Friday, June 14, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 14, 2024 -- "The Cubs"

 

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The Cubs have lost six games when leading after six innings, as they did last night. That’s tied for eighth-worst in baseball. Their .793 winning percentage when leading after six is eighth-worst. The Cubs are seventh-worst in runs allowed in the last three innings. Their relievers have the second-most losses in baseball, with 18, and the Cubs’ bullpen is one of four with more losses than saves. 
 
 

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 13, 2024 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

 

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Right now, the Brewers have a top-ten offense and a top-ten bullpen. Their starters...are 25th in FIP, 24th in K-BB%. They just need to not lose games for the team, and so far, they’re doing just that. The Brewers have used 12 starters, tied for most in baseball with the Braves, with Jared Koenig serving as an opener four times. The Brewers are down Wade Miley for the year, as well as DL Hall, Robert Gasser, and Joe Ross for the moment. Every quality start from the likes of Myers is big as they try to steal the NL Central. 
 
 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 12, 2024 -- "Parity"

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Instead of investing our baseball attention in the best teams, the next few months will be spent with this large group of mediocrity, seeing which ones, if any, can rise to an 85-win level. There are any number of reasons to dislike expanded playoffs, but this may be the most frustrating for me, the way it forces us to care more about teams playing .525 ball than ones playing .625 ball. 
 
 

 

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

2024 All-Star Ballot

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American League

First Base: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays
Second Base: Jose Altuve, Astros
Third Base: Jose Ramirez, Guardians
Shortstop: Gunnar Henderson, Orioles
Catcher: Adley Rutschman, Orioles
Outfield: Aaron Judge, Yankees; Juan Soto, Yankees; Kyle Tucker, Astros
Designated Hitter: Yordan Alvarez, Astros

National League

First Base: Freddie Freeman, Dodgers
Second Base: Ketel Marte, Diamondbacks
Third Base: Matt Chapman, Giants
Shortstop: Mookie Betts, Dodgers
Catcher: William Contreras, Brewers
Outfield: Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres; Christian Yelich, Brewers; Cody Bellinger, Cubs
Designated Hitter: Shohei Ohtani, Dodgers
 
 

 

Newsletter Excerpt, June 6, 2024 -- "Nine Pitches"

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In play, run(s), 100.1 mph four-seam fastball

Tell your statistics to shut up.

The best part about this homer wasn’t the swing, wasn’t the exit velocity, wasn’t the distance. The best part about this homer was how Paul Skenes knew it before the ball was even over his head. Skenes finishes the pitch and swings around, facing towards the first-base stands, grimacing, well aware his shutout is over. It turns out you can’t throw six fastballs past Shohei Ohtani, especially when the sixth is as poorly located as the Young Republicans booth at Smith College orientation.
 
 

 

Newsletter Excerpt, June 5, 2024 -- "Tucupita Marcano"

 

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For these people, baseball players being suspended for betting on baseball games is evidence that MLB is being corrupted by the league’s gambling relationships. For a smaller number of people, the suspensions are morally tenuous, MLB taking with one hand and banning with the other. 

I don’t think the two stories are related at all. Marcano, Kelly, Jay Groome, Andrew Saalfrank, Jose Rodriguez...they all walked past Rule 21(d) every day, they all got the lectures each spring about the rules. Granted the ability to play professional and even Major League Baseball, they elected to break the one rule that would forfeit that privilege. MLB has every right to suspend them even as game odds scroll across the screen on MLB Network while it’s covering the story. They’re just not related. Baseball players are governed by Rule 21(d), the larger public is not. MLB is pitching bonus bets and strikeout props to tens of millions of people while holding those in its employ to a higher standard.
 
 
 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 4, 2024 -- "Clutch Central"

 

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These two teams represent one of the great divides in baseball: Clutch performance isn’t a skill over and above performance, but clutch performance does happen and can make all the difference in a given season. Saying “it probably won’t continue” doesn’t take away from the value it’s had to date, nor does it mean that everything will even out over the next four months. 
 
