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08-23

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Rubbing Mud: The Mental Side of Shifting
by
Matthew Trueblood

08-22

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2

Rubbing Mud: They Might Be Rebuilding
by
Matthew Trueblood

08-17

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3

Rubbing Mud: Lineups Are Just a Social Construct
by
Matthew Trueblood

08-16

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Rubbing Mud: How the Pendulum Swings
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-14

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Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Wests
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-13

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Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Centrals
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-12

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Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Easts
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-07

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6

Rubbing Mud: So You're Dead Set on Fixing the Cubs
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-05

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4

Rubbing Mud: Sprinting Schwarber
by
Matthew Trueblood

07-03

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Rubbing Mud: Tall Tales
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-21

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3

Rubbing Mud: Lower is Better for Berrios
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-19

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Rubbing Mud: Arbitrage Artists on Each Coast
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-16

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Rubbing Mud: Paxton's Patterns
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-14

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Rubbing Mud: No Free Strikes
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-13

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Rubbing Mud: Brad Peacock Spreads His Feathers
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-09

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Rubbing Mud: What We Talk About When We Talk About Launch Angle
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-05

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4

Rubbing Mud: The Rise of the Rover and the Fall of Dozier
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-02

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Rubbing Mud: One At-Bat, Turned Inside Out
by
Matthew Trueblood

06-01

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Rubbing Mud: The Year of the Long Single
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-30

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Rubbing Mud: Clayton Kershaw, and Greatness vs. Greatest
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-24

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Rubbing Mud: Jake Arrieta's Broken Breaking Balls
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-22

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Rubbing Mud: The Muscle Memory of Bunting
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-19

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Rubbing Mud: The Rockies' Many Starters, and What to Do With Them
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-17

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Rubbing Mud: Marcell Ozuna is Obliterating the Baseball
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-15

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Rubbing Mud: Further Frontiers: Size Matters
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-12

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Rubbing Mud: Can Amir Garrett Make This Work?
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-08

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Rubbing Mud: Ryan Schimpf and Ernesto Frieri Walk Into a Coal Mine
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-03

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4

Rubbing Mud: Catching Up
by
Matthew Trueblood

05-01

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Rubbing Mud: New-Stats Rookie Antonio Senzatela
by
Matthew Trueblood

04-28

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6

Rubbing Mud: Common Sense Beanball Control
by
Matthew Trueblood

04-19

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Rubbing Mud: What Ozzie Smith Thinks Can (and Can't) Make Baseball Better
by
Matthew Trueblood

04-11

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Rubbing Mud: Adam Wainwright Moving Side to Side
by
Matthew Trueblood

04-07

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Rubbing Mud: Walking Cain
by
Matthew Trueblood

04-04

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Rubbing Mud: The Cubs' Pitching and Its Skeptics
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-24

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Rubbing Mud: Freddie Freeman Takes the Zone for Himself
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-21

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Rubbing Mud: Lift Yourself Up By Your Launch Angle
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-17

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Rubbing Mud: Roberto Osuna's Complicated Relationships
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-13

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6

Rubbing Mud: The World Baseball Classic and the Zeal of the Convert
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-10

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Rubbing Mud: Dan Straily's Maybe Changing Two-Seamer
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-07

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5

Rubbing Mud: Further Frontiers: Handedness
by
Matthew Trueblood

03-01

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8

Rubbing Mud: One Winter in a Baseball Time Machine
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-28

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13

Rubbing Mud: Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-24

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Rubbing Mud: Mr. Sale's Arithmetic Class
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-22

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Rubbing Mud: Carlos Martinez, Tunnels, and PECOTA
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-16

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Rubbing Mud: Corey Dickerson is Weird
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-15

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6

Rubbing Mud: A Day of Rest
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-10

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Rubbing Mud: Miguel Sano Through PECOTA's Eyes
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-09

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Rubbing Mud: Yadier Molina Through PECOTA's Eyes
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-04

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Rubbing Mud: Further Frontiers: Vision
by
Matthew Trueblood

02-02

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Rubbing Mud: Command, Framing, and Teamwork
by
Matthew Trueblood

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August 23, 2017 9:25 am

Rubbing Mud: The Mental Side of Shifting

0

Matthew Trueblood

From Ted Williams and Lou Boudreau to Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Moss, there's more to the shift than meets the eye.

Last week, Anthony Rizzo was the National League Player of the Week, batting .429 and driving in 13 runs. He hit two homers and had a fistful of clutch singles, many of them shot hard through the left side, even as teams persisted—and they will persist a while longer, until Rizzo really proves this is his permanent approach—in shifting or shading him toward the right side on the infield. It’s not why he won, but it’s dazzling to consider that he had that hot streak while handling the defensive responsibility of playing his 10th game at second base.

