Saturday, September 24, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 24, 2022 -- "700"

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 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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"That homer off Heaney, career #699, was just the appetizer. An inning after that homer, Pujols came up again, this time against righty Phil Bickford. On 1-1, Bickford threw an 81-mph hanging slider, and Pujols crushed the cookie like a four-year-old who got into the secret Oreo stash."

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 22, 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 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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"My concern is that in building this schedule, MLB has left itself no wiggle room at all. Any rainout is going to disrupt the calendar, and multiple ones could create scheduling and travel challenges. As it stands, you could have teams making cross-country flights in the Division Series and LCS rounds without a day off -- Seattle/New York and Los Angeles/New York are both possible matchups. While I think we want to make playoff baseball more like regular-season baseball, we also don’t want bad baseball caused by unrealistic travel demands."

 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, August 31, 2022 -- "Aaron Judge"

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 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. 14, No. 81
August 31, 2022

Aaron Judge hit homers #50 and #51 the last two nights in Anaheim, placing him on this list:

Good Company (50+ homers prior to September 1)

Barry Bonds   2001   57
Mark McGwire  1998   55
Sammy Sosa    1998   55
Sammy Sosa    1999   52
Six tied with        51



This is Judge’s second 50-homer season, making him the tenth player to hit 50 at least twice and the first since Alex Rodriguez had his third 50-homer campaign in 2007.

Judge’s homer last night, a fourth-inning, three-run blast off Mike Mayers that just about ended the contest, came off the bat at 107.5 mph, another in a long line of Judge rockets in his seven-season career. Since Judge’s debut season in 2016, just one player has hit more balls with an EV of 110 mph or higher. The two know each other.

Rocket Launcher (Batted balls with 110+ mph EV, 2016-22)
 
Giancarlo Stanton      296
Aaron Judge            253
Nelson Cruz            208
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.  179
Manny Machado          154



You can argue Judge versus Stanton, Stanton versus Judge. What you can’t argue is that these are the two most powerful hitters of their era, two of the most powerful hitters ever.

Because Judge has done this before, hitting 52 homers in 2017, his monster season isn’t entirely a surprise. What 2017 and 2022 have in common is volume. This is just the third time Judge has qualified for the batting title (502 PA for most players in most years), having been plagued by nagging injuries from 2018 through 2020. While playing more, he’s making the best contact of his career -- the best power hitter in baseball has a slightly above-average strikeout rate (25%). He’s also hitting more balls in the air; his groundball rate of 39% is his lowest since that 2017 season. Judge hits the ball so hard, so often, that elevating it is more valuable to him than to almost any other player in the game. This year, Judge’s fly balls have gone for homers 34.2% of the time, the sixth-highest full-season rate on record (since 2002, ex. 2020). That’s shy of his 2017 mark of 35.6%, second-best ever.

More plate appearances, more contact, more fly balls...more homers.

Judge’s great season has gone mostly unmentioned here, and that’s not an accident. I have largely shied away from his accomplishments, saying at one point I wanted Judge to hit 59 homers or 74. All the numbers in between, as was made very clear last night by one national writer (I’m not linking to him), would just open the door to turning what should be a great story for baseball into yet another opportunity to get turn of the century baseball wrong, to bash the declared villains, to go through the looking glass on what is “real” and what is not.

I don’t want to write about that. It’s a religion at this point, the Church of Steroids, and you either believe or you don’t. If you want to separate Judge out, give him special credit for what he’s doing, you can do it without reheating 20-year-old meals.

Records are most often broken when talent, opportunity, and context come together. For the clutch of players who have hit the most homers in a season, they all had talent, and they all played a lot in seasons when home runs were cheap. Go back to that chart above; ten players have gone into September with at least 50 homers, but in just six seasons. Giancarlo Stanton, the last player to do it, did so in 2017, when the league HR/PA was 3.3%, the highest in MLB history. Barry Bonds, who in 2001 had the most homers ever at this point in the season, did it in a league that hit homers 2.9% of the time, to that point the second-highest figure ever.

In 2022, with no pitchers batting, MLB is hitting homers 2.8% of the time. Judge isn’t benefiting from the rising tide of the double expansion of the 1990s or even the single expansion that helped Roger Maris. He’s hitting a baseball that is two-thirds lead and still chasing a 60-homer season.

Let’s put Judge’s performance in a different context. He has 51 homers, and no one else in baseball has 40. That just isn’t done, not since Babe Ruth was out-homering entire teams a hundred years ago. From 1919 to 1928, Ruth hit at least 13 homers more than the next guy did seven times. Twice, in 1920 and 1921, he hit 35 homers more than the second-place slugger. You’re paying money for a baseball newsletter: I can probably stop telling you Babe Ruth was good.

Outside of Ruth, the biggest lead any player ever had in the home-run race was 17, by Jimmie Foxx in 1932, when he hit 58 homers and...well, this is awkward...Babe Ruth hit 41. A year later, Foxx hit 48 and...yeesh...Ruth hit 34. That gap, 14, is the second-largest ever.

Lapping the Field (Biggest home-run race victories, non-Babe division)

                       HR   Lead
Jimmie Foxx     1932   58     17
Jimmie Foxx     1933   48     14
Willie Mays     1965   52     13
Buck Freeman    1899   25     13
Jose Bautista   2010   53     12
Cecil Fielder   1990   51     11
Kevin Mitchell  1989   47     11
George Foster   1977   52     11
Ralph Kiner     1949   54     11



When Barry Bonds hit 73, Sammy Sosa hit 64 and two other guys hit 50. When Mark McGwire hit 70, Sosa hit 66 and two other guys hit 50. Roger Maris’s 61 was chased by Mickey Mantle (54), and four other guys hit at least 45 homers.

Aaron Judge has 15 homers more than the next guy, Kyle Schwarber, does with a month to play. No one has won the home-run race by that much since Jimmie Foxx, and if Judge stretches the lead, he could do what no hitter has done since Babe Ruth.

Yes, records are usually set when talent, opportunity, and context come together. Judge is operating outside that formula, though, hitting bombs in a context that is punishing hitters for hitting the ball hard and up. Let’s spend this next month tracking him, enjoying him, marveling at him, centering him. Judge’s power in a league drained of it is the story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 20, 2022 -- "Tiebreakers"

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 25 years.

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"If we get any kind of three-way tie, and I say this with love, ask someone else what happens. Those scenarios, which held the potential for so much fun for 120 years, are now just annoying."
 
 

 

Monday, September 19, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 19, 2022 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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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"Alvarez did that damage yesterday hitting third. I’d like to see Dusty Baker move him up to second to start the lineup Jose Altuve/Alvarez/Alex Bregman/Kyle Tucker. Jeremy Peña, who has mostly batted second in September, is a strong defensive shortstop who started the season hitting well. Now, though, he has a .285 OBP, .274 against righties with a 94/13 K/BB. He’s at .231/.254/.345 in the second half. Peña is overmatched at the plate. The Astros dearly miss Michael Brantley, out for the year with a shoulder injury. They have to get their best hitters as many at-bats as possible."

