Thursday, March 4, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, March 4, 2021 -- "Jackie Bradley Jr. and the Brewers"

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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--
 
"In signing Bradley Jr. on the heels of signing Kolten Wong, the Brewers have turned themselves into one of the best defensive teams in the NL. Remember, the best Brewers team of this run also featured the best Brewers defense of this run, the 2018 team whose .704 Defensive Efficiency Rating was second in the NL. That slipped to .691 in 2019 and .687 -- tenth in the circuit -- a year ago. This should once again be a strong defensive squad, with the primary question being how Keston Hiura adapts to playing first base."

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, March 2, 2021 -- "Very Bad Timing, and the Reds"

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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--
 
"There aren’t very many teams in baseball who were hurt more by the fact or the timing of the pandemic. Starting in the 2018-19 offseason, they brought in Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Nick Castellanos, and Mike Moustakas over the course of a year. The 2020 Reds were projected to have the highest payroll in franchise history, more than $150 million."

Monday, March 1, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, March 1, 2021 -- "Kim Ng and the Marlins"

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

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

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--
 
"You can see the outlines of a build here, with the returns for the stars the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter group inherited beginning to reach the majors. The catch is that they didn’t get enough back in those deals, have mostly been worked on the trade market, and their drafts have been disastrous for too long. Finally separating from Michael Hill was a long overdue move, and new GM Kim Ng brings decades of experience to her first decision-making role. It will be a year or two, at least, before it’s fair to judge her based on the standings."
 

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 28, 2021 -- "Kevin Mather and the Mariners"

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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--
 
"Change happens slowly, but it does happen. In baseball, we’re not far removed from Jim Bouton teaching us about the way baseball players treat women, not that far removed from Al Campanis lecturing Ted Koppel about the 'necessities' Black men supposedly lacked, not that far removed from a young Black superstar angering people because he wore his hat backwards. Change happens slowly, and in the same way that Fortune 500 companies now meet America where she is."

Friday, February 26, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 26, 2021 -- "Running Back 2019-20, and the 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.

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--
 
"That same management team is still in place, and we could see that upper-level development this season with Andy Young, with Josh Rojas, with speed demon Tim Locastro in center, with prospect Daulton Varsho. The Diamondbacks have a chance to win 85 to 88 games...in a world where that might get them exactly what it got them in 2019: a handshake and a free October. They needed to add a star, and instead they added Asdrubal Cabrera."

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 25, 2021 -- "Believing in Breakouts, and 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 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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"Still, the Giants project to have the oldest lineup in baseball this year, starting seven players 31 and older most days. As great a story last season’s offense was, this is going to be a slow, past-prime team at the plate and in the field."
 
 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 23, 2021 -- "The Tatis Jr. Contract"

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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--
 
"So when the San Diego Padres look at 22-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. and decide to keep him in the brown-and-mustard well into his thirties, a marginal-win/marginal-dollar analysis seems largely beside the point. That model no longer fits, not when teams are treating the first win as essentially free, not when teams are rejecting all but the very best players who hit the market at 30 and older, not when the league subsidizes not trying to win more than it ever subsidized trying to win."
 
 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 19, 2021 -- "Seven Free Agents, and the Red Sox"

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 Sox signed six free agents this winter for a total 2021 outlay of $24 million. Throw in their decision to bring back Martin Perez, and the Sox are paying seven free agents about what the Jays will pay George Springer this year. They will actually pay three players, David Price, Dustin Pedroia, and Andrew Benintendi, more than that to not pay for them this year."
 

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 17, 2021 -- "LABR Recap"

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 was happy with the draft last night, and a bit less so today. Passing on Kris Bryant and Justin Turner left the team with a hole. I’m too heavy on players, as many as five, who won’t be on Opening Day rosters. And as is standard, I’m light on steals, having drafted slugs like Schwarber, Sano, and Arraez."
 
 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 16, 2021 -- "LABR Preview"

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

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

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--
 
"Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Forget the 'best shape of his life' stuff. Even in what seems like a slow start to his career, Vladito has a 115 OPS+ in a bit more than a full season of playing time. We’re spoiled for comps, but his 38/19 K/UIBB last year is excellent for a 21-year-old in the modern game. The breakout is coming. His ADP is 55.8, which means I probably have to take him with that fourth-round pick or lose him."

Monday, February 15, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 15, 2021 -- "Three Relievers and the A's"

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 week, the A’s packed their bullpen, trading for Adam Kolarek, bringing back Yusmeiro Petit, and signing Sergio Romo. None of those names are going to drive talk radio, but collectively they create a very high floor for the bullpen, give Bob Melvin a lot of different looks with which to work, and all told will make less than $6 million guaranteed."

Friday, February 12, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 12, 2021 -- "Four Small Additions and the Tigers"

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 setup combination of Gregory Soto and Jose Cisnero is quietly very good. Bad teams often have bad bullpens, but this group is solid. The Tigers won’t have many leads but they should cash in the ones they have. With A.J. Hinch not needing to show much loyalty to anyone in this pen, the roles could be fluid."

