Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 28, 2021 -- "Deadline Potpourri"

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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"It’s literally Jerry Dipoto’s job to look past ERAs and save counts and evaluate players based on how well they will help the Mariners win. (We know players don’t do this because we’ve seen their All-Star voting for two decades now.) Any reasonable evaluation of these three pitchers sees them as broadly similar over a two-month period. The Mariners, lousy with pop-up righties pitching well, could afford to move the most attractive of them -- the one with the most saves -- for Toro."

Monday, July 26, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 26, 2021 -- "The C-Word 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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"The Mariners, hitting .218/.294/.380 as a team, are hitting .264/.338/.471 with runners in scoring position. The team has a .290 BABIP in all situations, and a .331 BABIP with RISP. Measured by relative OPS (tOPS+), no team in baseball outperforms its baseline with runners in scoring position more than the Mariners do. No team, in fact, is even close."

Friday, July 23, 2021

Cleveland Guardians

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 25 years.

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From my inbox, back in January:

A humble suggestion: Please stop using the nickname of Cleveland’s baseball team in the newsletter.

—Dave Z.

At the time, I replied, "A reasonable objection. It is something I think about, but so long as the teams go by the monikers, writing around that constantly is awkward. While you’re the first person to mention it, that doesn’t mean others don’t share the opinion.”

Well, that problem has been solved. MLB and the team announced this morning that starting this winter, the Cleveland baseball team will be known as the Guardians. The name, which has been met with some chuckles, is a deeply local reference to the “Guardians of Traffic” statues that sit on the Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland. 

As with hats and uniforms and ballpark food and anything involving team social-media accounts, I struggle to have a strong opinion here. The new name has a local connection and isn’t offensive to a segment of the citizenry, so it’s fine by me.

Sports nicknames are pretty much entirely nonsense; there are no trolley dodgers in Los Angeles, no giants in San Francisco, no pirates marauding on the banks of the Allegheny. We have two teams named for hosiery, two others steeped in religious concepts, one based on a system of government we rejected 250 years ago. Maybe, given all that, it’s OK for a team to have a nickname based on local architecture.

It’s more offensive to me that Francisco Lindor won’t ever wear a Guardians jersey than that the name exists at all. 

The official transition won’t come until after the season, but there’s nothing stopping me or anyone else from making the change today. While admitting I’ll probably slip and forget, the team of Bieber and Ramirez and Clase and Francona is now, for Newsletter purposes, the Cleveland Guardians.

 

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 22, 2021 -- "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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"There’s just no one reason for the missing 100 runs. Many core Yankee hitters have been injured. The ones who have replaced them have been, collectively, a disaster. The ones who have not been injured have seen their performance decline, on balance, as a result of the deadened baseball, arguably more than other teams' players."

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 21, 2021 -- "The Flaw"

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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"We saw, across four innings last night, how it can go wrong. If the Giants don’t hold off the Dodgers, this July loss when they had a 6-1 lead early, a 6-2 lead with ten outs left, a 6-5 lead in the ninth, is the one we’ll remember."

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 20, 2021 -- "Grip Update"

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 can agree that the increase in enforcement has had some effect, but the limit of that effect just makes clear that MLB needs to do more than aggressively enforce Rule 6.02(c)(4) to roll back strikeout rates, to bring action back, to make baseball look more like baseball."

Monday, July 12, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 12, 2021 -- "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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--
 
"At a time when pitchers are finding success by pitching away from their fastballs, Ray is having a career year by pumping more gas than he has since his rookie season: 59% four-seamers. He’s throwing more strikes, 54%, than he ever has before as well."

 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 11, 2021 -- "Ronald Acuña Jr."

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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--
 
"Whatever happens over these next few weeks, though, the Braves’ season won’t be what it could have been. The baseball season, our season, won’t be what it could have been. Ronald Acuña Jr.’s torn ACL casts a shadow over the 2021 campaign. Now, we sit back and hope the player who once talked about a 50/50 season can return from a devastating injury with his complete game intact."

Friday, July 9, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 9, 2021 -- "Churn"

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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--
 
"For his efforts Wednesday, Crismatt was demoted to Triple-A Thursday. It was the second time this season Crismatt had eaten five innings for the Padres and then immediately been demoted."

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, December 30, 2020 -- "One Embarrassing 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 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. 12, No. 111
December 30, 2020

From April 4, 2017:

“The hardest thing to do in sports is not get excited about greatness, but you can’t look at these Cubs and not see a potential dynasty.” 

Well.

