Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 26, 2022 -- "Negotiations"

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.

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

--
 
"The shape of the changes to pre-arb compensation is coming into view. The players are not asking for the kind of increases that would affect the business models of teams like the Pirates, Marlins, and A’s. Their asks would put a little more money into the pockets of pre-arb players and still more in the pockets of the best of those players. Overall, though, these changes wouldn’t alter the economics of losing on the cheap, and even if the players got everything they’re asking for, it would add less than $300 million to overall pay -- still leaving the players making less, collectively, than they did in 2018."
 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 25, 2022 -- "Bronze Papi"

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.

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

--
 
"We can say it now, since the Hall won’t speak for itself: The Hall of Fame never wanted Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to be honored, and their tactics against that were successful. The Hall’s refusal to take a stand either way, however, crafting rules changes and pulling strings, is a black mark on its record. We will likely see their preferences again ten months from now, when Bonds and Clemens are immediately eligible for Today’s Game committee consideration. I will be shocked if either is on the ballot."

Monday, January 24, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, January 24, 2022 -- "Single Elimination"

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.

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

--
 

The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 13, No. 148
January 24, 2022

The NFL went out and had itself a weekend. Across four playoff games in its divisional round, all were decided on the final snap -- three game-winning field goals and a walkoff overtime touchdown. One game swung on a blocked punt returned for a TD, another had three tipped balls go for interceptions, the last, with under a minute left, turned into a deciding kick. Some of the play wasn’t great -- the Saturday games were downright ugly at times -- but that never seems to affect interest. The weekend was capped by one of the best games in league history, with 25 points scored in the final two minutes of regulation as two of the sport’s superstar quarterbacks went up and down the field.

The key, though, is this: We’re not setting up for Game Twos today. Football is played in one-game chunks, and always has been. It’s a brutally physical sport, with rules changes to protect the talent barely keeping pace with the size and speed of the players. One of the game’s present controversies stems from games being played on Thursday nights, just four days after a team’s prior contest, perhaps not enough time to physically recover. If four days is a problem, then playing baseball-style series or even NBA back-to-backs is a non-starter. Football teams play 17 games in 18 weeks, and then single-game playoff rounds through the Super Bowl.

This is a driver of football’s popularity, and especially so during the playoffs. The stakes are plain as day, much as they are in the NCAA basketball tournament, another hugely popular event. Win or go home. Survive and advance. There’s no back-and-forth, no tension build-up, just 60 minutes of football -- sometimes a few more -- and a decision. Casual fans can turn on their TV at 3 p.m. without knowing the backgrounds and turn it off at 10 p.m. with a resolution.

Baseball, of course, does it differently. The earliest organized leagues didn’t play many games and most of the ones they did play were one-offs, but the first season of the National League, in 1876, featured series we would recognize today, one team traveling to another’s city to play multiple games. In those innocent days, the only money came from selling tickets and refreshments, so maximizing games played was the way to maximize revenue. Teams in the NL of 1876 averaged 65 games each; in a decade’s time, that would more than double to 131.

The first postseason series were driven by this idea: More games, more money. In 1884, the winners of the American Association and the National League squared off in a best-of-three. A year later, it was a best-of-seven, and by 1887, it was a 15-game barnstorming series. In this era, games would be played even after the series winner was decided, as in 1888, when the New York Giants won six of the first eight contests over the St. Louis Browns, only to play out the final two games in front of sharply diminished crowds.

When the National and nascent American Leagues set up the first modern World Series in 1903, it was a best-of-nine affair. Two years later, the Series was a best-of-seven, and save for a stretch just after World War I it has remained so ever since. We’ve come to think of this as the natural length of a championship series. In 1939, after using many formats in its formative years, the Stanley Cup finals became a best-of-seven, and for the past 35 years, all NHL playoff rounds have been best-of-seven (pandemic season excepted). The very first pro basketball playoffs, in 1947, featured a best-of-seven final, as have all the finals in the history of the NBA. Since 2003, all NBA playoff series have been best-of-seven.

Now, the talent distribution in other sports means that you generally need fewer games to figure out who is good and who isn’t. In the NFL, it takes 11 games; in the NBA, 12 games. In MLB...

“But in baseball, it takes a whopping 67 games for half of the variance in observed winning percentages to come from the distribution of talent and half from randomness.”


