Rays and A’s. The A’s not getting their pitching staff bolstered by internal options yet has soured me on their chances, while the Rays’ extensive pitching injuries have been a blow. The Sox are 7 1/2 out of the second wild card, so they have work to do. They have just four games left with the Rays, all on a trip to the Trop in the season’s last ten days. Their goal has to be to make those games relevant. That and three games with the Twins are their only remaining contests against the group of wild-card contenders. The Red Sox strike me as a team that hasn’t had their 11-of-12 moment yet; it’s coming."

Monday, August 12, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 12, 2019 -- "The AL Central"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"Jose Ramirez has gotten a lot of attention given his arc. The other big Indians comeback, less so. I was calling for Jason Kipnis to lose his job back in May, as he seemed to be continuing his three-year decline (.231/.306/.398 in 2017-18). Once one of my favorite players, Kipnis seemed a good example of the new player aging curve, sharply declining at 30 and washing out of the league by 33. From the day of the linked tweet, May 9, Kipnis has hit .276/.332/.451. That’s not setting the world on fire, but combined with Ramirez’s bounceback, it’s given the Indians two additional productive lineup spots they’ve desperately needed.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 10, 2019 -- "Third Third, Pt. 5 (final)"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

"There’s a subset of Yankees fans somehow frustrated with Brian Cashman, who signed all of the players mentioned in the first paragraph, because he didn’t do anything at the trade deadline. The Yankees have one of the best records in baseball despite playing half a waiver wire for months at a time, and somehow Cashman comes under fire for not bringing in one of the many #3 starters available at the deadline. Even without Severino and Betances, the Yankees have plenty of pitching depth, and no external starter available in July was a difference-maker. I might prefer three innings of Deivi Garcia in a best-of-five to five innings of Matthew Boyd or Mike Minor, even before you get into future seasons.

"Brian Cashman will go into the Hall of Fame some day, and he’ll go in part because he spent 20 years not making the moves everyone said he 'had' to make. He’ll go in part because he learned from the last shopping spree (just where is Jacoby Ellsbury?) that it wasn’t worth it. He’ll go because he built the internal team to find and develop the likes of Urshela and Voit. None of that changes even if the Yankees lose a short series to one of the next two teams on this list."

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 8, 2019 -- "Third Third, Pt. 4"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"The Nationals go to Citi Field this weekend with a chance to step on the Mets’ necks. The Nats could put some distance between themselves, currently two games clear of the second wild-card slot, and the pack, while blunting the 'Mets momentum' stories. Whatever happens this weekend, though, the Nationals have the fourth-best team in the NL, arguably third-best, and should find themselves in no worse than the NL Wild Card Game in October, able to put one of the best pitchers in baseball on the mound in that contest. This is a dangerous team, probably the team not leading its division right now with the best chance to win the World Series."

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 6, 2019 -- "Third Third, Pt. 3"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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--

"The Mets haven’t played a good team since June 17, and they won’t see one until Friday, when the Nationals come to town in one of the biggest series remaining in the season. As fun as it's been picking on the White Sox and Pirates and Marlins, it’s this weekend, and the three weeks that follow, that will give us a sense of whether the Mets, who now have five above-average starting pitchers, can beat out the Nats, Cardinals, and Phillies for a wild-card slot. As soft as the schedule has been, that’s how tough it becomes: But for three games in Kansas City, the Mets play nothing but good teams from Friday until September 15."

Monday, August 5, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 2, 2019 -- "Third Third, Pt. 1"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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--

 "The Blue Jays are another large-market team that will be running an extremely low payroll in future seasons. Cot’s pegs them at $50 million next year, and unlike the White Sox, it’s hard to argue that they are ready to add high-end free agents. Rendon would be a pretty good fit, it’s just unlikely the Jays are ready to make Guerrero Jr. a designated hitter at 21. Rogers has written checks in the past -- the Jays invested $450 million in players from 2016-18 -- but you wonder, and Atkins’s words aren’t helping here, if they’d like to sit back and be profitable, even with a bad team, for a few years. This winter will be very interesting."