 

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 17, 2022 -- "Watching the Sho"

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 25 years.

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"So to my eyes, Ohtani doubling down this year, actually getting better as a pitcher -- more strikeouts, fewer walks -- while sustaining his greatness at the plate, is more impressive to me than his 2021 was. Last year wasn’t a fluke. This is who he is, one of the best hitters in baseball and one of the best pitchers in baseball."

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 15, 2022 -- "Kansas City"

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 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 Royals are just lousy with guys like this, players who are really interesting with a wide range of possible outcomes and possible defensive issues. I love MJ Melendez, who may or may not be a catcher but is most definitely a power-and-walks guy who can run. Vinnie Pasquantino has 28 strikeouts against 23 unintentional walks, unheard of for a Royals hitter."

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, September 13, 2022 -- "Fun With Numbers: Mookie Betts"

 

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 25 years.

Your subscription gets you the newsletter and various related features two to five days a week, 200 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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Last night, Mookie Betts hit a three-run homer to cap a 6-0 Dodgers win that clinched the NL West. It’s the team's ninth division title in ten years, a streak broken only by the 107-win 2021 Giants. The Dodgers, after some postseason troubles early in the run, have won three of the last five NL pennants and are the favorites to win a fourth in six years. They’ve won nine of their last 13 postseason series, a mark that would have gotten you nine championships up to 1969 and at least five in the years after that through 1993.

The Dodgers’ postseason track record, and how we judge baseball teams in general, will be a big topic in October. Today, I want to go back to that three-run homer and the player who hit it. Mookie Betts has an MVP award and two rings, and I’m not entirely sure the average fan knows how great he is. I’m not sure I did until I went digging.

Consider this list of active bWAR leaders:

Simply The Best (most bWAR, active players)

                   bWAR   Age
Albert Pujols     100.9    42
Mike Trout         81.4    30
Justin Verlander   77.0    39
Clayton Kershaw    71.6    34
Zack Greinke       70.9    38
Max Scherzer       70.2    37
Robinson Cano      68.1    39
Miguel Cabrera     67.9    39
Joey Votto         64.3    38
Evan Longoria      58.3    36
Paul Goldschmidt   58.0    34
Mookie Betts       56.3    29
Nolan Arenado      51.4    31
Manny Machado      51.0    29


Betts is three months younger than Manny Machado, making him the youngest player in baseball with at least 50 bWAR. All these players lost wins to the pandemic season, but Betts, Machado, Mike Trout and Nolan Arenado lost prime years. They’re short two to four wins of what they might otherwise have. Keep that in mind as you read this next list.

(As I’ve mentioned before, I like using 1961 as a cutoff because it is a reasonable approximation of when the leagues were fully integrated. All the following charts and analysis do so. Your mileage may vary.)

Another Hero (bWAR through age-29 season, since 1961)

                   bWAR
Alex Rodriguez     80.6
Mike Trout         76.1
Albert Pujols      73.8
Ken Griffey Jr.    70.7
Barry Bonds        66.5
Roger Clemens      62.6
Rickey Henderson   61.4
Johnny Bench       59.5
Bert Blyleven      59.3
Clayton Kershaw    58.8
Tom Seaver         58.0
Andruw Jones       58.0
Cal Ripken Jr.     57.8
Pedro Martinez     57.3
Ron Santo          56.6
Mookie Betts       56.3



Betts is 16th on this list, at the tail end of a large cluster of players. In 2020, Betts put up 3.6 bWAR in a 60-game campaign, on pace for nearly a ten-win season. bWAR doesn’t always work that way, but you don’t have to be a family member to think that Betts would have racked up another four wins in 2020, leapfrogging that cluster to become just the eighth player in the expansion era with at least 60 bWAR before he turned 30.

That shortened campaign sticks out on his b-r page, the only “full” season in which he’s had fewer than four bWAR. Mookie Betts doesn’t have bad years. He was worth 2.3 wins in 52 games as a rookie. His “down year” in 2021 was a four-win season that most players would die to have -- .264/.367/.487 (126 OPS+), ten steals -- all while playing 122 games despite injuries to his back, forearm, and hip. Drafted out of a Nashville high school at 18, Betts did nothing but hit in the Sox system while being promoted slowly. He might reasonably have been called up sooner in 2014 and had a four-win season.

If we put our thumb on the scale and just look at players from ages 22 through 29, we find six who have been worth at least four wins in all eight years. Betts is at seven plus 3.6 bWAR in 60 games in 2020 -- I think we should give it to him.

The list of highest WAR totals by young players is dominated by ones who reached the majors at 20 and younger. That’s as it should be -- playing well in the majors at that age is a sign, in and of itself, of greatness. If we use that same thumb on that same scale to limit ourselves to players across Betts’ eight full campaigns...

Atypical Male (most bWAR, ages 22-29, since 1961)

Albert Pujols      67.3
Alex Rodriguez     66.1
Barry Bonds        62.9
Roger Clemens      60.8
Tom Seaver         58.0
Mike Trout         56.2
Ken Griffey Jr.    55.2
Mookie Betts       54.1
Pedro Martinez     54.0



Mookie Betts, since becoming a full-time player, has played like an inner-circle Hall of Famer, like some of the best players in baseball history.

Betts hit last night’s homer in a game he started and in which played all nine innings at second base. It’s not terribly unusual -- Betts was primarily a second baseman in the minors, moved off the position in deference to Dustin Pedroia. The Dodgers gave him one start at second in 2020 and five each in 2021 and 2022, looking to establish their Team Pretzel bona fides and allow Dave Roberts to get all his outfielders into the lineup.

When Betts reached the majors in 2014, he had played just 415 career innings in the outfield, all in ’14, so it’s incredible that he’s become one of the best outfielders of his era. But for coming up alongside Jackie Bradley Jr., Betts probably would have been a center fielder, though playing right field at Fenway Park is as close as a right fielder gets to having a center fielder’s defensive responsibilities. He took to the position well enough to have won five Gold Glove awards in an era when those awards have better tracked defensive performance.

There are just three active players who have at least five seasons of four offensive bWAR and one defensive bWAR. (We’ll call them “two-way seasons.”) Betts is one of them, along with Nolan Arenado and Carlos Correa. Take off the “active” tag and return to our earlier criteria, and...

