MLB held its annual draft last week. That snoring sound that you hear is amateur scouts and prospect writers all over the country finally getting a well-deserved nap. We won’t really know the final results of the draft for another decade or so. Maybe one team just drafted two Hall of Famers, like the Royals did in 1979. As someone who is decidedly not a prospect writer, I think I’ll just pick a team at random and say that they “won” the draft. (They’re all mostly guessing anyway.)
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What would happen if we sent Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton back in time? And can anyone there hit Aroldis Chapman's fastball?
The Effectively Wild Facebook group can be a fun place. Last week, member Adam Dyck posed a fun question. “How far back in time would you have to send a team of modern-day replacement-level players before they would be the greatest baseball team on the planet?” For those who aren’t regular listeners to the show, it’s a quintessential example of the sort of question that gets bantered about. It’s one part baseball, one part science-fiction script idea. It’s un-answerable, but it hints at a larger question that’s worth discussing. How has baseball changed over its history?
One team's brilliant discovery eventually becomes the entire league's status quo.
Baseball is a game of secrets and half-truths. All 30 teams employ a man whose entire job (well, most of it) is to stand there and dance around in code to relay instructions to the batter and runners. The pitcher and catcher have their own gestural language. After the game, players usually speak in a strange code in which they appear to be speaking English and answering questions, but they somehow don’t manage to say anything coherent at all. Then there’s the front office, where the secrets run so deep that depending on the day of the week, you might not be able to get the people there to admit that they are running a baseball team.
Sit Fastball. Swing Hard. Strikeouts Don't Matter.
Let’s begin by assuming that the ball isn’t juiced. Over the past two years, we’ve seen a rather obvious spike in the home run rate, such that suddenly Ryan Schimpf and Yonder Alonso are getting mentions in articles about home runs. In 2014, runs scored per game (4.07) had dipped to their lowest rate since 1980, and the game, according to people who watch it for a living, had become un-watchable.
Ryan Zimmerman credits Daniel Murphy with his comeback season, but can learning from teammates break bad too?
The big story of the Nationals' season so far (other than that guy who got a save the other day) has been the resuscitation of Ryan Zimmerman. Zimmerman, who has battled injuries for the past few years, reached double digits in home runs for the month of April. According to a story that should probably be called “apocryphal,” Zimmerman’s renaissance can be credited to deep, late-night conversations with teammate Daniel Murphy. Murphy had one weird trick that he suggested Zimmerman might try this year: swing up. Apparently, it worked.
Can the whole be greater than the sum of its parts? Can it ever be less? Is a baseball team just the total of the 25 people who comprise its roster?
We live in a statistical ecosystem that is dominated by WAR, a statistic that for all its perks does contain some weaknesses. WAR–in an attempt to compare all players to a common baseline–specifically assigns a value to players with the intention of stripping away all of the context of his teammates. There’s no secret here. This is celebrated as the great triumph of WAR. Where RBI or runs scored were decent indicators of a hitter’s abilities, they were also dependent on the abilities of his teammates. As an individual measure, WAR makes sense as a way to compare everyone to the same baseline.
Once the home of plodding sluggers, left field is now being treated much differently by managers.
The left fielder has become an endangered species. That's an odd statement to make, but the data say it’s true, and the reasons why tell us some interesting things about where the game of baseball is going. And it starts in this graph right here:
The idea of quick-stabilizing numbers is tempting, but it can be misleading without digging further.
It’s been a surprising 2017 for (name of player) so far. The (team) (position) has put up (adjective) numbers so far and is one of the reasons his team is (record). In the offseason, (name) worked with (name of famous trainer) on (new trick). “I made it a point in spring training to really work on (new trick) and to (action) (adverb).”
It's dinosaurs vs. nerds in the battle of bullpen usage.
In theory, spring training is the place to figure out what a team has become over the winter. The reality of baseball is that teams change, and the plan from last year might need some updating to reflect the new personnel. Got a couple of new faces in the bullpen this year? Well, we need to assign jobs to each of them. Otherwise, they’ll sit out there like little lost puppies, not sure what to do. But what if spring training wasn’t quite enough time to get everyone into place? What if your plans were suddenly derailed by an untimely injury?