 

Monday, June 3, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 3, 2024 -- "Dynamic Duos"

 

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After that explosion, which drove a Yankees sweep at Oracle Park, Aaron Judge is hitting .288/.417/.658 for a 200 OPS+; Soto is at .322/.417/.614 for a 189 OPS+. Together, they have started every game for the Yankees, who now have MLB’s best record at 42-19. Together, they’re threatening to become the best-hitting pair of teammates -- not Yankee teammates, any teammates -- in almost 100 years. 
 
 

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, June 2, 2024 -- "Aaron Judge"

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Through April 26, batting exclusively in front of Stanton and Rizzo, Judge hit .178/.317/.356, taking his walks -- 20 -- but not seeing enough pitches to do damage against. Just 45.9% of the pitches he saw were in the zone, per Statcast. On April 27, with Verdugo behind him, Judge homered. On April 28, with Verdugo behind him, Judge homered. Verdugo then went on paternity leave for a few days, and Judge didn’t homer. On May 3, Boone slotted Verdugo into the cleanup spot behind Judge against right-handed pitchers for good, and Judge has hit .394/.509/1.000 in the 27 games since then. 
 
 

 

Friday, May 31, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 31, 2024 -- "Superleague"

 

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If MLB tries to nationalize local TV rights, then we could see the league’s revenue drivers pushed to deal with the issue no one likes to talk about: The top third of the league carries the bottom third. If you go back to the Yankees and Dodgers and Cubs not just for cash but for their rights, they may just decide to take their (dead) ball and go home. Bill James once wrote, talking about local-TV revenue disparity, that the Yankees need someone to play. He’s right, but they don’t need 29 someones.

There is going to come a point when some owners say “enough.” The upcoming CBA negotiation was going to be complicated enough with some teams’ local TV revenue falling to zero or close to it. If the owners in that position choose this moment to take more from Hal Steinbrenner and Mark Walter and Tom Ricketts, that’s a declaration of war.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, May 29, 2024 -- "May...Be a Problem"

 

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: May...Be a Problem
Vol. 16, No. 32
May 29, 2024

On Tuesday, there were 102 runs scored in 15 games, fewer than seven per contest. Eleven of those runs -- more than ten percent -- were scored in just three Calvinball innings, so when playing actual baseball, there were 91 tallies, or barely six runs scored per game. In May, teams are averaging just 8.24 runs per game. That drops to 8.06 in the first nine innings. For the entire season, MLB teams are scoring 8.2 runs a game when not placing a free runner on second, which would be the lowest mark since 1978.

The slash line for the day was .226/.286/.342, roughly what Cole Tucker is putting up this season. This wasn’t a particularly unusual day. MLB OPS was under 700, with OBP under .310, for all three days of Memorial Day weekend.

For the month, MLB teams are hitting .239/.307/.388. One thing we tell ourselves when slogging through April is that things will get better in May. That hasn’t been the case this year. League OBP is seven points lower, OPS four points lower, since April. The May OBP of .307 (.306 outside of Calvinball) is an historically significant number.

Right Turns May (lowest league OBP in May, since 1901)

1968   .291
1908   .293
1966   .300
1972   .305
1917   .305
1905   .307
2024   .307
1904   .308
1909   .308


You don’t need me to tell you that’s a bad list of years to be on, periods when the baseball was made of wax paper and Elmer’s glue, or years in which the lack of offense was so low the rules of the game would soon be changed.

If we restrict ourselves to only those years since 1969, when the mound was lowered and the strike zone returned to reasonable dimensions, this month sticks out even more.

Right Turns May, Nixon Era and Beyond (lowest league OBP in any month, since 1969)

September   1917   .305
May         1972   .305
April       2022   .307    
May         2024   .307
September   1972   .308


(There are three days left in May. With 90% of May games in the books, this number isn’t going to move enough to change the conclusions.)

It’s not, for once, the strikeouts. Since the universal DH was adopted in 2022, strikeout and walk rates have stabilized, the former between 22% and 23%, the latter between 8% and 9%. No, it’s results on contact driving the falloff. Batting average on balls in play is .288, the lowest since 1992. Batting average on contact is down 14 points from last year, to .316, the lowest since 1993. Slugging on contact, .510, is down 40 points from 2023 and the lowest since 2014.

