The 2016 Season Is Over (Grab Bag of Thoughts)

On the Cubs

  • Congrats, first of all! What a game last night, one of the best baseball games I’ve ever seen.
  • Many Cubs fans are looking forward to the start of a dynasty, and there’s good reason to think that: this team is loaded with young talent, and the lineup in particular is full of guys who haven’t nearly peaked yet. They are going to be a beast in the NL for several more years.
  • I want to temper the idea of a dynasty just a bit with a couple of thoughts. First, the Cubs were extraordinarily healthy this year. The one significant injury they suffered (Kyle Shwarber) ended up being a blessing in disguise. Outside of that injury they were the most healthy team in the postseason, and once Schwarber returned in the World Series there was no better Cubs roster available. The Indians, on the other hand, made their postseason run without Carlos Carrasco (imagine the Giants without Cueto), Michael Brantley (the Giants without Hunter Pence), and with a limited Danny Salazar (Matt Moore only available out of the bullpen…hey, maybe that would have worked). All that to say, it may not be difficult for the Cubs to repeat as champions, but highly unlikely they stay as healthy next year.
  • Second, the sky is the limit for the Cubs lineup. But, keep an eye on the pitching, especially the rotation. I was not a believer in Kyle Hendricks coming into the postseason, and while he won me over, he still seems primed for a regression in 2017. Jon Lester and John Lackey will be a year older. Jason Hammel had a nice season, but is another regression candidate (and a free agent). And then there’s the curious case of Jake Arrieta. Arrieta had as good a season in 2015 as any pitcher, maybe ever, but some of the luster is wearing off. Are teams figuring him out? Did he get tired? Hurt? He’s still very good, but maybe not the Ace we all thought, especially long term. All of this to say, the Cubs may soon find themselves in a position to have to slug it out more often than not, as soon as next year.
  • Third, what about the bullpen? If you are a Cubs fan, do you want Chapman back for many, many millions of dollars? Do you want Carl Edwards Jr to take over as closer? And what about Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon? Those guys were Maddon’s 8th and 9th inning guys for a while but he barely used them.
  • All of which to say: the Cubs are going to be very, very good but they have questions just like anyone else.

On the New Golden Age of Baseball

  • MLB has enjoyed a decade of great parity. Different teams have it made it to and won the World Series. There hasn’t been a dominant franchise (sorry Cardinals), and many champions have failed to even make the postseason the year after their big wins (Giants’ fans know all about this). No one has repeated since the Yankees won three in a row in 2000. As exciting as the last 10+ years has been for hardcore baseball fans (and as beneficial as it was for the Giants), I think we are entering a new era of baseball excellence. And that is extremely good for baseball. I hated the old Yankees dynasty (and the Braves for that matter, from 1993 on), and I hated the argument that an evil empire was good for the game, but there is a lot of truth to that point. And I think we are going to see that again: the Cubs are going to make everyone better. It’s going to be harder and harder to win with flawed teams. The 2016 Giants are a great example of this. Maybe another year they get through with that bullpen, but not against a deep, talented team like the Cubs. But again, this is good for baseball.
  • In addition to the Cubs burgeoning dynasty, you have the NL West rivalry between the Giants and Dodgers. It felt like this genuinely got nasty this year, and it will get worse I think, moving froward. Good for baseball.
  • The Cardinals are still pretty dang good themselves, don’t forget about them!
  • The NL East is a growing beast. Washington is already good and should continue to be for a while. The Mets are smartly run, have the starting rotation equivalent to the Cubs lineup, and will have more and more financial resources at their disposal. The Phillies and Braves are sleeping powers, probably still a few years away, but the next five years of ball in the NL east is going to be bloody. Good for baseball.
  • Meanwhile, in the AL, the Astros are the Cubs: young, deep, and extremely talented. And several teams: the Red Sox, Yankees, Royals, Tigers, Indians, Rangers, and Mariners are a few moves, and better health, away from being pennant winners. The best player in baseball is still on the Angels, too.
  • All of this, good for baseball.