Show Some Respect (4+ oWAR and 1+ dWAR seasons, by age 29, since 1961)

Johnny Bench     8
Cal Ripken Jr.   7
Alex Rodriguez   6
George Brett     6
Mike Schmidt     6
nine tied with   5



Betts is in the last group, with five two-way seasons by age 29. I hate to keep harping on this, but Betts’s 2020 season (2.6 oWAR, .09 dWAR) was certainly headed for this as well, elevating him to a tie with some of the best two-way players ever. The 2020 season will be poisoning our stats for a generation.

Running at this from a different direction, Betts’s combination of offensive and defensive value in his twenties marks him as one of the all-time two-way players.

What You Get Is What You See (40+ oWAR and 10+ dWAR before age 30, since 1961)

                   oWAR   dWAR
Alex Rodriguez     77.5   11.6
Ken Griffey Jr.    64.1   10.3
Barry Bonds        49.9   11.7
Johnny Bench       50.3   17.7
Cal Ripken Jr.     48.5   19.9
Mookie Betts       41.2   12.9
Robin Yount        51.0   12.1
Manny Machado      41.9   13.5
Mike Schmidt       40.3   12.7
Alan Trammell      41.2   14.8
Jim Fregosi        44.3   11.6



Again, this is with Betts being shorted by the 2020 season. (Manny Machado, who also lost WAR to the pandemic, is perhaps even more underrated than Mookie Betts is.)

Look, we live in the age of Mike Trout, who was so incredible in his twenties that he broke the curve. He’s the best player of his era and, if you acknowledge that baseball players are always getting better, the best player ever. Betts, though, now looks very much like the clear #2 from this era, and he has some markers Trout doesn’t have: More two-way value, more postseason performance, two rings, better durability. Over the last five years, Betts is five WAR clear of the field, even with that injury-plagued 2021 season.

The best may be yet to come. Betts, to me, is most reminiscent of a player we haven’t mentioned yet.

Two People

             PA   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+   SB   oWAR  dWAR
Betts      4984  .294 .370 .523  135   158   41.2  12.9
Player X   5298  .270 .384 .414  129   320   47.5   1.4



Player X played in a total dead zone for offense, and he stayed at second base rather than being moved to the outfield. He stole more bases because everyone did and, while not shown above, struck out less because everyone did.

Joe Morgan was on a Hall of Fame trajectory in his twenties. Then he put together one of the best stretches of my lifetime, a three-year run in which he hit .313/.446/.525 (171 OPS+), stole 62 bases a year with an 86% success rate, won two NL MVP awards and helped his team to two championships. He was one of the best percentage players of all time, one of the smartest players of all time, and was eventually elected to the Hall of Fame on his first ballot.

Now, baseball is played differently today, so I doubt Mookie Betts has that kind of running in his future. The rest of it, though, is within his grasp. Morgan’s 1975 season is one of just nine 11-win seasons in my lifetime, ninth-best of that group. You know who just missed? Mookie Betts in 2018, with 10.7.

Mookie Betts is the second-best player of his era, which makes him one of the very best players ever. His combination of offense and defense puts him in a rare category among players in the last 60 years, as complete a player as has played the game. His baseball intellect calls to mind that of Joe Morgan, who combined talent and experience and that intellect to play an all-time stretch of baseball in his early thirties. The best may be yet to come for Betts. 

-

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Monday, September 12, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 12, 2022 -- "Reset"

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 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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"There’s a 97% chance that the three AL teams in wild-card position today will be the three AL wild-card teams. The Orioles still have six games with the Blue Jays, including three in Toronto next weekend, so you have to acknowledge their shot. The White Sox are about 20 times more likely to win the AL Central than to end up as a wild card."

Friday, September 9, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 9, 2022 -- "Yadier Molina"

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 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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"Even with the big day, Molina is having one of the worst seasons of his career: .224/.245/.313 (60 OPS+) in just 65 games. He remains a deterrent to basestealers, gunning down 42% of them, with just 24 even trying against him all season."

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 8, 2022 -- "Pretty Good Day"

 

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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 NL Central race is over. Last night’s win put the Cardinals up 9 1/2 games over the Brewers, nine in the loss column. Their magic number is 17. The Cardinals are 25-12 since Jose Quintana made his debut for the team August 2."

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, September 6, 2022 -- "Design Flaw"

This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and has been a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for 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. 14, No. 84
September 6, 2022

A couple weeks back at Prospectus, Rob Mains pointed out flaws in the new playoff format that, at the time, seemed like a problem but not a crisis. The way MLB has set it up, it will often be better for a team to be the #6 seed than the #5 seed, and occasionally better to be the #2 seed than the #1 seed. With a couple weeks of games in the books since the piece, the issue Rob raised is, at least in the AL, emerging as a very big one.
                          
Astros       87-48   .644
Yankees      81-54   .600   
Guardians    69-64   .519   



The Astros are very likely to be the overall #1 seed. They are six games up on the Yankees, effectively 6 1/2 with the tiebreaker. The Yankees, similarly, are going to get the second bye, 11 games up on the current AL Central leaders, the Guardians. For the sake of today’s Newsletter, we’ll assume these seeds hold.


Rays         75-58   .564
Mariners     76-59   .563
Blue Jays    75-59   .560   

Orioles      71-64   .526  4.5
Twins        68-65   .511  6.5
White Sox    68-67   .504  7.5



The Blue Jays swept the Orioles in that highly anticipated doubleheader yesterday, creating a lot of separation in what was very recently a tight wild-card race. There are three teams over the line, and they now have almost a week’s lead on the rest of the field. Those three teams, virtually tied today, are fighting as much for the first wild card, which comes with home-field advantage in that best-of-three first round, as for a playoff berth.

There’s no fluke here. Look at run differential, look at expected winning percentage, and you see the same separation between the top three teams and the rest of the field. Again for our purposes today, we’ll assume these seeds hold.

Rob Mains proposed that the #6 seed might be a better landing place than the #5 seed. I’m here to tell you that as it stands today in the American League, not only is it better, it’s better by so much as to be worth acting upon. The #5 seed in the AL will play a best-of-three on the road against a comparable team, and then advance to play the Astros, the best team in the AL. The #6 seed will play a best-of-three on the road at the AL Central champ, at most the sixth-best team in the league. Then, because MLB isn’t re-seeding, that team will play the Yankees.

Those two paths aren’t comparable, and they’re not really all that close. Let’s fast-forward four weeks and make up some entirely plausible numbers.


Mariners     95-64   .594
Rays         91-69   .569
Blue Jays    91-69   .569

White Sox    84-76   .525
Guardians    83-77   .519
Twins        82-78   .513



The Mariners, whose schedule over the season’s last three weeks looks like something John Thompson would have put together in the 1980s for Georgetown, take advantage to lock up the first wild card. The Rays and Jays make a valiant effort to stay with the Yankees, but they lose contact over the last weekend and are eliminated from AL East contention, left to fight for seeding. On the afternoon of October 4, the Rays and Jays are faced with the following situation over their final two games: win, and have to go through the Mariners and Astros; or lose, and have to go through the AL Central champ and then the Yankees.