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, August 1, 2019 -- "Delayed Deadline Drama"

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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"No one acquisition guarantees a successful October. We’re in a stretch in which the eventual champion was helped in the playoffs by a midseason pickup, and fans wanting Felipe Vazquez or Robbie Ray or Mike Minor were quick to cite Verlander and Aroldis Chapman and Johnny Cueto, all with rings earned after deadline deals. Baseball is harder than that, though, and even adding Greinke, even creating the best playoff rotation we’re going to see this year [nods respectfully to Los Angeles], the Astros haven’t guaranteed anything except that they’re better today than they were yesterday. That’s a good day’s work."

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 31, 2019: "Thinking Inside the Box"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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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"There is perhaps no one trade that makes more sense than the Cubs paying in prospects to acquire Whit Merrifield. He would provide a massive jolt to the offense, fill the second-base hole most days, while satisfying Joe Maddon’s need to manage Team Pretzel on others. I understand why the Royals would hold Merrifield or price him very highly, but the Cubs have every reason to meet that price."

Monday, July 29, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 29, 2019 -- "Finally, A Trade"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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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"In a season in which it seems like every contender needs to add pitching, the value of any individual pitcher is diminished. There are no #1 starters in this market, and I would argue than there are no #2s, although Ray could be that. (Remember that over two months, variance swamps everything.) There’s certainly no starting pitcher for whom you could trade who you can picture on the mound in the ninth inning of a playoff game. Sellers are trying to convert their talent into high-end future value, but the usage patterns of the pitchers they’re selling won’t allow for that."

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 25, 2019 -- "Trade Deadline Deep Cuts"

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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"Aaron Sanchez isn’t even averaging five innings a start this year, so moving him to the pen isn’t costing you as much in volume as it might for another starter. There’s still enough in Sanchez that he, just 26, could have a second career as a power reliever. As a trade target, he’ll get less attention that will Marcus Stroman and Ken Giles, and perhaps for that reason, be an easier pull."

Newsletter Excerpt, July 24, 2019 -- "The Giants"

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 Giants haven’t made the playoffs since 2016, and they’re not going to make the playoffs in 2019. A hot streak driven mostly by good results in extra-inning and one-run games doesn’t change what they are: An old team without enough hitters or starting pitching, just getting by with a very good bullpen. Getting fooled by three weeks of results, becoming overly invested in this roster at a cost to the 2021-24 teams that will actually be good, would be a mistake. The Giants shouldn’t be buying, and they shouldn’t be holding. They should still be selling off their incredibly valuable free-agents-to-be in an effort to make a real run at a championship, not a quixotic one."

Newsletter Excerpt, July 22, 2019 -- "Same, But Different"


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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"Same record, same division, same run differential, divergent paths. The Rockies can’t afford to waste a season in which their core has been productive, because that core is ready to win now. They should be burning some capital, though not too much of it, even if a wild-card slot is the best they can do. The Padres, on the other hand, are on a freeroll in 2019, and can best help themselves by keeping their focus on the future, on adding talent around Tatis Jr., Machado, Paddack, and Gore, as enviable a young core as there is in the game."

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 18, 2019 -- "Hot Trout"


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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"Trout’s injury paused his monster start to the second half, with homers in both of the Angels’ first two games out of the break. Trout is hitting .375/.488/1.188 in July with eight homers in 41 plate appearances, and more walks than strikeouts. The idea that we might be getting the kind of peak-peak performance from a player who could be the best who has ever played the game is tantalizing. Trout’s greatness has been about the breadth of his skills and the consistency of his play. Strangely, he’s rarely had the kind of run like, say, Christian Yelich did last year."

Monday, July 15, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 15, 2019 -- "A Year of Yelich"


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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"One year ago today, Christian Yelich was having the same season he’d had the previous two. He was hitting for average, drawing walks, hitting the ball pretty hard but on the ground a lot. He was providing value on the bases and in the field. He also wasn’t the best player in his own team’s outfield, being outplayed by Lorenzo Cain, who had the best MVP case on the Brewers deep into August. I would argue that a year ago today, we had as good a read on what Christian Yelich was, and would continue to be, as we did on any player in baseball. Yelich was exactly the same hitter in the first half as he’d been the previous two seasons, and in the period just prior to the break he’d doubled down on his worst traits, hitting the ball on the ground as much as anyone in the game.