It’s all about ball flight. You know about homers being down. I use a metric for which I don’t have a cute name -- doubles and triples as percentage of contact -- for sussing out where exciting plays like those are going. That figure is down to 6.73%, the lowest since 1993, and under 7% for just the fifth time this century. 

Another way to look at the offensive drought is how current batted-ball outcomes are breaking Statcast a little. Expected outcomes on balls in play, over a season, should match actual outcomes on balls in play over a season. Here are the expected and actual numbers on balls in play for the last three years.

Great Expectations (actual vs. expected stats, 2021-23)

       AVG  xAVG    SLG  xSLG    wOBA  xWOBA
2023  .250  .248   .417  .414    .280   .281  
2022  .244  .240   .398  .389    .273   .271
2021  .246  .243   .414  .408    .276   .277


That’s a lot of numbers, but all you really need to know is that at the end of the year, expected and actual stats will be within a few points of each other. There’s a time in every season when the smart guys behind Statcast look at the actual outcomes on batted balls and adjust the expected outcomes to match. So if flyballs at X launch angle and Y exit velocity are producing Z results in a given year, expected stats will adjust to that.

Those adjustments haven’t been made for 2024 yet. Right now, Statcast is looking at all the batted balls and, like me, ending up disappointed.

The Letdown (actual vs. expected stats, 2024)

       AVG  xAVG    SLG  xSLG    wOBA  xWOBA
2024  .242  .247   .390  .407    .271   .279


It’s even more stark when you look at the results on the best-hit balls, what Statcast calls “barrels.”

Barreled...Out (actual vs. expected stats, 2024)

       AVG  xAVG    SLG  xSLG    wOBA  xWOBA
2024  .685  .735  2.273 2.450   1.218  1.295


Statcast is expecting an extra 50 points of average, an extra 80 points of slugging and wOBA on these balls. Those expectations have been dashed. Directionally, it’s a mess. In each of the last three years, the actual outcomes on barrels have been better than the expected ones, sometimes by as much as 40 points of wOBA. This year, obviously, the reverse is the case. For whatever it’s worth, the rate of barrels is constant, 1.3-1.4% of batted balls, over the four-year period. Players are hitting the ball on the screws as much as they ever have, just getting much less for their hard contact. Thanks, Obama.

Something is wrong. I’ve been warning about this since the summer of 2017, when a home-run spike focused attention on the baseballs. From June of that year:

We’re already watching stagnant, two-true-outcome baseball as it is. What happens when the one thing propping up offense, and watchability, gets “fixed”?

I’ve come back to this point time and again over the last seven seasons. As strikeout rates climbed over 20% to choke offense, as league OBPs slipped from the .330s into the .310s, the only path teams had to scoring was to slug. You can’t run a long-sequence offense in a league where baserunners are this precious. One-run strategies are worthless when the overall batting average is in the .240s, when leverage relievers are striking out 30% and more of the batters they face. All you can do is try to score as many runs as possible on as few swings as possible.

Well, now they’re taking even that option away. When we say “it’s the baseball,” it’s a concept as much as anything else. It could be the coefficient of restitution -- how well the ball jumps off the bat. It could be the way the ball flies, which we can measure by its drag signatures. It could be the effects of being stored in a humidor -- as all baseballs are now -- on those factors. Whatever the case, though, the baseballs in play in 2024 are not flying as well, and that’s taking the last path to run scoring away from hitters.

This isn’t a small problem. Across the long sweep of baseball history, there is a strong correlation between run scoring and baseball’s popularity. Seamheads enjoy a good 3-2 game as much as an 8-7 one, but casual fans tend to tune in when balls are flying out of the yard. A league that hits .240/.311/.387, in which teams score a bit more than four runs a game, isn’t going to do much more than get people psyched for the opening of NFL camps in July.

MLB has to figure out where it overshot the mark with this year’s balls, in connection with either the production or the humidors, and fix it. Another month of sub-.310 OBP ball would be a disaster.

 

Monday, May 27, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 27, 2024 -- "Ronald Acuna Jr."