That’s Neil Paine at 538. This concept is one reason why the results of baseball playoffs are random in a way that the outcomes of the pro football and pro basketball playoffs are not. It just takes more time for true talent levels to come through in baseball. Michael Lopez ran the numbers: for the better team to advance 80% of the  time, which is the NBA standard, MLB playoff series would have to be best-of-75.

There’s this ongoing fight about whether the Division Series round should be best-of-seven, and that fight will shortly extend to an expansion of the Wild Card Round that will likely be best-of-three. We will routinely see 100-win teams face off with 80-win teams in a format little better than a coin flip. The thing is, extending these series to the next odd number wouldn’t matter all that much. The marginal differences between a one-game versus a three-game playoff, five versus seven, are basically rounding errors. A best-of-seven World Series feels right because no one reading this remembers anything else, but it’s no different, outcomes-wise, from a best-of-one.

So why not lean into that? Instead of trying to fit more games into the window between the end of the regular season and the first snowfall, instead of pretending there’s any meaningful difference between best-of-X and best-of-X+2, just take a page from the NFL and make the playoffs single-elimination. Let 16 teams in, seed them accordingly, and set up October Madness: Four weekends of baseball culminating in a World Series that starts at 6:30 on the final Sunday of October, and ends that night in a dogpile?

Think about it. We already know that TV ratings rise as a series gets towards its end. More fans tune in when there’s a championship on the line. You’d be losing a lot of games, but keeping all of the maximum-value ones, the ones that bring in the largest audiences. Remember, this isn’t as radical an idea as it seems. MLB already broke the glass on this by introducing one-game playoff series in 2012.

MLB’s early rounds are a bit of a slog, and while they’re great for hardcore fans -- those Division Series quadrupleheader days are fun -- they’re invisible to the people who tuned in in droves for the NFL’s quarterfinals. As great as that first Friday in October can be, nothing is on the line yet. No one’s going home. It’s all prelude.

Let’s throw out the prelude. Let’s turn the baseball playoffs into the Sweet 16, into the NFL’s model. The first round can wrap around that first weekend -- one game Friday night, three each on Saturday and Sunday, one on Monday. Yes, the middle two days go up against football, but instead of doing that with games where no one will be eliminated -- where the stakes are low -- you’re doing it with elimination games. You can grab back some of the mindshare you’ve ceded to the NFL for 40 years. The second weekend, maybe it’s one game Friday night, two Saturday, one Sunday. No more 2 p.m. Friday starts, and certainly no more 10 p.m. Friday starts. You’re losing games, but you’re keeping the ones TV -- and casual fans -- like best: prime-time elimination games. Every playoff game would be an event the way the last two weekends have been events in the NFL.

This is the single best way to restore value to the regular season as well. Right now, teams securing a wild card are rewarded with a one-game playoff just to earn the right to play best-ofs against much better teams that are rested. It’s not always the best decision to chase a playoff spot given the challenges wild-card teams face. Now, not only would we be lowering the bar for entry -- allow 16 teams in and you’ll probably have 20-22 teams with a reasonable chance in August and even into September -- but you’re lowering the bar for success.

The secondary effect is what I really like, though. In the current circumstances, it’s hard to convince people that playoff success determines the best team, despite all the evidence we have that playoff outcomes and overall team quality are only tangentially related. This will only get worse as the playoffs expand and it becomes harder and harder for any team to get through October. What this format does is make it clear that the regular season is one thing, and the tournament is something completely different. Winning the AL East or the NL Central can once again be valued for the triumph that it is over 162 games, and success in the tournament can be valued for the triumph that it is over four. The difference between the two would be made more clear.

There are other gains. All of the complaints about the length of games go away, because those are largely a function of the length of the month and the later start times. Look, I love baseball too, but October has become a grind. The games themselves are grinds and they stack up over the course of the month and become a blur. All that goes away. You want to bring back the primacy of starting pitchers? They’ll be quarterbacks in this format. Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander taking the mound every week with the season on the line. There will still be strategic differences between teams that ride horses and teams that go with all-reliever approaches.

This doesn’t come without cost, of course. Baseball still draws big crowds at inflated ticket prices in October. There were 37 playoff games last year, 40 in 2019, 33 in 2018. There would be 15 in this format. That’s a lot of ticket, beer, and hot dog money to give up. The players are paid in the playoffs based on gate revenue, so you’d have to find a way to make them whole. I’m less worried about the effect on TV deals; you’re removing bulk, and a lot of that bulk is on MLB Network and FS1 and TBS and BYUtv. (It’s how I feel about the regular season, too -- you can take away 15 games in March/April and 15 games in September and not affect the true value of the TV inventory at all.) My rationale is that the gains in the value of the remaining games would, over time, make the financials a wash.