Thursday, February 11, 2021

For Entertainment Purposes Only, 2021 v0.9

 

This is 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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--
 

Part of the season-preview package around here is a set of recommendations for the season win total over/under bets that have become popular in recent seasons. Those are based on my official predictions that come out around Opening Day. In the last few years, in response to demand, I’ve also done some early versions once the numbers are published. Looking back, those came out on January 9 in 2019 and January 15 a year ago.

I’d have done the same this year, but the lines have only come out this week. Like the teams themselves, the bookmakers seem to have been waiting to see if the season would be delayed, shortened, or both, and perhaps also waiting to see how major offseason storylines -- Trevor Bauer, Nolan Arenado, the NL DH -- played out. This week, we finally got some numbers to use, as the Wynn became the first book to publish a set.

The value in doing these now is that the early numbers are usually where the value lies, betting them before they get moved by sharp bettors willing to let their money float for nine months. In theory [long pause for effect] I should be a sharp in this context. Well, in 2018 my three early picks went 3-0. In 2019, they went 2-1. Last year, my only recommendation was the Mariners under 67.5 and they didn’t come anywhere near...oh, fine, we won’t count that one, on your little “technicality.” It’s a small sample, but pairing these with my official picks -- 5-0* in 2018 and 2019 -- you can make your Newsletter subscription money back pretty easily on just two issues. That doesn’t even count my occasional longshot prop hits, like Christian Yelich to win the MVP at 200-1.

(*Maybe 4-0 with a refund depending on how the 2018 Marlins bet (U63.5, final record 63-98) is graded.)

So what jumps out from the Wynn numbers? Too much, to be honest.

Pirates under 62.5 wins. The Pirates were 19-41, a 51-win pace, in 2020. They traded away their best power hitter and most reliable starting pitcher and their starting pitcher with the highest 2021 upside. Their big winter pickup is Brian Goodwin. I have said a number of times that going under the lowest number on the board is usually a bad idea, but in recent years, that actually has not been the case. Today's worst teams are worse than the posted numbers. This is my favorite early pick.

Similarly, I’d recommend the Orioles under 64 wins. The Orioles are just as bad as the Pirates, with what could be the worst starting rotation we’ve seen in a long time. They’ll play the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays 57 times and might go something like 11-46 in those games.

Five other picks jump out at me, but I’m going to resist making a full recommendation on any of them. See, all five are among the 12 teams that I have yet to cover this offseason:

A’s under 84
Brewers under 83.5
Diamondbacks under 76
Mariners over 71.5
Marlins over 67.5

Now, that’s mostly because these five teams have been inert all winter, so I haven’t had the impetus to write about them. That all five come from that group of 12, though, makes me wonder if my initial reactions to these numbers are missing something I’ll find by digging deeper. So they’re a light pass for me, but if you want action, take a closer look at them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 10, 2021 -- "Stability, and the Phillies"

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

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--
 
"There are two ways to fix this problem. One is to improve the defense, which as we’ve discussed, did not happen. The other is to get relievers who will strike batters out. This is why I’d put Velasquez (27% strikeout rate as a reliever) out there. This is why the Phillies signed Archie Bradley (27% strikeout rate 2019-20) and traded for Jose Alvarado (28%) and Sam Coonrod (throws both a two-seamer and a four-seamer at 98 mph)."

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, August 12, 2020 -- "Extra Innings"

 

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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--
 
"Entertainment value cannot be the only measure of an idea, even in a spectator sport. The integrity of the competition has to matter, and placing a runner on second to start innings in extras is deleterious to the integrity of the competition. We know this in part because MLB has said so itself: MLB will not use the rule in the postseason, because the league recognizes that it’s a gimmick unfit for deciding a championship."
 
 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 8, 2021 -- "An Empty Mound, and the Angels"

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 Angels not getting Bauer underlines just how poorly Mike Trout has been served by his teammates on the mound. Since his first full season in 2012, just two teams have gotten less from their starting pitchers than the Angels have.

Used and Abused (worst team SP FanGraphs WAR, 2012-20)

         fWAR
Padres   61.9
Orioles  63.3
Angels   66.2
Royals   70.7
Marlins  71.2"


 
 
 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 7, 2021 -- "Expectations, and the 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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"The Mets’ offseason is now carried by one very good trade, a trade that that might add eight wins all by itself. In acquiring Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco, the Mets added the best player anyone added all winter and arguably more win expectancy than any team did."
 

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 7, 2021 -- "Trevor Bauer and the Dodgers"

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 don’t think Bauer is the pitcher he was for four months in 2018 or two months last year; the control has rarely been there to support that level of run prevention. Still, if I had to bet on any single player to make 30 starts in 2021, I’d pick Bauer. He has a very high floor, which pairs well with the Dodgers’ collection of hothouse flowers -- pretty ones, to be sure -- on the mound."
 