Back to the NLDS

  • Now that the Cubs are officially champions, let’s revisit the NLDS one more time. One storyline that didn’t come up much was Jon Lester’s fateful decision to sign with the Cubs over the Giants. The Giants were all in on Lester, and came in second (after winning the 2014 World Series). He wanted to be closer to family, and relished the idea of winning with the Cubs (call this the anti-Durant decision). How would things have been different? We’ll never know, but I would still take the rotation the Giants have now over Lester and spare parts.
  • IF the Giants get out of Game 4 alive, the popular sentiment seems to be that they would have taken Game 5 as well. Again, we’ll never know, but this Cubs team could have folded many times during the postseason and  never did.
  • I would have loved to have seen it though.

On Bullpens

  • 2016 is being called the year of the bullpen, both for the ways the winning managers used their pens, but also for meltdowns and poor decisions (the Orioles not using Zach Britton, the Giants disaster, the Joe Blanton dumpster fire, Francona as genius and then not-genius, and Joe Maddon’s usage of Aroldis Chapman).
  • This new role of “fireman” or using a top reliever in high leverage situations is not actually new, but the proliferation of these guys and managers eager willingness to use them in such ways is newish. It does make me think back to game 6 of 2002 (will we ever really get over this?). Dusty Baker took Russ Ortiz out in the 7th inning, needing only 8 outs from his bullpen to win the World Series. To this day any Giants fan will say: “Dusty should have left Russ in.” Russ was good, but he was not prime Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner good. Plus the Giants pen that year was very good…a strenght of that team. (In other words, at the time it made a lot of sense). It’s interesting to contrast that sentiment with what we watched this postseason. In games 5, 6, and 7 of this World Series, no starter went more than Lester’s 6 in game 5. I thought Maddon would live to regret taking Hendricks out in the 5th (up by 4 in Game 7), but in the end it worked out. It’s interesting how much things have changed in the last 15 years.

 

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Evaluations and Ruminations Part I

The July 31st, non-waiver, trade deadline has come and gone. Tons of rumors were milled and many speculations made, and now that the dust has settled what do we have? Most trade winners and losers columns looks like this, but I want to frame this discussion in the pitching model we’ve been working on this year. In that light, let’s start by looking at who added pitching:

  1. The Indians: They obviously nabbed the big fish in this small sea by acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez. In my opinion this is a brilliant move by the Indians and quite possibly the stupidest trade of all time by the Rockies. Maybe Ubaldo has a torn rotator cuff that no one else can see, and maybe he hates Coors (the beer) or did something to offend everyone in Denver. But I have NO IDEA how a franchise that has been desperate for power arms (or any kind of quality pitching) trades Jimenez (a good and sometimes great arm) at all, let alone when they control him cheaply for 3 MORE SEASONS. Good for the Indians. They need more than an ace to really contend in the AL right now, but this is the kind of move that perfectly fits our model. A
  2. The Rangers: While not as flashy as landing an ace, the Rangers nonetheless made two exquisite additions at the deadline adding great arms to their bullpen in Koji Uehara and Mike Adams. This is a team that can now shut a game down after six innings. They reinforced their one glaring area of weakness. They still don’t have a prototypical #1/Ace type pitcher, but they have depth and may only need guys to get through five innings to win games. I’m this close to making them the team to beat in the AL. A-
  3. The Brewers: In my opinion, Bob Melvin has done everything right this year for his team. Given his constraints with money, he has gone all in for a small market team that has a short window. This is how you do it, folks, when you have limited resources. He made two big trades this offseason to get pitching and made another good July move to help the pen (adding K-Rod to lock down the 8th inning). I think they have more than enough to get this done, it’s up to the players now to make it happen. 
  4. The Diamondbacks: Ok, it’s good to add pitching, but Jason Marquis and BradZeigler don’t exactly get the blood moving. As it turns out, though, Marquis is great against the Giants (ugh) and Zeigler is a good arm in any pen. Hard to imagine that these moves put the D-Backs over the top, but they don’t hurt. B-
  5. The Cardinals: Sure they added an arm, but they did it in the weirdest way imaginable. I don’t care what Tony LaRussa says: I don’t know how you give away a young, talented, and contract-controlled player like Colby Rasmus for a free-agent to be like Edwin Jackson. But they did add pitching, and Jackson seems like a guy who will do well in STL with Dave Duncan. C+
  6. The Red Sox: all trades, of course, are much easier to evaluate in hindsight, but the move the Sox made yesterday is really a coin toss. It looks like Clay Bucholz is done for the season and Dice-K has turned in to a ghost, so the team needed pitching. Eric Bedard is really good when he is healthy, but he is rarely healthy. He may be fine and have a dominant two months and magical, ode inspiring run through the playoffs, or he might blow out a knee or an elbow or a shoulder getting out of bed tomorrow and be done for the year. NO ONE, not even the Red Sox, knows which one it’s going to be. Incomplete
We’ll look at the teams that added offense tomorrow. Right now, it is safe to say that the Rangers and Indians did the right thing and they did the right thing well by grabbing some good arms at the deadline.
(-SB)