It’s not like the Cubs fell apart after their 2016 championship, of course. They won two division titles in the ensuing four seasons. In another, they had the best record in the NL after 162 games before losing a division tiebreaker. They won the NL Central just three months ago, as a matter of fact. When we all woke up Monday morning, the Cubs were almost certainly the favorite to win the division in 2021. Three of the teams behind them intentionally made themselves worse this winter, and the fourth hasn’t done anything at all.

This is how it endsThe Cubs performed a salary dump before getting back to the World Series.

The Ricketts family, led by chairman Tom, refused to invest in the team in the last two offseasons, with Tyler Chatwood the only investment of any consequence. Tom Ricketts was one of the most vocal owners on the impact of the pandemic on his business, claiming “biblical” losses without backing up his claims. His Hall of Fame executive, Theo Epstein, saw the writing on the wall and left. 

Now comes this trade, sending away one of the best starters in the game for four baseball zygotes. If you want to defend the return, fine; many prospect-heads have. I’m not going to tell you I know anything about four players with a combined age of 73, just one of whom has played even an inning professionally. On paper, it looks like a downgrade of four wins in 2021, from Darvish to Zack Davies, with a quality backup catcher in Victor Caratini also removed.

Were a rebuilding team making this deal, it might make sense. This is the package the Orioles never got for Manny Machado as they declined. The 2021 Cubs, though, aren’t the 2017 Orioles. Chicago won the division last year, and they were at worst the co-favorites to win it next year. A team in the Cubs’ position has no business making itself four wins worse in exchange for what amounts to four lottery tickets in 2025. A team in the Cubs’ position has no business trading its #1 starter for a fistful of dreams.

Yu Darvish, finally healthy again, was the best pitcher in the NL last season and has been pitching at an incredible level since midsummer 2019. He had established himself as a true #1 by ratcheting his walk rate down under 5%, by finally getting the widest repertoire in baseball under full command. Having a healthy and dominant Darvish was a big reason the Cubs won the division last year. He was a significant separator heading into 2021, when the Cubs were well-positioned to win again.

Ricketts, though, doesn’t need the Cubs to win anymore. Ricketts got his basemall, and he got his own regional sports network. He used the incredible amount of money generated by that first Cubs title in 108 years to fund ventures that have nothing to do with wins and losses, ventures that will produce millions upon millions that don’t have to be shared with the other owners, that don’t have to be spent on baseball players. By his actions, Ricketts has proven to be the worst type of sports owner: He wants the next dollar more than he wants the next win.

Baseball has more problems than can be covered in a single piece, but way up there on the list is that there simply aren’t enough owners who want to win. During his 30 years in power, Bud Selig cultivated a very specific type of owner, one that wouldn’t push too hard, one that would sign on to his small-market mindset. Selig had grown up in baseball fighting with George Steinbrenner and Ted Turner and Gene Autry, and there would be no more of those on his watch. The Ricketts family is a product of that approach. Bob Nutting is a product of that approach. Stu Sternberg is a product of that approach. Under Selig, you didn’t get into the club if you were a threat to try too hard, to care too much, to want the locals’ approval more than you wanted his. 

Ricketts also represents a more recent problem, where the baseball team generates cash that is siphoned off to other projects. Ricketts’s losses may be real, but they have little to do with Yu Darvish. They’re the product of investments that may fall under the Cubs’ umbrella for accounting purposes, to provide a veneer of credibility to complaints about red ink and deep debt. The Cubs took on debt last year, but the benefits of taking on that debt will accrue to the Ricketts, not Cubs fans. The Cubs aren’t the only guilty parties here, as team ownership groups have turned into real-estate and media companies, and getting at the truth of baseball financials becomes more and more difficult. 

We can talk about raising the minimum salary, tying the luxury-tax threshold to revenue growth, getting players to the open market at a younger age, but none of this will matter if there’s no relationship between how a team plays and how much money the owner makes. This trade underlines just how far removed -- just how opposed -- the interests of owners and the interests of fans have become. 

Baseball isn’t just another business. It’s not the local car dealership or grocery store. Success isn’t measured in black ink and quarterly reports, but in agate type and on dirt and grass. It’s measured in cheers in April, sunburns in July, dogpiles in October. It’s measured in flags. So long as the game’s 30 teams are mostly owned by men like Tom Ricketts, though, men who want the money more than they want the flag, the game will be driven down.

 

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 8, 2021 -- "Fun With Numbers: Bases Loaded"

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 were five instances yesterday in which a team loaded the bases with nobody out. The rest of those five innings featured one hit against six strikeouts, and a total of five runs scored, just two (by the Mets in the first game of their doubleheader) on a hit. Watch enough baseball, and you see this happening all the time."