Fiddle with the numbers and the records all you want, swap the AL wild-card teams around, but there’s no way around the conclusion. The championship-maximizing play in the 2022 American League is to be the #6 seed rather than the #5 seed.

The players, the managers, the front office types, the league will tell you that a team is never going to intentionally lose a game to improve its playoff chances. If I held any of those jobs, I’d say the same. I don’t. Rob Mains warned you that MLB has created a playoff format where it’s better to be a lower seed. I’m here to tell you that, in the first year of the format, it’s so much better that teams will be more likely to advance in the tournament if they play to fall to that lower seed.

There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. MLB could get lucky in a lot of ways. The three AL wild-card teams could all have a chance at the #4 seed in the season’s last days. The AL Central winner could play well enough to seem as much a threat as the top wild card team. There could be enough separation between the #5 and #6 teams to make this a moot point. The Orioles could rebound and create a fight for that last playoff spot. Maybe MLB dodges a bullet this time.

The problem, though, isn’t just going away. As Mains wrote, in many seasons, playing the third division titleist is going to be a better draw than playing the top wild card, and so the incentive to be the last wild card rather than the second one is often going to be in play. Bracketing the playoffs so that the 6/3 winner plays the #2 seed just doubles down on that incentive. For all the problems with playoff expansion in recent years, MLB had never created an incentive to lose. Now it has, and it needs to address that in future seasons.

 

Monday, September 5, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 5, 2022 -- "Big Day at Camden Yards"

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 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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"So today has the potential to be the biggest showing at Camden Yards in quite some time. Owing to an August rainout, the Orioles host the Blue Jays in a single-admission, daytime, holiday doubleheader. Get out your straw hats, folks: For one day it’s 1957 in Bal’mer."

Friday, September 2, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 2, 2022 -- "AL East Drama?"

 

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 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.

--
 
"Coincidentally, it’s one of those one-run wins that looms large right now. On August 17, the Yankees came back from down 4-0 in the sixth and 7-4 in the tenth to win on a Donaldson walkoff grand slam. Their opponents? The Rays. That two-game swing is now a third of the gap between the two teams."

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, September 1, 2023 -- "Sad September 1"

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 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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"Mostly, it was fun. It was fun to see guys with numbers in the 50s and 60s on the field, to see the first at-bat, first inning pitched, first hit for players who might never have a second. It was fun, as someone just getting into game strategy, to see the additional options Billy Martin or Bob Lemon or Billy Martin or Dick Howser or, Bil...you get it...had in the late innings. I got invested in Brad Gulden and Damaso Garcia and Mike Griffin because they were new and different and potentially great."

 

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 31, 2022 -- "Aaron Judge"

 

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 25 years.

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

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"In 2022, with no pitchers batting, MLB is hitting homers 2.8% of the time. Judge isn’t benefiting from the rising tide of the double expansion of the 1990s or even the single expansion that helped Roger Maris. He’s hitting a baseball that is two-thirds lead and still chasing a 60-homer season."

Monday, August 29, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, August 29, 2022 -- "Fun With Numbers: Mad Hits"

 

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 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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--

Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported a controversy stemming from last month’s Hall of Fame ceremonies. Over the celebration weekend, Rob Manfred participated in a traditional dinner with Hall of Famers, and some of the details were written up by Rod Carew in Carew’s newsletter. Carew, surprisingly for a 76-year-old, doesn’t like the way baseball is being played today and let Manfred know about it.

The larger issue -- the boogeyman “analytics” -- we’ll get to later this week. Today, though, I want to use Carew, whose Hall of Fame career ended almost 40 years ago, to illustrate changes in the game that don’t get enough attention, particularly when old players have the mic.

Rod Carew came up with the Twins in 1967 as a slap-hitting second baseman, and in a season dominated by pitchers, he won the AL’s Rookie of the Year award with a .292/.341/.409 line (113 OPS+). In a ten-team league with no interleague play, Carew faced 103 pitchers, 18 of them at least ten times. Familiarity was good to Carew. He hit .305 against those 18 hurlers, many of whom were among the league’s best pitchers.

As Carew would no doubt tell you, there aren’t many hitters like him today. Let’s pick someone close, say, Jose Ramirez. We’re about 80% through the 2022 season, and Ramirez has about 40 PA fewer than Carew did in 1967, so it’s a fair comparison. With a month left, Ramirez has faced 208 pitchers -- more than twice as many as Carew did as a rookie. Carew faced seven pitchers at least 15 times and 18 pitchers at least ten times. Ramirez has faced one pitcher, Drew Hutchison, more than nine times (11). That number should rise in September, but so will the raw number of pitchers Ramirez will face.

The differences in those numbers are in part due to a greater number of opponents. Ramirez’s Guardians will face 20 this year, again more than twice the number Carew’s Twins did in 1967. They’re also, however, due to changes in pitcher usage. In 1967, pitchers were asked to work deeper into games than they are today because the distribution of talent was such that tired starting pitchers were, for the most part, still better than fresh relievers. As I have written before, there was a third-time-around penalty for starters in the 1960s; teams just didn’t have the statistics to prove it or the depth to act upon it.

'Twas Ever Thus (splits by time facing a pitcher, 1967)

          AVG   OBP   SLG     K%
First    .228  .294  .335  19.9%
Second   .242  .300  .356  15.7%
Third    .256  .316  .391  13.3%
Fourth   .261  .314  .386  13.2%



Man, look at those strikeout rates drop. (As many researchers have noted, the lack of slippage in the fourth-time-around numbers is mostly selection/survivor bias, with the sample dominated by the best pitchers having good days, often against weak opponents.)

Carew, in 1967, had 35 hits when facing a starter for a third time or more. Ramirez has just 90 plate appearances this year with a comparable advantage. Carew also had five hits when facing a reliever for a second or third time in a game. Ramirez has three such plate appearances.

Modern hitters hardly ever face tired pitchers. Over his career, Rod Carew faced what we’ll call Tired Pitchers -- starters past the second time around, relievers past the first -- in more than a third of his career plate appearances. He got a third of his career hits, 1,022, against them. Jose Ramirez, coming along 45 years later, has faced just 18% Tired Pitchers, and has just 213 hits against them. The league-level numbers are instructive.

Third Time’s a Charm...ingly New Pitcher (Tired Pitcher PA and H as % of all)

         PA%      H%
1967   26.9%   28.9%
1982   27.6%   29.4%
1997   22.3%   23.6%
2012   20.0%   20.9%
2022   13.7%   15.1%


As you can see, the percentage of opportunities against Tired Pitchers was pretty much constant during Rod Carew’s career. Those opportunities steadily declined after he retired, and hitters in 2022 now get about half as many chances against that group.