Contenders vs Pretenders, Pt. II

Let’s continue what we started yesterday by looking at the rest of the contending teams.

AL EAST

  • 2010 Red Sox: 7.5 K/9, 4.20 ERA, 104 ERA+, 1.36 WHIP
  • 2011 Red Sox: 7.1, 3.98, 103, 1.27
  • 2010 Rays: 7.4, 3.78, 103, 1.26
  • 2011 Rays: 6.6, 3.61, 100, 1.21

Here’s where ERA+ is such a useful stat. It might appear that both of these teams are pitching better in 2011 than in 2010, but in reality they are just benefiting from a depressed run scoring environment. Runs are down throughout baseball and both of these teams, especially the 2011 Rays, are the definition of league average, despite a lower ERA and WHIP. Relative to the rest of baseball they have seen no improvement. As much as I like both of these teams, this analysis does not bode well for their Championship hopes.

AL CENTRAL

  • 2010 Indians: 6.1 K/9, 4.30 ERA, 93 ERA+, 1.43 WHIP
  • 2011 Indians: 6.3, 3.97, 97, 1.30
  • 2010 Tigers: 6.6, 4.30, 96, 1.37
  • 2011 Tigers: 6.9, 4.30, 89, 1.38
  • 2010 White Sox: 7.1, 4.09, 105, 1.36
  • 2011 White Sox: 7.0, 3.83, 105, 1.28
  • 2010 Twins: 6.5, 3.95, 107, 1.29
  • 2011 Twins: 6.0, 4.24, 95, 1.36

Only the Indians have seen improvement in this division. Everyone else is down or standing pat. Again, ERA+ is helpful in showing how, relative to the rest of baseball, none of these teams is particularly impressive. The White Sox are the only above average staff in the division. Most surprising, to me at least, is how bad the Tigers are. Verlander is having a season for the ages and they still are one of the worst six pitching staffs in all of baseball. It would behoove them to go get a top of the line starter as rumored here. This division could be decided by one big trade.

AL WEST

  • 2009 Rangers: 6.4 K/9, 4.38 ERA, 106 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP
  • 2010 Rangers: 7.3, 3.93, 112, 1.31
  • 2011 Rangers: 7.0, 3.84, 109, 1.28

First of all, what is incredible about this division is that two of the ten best teams, in terms of pitching, are here (the A’s and the Mariners) and yet, for the most part, they are not in any kind of contention. That’s amazing since the Angels and Rangers are not exactly the Red Sox and Yankees. Second, I included 2009 because the Rangers made it to the World Series last year and I wanted to check out their trajectory. For a team that has a reputation for being great offensively and suspect in terms of pitching they’ve been throwing quite for three years now. They were obviously helped by the addition of Colby Lewis, CJ Wilson, and Cliff Lee in 2010 but they have not suffered as badly as I, or others, would have thought this year. Nonetheless, not the kind of jump that befits a Championship profile.

Bottom line for the AL: The Yankees and Angels are the two teams that have shown the most improvement with their pitching. This is interesting to me because my gut doesn’t agree with this analysis, still thinking the Red Sox (and even the Rays or Rangers) are better suited to come out of the AL. Again, some of this will change with trades, slumps, and hot streaks, but right now I would have to say the Yankees are the AL favorite to go to the World Series with the Angels not far behind them.

(-SB)

Thoughts on Fantasy, Predictions, and Soup

I love soup. Watching baseball in DC is like ordering soup in a restaurant. I won’t leaving you hanging with that little nugget, I’ll explain. Recently I went to a nice little restaurant called “Not Your Average Joe’s.” Steve may know this place because it is a Boston chain. We didn’t go on Friday which is a little disappointing because Friday is clam chowder day. I never end up at restaurants on the right soup day. I always get stuck on “Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean” night. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still order the Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup, it just isn’t clam chowder.