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 7, 2021 -- "Planned Obsolescence 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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--
 
"Before the season I had them as an 83-79 team, which over 86 games would be 44-42. They’re two games worse than that, which isn’t a meaningful difference."

Monday, July 5, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 5, 2021 -- "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 Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta, the Brewers have a top three that is unusual in today’s game, with so many pitchers injured, with so many live arms shunted into bullpen roles. It was just three years ago, Peralta’s rookie season, that the Brewers got to within a game of the NL pennant with a rotation that was a bit of an afterthought, placeholders to get the game to a lockdown bullpen. Now, the team’s rotation is the biggest reason for its success."
 
 

Friday, July 2, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, July 2, 2021 -- "Trevor Bauer"

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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--
 
"Bauer’s alleged actions clearly rise to the standard for an MLB investigation. There’s a TRO, there’s a hearing date, there’s a semi-public document with graphic details. Ken Rosenthal and many others are calling for MLB to step in to keep Bauer off the field for the moment, and I think they’re right. Use the seven-day leave built into the policy to investigate, and then move forward based on what you find. Whether it’s Bauer’s prominence, or just the speed at which this story has moved this week, MLB’s inaction is notable. Placing Bauer on administrative leave is the one thing it can do right now, and it should."

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 30, 2021 -- "Shohei Ruth"

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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--
 
"For the first time since he signed with the Angels, and really for the first time since 2016, when he was still with the Nippon Ham Fighters, we’re seeing the myth of Shohei Ohtani made real. He’s been the best hitter in baseball, and one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, over the last month. No one has done that for more than a day or so at a time since Ruth."

Monday, June 28, 2021

2021 All-Stars

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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American League
 
1B: Vladmir Guerrero Jr.
2B: DJ LeMahieu
3B: Jose Ramirez
SS: Xander Bogaerts
C: Salvador Perez
OF: Mike Trout, Aaron Judge, George Springer
DH: Nelson Cruz
 
 
National League
 
1B: Freddie Freeman
2B: Ozzie Albies
3B: Manny Machado
SS: Fernando Tatis Jr.
C: J.T. Realmuto
OF: Mookie Betts, Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto





 

Friday, June 25, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 25, 2021 -- "Gee. A No-Hitter."

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 injuries have added up: in June, the Dodgers are just fourth in the NL in wRC+, sixth in wOBA. The absence of all that left-handed power is showing up in the numbers: a .381 SLG in June, 11th in the league and just a few ticks ahead of the, gulp, Pirates."

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 24, 2021 -- "Take Me Out..."

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’ve labored to keep a division between the job part and the fan part, and the ballpark is the most clear manifestation of that. I don’t keep score. I don’t take notes. I am hard-pressed to remember the last time I went to a game alone, something that was common for me into my thirties. Going to a ballgame is about the ballgame, sure, but it’s more about friends and hot dogs and being outside and the three kids in the row in front of us dying to get on camera."

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 22, 2021 -- "Wander Day"

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 Franco is up now at about the point he was always coming up, after he showed he could handle the upper levels of the minors. Had the minor-league season started on time, parallel to the MLB season, I suspect Franco would have been up in May."

Monday, June 21, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 21, 2021 -- "No Banging, Still Raking"

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 each passing day, each line drive to left, each six-run game, it becomes harder to assign the performance of those teams to their cheating. The Astros’ numbers can’t just be a product of TV monitors and trash cans, not when in the absence of those they’re even better."

Friday, June 18, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 18, 2021 -- "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.

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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--
 
"It’s notable that the Diamondbacks are 5-37 in their last 42 games, which encompasses the current 23-game road losing streak, but they haven’t played quite that poorly. The 1-11 mark in one-run games during that stretch is making them look worse than they are. They’re a true-talent 78-win team that's had its lack of depth exposed with an enormous number of pitching injuries all at once."

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, "Tyler Glasnow"

 

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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--
 

As you have probably heard, Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow has a partially torn right ulnar collateral ligament and a flexor tender strain in the same arm. There’s no determination yet as to whether Glasnow will have Tommy John surgery, and because of where we are on the calendar, he has the flexibility to wait to see if therapy will help. Surgery now or surgery in two months both leave him losing most or all of the 2022 season.

This is a blow to Glasnow, who since being traded to the Rays in 2018 has a 3.10 ERA in 48 starts. Glasnow has a 2.66 ERA with a 36% strikeout rate so far this year in 14 starts. He’s established himself as having the skill set of a #1 starter, with the question being whether he could hold up in the role. Glasnow, now in his sixth year in the league, has never thrown more than 111 innings in an MLB season.

