Tuesday, July 23, 2024

 

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Chicago Cubs (49-53, 9 games out in NL Central, 3 1/2 games out of last WC slot)


"Where we are right now, I would have to say that moves only for 2024 -- unless things change over the next week -- we probably won't do a lot of moves that only help us for this year," Hoyer said. "If moves help us for 2025 and beyond I think we're exceptionally well positioned."

From seven lines above:

3 1/2 games out of last WC slot

The Cubs have been incredibly frustrating in all phases of the game for four months, and they’re still around .500 and a good week from a playoff berth. Again, how much closer do you need to be to make buying -- and the Cubs have holes that could comfortably be fixed by league-average talent -- a good option?

The Cubs should be better down the stretch as well, when a whole bunch of injured pitchers return. As it is, their bullpen has been great lately, first in ERA and fourth in FIP over the last 30 days. The team badly needs at least one hitter, probably a corner infielder, and adding a bat-first catcher would help a lot. The idea that the Cubs, with their payroll, core talent, and position in the standings wouldn’t be trying hard to get into the tournament, would be focusing on next year, is offensive to me as a sports fan.

Monday, July 22, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 22, 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.

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This continues to look like one of those years for the Braves. They were incredibly healthy in 2023 when they posted 104 wins and a runaway NL East title. This year, they lost two of the best players in baseball in Spencer Strider and Ronald Acuña Jr. for the season; Albies and Sean Murphy for two months each; and have seen Austin Riley, Max Fried, and Michael Harris II all miss time to injuries. Strider and four months of Acuña alone is a ten-win hit, and with Albies and Murphy you’re up well over a dozen WAR lost. The Braves are 24-24 since losing Acuña.
 

 

Newsletter Excerpt, July 20, 2024 -- "Paul Molitor's Axe"

 

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Whereas I expect the Brewers to allow more runs over the season’s last ten weeks, I think the Twins’ best run prevention is ahead of them. They have more raw skill in their rotation, a longer track record of success, and pretty good internal depth options in Varland and David Festa. Combine that with a good offense that projects to get better with improved health, and not only do I expect the Twins to make the playoffs, I think they’ll catch the Guardians in August and win the AL Central with some cushion.
 
 

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 14, 2024 -- "The Francisco Lindor Appreciation Society"

 

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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It doesn’t matter if he’s on an All-Star team or an MVP ballot or even a playoff team. Apart from the shortened season, when even then he was a league-average hitter playing at a three-win pace, Francisco Lindor has posted up as one of the best players in baseball his whole career. He’s on his way to his third five-win season in four as a Met, and the sixth of his career. Lindor has started all but one game this year, and played in every one. He’s missed four games, total, since Opening Day 2022. Lindor will cross 50 WAR early next year if he doesn’t get there late this year. He’s done all of this while being underappreciated first by his team’s owner, and now by his team’s fans.

Not here, though. Francisco Lindor has been one of the bright shining lights of baseball for a decade, and will be for years to come.
 
 

Newsletter Excerpt, July 13, 2024 -- The Skenes

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.

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The no-hit bids, the successful girlfriend, the All-Star start...these are all nice, but is it enough, really? What Skenes needs is to be honored the way truly great pitchers are -- by having a stat named after him. In the tradition of The Maddux, invented by Jason Lukehart to signify a shutout thrown on fewer than 100 pitches, I present to you The Skenes: Starts of at least six innings with no hits allowed.
 
 

 

Friday, July 12, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 12, 2024 -- "Fun With Numbers: Bases Loaded"

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.

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The 123/0 performance the last two seasons represents a massive drop-off from the period just before. BABIP is down 80 points with the bases loaded and nobody out over two seasons, with a truly bizarre dip in power with the bases loaded and nobody out last year. That 2024 BABIP is the lowest since 1987 and the sixth-lowest on record. Run expectancy in bases-loaded, no-out situations is 2.34 runs. Last year’s mark, 2.26 runs, was fifth-lowest since 1998. (Big thanks to Robert Au at Baseball Prospectus for that info.) Some combination of pitching and defense is just wrecking hitters in these spots.

