Archive for September, 2015

The Player Who’s Most Hurt the Astros

Last night, the Astros lost, and for the first time since May 15, they find their playoff odds below 50%. They have but four remaining games to re-claim playoff position, and, I’m sure you’ve had a good sense of their struggles. A 10-16 September has dropped their playoff odds from 97% to 44%. It’s dropped their division-winning odds from 88% to 3%. It took so long to get used to the idea of the Astros advancing to the postseason, and then it felt like a given for weeks. Now people are starting to think about big-picture perspectives, like how it’s still been a great season regardless of whether it ends in a few days. That’s true, but it’s also not what Astros fans thought they’d be having to consider at the end of September.

In a certain sense, these struggles have been almost team-wide. While the position players rank third in baseball in September WAR and third in September wRC+, they’re also 22nd in Win Probability Added, owing to some lousy timing. Astros starters rank 18th in WPA, neither good nor bad. The bullpen, meanwhile, ranks 27th in WPA. The Astros have had several issues, but a once-reliable bullpen has been a big one. And within that bullpen, one arm in particular has come apart at the worst possible time.

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Anthony Rizzo, Bruised Into History

This season, Anthony Rizzo has obliterated 30 baseballs into the seats for home runs. As of last night, in perfect symmetry, 30 baseballs have exacted revenge for their wounded brothers by hitting Anthony Rizzo. This is a rare accomplishment. Is this an accomplishment? This is a rare accomplishment.

Until now, only one player had ever before reached that particular 30/30 threshold — Don Baylor, in 1986. That year, he knocked 31 dingers, and was hit 35 times. Over his career, he hit hundreds of homers. And he was hit by hundreds of pitches. He’s fitting company. If you want to make Rizzo more special, he’s also exceeded 30 doubles, which Baylor didn’t, so now by those terms Rizzo is the first-ever 30/30/30 player. Anyhow, going back to the original 30/30 terms, if you loosen the restrictions, there have only ever been six 25/25 player seasons. In 2004, Craig Wilson slugged 29 homers, and was slugged by 30 pitches. He came painfully close to belonging in the Baylor/Rizzo tier. Maybe that year he was robbed of a home run. I don’t know, so I’ll pretend, to aid the narrative. Craig Wilson: almost historic. Too bad.

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Kevin Cash on Communication and Collaboration

Kevin Cash is in the final week of his first season as a big league manager. He’s had quite the learning experience. Working closely with one of baseball’s most progressive front offices, the 37-year-old former catcher has helped keep the Tampa Bay Rays competitive, despite several key injuries and one of the lowest payrolls in the game.

Currently the youngest manager in MLB, Cash was hired to replace Joe Maddon last December. Prior to coming to Tampa, he spent two years as the bullpen coach for the Cleveland Indians, where he worked under Terry Francona.

Cash touched on his first season at the helm – including the importance of communication and collaboration – last week at Fenway Park.

——

Cash on what he’s learned: “I’ve learned that it’s a challenging task to stay on top of everything. The communication is a constant that never goes away – communication with the front office, communication with the players. That was a big goal coming in, for all of us – for the entire staff – and we’ve continued to evolve as the season has gone on. It takes time to build relationships. I think we all feel confident that we’re heading in the right direction in that regard.”

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Addison Russell Is This Year’s Other Guy

Most Major League Baseball fans are familiar with Addison Russell. The Oakland A’s selected Russell in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he became one of the best prospects in all of baseball before his trade to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at the trade deadline last season. His call-up in April was a bit of a surprise, and despite his prospect record, his mediocre batting line, higher profile teammates, and a pair of rookie shortstops in the American League have left Russell in relative anonymity. Russell’s play has not forced anyone to take notice, but playing a full season at his age is an accomplishment in and of itself.

While most people know Russell, it would be fair if they weren’t keeping up with his progress this season. A 21-year-old top prospect would normally receive a lot of attention, but recording his own debut within days of teammate, uber-prospect and likely Rookie-of-the-Year in Kris Bryant rendered Russell’s arrival less newsworthy. Russell has also been overshadowed by a pair of 21-year-old shortstops from the American League, as Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have both exceeded a 130 wRC+ in over 400 plate appearances. Russell, on the other hand, has yet to distinguish himself at the plate: he’s hitting just .237/.301/.384 with an 87 wRC+ this year, and has struck out in more than 28% of his plate appearances.

