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.
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Those four words seem sadly lacking in many aspects of contemporary life. You’ve said them, right? You try out something new, it fails, you realize your error, go back to what you were doing before, and move on. A new diet. A new workout. A new morning routine. Once I tried to remove a spot on my jeans with bleach. Once I tried washing my hair with dishwashing liquid. Once I crawled under my car, armed with a socket wrench and the intent to change the oil myself. They all ended with the recitation of those four words.
Vargas is off to a hot start for the Royals and has become a wanted man in fantasy league. How much value might he sustain for fantasy owners?
By Eric Roseberry
The Buyer’s Guide is a weekly column designed to help fantasy owners assess a player who sees an increased level of interest during a given week. This column will focus on players who generally have lower than 40 percent ownership rates across various leagues.
Is the old cliche right or is there something in the data to suggest otherwise?
Some days, we all wake up on the wrong side the bed. It starts to be a problem when your bed is against the wall. Slumps are a part of baseball (and life), because humans are creatures of cycles. Sometimes you’re caught in a bad one.
Is there an inefficiency to be exploited by taking so-so center fielders and playing them in a corner?
The Mariners have added Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Haniger to their outfield this offseason and they already had Leonys Martin. The Rays traded Drew Smyly for a group of prospects, which they insisted (to at least some extent) include Mallex Smith, and they already had Kevin Kiermaier. I think the Mariners and Rays made these trades because they thought high-end corner outfield defense was undervalued.
The super-cool, super-modern, super-fun strategy that might not be doing anything.
Last week, we looked into The Shift and whether it was actually doing what we said it was supposed to do, which is to be a better way of getting hitters, especially pull-happy hitters (and double especially groundball-heavy, pull-happy, left-handed hitters) to make more outs. The traditional story of The Shift is that because those hitters are going to be sending most of their ground balls to one side of the field, why not put more fielders over that way?
Here’s a cheeky question that I ask in complete sincerity: How many home runs were hit against The Shift last year? I’m sure someone out there knows the answer to the question, but there are probably more people wondering why I even bothered to ask it. If the ball was hit over the wall, what does it matter whether The Shift was on or not? Either way, the fielders weren’t going to be able to get to it.
The Chicago Cubs’ April was insane, frankly. Through 22 games, they went 17-5 (first team since the 2010 Rays to be that good or better, and before those Rays, it had been since 2003), outscored their opponents by 79 runs (second-best run differential over the first 22 in over 100 years, trailing only the 2003 Yankees; the fourth team in the last decade to outscore opponents by so much over any 22-game stretch), and were on pace to cruise past the all-time record for team walks. Oh, and at 6.18 runs per game, they were on pace to score over 1,000 runs, which would put them in the company of the 1999 Indians, the only team to score that many since MLB became fully integrated.
You probably knew all of that, though, and more to the point, we know none of that will keep up. The Cubs played a very weak April schedule. They got some key hits and strong overall performance from the likes of Matt Szczur and David Ross. They lost Kyle Schwarber for the season and Miguel Montero for at least a couple weeks. Jason Heyward has not made the hoped-for changes to his offensive game, remaining instead a patient hitter capable of hitting the ball hard, but not of getting it off the ground often enough to tap into the full power of that contact. Dexter Fowler played out of his mind for two weeks, but while he’s a better player than the (ahem) market decided he was this winter, he’s still Dexter Fowler. The Cubs aren’t a 110-win team. I’m not sure I would peg their final record any higher today than I would have on Opening Day, all things weighed and accounted for.
Three years ago, Michael was dead wrong about the shift. He still is, but now he has a powerful ally.
I love Joe Girardi, in large part because he looks like a Serious Dad. He’s got the kind of stern face that makes you believe that you were actually wrong to play Indoor Softball in front of the new TV.
By virtue of his Serious Dad Face, among other skills and virtues, Girardi has navigated two tricky ownership groups, become the only manager ever to win Manager of the Year with a losing record and—most importantly—won the 2009 World Series.
What really happens when we try to compare players across positions empirically.
I’m guessing that many of the people reading this will have come to appreciate the game of baseball the way I did, through the magic of baseball cards. When I was growing up, a baseball card told you three things on the front of the card: the player’s name, the player’s team, and the position that he played. It’s something that’s deeply ingrained in how we understand baseball. Players have their positions. And we know all nine of them. Well, of course, there were the utility infielders. I remember when I was 7 that I called them “switch-position” guys. They got little dashes in the little circle where it showed their position. SS-2B. 3B-1B. In baseball, it’s perfectly legal to shift around the park, but the good players, they had a regular spot to hang out in.