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The irony is as painful as the tear. In both cases Acuña, who had been chided earlier in his career for a lack of effort, was injured while trying very hard, once to reach a ball over his head, the other trying to get in position to score from second base. He was trying to help his team win, and doing so cost him the rest of the season twice in four years.
 
 

Saturday, May 25, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 25, 2024 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

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Giants 8, Mets 7

E: Luciano 2 (4, fielding, throw)

I am pretty sure I have never cited fielding percentage in the Newsletter, which should give you an idea of how notable Marco Luciano’s .886 mark is. Luciano booted a tailor-made double-play ball Tuesday that should have ended the game and instead set up a Pirates comeback win. Last night, he did the same thing on what should have been a game-ending double play ball by Pete Alonso, setting up first and third with just one out and the Giants clinging to an 8-7 lead. It’s the Mets, though, so the Giants still won.

Luciano is off to a miserable defensive start, highlighting the question of whether he’s going to stick at shortstop. Keith Law, over at The Athletic, has had his doubts about Luciano’s defense for years. Again, we don’t talk about errors much, but Luciano’s error rates have been notable at each stop along the way, and even this year he made seven in 103 chances at Triple-A before his call-up. Range matters, arm matters, but if you’re booting a ball twice a week, you can’t keep the job. That’s who Luciano is right now.

The challenge for the Giants is that Luciano is also off to a .409/.480/.591 start at the plate, with just five strikeouts against three walks. He has almost no experience anywhere else on the diamond -- 46 innings at second base in the minors last year is all of it -- and the Giants have him blocked at second, third, and DH anyway. They even have young outfielders now, in Heliot Ramos and Luis Matos, earning looks. It would be hard to bump one of them to stick a completely untrained Luciano out there.

Luciano has to play shortstop to contribute to the 2024 Giants, and it’s very possible that his defense makes him unplayable there. It’s just odd to point that out with the oldest number in the book.
 
 

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 23, 2024 -- "Noll Hypothesis"

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If Steinbrenner wants to make a real point, though, it’s in that $100 million he’s having to light on fire each year. That, and not the money he’s spending on baseball players, is his problem. His business partners have set rules that take $100 million a year out of his pockets so that they can be guaranteed profits without trying to win baseball games. His business partners have made it so that every dollar he spends at the trade deadline this year costs him a dollar in penalties. If Steinbrenner is looking to complain about something being unsustainable, that’s where he should start.
 
 

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 21, 2024 -- "Shortstops, Redux"

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I am certain that trading Jackson Holliday is a better idea than moving him to center field midseason, and it may be a better idea even than going forward with him as a second baseman. There are not many good fits, though, and a deal like this requires a level of risk that has mostly been bred out of baseball executives over the last couple of generations. I doubt it will happen, but were I Mike Elias, I’d make the calls.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 20, 2024 -- "Phil., Harmonic"

 

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Suarez, Bohm, Stott...all homegrown Phillies who were contributors to good teams and who are now much better. Add Sanchez (a Rays signee acquired back in 2019) and Orion Kerkering, and a pattern starts to reveal itself. For all the deserved focus on the team’s frontline stars, on big free-agent signings like Wheeler and Bryce Harper and Trea Turner, the Phillies have become a modern organization that develops its own talent and then makes that talent better in the major leagues. Throw in what pitching coach Caleb Cotham has done with scrap-heap reliever Jeff Hoffman (5.68 ERA before Phillies, 1.99 with Phillies) and Matt Strahm (30/1 K/BB, 0.15 FIP this year), and you have to start thinking of the Phillies the way we do the Dodgers and Rays and Braves, a top-tier baseball machine.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 17, 2024 -- "Mariners at Orioles"

 

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I wrote it many times over the winter: The Orioles have too many position players to fit on the field at once. They have to pick the ones they’re going forward with, and use the rest to shape a championship roster. We know Mike Elias can develop talent and build a highly-rated farm system, but we don’t yet know whether he can take that next step. The Corbin Burnes trade was a good start, but there’s more to be done. James McCann and Ramon Urias can’t be taking high-leverage at-bats in August, much less October.
 