In his newsletter, Will Carroll laid out one potential plan Glasnow and the Rays could implement:

“I am told the Rays are exploring the idea of repair, but are reluctant to be one of the first elite level athletes to do so. It has been done in high level college and at least once in MLB (Seth Maness), but the InternalBrace technique is still new and surgeons are very picky about who qualifies for this. With Dr. James Andrews as medical director and his partner Dr. Jeff Dugas one of the leaders in this kind of repair, it’s a possibility. A repair would significantly cut down on healing time, though at nine months for the single admitted case, it shouldn’t be that significant over what should be a year, though others have come back in a much shorter time.”


The Rays were counting on Glasnow after a winter in which they let Charlie Morton leave and traded away Blake Snell -- both moves that have looked pretty good so far. The Rays continually integrate exciting young starters, like Rich Hi...I mean, like Shane McClanahan, and we will probably see Shane Baz before long. None of these pitchers, though, bring the potential for seven shutout innings to the mound every night the way Glasnow does. This injury, if it does lead to surgery, closes the gap between the Rays and the three teams chasing them in the AL East, probably by two wins.

I hate that I have to circle back to this again, but Glasnow becomes the latest starting pitcher to blow out while pushing the upper bounds of velocity. Since he became a full-time starter in 2019, Glasnow has averaged 96.2 mph with his four-seam fastball, and was at 97 mph in his 80 innings this year. The following chart will be all too familiar to long-time readers. I have lowered the innings threshold to 300 to include Glasnow, who has 403 career innings in total, but just 335 as a starter.

The Demon, Longform (top SP FBv, 2002-2021, min. 300 IP)

                     FBv     TJS

Noah Syndergaard    97.6    2020
Luis Severino       97.1    2020
Luis Castillo       96.6
Yordano Ventura     96.5
Walker Buehler      96.3    2015
Tyler Glasnow       96.2    2021?
Gerrit Cole         96.2
Nathan Eovaldi      96.1    2016
Sandy Alcantara     96.1    
Brandon Woodruff    96.0
Zack Wheeler        95.7    2015
Jacob deGrom        95.4    2010
Garrett Richards    95.4    2018
Mike Foltynewicz    95.4
Reynaldo Lopez      95.4
James Paxton        95.3    2021
Michael Fulmer      95.3    2019


(Thanks, FanGraphs)

Mind you, the 300 innings threshold leaves off an awful lot of names. If we just look at the hardest-throwing starting pitchers in a given season...

The Demon, Blogform (top SP FBv in a season, 2002-2021, min. 40 IP)

                             FBv      TJS

Jacob deGrom        2021    99.2     2010
Jacob deGrom        2020    98.6     2010
Dustin May          2020    98.0     2021
Noah Syndergaard    2016    97.9     2020
Ryne Stanek         2018    97.8*
Noah Syndergaard    2019    97.7     2020
Luis Severino       2018    97.6     2020
Luis Severino       2017    97.6     2020
Sandy Alcantara     2021    97.5     
Dylan Cease         2020    97.5     2014
Luis Castillo       2020    97.5
Luis Castillo       2017    97.5
Noah Syndergaard    2018    97.4     2020
Ryne Stanek         2019    97.4*
Nathan Eovaldi      2020    97.4     2016
Gerrit Cole         2021    97.4    
Nathan Eovaldi      2019    97.3     2016
Stephen Strasburg   2010    97.3     2010
Zack Wheeler        2021    97.2     2015


That’s a long list. If I keep going, it’s more Nathan Eovaldi and Noah Syndergaard seasons. Dinelson Lamet’s name comes up. Glasnow. Yordano Ventura, who had elbow issues prior to his untimely death. James Paxton. Shohei Ohtani in 2018. (Ryne Stanek’s presence here is misleading, as he was a reliever being used to start games as an opener, rather than someone carrying a starter’s workload.)

Fastball velocity is a proxy for something we can’t measure, the stress placed on the ulnar collateral ligament by the act of pitching. What is clear, though, is that no starting pitcher lasts very long pushing the bounds of velocity. Some, having had their UCL repaired, seem to be able to survive throwing this hard -- deGrom is the best current example (for the moment), having had the surgery in 2010 just as his pro career was getting underway. Eovaldi, Walker Buehler, and Zack Wheeler are similar cases.