 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 5, 2021 -- "A Busy Week, and the Twins"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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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--
 
"Yes, that’s right, I still have the Twins as the best team in the Central. The White Sox are right there, but the Twins added four wins, and maybe as much as eight or nine, with their moves in the last week, and they did it without making a single 2022 commitment or spending all that much money in 2021. The rotation depth is a real problem and may have to be addressed in season; the Twins’ relatively low 2021 payroll ($125 million, per Cot’s) gives them the room to add a starter in July. If the Twins want to push their chips in this year, they have some prospect depth in the outfield and at shortstop that they could put to the cause."

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 3, 2021 -- "Nolan Arenado and the Cardinals"

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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--
 
"Molina and the Cardinals are roughly where Derek Jeter and the Yankees were after the 2011 season: A declining great player wants to be paid as if only one of those adjectives were true, while it is clear that the player has more value to the team with which he’s spent his whole career than with any other. Jeter eventually squeezed three years and $51 million from the Yankees and was not a good player on his way out of the league. Molina won’t get nearly that much, but the dynamic is much the same. The player wants to be paid commensurate with his status, but his status applies only in one city. The team doesn’t want to pay for past performance."
 
 

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 2, 2021 -- "Negotiations and Love Songs"

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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--
 
"No, what MLB offered the players was playoff expansion in a Trojan horse. The league wants to make the playoff expansion it got in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season a permanent part of the baseball landscape. Remember, a year ago, before SARS-CoV-2 changed our lives, there were leaks of proposals that would expand the playoffs to seven teams in each league. MLB loves large playoffs."
 
 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, February 1, 2021 -- "The End of an Era, and the Rockies"

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 Rockies could fall to the level of a full-on tankbuilder team in the next few years, and while the definition of a 'playoff team' is in the process of being watered down, they don’t look likely to be a contender until the middle of the decade."

Friday, January 29, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 30, 2021 -- "Klosers"

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

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

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--
 
"You don’t want to take 2020 stats too seriously, but you would have thought that a shorter season would have presented less time for closers to blow up. It didn’t happen. The top ten in saves in 2019 collected just 15% of all saves in 2020."

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 28, 2021 -- "Four Small Moves and the Nationals"

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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"'But what about getting into game shape?' you ask. Easy. Isn't it said that baseball is the most individual of all team sports? Between Driveline for pitchers and the "elevate and celebrate" schools run by private hitting coaches, players are not only training to play during the offseason, they are preparing to unearth new pitches and swing paths that portend a skills breakout. They're already ready. An old fielding instructor hitting fungoes doesn't compare."
 
 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, March 18, 2015 -- "Rule 21 (d)"

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. 7, No. 9
March 18, 2015

On September 28, 2013, the Rangers were trying to hang on in the AL wild-card chase, and were trailing the Angels 1-0 in the bottom of the first. Ian Kinsler led off with a single, and scampered to second on a wild pitch by Garrett Richards. Rangers manager Ron Washington had Elvis Andrus, ahead in the count 2-1, lay down a sacrifice bunt that moved Kinsler to third base. It was an indefensible decision by Washington, a play that he would put on a few times a year, and it made the Rangers slightly less likely to win the game and make the postseason. To Washington, though, it was the opposite -- he believed he was pulling the lever that he gave his team the best chance to succeed.

A week later in the NL Division Series, Don Mattingly was faced with a series of choices late in Game Two with the Dodgers down 2-1 in the seventh. He ended making a notably poor decision, walking Reed Johnson intentionally so that Jason Heyward could bat with the bases loaded. Even accounting for the platoon advantage, it was an execrable call that contributed to the Dodgers losing the game (Heyward singled in two runs). Mattingly was excoriated for his tactical blunder, but even in the moment it was clear that all Mattingly wanted to do was escape the inning down 2-1 and give his team a chance to win a critical playoff game.

With the Royals charging back in the AL Central and AL wild-card races, Ned Yost was faced with a tough call in the middle of September. Up 4-3 in the sixth, Jason Vargas put the first two Red Sox on to start the inning. Yost went to his bullpen and selected Aaron Crow, probably his fifth-best right-handed reliever at that point in the season. None of Yost's dominant relievers had pitched the day before, and neither Wade Davis nor Kelvin Herrera had pitched in three days. It was a mistake at the time, and it would blow up when Daniel Nava hit a grand slam off of Crow. Yost, however, believed that sticking to his set reliever roles -- and thereby using Crow in the sixth -- was the best way for his team to win not just that game, but to make the postseason. 

In 1985, the Reds were the Dodgers' closest challenger for NL West supremacy, closing to 4 1/2 games out with a bit more than two weeks left in the season. On September 25, with the Reds six games out and running out of time, they found themselves tied with the Braves in the ninth. Rose brought in his best reliever, John Franco, in the ninth to escape a minor Braves rally, then pulled Franco one out into the tenth. It wasn't unusual for relievers, or for Franco himself, to go multiple innings back then. Nevertheless, Rose brought in Ted Power, who escaped the tenth and then allowed two runs in the 11th to lose the game. Rose no doubt believed that with Dale Murphy coming up, he wanted to get a right-hander into the game. That's the decision he felt would give the Reds the best chance to win, to stay in a division race, and to put money in his pocket.

