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Team Entropy 2018: Dwindling Possibilities for Chaos

This is the third installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.

For those still on the Team Entropy bandwagon, the massive tiebreaker scenarios for which we’ve been hoping are starting to feel like the Great Pumpkin. Some of us still have our blankets and aren’t yet ready to go home, but others have moved on to the candy and costumes.

The penultimate weekend is one that features a lot of scoreboard watching, as there’s not much at stake when it comes to head-to-head action. With apologies to the Phillies (1.2% playoff odds) and Diamondbacks (0.5%), we’re down to six contenders for five spots in the NL. The D-backs, who have lost 14 of their last 19 games to produce an odds graph that more resembles Utah’s Bryce Canyon than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, will still have some say in the playoff picture, as they host the reeling Rockies — the team with the most at stake in both the division and Wild Card races — for a three-game set starting on Friday night. The Rockies (82-70) were just swept by the Dodgers and have lost five out of six to fall 2.5 games back in the division race, the furthest they’ve been since August 10; our odds put them at 4.3% in that context. They’re 1.5 games behind the Cardinals (84-69) in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot, with odds of just 21.1% there. They’re hoping to get Trevor Story, who left Monday night’s game with an elbow injury that was initially feared to be UCL related, back sometime this weekend, which could provide an emotional lift, but as we’ve already estimated the 25-year-old shortstop to claim about 80% of the remaining playing time at the position, that isn’t going to move the needle, odds-wise.

As for the teams that the Rockies are pursuing, the Dodgers (85-68), who have their largest division lead of the season, host the Padres. The defending NL champions now have a 95.6% chance at capturing their sixth straight division title. The Cardinals (84-69), who host the Giants, have a 76.0% chance at claiming that a Wild Card spot (more on the Central race momentarily).

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/20/18

Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of my Thursday chat! Thanks for stopping by. I don’t have anything witty to say, but the thumb is healing nicely — had my two stitches out on Sunday and the thing no longer looks like a trainwreck in a plate of rigatoni. Let’s get to it.

stever20: totally get what you think should happen with Sale and the AL Cy Young.  But what do you think will happen should Sale not get to 162 innings?  Does he have a realistic shot?

Jay Jaffe: That’s a very good question, and with the Red Sox taking a particularly conservative approach such that he’ll fall short of 162 innings (he’s at 150 and figures to have two turns left, both possibly after his team clinches the division) I think the race might be up in the air. I’m starting to think that Blake Snell’s combination of 20 wins and an ERA title might carry the day, regardless of the strikeouts (where he’s a respectable but not dominant 8th) and the advanced metrics.

tb.25: What does JAWS say about Chris Sale? I realize I haven’t seen much on his HOF candidacy except his appearance on some JAWS tables (and if you’ve written about him, forgive me!)

Jay Jaffe: Sale’s at 43.0 WAR as he nears the end of his age-29 season, which isn’t historic but is 11th since the start of 1969. It’s a mixed bag in his neighborhood, with five obvious HOF types at the top (Clemens, Blyleven, Kershaw, Pedro, Maddux) at 50.5 to 62.8, then Felix at 50.0, Appier at 45.8 (big drop), Seaver 45.3, Saberhagen 44.9, CC Sabathia at 43.4 and then Sale; Verlander’s 9 spots lower at 36.4 and there are guys like Stieb, Gooden, Tanana and Zambrano between them, with Mussina (37.7) the only real HOF type guy in the middle.

Bottom line: it’s all going to depend on Sale’s ability to carry this into his 30s, and avoid what happened to Felix, but he’s got a good base to build upon.

pkddb: Using whatever method you feel needed, was there a more dominant pitcher you have experienced in your adult life than Pedro in his prime?

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The Yankees Have a Shot at Some Home-Run Records

In addition to forestalling the Red Sox’ attempt to clinch an AL East title on the Yankees’ turf, Neil Walker’s three-run shot off the Boston’s Ryan Brasier on Tuesday night gave New York a share of one major-league record. Wednesday night’s pair of homers from Luke Voit and another from Miguel Andujar gave the club a share of a franchise record and inched them closer to two more major-league ones. In these homer-happy times, nobody loves the long ball as much as the Bronx Bombers.