Obviously, that’s misleading. If you’ve paid much attention to the Cubs this year (or if you did so late last year, or if you just happen to play fantasy baseball), you know that the reason Rizzo has racked up brief appearances at second base is that he and the real second baseman switch spots in certain obvious sacrifice bunt situations. It involves Rizzo trading in his first baseman’s mitt (because the rules require as much), but it’s not a true position change. It’s just a defensive shift, with a little bit of extra pizzazz (or positional anarchy, if you will).

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August 22, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: They Might Be Rebuilding

2

Matthew Trueblood

The Statue Got Me High, but Don't Let's Start the Spiraling Shape.

On Thursday afternoon, I hosted a chat on this site, and one of the questions asked was about the immediate future of the Giants. Obviously, this season has been a catastrophe, but they still have a number of guys to whom they’re committed not only financially and emotionally, but on a baseball level. The core of the next good Giants team was supposed to be this core, when the season began, and it’s not clear that the team has significantly altered that general mindset, even as they hurtle toward 100 losses.

When I was asked about them, I found I had relatively little to say. They’re as uninspiring, in that way, as they are bad right now. I mentioned, I think, that it will be very interesting to see if Johnny Cueto can even pitch well enough down the stretch to make what seemed to be an almost automatic opt-out clause in his contract come to fruition. I also said that, if I were to start taking on the task of rebuilding this franchise, I might begin with a front office shakeup. A few days later, I find myself certain that the Giants need to rebuild—urgently, and drastically.

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Are managers too afraid to make in-game bench moves?

The Rays’ offense is in crisis. Tampa Bay lost 3-2 in Toronto on Wednesday night, continuing a pattern of ineptitude at bat that has persisted for nearly two full weeks. They’ve scored 20 runs in their last 12 games, just as some of their rivals in the Game of Porcelain Thrones that is the AL Wild Card race have gotten hot. If they can’t find their way out of this funk soon, or if they aren’t able to start pulling out some close games despite a faltering offense, they’re going to squander what looked (as recently as the trade deadline) like a great opportunity to reach the postseason.

There’s an ace up their sleeve, one they seem reticent to play. Willy Adames is hitting well at Triple-A, and he’s more than acquitted himself as a defensive shortstop. Given the dreadful production Adeiny Hechavarria has delivered recently, it’s possible that the gap between the two is wide enough to make starting Adames’ service-time clock worthwhile even for the Rays. Barring that, however, the best hope for the team might be for manager Kevin Cash to keep doing what he did on Wednesday night: using the whole roster.

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August 16, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: How the Pendulum Swings

1

Matthew Trueblood

Milwaukee and St. Louis had two very different outcomes Tuesday night, but it wasn't all just luck.

Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake had only given up one run through four innings against the Red Sox on Tuesday night, but he ran into trouble in the fifth inning, in a big way. The Red Sox didn’t start launching balls over the fence, but their swings came early (even, somewhat uncharacteristically, on the first pitch) and looked confident.

Leake’s sheer stuff was fine, but his command frayed (he hit Andrew Benintendi with an 0-2 pitch), and the mounting confidence of the Boston batsmen seemed to come directly from his personal stores. It was one hard-hit single, then another, then the unlucky hit batter, then a double off the wall by Hanley Ramirez, then a dumb intentional walk, then another pair of singles, and before manager Mike Matheny could make it out there to remove his April ace, the game was gone.

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July 14, 2017 8:54 am

Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Wests

0

Matthew Trueblood

The two best teams in baseball, plus a lot of uncertainty.

This is Part 2 of the series that began Wednesday, setting up the second half by talking about all 30 teams—but using just one word per game played for each. You can read Part 1 for a more extensive introduction to the concept. Let's jump right in.

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July 13, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Centrals

1

Matthew Trueblood

Halway home and plenty of uncertainty to go around.

You can see the equivalent piece on the teams of the two East divisions for the details of this shtick. The gist is that we’re breaking down each team at the All-Star break, using only one word per game played to this point. It’s an exercise in humility, in understanding how little a single half of a season really tells us. Today, the 10 teams in the two Central divisions get their turn.

Chicago Cubs (43-45)

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July 12, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: This is Really All We Know: The Easts

2

Matthew Trueblood

Have we learned more than we knew at the beginning?