 

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 15, 2024 -- "Thinking Inside the Box"

 

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There’s not much in Chourio’s profile to hang your hat on. His 38/8 K/BB is bad. He’s got a lot of swing-and-miss in his game right now. When he makes contact, not much is happening: His expected stats on batted balls are a match for his actual ones. He has a 50% groundball rate and doesn’t even have a sub-split, say mashing breaking stuff or something, you can point to as a good sign.

As we’ve seen with some other rookies, there comes a point when having them work things out in the majors is counterproductive. Complicating matters for the Brewers is their early success, which means they have to value performance over development. If Chourio isn’t going to play every day in Milwaukee, then he’s better off in Nashville.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 13, 2024 -- "Clipped Wings"

 

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The parallels between the two bird teams diverge on the mound. The Cardinals, thanks to a surprisingly effective bullpen, are 17th in MLB in FIP, while the Jays are 26th. The Cardinals emphasized missing bats in the bullpen and getting innings from the rotation this winter. Their starters are 13th in the league in innings pitched, while as expected, not being terribly effective: a 4.31 FIP that’s 23rd in the league. The Cardinals have been vulnerable to their opponents breaking games open in the middle innings, where they’ve allowed 89 runs, tied for the most in baseball. Their starters, the third time around, have allowed a .287/.358/.489 line, seventh-worst in baseball by OPS+. As ever, when you eat innings, you get the runs.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 10, 2024 -- "Field of Skenes"

 

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Across 24 hours these next two days, then, the Pirates will be putting their future on the field. Jones has been one of the breakout stars of the early season, with a 2.63 ERA and a ridiculous 52/5 K/BB in his first seven career starts. He goes tonight against the Cubs, then Skenes follows him. For at least the next two months or so, until the Pirates put the brakes on the two pitchers, the Pirates are going to do what very few teams do these days -- start ace-caliber pitchers in back-to-back games. Skenes and Jones could be the 1-2 punch every team desperately wants to develop.
 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 9, 2024 -- "Notes"

 

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Remember, we no longer get pitchers’ duels, where the tension mounts as two hurlers quickly dispatch the opposition. Even good starters on good days rarely pitch the ninth, most don’t see the eighth, and often a pitcher is pulled having posted six shutout innings. There have been 59 starts already this season in which a pitcher went exactly six innings and allowed no runs. There were 141 of those, total, in the 1970s. Last year, there were 199 starts that fit the criteria. There were 255 during the entire 1980s.
 
 

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 8, 2024 -- "The Shortstops"

 

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Let’s focus on the three incredible talents at the top of the game’s shortstop pool, the Jeter/Rodriguez/Garciaparra of their era: Gunnar Henderson, Elly De La Cruz, and Bobby Witt Jr. By bWAR, they’re three of the top 20 players in baseball so far this season, Henderson and Witt among the top six. They get to those lofty rankings in different ways, and of course, age has to be part of the equation if we’re answering the original question: Which of the three would go first if you were starting a team today?
 
 

Monday, May 6, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 6, 2024 -- "Twins, Past and Present"

 

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All this is to say that Bendix is right on the merits. He has to start over if he’s going to do what he was hired to do, build Rays South. Trading Arraez now, when the second baseman has two seasons to free agency, is the first step on that path. The Marlins, owing to all those pitching injuries, don’t have much to deal. There are no good hitters on this team. There are few healthy pitchers, fewer still effective ones. Arraez is the best hitter for average in baseball, but that’s the extent of his skill set, and it’s fair to wonder whether he has peaked.
 
 
 

Friday, May 3, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 3, 2024 -- "Royal Confusion"

 

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If you want to look outside, see that it’s a sunny Friday afternoon in May and go outside without finishing this, I don’t blame you. The Royals’ offensive statistics are throwing up so many mixed messages it’s hard to say whether they’re lucky or unlucky. Forget output and timing, though, and just consider this: The Royals are making a lot of contact, a lot of hard contact, and a lot of the best contact (barrels). All of that is sustainable. As likely as not, when their performance with runners on base regresses, their overall performance should improve. This may not be a top-five offense; it is at least an average one.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, May 1, 2024 -- "Brew Crew Doing the Do"

 

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It’s another typical Brewers team, showing off the whole range of talent acquisition. William Contreras is an MVP candidate picked up in trade, with Willy Adames, Joey Ortiz, and Oliver Dunn also products of swaps. Brice Turang, Sal Frelick, and Jackson Chourio -- the latter two not contributing much so far -- are farm products. Blake Perkins was a free-talent add who had been let go by his third organization when the Brewers signed him in 2022, and while Gary Sanchez is more famous, he’s playing for just $3 million himself, practically free.

