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Elegy for ’18 – San Diego Padres

The first year of Eric Hosmer’s contract has not been encouraging, but the club’s future is bright.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

Up until now, this has been a very American League-centric series, with the Marlins — a team I’m not 100% positive hasn’t actually been relegated to the Pacific Coast League — representing the only NL club. While the AL is now a bifurcated league, one that features a smaller middle class than most 11th-century societies, the NL is now relatively competitive, the better league for Team Entropy. Clubs like the Padres stayed mathematically competitive much longer than comparable AL teams, but the eventual requiem mass was inevitable.

The Setup

Among the clubs who could use a real, consistent run of success, the Padres are fairly high on my list. It’s an organization that, despite reaching its 50th year of Major League Baseball this season, has only won 95 games on one occasion and only produced consecutive 85-win seasons at one point in their history (2006-07), so if anyone’s due for a truly sunny period, it’s San Diego. Conversely, the Padres are rarely even all that bad and haven’t had a 100-loss season since 1993 (though they have come close). If, for Bill James, the late-80s Houston Astros were like bad jazz, I’d submit that the Padres are like .38 Special (the band, not the gun): their most popular songs are instantly recognizable, and you won’t turn off the radio in the middle of “Hold On Loosely”, but you’re never going to make a giant .38 Special playlist for your road trip. The team just exists, harmless and middling.

That’s the long-term trajectory of the Padres, and you get the sense that they really want to put together a winner, almost desperately. We saw this inclination after the 2014 season, shortly after general manager A.J. Preller’s joined the organization from Texas. His desire to compete immediately remains laudable, but the foundation of the team wasn’t strong enough to allow it, and there were some really troubling errors in judgment exhibited en route to hastily assembling a contender, such as the acquisition of Matt Kemp. (I won’t fault them for James Shields, whom they signed to a reasonable deal at the time and was ultimately exchanged for the system’s top prospect.) Manager Bud Black took the fall in 2015 — I’m not a fan, but he was definitely a scapegoat in that particular instance — and the team quite quickly went back into rebuilding mode.

The rebuilding had gone quite well heading into the 2017-18 offseason, but a little more organizational impatience was displayed, though not as damaging as that from three years earlier. While I’d prefer not to dwell on Eric Hosmer, you can’t talk about the preseason without mentioning him. There’s a very good argument to be made that a club shouldn’t refuse to sign a star player simply because they haven’t entered a window of contention yet. The problem, however, is that Hosmer isn’t so much a star as an extremely up-and-down player who has never recorded two consecutive league-average seasons in the majors. You don’t give someone $500 to lock in your Olive Garden reservations for next year’s wedding anniversary.

Trading Enyel De Los Santos for Freddy Galvis displayed similar failings of patience, even if that deal is hardly the sort to destroy an organization. You can’t say De Los Santos was anywhere near elite prospect status then or now, but a year of a slightly below-average shortstop production just didn’t do anything for the club. People yelled at me that the Padres had “enough” pitching prospects, but having too many pitching prospects isn’t an actual problem, and trades ought to bring in assets a club needs. It’s a small unforced error, but those unforced errors pile up.

The Projection

The ZiPS projection system was completely unimpressed with San Diego’s starting pitching and, overall, saw the team as rather lackluster entering the 2018 season, projecting a 73-89 record and a 1.5% shot at the playoffs. ZiPS saw little divisional upside for the Padres, with many of the organization’s most interesting players absent from the 25-man roster for part or all of the season.

The Results

At 61-92, the Padres are already guaranteed to fall short of the projections for the 2018 season, though they again won’t lose 100 games. Hosmer struggled after a hot start, spending the summer struggling to keep his OPS above .700 and is either below-average or sub-replacement depending on how you feel about Baseball Info Solutions’s DRS vs. Ultimate Zone Rating. Wil Myers was similarly blazing on his return from an oblique injury, his OPS peaking at an impressive .976 the week before the All-Star break, but he has hit .213/.275/.329 since then. Dinelson Lamet didn’t even make it into the 2018 season, a torn UCL ending his campaign prematurely, making him one of the year’s biggest disappointments for me. The starting pitching was generally lousy, with the rotation’s 131 ERA- ranking last in MLB.

The potential for the veterans to prevent the Padres from sorting through their lesser prospects and interesting Triple-A talent was mitigated significantly due to injuries. The team, for example, never had Myers, Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, and Christian Villanueva all healthy at the same time. Still, they had trouble occasionally finding at-bats for Franmil Reyes. It would have been nice to give a look at fringier minor-league depth, too — like Brett Nicholas or Ty France — but that’s unlikely to seriously come back and bite the franchise later.