Batted-ball data shows that hitters are hitting the ball less hard in these spots, and while not shown in the chart, the average launch angle has dipped two degrees in four years. Hard-hit rate is down from 39.2% the first two years to 36.3% the last two.
 
 

 

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Newsletter, Excerpt, July 10, 2024 -- "First Shall Be...Sixth?"

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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Historically, the first inning has been the highest scoring inning in a baseball game. It is the one inning in which a manager can determine who leads off and who follows, a pretty big advantage. The tradeoff was that the second inning -- when the lower middle and bottom of lineups typically bat -- was the lowest scoring frame. How powerful was this effect? From 1957 through 2021, 64 seasons for our purposes, the first inning was the highest scoring inning 59 times, the second-highest scoring inning four times, and the third-highest scoring inning once. 

In 2022, the first inning was the fifth-highest scoring inning. In 2024, it is the sixth-highest scoring inning. There is absolutely no precedent for this in recorded baseball history.

 
 
 

 

Monday, July 8, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 8, 2024 -- "NL West Notes"

 

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

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Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have given at least 50 plate appearances to 15 players this year. Five have been absolute zeros, just dead roster spots.

                       PA    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS+
Gavin Lux             259   .207  .263  .282    56
Enrique Hernandez     200   .197  .260  .295    59
Chris Taylor          150   .155  .262  .256    49
James Outman          129   .167  .264  .281    56
Austin Barnes          85   .213  .289  .240    54


If you’d like to make an argument for these players based on something other than offense, you’re welcome to do so, but note that they have combined for -0.7 bWAR, with none better than 0.2 bWAR. 

There’s not much the Dodgers can do for the moment. A third of their starting lineup is out with injuries, and the team won’t be completely healthy until August, when Mookie Betts returns from a broken hand. The inevitable roster crunch when Betts, Jason Heyward, and Max Muncy return makes it hard for the Dodgers to go outside the organization for help in the short term. Flyers taken on Taylor Trammell and Cavan Biggio have not paid off. 

The positive, however, is that the injuries have created opportunities for two homegrown Dodgers to stake their claim to roster spots. Rookie Andy Pages has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game. When he swing-and-hits, though, it’s with authority, including a 10.7% barrel rate and a solid 11.6% pulled-flyball rate. Pages has been a surprisingly good outfielder while showing off one of the best throwing arms in the game. He’s even become more disciplined; Pages went the first 76 plate appearances of his career before drawing his first walk; since then, he has a reasonable 53/16 K/BB with a 7.5% walk rate that’s not far below the league average. 

Better news of late has come from Miguel Vargas, whom the Dodgers have handled poorly the last couple of seasons. He’s been up and down to Triple-A, and after struggling to play second base last year doesn’t seem to have the team’s confidence at any spot. He’s only played left field this season, and not all that well. But in 53 PA, he has a .319/.377/.596 line with just nine strikeouts against five walks. An 0-for-4 Sunday snapped a streak of 11 starts in which Vargas hit safely. The ability to hit has always been there, and given the state of the Dodgers’ outfield, he should get regular run. As with all young players, regular playing time is the key to success.

Heyward’s return will create a logjam, perhaps force a rotating platoon situation with the three right-handed-hitting outfielders. The Dodgers, though, do not have to go outside the organization right now. Andy Pages and Miguel Vargas, left alone to play regularly, will solve their lineup depth problem.


Wednesday, July 3, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 3, 2024 -- "AL West Notes"

 

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

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Seattle Mariners

There has been a lot of consternation in Seattle over the Mariners’ strikeout rate, which is the highest in MLB at 27.9%, nearly two points higher than the A’s in second place, and a full two points higher than last year’s mark, which was second in MLB.