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, April 30, 2024 -- "Guardians of the Strike Zone"

 

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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $79.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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The Guardians may be benefiting more than most teams from the changed offensive environment. They don’t hit for power, so they have less to lose if the ball isn’t flying quite as well. They’re still terrible at impressing Statcast -- also known as “hitting the ball hard” -- with bottom-five marks in barrels and barrel rate. Only the White Sox have a lower rate of hard-hit balls than the Guardians do.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, April 29, 2024 -- "Not Quite Disastros"

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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $79.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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Even after sweeping the Rockies over the weekend in Mexico City, the Astros are well below expectation, further off their projection than any team actually trying to succeed. The thing is, they’re not nearly as bad as 9-19. They’ve been outscored by just 22 runs, giving them a 12-16 Pythagorean projection. Clay Davenport has them with an above-.500 third-order record at 14.5-13.5. Six games out of first in your morning paper (kids, ask your grandparents), they’re pretty much in a three-way tie with the Rangers and Mariners when you dig into underlying performance.

 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, April 25, 2024 -- "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.

You can subscribe to the newsletter for one year for $79.95 using your PayPal account or major credit card.

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"Thinking Inside the Box" is an occasional Newsletter feature that pulls topics from a reading of the box scores. The lines in fixed-width are the player's box score line for the game in question.

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Mets 8, Giants 2

               AB  R  H  BI
Lindor SS       5  2  4   4 2 HR

Mr. Smile needed this one. Francisco Lindor opened the year hitting .174/.267/.272 through Wednesday night. He had not hit a single ball 100 mph or harder, and just 10 of 75 at 95 mph. He had one barrel all year, just two homers. Yesterday, he tripled his barrel count and doubled up his homers. 

Now, Lindor hadn’t been quite as bad as that slash line indicates. Today, a day after his explosion in San Francisco, his expected wOBA is .320, a full 70 points ahead of his actual. Lindor still manages the strike zone well, and in fact he is running his best strikeout rate since 2019. The rest of his game, his baserunning and defense, remains top notch. Yesterday’s game yanked his WAR into positive territory and continued his Hall of Fame trajectory. 

Lindor is 13th among active players with 43 bWAR, and the second-youngest player with at least 40 bWAR. While there’s nothing that says he has to continue on this path -- we’ve been talking a lot about the struggles of older players lately -- Lindor is the type of player, with a broad skill set, who tends to age better than most. He needs just another 20 WAR to be a serious candidate, 25 to just about lock up a spot in Cooperstown. He will at least come under consideration so long as he doesn’t collapse in his thirties. Me, I think he’ll end up going in easily, and at the moment is one of the game’s underappreciated superstars, slow start and all. 


Orioles 6, Angels 5

         

CS: Adell (4)

I suppose a box-score line isn’t enough, so see for yourself why it’s here.

With two outs and the Angels down one in the bottom of the ninth, Jo Adell stole second base. He took off from first, slid into second, beat the tag. That’s what happened. Second-base umpire Nic Lentz blew the call, declaring Adell out and the game over. That happens, has happened for 150 years of baseball history. 

The thing is, we can fix it now. We have an elaborate, expensive system in place to make sure that baseball games are decided by what the players do, not what a middle manager thinks they did. The Angels challenged the call, which sent the whole thing to a room in New York filled with screens, and with one umpire charged with using those screens to get the call right.

They still couldn’t do it. 

The problem stems from an archaic detail in the replay rules that privileges the call on the field. Rather than the replay umpire determining what happened, his job is...I’ll just quote MLB here:

Replay officials review all calls subject to replay review and decide whether to change the call on the field, confirm the call on the field or let stand the call on the field due to the lack of clear and convincing evidence.

