The more things change, the more they stay the same, except for when they change.
We’re basically a quarter of the way through the season. About 60 percent of the league will have played at least 40 games by the time you read this. This early landmark of the season has a funny way of sneaking up on us, because of the disruptions in the early-season schedule—extra off days, rainouts, and so on—and because of the distractions that keep baseball off the front page of the sports section until summer: the NFL Draft, the NBA and NHL playoffs, etc. We spend so much time (rightfully, by the way) reminding ourselves that it’s early that we eventually risk doing so even when it’s no longer so.
I’m not sure we’re there yet. I’m not sure it’s not still early. Rather than revisit this in two weeks and find I missed the crossing of the Rubicon, though, I figure it’s worth taking stock of what’s changed so far. To do so, let’s examine the 10 teams whose Playoff Odds have moved 12 percentage points or more since the season began. This is an imperfect way of deciding how much has changed, of course. It embraces both PECOTA’s initial estimation of each team’s true talent level, and the system’s rate of change—the way it incorporates new information without giving up the value added by maintaining a long memory and healthy skepticism about relatively small samples. Still, it’s something, so let’s test out the relationship between our intuitions and PECOTA’s projections.
Some nights nothing goes your way, including the manager.
Every close-knit group of friends will develop its own vernacular. Spend enough time with the same people and you’ll share enough experiences and stories that it doesn’t make sense to spell out the entire metaphor—you just quote the line from the movie everyone has memorized, and everyone understands.
Similarly, people who love baseball develop their own semi-secret language around the game—maybe not every Tom, Dick and Harry at the ballpark, but you’re enough of a diehard to read Baseball Prospectus, so you know what I’m talking about. The vocabulary comes from old friends or coaches, or from indelible moments from the past, and every fan has his or her own unique set of idioms.
What to take from Jeff Passan's excellent new book, The Arm.
Jeff Passan’s valuable new book, The Arm: Inside the Billion-Dollar Mystery of the Most Valuable Commodity in Sports—out Tuesday from HarperCollins—is an attempt to shed light on one of the most confounding dramas in contemporary baseball: the so-called “epidemic” of elbow injuries among pitchers. The thrust of the book is revealed in its final pages, when Passan indicates that he hopes his deep dive into pitching and arm health is “something that can help a lot of people.” The motivating prompt for this goal is the nettlesome question: “How can we keep the arm healthy?”
Passan’s investigation is primarily in reference to the rising number of torn ligaments and subsequent Tommy John surgeries among professionals and amateurs. In brief, the book is about a problem, and its aim is to identify solutions. It does not offer any single solution, but that’s not a failure of the book. On the contrary, it’s a testament to the ambitiousness and timeliness of the question. Instead of a magic bullet, Passan reveals that the only way to mitigate arm injuries among pitchers is to effect a cultural shift in the way arms are viewed and used from the lowest to highest levels of competition. The way to do that is to, in a sense, re-attach “the arm” to the human athletes to whom they belong, from youth to professional baseball.
There are numerous correlative causes that lead to elbow injuries among pitchers; however, the only indisputable explanation is the mere act of pitching. To add a finer shade to this maxim, overpitching on macro and micro scales—year-round competition among youth and an emphasis on velocity—are the root causes of elbow injuries. These are the types of concerns that the parents of Harley Harrington, a young pitcher Passan profiles as one of many human stories that accompany his deep dive into arm health, have to be aware of. One of the most fundamental solutions to the problem of pitcher injuries among professionals, Passan posits, is to enforce regulations in the frequency of competition among the industry of youth baseball in which Harrington might soon be pressured to participate.
The Diamondbacks spent the offseason spending big and trying to take the next step. Why's PECOTA such a downer about their chances?
