We find six interesting storylines for the six all-but-eliminated teams--and none of them is about trading away superstars.
Bad teams are boring. That’s a thesis to which we can all subscribe, isn’t it? Sure, it’s interesting when a team invests heavily—almost desperately—in a given season, then falls flat, but for the most part, the trends we track and the decisions we analyze draw our interest because of their impact on the competitive prospects of the teams and players in question. The most criminal thing about the current MLB roster rules is that they discourage bad teams from being competitive, such that hardly anything that happens on the field for those teams merits our attention. Teams not only have incentive to lose more games within a non-contending season, but are saddled with conflicting interests when it comes to promoting promising young players during such a campaign. Young players who would have been in the big leagues 20, 30 or 40 years ago are now stashed in the minors months longer, if their team stinks. And it doesn’t pay to grouse about a manager steadfastly refusing to use his best reliever in a tie game on the road, if we can’t agree that winning that game is actually valuable to the franchise.
That stinks, especially for the hundreds of thousands of fans of bad teams who lose the chance to participate in a national conversation. So consider this a public service, an outreach program to the downtrodden and the disenfranchised of the baseball world. Six teams entered Wednesday’s play with Playoff Odds lower than 10 percent: the Braves, the Phillies, the Reds, the Brewers, the Rockies and the Diamondbacks. (Yes, we’ll have a conversation soon about how the NL and the AL have become so radically disparate, in terms of competitive landscape. But not today.) Without resorting to the cheap, easy stories that force the eyes of the fan bases forward at the expense of any enjoyment of this season (Who will Arizona take with the first pick? Will the Reds trade Cueto? Will the Rockies trade Tulo? Will the Phils trade Hamels?), I want to talk about the most interesting things going on with those six clubs. I don’t promise to deliver hope; some of these are bad things. I merely want to make sure that we spend a little time valuing the games these teams are playing, because buried beneath the mixed messages and the mounting apathy, there is real content, real action taking place, things that will shape the futures of the franchises, but can be discussed in real time, without undue abstraction.
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Three weeks after Matthew gave up on the D'backs front office, he finds admiration for a series of moves.
On Friday night, the Diamondbacks beat the Dodgers on a walk-off single by Ender Inciarte. On Saturday, they knocked around Clayton Kershaw and shut Los Angeles out, 6-0, behind the debut performance of Archie Bradley—who was exactly as advertised, for better and for worse. That came on the heels of a season-opening series in which they stayed right with the Giants, losing two out of three, but competing in each game. Jake Lamb had seven RBI in the first two games of the season. Still, they woke up Sunday with lower Playoff Odds than any National League team this side of the Phillies. The Dodgers remain the overwhelming favorites to win the NL West, not just in 2015, but for years to come. The Playoff Odds Report, PECOTA, your Monday morning power rankings list of choice, no one is any higher on the Diamondbacks than they were a week ago. Nor should they be.
Well. Actually, yes, maybe they should be. I am. Two weeks ago, I tweeted this:
How the Diamondbacks scout the quiet independent leagues.
Every day until Opening Day, Baseball Prospectus authors will preview two teams—one from the AL, one from the NL—identifying strategies those teams employ to gain an advantage. Today: the mainstream fundamentals of the Twins, versus the hipster indie-ball scouting of the Diamondbacks.
Nick Ahmed might win the starting shortstop job, which had implications on the rest of the roster; while the Indians and Corey Kluber aren't even close on a contract extension.
Diamondbacks infield arrangement still in flux
A Monday morning report from Peter Gammons, which indicated that Nick Ahmed had gone from darkhorse to favorite in the battle to be the Diamondbacks’ Opening Day shortstop, set off a chain of speculation about the rest of the team’s infield plans. But hours later, first-year manager Chip Hale had a message for everyone eager to etch the club’s depth chart in stone: Hold your horses.
Tomas boots some balls, while the golden age of Nate Freiman might be over.
Yasmany Tomas struggles at third base in early spring workouts
When the Diamondbacks splurged on Cuban slugger Yasmany Tomas in late November, most teams viewed him as an outfielder. The Snakes were one of the few clubs open to giving him a look at the hot corner. That’s likely part of the reason they emerged as the high bidder in a race that culminated with a six-year, $68.5 million contract.
The Tigers "have to have" their ace, while the Diamondbacks don't have to have a catcher, and Carlos Peguero doesn't have to have a clue at the plate to draw suitors.
Do the Tigers “Have to Have” Max Scherzer?
On Friday, a team official told Tony Paul of the Detroit News that finding a way to re-sign the right-hander is a must. We don’t know if that’s the prevailing viewpoint within the front office, but Paul’s tweet indicates that at least one decision-maker feels that Scherzer must be retained at all costs.
Brandon McCarthy's breaker did different things last year, and so did Brandon McCarthy.
Brandon McCarthy had an interesting season in 2014. He began the year pitching for Arizona, and traditional stats—the 5.01 ERA—implied that he struggled. But his 3.82 FIP suggested his ERA wasn’t telling the whole story. Fast forward to McCarthy’s 90-inning tenure in New York, and analysts around baseball were coming up with explanations for why McCarthy was so improved. After all, he posted a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts while wearing pinstripes. McCarthy’s FIP with New York wasn’t all that much better than it was in the first half, though, as he posted a 3.22 FIP as a Yankee.
The interesting thing about McCarthy is that his peripherals suggest that some of these ups and downs are simply a function of factors beyond his control. After all, his FIPs over the past three seasons are 3.76, 3.75, and 3.55. Those are much more consistent than his ERAs over that same time period (which should surprise nobody), and they indicate that McCarthy is a pretty consistent pitcher, at least as far as the things he controls go.