This is admittedly a play on spec, a bet that a postseason single-elimination tournament would, as it does for the NFL, bring in more casual fans for the spectacle. Baseball just doesn’t have anything like the NFL has had these last two weekends, and its current postseason format will simply never allow for it. A radical rethinking of the playoffs would be taking a big leap, but it’s one I believe would do more for the game’s popularity than would just tacking best-of-threes on to the current system.

October Madness. Make it happen.
 

Friday, January 21, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 21, 2022 -- "Random Player Comments, Cont'd"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and 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.

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

--
 
"Chicken or the egg? Was Nick Senzel always going to have his career ruined by injuries, or was constantly being asked to learn new positions a spur for those injuries? It’s both, to be sure, but I’ll always wonder what Senzel’s career would have looked like had the Reds not moved him around every time they got distracted by a shiny object. Or Scooter Gennett. Senzel is now 26 (baseball 27 this year) with a .246/.308/.396 line -- negative bWAR -- in 163 games. He’s a bad outfielder by any measure, but there’s no spot on the infield for him to play. He needs a mercy trade."

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 20, 2022 -- "Random Player Comments"

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.

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

--
 
"My pick for the 2022 AL MVP is Wander Franco, who at 20 years old bounced back from a slow start to hit .314/.372/.500 with a 22/19 K/BB in the second half. At 20 years old. Franco was also a plus defensive shortstop in 543 innings and hit .368/.368/.789 in his first exposure to postseason play. At 20 years old. There’s no player, not Shohei Ohtani, not Juan Soto, not Jacob deGrom, whom I am more excited about watching this season than I am Franco."
 
 

 

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 18, 2022 -- "Fun With Numbers: Shohei Ohtani"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and 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.

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

--
 
"There’s no zealot like a convert, of course, so take my opinion as coming from someone who was a skeptic one year ago. For me, though, the greatest statistical outlier in sports history is the guy who was a four-win player -- a top-five hitter -- and a four-win pitcher. That’s never been done before, and may never be done again."

Friday, January 14, 2022

Baseball Is Not Just a Business

 
On Thursday afternoon, I read a tweet that set me off, and posted my own in loose response:

“Every MLB team can afford to pay market rate for great baseball players. If there is one idea that has to be eradicated, it’s the image of some teams — and their owners — as ‘have nots.’ Stop letting people wealthy enough to buy baseball teams play victims.”
 

This blew up a bit, by personal standards, and it’s ruined my mentions for 24 hours. Fine, play stupid games, win stupid prizes. I should know by now I can’t teach sports economics to every bro who accidentally got two issues of Forbes delivered to him in 2013 and now thinks he’s Paul Krugman. The EIBs bother me, but at this point they’re a symptom of a larger problem that I’m never going to solve.

No, what is really making me mad is this, and I’m paraphrasing:

“Dude, they’re running a business just like anyone else, and they get to make a profit.”

Here’s the thing: No, they’re fucking not. A baseball team isn’t just a business, and I know this because they don’t print the grocery store standings in the paper. There’s no half-hour show recapping the day in car dealerships. Your kid didn’t ask for an Albertson’s jersey this Christmas, with her favorite checkout clerk’s name on the back.

Baseball isn’t a business like any other, and the 30 people and companies who own those teams know this. Baseball teams, and the league itself, race to coat themselves in community and patriotism and hot apple pie whenever it’s convenient for them. They trade on the image of baseball, one they had no hand in crafting, to stay exempt from inconvenient laws, to dip into the public coffers, to ask for special treatment.

A baseball team doesn’t have to show a profit, although if we had perfect information we would see that most do, in most years. When one doesn’t, absolutely nothing bad happens to anyone. The businesses those 30 owners run that generated enough money for them to buy a baseball team -- those are the ones that have to sweat the bottom line. The law firms and grocery chains and trucking companies...they’re real businesses. The baseball team is the unlocked achievement, the bauble, the special toy. It is not a business like any other, because baseball teams aren’t evaluated based on their profits, they’re evaluated based on their wins, their championships, the number of moments they create for the people who invest not just their money, but their time and their passion.

You’ve literally never had a heated conversation over which accountant was better, but with two beers and the right bar stools, I could get you into a debate about Mike Trout versus Willie Mays, about Pedro Martinez versus Greg Maddux, about Boog’s versus Shake Shack. I doubt you care about the architecture of Chipotle or Sweetgreen, but you probably have opinions about the warehouse in Baltimore versus the Green Monster versus the ivy at Wrigley.