Despite this collection of missteps, the team did have quite a bit go right. Renfroe, Reyes, and Villanueva all showed progress as power hitters, even if none of them are likely to be build-around types. Getting a look at Myers at third base with Villanueva gone with a broken finger was an extremely clever way to fit both Renfroe and Reyes in the lineup without benching the veteran. Myers may even be a plausible third baseman, which makes him more valuable; it was a smart thing for a rebuilding organization to try. The rotation was a hot mess, but Joey Lucchesi adjusted to the majors very quickly. Austin Hedges took a significant step forward at the plate, enough that it makes the team’s catcher battle — in this case, with recently acquired Francisco Mejia — a fascinating thing to watch over the next year. One of my favorites, Manuel Margot, bounced back nicely from a nightmare-esque first two months of the season (.189/.234/.288 through May 21st).

I can’t leave without talking a bit about the bullpen. The group has combined for 7.8 WAR, behind only the Yankees, with a 3.53 ERA/3.33 FIP in 2018. And they assembled that top bullpen essentially from scratch, with no splashy free-agent acquisitions.

2018 Padres Bullpen
Pitcher FIP ERA WAR Original Acquisition
Craig Stammen 2.05 2.70 2.2 Minor league contract
Adam Cimber 2.32 3.17 1.1 9th-round draft pick
Jose Castillo 2.46 3.12 0.9 Wil Myers trade
Kirby Yates 2.60 2.01 1.5 Waiver claim from Angels
Robert Stock 2.63 2.21 0.6 Minor league contract
Robbie Erlin 2.69 2.05 0.8 Mike Adams trade
Brad Hand 3.17 3.05 0.7 Waiver claim from Marlins
Phil Maton 3.24 4.26 0.6 20th-round draft pick
Matt Strahm 3.71 2.23 0.3 Big ol’ relief trade with Royals
Kazuhisa Makita 5.31 6.10 -0.2 Two-year, $3.8 million + $0.5 million posting fee
Min 30 innings.

Contrast San Diego with the experience of the Colorado Rockies, who spent nearly all their free-agent dough on brand-name relievers and still endured bullpen struggles throughout most of the season. While contracts like Hosmer’s seem to reflect problematic decision-making, it is a good sign if the organization sees that they can build a solid relief corps without spending money like your irresponsible cousin. The 2000s Angels and A’s made this kind of bullpen assembly an art form.

What Comes Next

Hopefully for the Padres, the future involves staying the course. If there’s a positive to Hosmer’s poor season and Galvis’s irrelevant one, it’s that they could have a moderating effect on any kind of over-exuberant transactions this winter. While you may think from my tone in certain places that I’m down on the Padres, I’m actually wildly optimistic about the team’s future. A middle infield of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias could be the best combo of the next generation, and we’ve only seen the very edge of the team’s overwhelming stable of pitching prospects, with Lucchesi and Jacob Nix representing merely a dip of the toe in the talent reservoir. Combine those two and MacKenzie Gore and Chris Paddack and Logan Allen and Adrian Morejon and Cal Quantrill and Michel Baez and Anderson Espinoza and Luis Patino and Ryan Weathers and so on and so on and you have a list of young pitching prospects that’s so long that I think I forgot the point I was trying to make.


Oh yeah, future awesome or something like that. The team cashed in two of their cheaply acquired bullpen pieces to bring in Mejia, the best catching prospect in baseball. Josh Naylor, who may present an interesting problem for the team in a few years as it would be shocking to see him anywhere but first base, showed great improvements in plate discipline and power in 2018, and I think there’s a good chance he’ll hit in the majors.

San Diego’s future is as promising as any other team’s in the majors, especially if the team’s willing, when they are finally a force, to give out more Hosmer-type contracts to players who are better than Hosmer. If someone came back from the past and excitedly proclaimed to me “Dan, the Padres have four All-Stars in 2021!” I’d actually be slightly disappointed that the team only had four and very disappointed at such a mundane use of a time machine.

The organization’s challenge is piloting these transition years, not with short-term thinking or a desire to hot-shot an 80-win season through shortcuts, but with a laser-like focus on enhancing that future core as much as possible.

And when this team succeeds, they better do it in some variation of mustard and brown. The franchise deserves better than to have what could possibly be the sunniest epoch in the team’s history be played out in Generic Team 1 uniforms from the create-a-team mode in a baseball video game.