I’m fond of saying, “It’s the pitchers, not the hitters,” and that’s literally true. Unmentioned in that pithy phrase is that it’s the pitcher usage, too. The steady reduction in individual pitcher workloads has allowed pitchers to work at max effort most of the time. That reduction, given the same need to fill 1440 innings in 2022 as in 1967, has led to more pitchers on a gameday roster and more pitchers being moved on and off those rosters. As well, pitchers who knew that their job demanded working deep into games treated the early innings differently than pitchers who expect to face 18 batters and no more.

Let’s do this with home runs. Albert Pujols has been all over the news this August with a hot streak that has unexpectedly put 700 career homers in play. He has 693 career homers, with 191 of them (28%) coming against TPs, and 24% of his career plate appearances against them. Henry Aaron, to pick a name from that same part of the leaderboard, had 32% of his career PAs against TPs, and 36% of his homers, 270, against them. That’s 80 extra homers that can be attributed, in part, to facing pitchers Pujols is far less likely to face.

Trust me when I tell you I am not writing this to denigrate the baseball accomplishments of Carew or Aaron or anyone else. No one picks his day of birth, so we evaluate players as they played in their time. What I am very much looking to denigrate is the failure of former players, be it Carew today or Rich Gossage tomorrow or any color analyst anywhere on Wednesday, to properly acknowledge that hitting a baseball is harder now than it was when they played. In a 19-year career, Carew faced 716 pitchers, most of whom were asked, as part of their job, to pitch to a lot of hitters in each game. Ramirez, in barely nine years, has faced 899 pitchers, with the endurance part of their job no longer required.

So when someone whose career ended before the USSR did, who is now nearly twice as old as he was when he last tried to hit the 84-mph heat he feasted upon, who never faced an Edgertronic-honed slider, complains about modern hitters, I don’t think we should give it much weight. Carew’s complaints, shared by many, show a fundamental lack of understanding of modern pitching, modern pitcher development, modern pitcher usage. They show a fundamental lack of understanding of what hitters in 2022 face, and why they hit the way that they do.

Newsletter Excerpt, August 29, 2022 -- "Forming the MiLBPA?"

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 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 action by the MLBPA underlines a point I have made for years, that under labor law the MLBPA cannot currently represent the interests of minor leaguers. If authorization is granted, that will change, though it would invite many more questions and potentially headaches for major league players."

 

Friday, August 26, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 26, 2022 -- "What I'm Watching"

 

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 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 Astros are the best team in the AL and, because of their pitching depth, the team best equipped to handle the compressed playoff calendar. They’ve moved ahead of the Yankees as the second-favorite to win the World Series, and I think that may understate their case."

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, August 24, 2022 -- "Bullpen Thoughts"

 

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 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. 14, No. 79
August 24, 2022

I was locked in on the ninth inning of last night’s Yankees/Mets game in the Bronx. The Yankees had a 4-2 lead, and I thought Clarke Schmidt was going for a ten-out save in a competitive game, which would have been something out of the 1970s.

Now, that paragraph fails on two levels. Schmidt ended up being pulled for Wandy Peralta after he loaded the bases with two outs, getting squeezed on some key calls at the top of the zone. Even had he finished the game, though, he wouldn’t have gotten the save -- he was the pitcher of record and would have been credited with the win, as he was after Peralta closed out the game.

Scorekeeping aside, what Aaron Boone did last night was fascinating, bringing Schmidt into a tied game in the sixth and riding him into the ninth. Twenty years ago, I did this massive research project into Jack Morris’s career that, in those days before the Play Index, entailed reading thousands of boxscores from the late 1970s through the early 1990s. Doing so forever gave me a bias towards multi-inning relievers and poisoned me against the way modern bullpens are structured. You look at the usage patterns back then, and the thing was, there were no patterns. Sometimes a reliever would get three outs, and sometimes he’d get 13. Sometimes he’d come in in the fourth, and two days later, he'd enter in the eighth.

It was during this period that save specialists emerged, and later the matchup-centric approach and, later, the sharp restriction of reliever workloads. That has led us to today, when many managers want to know at 4 p.m. who they’re putting in the game at 9, 9:30, and 10, to the minute. They don’t want to -- many won’t -- use relievers on three straight days or in three straight innings, and even using a reliever across multiple innings is something to be avoided. I’ve railed against this kind of rigidity, which began with the use of save specialists and then extended back into the eighth and seventh innings. Inning and score are far from the only variables to be considered in changing pitchers.

So when Aaron Boone, who has generally been someone who likes to set up that evening's bullpen in the afternoon, tries to get ten outs from a reliever, I get interested in a hurry. Clarke Schmidt, the Yankees’ first-round pick in 2017, has been up and down with the team for the past three seasons. He has been unable to stay healthy, throwing just 230 professional innings in five years. Almost exclusively a starter in the minors, Schmidt has been almost exclusively a reliever in the majors. The righty picked up a pair of three-inning saves in non-competitive games in July, for which he got the now-standard reward of a demotion. Last night’s appearance, in which he threw 60 pitches, was his first since his recall.

The Yankees’ bullpen has been a mess. Chad Green and Michael King are out for the year. Aroldis Chapman is having the worst season of his career by any measure. Clay Holmes, briefly unhittable, has not been that guy in two months. Jonathan Loaisiga has a 4.15 ERA (3.19 FIP) since coming off the IL, with a 7/4 K/UIBB and a miserable 13% strikeout rate. Holmes, Scott Effross, and Albert Abreu are all on the IL at the moment.

Over the last three nights, Boone has shown a new and welcome flexibility. Sunday afternoon, he let Lou Trivino get the final seven outs of a 4-2 Yankee win, letting him face two lefties as the tying run in the ninth. Monday, he brought in Loaisiga to close out the eighth and then left him in to pitch the ninth, again up 4-2. Then we saw last night, when Boone not only let Schmidt try for a ten-out win, but left Schmidt in as the righty pitched into trouble against good left-handed batters with the game on the line. It was quite a commitment to both Schmidt and the entire approach.

It’s partly circumstance for a team that has just seven wins all month, but the Yankees have just one standard three-out save in August, that by Effross on August 13. Six pitchers have gotten the final out of the Yankees’ seven August wins, and their last four saves are by four different pitchers. I think Boone would prefer to be able to go Effross/Holmes/Chapman starting in the seventh, letting each go one inning, perhaps with some allowances for his matchup lefties. With that not an option for various reasons, he’s experimenting and, so far this week, it’s working.

What we can’t know yet is whether this is a temporary patch or a true change of heart. How will Boone run his bullpen when he has a full complement of effective one-inning guys? Wouldn’t the Yankees, carrying dead bats in a few lineup spots, be better served with an extra pinch-hitter around rather than a sixth right-handed reliever?