Maybe Pete Rose bet on the Reds every night, as he now claims. Maybe he didn't, as John Dowd counters. The truth is, it doesn't matter. From Major League Rule 21, covering misconduct, section (d):

(d) BETTING ON BALL GAMES. Any player, umpire or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever on any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has no duty to perform shall be declared ineligible for one year.

Any player, umpire or club official or employee, who shall bet any sum whatsoever upon any baseball game in connection with which the bettor has a duty to perform shall be declared permanently ineligible.

Is it possible that Pete Rose didn't know the rule?

(g) RULE TO BE KEPT POSTED. A printed copy of this Rule shall be kept posted in each clubhouse.

Pete Rose played in more baseball games than anyone ever, 3,562 of 'em. he managed another 419 after retiring as a player. That's almost 4,000 games. Let's say, just to make the math easy, that Rose left the clubhouse twice every game, once for BP and once for the game itself. That's nearly 8,000 times walking past Rule 21(d). He was as exposed to the rule as anyone who ever put on a uniform.

He bet on baseball games in which he was managing one of the teams anyway.

Rose shouldn't have his ineligibility lifted. What he did is the crime that, in professional sports, cannot be forgiven. We have to be able to watch the games any believe that every player and every manager is in it to win for the success of the team, and not because he has money riding on the outcome, because once you lose that, you question everything. Washington and Yost and Mattingly were making bad decisions, but those decisions weren't motivated by the possibility of cashing a ticket. I can't say that about Rose. Maybe he pulled Franco because he was sweating the money and didn't want to risk letting Murphy face a lefty, and didn't think about the fact that to that point, Murphy had never hit a ball out of the infield against Franco in five tries. Maybe Rose was looking ahead to the next night, the next bet, the chance to use Franco in a situation where he could protect a lead and his money, maybe even getting better odds behind Andy McGaffigan, only recently called back up from Triple-A.

When you bet on a game you can influence, you invite the maybes. The industry of professional baseball can't have maybes. That's why the penalty is permanent eligibility, and why the rule is posted in every clubhouse.

Rose's ban has to hold. It has to hold so that Rose is the example for every baseball player who walks into a clubhouse knows that 21(d) is sacrosanct, and that MLB will end you if you violate it. It shows that no one is too big to lose his baseball life over it. Rule 21(d) matters more than three strikes and you're out, three outs and inning over, nine innings and we go home. It is the rule that let's teams charge for tickets and put the games on TV and sell gear and build stadiums and know that people will show up and invest themselves in the outcomes.

Rule 21(d) is the rule that lets me call Ron Washington an idiot without ever worrying that something else is going on. Pete Rose? Pete Rose isn't half as important, a tenth as important, as Rule 21(d). Let that be his legacy.


Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Hall of Fame Voting, January 26, 2021

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 a year ago:

“If we get through next December, though, all that waits a year after that is...Alex Rodriguez, whose ‘anonymous’ positive drug test led to a witch hunt by one commissioner, and David Ortiz, whose ‘anonymous’ positive drug test was handwaved away by the next commissioner. We’re headed for a 2022 voting cycle that features Omar Vizquel and the Four Horsemen of the PEDocalypse. The meteor has 23 months to get here.”


Almost. I thought Curt Schilling, a fully-qualified Hall of Famer on based on his playing career for about 15 years now, would get in this time. Schilling, however, continued to alienate some voters, and far more non-voters, with his support of far-right positions, up to and including election conspiracies and the attack on the Capitol. Added to a post-playing career filled with similar stances, Schilling’s vote total barely moved this year, stepping to 71.1% from 70.0% last year.

Schilling wasn’t elected, and in fact, no one was. Of the highest three returning vote-getters, no one’s Hall case is a referendum on their playing career, but rather, how the character clause is interpreted by various voters. Some believe Schilling’s post-career adoption of a seamhead Alex Jones pose is disqualifying, while others have, for nearly a decade now, considered Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds disqualified by rumors of their use of PEDs. To a lesser extent, each player’s alleged mistreatment of women has been a factor, one brought up more in recent years.

The two players went nowhere in the voting, Clemens coming in at 61.6% for the second straight year, Bonds at 60.7% for the second year in a row. I want to return to what I wrote four years ago:

“The story that got most of the attention, after the honorees, was the advance of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens in the balloting. In their fifth years of eligibility, two of the 20 best players in baseball history finally climbed over 50% in the voting, with Clemens one vote ahead of Bonds. The overwhelming consensus is that this means the two are on track to be elected by the writers in the near future. I don’t see this as certain at all.