Way-Too-Early 2018 Projection: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Sure, it might be interesting to see Margot’s development, or project Hosmer’s chances at a bounceback, or see what a Myers season at third looks like. But I’m sure what people really want here is some glorious fan service in the form of Fernando Tatis Jr. Let the dreaming commence…

ZiPS Projections – Fernando Tatis Jr.
2019 .224 .288 .398 518 71 116 20 5 20 78 42 197 19 95 -2 1.5
2020 .238 .311 .442 504 75 120 22 6 23 85 49 187 16 110 -1 2.8
2021 .247 .323 .498 506 80 125 22 6 31 94 52 181 16 121 -1 4.1
2022 .245 .325 .496 506 80 124 22 6 31 93 55 187 15 122 -1 4.1
2023 .244 .325 .501 505 81 123 22 6 32 94 56 187 15 123 -1 4.2
2024 .240 .324 .493 499 80 120 21 6 31 92 57 187 15 121 -1 4.0
2025 .237 .323 .486 490 78 116 20 6 30 89 58 184 13 119 -2 3.7

I thought the process of turning grass into steak was the world’s best magic trick, but turning James Shields into this, well that’s impressive. ZiPS doesn’t think that Tatis will spike high averages in the majors, but it does see a significant power upside, and really, if you’re complaining about this projection for a prospect in Double-A, well, you’re the greediest person that ever existed and you should be thrown in jail or something and have to wear one of those old-timey cannonball things chained to your ankle.

Elegy for ’18 – Texas Rangers

After entering the season as a question mark, Jurickson Profar leads the team in WAR.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

With the Texas Rangers, we get to the first team that’s actually rebuilding rather than Rebuilding™. While the prospect of contending at the same time didn’t exactly come to fruition — Texas is the sixth team in this series, after all — the Rangers are making a legitimate go at threading the needle between competing in the present and preparing for the future.

The Setup

Because they’re both based in Texas, it’s natural to think of the Rangers’ attempts to become relevant again in the context of the Astros’ own efforts. The two cases might not be precisely analogous, however: while Houston absolutely needed to take their own house down to the studs, Texas may be able to escape without going to such extremes. The Rangers had much higher payrolls baked into the cake in 2017 than Houston ever did, with little real hope of shedding most of those high-end costs. Texas has also never let the farm system sink to the levels of voiditude of those late Ed Wade Astros teams or recent rebuilders like the Orioles or Marlins.

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Dan Szymborski Fangraphs Chat – 9/17/18

Dan Szymborski: It is time.

stever20: do you think MLB should do something for pitchers like they do for batters who don’t get to the PA threshold?   Say Sale gets 159 innings, for ERA counting purposes give him 3 more innings, but like 3 runs as well?

Dan Szymborski: I think what makes it awkward is that it’s zero for batters, but the inverse for pitchers is infinity!

Dan Szymborski: So the solution isn’t as elegant.

Pio: Margot is now two years into his big league career and still hasn’t shown much. Does he deserve the starting CF spot next year or should the Padres open it up to competition?

Dan Szymborski: I think that’s a bit of an exaggeration of his struggles

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Elegy for ’18 – Miami Marlins

The 2018 Miami Marlins were out of contention before the season even started.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Last in war, last in peace, and last in the National League: the Marlins were the first NL team to be eliminated from postseason contention in 2018. And while they technically possessed some chance of qualifying for the playoffs as late as September, a reasonable observer would have mentally dismissed this year’s club sometime around the Giancarlo Stanton trade back in December of 2017.

The Setup

The death of Jose Fernandez was a tragic loss for his family, his friends, and the world of baseball generally — and it’s hard to tell the story of the Marlins on the field without noting the impact of his absence. But even as Fernandez’s death has presented a major obstacle for the team’s success on the mound, it doesn’t explain why the organization has had so much trouble developing other young starting pitchers. The 2017 Marlins were good enough to hang around the edges of the Wild Card race, but they never really had that look of a contender and trading the team’s only top prospect, Luis Castillo, to acquire Dan Straily before 2017 was yet another short-sighted organizational move.

Towards the end of the 2017 season, MLB officially approved the sale of the Marlins to a group led by Bruce Sherman, mercifully ending Jeff Loria’s reign of terrible, during which he somehow made Frank McCourt or the Wilpons look like model owners by comparison. Derek Jeter’s 4% stake bought him a job as the CEO of the Marlins, a honeymoon that didn’t last for even the initial press conference, as the future Hall-of-Fame shortstop warned that there would be some unpopular moves. And in Marlins Land, “unpopular moves” indicates a fire sale.

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David Wright to Retire

New York Mets third baseman David Wright announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2018 season, at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. Wright’s been trying to mount a comeback for a few years now, following a 2015 diagnosis of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the nerves. The condition is degenerative and, in the four seasons since the start of that 2015 campaign, Wright has managed to appear in only 75 games with the Mets. He was hoping to make one last attempt to resume his career, working with the St. Lucie Mets for most of August before a couple of tuneup games with Triple-A Las Vegas, but that time in the minors appears merely to have confirmed the challenges that a major-league role would have presented to him.