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JABO: The Evolution of Mookie Betts

A year ago, Mookie Betts was one of the more divisive young talents in baseball. Mostly overlooked by scouts due to his diminutive size and lack of power — he was a 5th round pick by the Red Sox back in the 2011 draft — Betts ended up crushing minor league pitching in 2013 and 2014 to put himself on the prospect map, though opinions about his future still varied pretty widely. Over at FanGraphs, we were pretty big fans based on his overall value skillset, but our enthusiasm was met with a lot of skepticism over the perceived lack of upside from a small contact hitter who generated a lot of value by drawing walks against inferior pitching.

And those concerns were somewhat legitimate. When I first wrote about Betts on JABO a year ago — suggesting that the Red Sox keep him rather than get tempted into dealing him for a frontline starting pitcher — I developed a list of offensive comparisons based on his swing and contact rates. There were some good names on that list, including Joe Mauer and Matt Carpenter. There was also the Tony Gwynn that doesn’t make for an optimistic comparison, along with Craig Counsell, Daric Barton, and Sam Fuld. The low swing rate/high contact types almost universally didn’t hit for power, and guys Betts’ size often end up being defensive-oriented players who try to slap enough singles and steal enough bases to avoid being an offensive hole.

Well, with his first full season nearly in the books, I think it’s safe to say at this point that Betts is not a slap hitter. Last night, he launched his 16th home run of the season, and perhaps more impressively, hit his 42nd double. Add in the 8 triples and Betts now has 66 extra base hits on the year, the same number of XBH as Nelson Cruz (who leads the majors in home runs) and Jose Abreu, and ahead of Cubs slugging rookie Kris Bryant, who was the consensus top prospect in baseball in large part because of his prodigious power. And that puts him five extra base hits ahead of Andrew McCutchen, who became the popular comparison this spring, when Betts was torching the Grapefruit League in Spring Training.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 9/30/15

11:42
Dave Cameron: Alright, the queue is now open, so feel free to get your questions in, and we’ll start in about 20 minutes.

12:03
Dave Cameron: Alright, let’s get this thing started.

12:04
Comment From Andrew
All of a sudden a bunch of playoff teams are looking very mortal. The Cards are getting crushed with injuries, the Royals and Dodgers are racing to jump off a cliff first, the Yankees are treading water, and the AL West is still nuts. Care to hazard a best guess at what’s going to happen?

12:04
Dave Cameron: The playoffs are going to start and we’re going to forget all this? There’s been no real proof that September performance matters in October.

12:04
Comment From Guest
since WAR is FIP based, that means it’s not taking park into account right? so WAR would undervalue pitchers in a hitters park? do I have that correct?

12:04
Dave Cameron: No, we add in park adjustments when calculating WAR.

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What Zack Greinke Learned from Felix Hernandez Exactly

Zack Greinke’s changeup may only seem different this year. By the stats, it drops a bit more and it’s harder, sure. But if you ask the pitcher, the pitch itself hasn’t changed much. “I throw it more this year,” he said when I asked him what was different about it.

If the systems have the change dropping more this year — estimates run from about a half inch to an inch more drop this year over previous years — there might be something else going on. The systems might be grabbing bad changeups and classifying them as sinkers, while calling the bendier pitches changeups.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Oakland at Los Angeles AL | 19:05 ET
Zito (3.0 IP, 238 xFIP-) vs. Richards (195.1 IP, 95 xFIP-)
It is not particularly helpful to suggest that — for a club such as the Angels, who find themselves within two games on each side either of winning the AL West or failing to qualify at all for the postseason — it’s not so helpful to suggest that every victory is meaningful. Perhaps more enlightening, however, is to observe that, among all the clubs playing today, the Angels possess the highest projected probability of winning as calculated by the methodology used at the site (and ignoring precise lineup decisions, because the information is unavailable).

Regard, that same statement rendered — with difficulties — into the form of a table:

Win Prob

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Oakland Radio.

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Return of the First-Pitch Swing

Not very long ago, I read an article featuring some quotes from Kevin Cash, talking about how he wanted the Rays’ hitters to be more aggressive swinging at the first pitch. At least, I think I read such an article, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It was probably from Ken Rosenthal, but now I feel a little bad in case I just gave credit to the wrong person. In any case, the article is lost on my internet, but the memory remains, and with it a little research idea. It’s time to look again at first-pitch swings.