"That guy has hit 57 homers in the last year."

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt, July 11, 2019 -- "Experimentation"


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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--

"There is enormous value in having a space for ideas, from the long overdue to ones borrowed from Calvinball, to be tried. Maybe none of this ever gets out of Somerset and York and Lancaster, but we’ll have given the ideas a chance, and we’ll have gathered information, and we’ll be able to offer informed opinions. These ideas are so far away from showing up in a Yankees/Red Sox game that the panic over them is wholly misplaced. What’s important is that we’ll be able to see them, see their effects on the game, and over time, pick and choose what actually works from all of the changes."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Newsletter Excerpt: "Thinking Inside the Box, All-Star Game Edition"


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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--

"Before these guys are left fielders and third baseman and first basemen, they’re just baseball players, and then they’re mostly shortstops and center fielders and pitchers until they get to the pros. The willingness of MLB teams to look at them as just baseball players, and task them accordingly, may be driven by roster madness, but it isn’t an adaptation so much as it’s a reversion to the way they, we, all grew up: Just playing ball."

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

2019 All-Star Draft with Will Leitch


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. 52
July 9, 2019

A year ago, I dragooned the great Will Leitch into drafting teams from the initial pool of 62 All-Stars. It was a lot of fun, aping what the NBA and NHL have tried in attempts to pump up interest in their All-Star Games.

We’re back at it again this year, with one extra round in the absence of the “Final Vote.” The rules are simple: We’re drafting teams as if we’re playing one game, from the first 64 All-Stars announced by Sunday, June 30. (Sorry, Felipe Vazquez stans. He would have gone pretty high in the draft.) The draft was conducted over email from July 1-5.

For more from Leitch, check out MLB.comNew York magazineSI TV, and his wonderful weekly newsletter.

Given the option to pick first or at the 2-3 turn, Will chose the second option.

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Joe Sheehan: Yay, I get to build around Mike Trout.

Will Leitch: You may remember last year, I went heavy on pitching. I no longer think this is the correct strategy. Even the best pitchers are giving up homers; you can throw a perfect pitch, and the way these guys are swinging and the way the balls are hopping, it can still go out. My goal for pitching will be to avoid the obvious dangers, but I don't think I can just shut you down any more. Besides, what's the fun of that? Heck, maybe we should just having batting-practice pitchers throw the All-Star Game anyway. We can play it in London.

If you're not going to over-complicate this, neither am I: I'll take Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. Even though putting Bellinger on my team means I have to hire a bouncer to patrol the stands, apparently.

Speaking of All-Stars, We're going to see my wife's family in Buffalo, including a Buffalo Bisons game tomorrow night. Bo Bichette and...John Axford! Still hanging around, good for him.

Joe: I got out to a Brooklyn Cyclones game last month. It was fun to be at a game where I had neither a professional nor personal expectation of knowing any of the players. Need to do that more. Of course, the Mets affiliate got run off the field. Plus ça change...

Hmm…I’d anticipated building a 1500-run offense, and you have damaged that terribly. So I’ll zig while you zag and take Max Scherzer, who your teammate Jamal Collier pointed out may have had one of the best pitching months ever, and Josh Hader, the most unhittable pitcher in the world right now.

Will: I go to way more minor-league games than I should -- Joe, it turns out I am addicted to this sport -- and so I've ended up on the mailing list of a ton of teams. So I'm pretty sure I've gotten some sort of alert about where Tim Tebow is playing and where I can buy tickets to seem him at least twice every day for a month. Just wait until the Mets finally decide to get a piece of that action themselves come September.

