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.

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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.

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, 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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $59.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $59.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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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.

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

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"As of this 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."