Walker’s homer, a towering, second-deck blast to right field, was his 10th of the season.

That gave the Yankees 11 players in double digits, tying a mark that has been matched in each of the past four years, a period that admittedly has produced three of the four highest per-game home run rates in history (1.26 per team per game in 2017, 1.16 in 2016, and 1.15 this year).

Teams with 11 Players Hitting 10-Plus Home Runs
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Players are listed alphabetically, not by home run totals.

This year’s Blue Jays could join the above 11×10 list if rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hits two more homers over the remainder of the season, while the Yankees similarly have a shot at separating themselves from this pack if Voit, who didn’t even debut with the team until August 2, adds one more. Voit’s homers on Wednesday night, which were less majestic than Walker’s, represented his eighth and ninth since joining the team.

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Rockies’ Story Takes a Turn for the Worse

This article has been updated since initial publication to reflect developments in the diagnosis of Trevor Story’s right elbow.

Surrendering first place to the Dodgers, as the Rockies did on Monday night in Los Angeles, was bad enough. The departure of Trevor Story in the middle of his fourth-inning plate appearance may prove more damaging to the team’s postseason hopes. Via Twitter, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday afternoon that the All-Star shortstop is “facing potential UCL damage in [his] right elbow,” though the exact diagnosis was unknown at the time. In the wake of an MRI, the Rockies now believe that Story is dealing with inflammation in the elbow but no structural damage to the ligament. Had there been significant UCL damage, the 25-year-old shortstop would likely have been headed for Tommy John surgery, ruling him out of the remainder of the regular season and postseason (if the Rockies make it), and into the first half of next season. The Rockies are optimistic that he will miss “only a few days,” though his absence could potentially be a significant blow to the team’s playoff hopes.

Story reportedly felt a twinge in his elbow after making an outstanding play in the first inning on Monday night. He dove to his left to stop a Justin Turner grounder, then he completed a spin and made a strong throw to first base for the out. His discomfort worsened when he whiffed on a 2-1 Hyun-Jin Ryu changeup in his next plate appearance.


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The Ever-Enigmatic Yasiel Puig

Yasiel Puig can still provide a spark or two of electricity when needed. In fact, the 27-year-old right fielder put forth quite a jolt this past weekend, doing some of the best work of his career in two of the Dodgers’ biggest wins this season. On Friday night in St. Louis, he punctuated a taut pitchers’ duel between Walker Buehler and Jack Flaherty with a pair of solo homers that bookended the scoring in a 3-0 victory. On Saturday afternoon, he hit three more jacks, two of them of the three-run variety, in a 17-4 rout. The wins allowed the Dodgers to catch and overtake both the Cardinals in the NL Wild Card race and the Rockies in the NL West race, and while Sunday’s loss to St. Louis undid both, Puig and company beat the Rockies on Monday night to retake the division lead.

You like dingers? Of course you do. Here’s the supercut of Puig’s five, which came at the expense of Flaherty, Tyler Webb (no, not that guy), John Gant, Mike Mayers and Luke Weaver:

It remains to be seen how the Dodgers’ season ends up, but as Puig goes, the 2018 campaign has been a fairly calm one, largely devoid of the drama of years past. Fewer complaints about his overly aggressive baserunning or lack of interest in the cut-off man. No reports of tardiness. No teammates ripping him anonymously through the media. No benchings or trips to the minors. He did get suspended for two games last month for brawling with the Giants’ Nick Hundley — an episode which brought forth the usual performative pomposity from the pastime’s moral guardians — but that has been the exception this season, not the rule.

He’s still demonstrative, of course, showing off his tongue now and then, licking his bat, admiring his homers when he hits them, and even kissing hitting coach Turner Ward afterwards. The epic bat flips, and the controversies attached to them — to his, specifically, not to the inane culture war that surrounds bat flips in general — appear to be a thing of the past.