The gains of the two have come during a two-year period in which everything has fallen their way. Last year, the BBWAA eliminated lifetime voting privileges, a move that seemed to cull many voters with a doctrinaire view of baseball and sports drugs. Bonds and Clemens lost raw votes, but their percentage, the important number, jumped from 37% to 44-45%. This year, the election of Bud Selig to the Hall by the Veterans Committee opened up a line of thinking that if the commissioner during the so-called “steroid era” (there was no “steroid era”) could be honored, then it was hypocritical to take a hard line on the most visible scapegoats of the era. With that fresh in everyone’s minds, Bonds and Clemens gained about 40 votes apiece, and now sit at 54%.

The percentage gains of the two are providing the illusion of momentum. What’s actually happened is a pair of externalities that have served the two well. First, the voting pool changed in a way friendly to them; then, Selig was named to the Hall. That explains all of their percentage rise, and even with that, the two are 100 or so votes from being elected. There are no obvious externalities on the horizon that will boost their vote totals. Even if you account for changes in the voting pool, which grows a little younger and arguably a little less Never Roids! each year, there isn’t time for a quarter of the pool to turn over. So even after the changes of the last two years, 46% of the electorate thinks that two of the best players in baseball history, neither of whom failed a PED test, shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame. I’m not sure how that changes over the next five years. If 25.1% of the electorate are hardline Never Roids! guys -- which doesn’t seem like an unreasonable guess -- the two never get in.”


We can probably interpret their stagnant vote totals as meaning about 39-40% of the voters are Never Roids! voters. Barring something unforeseen, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will not be elected to the Hall of Fame.

The first baseball argument among the results belongs to Scott Rolen, a laughably overqualified Hall of Famer who was the only other player to be listed on more than half the ballots, jumping from 35.3% to 52.5% in his fourth year. It seems very likely that Rolen, with six years left and some soft ballots coming up, will be elected.

Omar Vizquel...well, he’s sort of a baseball conversation, but he’s more felt to me like an update on Jim Rice or Jack Morris, an attempt to rewrite history to tell a better story. His vote percentage fell from 52.6% to 49.1%. I think there’s a ceiling on his support from a baseball standpoint, and reports in December that Vizquel has been accused of domestic abuse may have cost him some votes. Rolen moving ahead of Vizquel is a good sign that the more qualified player will be elected.

Billy Wagner (46.4%), Todd Helton (44.9%), Gary Sheffield (40.6%), Andruw Jones (33.9%) and Jeff Kent (32.4%) all gained support, with Jones’s jump from 19.4%, in his third year on the ballot, the most significant. Helton has a lot of stathead support and as a player strongly associated with one team, may soon be the beneficiary of the kind of push similar players have gotten in the past. I like his chances the best among this group, then Wagner, and then Jones. I have never listed any of the five on my non-ballot, but the whole group falls into the gray area for me, where I don’t feel strongly about their candidacy either way.

Manny Ramirez, suspended twice by MLB for sports-drug use, has leveled off at 28.2%. We can probably consider that figure a proxy for the percentage of voters who don’t care about sports drugs at all. Sammy Sosa picked up a few votes (17.0%), but he has no chance of being elected.

There were no qualified Hall of Famers among first-timers on the ballot, but the dearth of clearly qualified candidates probably helped Mark Buehrle (11.0%) Torii Hunter (9.5%), and Tim Hudson (5.2%) stick around for a second year.

We get to do all of this again next year, and it gets worse, as Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz join the party. As I alluded to a year ago, Ortiz now being on the ballot with the baseball villains of the modern age provides for some wonderful opportunities for hypocrisy.

Bud Selig remains in the Hall of Fame.
 
 

Monday, January 25, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 25, 2021 -- "The Core, and the Cubs"

 

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 have placed themselves into a no-man’s land: halfway into a rebuild, not bad enough to really be tanking, not good enough to be considered a contender in all but a technical, “the NL Central is awful and anything can happen in October” sense. You can probably throw a blanket over the Cubs, Cards, Reds, and Brewers at this point, four .500ish teams that have taken the winter off. If any of these teams just puts another $20 million into the roster right now, they can probably buy seven or eight wins and vault into position as the favorite."
 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 24, 2021 -- "It's My Two Cents"

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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"If the Cubs aren’t going to try to win, they should go all-in on 1970s kitsch...two bucks for bleacher seats, cheap Old Style, 81 day games, maybe even bring back Lee Elia for a couple of weeks, let him handle postgame interviews..."

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 23, 2021 -- "Financial Flexibility and the Braves"

 

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 one team that does truly make use of financial flexibility, however, is the Braves. With a homegrown core signed to contracts that underpay them for their performance, the Braves have eschewed long-term deals for free agents in lieu of picking up good players for a single season. In 2017, it was R.A. Dickey for one year and $8 million. In 2019, they signed Josh Donaldson to a one-year deal for $23 million, then at midseason grabbed Dallas Keuchel for the rest of the season and $13 million. Last year, it was Marcell Ozuna for one year and $18 million, and he might have been the league MVP had his teammate, Freddie Freeman not been."
 
