Has all the Dodgers spending and talk about solving the injury riddle led to any real progress?
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a $250 million payroll, at least six former or current general managers stashed away in their front office, and one of the deepest staffs of numbers crunchers in the game. When they decided to tackle one of baseball’s most perplexing mysteries—The Injury—under Andrew Friedman’s watch, it wasn’t particularly surprising. In fact, the Dodgers might possess the perfect combination of dollars and smarts to best pursue an injury elixir; their front office depth chart includes a whopping 12 different baseball operations analysts—behind only Friedman’s old team in Tampa Bay—and a 12-person medical staff. The A’s, by comparison, have just a handful of full-time analysts on staff, and when prodded about the injury issue—in a seven-year-old New York Times article, coincidentally about Stan Conte and the Dodgers—Billy Beane responded, “I just don’t have the money to let someone spend all year looking into this.”
Teams only have so many resources to devote to analytics, and every minute spent on injury research is one that could be spent on the draft or on aging curves or on figuring out what to do with terabytes of Statcast data. While some teams—like the A’s, perhaps—have struggled divvying up limited resources, the Dodgers have enough money to hire multiple people to study injuries while hiring more people to study the people studying injuries. That’s what they’ve done, apparently, beefing up their front office with the partial goal of getting a better handle on player health. The resulting strategy has featured the Dodgers acquiring extreme injury risks, guys like Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, stacking bargain-bin depth pieces next to established stars like Clayton Kershaw and Adrian Gonzalez.
Scherzer threatens another signature start, the Dodgers dip toward .500, and Whit Merrifield is a thing.
The Monday Takeaway
Few pitchers are as unhittable at their best as Max Scherzer is. The right-hander’s 20-strikeout game earlier this year can attest to that. And for a while on Monday, it seemed as though Scherzer might duplicate that effort against a Cubs lineup that looked helpless at the plate.
Scherzer struck out the side in the first, two more in the second, and another trio in the third. With his high-80s breaker darting expertly at lefties’ back feet,
A year ago today, Francisco Lindor was recalled. Since (roughly) that day, the position has gone from a dead spot to historically great.
Eleven months ago Alcides Escobar was voted into the All-Star game as the AL’s starting shortstop. Escobar is an oft-praised defender with plus speed on a Royals team that was coming off a World Series loss and headed for a World Series win, but he also ended the first half with a modest .699 OPS and finished the season with a .614 OPS that nearly matched his .636 career mark through age 28. Alcides Escobar, All-Star starting shortstop just seemed a little lofty.
Royals fans stuffed the ballot box so much that second baseman Omar Infante and his .555 OPS nearly got voted into the game as well, but in Escobar’s case the story wasn’t so much about an undeserved selection as no other AL shortstops standing out as clearly deserving. In other words, don’t blame Escobar or Royals fans for his being in the starting lineup alongside the biggest stars in the league. None of the AL shortstops had an OPS above .750 at the All-Star break. The chosen backup was light-hitting Jose Iglesias, another glove-first player whose career OPS is .680.
Eleven months later, the AL’s shortstop landscape has changed so dramatically that the position as a whole has a higher collective OPS (.709) than Escobar had at the time of the All-Star break last year (.699) and Escobar has been the worst-hitting shortstop in the entire league. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .359/.405/.527 for the Red Sox. Manny Machado, who shifted from third base to shortstop following J.J. Hardy’s foot injury, is hitting .308/.376/.600 for the Orioles. Francisco Lindor, who made his debut exactly one year ago today, is hitting .304/.360/.450 for the Indians. Carlos Correa, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is hitting .256/.351/.423 for the Astros.
Bill James is not a fan of groundball pitchers. This is not new news; he’s written about them in the past on his site, Bill James Online. His most recent thoughts on the subject came last month in an essay entitled Two Bits, Four Bits. He addressed four separate topics:
1. The oddity of teams’ no. 1 starter being referred to as “not a true number one starter” when one never hears, say, a cleanup hitter being referred to as “not a true cleanup hitter”
2. The value of groundball pitchers vs. flyball pitchers
3. Whether facing a knuckleball pitcher screws up opposing hitters’ timing in the following game
4. How the ascendancy of Donald Trump indicates a challenge for the Republican Party
Manny Machado and Yordano Ventura take swings, Adam Duvall takes bigger swings, and Julio Urias finally does okay.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Trying to come up with a lede for a section about Tuesday night’s fracas between Manny Machado and Yordano Ventura is like trying to herd angry wolverines. Any attempt at humor will fall flat. What’s important is that what happened in Baltimore was stupid. Flat-out stupid.
Julio Urias gets hit again, Zack Greinke is basically back, and the Padres out-do themselves.
The Thursday Takeaway
Statistically, you’re unlikely to be a nuclear physicist. There are certainly some of you that are nuclear physicists, but almost assuredly, the average reader of this columnist is unlikely to currently be a nuclear physicist. It’s substantially more likely, however, that there are many physics majors reading this. Yet, of course, a physics major doesn’t make one a nuclear physicist.