Finishing off my 30s gave me a perspective on chronic injuries that I didn’t have 20 years ago. I am decidedly not a professional athlete. That said, I’ve observed as my own random aches and pains have multiplied over the last decade. I assume that, for a professional athlete — with much higher physical standards to maintain and much more day-to-day activity than a doughy sportswriter — it’s much worse. There are those who will say, “Don’t worry. He has a $100 million. He’ll be OK!” Certainly that was one view of Prince Fielder’s own premature retirement. (That was another tear-jerker of a press conference.) And, in one sense, it’s not incorrect: David Wright is free from worrying about the day-to-day costs of living. But he’s also someone who’s entire adult life has been dedicated to a particular endeavor (baseball) and who’s now forced to contend with the fact that his ability to participate in that endeavor has been cut short by five or so years. Hearing Wright say that “physically, the way I feel right now and everything the doctors have told me, there’s not going to be any improvement” was tough to watch for any fan of Wright or any fan of baseball.

Wright’s major-league career isn’t quite over, though: the Mets will activate him to start at third base on September 29th against the Marlins. I like when teams have the ability to do this kind of thing, and I was personally disappointed when the Yankees didn’t play A-Rod at shortstop for the final inning of his career. And playing one last game seems a lot more satisfying than signing a one-day contract, as players sometimes do with clubs that have had particular relevance to their careers.

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Elegy for ’18 – Detroit Tigers

Michael Fulmer represents one of the final potential trade chips on Detroit’s roster.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Detroit’s contention window didn’t just close in 2017, it dramatically shut on the team’s fingers, the paramedics arrived and kicked them in the groin, and then everything caught on fire. I have zero problems regarding the 2006-14 team as a dynasty even if they failed to to win a championship. At their best, they were as dangerous a team as the Tigers of the mid-1980s.

The Setup

The Tigers squeezed out an 86-75 season in 2016, but they were also clearly a team on the downswing, with most of the key contributors approaching free agency, well into their 30s, and sometimes both things. With a 56-48 record at the trade deadline and sitting just 4.5 games back in the AL Central, the Tigers did precisely nothing, likely a result both of a farm system weakened by previous trades and a lack of understanding between the front office and ownership about what lay ahead for the team.

In this case, rather than a stubborn inability to agree, the discord (such as it was) was a product of owner Mike Ilitch’s interest in winning a championship before his passing, a fact which his age (he was 87 at the time) dictated must occur sooner than later.

This après moi, le déluge was, of course absolutely justified — even if it wasn’t necessarily great for someone who’d remain a fan of the Tigers into the 2018 and -19 seasons. After all, this is a sports team. The only consequences for unwise spending in the present are (a) fewer wins in the future and (b) slightly fewer millions of dollars for the billionaire’s heirs.

Ilitch passed away before the 2017 season, but there were no big offseason additions — unless you’re the world’s biggest Brendan Ryan or Alex Avila fan. The team managed to lurk around .500 into early June, 29-29 representing their final .500 record, but the club struggled after that, going 18-28 in the period from then to the trade deadline, and I don’t think any analyst (and I doubt anyone internally) really thought Detroit was going anywhere.

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Dan Szymborski Fangraphs Chat – 9/10/18

Dan Szymborski: It’s party time!*

Dan Szymborski: * Does not indicate actual party

Matt: Wow, Dan. Way to give us a good…5 minutes of queue time.

Dan Szymborski: I was on the piano and got distracted for time!

Dan Szymborski: Then I was like HOLY CRAP IT’S GOTTA BE NEAR NOON

Tony: What do you think about the MLB’s decision to move Cubs/Nationals to Thursday in DC?  Cubs will have scheduled game 30 days in a row and there might be a hurricane affecting the region.  Why not play the game on Oct 1?

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Elegy for ’18 – Chicago White Sox

Re-signed by the White Sox to eat innings, Miguel Gonzalez pitched only 12 of them in 2018.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Perhaps the biggest surprise for the White Sox in 2018 was just how long they clung to their mathematical chances of reaching the postseason, surviving weeks longer than either the Royals or Orioles. But as goes the way of all flesh, the Pale Hose became pale dust — along with five other teams in the last week, meaning Dan is going to be busy over the next five days.

The Setup

Unlike with the Orioles, who still had at least a plausible argument coming into the season about playoff volatility, and the Royals, who pretended to have one, nobody was ever under the illusion that the White Sox would play October baseball.

