Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 23, 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 has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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Tampa Bay Rays

I wasn’t sure where I was going in this space, so here’s a hearty “thank you” to Wander Franco and the Rays for providing a topic.

As reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the Rays and Franco have reportedly agreed on a contract that would guarantee Franco $185 million through 2032, with an option for 2033 of $38 million. The deal is the largest for any player with Franco’s limited service time -- he’s got just about 3 1/2 months in the majors -- and the largest the Rays have ever committed to. It locks in a player whose very short track record marks him as not just a future star, but as one of the best players in baseball over the next decade.

Any time we get one of these deals it opens a debate as to what the player has given up on the back end for security on the front end. In this particular case, I don’t think you can criticize Franco at all. It’s $185 million guaranteed before his 21st birthday. I can tell you about expectations and projections and historical comps, but he’s the guy who has to keep playing well and avoid career-altering injuries every day.

The way the game is structured now, it would be 2025 before Franco was able to get even a fraction of his market value as a first-year arb player. That’s three productive seasons away from even being able to ask an arbitrator for $7 million or $8 million. It’s three more before he can go into the market and get paid what he’s worth, and even then there are brakes built into the system -- maybe even more of them by then. Franco wouldn’t become a free agent until after the 2027 season, which is one additional CBA down the road. Who knows what rules will be in place restricting his compensation at that point? I don’t think we have any sort of handle on what Franco is leaving on the table here.

These long-term, pre-arb contracts aren’t going to pay a player his full market value. The team assumes injury and performance risk in making this commitment. They’re not a charity, though, they’re trying to lock in a potential franchise player through his peak at a discount. Every now and then there’s an Ozzie Albies deal that is a failure of representation, but for the most part everyone is acting in their best interest and trying to reach a fair deal.

This deal, in fact, compares better to what Franco’s peers have made through age 31, the guaranteed part, than you might think. It guarantees him $185 million. Bryce Harper, through age 31, will have made about $230 million. Mookie Betts around $160 million. Mike Trout will be around $250 million by then. Francisco Lindor, $209 million.

(Note: These are all approximations that don’t adjust for 2020 reductions in pay or salary deferrals, and I’m assigning signing bonuses as paid out according to the essential Cot’s. Season to taste.)

Those players, of course, have money coming to them after the age of 31 owing to long-term deals signed as they approached free agency. That’s where the “he left X on the table” comes from. It’s a false comparison, though, because it compares years for which the above players are guaranteed money to years in which Franco’s compensation is as yet unknown. It is very likely that Franco will be paid and paid well from age 32 into future years, and in the case that he isn’t, it likely means that he was fortunate to guarantee himself $185 million at 20 years old, because his career has probably gone sideways.

The only way to see this as a bad deal for Franco is to project a career path in which he is so good in the years under contract that he is far underpaid for his performance, while also having something go so wrong in 2032 or 2033 to wreck his market value at that point. That’s what the comps to older players with guaranteed deals into their mid- and late-30s do -- compare known salaries to a zero for Franco, which is silly.

This elides any soft factors, of course. I don’t know what the value of never having to sweat your next contract is for a pre-arb or pre-free-agency player, but I’ll guess “not zero.” I don’t know what the value of guaranteeing yourself to be set for life is, but I’ll guess “not zero.” There’s the time value of money as well -- the money Franco makes in the next few years that he wouldn’t have made otherwise is money that can be invested to earn more.

This will be the biggest thing the Rays do this offseason, the thing that they supposedly never do, even though they did it with Evan Longoria twice and with Kevin Kiermaier and now with Franco. Maybe Franco won’t play out the contract as a Ray, being traded down the road, as Longoria was. The Rays, of course, invented the move of trading a player when his compensation began to catch up with the value of his performance, and it’s revolutionized baseball. You wonder what Branch Rickey or George Weiss or Charlie Finley could have done with that idea, if they’d only thought of it.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 22, 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 has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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"The White Sox core, the team's top six or seven guys, is the best in the American League, better than even the Astros' core. If you hold a draft of AL Central players, you might take a dozen White Sox before you take a dozen players from the other four teams combined."

Friday, November 19, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 19, 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 has been 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 far as the signing itself, I think it’s a lot of risk. On the surface, Verlander and Syndergaard may seem like similar pitchers at this point, but there are key differences. Verlander was a better pitcher before tearing his UCL, and he had made a key transition late in his career to get the most from his ability. Verlander is on a normal TJ timeframe, Syndergaard well behind. When we last saw Syndergaard, he was on instructions to not throw breaking balls a full 18 months past his surgery date. There’s no one big reason why I prefer Verlander to Syndergaard as a signing, but rather a host of small ones."

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 16, 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 has been 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 Phillies have room under the current tax threshold to take a big swing, which could mean one of the top starters on the market or even one of the shortstops, relegating Didi Gregorius to the backup role he’s best suited for. The way their roster is set up, though, they might be better off adding smaller pieces. Harper is their only MLB-caliber outfielder, and Bohm may not be the solution at third base. The Phillies’ rotation is a strength, the bullpen once again an unknown."