With the season basically over, we’re free to examine league trends. You can examine league trends whenever you want, but now there’s no more time for new trends to pop up. Any trends present today are effectively locked in. Last week, I wrote a little bit about the return of offense, and especially home runs, in this season’s second half. If there was a crisis of run-scoring before, concerns have at least been reduced. The run-scoring trend is probably the most interesting one. It’s a big deal if there’s going to be offense again. But there’s another thing we’ve seen happen, even if we individually haven’t noticed. Hidden in the deeper numbers is evidence that hitters are more willing to go up there and swing right away.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Analyzes All Coin-Flipping

Episode 599
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he participates in an inquisitive but largely unscientific conversation regarding the Bryce HarperJonathan Papelbon contretemps, confirms that the Mets are scary but not also spooky, and (finally) attempts to explain why professional coin-tossing would make for an utter failure as a spectator sport.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 46 min play time.)

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Effectively Wild Episode 735: Podcast Court is in Session

Ben and Sam banter about Mike Trout’s punctuation, then answer listener emails about the fastest fastball, pennant-race anxiety, Rich Hil, shortstop studs, and a fantasy-league dilemma.


FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 9/29/15

5:41
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! We’re one week closer to the postseason! That excites me greatly. Come chat with me (and possibly Jeff) at 9 pm ET and you’ll see just how excited! Well, in theory. We’re hosting a playdate in a little while, so I may be exhausted by the time 9 rolls around. And then I might say something foolish. So, really, it’s a win-win for you!

See you soon!

9:02
Paul Swydan: OK, let’s do this. Jeff might pop in later, but for now you’re stuck with me.

9:02
Comment From Nolan
Is the Shin Soo Choo deal going to be one of those contracts where our perceptions are poisoned by the first year of the deal? Choo has been well worth his salary this year, and the rest of the contract looks much better than it did after the 2014 season. It seems like this could be similar to the Werth or Soriano deals, insofar as it ends up being much better for the team than the first year would suggest.

9:04
Paul Swydan: You know, I want to choo-choo-choose him. But I think it’ll still look like an albatross. The bottom line is that you need the first three years to be very good values to balance the scales. That last year was a disaster makes it really difficult for it to be a good contract in the long run.

9:04
Comment From Noah
Is it just me or did an article just disappear from FanGraphs? I was just reading an article about the difference between the projections being flat out wrong (the Mets) and the projections not anticipating sequencing (the Twins). Now it’s gone! What happened?

9:05
Paul Swydan: Every once in awhile, we slip and accidentally publish an article that is either not finished yet or scheduled for the next day. Entirely possible that that just happened.

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A First for Brian Dozier’s Career

A few weekends ago, I wrote myself a note, reading “Jose Bautista — oppo.” I watched Bautista hit a home run to right field in Yankee Stadium, and I figured that might be the sort of thing worthy of a post. Bautista generally clobbers his dingers to left, and I thought maybe there could be something there. I thought also that maybe, just maybe, Bautista had a history of going out to right field in New York, which has maybe the most forgiving right field in baseball. Ultimately, I didn’t do anything. I mean, I eventually did some research and played with some numbers, but I didn’t have enough for a post. Not a post that anyone would care about.

Stupid me — I was watching the wrong player. Genius me — I at least had a decent general idea. Rare opposite-field home runs? Potentially interesting. And while I didn’t get enough of interest on Bautista, it wasn’t much later that Brian Dozier pulled off a career first. I have to apologize for the lack of timeliness; this is a post about an event from last Wednesday. I don’t know why I didn’t notice sooner. But last Wednesday, facing Corey Kluber of all people, Brian Dozier stepped in and, in a 2-and-1 count, hit a home run down the right-field line.

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The Cubs Have a #3 Starter

The way Jake Arrieta has thrown the ball this year — especially in the second half — has ended any discussion about who the Cubs #1 starter is. Arrieta has propelled himself into the discussion of true aces, and he’ll be the guy the Cubs put on the hill with their season on the line next Wednesday. With Jon Lester slotting in to the #2 spot, the Cubs top two starters should be able to hold their own against any other staff in baseball.

After that, though, things get a little more interesting. When asked who his third starter in the postseason might be, Joe Maddon stated simply “I don’t know.” Jason Hammel began the year as the team’s third starter, and his overall numbers are quite good for a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but those numbers are based on an excellent first half and a pretty lousy second half. Prior to the All-Star break, opposing hitters posted just a .261 wOBA against Hammel, but since the break, they’ve put up a .371 mark against him. The problems may be tied to a hamstring injury that landed him on the DL in July, and unless he really shows them something in the last week of the season, it’s not clear that the Cubs can trust that he’s healthy enough to be effective in high-leverage postseason innings.