A different kind of creativity was on display in St. Petersburg and Los Angeles last night. The Rays and Dodgers both used position players to close out blowouts, something that’s become an everyday occurrence in baseball. The catch? Those two teams were closing out wins. Christian Bethancourt -- showing a Zack Greinkesque change of speeds -- and Hanser Alberto were the final pitchers in a pair of wins three time zones apart.

We’ve covered the fact that position player pitching, once a fun once-a-month quirk, is out of control. Six hitters pitched last night, including for both teams in two different games, which I believe is a record. (There have been three instances of five being used in one day over the last two years, and to be honest, I didn’t look past 2021.) That runs the season total to 89, just shy of the record of 90 set last year, and maybe in 2019 depending on how you want to classify Jared Walsh. It won’t matter because we’re headed for well more than 100 position player pitchers this year.

What Kevin Cash and Dave Roberts did last night, though, is still unusual, though becoming a bit more common. In the first 55 years or so of the expansion era, true position players rarely pitched, and they pretty much never did so outside of losses and extremely long games. In 1968, Rocky Colavito was called into a game in the fourth inning near the end of his career by Ralph Houk on a day when Houk’s bullpen had been drained. A month later, the Twins’ Cesar Tovar started a game as part of a stunt in which he would play all nine innings in one game. Shane Halter would repeat Tovar’s stunt in 2000, as did Andrew Romine in 2017.

From 1961 through 2018, those were the only four instances in which a position player pitched in a nine-inning game his team won.

On March 30, 2019, with the Dodgers up 18-5 over the Diamondbacks, Dave Roberts sent catcher Russell Martin to the mound to eat the ninth inning. Martin’s shutout inning encouraged Roberts, who would use Martin to close out a pair of blowout wins in August. After avoiding the tactic for a couple of seasons, Roberts has now used Alberto five times to close out Dodger wins this year. He's gotten four shutout innings (and a total of one run allowed) for his troubles.

It’s catching on. Something that was never done for nearly 60 years has now happened 12 times in the first five months of 2022.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, teams using position players from ahead bothers me less than teams doing it from behind. It seems to me that if you’re losing, part of the penalty for doing so is playing the game straight up. Using a position player to pitch is quitting, and while that wasn’t so bad when it happened once a month, when it happens almost every day and teams have eight or nine relievers in their bullpen, it’s tedious.

For the team in the lead, though, it’s a benefit. They’ve beaten you so badly they can close out the game with a utility infielder or backup catcher. It’s also not giving up; it is in fact opening the door just a crack for you. This tactic has yet to go awry, either. Since Roberts put Martin into that March game three years ago, we have had 15 instances of a manager using a position player this way. All 15 have finished the game.

As I have written before, the daily use of position players to pitch bothers me only in the context of current roster construction. Were teams carrying six or seven relievers, strengthening their benches and creating more in-game strategy, I wouldn’t mind if they used position players to eat occasional non-competitive innings. What we have now is the worst of both worlds, teams carrying extra relievers at the expense of good bench players and then passing over three or four of those relievers to use position players.

If it is going to happen, though, I see a difference between teams in the lead doing it, and teams trailing doing it. Keep working on that changeup, Hanser.
 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 23, 2022 -- "The Dog Days of August"

 

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 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 the weekend, I mentioned on Slack and Twitter that we were in the middle of a laughably poor offensive August. After a big Sunday and a historically small Monday, the league is now hitting .244/.311/.391 in August. That’s the worst it has hit since April (.232/.307/.369), and a shockingly low level of offense for what is traditionally the best-hitting month of the season. In fact, over the last week, offense is more or less what it was during that deadball April: .237/.305/.377."

Monday, August 22, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 22, 2022 -- "Bats on the Birds"

 

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 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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"Some of what we’re seeing here is a rookie manager finding his way. Marmol has tried a lot of approaches this season. He’s been unafraid to put young players into key spots. Perhaps more impressively, Marmol has backed off when a plan -- Edman leadoff, Pujols versus righties -- isn’t working. The use of rookie Andre Pallante in a true swingman role is, in and of itself, probably worth a column."

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 20, 2022 -- "TLR, IBB! WTF?"

 

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 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 problem with not understanding count leverage, however, is real. La Russa, who was once as data-savvy as any manager in baseball, keeps making fundamental errors. It would be harsh to blame him for the disappointing Sox season -- injuries, Lucas Giolito, a failure to build depth are all bigger factors -- but it’s pretty clear that he’s not helping the team from the dugout."

Friday, August 19, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 19, 2022 -- "Stadiums"

 

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 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 ranking the ones I have been to, we can start with this: Nothing will ever be Yankee Stadium II for me. It’s where I saw my first game and then countless others until they closed it in 2008. I would wait outside Gate 6 to be let in for batting practice, in the hopes of catching a little of the Yankees’ BP before the road team took over. I went to games alone, with family, with friends. I rooted for Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph and Don Mattingly and Mariano Rivera. I called an inning from the Budweiser Broadcast Booth and got a Gary Ward homer. (“Kiss it goodbye!”) That ballpark was my second home, and nothing will ever feel like that again."

Thursday, August 18, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 18, 2022 -- "Max Scherzer"

 

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 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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"It’s incredibly hard to employ the best players in baseball, especially in an era when so many never even reach free agency. Nine players have signed $300 million contracts; just four of them were free agents. Of the 25 $200 million deals, 14 have been signed by free agents, though in a few of those cases the players’ free agency was largely a fig leaf -- they returned quickly to their old team. Even if you want to spend the money, $200 million players are available less than once a year."

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 16, 2022 -- "Miscellany"

 

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 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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"The engine of baseball begins to break down under a .260 batting average and a .330 OBP. MLB has gotten away with offensive levels below those marks for some time because of the ability modern hitters have to hit for power. Taking that power away has cut off the last path for offenses to produce runs."

Monday, August 15, 2022

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, August 15, 2022 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 5"

 

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 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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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 14, No. 73
August 15, 2022

We come to the last of the Third Third series, which doubles as my top six teams from the preseason. Four of these six teams are among the best teams in baseball, and I still project that all six will make the playoffs, unless the White Sox suffer 11 more key injuries.

Listed records as of Monday morning. Number in front is the team’s preseason Newsletter rank, which is also the order in which the teams are listed. Note that a number of these teams were covered at the deadline and they will get most of our attention down the stretch.


6. New York Yankees (72-43, +201 run differential)

There are some cracks developing in a roster that peaked at 38 games above .500 five weeks ago. Since then, the Yankees are just 11-20. It’s really not quite that bad; the Yankees have outscored their opponents over the 31 games, and have just had all the one-run games go sideways: 4-11 in one-run games, including 1-5 in the stupid-runner contests. Neither their playoff berth or AL East title is in any danger of yet, but the slump has allowed the Astros to pass them for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage in a possible Yankees/Astros ALCS.