 

Friday, November 12, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 12, 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 has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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"At some point, baseball is going to have to address the Ohio Problem. The Reds, Indians, and Pirates have incredible baseball legacies, but if you were building a baseball league today you would never put teams in all three of those cities. There just aren’t enough people. Some huge part of baseball’s issues is trying to keep teams in places that were metropolises 120 years ago, and have them compete with teams in places that are metropolises now."

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 11, 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 has been 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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"Better health could be worth a lot. Carson Kelly was their best player, but he missed seven weeks after Walker Buehler broke his hand and wasn’t nearly the same hitter after he returned. Zac Gallen made three trips to the IL and just 23 starts because of them. Ketel Marte’s left hamstring cost him 60 games. Luke Weaver made just 13 starts around a shoulder injury. That’s more or less this team’s core, and it just wasn’t on the field enough this year."

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, December 20, 2020 -- "Money's Too Tight (To Not Mention)"

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 has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for nearly 25 years.

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

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"This is a very detailed report, released by the league, of just what the players made in 2020. Wages and bonuses and buyouts and even information, if implied, of the value of non-wage benefits such as health insurance. It’s a remarkable amount of data on what teams are investing in the players. It’s also not unusual to get this; the league releases this information pretty much every year around this time. The teams tell you what the players have earned, every single year."
 

Monday, November 8, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 8, 2021 -- "Qualifying Offers"

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 has been 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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"Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox. By contrast, Rodriguez has had three two-win campaigns and his 2021, in which he was murderized by the Red Sox defense, came in at 1.9. Rodriguez had a 4.74 ERA, but a 3.32 FIP while coming back from Covid-related myocarditis. He’s a year younger than Ray, as well. Maybe 15, 20 years ago he’d have been a huge bargain, but teams can now see how good he was last year. I think he’ll decline the QO, get a contract for about 60% of what Ray’s is worth, and out-pitch the older lefty over the next three years."

Newsletter Excerpt, November 4, 2021 -- "Coda"

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 has been 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 very strange to have room to add four average outfielders to your roster while also having good reason to add four average outfielders to your roster. I credit Alex Anthopoulos for dancing as fast as he did, but the lessons of the 2021 Braves are, like the ruling in Bush v. Gore, limited to the present circumstances."

 

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 3, 2021 -- "The Champs"

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 has been 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 looked like a slider to me. It looked like a drone on satellite. It looked like a beach ball to Soler. Garcia, tank empty, spun up a breaking ball that had no chance. Garcia never even looked, and Soler was celebrating before the ball cleared the infield. It was a monstrous, majestic home run, 446 in the books, 625 when the fans tell their grandkids about it."

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, October 28, 2021 -- "Tick Tock"

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 has been 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. 113
October 28, 2021

Game Two of the World Series was a shockingly snappy affair, finishing in just three hours and 11 minutes, wrapping up in plenty of time for you to catch Kimmel’s monologue. (Does Jimmy Kimmel do a monologue? I haven’t watched late-night talk shows since Arsenio Hall.) Last night’s game was the sixth-shortest during this postseason run, and just the second game since the Division Series round to come in under 3:15.

The relatively quick pace gave us a night of relief from complaints about how kids today can’t watch the World Series, as if the third graders not allowed to stay up until midnight or 12:30 a.m. on the east coast were all crowded around televisions at 11:15 p.m. last night. The slog of Game One (and some strong opinions by my friend Kevin Goldstein) led to a bit of a debate online about The State of Baseball Today, which as always was centered around one time zone in a country that spans six, four if you just focus on the primary land mass. There were all kinds of silly claims, mostly since deleted, about the start and end times of World Series games in the recent past. 

That’s where I want to focus today, just putting the end times of World Series games in 2021 in context. I am not happy that the median postseason game has stretched past 3 1/2 hours, believe me, but the hyperbolic reactions are largely inventing a past that hasn’t existed for 45 years, a past about which most fans under 55 have very little memory.

None of this was an issue at all until 1971, of course. The first 397 games in World Series history were all played under the sun. Night baseball started at Crosley Field in 1935, and after World War II made up 20% of the schedule. By 1966, more than half the schedule was played under lights. The All-Star Game was moved to a nighttime start in 1967 and pleased television executives by bringing in higher ratings. By 1970, the prime-time All-Star Game was a ratings beast, bringing in 54% of the available audience. So as an experiment, baseball moved Game Four of the ’71 Series to an 8:15 p.m. start at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. That game ended at 11:03 p.m.

It was an incredible success. An estimated 63 million people watched, making it the highest-rated show that week, with more than half the TVs turned on tuned to the Pirates and Orioles. The next year, Games Three and Four of the Series were played at night, and in 1973, all three weekday games were played at night, and every weekday Series game since then has been played at night. Take a second to consider that. There had never been a World Series game played at night until 1971. After one was, it took just two years for the league to abandon weekday day games for the World Series.