I like that I threw you off by going the opposite of last year's strategy. I'm gonna stay with that and make sure i have a center fielder: Mookie Betts it is. (You took the only real center fielder on either roster. It was Betts or maybe Gallo, who pretends sometimes.) Then I'll take Javier Baez, because this is an All-Star game and I want perhaps the most purely enjoyable player to watch on my side. Also, this reminds me, I think whatever team's players annoy John Smoltz more should be awarded an extra run.

Joe: I don’t get to enough games, which I think would be different if I lived somewhere else. I just don’t like the local parks very much. More excursions to Coney and Staten Isles might be the solution, but both are geographical challenges given where I live.

You broke the seal on the benches by taking Mookie over the remaining AL starters. I’ll follow your lead with Anthony Rendon, who is probably the current most underrated player in baseball. Also, the Nationals are just winners. This second pick has been harder; I’ll take one of three Dodgers starters on the NL roster in Walker Buehler.

Will: It is one of my proudest achievements that my seven-year-old now keeps score at games (using the same CS Peterson scorebook model I used as a kid). He actually told me the other day that he hasn't seen Mike Trout yet, and that makes him sad. I told him not to feel bad: Most of America is the same way.

I want more players to root for on my team, which is going to get tougher when Aroldis Chapman becomes a value pick. So I"ll take Alex Bregman and...well, maybe it's those three homers he just hit, but I've got Josh Bell fever right now. Remember that anonymous scout guy who hammered him in SI at the beginning of this year? I basically just assume it has been the same anonymous scout all these years, just an angry sad old dumbass who only signs players who look like Dustin Pedroia.

Joe: [checks current freelance schedule, whistles pass the SI criticism]

So is it harder to find players to root for now, or have we just raised the standards so high by caring about things we maybe didn’t care so much about in 1998 or 2008? Every time I write or talk about Addison Russell, I feel almost like I have to apologize for looking at him as a baseball player. There has to be a middle ground between that Reds broadcast the other day, which was appalling, and still being able to talk about baseball players in a baseball context. Or does there?

Having said that, I’ll now take some guys who make people smile. First, Francisco Lindor, whose numbers will be down because of the time lost to ankle and calf injuries, but who is still a top-ten player in all of MLB. Second, Ronald Acuña Jr., who is headed for a six-win season for a division champ and it’s almost like he’s been forgotten already. There’s so much young talent out there right now.

Will: [checks contract with SI.tv for "The Will Leitch Show”]

[blames the scout, not the writer]

[still gets a little nervous]

This is an extremely complicated question that probably can't be answered: I think everyone has to make his or her own choice on this. (I wrote about this last year when the Cubs traded for Daniel Murphy.) I'm pretty sure it's impossible to be a truly ethical sports fan, just like it's impossible to be a truly ethical anything. You just do your best and try to make the world a little better rather than a little worse. I'm glad I don't have to decide whether or not to cheer for Aroldis Chapman on my team. It doesn't mean that every Yankees fan who does is necessarily wrong.

Anyway! The world these days, right?

I should probably get a pitcher. I have taken the exact opposite strategy of last year. I'm gonna get me some Veteran Grit: Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw. I just want to be able someday to say I was in the same dugout as they were, even if it's manager of this hypothetical team. I'm pretty sure they'd kick me out pretty quick for making everyone listen to Wilco in the clubhouse all the time.

Joe: I almost took Kershaw last time through. He’s my favorite active player, and it’s been fascinating watching him make the All-Star team as 65% of himself. I remember Greg Maddux’s post-1995 transition from “all-time peak” to “very good pitcher.” This feels similar, but with a lot of health issues tacked on. Do you have a favorite active player? I presume Albert Pujols isn’t still that guy.

With two really good starters gone, I’ll pass on the category and take Freddie Freeman, another underrated star, and Joey Gallo. On teams with a lot of guys who can make your jaw drop, Gallo is my pick to lead SportsCenter (kids, ask your parents) Tuesday night.

Will: My favorite player of all time is Darrell Porter, for reasons that don't have much to do with aesthetics, that's for sure.