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The AL Cy Young Discussion

Last week, I addressed the Cy Young battle in the senior circuit and titled it “The NL Cy Young Showdown.” This time, it’s the AL’s turn — and “discussion” (as opposed to “showdown”) seems to be the proper way to characterize it. It’s been a low-key pitching season, comparatively, in the AL, with no one posting an ERA near Zack Greinke’s, or pitching no-hitters or engaging in zany second-half shenanigans like Jake Arrieta. In fact, a general consensus seems to be building that the award is David Price’s to lose. Today, let’s have a full discussion, including utilization of batted-ball data, about the AL Cy Young and its three likely frontrunners, Price, Chris Sale and Dallas Keuchel.

Price, who turned 30 in late August, is the only one of the three with a Cy (2012) on his mantle, though he hasn’t finished above sixth in the annual voting since then. Sale has come progressively closer in the voting, checking in at sixth, fifth and third in the last three seasons, while this will be the first time on a ballot for Keuchel, 2015’s foremost pitching breakthrough.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 9/29/15

11:57

Kiley McDaniel: Giving you guys a minute to get some questions in before I start my yapping

12:05
Comment From Some Guy
What are you hearing about the teenage Cuban defector “Lazarito” that’s currently training in Haiti?

12:06

Kiley McDaniel: Fitting to start with one of the two buzziest topics among scouts right now. The hype on this kid is already pretty heavy and many heavy hitters haven’t really seen him before. I was going to write something about him this week, but it wouldn’t have too much hard info, so I figured it may be better for the chat.

12:12

Kiley McDaniel: So he’s a 16 year old Cuban named Lazaro Armenteros that defected. He’s about to start open workouts and I’ve talked to some scouts that saw him in int’l tourneys and one guy that saw him working out for smaller groups of scouts in the Caribbean recently.

He’s a built 6’2/205 with some projection, 65-70 speed, at least plus raw power and at least a plus arm, with the grades varying a bit on each of those grades given the incomplete looks and an age where things are still improving, but the lowest I’m hearing so far on those tools is 60. It’s a CF/RF fit, though he’s played some 1B/3B. You can see why Yasiel Puig is a common name mentioned as a similar player.

He’s more physically developed that almost all the recent big July 2 names you’d ask me to compare him to and the guys I talked to said he isn’t a tools goof with no feel, he’s actually got some instincts.

You can try to triangulate this and you end up in the Yoan Moncada type territory ($31.5M bonus from BOS that came with $31.5M penalty and two-year sanctions on signings over $300K) pretty quickly. Hard to say for sure if it’ll be above or below that, but everyone I’ve talked to said it will be huge money.

Way too early to know a team to project, but I’ve said many times that all the top Cubans this period will be tied to the Dodgers by default since they have limitless amounts of money and are going over during this period…which was a direct result of passing on Moncada late last period to instead go over for more than just one player. There’s a number of other Cubans that would be $5M+ types and would be pool-eligible once they get cleared to sign…so the Dodgers may finally find their financial limits in this market, but not without getting plenty of talent first.

12:16
Comment From Blaine
Wanted to thank you for the top notch content. You do a great job! I was just wondering what upside do you see in Blake Rutherford? How far is he from. Superstar draft prospect, 60 FV? And as a Braves fan, I see the Phils going with an arm at 1, do you think the Braves are in on Rutherford?

12:19

Kiley McDaniel: And now to the other topic getting buzz in scouting circles right now. I’m in the final stages of wrapping up my calls/emails on the draft list and there’s been some shuffling from the off-the-cuff names I’ve been mentioning recently in chats/twitter.

Rutherford has slipped a few spots but is still in the top tier of players, which is probably 6-7 names. He’s the oldest of the top prep prospects and is a tweener defensively without much physical projection. So, while the now ability is really good, he still projects and a top 10 pick, and he may have looked the best over the summer of this group, you can see why some scouts may downgrade him a bit when projecting into the future.

