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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Every season has its Sabermetric bellwether issue. Trout vs. Cabrera. The infield shift. Catcher framing. Joey Votto in the two-hole. But before all that, there was Tony La Russa hitting the pitcher in the eighth spot in the lineup. La Russa, when he managed the Cardinals, was known to be willing to experiment a bit to gain an edge. Then again, during his A’s days, La Russa was credited with “inventing” the modern bullpen and Dennis Eckersley. In 1993, he even tried a pitching strategy which had three groups of three pitchers each that worked a three-day rotation. The experiment lasted a week, but he gave it a shot. But now, the La Russa gambit of hitting the pitcher eighth is back.
The Rockies get creative, the Dodgers get the first look at Kimbrel in a Padres uniform, and C.J. Wilson erases some memories.
The Tuesday Takeaway
By now it’s clear that defensive shifts have exploded in volume over the past few seasons. The total number of shifts in 2014 was nearly six times that in 2011, with teams like the Astros, Yankees, Pirates and Rays racing to the forefront of the sport’s latest trend. One laggard in the new shift-crazed world has been the Rockies, who finished dead last in shifts last season with 114, according to the latest Bill James Handbook. However, the Rockies might not be sitting in the shift cellar for much longer.
Is it possible to sell low on the second-best player in baseball? Probably.
Since the game was between the Rockies and Brewers, it’s possible that Troy Tulowitzki had three hits before most people knew his season had started. He lined an RBI double into the left-field corner in his first at-bat, dented the wall in right-center field with a second double his next time up, and hit a line-drive single in his third trip. The Rockies are staring down the barrel of a fifth straight losing season, but Monday was a reminder that they can still hit, and that Tulowitzki, when healthy, is the second-best player in baseball.
Tulowitzki turned 30 last October. Through age 29, he amassed 37.6 WAR in parts of nine seasons, according to Baseball-Reference. They’re the sunniest bunch when it comes to his defense, so FanGraphs has him at 33.2 WAR, and we credit him with 34.6 WARP. Still, you get it. That’s a really big number. Using the bWAR and asking Play Index to provide context, I found that 108 non-active players have had at least 35 WAR through their age-29 seasons. Of these, 64 are in the Hall of Fame, and seven more are on the ballot, clearly deserving to be in, just waiting for the voters to figure that out. Clayton Kershaw is, obviously, the best Hall of Fame candidate on an NL West roster. It’s almost equally obvious, though, that Tulowitzki is the second best, and when it comes to trade candidates, Tulowitski isn’t just the division’s best—he’s probably baseball’s.
How the Rockies have obtained and drafted slider-leaning pitchers.
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: unsolvable-yet-succeeding Oakland Athletics and the solvable-yet-losing Colorado Rockies.
The Phillies are still shopping, Wilin Rosario might play some first, and the Luke Scott show is back from Korea.
Phillies could go shopping for veteran catcher and/or shortstop
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said in recent days that the roster he has now is the one he expects to travel to Clearwater, Florida, for spring training. It might not, however, be the group that comes back north for Opening Day. ESPN’s Jayson Stark heard straight from the horse’s mouth that an experienced backstop or shortstop might be heading to Philadelphia before early April, even though it’s unlikely to happen before camp begins.
Finding the man who had only one great season but a huge impact nonetheless.
There has been much excitement since it was announced that Harper Lee would finally be releasing a second book. Who wouldn’t be pumped to read more adventures with Scout, Atticus Finch, that one dude, and that other person? Ah, I love To Kill a Mockingbird. The way they just [clenches fist] kill all those mockingbirds. Okay, truth time, I haven’t actually read To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s on my to-do list, I swear, I just haven’t gotten to it yet. By all accounts, it’s quite wonderful, I’m sure I’ll love it when I finally get to it. I have fond memories of my brother doing pretty much every single book report he ever did as a child on that book. I mean, he bestowed the middle name Atticus upon one of his children, so yeah, he’s a fan.
Still, when I heard the news, my mind, as it tends to do no matter the subject, went to baseball. Is there a Harper Lee in the baseball world?