The players, the plays, the baseball game aren’t mentioned. The call on the field is mentioned three times. Whereas the replay system should be centering baseball, it instead centers umpiring. That’s the error, borne of a thought process that envisions replay not as a solution, but as an intrusion.

Once a play on the field goes to the replay room, the call on the field should disappear. It never happened. The umpires in New York should not think of themselves as changing, confirming, or letting stand a call -- as centering the actions of the umpire -- but rather determining what happened in the baseball game. Taking the umpires out of the picture and re-focusing replay on the players is the step that’s missing, and the omission leads to most of the replay mistakes we see. Replay errors are hardly as common as ball-strike errors, but because they flip out to safe, and sometimes out to a run (and vice versa), they have outsized impact. The error yesterday was one of the biggest plays of the game, turning two outs and a runner on second into game over, about an 11% swing in win expectancy.

Replay has been good for baseball. As we saw yesterday, though, it can be better. Make it about baseball, not the umpires.


Braves 4, Marlins 3 (10 inn.)

                     IP  H  R ER BB  K
Lopez, R.           7.0  3  1  1  2  6

That’s Reynaldo Lopez’s fourth quality start in four outings. He has a 0.72 ERA and a 2.72 FIP, with a 26% strikeout rate. I had my doubts about Lopez as a starter, as a trip through my archives will show...

December 30, 2019: “A reliever shoved into a starting role.”

November 22, 2021: “finally turned into a reliever, had a 22/3 K/BB out of the bullpen.”

April 25, 2022: “Reynaldo Lopez has made 96 starts for the Sox and in every one of them has been a reliever asked to do too much; here’s hoping they just leave him in the pen, where he has a 2.85 career ERA (4.75 as a starter), for everyone’s sake.”

February 10, 2023: “I would love to see Reynaldo Lopez used as a fireman.”

Lopez had started and held up before. He made every start for the White Sox in 2018 and 2019, leading the AL in runs allowed in the second year. The issue for me has always been effectiveness rather than endurance, though after Lopez spent the last two years as a reliever, I had doubts about both coming into 2024. So far, he’s quelled them.

What’s interesting to me is that Lopez has pretty much been the same pitcher as a starter that he was as a reliever: Four-seamers more than half the time, a slider about 30% of the time, occasional curves and change-ups to lefties. He picked up 2-3 mph on the heater when he went to the pen, and dropped the same speed as a starter. This year, he’s getting more swing-and-miss than ever before, especially on his breaking balls, both of them posting 45% whiff rates.

The Braves desperately needed something to go right after the Spencer Strider injury. There are still reasonable concerns about Lopez’s ability to pitch through the season after two years of relief, but at least for the moment, he looks like a playoff starter.


Dodgers 11, Nationals 2

               AB  R  H  BI
Ohtani DH       6  2  3   2 3 2B

It was just yesterday that Joe Posnanski wrote about Shohei Ohtani and his 11 doubles in 25 games, and how it augured a run at a 60-double season. I’m with Joe -- I love doubles. I was a doubles hitter as a player, my favorite player ever was doubles machine Don Mattingly, my favorite hitter archetype is the line-to-line doubles hitter, one that largely has gone out of favor. 

Shohei Ohtani might just make doubles news again.

Double Your Pleasure (most doubles in baseball April, since 1901)

                         2B     G
Matt Chapman     2023    15    27    
Mike Lowell      2002    15    26
Garret Anderson  2003    14    27
Paul DeJong      2019    14    29
Derrek Lee       2007    14    24
Shohei Ohtani    2024    14    26
Alfonso Soriano  2002    14    26


Any April leaderboard is going to be populated by players of recent vintage, who play more games in baseball April (which includes March) than any players did in the 20th century, when seasons started on more reasonable dates. Ohtani should break and possibly shatter the record for April doubles. “Pace” is a silly construct. It’s fun, though, to see that a healthy Ohtani is on pace for 87 doubles. 