Injuries have played a big role, with the pitching staff taking the biggest hit. Righty relief sensation Michael King joined veteran Chad Green in being done for year. Luis Severino is out until September, as much to manage his workload as his lat strain. Against this backdrop the Yankees traded for Frankie Montas, Lou Trivino, and Scott Effross, then then dealt away Jordan Montgomery, upgrading their pitching without adding many innings.

Watching the Yankees, it’s the offense that concerns me more. It was always top-heavy, the team electing to play gloves behind the plate and at shortstop this year, and not getting much from Joey Gallo or Aaron Hicks in front of those lineup spots. Matt Carpenter’s emergence helped keep the line moving until he suffered a broken foot las week. With Giancarlo Stanton sidelined with a left Achilles issue, there are many nights when the offense looks like Aaron Judge and not much help. Once you get past DJ Lemahieu (now dealing with a toe injury), Judge and Anthony Rizzo, you’re left with a lot of right-handed batters helpless against right-handed pitching. Josh Donaldson has a .236/.312/.401 line with a 30% strikeout rate. Gleyber Torres is at .236/.292/.376. All Aaron Hicks does is walk (.211/.342/.298). All Andrew Benintendi does, at his best, is slap singles. The gloves who hit behind them are gloves. Harrison Bader, if he can come back healthy next month, will help the defense but do nothing to fix this problem.

The overall numbers are good to the Yankees, who are second in MLB in runs and wRC+. Getting Stanton back will stretch the lineup to four, and maybe Carpenter returns late in the year. Looking at this team, though, I’m convinced that when it falters, it’s going to be because teams just stop pitching to Aaron Judge and take their chances with everyone else, and do it with the kind of power right-handed relief that the AL playoff field will have in spades. If Carpenter never makes it back, that will be a winning strategy.


5. Atlanta Braves (70-46, +97)

Last year the Braves made a late-season push driven in part by trade-deadline pickups. This year, it’s all about their homegrown players.

Austin Riley is a contender for the NL MVP award with a .294/.356/.582 season to date. Michael Harris II is on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year Award, hitting .289/.328/.496 and playing plus defense in center field. William Contreras has hit .259/.338/.524 and made the All-Star team. Vaughn Grissom got called up after both Ozzie Albies and Orlando Arcia got hurt, and a week into his career has never lost a game in the majors. Grissom worked an 11-pitch walk in the ninth inning yesterday to key the Braves 3-1 win. Kyle Muller, who would probably be starting for 27 other teams, was called up Saturday to take a doubleheader start and threw five solid innings in a win. He joined, briefly, Braves farm products Kyle Wright and Spencer Strider in the rotation, two pitchers who have combined for a 3.13 ERA in 224 innings.

Imagine writing a paragraph that long and having no room for Ronald Acuña Jr. That’s how good the Braves’ young players have been this year.

With so much confidence in their own farm system, the Braves played the trade deadline lightly, adding Robbie Grossman and Jake Odorizzi in minor deals. Their primary move was to trade World Series Game Five starter Tucker Davidson for Raisel Iglesias and a willingness to take on the last three years of paying Iglesias. With Iglesias in house and now Kirby Yates coming off the IL, the Braves’ playoff bullpen could be very deep even before the possibility that Spencer Strider lands in it.

The problem the Braves have is up north. The Mets have taken eight of 12 from them, creating the 5 1/2-game gap between the two teams. They’ll get seven more cracks at the Metropolitans starting Monday night in Atlanta, kicking off a four-game series. At this point in the season, the Braves can’t just tread water, and need to take at least three if they’re going to chase down the Mets. They’d be advised to start out hot, as the Mets send Max Scherzer to the mound Wednesday and then Jacob deGrom Thursday. I said this about the Brewers/Cardinals series on Friday, and I’ll say it about this one now: It’s one of the biggest left on the 2022 schedule.


4. Chicago White Sox (59-56, -14)

The White Sox have been the most disappointing team in baseball this year, their lack of depth brutally exposed by a never-ending string of injuries. This was predictable. From April 11:

“Their margin for error, though, is a little smaller than it was two weeks ago, and the injuries have underlined just how thin they are. Disaster seasons can happen just like that...as the team chasing the Sox remembers all too well.”

Rick Hahn made very few additions to his squad over the winter, mostly bolstering the bullpen with Kendall Graveman and Joe Kelly, then swapping contracts with the Dodgers to bring in A.J. Pollock for Craig Kimbrel. He doubled down on his roster at the trade deadline, making only a small deal that added Jake Diekman to the pen for backup catcher Reese McGuire. Hahn, arguably hampered by one of the worst farm systems in the game, was unable to improve an offense that, even at full health, features far too many bad hitters. On any given night, the Sox might be starting four, even five players with sub-.300 OBPs.

They really have had a brutal year of injuries. The White Sox core consists of Tim Anderson, Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn, and Jose Abreu. Those five have started together nine times in 115 games. Outside that group. Yasmani Grandal missed six weeks and Lance Lynn missed two months. Yoan Moncada, who could be considered part of that core, has collapsed to a .198/.266/.315 line. The White Sox are 56-53 with perhaps three position players meeting expectations and no one exceeding them.

The Sox go into the final third, however, as healthy as they have been all season. They have their five starters in place, the bullpen is intact, and of that core, only Tim Anderson is on the IL. Their weekend sweep over the Tigers helped them tie the Twins, and both sit 2 1/2 games back of the Guardians. The Sox have seven games left with the latter, including four in Cleveland in a wraparound series this weekend. They have nine left with the Twins, including the final three of the season on the South Side. As rough as the first four months have been, the Sox are still in position to, are still my pick to, take the AL Central.


3. Houston Astros (75-41, +141)

For the second straight trade deadline, James Click made a series of surgical strikes that didn’t make headlines, but did make the Astros a little bit better, a little bit harder to beat in a short series. We covered the way adding Trey Mancini improves the offense, and that trade looms larger with Michael Brantley’s season-ending surgery. They also got Christian Vazquez as an upgrade on Martin Maldonado and Will Smith to be the LOTBY (Left-Handed Three-Batter Guy, with apologies to John Sickels).

Like the Yankees and Dodgers, the Astros entered the deadline thinking more about October than August and September. Their place in the tournament is assured, as is their bye, and their games now are largely to determine who will have home-field advantage in an ALCS against the Yankees.

The Astros, with the return of Lance McCullers (six shutout innings in his debut), have six average or better starting pitchers, an incredible luxury in today’s game. Five of them are completely homegrown, as is three-quarters of the infield and three of the four regular outfielders. The MVP candidate at DH was acquired in a trade before he ever played a pro game in the U.S. Look around the league, and you’ll find players drafted and/or developed by the Astros playing starring roles for the Twins, the Padres, the Blue Jays, all on very expensive contracts. The Astros turned Gerrit Cole into GERRIT COLE and Charlie Morton into an October legend.