Which is perfectly fine, of course, given that the team only threw in the towel late in 2016. Unfortunately, that was well after acquiring James Shields from the Padres (though this trade has turned out way worse than could be expected on average).

Chicago wasn’t among those clubs, like the Braves and Phillies, poised to return from the depths of their rebuild and compete for a place in the postseason. They’re still very early in that period of sorting out which of their prospects and low-risk pickups will help them in that capacity.

The White Sox entered the 2018 campaign clearly intent on avoiding expensive moves — costly in terms of dollars or prospects — that were unlikely to help make the team better in the future. Giving Miguel Gonzalez a one-year, $4.75 million deal isn’t crazy for a team that’s just trying to cover 162 starts a year. The team believed Welington Castillo was enough of a bargain at two years and $15 million that, even if the team failed to compete in the second year of the deal, they could always flip him for something useful.

Outside of a clever little trade of Jake Peter, a low-ceiling now-or-never utility-type for trade bait in Luis Avilan and Joakim Soria, it was a quiet offseason.

The Projection

ZiPS projected the White Sox to go 68-94, tying with the Tigers and a game behind the Royals. Who says I’m not optimistic about the Royals?

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Would Peter Alonso Outplay Jay Bruce?

The New York Mets are a treasure trove of interesting case studies. They’re a large-market team run frequently like a small-market one, a club that doesn’t always seem to consider the present quality of the team when making decisions about the future, an organization whose various departments — medical, public relations, etc. — don’t always appear to interact. Whatever they are, the Mess are never boring.

Fresh off rumors that the team is interested in pursuing, for their next general manager, someone who is less reliant on data, the team has recently caused the internet buzz again by choosing not to promote the team’s top first-base prospect, Peter Alonso. My colleagues Jay Jaffe and Sheryl Ring have already addressed the service-time games that involve Alonso, but I think it’s interesting to also tackle the situation by looking directly at Alonso vs. Jay Bruce as a pure baseball decision.

It’s a completely non-controversial opinion that 2018 has been a monster season for Alonso, one that has given him real hype as a prospect, something that was not a foregone conclusion entering the year. Even the ZiPS projections for Alonso didn’t quite see this comping, ranking him as the No. 2 Mets prospect coming into the season, the No. 3 first-base prospect in baseball, and the No. 99 prospect overall — all of which I believe were the most optimistic forecasts. Alonso started off the season blazing hot, hitting .408/.505/.776 with seven home runs in April for the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. That performance led to a mid-June promotion to Triple-A Las Vegas. Alonso struggled early there, hitting .171/.330/.368 with 29 strikeouts in 76 at-bats for the 51s. That was extremely concerning in light of the fact that, at 23, Alonso was not a young player at Double-A, but he hit .297/.367/.676 with 17 homers in 182 at-bats after the All-Star break.

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Donaldson on the Cuyahoga

The Blue Jays made the long-awaited trade of Josh Donaldson on Friday night, sending their former MVP third baseman to the Cleveland Indians and cash considerations for a player to be named later.

With the Blue Jays out of contention quickly in both 2017 and 2018, a trade of Donaldson was always likely at some point. Without an agreement on a long-term contract for Donaldson, it would have been very risky to hang onto him. The Jays’ had some concern, in fact, that, due to his recent struggles with injury, Donaldson would actually accept a one-year qualifying offer — a factor which changed the calculus somewhat as the non-waiver deadline approached. At the start of the season, retaining Donaldson would have seemed like a possible option even if the club didn’t remain competitive, because a characterstically productive Donaldson would have almost certain fetched a $50-plus million deal this offseason and commanded a compensation pick for Toronto.

At one point, with the Oakland A’s, Donaldson was in danger of becoming a minor-league journeyman, hitting .156/.206/.281 in a little cup of espresso in 2010 during his age-24 season. His .238/.336/.476 and .261/.344/.439 lines over his age-24 and -25 seasons for the Sacramento River Cats in the Pacific Coast League were extremely marginal for that league, not even at the level at which you’d call him a Ken Phelps All-Star, Bill James’ terms for minor-league sluggers who never received a real chance in the majors.

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Cleveland’s Left Side Is the Best Side

With a month to go, Lindor and Ramirez have already recorded one of the top SS/3B seasons in history.
(Photo: Erik Drost)

At this point, it should surprise absolutely nobody paying even the remotest attention to the doings and transpirings of Major League Baseball that Jose Ramirez is having an MVP-type season. Ramirez may not, in fact, actually win the MVP award: Mookie Betts and Mike Trout have had similarly valuable seasons, while J.D. Martinez’s pursuit of the Triple Crown remains active. That said, one could easily make the argument that a very good defensive third baseman who’s produced a .292/.403/.607, 166 wRC+, and 8.1 WAR with another month go is clearly at least MVP-adjacent.