I have to say: My favorite active player is probably...Javier Baez? It's sort of embarrassing to say that about a Cub, but if I had never seen a baseball game in my life, and I sat down to watch one involving the Cubs, I'm pretty sure I'd walk away thinking that guy was the best baseball player who ever lived. Though I can see Fernando Tatis Jr. taking over that spot. Others I truly love watching, now that you mention it: Tommy Pham (I even have a Pham Rays jersey), Carlos Martinez, Joey Votto, and Trout of course.

I need a DH, so I'll take the best one in J.D. Martinez. And then I"ll grab Kris Bryant, who still seems somehow underrated?

Joe: Since coming off the DL, Tatis Jr. has totally dominated my timeline. I love that the decision to put him on the Opening Day roster has turned out so well for both him and the Padres. We could use more examples like that, and the Mets with Pete Alonso, to encourage more teams to operate similarly.

One thing about this draft is I’ve definitely leaned towards players I like watching, rather than necessarily the best ones. With that in mind, I’ll take Alonso as my DH. The most impressive moment I’ve seen at a ballpark this year was his homer off James Paxton back in June at Yankee Stadium. Just a rocket. And then give me Gerrit Cole, because all those AL pitchers sitting there is beginning to feel weird.

Will: Well, I was at the Pujols series in St. Louis, so that laps anything else I've seen in person this year. As we're seeing with this year's team -- and I know you don't agree on this; you've always been a "Cardinals fans don't know how good they've got it" guy, which I understand but you're still wrong -- there has been such an erosion in what has been generally understood to be Cardinals baseball over the last three or four years that much of the outpouring of affection for Pujols was about nostalgia for what the organization was when he was there than it was about him. I honestly have never seen the fan base angrier and more defeated in my lifetime...and I remember the Bob Horner and Scott Cooper years!

Time to get some more pitchers, and look, Joe: It's a run on Mets! I"ll take Jacob deGrom and then Will Smith, who isn't Hader but will serve just as well for my purposes.

Joe: I am right. When the Cardinals have their next sub-.500 season, their next year in which September is completely meaningless, let me know. I understand a certain level of frustration, truly, but since 2000 the Cards have finished below .500 once. Even the Joe Torre Cards mostly hung out above .500. In your lifetime, who’s had it better? The Yankees, the Red Sox, maybe the Giants if you weight championships heavily.

I understand you’re speaking to something ineffable, but if Alex Reyes and Carlos Martinez combine for 500 innings the last 2.5 years, I don’t think we’re having this conversation. The Cards were a 90-win team whose best pitching talents got hurt, and the locals talk about them like they’re the Midwest Marlins.

My daughter is nine years old and has never seen the Yankees win the World Series. That’s tragedy, my friend. That’s pain.

In that vein, let’s snap up Gary Sanchez, as I accidentally build Team Exit Velocity while also addressing the embarrassing number of AL players remaining. I guess I’ll take Ryan Pressly, too. These teams are…uninspiring?

Will: Well, honestly, I think that sub-.500, no-September season is going to be this season. So I'll let you know pretty soon! It is also worth noting that this standard has been set by the team itself. They have come into the last three seasons saying "we're a World Series level team" and then played nothing like it...but consistently have refused to acknowledge it. The idea that the fans are being unreasonable isn't supported by the team moving the goalposts constantly, which led to the worst moment of Mike Shildt's tenure last week, which he was basically like, "Sure, we're under .500 and 10 games under over the last two months...but what about our baserunning, right?"

I am not saying that Cardinals fans haven't had it good. I am saying they do not have it good right now, and frankly haven't for a while. Does that make them spoiled? Probably. But you find me a fan base out there that's totally OK with missing the postseason four years in a row, let alone one that sells out the stadium every night. Fans have a right to be frustrated when they are not getting what they pay for.

I always forget to get catchers. They're like when I do this with the kickers in fantasy football. I'll grab Willson Contreras so you don’t get the two best ones, and then Zack Greinke, who I fully expect to still be doing this when he is 50.

Joe: I think contending every year is pretty good. I can drop this, however. (That Shildt monologue was a doozy, though. Yeesh.)

In many seasons the catchers are an afterthought. The starters this year are great, however.