Baseball isn’t a business just like any other, and defending cheap owners who won’t try to put winning teams on the field with smarmy third-day Business 101 takes is an insult to the people who raised you. None of these owners you defend would buy a house and then not furnish it, demanding their neighbors chip in for the flat screen and the expensive grill.

If they can afford to buy the team, they can afford to pay good players. Stop apologizing for them when they don’t.


Newsletter Excerpt, January 14, 2022 -- "Revenue Sharing"

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.

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

--
 
"MLB owners share a higher percentage and a much larger amount of local revenue than their counterparts in the NFL do. MLB teams are required to put 48% of their locally derived revenue -- local media and ballpark revenue foremost among them -- into a pool that is divided equally among the 30 teams. NFL teams, however, share just 40% of ticket sales, and nothing of the ancillary revenues derived at the stadium."
 
 

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 12, 2022 -- "Three Shortstops, and the Royals"

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.

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

--
 
"If the pattern holds, it’s about to be a good time to be a Royals fan. They don’t look quite like, say, the 2013 Astros or 2014 Cubs, but the amount of talent they’re ready to push to the majors could very quickly produce an extended stretch of success that mirrors the 1976-1985 teams."

Monday, January 10, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 10, 2022 -- "Three Hires"

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.

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

--
 
"The Yankees promoted a woman who had worked for four major-league organizations, a winter-league team, a national team, and a think tank.

"The Astros reached into another team’s talent pool to identify someone with both player-development and front-office experience.

"The Rockies promoted the owner’s son who’d been on the payroll since grad school.

"Root accordingly."

Not About Baseball: The Timeout

 I was already up writing, so why not do a second piece as well?--JSS

-

Reader David S. emailed to say that he’d be OK with me writing about non-baseball topics. I’ve done so on rare occasion over the years, to mixed response, and I doubt I’ll make it a regular thing. As it turns out, though, I would like to write at length about last night’s NFL finale, which ended in some controversy. If you’re only here for the baseball, you can tap out at this point. Everyone else...

Some quick background: Yesterday was the final day of the NFL season, with 14 games scheduled, all intradivisional matchups. The NFL tries to batch its last-day games so that teams fighting for the same playoff berth are playing at the same time. It also tries to give its TV partners the pick of the litter, so when setting Sunday’s slate a week ago, it slotted the Chargers/Raiders game as the night game on NBC, the last game of the season.

When it did so, it seemed a good choice. The game was likely to be a do-or-die matchup, with the winner advancing to the playoffs and the loser going home. It was that, in fact, but due to some unlikely results in the first 13 games on Sunday, a quirk developed: The Chargers and Raiders could both advance to the playoffs if the game ended in a tie. This was a popular topic online all week, with sports nerds citing The Disgrace of Gijon a little more than anyone needed, amid speculation about a contest filled with kneeldowns and punts. Like a Giants game.

To their credit, that’s not how the teams played it. The Raiders ran out to leads of 10-0 and 29-14, only for the Chargers to come back to tie the game on the final play of regulation. This was no disgrace. Had it been a clean winner-take-all, it would have been plenty exciting, but the possibility of a winning tie -- and the Steelers taking it on the chin -- gave the whole situation an extra buzz.

With the teams tied headed to overtime, the possibility of ten minutes of passive play loomed. At no point, however, did we get anything that even remotely looked like collusion. The Raiders drove down and kicked a field goal, the Chargers countered with the same, converting a number of fourth downs along the way. (NFL overtime rules are a hoot. Suffice to say the above is all kosher.) The Raiders got the ball a second time, now with the game governed by sudden death rules, with about four minutes left in OT. If no one scored, both the Raiders and Chargers would advance. If we were ever going to see, if not disgrace, perhaps some light embarrassment, it would have been here. The Raiders, though, moved the ball aggressively and crossed midfield at the two-minute warning.

That’s a lot so far, so let’s reset the game. The Raiders advance to the playoffs with a win or a tie. They have the ball first-and-10 on the Chargers’ 45-yard line, with two time outs left. They completely control the game. They gain some benefit from winning -- a weaker opponent, though on shorter rest after a longer flight -- but the difference between a win and a tie for them is small.

