Good jokes and teams ranked by strength. Sounds like a Hit List.
We can't have a Hit List without Hit List Factors, and we can't have Hit List Factors without some results. But rather than deprive you of the good jokes, here's Something Like A Hit List. We'll return to our normal Hit List format in a few days.
The Red Sox give Pablo Sandoval's job away, the Orioles are in a snit with Hyun-Soo Kim, and the Rangers and Indians might be the best bet for a last-second big-league swap.
Pablo Sandoval Loses His Job To Travis Shaw
After a flurry of moves that included the signing of Pablo Sandoval, the 2014 Red Sox romped to the American League pennant, then swept the World Series. General Manager Ben Cherington received many an accolade for his work, and Sandoval became an instant fan favorite.
The bottom of the Red Sox rotation has taken hits this spring. It's not for the best, but it might not be for the worst.
Last year’s Mets wouldn’t have made it to October, but for the good fortune of playing in one of the worst divisions of the Wild Card era. They were 90-72 overall, but 47-29 in the 76 games they played against the Nationals, Marlins, Braves and Phillies. They had a +69 run differential in those 76 games, and a +70 run differential overall. In other words, against the league beyond the NL East, the Mets were a .500 team, with a .500 team’s run differential.
That’s not intended as a poke at the Mets, of course. Indeed, having a strong record against one’s division rivals is not only a good way to win a lot of games (since the unbalanced schedule MLB uses these days includes 19 games against each member of the division), but the surest way to answer the question the regular season now seems meant to answer: Who is the best team in each division? There’s even something to be said for teams who win a high percentage of those games, because the sample size of each season series is so much larger than it is between any given team and an interdivisional opponent, so each series result probably implies something closer to a real expression of relative team quality.
Many a fifth starter is down in Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Pablo's gain might be Travis Shaw's... gain.
Dodgers fifth-starter spot back up for grabs
The theme song for the Dodgers rotation this spring has been “Another One Bites the Dust”—and that’s not a reference to opposing hitters digging in against Clayton Kershaw. Over the weekend, manager Dave Roberts revealed that the group’s latest ailing member is right-hander Mike Bolsinger, who was supposed to be the failsafe when the fragile veterans ahead of him went down. Now, the 28-year-old Bolsinger is sidelined with an oblique injury, and while it’s not believed to be a long-term matter, it does open up another void in Roberts’ Opening Day rotation.
With Ian Desmond officially off the board, the offseason rumor mill is on its last legs. The spring training position battle and intriguing-opt-out time of year is only just beginning. Here are two situations in that vein that could be worth monitoring in the coming weeks…
What the past says about the futures of three once-bright stars.
About 13 months ago, I wrote a piece for Banished to the Pen examining the brutal 2014 seasons of three previously promising young hitters (Arismendy Alcantara, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Wil Myers) and the implications of those campaigns on those players’ futures. The concept was a rough, statistical sketch of the players’ likely career arcs, without relying either on scouting information or the general narrative.
The piece seems to have mostly pegged Alcantara and Myers correctly. You can read the piece itself to see exactly what I found, but the gist for Alcantara was that the odds were stacked against long-term success for him because of his excessive strikeout rate, and indeed, that shortcoming crippled him in 2015, even after his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. Myers, meanwhile, managed a .288 TAv and 114 OPS+ when he was healthy—numbers that hew eerily closely to those of the people I found who compared closely to him through 2014.
As the league continues to weigh the question of DH expansion, a look at the ways DHs are used and the way they change the game.
Not long ago, a Twitter acquaintance who goes by the handle @CubicSnarkonia posted a blog at his Cubs-centric site, World Series Dreaming. In it, he posed a series of questions about the designated hitter, in light of the fact that, depending on who you ask (or when you ask them), the DH may or may not be coming to the NL in the near future. I was relieved, because those questions helped me find some focus for a piece I’d been trying to develop for a while. I have a strong (and fairly well-documented) opinion on the issue, but had been having a hard time figuring out exactly what piece of the puzzle I was trying to articulate this time around. I’ll get to that at the end, though. To begin, here are the questions Rice Cube asked in his piece, and the best answers I can offer to each. It was nice to have some objective, mostly neutral questions for a jumping-off point.
Does the DH increase game times to obnoxious levels?
Well, everyone’s definition of obnoxious is different, I suppose. In 2015, 39 games involving the DH lasted at least four hours. One hundred fifty-three lasted at least three and a half hours, and 564 lasted at least three hours. Also, because this turns out to be of some importance: five DH-in-effect games lasted at least five hours. Thirteen lasted at least four and a half hours.
Baseball's all-male environment makes clubhouse chemistry especially important. Does it also make it especially challenging.
Somewhere near the middle of a 1999 episode of Friends (“The One With Ross’s Teeth”), Chandler—a character written, throughout the series, as a somewhat effeminate heterosexual man—happens upon his traditionally masculine roommate, Joey, arranging flowers. He promptly accuses Joey of “turning into a woman.” Joey, horrified, defends himself: “No, I’m not! Why would you say that? That’s just mean!”
The Red Sox acquired 'Tek for a reliever, he became their fourth ever team captain, and our new catching metrics help tell us if he was really all that behind the plate.
With all the Powerball jackpot news in the media these days, it’s easy to forget just how hard it is to get a whole lot of something for very little investment. In 1997, the Red Sox dealt Heathcliff Slocumb to the Mariners for Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, proving that you don’t have to play the lottery in order to hit it big. Sometimes you just have to deal a middle reliever for two mid-tier prospects.
Lowe is worth an article himself (I’m sure I’ll get to him at some point), but today it’s time to celebrate Jason Varitek. Famous for being a stalwart Sox player through the entirety of the first decade of the millennium, Varitek was a critical piece of the team’s 2003 playoff run as well as the squad’s 2004 and 2007 World Series victories. The fourth team captain in the franchise’s long history, Varitek remains a beloved and respected figure for the team’s fans today.
In 2015, 137 pitchers threw at least 48 2/3 innings in relief. Of those 137 pitchers, Fernando Rodney was 134th in terms of RE24[i] , pitching roughly 10 runs worse than the average reliever in baseball. Despite being objectively awful, Rodney had the 11th highest inLI—the leverage of the situation when he entered—of those same 137 relievers. Rodney notched 16 saves as the Mariners closer before ending up in Chicago, where he was surprisingly dominant for a handful of innings at the end of the year. But in Seattle, Rodney’s track record and closer job title garnered him plenty of high-leverage innings despite his being one of the worst possible options to pitch them.
Luckily, Rodney didn’t lead the team in inLI. That honor goes to Carson Smith, whose 2.11 inLI was actually the highest in baseball among qualifying relievers. Smith was a much more worthy recipient of those pivotal innings as he posted an 11.7 RE24, making him one of the better relief pitchers in the game last season.
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All the cool teams are collecting relievers again, but are they more like pogs or Magic: The Gathering cards?
Last year, the must-have item of the Winter Meetings shopping season was a catcher with mad framing skills. In a short period of time, Hank Conger, Ryan Hannigan, Miguel Montero, and everyone who owned a chest protector on the Padres roster changed teams. This year, tastes have changed. Now, the new hip thing that all the cool teams have is a crazy good closer. More to the point, a second crazy good closer to pitch in the role once known as “the eight- inning guy.” It’s not enough to have one shoe any more. You need two.