Perhaps the most telling tribute to Ramirez’s season is that he has somehow managed to overshadow Francisco Lindor’s own work a bit. The towering presence of Lindor’s talent and pedigree had previously — like sneaking a shot by Dikembe Mutombo — made such a thing seem unlikely.

If Ramirez is a superhero, though, Lindor’s more partner rather than sidekick. He gets to drive the Batmobile, solve the caper in 1890s London, and sing “Twist and Shout” in the Von Steuben Day Parade. Lindor ranks fourth in the American League in WAR among position players, hitting .291/.367/.533 and playing his typical interstellar defense at short. Some cities are built on rock ‘n’ roll, some on efficiency of infrastructure due to increased density, but Cleveland’s run-scoring is built on the backs of their shortstop and third-base pair.

To say that Lindor and Ramirez are a dangerous pair isn’t a flaming hot take. They’ve been so productive, however, that the time has come to ask not where the rank relative to their peers but to other shortstop/third-base combinations in major-league history. To answer this, I went through every team’s SS/3B pair — as defined by the players who received the most time at each position for their teams — since the beginning of the sport. I used their seasonal numbers because, after all, if Ramirez plays some scattered games at second base, as he did in 2016, does that really diminish how good the pair is?

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/27/18

Dan Szymborski: Hello, everyone! We start our 9th consecutive chat!

Jack: After the injury to Manaea, does Oakland make a last minute SP add? Who are some available names that could help that rotation?

Dan Szymborski: I’m not sure there are a lot of realistic targets left. And really, the way the A’s record is with castoff this year, they can probably sign Scott Kamieniecki and he’ll go 3-1, 3.40 for them.

John Beasley: Team that is least likely to win a World Series 2018-2027?

Dan Szymborski: Royals

Mike: Think the Yankees have what it takes in them to catch the Sox and win the division?

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Elegy for ’18 – Kansas City Royals

The return of Alcides Escobar to the roster didn’t bode well for the Royals’ postseason chances.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The Baltimore Orioles now have some friends on the other side: the Kansas City Royals recently shuffled off the mortal coil of contention and have now joined the Orioles among those clubs mathematically eliminated from the postseason. While the competition for the No. 1 pick rolls on, Kansas City’s season is otherwise dead. Today, they’re the topic in our series of post-mortems on 2018 clubs.

The Setup

The 2018 season was always going to be a dreadful one for the Kansas City Royals, no matter the objections lodged by the franchise to the contrary. The 2017 campaign was the final one before free agency for most of Kansas City’s core contributors, with Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Mike Minor, Mike Moustakas, and Jason Vargas all departing — a group, incidentally, that combined for 14.2 WAR in their final season together. That’s not to say the Royals should have attempted to retain most of those players — after pitching like Greg “Mad Dog” Maddux in the first half, for example, Jason Vargas more resembled Chris “Mad Dog” Russo” in the second — but the departure of 14 wins was a real loss for a team that only won 80 total (72 in terms of Pythagoras).

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Elegy for ’18 – Baltimore Orioles

A visual representation of Baltimore’s 2018 campaign.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

The Orioles became the first team in Major League Baseball to be eliminated from all theoretical playoff contention in 2018, the first team to cross to the “other side,” where even Harry and Lloyd can’t say there’s a chance. As such, the Baltimore Orioles become our first team in our series of post-mortems for the 2018 season, in which we’ll talk about where each team was, is, and where they’re headed.

The Setup

After a 75-87 season in 2017, the Baltimore Orioles were in no mood for a rebuild. The season marked the team’s first losing campaign since 2011, a stretch that marked the most successful sustained non-losing run by the Baltimore Orioles since the early 1980s, a happier time featuring Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton, Cal Ripken a little later on, and until his first retirement, legendary manager/tomato grower/curse-word innovator/umpire fighter Earl Weaver.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/20/18

Matt: Who is less likely to break my heart this week – Bumgarner at Mets, or Pivetta in TOR?

Dan Szymborski: Pivetta mainly. The Mets are sadder.

Dbo: Whoa, new chat time. Did Carson finally decide to have two Szym chats, one for food and one for baseball?

Dan Szymborski: As Travis has moved on to 538, I reclaimed my old, classic time slot.

Dan Szymborski: When Travis came aboard, it was important to introduce him to the FanGraphs audience that may not have been as familiar with his work as mine, plus since I was only an auxiliary fangraphser, it didn’t make sense to let me keep the sweeter time slot over a paid employee!

Pie: How does ZiPs view Kopech ROS/next few years?

