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R.J. Anderson lives in Florida and joined Prospectus in 2011. In the past, Anderson's work has appeared on ESPN, SLAM, and Wired, as well as in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. His nightmares include an endless loop of Hank Blalock playing third base.
The easiest way to explain regression to someone is to do so in baseball terms. Batters rarely threaten .400 these days because of the upped quality of competition. The inverse works, too; pitchers with high earned run averages are replaced before long because teams have capable replacements. There are exceptions to those explanations—Neifi Perez tallied more plate appearances in the majors than Hank Sauer did, after all—but they train people to think in a certain way.
Milwaukee is the surprise of the spring. A look at what has made them interesting.
Among the surprise teams in the early going, the Brewers have a case for most shocking. Milwaukee entered the season pegged for fourth place in the division by the Baseball Prospectus staff, but has raced to a major-league best 15-5 start. Of course it is early and any team can look brilliant over a 20-game sample—even last season's Astros managed a 12-8 run in late May and early June—yet the Brewers deserve some attention for their hot start, which gave them higher playoff odds through Tuesday than all but five teams in the majors. Rather than harp about their inability to play this well all summer long, let's focus on some of the intriguing developments surrounding the team.
George Springer made his big-league debut on Wednesday night, and in the process opened the season on service time–related debates. Such arguments have become commonplace in early-season baseball, particularly in recent years, as teams have grown more cognizant of the Super Two service time deadline, which determines which players will be eligible for arbitration four times instead of three. But as much as we talk about the status quo, there's seldom talk about how things should change. So how could the Super Two rules be altered (by collective bargaining) for the better? Here are three proposals.
Eliminate Super Two
The extreme solution doubles as the most obvious way to end service-time manipulation. Teams would continue to hold their best prospects down for about two weeks, just long enough to gain the seventh year of control, but would thereafter have no reason to keep the youngsters down for artificial reasons. The downside to eliminating the Super Two designation is that it would further limit the earning power of the class of players who already have the least leverage in the league. This arrangement would be a win for the teams and the fans, but a loss for the players.
Incorporate performance into the Super Two equation
Looking at the fast starts of Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka to see what we can expect moving forward.
With due respect to the rest of a talented rookie class, no two newcomers face more pressure to succeed in 2014 than Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. The expectations exist for obvious reasons: both are older, better paid, and more experienced (albeit in international competition) than the typical rookie. Now two weeks into the season, the winter's most prominent imports have compiled fantastic statistics. But, before the league adjusts and vice versa, do they pass the eye test—or are these two more cases of April numbers ran amok?
The Braves and Nationals played a three-game series over the weekend, and obscured by the obvious storyline—the two best teams in the National League East meeting for the first time this season—was a subplot for sadists: Just how many strikeouts would B.J. Upton, who entered the series with a 44 percent whiff rate, tally against a Nationals staff that fanned 39 batters in its first 28 innings? The answer, it turned out, was five times in 13 tries; an improvement over Upton's first series, when he struck out in half his 12 plate appearances. He then started the next series with this sequence:
The Marlins' new catcher might have an affect that goes beyond credible slash lines.
For as much as we focus on catcher defense these days, the battery dynamic remains beyond our grasp. We know pitchers and catchers work together to form a gameplan and negotiate pitch type and location, but the heavy lifting is often left in the dark. What illumination we do receive often shines from second-hand knowledge, or analysis that is prone to fundamental attribution errors. As a result, analyzing gamecalling and the like is a tough, if not impossible, pursuit from outside a team's walls.
Not one of Tyler Collins' or Roenis Ellis' PECOTA comparables was a major leaguer. But Collins, Ellis, and the rest of these unknowns are on MLB rosters today.
Opening Day is here, and that means it's time to introduce the unknowns who made rosters. This year's edition includes some new quirks. In addition to an expanded roster, each capsule now includes the player's major league service time (MLS) and the percentage of their PECOTA comparables who played in the bigs during the comparable season (MLB%), as a crude way to determine the unexpectedness of their Opening Day assignment.