Here is where we have to start talking about Earl Webb. Webb, a journeyman outfielder from the 1930s, holds the single-season record for doubles with 67. He set the record playing most of his home games at Fenway Park during a high-offense season, 1931. The left-handed hitting Webb hit 43% of his career doubles in that one big year, was traded away the next summer, and his career was over by 1934.

No player has hit even 60 doubles in a season since 1936. Freddie Freeman hit 59 last year. He had 54 with 20 games to go, 59 with two left, and just couldn’t get over the line. One of the many reasons I remain angry about 1994 is that Chuck Knoblauch had 45 doubles with more than 50 Twins games left to play. He was on pace for 64 doubles when the strike ended the campaign. Ohtani, who has already done so many things we haven’t seen since before the second World War, may yet add to that list.


Twins 6, White Sox 3

                     IP  H  R ER BB  K
Crochet (L, 1-4)    4.0  7  5  5  2  6 HR

Opening day is a long way away. Garrett Crochet, making his first major league start, struck out eight Tigers in a strong six inning outing that ended in a 1-0 loss. Well, since then, Crochet has a 7.61 ERA in five starts, and he hasn’t gotten past the fifth in his last three. 

That’s not why we’re here, though. We’re here because Crochet’s work last night helped push the White Sox to 3-21, meaning they’ll end up in a prominent place on this list:

Slooooooooow Starts (worst record after 25 decisions, since 1901)

Orioles   1988   2-23
Reds      2022   3-22
Tigers    2003   3-22
Indians   1969   4-21
Browns    1936   4-21
Red Sox   1932   4-21
Superbas  1907   4-21


The Sox, who play the Twins this afternoon, will tie for the second-worst 25-game start ever with a loss. This is a team I picked to win the AL Central just one year ago, that was in the playoffs just three years ago. Now, it’s looking up at last year’s A’s (5-20).

Those A’s were never good, but they played better after that start, closing 45-92 and even ripping off a seven-game winning streak in June. I’m not sure these Sox have that in them. Those A’s had young talent they integrated throughout the season -- Zack Gelof, Mason Miller, JJ Bleday. The A’s did their usual free-talent thing to give them their best hitters in Ryan Noda and Brent Rooker. Because they had no significant financial obligations, they weren’t stuck playing bad veterans as sunk costs.

These White Sox don’t find good players on waivers or in other teams’ systems. Their fishing has brought in Robbie Grossman (.178/.315/.200) and Martin Maldonado (.048/.091/.071, basestealers are 13-for-14 against him). Tommy Pham will join this group shortly. Offseason trades added Dominic Fletcher (.203/.277/.271), Nicky Lopez (.203/.309/.203) and Braden Shewmake (.158/.175/.263). They did sign Erick Fedde from the KBO, and that’s worked well, but it’s the only thing that has. They’re probably stuck playing Andrew Benintendi, who has three years and five months left at $15 million a year, and is hitting .167/.205/.190. Pitchers in 2021, the last year before the universal DH, hit .110/.150/.142.

Mostly, though, I don’t see where the Sox can get better. Their top prospect, shortstop Colson Montgomery, has a .310 OBP in Triple-A, as does last year’s disappointment Oscar Colas. Zach DeLoach, another offseason trade pickup, has a .284 SLG for Charlotte. Infielder Lenyn Sosa started hot, got called up, and went 5-for-38 in the majors. Most of the Charlotte staff is bad, old, or both; Jonathan Cannon made two good starts there and got promoted; he’s allowed seven runs in 8 2/3 innings in the majors.

The team has some pitching at Double-A in offseason trade additions Drew Thorpe and Jairo Iriarte. No matter how well they pitch, though, I’m not sure they’ll be better off pitching for a 115-loss White Sox team in an empty ballpark than working on their games in the minors.

Most teams that start out this bad can turn over the roster, promote some young talent, dump the veterans, and count on regression to help it all look a little better. I’m not sure the White Sox can do any of that. The worst 50-game start in baseball history is 9-41 by the 1904 Senators. Next is last year’s A’s at 10-40, along with the ’32 Red Sox at 10-40. The White Sox have to go 7-20 to keep from tying the record, and I don’t think they have it in them.

#120Watch is coming.