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The Rockies’ Lack of Depth Is Costing Them Wins

Currently in possession of a 68-56 record and standing just a half-game out of first place in the NL West, the Colorado Rockies are in the midst of an objectively good season. Actually, the 2017 and -18 versions of the club have the best combined two-year winning percentage for any pair of Rockies teams in history, so one could make the argument that this is Colorado’s finest run ever. They’ve had two MVP candidates in the starting lineup both seasons and the starting pitching, long a team bugaboo, ranks ninth in the majors by WAR over that time period. Things in Colorado aren’t bad, per se.

But they could be better, it seems, without much effort. One real problem for the Rockies has been the team’s lack of offensive depth. It’s an issue they’ve shown little interest in addressing. And it’s costing them real wins.

With Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon in 2017 and Arenado and Trevor Story in 2018, Colorado’s top-end offensive talent has been as dangerous as that of any team in baseball. Once you look past the top of the roster, though, things become a bit more frightening. Despite the team’s respectable raw numbers, the club’s offensive line reads like a gothic horror story after you factor in our old friend, Coors Field.

Team wRC+, 2017-2018
Team wRC+
Astros 116
Yankees 110
Indians 107
Dodgers 105
Athletics 104
Mariners 102
Cubs 101
Red Sox 101
Cardinals 99
Nationals 99
Angels 98
Rays 98
Twins 98
Reds 97
Mets 97
Rangers 96
Braves 95
Blue Jays 95
Diamondbacks 94
Brewers 93
White Sox 93
Orioles 93
Marlins 92
Pirates 90
Tigers 90
Phillies 89
Royals 88
Rockies 86
Giants 86
Padres 84

Even with the impressive performances by the brand names — most notably Nolan Arenado, who has been a legitimate MVP contender both seasons — the Rockies rank near the bottom of baseball in offense. At five of the eight main offensive positions — I’m not considering pitcher hitting or the DH for interleague road games — the Rockies have ranked 25th or worse in baseball by wRC+.

Rockies wRC+ by Position, 2017-2018
Position wRC+ MLB Rank
C 58 29th
1B 94 26th
2B 82 25th
3B 129 4th
SS 101 11th
LF 76 29th
CF 120 2nd
RF 90 29th

Now, DJ LeMahieu is a very ordinary offensive second baseman, outside of his .348/.416/.495 campaign in 2016, but he more than makes up for any bat-related shortfall with his defense. You can’t say that for the other positions ranking near the bottom of baseball.

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The Redisappearance of Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is in a funk. I’m not talking about the kind of funk endorsed by Sly Stone or Parliament. Kemp’s funk is more like the time a friend of mine left a chicken salad sandwich in my car over a hot weekend and it fermented into a noxious cloud of nauseating death-barfiness. Or funk metal.

I’m nearly certain the Dodgers didn’t originally expect to ever have Kemp on the roster in 2018. LA acquired him from Atlanta in exchange for Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, and cash — and if the the deal were to have occurred in 2012, with those names, it would have been a blockbuster. In the winter of 2017, however, Kemp wasn’t so much a player as a tax loophole, the maguffin in a trade that was primarily about teams aligning their year-to-year payrolls in such a way as to avoid luxury tax.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the luxury tax: Kemp became interesting. For once, one of those articles about a player looking amazing in spring training actually bore real fruit. Kemp showed up to spring training in excellent shape, having lost a non-trivial 40 pounds and gained a renewed interest in playing defense.

The homecoming to Los Angeles, after a lot of hurt feelings years ago, turned out to be a positive one. When Kemp slugged .561 in spring training while also exhibiting improved defense and a real effort to be a mentor to the younger players, he gave the Dodgers enough justification to keep him on the team as a role player.

Los Angeles struggled early. Kemp, however, did not. With one of the club’s top batting marks and the promise of better defense — or at least decidedly less-atrocious defense — fulfilled, Kemp received more at-bats. Unlike in previous seasons with Atlanta and San Diego, Kemp’s playing time in this case was earned on the merits of his play and not his reputation or salary. He started in the All-Star Game.

Since the All-Star Game, though, things have not gone well for Kemp. Standing at .310/.352/.522 when baseball took its midsummer respite, Kemp’s OPS has bled about 100 points in just a month, and he’s stalled at 1.1 WAR for the 2018 season. Neither ZiPS or Steamer are optimistic about a turnaround, projecting him to finish at 1.3 and 1.2 WAR, respetively, the primary difference between the two being playing time.

Before Wednesday’s 2-for-4 performance, Kemp last had a multi-hit game on July 23rd and now has hits in four of his last 19 games. Overall, he’s 5-for-58 from that date with only a lone double. The result? A .086/.191/.103 line.

So, what happened to Kemp’s 2018?

