Joshua finds a book of interesting stories, then an interesting story in the flesh, as he job takes him to unexpected places.
Since my last column, I have had many opportunities to celebrate during this young season: Jeremy Jeffress is six for six in saves, and in his arb year no less; Steve Clevenger has finally found some stability, on the Mariners’ 25-man roster; Carlos Asuaje is hammering for the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate, and seems to be right on the verge of making it. It’s been a nice season thus far, beginning with an odd day I spent in Arizona.
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.
The Braves' outfield battle is down to three contenders, while the Orioles and Yankees try to round out their pitching staffs before Opening Day.
The Braves’ fourth outfield spot is still open to Jeff Francoeur, Michael Bourn, or Emilio Bonifacio Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn may have been a package deal for the Braves at the 2015 deadline, but it’s almost certain that they’ll be parting ways by Opening Day. The Braves are narrowing down their bench candidates, and according to Mark Bowman of MLB.com, Nick Swisher is likely to get the boot by the end of spring training if he fails to net a trade offer. Assuming the Braves offload the veteran outfielder by absorbing the rest of his $15 million contract, they’ll still have to rid themselves of another outfield candidate to set their 25-man roster. That leaves just three outfielders to duke it out: Bourn, clubhouse personality Jeff Francoeur, and bargain backup Emilio Bonifacio.
MLB issued the first suspension under its new domestic violence policy. Was it the right case to rule on first?
Aroldis Chapman received a 30-game suspension from Major League Baseball on Tuesday. In some ways, his case is a lot like many other domestic violence cases: Witnesses gave conflicting statements; the details were alarming, but hard to parse. It is obvious something happened, but local authorities didn’t believe whatever that was merited criminal charges. But because Chapman struck out 41.7 percent of the batters he faced last year, his case isn’t like a lot of other domestic violence cases. He was traded to the Yankees in December, at which point it became clear the Yankees had worked their way into a deplorable win-win: If MLB chose not to suspend Chapman, the Yankees would enjoy his services for a full season. If he were suspended, it might stunt his service time sufficiently to delay his free agency for another year. The 30 games avoid that question, and Chapman’s decision not to appeal avoids a potentially ugly arbitration.
Many of us clamor for players to express themselves, and for clubs to let them. But woe to the expressive player who displeases us.
Last week, after careful consideration of their organizational dysfunction, the Miami Marlins got to the root of the issue and banned facial hair. A new season and media training session brought Yankees players an uncomfortable comparison between Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. And months after his notorious scuffle with Bryce Harper, Jonathan Papelbon traipsed through the Nationals Spring Training facility in an “Obama Can’t Ban These Guns” t-shirt. All three incidents stirred the baseball world’s collective ire, with the Marlins, Yankees, and Papelbon facing derision. Papelbon is ready made for a black hat; the Yankees and Marlins are ironically ready to twirl mustaches. But the backlash seemed to me a failed test of our self-professed commitment to player expression.
There’s no point in asking whether there have ever been three pitchers as good as the Yankees’ back-end trio together in one bullpen. It’s not even close; it’s not even close to being close. In 2015, among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, Andrew Miller had the lowest cFIP, Dellin Betances the fourth-lowest, and Aroldis Chapman the fifth-lowest. In 2014, the three (in a different order) made up the absolute top of the cFIP leaderboard. If they come anywhere near matching that level of excellence in 2016, they’ll be the best bullpen trio ever, without a close second. The only team in the last 30 years (at least) to put three relievers among the top 15 pitchers in cFIP was the 2012 Rays, who had Jake McGee (third), Joel Peralta (12th), and Fernando Rodney (13th). This Yankee cluster-closer is projected for more WARP than the entire starting rotations of the Angels, Royals, and Braves are projected to add, and about 50 percent more than the average NL bullpen. The only starter projected for more WARP than these three combined is Clayton Kershaw, and he’s also the only pitcher of any kind whom PECOTA thinks will have a better DRA than any of these three in 2016. Keep in mind that PECOTA is a computer system. It’s seen a lot of great relievers come and go, and is generally deeply cynical about their exceptionalism, especially if they have relatively short track records of dominance (like Miller and Betances, each of whom have just a little over two seasons’ worth of stellar relief work affixed to otherwise uninspiring career logs).
Of course, some deride the Yankees offseason because of these very facts. The addition of Chapman was, unless you’re deeply enamored of Starlin Castro, the biggest the team made all winter. Famously (or infamously), the team didn’t sign a free agent to a guaranteed deal all winter. They didn’t stabilize their thin starting rotation. In fact, they used one of their better depth options to acquire Castro. They didn’t use their financial muscle to pursue first-division replacements for any of their (expensive) second-division starters, like Chase Headley or Carlos Beltran, except in that they took on Castro’s salary. They elected to buttress the aging Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury (each only 32 this year, but 32 is sometimes very old for second-tier outfielders, and even 31 looked old for Ellsbury) only with Aaron Hicks.
In the career trajectories of seven (or eight) young(ish) shortstops, we see the volatility of baseball careers at this level.
This is an interesting phenomenon, though one that (for various reasons) has gone largely unnoticed: There were seven (or eight, if you’re feeling generous) regular big-league shortstops in 2015 who were born in the seven months between early September 1989 and late March 1990. I’ve been tracking their progress for years, wondering when one or another edged ahead of the field as the most valuable, trying to gauge their relative market standings. It was always hard to tell, though, because for each player, development has been anything but linear, and their values have seemed to be very volatile. The group even flexed in size and membership over the years, reaching (probably) its maximum size in 2015.
This winter, we finally got a little clarity (though only a little). Four of these shortstops changed teams this winter, all via trade. At least two permanently moved on from being shortstops. From here on out, the careers of these seven (or eight) players with so much in common might seem thoroughly disparate, even though (perhaps most remarkably, of all the interesting things about them) their paths to this point in their careers have often crossed—and in some cases, have even altered one another. Thus, I want to take a moment to consider their respective situations, weigh them against each other, and revel in the entropy that defines baseball, an entropy this group embodies as well as anyone.
A look at the movement at the top of the all-time catching leaderboards.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus debuted expanded catcher statistics in an all-day festival immortalized forever as Catchella. We have long known that catcher defense, particularly pitch framing—we will not be referring to it as “presentation” whatever your preferences, players—is hugely important in assessing a catcher’s value. With framing data going back to 1988, and blocking and throwing data going back to 1950, we have a wealth of new information to sort through and analyze to help understand exactly how much those skills affect the game. The totality of that analysis will take time, but as we start to unpack this treasure chest, a few interesting tidbits emerge.
Everything has a price, including personal shortcomings, in the game of baseball.
This piece isn’t really about domestic violence. Nor is it ultimately about Aroldis Chapman, although the erstwhile Red is one of its central characters. When the Reds traded Chapman to the Yankees for prospects and the privilege of not having to deal with his domestic violence investigation any further, it became clear that the edges of baseball’s free market were brushing up against baseball’s humanity in a way as interesting as it was alarming. So this piece is about the opportunities baseball seeks, and the prices we pay for them.