In 1976, the league tested the waters with a night game on the weekend, scheduling Game Two of the Reds/Yankees Series for 8:30 Sunday night. This game is most famous for the image of Bowie Kuhn watching from the stands in 40-degree weather while shunning an overcoat. This was less popular, and for the next few years baseball would mostly stick to a World Series pattern of night games on weeknights, day game on the weekends, with occasional late-afternoon starts for the latter. In 1985, though -- just 14 years after the first Series night game -- the entire World Series between the Royals and Cardinals was played at night, every game starting around 8:30 p.m. ET. With one exception -- Game Six of the 1987 World Series -- every World Series game since then has been scheduled at night. 

Note the frequency with which “8:30” has been used so far. That was the start time for Series games on weeknights for most of this era.  This was designed for television, so that a pregame show and the game would cover all of the Nielsen eastern primetime window from 8 to 11 p.m. (7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Central), allowing the networks to maximize the value of showing the Series (and lead into the valuable local newscasts after the game). I mention this to make the point that once the Series was moved to evenings, there was never a time when it was scheduled around the bedtimes of grade schoolers.

That’s not to say that the games weren’t a bit more accessible for a while. Reggie Jackson hit his third homer in Game Six of the 1977 World Series at around 10 p.m. ET, in an 8-4 game that started at 8:15 and ran 2:18. Games that year averaged 2:32 in a high-offense season. The year prior, 1976, was the last time that MLB games averaged less than two hours and 30 minutes. 

The first World Series I remember well is the 1979 one between the Pirates and Orioles. Five of the seven games started at 8:30 p.m., and none of those five ended before 11 p.m. The first two ended well after 11:30 p.m, and the Pirates’ Game Seven victory ended right around 11:30. Go through the 1980s, and you’ll find that most World Series dogpiles happened between 11 and midnight. Don Denkinger’s blown call? Around 11 p.m. ET. Bill Buckner’s error? Long after midnight. Kirk Gibson’s homer? 11:39 p.m. ET. “We’ll see you tomorrow night”? It was already tomorrow. 

We’re pining for an era of baseball that never existed. From almost the moment baseball went to nighttime World Series games, those games have ended after 11. There are exceptions -- the 1983 Series seems to have been played with chess clocks, as was that ’77 one Reggie ended -- but for 40 years, World Series games have ended after 11 p.m, and sometimes after midnight.

That’s not to say that nothing has changed. For one, instead of two weeks of playoffs we have four, which grinds on fans and media alike. The average regular season game has gone from 2:40 in 1983 to 3:11 this year -- and that latter figure is deflated by the pandemic rules. The average postseason game is, per the great Travis Sawchik, 40 minutes longer today than it was in 1990. Some of this is just evolution, some is intractable, some is a choice. 

Take that 1977 game, Reggie Jackson’s finest moment. I watched it; the video, which clips commercial breaks, runs 1:51 of baseball from first pitch to last. You can infer, then, that it had 27 minutes of commercial time across 16 innings breaks, about 1:40 per, with commercial time accounting for 14% of the game time.

Last night’s game had a bit more than 47 minutes of commercial time across 16 inning breaks and two pitching changes, accounting for just shy of 25% of the game time. Honestly, that’s an improvement; whether due to a lack of demand or by choice, MLB has shaved commercial time off its Series broadcasts from the last time I clocked them a few years ago. It seems I never wrote up those notes, but the breaks were well over three minutes prior to the pandemic, and they were 2:30ish last night. The pitching changes were around 2:15. Still, that’s about 20 minutes a game added relative to the regular season, time that pushes the finishes away from 11 p.m. and towards midnight.

To the extent that this is a problem to be solved, it’s difficult because there’s no one button to push. Baseball games are longer now for reasons of gameplay that resist any one solution. They’re even longer in the playoffs and World Series because the games’ importance causes the players to slow down, and there’s additional commercial inventory. Games start later due to the demands of the networks, and those demands are backed by close to $2 billion a year. I’d add that as someone who lived in and around Los Angeles for a long time, I have limited sympathy for the EDT-centricity of this whole conversation. People in Oregon like the World Series, too.

Mostly, though, I’d like to ground all of these discussions in reality, and the reality is that if you live in the Eastern time zone, World Series games have ended after your kid’s bedtime for close to 50 years. World Series games have started after your kid’s bedtime for parts of those 50 years. If you’re my age -- 50 -- or younger, you have no memory of weekday World Series day games, and if you’re older than me your kids have no memory of them. If you’re under 45 -- meaning you were nine years old in 1984 -- you have only a vague memory of a World Series game played in afternoon sunshine.

The World Series has been a late-night endeavor for two generations now. Let’s accept that and focus on making gameplay changes that might at least keep the games from ending after midnight so often.

 

Monday, November 1, 2021

Newsletter Excerpt, November 1, 2021 -- "Game Five"

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 has been 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’ll see what happens, but sitting here now, I think leaving Davidson in to face all those righties was the hinge point in this Series."