A few years ago, I tried a thing for a month or so where I wrote up power rankings of teams using only as many words as they each had games played. I did this once a week for, I don’t know, maybe a month. It was fun the first time, but not the fifth. The point, which I thought cut cleanly and sharply through the piece in the first installment but eventually went a little dull, was that we really learn about teams very slowly.

Players’ skill levels change faster than ever before, I think, relative to the rest of the league. Guys get hurt and rookies get promoted. There’s all of this data flowing past us all the time, but often our best estimate of a team’s true talent remains the one we made before the season, when we were looking at all of those things—all the possible injuries, improvements, adjustment periods, the big picture—and the data was standing still.

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July 7, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: So You're Dead Set on Fixing the Cubs

6

Matthew Trueblood

Joe Maddon and the Cubs could take some intriguing strategic paths in the second half.

It's almost the All-Star break, and the Cubs are still broken.

It's the most obnoxious story of the baseball season to date. Everyone has a take. They're suffering from a World Series hangover. Their clubhouse culture is poisonous. They miss Dexter Fowler, they miss David Ross. Their pitchers have just piled up too many innings over the last two years. They can't handle the expectations. Joe Maddon never should have batted Kyle Schwarber leadoff. The front office never should have saddled Maddon with Schwarber as a primary left fielder.

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July 5, 2017 6:00 am

Rubbing Mud: Sprinting Schwarber

4

Matthew Trueblood

Is there still hope for Kyle Schwarber in left field or are his wheels simply too lacking?

Coming into this season, Kyle Schwarber was a polarizing player. Some saw him as a potential MVP—an elite left-handed slugger with plenty of pure hit tool and the ability to make up for any defensive deficiencies with all of that offensive value. Others saw a missed opportunity, and said the Cubs should have traded Schwarber while his value was highest—either after his sensational rookie showing, or while he nursed his devastating knee injury over the summer of 2016, or last winter, in the afterglow of his heroic showing in a World Series for which he was supposed to be sidelined.

The thinking in the latter group was that Schwarber would never cut it as a left fielder, or indeed, as anything but a designated hitter, and that the Cubs were trying to make a very shiny square peg fit into a round hole, and squandering much of Schwarber’s value in so doing I think it would be unfair to say, flatly and without additional detail, that the doubters were right. They weren’t entirely right, and (obviously) the Schwarber believers weren’t entirely wrong.

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Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are towering over baseball as rookies.

Two of the first half's top stories were the power-hitting pillars of two of the league’s flagship franchises. Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have captured the national imagination, and—with the Rookie of the Year trophies almost surely already engraved—they might just capture their league’s MVP awards come November. They’re the perfect new faces for the sport, at least for this part of this season—a spring marked by skyrocketing home run rates, questions about the ball being juiced, and a wave of young talent not only supernally talented, but also impossibly big, strong, and fast.

These are two towering sluggers, but they’re less unusual in that way than they might have been a decade ago, and certainly less so than they would have been in the 1980s or earlier. In fact, the six-foot-seven Judge and the six-foot-four Bellinger are just the latest in a line of very tall power hitters who have been taking over the game in recent seasons. Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa all are at least six-foot-four. For most of baseball history, conventional wisdom has held that guys with such long levers were too vulnerable strikeouts, too exploitable, too disadvantaged by the larger strike zone with which opposing pitchers could work. That conventional wisdom, to the extent that it’s not retroactively disproven by these superstar sluggers, seems to be eroding. I want to talk about why, and what it can tell us about the game.

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Jose Berrios' slight adjustments have had big payoffs, as 23-year-old thrives in Minnesota's rotation.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

Jose Berrios entered 2017 with his career arc somewhat in doubt. Formerly a top prospect, he’d struggled—no, he had outright failed—in his first extended look in the majors, and despite his youth and his raw stuff, even his most enthusiastic supporters were forced to admit that big changes were needed if he was going to turn himself into a valuable big-league hurler.

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The lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf, with the Yankees starring as the lion.

We talk a lot about the fundamental challenges faced by low-payroll or small-market teams trying to compete with the big boys. This goes back to the times of Branch Rickey and Ed Barrow, but it became a fashionable conversation once Moneyball turned baseball inside-out. The A’s might have been the first team to realize that speed was overvalued and that on-base percentage was undervalued, but the Red Sox and Yankees were among the first five, and that closed Oakland’s margin for error fast.

Ever since, MLB has been reenacting the fable of the lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf. See, all four animals went hunting together, and they killed a stag. The lion took his place, and he told the others to quarter the kill. They did, cut it up nice and evenly, and then the lion said, “I get one quarter because I’m king, and another because I’m the arbiter, and another because I took part in the chase. Now, who wants to lay a paw on the last quarter?”

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