Many of you may be tracking where I’m going here, other’s may not, so let me drive this car into the garage. Every time I flip on the TV to watch some sports, I’m stuck with many options. Orioles, Nationals, Cubs, Red Sox or Yankees are always on TV here. The Giants are never on.  All those other teams are Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup to me. I enjoy the heck out of watching them, they just aren’t clam chowder. I miss clam chowder. Nay, I need me some chowder.

After the first week of May, I feel the need to evaluate some of my choices. I have made some bad choices. Bad choice #1. Picking the Brewers to be good. You may be thinking, “you also picked the Red Sox to be good and their records are similar.” Great thought, however, the Red Sox have some proven veteran players. I think the Red Sox are performing at their lowest level. Eventually, those good players will start producing and average out this slow start.  I’m not so sure the Brewers are at their low point. This could just be their actual performance level.

Bad choice #2. The AL central. Ok so we all got this one wrong and it may even out in the end. However, this start is almost exactly backwards from how I predicted it. I think it is great for baseball when Cleveland is good, but this start came out of nowhere. I hope they can continue it.

Bad choice #3 is all about fantasy baseball. I drafted Troy Tulowitzki and Ryan Howard with my first two picks. How’s that working out? Well it could be worse, but besides the HR totals, I’m not impressed. Tulo is ranked 69th and Howard is ranked 33rd. I currently don’t have any hitters ranked higher than 33rd on my team. Suckfest! I guess my bad choice #3 should be my whole draft. Terrible. I am in fifth and sinking fast.

Making bad choices is part of the fun of baseball.  For all the talk about luxury tax issues, baseball has an incredible amount of parity. You never quite know who will be good and who will struggle. The first month of this season points this out perfectly. Who knew the Indians would be so good, Lance Berkman would be playing out of his mind, or that the White Sox would already be 11 games out of first. If you knew those things, before the season you would be a genius or a  liar. Me, I’m just going to eat more Southwestern Chipotle Lintel Bean soup while thinking about clam chowder.

(-JS)

Nick’s Prediction Reboot

(note: nick’s article was submitted on may 6th, before the completion of the Giants-Rockies series).

AL EAST

Well the Red Sox certainly blew up my prediction for a dominant run at the AL title. That being said I still see them recovering nicely and being in the playoff hunt for the rest of the season. I still think I’m sticking with them for the title since the Yankees seem to be falling apart. As for the Rays, they’ve sold me after a really rough start. That, in addition to the terrible Central and West mean I’m picking them as my new AL Wild Card winners.

AL CENTRAL

I still think the Royals are a few years away, but good lord do the White Sox suck right now. No hitting, no pitching, no nothing. I have no clue what the Tigers really are and I don’t know if I can trust the Twins with Morneau and Mauer out so much. Looking at the Indians I think they’re the real deal, or at least real enough to win the Central.

AL WEST

Not sold on the A’s anymore and I’m changing my pick to the Rangers. Losing Feliz and Hamilton didn’t help, but Neftali is coming back and when Josh returns the offense will continue to swing large. The A’s could make a run and I wouldn’t be surprised if they did, but it’ll be down to those two teams as the Angels don’t seem to have the pieces necessary to win and the M’s are the M’s.

NL EAST

I don’t buy the Marlins at all. I know everyone says that and then they go win a World Series, but I don’t see that pitching and offense outlasting the Phillies or the Braves. That being said I still have the Phillies winning the division but after watching Atlanta this past few weeks, It’s going to be a LOT closer than I thought, close enough that I think the Braves will take the Wild Card in the NL.

NL CENTRAL 

I know St. Louis is playing really well, but honestly I still see this as the Brewers’ division to lose. I’m not picking them to win the NL anymore, but this division should still be there with good pitching and REALLY good hitting.

NL WEST

I just don’t know what to make of the Giants. They look SO bad some times, but they have had no Torres, Pablo, Zito, Wilson, Ross or Casilla and a bad hitting Belt for some or most of the season, and they’re still within a stones throw from the Rockies. The Rockies, on the other hand, are REALLY good. I’m sticking with the Giants out of plain homerism but I wouldn’t be betting against Colorado to win the division at this point.

(-NW)