The Raiders can, at this point, end the game with kneeldowns, running out the clock on a tie. Instead, they hand the ball off and lose a yard. The Chargers have two time outs left, and if they had any intention of being aggressive in an attempt to win the game, this would have been the spot to use one. They did not, surely hoping for a tie at this point. The Raiders again could have knelt down, but they wore down the play clock and ran a draw on second down, gaining seven yards to the Chargers’ 39. As the clock ran under 45 seconds, the Raiders were again not in victory formation, not signaling a kneeldown. They were in shotgun, lining up to run a play, likely similar to the draw they had just run for seven yards.

With 38 seconds left on the game clock and four seconds on the play clock, Chargers coach Brandon Staley called timeout. That’s why we’re here today.

This timeout made people very, very angry. It was seen as “stopping the clock,” which it literally did, but in the least effectual manner possible. Staley had not called timeout after the first-down loss, and had not called timeout immediately after the second-down run. By not doing so, he essentially forfeited any chance to get the ball back and do something with it after a punt. The clock was no longer a factor in this game. (At best, the Chargers could have gotten the ball back on their 20 with maybe 25 seconds left and no timeouts, and with no reason to risk a turnover by running plays.) Staley’s timeout, called with less than 40 seconds left, was intended to allow him to set his defense, while also leaving the Raiders the ability to run the clock out after the next snap.

The Raiders averaged five yards a carry for the game. They averaged nine yards a carry in overtime. Jacobs had just gashed the Chargers for seven yards in a situation when everyone knew a run was coming. The Raiders needed four yards for a first down, and anything short of that would most likely cause them to not run a fourth-down play. Their kicker, Daniel Carlson, has a strong, accurate leg, but even the best kickers lose accuracy -- and risk being blocked -- outside of 50 yards. Anything short of a Raiders first down, short of four yards, would have left Carlson kicking from 53 yards -- and more likely, the Raiders simply letting the clock run out.

The Chargers could no longer win the game. They needed a tie. To get that tie, they had to keep the Raiders from gaining four yards on third down, forcing them to choose between a high-risk field goal or accepting a tie. Staley’s timeout had absolutely nothing to do with the clock, and everything to do with finding the right defense to stop the Raiders short of a first down.

It didn’t work. Jacobs ran straight ahead for ten yards, setting up a 47-yard field goal, which sharply changed the risk/reward calculus. That’s the NFL now, where 47-yard field goals are safe plays. Raiders interim coach Rich Bisaccia sent on Carlson, Carlson knocked it through, and his kids can now go to Carnegie Mellon for free.

The reaction in the wake of all this was to blame Staley’s timeout for the field goal. I wasn’t listening, but apparently NBC’s Cris Collinsworth made a big deal out of it. Staley has been in the line of fire as an aggressive decision-maker, including calling for a fourth-down attempt deep inside his own territory earlier in this game, so he’s a natural target for blame in our sports culture wars. The thought was that the Raiders were accepting the tie until Staley called the timeout, and that his calling the timeout spurred them to change their minds and try hard to win.

It’s nonsense. The Raiders could have accepted a tie by running kneeldowns once past the two-minute warning. They didn’t. They had second-and-11 and they went into shotgun and ran a draw for seven yards. They had third-and-four and lined up in shotgun. At no point in the game did the Raiders stop trying to gain yards and make first downs. They were not rushing to the line, but they were running plays, and their running game was having success. The best evidence of their intentions, certainly so far as Brandon Staley would know, was in their play calls and their formations.

The timeout changed nothing. The Raiders were set up to run the ball on third-and-four with 38 seconds left when Staley called timeout, and they were set up to run the ball on third-and-four with 38 seconds left when the ball was snapped after the timeout. What changed? They got ten yards. The ten yards is what changed the decision, something Bisaccia was crystal-clear about after the game.

“[Playing for a tie] was a conversation, we were talking about it. We ran the ball there and they didn’t call a time out. So I think they were probably thinking the same thing, you know, and then we had the big run through there, and when we got the big run and got what we thought was advantageous field-goal position for us, we were gonna take the field goal and try to win it. But we were certainly talking about it on the sideline, we wanted to see if they were gonna call time out or not on that run, they didn’t so we thought they were thinking the same thing, and then we popped a run and it gave us a chance to kick the field goal to win it. So we were talking about it.”