We select pitchers for velocity at almost every level, and given the caliber of hitters in today’s game, asking pitchers to go at much less than 100% is a recipe for runs. The hardest-throwing starters in baseball almost all get hurt, though, with Tyler Glasnow just the latest example. It’s awful, as a fan, to keep seeing these bright young stars have years carved out of their career. I don’t know what the answer is; I just know that the relationship between maximum velocity and a date with a surgeon is too strong to ignore.
 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 14, 2021 -- "Even More Spin"

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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--
 
"Well, that’s weird. The baseball, which was behaving like the 2016 ball on contact through two months, is now behaving a lot more like the 2019 ball."

Friday, June 11, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 11, 2021 -- "Trading a Rental"

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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--
 
"It’s just not clear what Scherzer would bring back in trade. You can draw a line at 2016, when the Cubs, trying to win a World Series for the first time since 2018, sent a very highly regarded prospect in Gleyber Torres to the Yankees in order to rent Aroldis Chapman for a few months. That trade helped contribute to a hell of a party, but it, and in fact that whole trade season, sticks out in the modern game. It’s now incredibly difficult both to get teams to trade top prospects and for teams to get much value for rentals."
 
 

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 9, 2021 -- "Grip"

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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--
 
"Prior to the 2021 season, MLB announced that it was making the baseball lighter and lowering its coefficient of restitution. Very quickly, it was apparent that the new ball had higher drag that was showing up in the Statcast numbers. The ball was jumping off the bat, producing the highest exit-velocity readings in the measurement era, but not flying as far. The drop in offense we’re seeing this year is wholly explained by the drop in production on contact -- by the new baseball."

Monday, June 7, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 7, 2021 -- "NL West Notes"

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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--
 
"Tatis isn’t a good shortstop, and he may never be, but all that talk about when Trout might no longer be the best player in baseball is no longer speculation. It’s happening as we speak, the honorific not so much being passed as taken, taken by a 22-year-old who isn’t going to give it back for a long time to come."

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 5, 2021 -- "NL Central Notes"

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 eight weeks to the trade deadline, it’s very hard to see any of that happening. The Brewers and Cardinals might push ahead of the Cubs, but neither is good enough to gain separation. The Cubs have turned Tom Ricketts into Rachel Phelps, owner of a team that has decided its only choice is to win the whole damned thing. Jed Hoyer, tasked with tearing down a great team, now will have to go into the trade market for reinforcements."

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Free Preview: "The DH"

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. V, No. 32
April 5, 2013

In the early days of proto-baseball, pitchers were just that. Their role was similar to that of the pitcher in your local co-ed softball league: to instigate play by pitching the ball to the batsman, whose actions would start the game itself. Peter Morris, in his book A Game of Inches, describes the style as "pitching a horseshoe." Even before the Civil War, however, pitchers had come to realize that by starting the action with the ball in their hands, they could exercise significant control over the action once it left their hands. Despite rules that limited their movements -- such as requiring both feet to be on the ground and the arm to be perpendicular to the ground at release -- pitchers rapidly developed methods for deceiving hitters so as to induce weak contact or no contact at all.

When baseball was codified, pitchers were just like every other player on the diamond. By the time the Civil War ended and professionalism was nigh, they were already in class by themselves. The idea that pitchers in professional baseball were ever just like every other player on the diamond was dead by the time the National League came into being in 1876. That season, 13 pitchers threw at least 100 innings. Nine were below-average hitters. Bobby Mathews started 56 of the New York Mutuals' 57 games while hitting .183/.195/.211. Candy Cummings hit .162/.162/.190 (for a 13 OPS+) but only lost his job as Hartford's main hurler because Tommy Bond out-pitched him. From the earliest time for which we have records, a pitcher's role while on the mound was considered so important that his batting skill was a non-factor in evaluating his contributions to the team.

The development of pitching skill would fight a battle with those determined to restrict pitchers' impact on the game for the next generation, until the rule makers pulled out the big guns and pushed the pitchers back from 50 feet from the plate to 60 feet and six inches. (As a practical matter, the move was shorter than this, and I recommend Morris's book for the details.) By this time, pitchers had asserted themselves as the most important players on the field, controlling the game with speed and spin, and who cares what they hit. By this time, most of the NL's 12 teams were employing multiple starting pitchers, although the innings totals of the league's starters reached into the 300s as a matter of course and above 400 for the league leaders. As you can see by looking at the top-ten in innings pitched for 1892, what these guys hit wasn't keeping them from being handed the ball:


                  AVG/OBP/SLG  OPS+
Hutchinson, CHC   217/245/304   70
Rusie, NYG        215/224/285   54
Weyhing, PHI      136/178/159    2
Killen, WAS       199/310/328   95
Nichols, BOS      203/263/284   59
Young, CLE        158/191/199   16
Baldwin, PIT      101/162/129  -12
Stivetts, BOS     296/369/408  125
King, NYG         209/283/307   79
Chamberlain, CIN, 225/257/294   67


Sure, it was nice if you had a Frank Killen or a Jack Stivetts, but whether you could hit or not wasn't going to determine your job status as a pitcher. In 1892, pitcher batting was already a recessive gene, even a vestigial one. 