There are 22 AL players left and 15 NL players. I think that’s a pretty good summary of where the two leagues are right now. I’ll take Kirby Yates, a concept that would have sounded insane 18 months ago, and DJ LeMahieu. What a story he has been.

Will: Last bit on the Cardinals: One of my good friends here in Athens is a diehard Orioles fan. Obviously it is not a good time to be an Orioles fan. They're truly horrible! But they are already, simply by who they have in charge and that they are trying something new, better off than they were last year. They will be better off the year after that, and then after that. The Cardinals have been worse off every year since 2013. They've still been good in that time. They've just been a little worse every year, and may well be worse next year. No fanbase would be able to handle consistent degradation every year for six years. That the current Cardinals brass fails to recognize this is the most searing indictment against them.

(Listen to me and Bernie Miklasz talk about this every week on the Seeing Red podcast...IF YOU DARE!)

I have been avoiding getting a second baseman because I refuse to admit that Mike Moustakas is one and that Ketel Marte doing this makes me admit that I honestly have no idea how baseball works anymore. But i'll embrace the mystery by picking Marte and then taking Nolan Arenado because, whoa, no one has taken Nolan Arenado yet.

Joe: I would listen to you and Bernie talk about your favorite childhood toys. Polos versus button-downs. Ranking hamburgers by the eye test. Anything.

Arenado is the steal of the draft so far. You have Bregman, Arenado, and Bryant, which, I gotta tell ya, seems like a recipe for problems in the clubhouse. Those two picks also clean out the NL starters, while there are five AL starters remaining.

(Aside: I just read your Knicks thing. I mean, isn’t that what real fan frustration, and true ownership incompetence, looks like?)

All right, we’re to the part of the draft where you start to think about the players you don’t want to get stuck with, and pick accordingly. With that in mind, I’ll snag Jorge Polanco, who has been the best player on the team that’s the best story in baseball, and is the best shortstop left. Then give me Hyun-Jin Ryu, because it’s a little silly he’s still there and I need another lefty.

Will: It is true: The Cardinals are not the Knicks. No argument there!

We have gone on long enough that I can’t pretend Aroldis Chapman wouldn't come in handy. I'll just make sure he doesn't close, so the last highlight of my team's victory over you isn't him throwing the last strike. (I know many Cubs fans who were concerned about this very thing. No reason to be embarrassed of Mike Montgomery.) I am tempted to take Matt Chapman just so we can have a College Football Playoff of incredible third basemen, but I'll go with Luis Castillo, who's the perfect example of why the Reds pitching is so much better, which must be so, so frustrating for Reds fans.

Joe: Can you imagine telling Reds fans in March that they’d have the best pitching in the division and still be in last place? Crazy. I like watching Castillo, one of the guys whose innings are a priority for me.

I’ll take another one of those in Mike Soroka. I just hope his shoulder holds up. You do know your boys are going to be Braves fans in a few years, right?

[ducks]

This NL/AL thing has gotten a little out of hand, and there are some very good players left from the junior circuit. I’ll take George Springer.

Will: I have told my two sons on several occasions exactly what my father told me when I was a kid: It's OK if they don't want to be Cardinals fans; they just have to work hard enough to make enough money to find somewhere else to live.

I'm gonna cut you off at the pass and get me a late-inning base stealer, since this is just one game. It always baffles me that some teams don't groom a stray minor leaguer or two for just this purpose. A dude who can steal like Billy Hamilton but do nothing else -- I guess I'm just describing Billy Hamilton -- has outsized importance in one game; ask Dave Roberts. (The player, obviously, not the manager.) So hi, Whit Merrifield!

Also, Charlie Morton. Charlie Morton is going to do for late 20s pitchers with no stuff what Jose Bautista did for slap-hitting utility infielders.

Joe: The Royals have kept Terrance Gore around since the Clinton Administration for just that purpose. I don’t love the roster expansion next year -- I would rather have seen them stay at 25 and cap pitchers at 11, probably with an inactives list -- but I am hopeful that it could bring back pinch-runners/pinch-hitters a little bit. Even if you do, though, you have the no-singles problem operating against stealing bases. I’ll stop there lest I wander into another “we need more baseball in the baseball game” rant.