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Gerrit Cole Is Now the Most Important Pirate

Gerrit Cole might not be the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates — Andrew McCutchen probably still holds that distinction — but over the course of the next 10 days, perhaps no pitcher in the National League, or perhaps in Major League Baseball, will have a greater impact on his team’s season. Cole has slid under the radar of the Cy Young race as Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Greinke are all having historically good seasons. While Cole is a bit behind that NL pitching triumvirate, his 2.60 FIP is third in MLB behind only Kershaw and Arrieta. His nearly identical 2.61 ERA is sixth, behind the above three, as well as Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Cole has already pitched some important games down the stretch this season, but how he pitches in the near future could frame how many people view the Pirates’ season as they head to the playoffs for the third straight year.

Cole has pitched very well as the regular season comes to a close. Over his last four starts, he has faced only playoff teams in the Chicago Cubs (twice), the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates have won all four of Cole’s starts, during which time he’s recorded a 32:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed just one home run over 27.1 innings, good for a 2.30 ERA and 1.94 FIP. The starts against division rival were of particular importance. One September 6, the Pirates trailed the Cardinals by 6.5 games. A loss at that time would have put the team 7.5 games back, making their shot at a divisional comeback almost impossible. The win also kept the Pirates three games ahead of the Cubs. His next start, against those same Cubs, lengthened the lead for home-field advantage to five games and briefly put them within two games of the Cardinals.

Cole just recently turned 25 years old, and in his age-24 season, he has been one of the best in recent history at his age. Among qualified pitchers 24 and under, Cole’s 5.5 WAR is the best such figure, a full two wins better than Carlos Martinez’s mark. Since 2010, the only pitchers 24 and under with a season exceeding Cole’s current 5.5 fWAR are Clayton Kershaw (twice), Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Detroit at Texas | 20:05 ET
Norris (53.1 IP, 113 xFIP-) vs. Hamels (197.1 IP, 86 xFIP-)
With the loss on Monday by Texas — plus the wins by Houston and Los Angeles — the latter two clubs trail the Rangers by only 1.5 and 2.0 games, respectively, now and all three clubs still possess at least a 15% probability of claiming the division despite the fact that the season is a mere six games from completion. It’s unlikely, the entire scenario — although not so unlikely that one is compelled to announce, while throwing his hands in the air, “You couldn’t make this stuff up!” Gabriel García Márquez, for example, could’ve probably made this stuff up pretty easily were he still alive. Also, so could probably most little brothers, given an afternoon to really explore the space.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Texas Radio.

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JABO: What’s Wrong With Jacoby Ellsbury?

When the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract before the 2014 season, the team was certainly hoping for a version of the 2011 center fielder: a speedy, defensively-sound player with serious power upside. A prevalent thought was the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field might help him regain some of his power after injury-marred seasons in 2012 and 2013.

Following a healthy 2014 — in which the left-hander was able to post a respectable power/speed combination while staying relatively healthy — the 2015 season has seen Ellsbury take a step back. In recent weeks, during the thick of a September pennant race, he’s actually sat against left-handed pitching in favor of Chris Young. These are the depths of the slump that Ellsbury is currently in, and it’s obviously not the return on investment the Yankees had in mind when signing him to a long-term deal.

With New York headed toward a very probable Wild Card berth, it’s time to take a close look at Ellsbury. What are the driving factors behind his current struggles? What is the outlook for the Yankees without his production?

We assign many beginning and end dates to baseball statistics, which is a part of our natural desire to organize things we’re trying to understand. We’re going to do that now, because it’s necessary for us to understand Ellsbury’s season before and after a certain event. The Yankees’ center fielder has had two very different halves  — separated by seven weeks on the disabled list with a knee injury — and understanding how they’re different is the first step we’ll take in evaluating his performance.

During the first six weeks of the season, Ellsbury was putting up great leadoff numbers: Although the power stroke wasn’t quite there — he hit only one home run along with a .047 Isolated Power average before May 19 — Ellsbury was still creating runs for his team at a 25% greater rate than a league-average player.

The classic Ellsbury tools were on display during this stage of the season. He was hitting lots of line drives, showing great speed on the base paths and playing sound defense in center field. Between April and the first two weeks of May, the 32-year-old was even walking at a much higher clip than his career norm (11.2% vs. 7.0%). The caveat with those stats, of course, is six weeks is a small sample size, so whether he would have continued his early season production is hard to gauge.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.


Effectively Wild Episode 734: The Most Important Player on Every Postseason Team

Ben and Sam banter about Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Jerry Dipoto, then pick the player each playoff team would be most screwed without.