No one alive has ever seen a time when pitchers' batting was anything but an afterthought. Very few people alive have ever heard stories from their elders about such a time. The evolution of pitchers' hitting was set in motion when, some time during the Pierce Administration, an enterprising young man decided that if he was going to stand 45 feet away from a guy with a stick, he was going to defend himself with more than just his wits. He was going to try and make the batter's job a little bit harder. Once he did that, he separated his job from that of everyone else on the field. It didn't take until 1973 for that to be clear. It didn't even take until 1873.

The 1945 season is the earliest for which we have splits data at baseball-reference.com. In 1945, pitchers hit .176/.217/.221, for an OPS+ of 28. As a point of comparison, shortstops -- players who are selected in no small part for their defensive ability -- hit .247/.309/.318, for an 84 OPS+. No one reading this can remember a time when pitchers were anything but the worst hitters in baseball, and not by a little bit. Very few of you, maybe no one, has ever had a discussion with anyone who remembers a time when pitchers were anything but the worst hitters in baseball. "OMG, Wes Ferrell" is not a rebuttal, any more than "OMG, Ray Oyler" is an argument for not letting shortstops bat or "OMG, Mitch Williams" is an argument for not letting humans communicate with words.

Tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of baseball's attempt to adjust to its own evolution. The designated hitter didn't come about for these reasons so much as it did for a desperate attempt to raise run scoring, and with it attendance, during a fallow period for both. For a while, the DH was worth about a half a run a game to the American League, but even that has been tamped down over the years as teams have come to treat the DH less as a free spot for a hitter and more as a way to use the rest of the roster efficiently. Whatever its origin story or development, the designated hitter was and is the necessary adaptation to the selection process that gave us a class of players that, in the final year before the DH came into being, hit .146/.184/.184, for an OPS+ of 11.

Humans don't have tails any longer because we don't swing from tree branches any longer. We moved to the ground when the monkeys did not, we learned to walk upright and, over time, our tails went away. For pitchers, bats are tails. They learned a skill set that separated them from the other monkeys on the field, and the skills they did not need went away. The "nine players" argument that underpins the anti-DH position is, because of this, invalid. Pitchers are fundamentally a different class of player from the other eight on the diamond. Different rules apply to them. They're compensated differently. They're handled, within games and on rosters, differently. And they cannot, as a class, hit well enough to be asked to do so in a major-league setting. Their attempts to do so are an embarrassing anachronism not as of 2013, not as of 1973, but as of your great-great-great-grandparents' baseball.

The DH isn't an abomination, it's a necessary adaptation to evolution. I join my friend Christina Kahrl in calling for the National League to adopt the DH so that we can watch the best brand of baseball possible.

-


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Newsletter Excerpt, June 3, 2021 -- "NL East Notes"

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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--
 
"As of this moment, the Braves are carrying nine relievers, and five of them are lefties. Will Smith is the closer. Tyler Matzek is the reclamation project with a 35% strikeout rate as a Brave. Sean Newcomb is the converted starter who’s been a bit unlucky (5.40 ERA/3.21 FIP) and who is also whiffing more than a third of the batters he’s faced. A.J. Minter and Grant Dayton fill out the quintet. Conceding that for much of baseball history it would have been impossible to even try it, I can’t ever remember seeing a team with five southpaws in the pen."

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, June 1, 2021 -- "AL West Notes"

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 MVP version of [Matt] Chapman beat up heaters. This one is being run out of the league by them. Word might be getting out as well. Last July, as the 2020 season began, pitchers threw Chapman 50% fastballs. That number quickly jumped to 60% and has stayed right about there this year."

Newsletter Excerpt, June 1, 2021 -- "Offensive Update"

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 homers turned into outs. They turned into pop-ups and fly balls and strikeouts. The offensive environment we have now is the 2018 on-contact results with another 2% tacked on to the strikeout rate and some more walks. If MLB really thought it would change the baseball and have 400 hitters decide to become Ichiro, well, that was crazy for a few reasons, but it’s failed to the tune of this slow, dry baseball that we’re probably stuck with all year."