 

Henry Aaron, 1934-2021

 

We’ve all seen the clip, of course. Milo Hamilton letting us know that he was “sitting on 714.” The aging slugger, the roaring crowd, the lefty on the mound standing athwart history. The fastball up, the big swing, the left fielder climbing the fence, the bullpen pitchers going wild.

The next thing you see is that Black man rounding second base, and as he does, young white men appear in the frame, chasing him, come not to bury but to praise him. In that moment, though, Aaron could not have known that. What he knew in that moment is that many, many white men had written to him, slurred him, threatened his family, threatened to take away his life for having the temerity to be both Black and great at the same time in America.

What’s a bad day for you at work? Too much to be done in too little time, perhaps, or feeling underpaid and underappreciated. Maybe someone else got the promotion, the bigger office, the bigger check. Maybe you made a mistake, measured once and cut twice, or thought it was “lefty loosey righty tighty” and now you’re shins deep in what is probably water but you can’t be sure. That’s a bad day. Maybe you got fired. That’s a very bad day.

Henry Aaron’s bad days had death threats. Hank Aaron’s bad days involved the FBI, and private security, and worrying whether someone was going to kill his kids. As it became clear, in 1973, that Aaron was going to set the all-time home-run record, the wave of hatred visited upon him grew. In the middle of all that, at 39 years old, with five children and soon a new wife, Aaron was the second-best player on his team, hitting 40 home runs.

I watch that clip, Aaron being chased by two young white men on a spring night in the South, white men who for all he knew wrote some of those letters, white men like the white men who had been chasing Black men in the South for a hundred years, not to pat their backs but to put them on their backs, not to celebrate their lives but to end them. Aaron couldn’t have known who these men were or what they wanted. He’d have been well within his rights to slug them, to curse them, to assume they were a threat to him.

Aaron accepted their congratulations, lightly shook them off, and continued toward third base, then on to home, and into the history books.

I wonder sometimes what Aaron’s life would have been like had the Braves never left Milwaukee. He and the ballclub both arrived there in 1954 1957, Aaron from A ball by way of the Negro American League and Mobile, Ala., the Braves by way of Boston. For a few years there they both had it good. Aaron won the NL MVP award in 1954, the Braves won the World Series in 1957. A few years later, though, the fans stopped coming, even to see one of the game’s true superstars, and in 1966 the Braves made their second move in 12 years, to Atlanta.

Aaron had 398 homers at that point, still putting up superstar seasons, well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Had the Brewers stuck around in Milwaukee, though, he’d have continued playing in a park that was poor-to-middling for a hitter, gone through Deadball II in the late 1960s there, maybe seen his numbers slide. Moving to a great hitter’s park in Atlanta, though, deemed the Launching Pad, helped him lead the NL in homers in 1966 and 1967, helped him come out of the low-offense era with 44 homers and a third-place MVP finish in 1969. In 1971 he hit 47 homers and again finished third in the MVP voting, moving to within 75 homers of Ruth’s 714. Aaron hit 241 home runs in his first six seasons in Atlanta, his age 32 through 37 seasons, an accomplishment only Ruth himself (296) had ever bested.

Maybe in Milwaukee, he has 25 or 30 fewer homers at this point, and projected to five or so fewer a year going forward. Maybe the team continues to trundle along, drawing poorly, the memories of 1957 and 1958 fading. Maybe it’s not as much fun to play baseball, and even the coming of the designated hitter rule isn’t much of an enticement. What if Aaron had caught Willie Mays with 661 homers in 1973 or 1974 and decided that was enough, retiring as one of the five or six best players ever, never challenging Ruth, never chasing a hallowed record as a Black man in the South? What if there had been no letters, no threats, no fear?

We honor Aaron for the strength he had to show, but no one should have to show the strength that he showed.

Aaron’s breaking the record and eventually retiring as the game’s home-run king warped his position in history as well. That clip, that swing, that trip around the bases...it’s what we remember. It overwhelms everything else. The image of a 39-year-old man with a 39-year-old body loping around the bases does Aaron an injustice. Had Aaron finished his career as a Milwaukee Brave, short of 700 homers, would other images come to mind more easily? The wristy pull power? The strong arm and excellent range in right field? That Aaron was once a 30/30 man before we cared about those numbers? Would we remember the man and the player more than we do one number, one home run?  Aaron was probably the second-best player who had ever lived when he retired, only his peer Mays on his level.

Henry Aaron is one of the best baseball players ever, and he endured more to be part of that group than any player ever did. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 21, 2021 -- "George Springer and the Blue Jays"

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

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

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--
 
"This could go either way. The Jays could stick with what they have, throw defense out the window and hope to score enough to make it not matter. They could also sign a plus defender at center or third, push everyone down and have two good hitters on the bench most days. Had they signed Michael Brantley, which was the hot rumor 24 hours ago, they’d have exacerbated the lineup problem while giving the offense the exact kind of .290/.360/.450 lefty hitter it needs."
 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 18, 2021 -- "DJ LeMahieu and the Yankees"

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’s most impressive, and the biggest reason to like this deal, is LeMahieu’s contact rate. LeMahieu has the 14th-lowest strikeout rate in baseball the last two years, and his combination of contact and power is rare -- among the top 25 players in contact rate, just six have slugged at least .500. LeMahieu, since turning 30, has a much better contact rate than he did in Colorado, and better than even his best couple of years with the Rockies. Everyone else is striking out more, and LeMahieu is striking out less."
 