I’ll also reiterate that we’re picking from the All-Stars as announced on June 30, not accounting for injury replacements. Jake Odorizzi went on the IL as we were doing this.

I didn’t realize how little speed was left. Hmmm. I guess I’ll take, oh, one of the three or four best players in the AL in Matt Chapman, and then the league ERA leader in Mike Minor. Chapman is the AL’s Arenado with even less fame.

Will: I might need a late-inning guy to get on base for me, so Carlos Santana will work. (Do you think he even remembers being in Philadelphia at this point?) Also, Brad Hand, because we're single-handedly saving the LOOGY from its impending extinction over here.

My lord, there are still so many players left. This is like the Democratic debates combined with the 2016 Republican debates combined with British actors in the Harry Potter films.

Joe: All-Star rosters are too big. We don’t need 24 pitchers for one game. Once being an All-Star became a contract incentive, it became nearly impossible to make the rosters smaller. I don’t judge it, but I’d love to see 64 guys named, and then maybe 14 of those not active for the game. The Made Cut, Didn’t Finish for baseball.

I’m really selling these next picks hard, huh?

Give me Jeff McNeil, who has such an unusual game for 2019. I’ve compared him to Frank Catalanotto, but he may even have less power. Michael Brantley is probably the best player left, so I’ll throw him in as well.

Will: At this point ... I think I"m OK with them playing two separate All-Star Games at the same time. That'd be fun, actually: It'd be like March Madness, or maybe when they play the two final games in a World Cup pool at the same time. Or start one a little bit earlier so they overlap but not entirely, also like March Madness. I went to a Buffalo Bisons game -- Bo Bichette! -- last night that was a doubleheader with both games  seven innings long. It was so fun! Just two little amuse-bouche games that didn't matter and were therefore more purely enjoyable to experience. There are certainly enough players for it.

The Cardinals scored five runs in the ninth last night, so I'm now convinced they're going to go off on a run and win the division by ten games. (Being a baseball fan is very stupid.) So I'll take Paul DeJong -- who despite a recent downturn has added plate discipline this year, and he's an underrated defender -- and Lucas Giolito. If I were a young baseball fan with no affiliation, the Padres would be my NL team and the White Sox (or maybe the Rays) would be my AL one. (Who am I kidding? It'd be the Yankees.)

Joe: You’re starting to describe something eerily similar to the NHL All-Star “Game,’’ which is almost intentionally inscrutable. All I really want is more Trout, Mookie, Cody, Max, and less of the mandatory selections.

We’re not entirely down to the mandatory selections, but it’s close. I’ll take Yasmani Grandal, to have a lefty option off the bench, and…man, just five pitchers left and four of them were forced picks. I’ll take the only one who wasn’t, Jake Odorizzi, even though he’ll miss the game.

Will: It's probably time for my duo of Rockies: Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon. I think they're getting in the wild-card game again. (Against Washington, if you're asking.)

Joe: I don’t need to be sold. I have always had them in the wild-card game (against the, uh, Cards). At the risk of alienating you, as I know what you think of sports betting, I was texting a friend a week or two ago that I thought their then-odds of 8-1 to win the division seemed light. The seeming decade of disappointment they’ve provided serves to mask just how ridiculously good their core is.

I’ll make it three straight Rockies with David Dahl, and grab Dan Vogelbach in a “maybe he’ll run into one” play.

Will: While we've been doing this draft, the Cardinals have gained two games on the Brewers and are now a game-and-a-half out of first and the wild card. I'm going to insist that this draft go on through August.

I'll go with Austin Meadows (the Pirates honestly might have ruined the next three to four years of their franchise with that trade) and Marcus Stroman (so I can have at least one player who might get traded during the game).

Joe: Marcus Stroman’s FIP, by year, since 2016: 3.71, 3.90, 3.91, 3.82. He very much is what he is, year in and year out. I doubt there’s a starting pitcher in baseball with a range that small over even three years.