Friday, May 28, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, May 28, 2021 -- "AL Central Notes"

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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--
 
"Well, Baddoo isn’t going to be Chris Shelton. He’s drawn walks in five straight games, and in May has 15 strikeouts against 11 unintentional walks, a very good ratio for the modern game. Baddoo isn’t hitting for the crazy power he did in April, but the tradeoff has made him a much more productive player, with a .431 OBP this month and four steals without being caught."

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, May 27, 2021 -- "AL East Notes"

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 can’t see the Red Sox getting through six months leaning on the likes of Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi for 28-32 starts, and there’s just nothing behind the current rotation, save the possibility of ten starts and 50 innings from Chris Sale. I don’t think it will be enough.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

On Pete Rose, Again

MLB’s embrace of legalized gambling has once again provided an opening for Pete Rose dead-enders to clamor for their hero’s reinstatement and argue his Hall case. Leaving aside the well-covered reasons why the shift in gambling mores doesn’t retroactively make Rose right, the new landscape makes it more, not less, important for Rose’s lifetime ban to remain as such.

Current players, and in fact all baseball employees, need to see that violating Rule 21(d) results in the end of your baseball life, no exceptions. Now, more than ever, we need Rose -- a serial violator of that most critical clause -- to be the example of what happens when you bet on baseball, even if you’re the Hit King.

Pete Rose will do more for the game as a pariah than he could ever do pardoned. In his absence from the game, he serves as a warning to those who now live and play in this more lax environment: Don’t bet on baseball. Ever. You’ll end up like Pete Rose.

Newsletter Excerpt, May 25, 2021 -- "Trading Jacob deGrom"

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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--
 
"Trading deGrom wouldn’t be about the money, especially with so much deferred. It’s a baseball decision, and as long as deGrom can be placated to waive his no-trade rights -- no mean feat given his fairly light contract and the leverage a trade would give him to change that -- it seems like one the Mets can justify. A year and a half of deGrom would instantly convert some teams into contenders and elevate the top teams to greatness."
 

Monday, May 24, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, May 4, 2021 -- "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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--
 

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 13, No. 29
May 4, 2021

When you plan to write about a player or team or really anything in advance, there’s always that fear that the story will change before you get to it. I have a hard drive full of column fragments that will never see the light of day because I never wrote them up before the four-game losing streak or 0-for-19 stretch. So when you allude to the next day’s piece in a tagline, you sweat a bit...at least until the team in question has its game postponed. 

There is no team in baseball further from its projected preseason performance than the San Francisco Giants. I pegged them at 70-92, a pace that would make them 12-16 today. Instead they’re 17-11 and just ahead of the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West. It’s real in any number of ways: the Giants have outscored their opponents by nearly a full run per game, and they have just a 6-4 record in one-run contests. They’re just 1-3 in extra innings. None of the usual “fluke” markers are in place a month into the season.

The single biggest reason for their success is defense. No team in baseball is turning balls in play into outs at a higher rate than the Giants are.

Giant Vacuums (Best Defensive Efficiency, 2021)

Giants      .741
Nationals   .735
Indians     .729
Mariners    .723
Astros      .721

I will always circle back to DER because of its simplicity. When a ball is put in play, how often are you turning it into an out? That’s not entirely a credit to the defense -- the pitchers and the park play a role -- but it gets you most of the way there. It’s not trying to measure skill, but performance.

The Giants have strong run prevention (3.2 runs allowed per game, lowest in baseball) with an average strikeout rate because they have been catching everything, especially everything in the air.

Giant Butterfly Nets (Lowest BABIP allowed on fly balls, 2021)

Giants      .044
Orioles     .059
Dodgers     .071
Brewers     .074
White Sox   .074 

This one surprises me a bit because coming into the season, I would not have pegged this as a particularly strong defensive outfield. Mike Yastrzemski can go get it in right, but the Giants have “guys who can play center” more than they have a center fielder. Mauricio Dubon, 26, has speed and some good small-sample numbers in the outfield as a converted infielder, and everyone else is really more a corner guy.

This is where the interaction between the pitchers and the defense is coming into play. Giants pitchers are doing an excellent job of giving up low-quality contact. Giants hurlers are allowing the lowest rate of batted balls at good launch angles, and in fact, the lowest average launch angle (and highest groundball rate) in the majors. When they do allow fly balls, those fly balls have the third-lowest exit velocity and travel the shortest distance of any team’s. Giants outfielders have had, by and large, the easiest job in baseball this year. Overall, Giants opponents’ rate of barrels -- Statcast for “oh, wow!” -- are bottom five in the league.