This has been framed -- see the underlying URL above, and in many other places -- as an admission by Bisaccia that the Raiders were playing for a tie. That’s not what he said at all. In that situation, of course you’re discussing it, managing the game. It would be absolute malpractice for Bisaccia and his staff to not be talking about it. At no point, however, did the Raiders do things to play for a tie. They didn’t kneel down. They didn’t get into a victory formation. They didn’t stop trying to advance the ball. They got seven yards on the play immediately prior to the timeout! Whatever conversations were happening, the Raiders were playing to win on every play until the timeout was called.

What changed was that Staley’s defense didn’t get a stop. The Raiders had second-and-11 on the Chargers’ 46, and two snaps later the Raiders had first-and-10 on the Chargers’ 29. That was what changed the game. That’s why the Raiders won and the Chargers lost, not the timeout, but the two plays wrapped around it.

There is so much magical thinking out there today about this sequence, this idea that the Raiders were settling for a tie before the timeout but got their backs up after Staley called it and decided to win. The only way to sell this is to ignore everything the Raiders actually did leading up to the timeout, ignore everything Bisaccia said after the game, ignore all but the first five words of what David Carr said after the game. The only way to sell this is to center a timeout that didn’t change the game state at all, and ignore the 17 yards on the ground that very much did.

There is some baseless speculation about what the Chargers might have tried, but it doesn’t fit the game script at all. If they’d wanted the ball back, calling timeout on second-and-11 with 1:55 left would have been the play. If it was about the clock on third-and-four, Staley could have called timeout with 1:15 left instead of waiting. There was all this rambling about what dangers Bisaccia must have divined by Staley taking the timeout, and none of it makes any sense with 38 seconds left. There’s no path for the Chargers to get the ball back and score with so little time left. Any last-minute Chargers possession would have consisted of a single kneeldown and a celebration.

Brandon Staley makes a nice big target because he doesn’t take short field goals and because he goes for it on fourth down a lot and because his team didn’t win. There’s room to debate many of his decisions -- I’m a stathead and I haven’t agreed with every high-profile choice he’s made -- but not this one. Staley called timeout to stop a run game that had been wrecking his defense, to make a field goal attempt a bad idea, to salvage the only thing left: a tie. It didn’t work out, but the timeout didn’t make a difference to the outcome at all. The timeout didn’t lose the tie. The defense lost the tie.


Friday, January 7, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 7, 2022 -- "Mailbag"

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.

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

--
 
"JS: Given the Francisco Lindor deal and the Mets’ now very old team and short horizon, I think you put Mauricio on the table. He’s probably not a star at second base, and it’s not a lock he hits well enough to be a regular there. Mauricio for Means and Paul Fry isn’t crazy."

Newsletter Excerpt, January 6, 2022 -- "From the Archives: Hidden Revenue Sharing"

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.

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

--
 
"On ESPN’s flagship summer programming Sunday Night Baseball, MLB’s only true Game of the Week, five teams appeared five times, and two others appeared four times (the Yankees would have made it six, but they had a Sunday night game rained out). Fifteen teams, half the league, didn’t show up on Sunday Night Baseball at all. For their five appearances, the Yankees got $22 million or so from ESPN. For their zero appearances, the Marlins, Padres, Royals and a dozen other teams also got $22 million apiece."

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 5, 2022 -- "Jordan Lyles, and the Orioles"

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.

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

--
 
"Lyles isn’t good, but in 30 starts last year he pitched through the fifth 23 times. Less than half the Orioles' games last year featured a starter doing that. Half of Lyles’s starts were quality starts, which isn’t damning with faint praise. The Orioles, outside of John Means, had 19 quality starts all year. Signing Lyles gives Brandon Hyde a fighting chance in a way that his starting pitchers didn’t on most nights the last few years, gives him a chance to run a pitching staff like the manager of a typical bad team and not a triage doctor on a battlefield."

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 4, 2022 -- "Books to Revive"

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.

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

--
 
"Over New Year’s weekend, though, I finally opened the book. I was ready for it, and it delivered. Perhaps because of the two months spent thinking mostly about hoops and pop charts, the Handbook held more surprises for me than it usually did. Just one National League team hit .250! The Royals spent four weeks in first place! Javier Baez struck out how many times?!?"

Monday, January 3, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, January 3, 2022 -- "Standing Still, and the Rockies"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and 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.

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 lockout the Rockies didn’t do anything of note to make their team better. The focus was on retaining the best players from a 74-87 team: Elias Diaz and C.J. Cron got multi-year extensions, while Jhoulys Chacin and Daniel Bard were also retained. I’m burning the Rockies off today because I don’t expect them to do much more once the lockout ends."