 
 
 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 15, 2021 -- "From the Archives: Chief Baseball Officer"

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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--
 
"With that said, though, hiring Epstein is the first signal we’ve gotten from MLB that it recognizes that pushing a 25% strikeout rate, with close to half of all runs scored on home runs, is a potential problem. In hiring Epstein to focus on gameplay, those running the league have not only acknowledged a problem, they’ve brought someone in whose primary task is thinking about how to fix it."

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 14, 2021 -- "The Orioles and Pirates"

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

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

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--
 
"This is a bad, and not terribly watchable, baseball team. Adley Rutschman is a wonderful prospect but given the lost year there’s no reason to push him to the majors. Hall and Rodriguez would help the watchability if they make the team this summer. Mostly, though, the Orioles are about where the Astros were in 2011, needing to build the talent base, and with the actual team on the field a tertiary concern."
 
 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, January 13, 2021 -- "Liam Hendriks and the White Sox"

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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--
 
"I think the Sox are done making moves, but man, signing Joc Pederson or Michael Brantley would just make this lineup ridiculous. Nothing against Engel, coming off the best offensive season of his career, but he’s a non-hitter better suited for the role of fifth outfielder and defensive replacement. Adding a free-agent outfielder would also strengthen a weak bench."
 
 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, January 7, 2021 -- "A Grand Bargain"

 

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

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

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

--
 

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 12, No. 115
January 7, 2021

You’ve surely seen that league owners have expressed a desire to begin the 2021 season at some point after the scheduled Opening Day of April 1. With SARS-CoV-2 spreading uncontrolled in the United States, and the vaccine rollout unlikely to make an impact on public life for at least a few months, teams would rather push back the start of the season or perhaps shorten it altogether, in the hopes of playing as few games as possible without fans being permitted to attend.

This isn’t an entirely unreasonable position -- it’s a spectator sport, after all! MLB pushed through a nine-week season with zero attendance last year, nearly the bare minimum it was willing to put on without fans in the stands. That partial season resulted in losses totaling eleventeen trillion dollars, by MLB's claims, or about $1.4 billion, per research by Baseball Prospectus’s Rob Mains.

On the other hand, that $45 million or so in losses per team is comparable to the average profit in 2019, and 2019 was at least the 16th consecutive season in which the league ran in the black. That doesn’t include the $2 billion team owners gained by selling off BAMtech to Disney, money that never made it into the baseball ecosystem. Owners and their defenders will tell you that baseball is a business, and in business there is no guarantee of profits or guaranteed immunity to losses. Yet for most of MLB's 21st century the latter had been the case.

The players, for their part, have no interest in a shorter season, certainly not after a 2020 in which they made a third or so of their expected pay. Their interest in a 162-game season in which they make every dollar they have coming to them is no doubt heightened by the impending threat of a lockout in 2022. The Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December, and the upcoming negotiations have long been expected to be contentious. Nothing that happened in the last 12 months has lessened that expectation.

I’ve been trying to figure out where the middle ground is, at least in the short term. The medium and long term, shaping the business of baseball, we can get to later. The question at hand is how to bridge the owners’ reasonable desire to have fans in the stands for as much of 2021 as possible, with the players’ reasonable desire to get 100% of their 2021 pay. That’s the default setting, remember; the CBA mandates the length of the schedule absent a collectively bargained agreement to change it.

At first I thought about deferral schemes. Players could agree to a shorter schedule but be paid, over an extended period of time, for a full one. Say, a 132-game schedule starting in May; that’s 81.4% of 162. The remaining 19.6% of a player’s salary might get paid in 2022 and 2023, with interest. The players could even agree to a token pay cut as an acknowledgement of the circumstances, maybe instead of deferring it all, take a 5% haircut and defer 14.6%. Maybe a sliding scale that takes a bit more from the highest-paid players while protecting the large and growing number of players who make the minimum or not much more. The structure seems reasonable, and you can play with the amounts.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think taking less isn’t going to fly for the players heading into 2022, and effectively financing lockout insurance isn’t going to fly for the owners. From a labor dynamics standpoint, it would mean that each day of a lockout next March moves the owners closer to those back payments for 2021, payments that would come against a backdrop of no revenue coming in. While I think this would do wonders for the chance of a 2022 season, it’s probably a non-starter for the league.