Reputations are hard to shake, and for some people, certainly people who live near me, the sign stealing will be the only story of this era of Astros baseball. We’re three years past it now, though, with almost everyone involved -- and all the people in power -- having left Houston, and the Astros are just getting better. Long after the echoes of the trash-can banging have gone silent, what we will be left with is an epic run of talent development that produced three pennants and one World Series title, and is not over yet.


2. Tampa Bay Rays (60-53, +21)

They haven’t looked like a playoff team in a really long time. As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, they’re the worst baserunning team in baseball, and they’re the worst Rays defensive team in quite some time. Their pitching depth has been tested by an epic run of injuries.

Mostly, though, they’ve looked like a Rays team from before they started hitting. They’re 11th in the AL in runs, tenth in OBP, a miserable 13th in SLG. Playing in the Trop means all that comes out to a 101 wRC+, slightly above average, but that includes Harold Ramirez (142 OPS+) and Wander Franco (105) and Manuel Margot (131), none of whom have played in a while. The Rays’ young players have been a disaster, with Vidal Brujan (.167/.230/.246) and Josh Lowe (.221/.284/.343) failing to launch in multiple opportunities. Their failures and the injuries around them have forced Erik Neander to go outside the organization, and that hasn’t worked, either. Trades for Luke Raley, Christian Bethancourt, David Peralta, and Jose Siri have not paid dividends. The Rays have the worst kind of offense, one that strikes out a lot (24%, sixth in MLB) without the power that’s supposed to come with all that whiffing (.377 SLG, 24th; .139 isolated power, 22nd).

The Rays got to 34-23 on June 9, and have been foundering ever since, a 26-30 mark in a little over two months. They slipped out of playoff position over the weekend, only to move back in with two wins over the Orioles. The good news is they’re edging closer to full health. Pete Fairbanks came back just before the All-Star break, and he’s probably the team’s best reliever. Margot started a rehab assignment last week, Ramirez started one Sunday, and Franco is a couple of days behind Ramirez. All three should be back at the Trop by September 1, and likely sooner. That should be enough to drag the offense above average, and more importantly, stave off the collection of .510 teams behind them in the playoff chase.


1. Los Angeles Dodgers (79-34, +247)

Back around Opening Day I was asked if we should be on #117Watch with the Dodgers. I’d taken to using the hashtag last year when early in the season it looked like they had a chance to set the all-time wins record. I dismissed the idea this year because I just don’t think the incentives are in place. Sports teams are no longer judged by their regular season work, but by whether they win the championship. It’s a pretty lousy way to enjoy sports, if you ask me, but I don’t make the rules.

The Dodgers still aren’t on #117Watch, I don’t think, but a 30-4 run dating to early July at least made me think about it. They lost yesterday to the Royals, dropping them under .700. To get to 117 wins they would have to close 38-11, a .776 pace that seems out of reach until you note that they’ve played .842 ball since the start of July.

The Dodgers can, with a good week, move to the top of this list, the best 40-game stretches in baseball history.

                   Rec
-dians    2017    35-5
Tigers    1984    35-5
Royals    1977    35-5
Dodgers   2022    34-6
Dodgers   2017    34-6
Yankees   1998    34-6



Do the Dodgers feel like a .700 team? We know that they have superstars, but none of their regulars are playing far above their heads, and a few of them, Cody Bellinger in particular, have been disappointing. Max Muncy is having his worst year as a major leaguer. Walker Buehler has missed two months and Clayton Kershaw is out as well. With all that, they’re winning 70% of their games and outscoring their opponents by two runs a game.

After making the biggest trade at last year’s deadline, Andrew Friedman kept his powder dry, secure in the knowledge that his team will have the best record in baseball this year and home-field advantage for as long as they advance. Picking up Chris Martin added a different look in the bullpen, and trading for Joey Gallo is a worthwhile -- and basically free -- gamble on a player who has star upside. If nothing else, he adds yet another plus defensive outfielder to the Dodgers’ mix.

(So, I couldn’t write this at the time of the Andrew Benintendi trade, because Joey Gallo’s playing time was uncertain. It’s taken me a bit to get to the Yankees and Dodgers in the Third Thirds. Once Gallo was traded to the Dodgers, though, I wrote this on Slack and will just have to ask you to trust me if you didn’t see it there: Gallo will out-hit Benintendi over the rest of the season.)

The Dodgers will get their improvements internally. They have given looks to top prospects Miguel Vargas and Ryan Pepiot. Andrew Heaney is off the IL and back in the rotation. Dustin May will make his return Saturday against the Marlins after looking fantastic in his rehab starts. Buehler isn’t throwing from a mound yet, but the Dodgers will work to get him back for the Division Series, still two months away. That’s when the Dodgers season really starts.
 
 
 

Friday, August 12, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 13, 2022 -- "Fernando Tatis Jr. Suspended"

 

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 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.

--
 
"Dominican players are getting popped at more than three times their representation in the baseball population. They are responsible for almost all the repeat offenses as well -- six of eight, with Dominican Jennry Mejia the only player to test positive three times. They have been responsible for 14 of the last 18 suspensions, repeaters included, since 2018."

Newsletter Excerpt, August 12, 2022 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 4"

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 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.

--
 
"Not to beat a dead horse, but have you seen the attendance numbers at T-Mobile lately? The Mariners homestand the last week, admittedly featuring the Yankees, averaged nearly 38,000 a game. The one before that, against the Astros and Rangers, averaged 33,000 per. With due respect to the ghost of John Kinsella, if you win, they will come. This is an unresolvable mystery for far too many people collecting paychecks from MLB teams these days."

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 10, 2022 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 3"

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 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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"When Rutschman starts, the Orioles are 36-24, a .600 ballclub. The rookie catcher started 8-for-56 at the plate in his first 15 games. Since then, he’s been one of the very best players in baseball: .292/.410/.516 with more walks than strikeouts and strong defense behind the plate."

Monday, August 8, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 8, 2022 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 2"

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 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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"Man, they’re going backwards. Forget the playoffs, where they haven’t won a game since 2009. The Angels haven’t been over .500 for a single day in September since September 20, 2017. That streak isn’t likely to end this year, which will be the team’s eighth straight without a postseason trip and seventh straight under .500."
 

Friday, August 5, 2022

Newsletter Excerpt, August 5, 2022 -- "Third Third Previews, Pt. 1"

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 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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"The Rockies being the only team in baseball to not make a trade at the deadline, a year after retaining Trevor Story and Jon Gray at the deadline, fits this. They like their guys. Why upset the apple cart? The Rockies will complete their 30th season this year, and they have never finished in first place. They and the Marlins are the only teams in AL/NL history that have never finished in first place. Maybe they don’t care."