How are they doing this? There’s no one path here. Alex Fast did a great deep dive into Kevin Gausman’s strong start and how he’s achieving it with more or less a two-pitch mix. Jake McGee has taken over the closer role with one pitch fewer than that, throwing a four-seamer 86% of the time. Three offseason signings -- Anthony DeSclafani, Aaron Sanchez, and Alex Wood -- have combined for a 2.62 ERA in 14 starts, with a 73/21 K/BB, while throwing fewer than 50% four-seam fastballs each.

As great as the run prevention has been, the best story on the Giants carries a bat. Buster Posey opted out of the 2020 season over concerns about exposing himself to the coronavirus with twins at home. Posey had been in a steep decline prior to 2020, hitting just .257/.320/.368 in 2019 at 32, opening the door to the possibility that 8400 innings of crouching had ended his productive career. The year off, however, seems to have rejuvenated him. Posey is hitting .359/.423/.688, and it’s not like he’s getting lucky. Per Statcast, his expected batting average, expected slugging, and expected wOBA are all top 20 among qualified hitters. (For more on Posey, read Jay Jaffe’s excellent analysis.)

Posey’s return has been critical because the preseason concerns about whether the Giants’ jerry-rigged offense would continue being productive have been warranted. 2020 heroes Alex Dickerson, Wilmer Flores, Mauricio Dubon, and Austin Slater have gone pumpkin. Import Tommy La Stella has hit .235/.297/.353. Donovan Solano and Mike Yastrzemski have slipped from their lofty 2020 numbers and suffered injuries. The Giants traded for Mike Tauchman to patch these issues, a move I think might pay off very well. Tauchman got caught in a roster crunch with the Yankees, but I’d take him to be the Giants’ third-best hitter the rest of the season behind Posey and Yaz if they keep him in the lineup. Still, this is going to be an average offense at best.

The Giants deserve their 17-11 mark to date. I’m less convinced they can stay in this race for six months. Playing about as well as they can play for a month has given them just a half-game lead over a Dodger team riddled with injuries and a bunch of Calvinball losses, and a Padres team seriously looking at bringing back Joey Hamilton as a fifth starter. As good as the rotation has been so far, it’s hard to see the Giants getting even 850 innings from the six starters they’ve used. The bullpen is average, and the Giants don’t have a lot of internal depth at the plate or on the mound. They might actually keep this interesting for a little longer; over the next two weeks they play the Rockies, Rangers and Pirates. Their first game against the Dodgers isn’t until May 21, and they will be close enough to the Dodgers for that series to draw a lot of attention.

Two years ago, in Farhan Zaidi’s first season running the Giants, the team was expected to be an in-season seller. Zaidi was, theoretically, hired to put the Giants into a long-awaited rebuild. That summer, the team ripped off an 18-4 stretch wrapped around the All-Star break, pushing them into the wild-card chase in July. Zaidi made a few minor sell-offs at the deadline -- Sam Dyson, Mark Melancon, Derek Holland -- but retained his biggest-ticket items in Madison Bumgarner and Will Smith. The Giants quickly fell out of the wild-card race in August and finished 77-85.

There’s a real chance of a similar story developing here. The Giants simply aren’t going to beat out the Dodgers, so again their path to the playoffs is through the wild-card slots. If anything, this roster is even more ripe for a sell-off; four of the current five starting pitchers are free agents after 2021, as are Brandon Crawford and Brandon Belt. Johnny Cueto has an option unlikely to be picked up. The Giants have an improving farm system and extremely low projected payrolls beginning in 2023. Are they better off chasing a playoff berth with this roster, which however well it’s playing doesn’t have much of a baseball future, or cashing in everything to bolster those future teams? 

It’s become fashionable to insist that every team with any chance at all try to win in the current season. Surely we’d like to see more competitiveness around the league, but you can take that thinking to an extreme. Zaidi did that in 2019, keeping the best trade chips on a team that wasn’t very good, then landing in third place with a below-.500 team. Now in 2021, he may be faced with the same choice thanks to this early-season run, a choice made more complicated by what is likely the final season Posey, Belt, and Crawford will play together.

That core, though, hasn’t been good enough since 2016, and in the end will not be good enough in 2021. The Giants’ future is Marco Luciano and Heliot Ramos and Patrick Bailey, and the free-agent market of 2023-24, and some high draft picks in the next few years. Zaidi can’t let another opportunity to improve that future go by. Those three may not be tradable for various reasons -- each has or is about to have ten-and-five rights, to start -- but the short-term Giants, especially the pitchers, have more value to the 2024 team than the 2021 one.