The Nationals find first place, Randy Choate reaches first base, the Brewers go back-to-back-to-back, and the best defensive play of the day.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Hope springs eternal when teams break camp and head to their respective openers with 0-0 records. Every team, from the heaviest favorites to the longest of long shots, is in first place on the first day of the season.
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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.
The incredible rise of Jake Marisnick, the Cardinals long and difficult sweep, Addison Russell's first bomp, and the best defensive play of the weekend.
The Weekend Takeaway
Is this the season that the #process finally pays off for the Astros? The odds still aren’t fantastic—40.6 percent adjusted odds to make the playoffs, as of Sunday—but they’re sure as heck better than they were at the beginning of the season, and they’ve shot up 25 percentage points since last Saturday.
Players slip through the cracks in this sport. Finding those guys before they break out usually takes a stroke of luck.
One of the most rewarding experiences is finding a gem that everyone missed. People ask me all the time how I find clients, and, honestly, a lot of the time I meet these kids by accident. Call it fate, call it determination, call it whatever, but the roads taken by my clients that led them to me have often been very strange.
Since expansion pushed the MLB schedule to 162 games, 29 teams have begun a season by winning three or fewer of their first 15 (in non-strike years). Of these, the 1996 Red Sox are the only club to finish with a winning record, at 85-77. Only nine of the 29 won even 70 games; the average record for the group was 64-97. Isolate the 12 previous teams who started 2-13 or worse, as this year’s Brewers did, and you find only one team who avoided 90 losses—the 81-81 1973 Cardinals. Eight of the 12 lost at least 97.
I lay out these facts not to revel in the Brewers’ badness, but to make sure we have a firm foundation under foot. The Brewers’ playoff chances are functionally gone; only the Phillies keep them out of the NL cellar in our Playoff Odds report. Their chances of being anything this side of disastrously bad are perhaps 35 percent, even if we account to some extent for the fact that no one really expected Milwaukee to be this bad. (Indeed, whatever you thought of the Brewers before the season, keep in mind that many of the teams who started similarly were expected to be better, too.) It’s probably time to blow up this roster, and in due course, I want to begin a sketch of how and why. Before that, though, I want to address two broader, more urgent and (happily) more answerable questions: How much is this lost season, and the prospect of more to come, going to hurt the Brewers? And should we have seen this coming?
How the Brewers ignore handedness and buy all the right-handed players.
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 handedness games of the Brewers and Indians.