I’m happy to stretch this out as long as you care to. What should we draft next? Writers? States? Fruits and vegetables? (I think we’re horning in on Joe Posnanski’s shtick here.)

Will: We could really anger everyone and draft Democratic presidential candidates. Is John Means the Mike Gravel of this draft?

I'll take Mike Moustakas and...you know, I'm so giddy that Hunter Pence is doing this now that I’ll take him.

Joe: Our Elizabeth Warren versus Kamala Harris divergence alone might be worth doing. Although I am absolutely certain I can’t name even all 20 candidates who made the debates. I have some pretty strong opinions not so much about the candidates, but about a presidential race that starts 20-odd months before an election. I’ll leave it there.

J.T. Realmuto and Sandy Alcantara.

I think this locks in the last three picks, too.

Will: You know, I hear people say that a lot, and I don't entirely understand it. I mean, this is the most important decision we make as a democracy; we just saw what happens if we get it wrong. It should take a long time. We should put these candidates through the ringer. We should take a long time to look at everyone and decide.

I'm for Harris over everyone else right now, but that could change. A lot can happen. I'm honored to get to have these highly qualified, highly intelligent people -- and they really all are -- making the case to me and the rest of the country why they think the world will be better if they are President. I mean, those debates were great. Sober-minded, thoughtful people talking about issues that matter to me and my children and everyone I know and care about? Acknowledging serious problems and attempting to come up with actual solutions? Two hours of highly watched television about the most serious, precious issues of this incredible period in human history? YES, PLEASE! I am giddy to get another year of this.

I'll take John Means, because I want to have the Bryan LaHair of this year, and James McCann in case all my catchers fall in a well.

Joe: I finish with Tommy La Stella, who probably is more like the Bryan LaHair of this year.

I would agree with you if attention were an infinite resource, and if an electoral process and a governing process were independent of one another. Neither is true, so focus on, and the solving of, problems ends up taking a back seat to the never-ending election cycle. Unholy amounts of money are spent on our elections, money that makes TV-station owners in Ohio and Pennsylvania rich, but doesn’t really do anything for the citizenry.

A two-year presidential election cycle exacerbates all of these problems, and that’s before even addressing the content that emerges from the cycle. I disagree that the pool consists largely of “highly qualified, highly intelligent” people; there are some, yes, and then there are…others.

I think you’d be right in a better-functioning society. In ours, we need more people fighting the fires, rather than arguing for two years over who eventually gets to hold the hose.

Will, we have distributed 64 baseball players, some the Warrens and Harrises of baseball, some the Williamsons and de Blasios. There would normally be a bonus round here, but the “final vote” has mercifully been put to rest.

So let me just say how much I appreciate you taking the time to do this. You are my favorite active writer, and I am always in awe of both your dexterity with words and the range of topics to which you’re able to apply it. It helps, in this era in which our favorite artists can so often not turn out to be our favorite humans, that I can admire you as a person, a father, and a citizen as well. I’m looking forward to reading more of you, and hopefully soon, sitting in a ballpark together kvelling about Mike Shildt and Dexter Fowler.

Will: It was an honor, as always. As I've said before, I'm pretty sure I've read every word you've written for about 15 years, so almost all of my baseball opinions have been run through the Joe Sheehan laundry once or twice already anyway. I'm just trying to keep up. I'll see you at the Yankees/Cardinals World Series. One's gotta happen sometime in my lifetime.

Here’s my starting lineup:

CF Mookie Betts
LF Cody Bellinger
RF Christian Yelich
3B Alex Bregman
DH J.D. Martinez
SS Javier Baez
1B Josh Bell
C Willson Contreras
2B Ketel Marte (though I'm half a mind to put Kris Bryant there anyway)
P Justin Verlander

Joe: That top four is insane. I’ll go with:

RF Ronald Acuna Jr.
CF Mike Trout
1B Freddie Freeman
3B Anthony Rendon
LF Joey Gallo
DH Pete Alonso
SS Francisco Lindor
2B DJ Lemahieu
C Gary Sanchez
P Max Scherzer