The problem, though, isn’t the strikeouts, it’s everything else. Last year’s Mariners struck out 25.9% of the time, but  they still posted a 107 wRC+ -- a top-ten mark in MLB, and tied for sixth in the AL. This year’s team, striking out just a bit more, has a bottom-ten offense, a 93 wRC+, with a sub-.300 OBP. 

Strikeouts are an effect, not a cause. Batters that strike out are doing so because they’re seeing more pitches, which will often lead to walks. Batters that strike out are doing so because when they swing, they’re trying to do damage by hitting the ball hard and far. Strikeouts are positively correlated with good outcomes like walks and power, and you only have to go back to those 2023 Mariners to see that. That team was 13th in walk rate, 11th in homers, tenth in isolated power. This one is walking about as often, seventh in MLB and a bit up from last year, but is 18th in isolated power.

It’s The Contact, Stupid (on-contact stats, 2023-24 Mariners)

        AVG    SLG   wOBA    Brl%  
2024   .318   .531   .361    9.0%  
2023   .345   .587   .390    9.9%


The 2% rise in strikeout rate pales in comparison to losing 27 points of BA and 56 points of slugging on batted balls. Last year, when the Mariners hit the ball, they were ninth in MLB in weighted on-base average with a .390 mark -- good results. This year, they’re 17th, at .361. 

The Mariners’ strikeout rate is a problem, it’s just not the problem. The problem is that they’re not getting the kind of production on contact that usually comes with swinging and missing that much. Jorge Polanco has a 32% strikeout rate and an .099 ISO. Mitch Haniger has a 28% strikeout rate and a .123 ISO. Julio Rodriguez has a 27% strikeout rate and an astonishing .079 ISO. 

Until the Mariners start hitting the ball well when they do hit it, their strikeout rate just isn’t going to matter.

 

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Newsletter Excerpt, July 2, 2024 -- "AL Central Notes"

 

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

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

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Chicago White Sox

The alphabet is a bitch sometimes, isn’t it? No one wants to see the White Sox leading a column, and yet here we are. The Sox are 24-62, a recent three-game winning streak pushing them a bit better than a 120-loss pace. This won’t be a fun story, though it will be a story, especially if the roster gets worse at the trade deadline.

In the middle of this mess, though, the Sox have a 1-2 punch atop their rotation that’s the envy of every team in baseball. 

“It’s Not Your Fault” (best top two starters’ bWAR, 2024)

           bWAR
White Sox   7.7 (Crochet 4.0, Fedde 3.7)
Royals      6.8 (Lugo 4.2, Ragans 2.6)
Tigers      6.1 (Skubal 3.9, Flaherty 2.2)
Braves      5.5 (Lopez 3.0, Sale 2.5)
Reds        5.3 (Greene 2.8, Abbott 2.5)


This won’t last. Garrett Crochet has thrown 101 1/3 innings and it’s hard to see him finishing out the season in the rotation given a previous professional high of 54 1/3. Erick Fedde is an excellent candidate to be traded. Today, though, the White Sox have the best 1-2 punch on the worst team in baseball. How rare is that?

There are a few ways to get at this question, but what I did was look for teams that had two five-win starters and played sub-.400 baseball. Turns out there are just four AL/NL teams that meet the criteria, three of them from more than 100 years ago...and the 2013 White Sox. Those Hose went 63-99 even as Chris Sale and Jose Quintana posted five-win campaigns. 

These Sox could be a lot worse than that, maybe not even getting to 50 wins or a .300 winning percentage. If they do so, they’ll have the best 1-2 punch on a terrible team ever. There’s been just one team in baseball history that failed to play .300 baseball while having two four-win starting pitchers, and until today I had never heard of it: the 1886 Kansas City Cowboys of the National League. It was the franchise’s only season in a major league, and they went 30-91 and allowed nearly seven runs a game. Two of their three starters, Jim Whitney and George Weidman, pitched so much -- 393 and 427 innings, respectively -- that they racked up 4.6 bWAR apiece.

There’s pretty much never been a team like these White Sox, heading for one of the worst seasons ever despite having two aces atop its starting rotation.