Earlier this month a strange feeling came over me: I began to be intrigued by the Arizona Diamondbacks. It’s hard to say exactly why, in retrospect. Possibly it’s because, when a team decides to spend an amount equivalent to 2 percent of its home-state budget (yes, really) on a single starting pitcher, you begin to get the sense that it’s trying to say something.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
In the career trajectories of seven (or eight) young(ish) shortstops, we see the volatility of baseball careers at this level.
This is an interesting phenomenon, though one that (for various reasons) has gone largely unnoticed: There were seven (or eight, if you’re feeling generous) regular big-league shortstops in 2015 who were born in the seven months between early September 1989 and late March 1990. I’ve been tracking their progress for years, wondering when one or another edged ahead of the field as the most valuable, trying to gauge their relative market standings. It was always hard to tell, though, because for each player, development has been anything but linear, and their values have seemed to be very volatile. The group even flexed in size and membership over the years, reaching (probably) its maximum size in 2015.
This winter, we finally got a little clarity (though only a little). Four of these shortstops changed teams this winter, all via trade. At least two permanently moved on from being shortstops. From here on out, the careers of these seven (or eight) players with so much in common might seem thoroughly disparate, even though (perhaps most remarkably, of all the interesting things about them) their paths to this point in their careers have often crossed—and in some cases, have even altered one another. Thus, I want to take a moment to consider their respective situations, weigh them against each other, and revel in the entropy that defines baseball, an entropy this group embodies as well as anyone.
When we take the weather into account for DRA, how big a swing are we talking about?
One of the most important components of DRA is the awareness of external factors on pitching performance. Obvious things like the parks each player is pitching in, and the defense behind him, clearly affect performance. So too, does temperature.
Derek Holland quite literally brings the heat. Sure, he threw a 94 mph fastball in 2015, but he also pitched in some of the highest average temperature games among all pitchers who recorded at least 162 outs last season. Holland started 10 games for the Rangers, the average temperature of which was over 81 degrees. That’s nearly 8 degrees warmer than the average gametime temperature last season.
According to John Hickey of the Bay Area News Group, extension talks with Reddick will commence shortly, and at the very least, there appears to be mutual interest in a long-term relationship. At the club’s weekend Fan Fest, Reddick told John Shea of the San Francisco Chronicle that he was “thrilled” to hear the A’s wanted to keep him in Oakland beyond the 2016 season, his final year of arbitration. The question now is whether the sides can agree on dollars and years.
Arizona and A.J. Pollock aren't on an extension path, while Cespedes is a possibility in Houston--or, at least, an unlikely possibility.
D’backs table extension talks with A.J. Pollock
Few players did better for themselves heading into their first tour of arbitration than A.J. Pollock, who delivered a 5.4 WARP campaign on the strength of 39 doubles, 20 homers, and 39 stolen bags. The 28-year-old bloomed late but has established himself as a star-level contributor, the sort of player teams are eager to lock up as free agency draws nearer. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, while they’ve accomplished a lot this offseason, locking Pollock up long term may have to wait.
Like ballplayers, owners make decisions based on their own needs. Unlike ballplayers, owners are already soooooooooooo rich.
Free agency does a lot to clarify what matters to players. Some will opt for the highest average annual contract or biggest guarantee; others will take slightly less so they might preserve another bite at free agency down the road, before time completely diminishes their stars. Some are able to command both, because of savvy negotiating or some team’s desperate craving for a generational talent. Each outcome is revealing. Mega contracts make for surprisingly boring tales in this regard. The would-be lottery winner in all of us can imagine the satisfaction a nice, round number like $200 million might have as it rolls off the tongue. Many a player will take all the chips ownership will push into the pile and cash out, considering themselves satiated. It’s when those max contracts hit the tape only to be pushed aside by deals with virtues like flexibility or longevity or the promise of a World Series appearance, that we get to say something more interesting about what matters. Like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with the top of the pyramid drawn in bespoke terms, assuming the shape of the complicated mix of ingredients and tiebreakers that make up happiness. As Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh discussed on Episode 774 of Effectively Wild, those ingredients can be personal and perhaps a bit eccentric.