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Handicapping the Awards: Rookie of the Year

Projecting the Rookie of the Year award is simultaneously easier and more difficult than the Cy Young. It’s easier in the sense that there are fewer rookies than non-rookies and that, in most seasons, there’s a definite top tier of candidates that crowds out the rest of the pack.

What makes it a bit trickier is that the standards for rookies are applied a bit more haphazardly by writers. Because rookie ballots feature only three players — as opposed to five for the Cy Young and 10 for MVP — we see fewer players actually included in the final voting. Ideally, you’d like to bring in all the voters, crack open their skulls, and somehow read their brains to see how everyone would rank at least the top 10 rookies. My lawyers, however, inform me that this is extremely illegal and also totally gross.

In the end, I’m less confident about the Rookie of the Year model than the MVP or Cy Young versions. While, historically, ZiPS identifies about seven of the top 10 MVP and Cy Young vote-getters, the model only gets three of the top five rookies. Hopefully, as the electorate becomes more and more analytically inclined, I’ll be able to improve the model.

ZiPS 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Projections
Rank Player Percentage
1 Shohei Ohtani 63.1%
2 Gleyber Torres 15.6%
3 Shane Bieber 7.4%
4 Miguel Andujar 7.1%
5 Lou Trivino 3.4%
6 Joey Wendle 1.7%
7 Daniel Palka 0.7%
8 Ryan Yarbrough 0.4%
9 Ronald Guzman 0.3%
10 Hector Velazquez 0.3%
NA Field 0.1%

The greatest challenge of projecting the AL race is figuring out what to do with Shohei Ohtani. There’s no guidance available on how two-way players ought to be treated, so there’s a lot more guesswork than usual. Comparing apples to oranges is tricky enough — although rendered less tricky by the fact that they’re frequently right next to each other at the grocery store — but how do you treat something that is an apple and an orange at the same time? Applange and orpple both sound terrible.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/13/18

Dan Szymborski: I think this is a chat!

CamdenWarehouse: no poops today?

Dan Szymborski: Carson set this one and doesn’t set up the poop and peanuts. I have a competing 2:45 one, we’ll see what happens at 2:45!

Matt: I think this is a late chat*

Dbo: You this is a chat, what if its just a bunch of robots trying to prove they aren’t robots

Dan Szymborski: EAT TURING, SCUM!

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Handicapping the Award Races: Cy Young

Having finished among the top five in voting every year since 2013, Chris Sale is this season’s favorite .
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Last week, I ran down the latest ZiPS projections for the MVP awards. The Cy Young tends to be a bit simpler to project than the MVP, for a number of reasons: there are no positional differences for which to adjust (outside of starter vs. reliever), no consideration of defense, fewer candidates (because hitters aren’t eligible for the award, where pitchers can win the MVP), and finally, fewer pitching stats from which to measure performance. One historical note of interest is that, while team quality plays a factor, it appears to be a less predictive factor than it is for MVP, also serving to make things a bit less difficult.

Before I begin, one clarification from the MVP post: the award percentages that appear here aren’t based on each player’s mean final projections, but from the whole array of possibilities, 1st to 99th percentile, for each player. So, for example, Giancarlo Stanton’s projected award chance of 2.8% isn’t predicated on him winning the award based on his predicted final line, but from the better scenarios in which he exceeded that current projected final line.

ZiPS 2018 AL Cy Young Projections, 8/13/18
Rank Player Win %
1 Chris Sale 29.9%
2 Trevor Bauer 26.0%
3 Luis Severino 11.5%
4 Corey Kluber 10.1%
5 Justin Verlander 8.5%
6 Gerrit Cole 5.6%
7 Carlos Carrasco 1.5%
8 Charlie Morton 1.3%
9 James Paxton 1.0%
10 Edwin Diaz 0.9%
NA The Field 3.8%

There’s a popular perception that Chris Sale wears out down the stretch. The perception is supported by his career splits: Sale has a career ERA below three for each of the first four months of the season with a 3.22 ERA for August and a 3.78 ERA in September. This data isn’t quite as robust as some suggest, but assuming for the sake of argument that it reflects something real, it’s also worth nothing that Sale’s been used more carefully than in past seasons. At this point in 2017, Sale had thrown at least 110 pitches in 16 starts after having crossed that threshold 10 times in both of the previous two seasons. This year, he’s at only four. The FanGraphs Depth Charts have Sale finishing at just 187 innings for the season, his lowest figure since 2014. ZiPS projects Sale to finish the year with the most strikeouts and best ERA in the AL while also tying for the highest WAR mark. The combination of his own performance plus the strength of the Red Sox make him a strong bet to go over the top.

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