The pandemic is a problem, but for baseball, 2022 is the problem. The players have to get out from under a bad CBA on the heels of the previous bad CBA. They’ve been working almost a decade now under a rule set that is costing them money every day. For the first time since 2002, it seems likely that it will take a work stoppage of some kind to get to a new rule set. Any decision the players make about 2021 affects their ability to fight a war in 2022. The upcoming labor battle would have been difficult under most circumstances; it is now going to occur after two years in which baseball had total attendance of around 20 million, combined, and revenues of 40-60% of what they were in 2019. Baseball team sold 68 million tickets in 2019, and league revenues were $10.5 billion.

So let’s put 2022 on the table as part of a grand bargain.

The players agree to a shorter 2021 schedule and salary deferrals. The specifics are negotiable, but the numbers above seem like a starting point. Begin a 132-game season in May, with the players taking a small pay cut, one that is smaller than the proportion of the season lost, and deferring part of the remainder into the next two years. We’re guessing as to how many fans will be able to attend games this year, but I think “not very many anywhere, in April” is a pretty good call. Cut the season by much more than that, however -- I suspect the league would happily wait until summer -- and you start to create risks around fan habits, as well as real damage to players’ careers.

In exchange for the shortened season and pay concessions, the owners agree to not lock the players out through the end of the 2022 World Series. This means that deferred payments they would make in 2022 aren’t serving as a lockout fund for the players. It also gets that brutal negotiation away from these two terrible years for the baseball industry, and assures one hopefully normal season, with hopefully normal revenue, before the two sides have to sit at the table.

This isn’t perfect. For one, no-lockout pledges are normally paired with no-strike pledges. In 1994, the MLBPA’s Don Fehr tried to reach a deal with Hall of Famer Bud Selig to avert a war: Agree to not lock the players out in 1995, and the players won’t strike in 1994. Selig refused, because it was his plan to bargain to a false impasse, impose a new system, use replacement players if necessary, and have all of that thrown out of court by a future Supreme Court justice. OK, maybe not that last part.

Conceding the right to lock the players out without getting a no-strike pledge in return would be an imbalance. However, I don’t think the owners are taking a significant risk because I don’t think the players can pull off a strike. This isn’t the union of Marvin Miller and Don Fehr anymore. There is virtually no institutional memory, and not only are there no players left from 1994-95, there aren’t all that many who played with players who went through that.

Baseball alienated many fans last year with its protracted negotiation over what the 2020 season would look like. It has this labor war hanging over the 2022 season. What it doesn’t need is a nasty fight over what the 2021 season will be, or worse, another significantly shortened campaign followed by, potentially, another one in the aftermath of a lockout. You could play 200 games over three years. You could ruin a mini-generation of young players, and ensure that no one for a full generation makes a run at career records, the kind of stories that drive interest in the game. You could become the NHL, a sport that has never fully recovered from its lost 2004-05 season.

An agreement to play a shorter season in exchange for a no-lockout pledge gives the owners a break on playing games without fans in the stands. It retains most of the players’ 2021 pay. It gets everyone out from under the shadow of a lockout, at least for a year. It guarantees consecutive baseball seasons that look like baseball seasons, putting some buffer between a pandemic year and a possible lockout year.
 

Saturday, January 9, 2021

"Trusting the Defense"

 
We’re embarking on three NFL playoff games today, ten hours of football, a red-letter day for American sports fans.

At some point during this pigskin feast, a team is going to be faced with a decision on fourth down, maybe something easy, like fourth-and-nine from its own 38, or harder, like fourth-and-three from the opponent’s 46. When that team elects to punt, it may go without comment, but if one of the broadcasters does make a remark, you can bet your bottom dollar he’ll say something about the coach trusting his defense.

The thing is, he’ll have it all wrong. The coach isn’t trusting anyone. He’s trusting land.

The fourth-down conversation has come a long way since Bill Belichick went for it inside his own 30, 11 years ago. In the same way that baseball statheads can see their influence in the decline of the sacrifice bunt and the intentional walk, football statheads’ most visible imprint has come on fourth down. As Kevin Clark wrote in the linked piece, teams are going for it on fourth and short about twice as often as they did a decade ago.

When they don’t, though, we get the same tired refrain. In fact, there’s nothing a coach does that is less trusting of his team than punting. In that moment, he’s saying these things:

-- “I don’t trust you guys on offense to pick up the first down. You’re not good enough to advance the ball past the line to gain.”

-- “When the offense fails, I don’t trust you guys on defense to defend a shorter field. You’re not good enough to keep the other team from scoring from that spot.”

The coach is trusting land. He’s trusting the dimensions of the football field. He’s trusting, at best, his punter.

Consider, in contrast, what the coach who goes for it is saying.

-- “I trust my offense to get this first down.”

-- “If my offense doesn’t get this first down, I trust my defense to get us off the field, even from a disadvantageous position.”

The standard color guy’s analysis is just wrong. It’s the coach who goes for it on fourth down who is trusting his defense, not the one who punts.

As you’re gorging on football today, keep this in mind. Think about what actually happens when a coach orders a cowardly punt. When that ex-tackle chimes in to say that he’s trusting his defense, you’ll know the truth: He’s not trusting anyone. He’s trusting land.