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Team Entropy 2018: From Eight Teams to Almost Six

This is the second installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.

Look, it hasn’t been a great week and a half for the Team Entropy bandwagon, but part of this job is staring a distinct lack of chaos in the face and acknowledging that fact. As of Labor Day (September 3), the National League featured eight teams with playoff chances of at least 25.6%. Ten days’ worth of games later, the lowest of those teams at the time, the Diamondbacks, is down to 3.2%, but they’re not even the ones who have fallen the furthest. The Phillies, losers of six out of eight since then, and 22 of their last 32 overall, are down to a 2.9% chance, a drop of 27.2 points since Labor Day. They’re now below the odds of the Mariners in the AL (5.7%) at the time, which I totally waved off.

Here’s a quick comparison of those eight NL teams since Labor Day:

NL Contenders Through September 3 and Since
Team W-L @ 9/3 W% Playoffs W-L Since Playoffs Dif
Cubs 81-56 .591 99.8% 4-5 99.9% 0.1%
Brewers 78-61 .561 85.8% 6-2 97.9% 12.1%
Dodgers 75-63 .543 83.8% 4-4 74.9% -9.0%
Braves 76-61 .555 75.0% 6-3 97.0% 22.0%
Cardinals 76-62 .551 54.7% 5-3 54.2% -0.5%
Rockies 75-62 .547 41.1% 6-3 68.9% 27.8%
Phillies 72-65 .526 30.2% 2-6 2.9% -27.2%
D-backs 74-64 .536 25.6% 3-6 3.2% -22.4%

The aforementioned two teams bore the brunt of the losses, but the Dodgers also took a substantial kick to the stomach. Their odds of winning the NL West dropped from 70.8% to 55.5%, while their odds of claiming a Wild Card spot climbed only from 13.1% to 19.4%. They still have the highest probability of winning the World Series of any NL team (13.6%, down from 16.3%), but I’ll wager that the machine running these odds hasn’t sat through their late-inning bullpen mess recently.

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Odorizzi’s No-Hit Bid Didn’t Go Entirely for Naught

When the Mariners’ James Paxton completed his no-hitter against the Blue Jays on May 8, it was the majors’ second in a five-day span. The Dodgers’ Walker Buehler and three relievers had performed the same feat versus the Padres on May 4. It was also the third in 18 days, if we include the A’s Sean Manaea performance against the Red Sox on April 21. We haven’t seen one since, though we’ve certainly seen no shortage of credible bids, including three that made it into the ninth inning, the most recent of which was this past Saturday (care of the Royals’ Jorge Lopez against the Twins). On Wednesday night, the Twins’ own Jake Odorizzi was the latest to give it a go, holding the Yankees hitless for 7.1 innings before yielding an RBI double to Greg Bird.

The hit came on Odorizzi’s 120th pitch, matching a career high set on June 3, 2016, which suggests that he likely wouldn’t have finished the job even if he’d retired Bird. That said, it sounds as though manager Paul Molitor had given him the green light. Via The Athletic’s Dan Hayes:

“I told him, ‘This is one of those rare nights when you get in this type of area,’ in terms of doing something that was magical,” Molitor said. “You just try to do the best you can and trust that he was going to make a good decision for himself and not get too caught up. Sometimes you have to do that for him, but I thought he was in a good place.”

Odorizzi had begun running up his pitch count in the first inning, when he threw 23 pitches via three-ball counts against both Andrew McCutchen and Miguel Andujar sandwiched around an Aaron Hicks plate appearances that featured five straight foul balls. He walked three batters in all. Only in the seventh inning, when he needed just seven pitches to retire Andujar, Giancarlo Stanton and Didi Gregorius, did he throw fewer than 14 pitches.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/13/18

Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, good afternoon and welcome to another edition of today’s chat. Apologies, there will be a few minutes delay in me getting started as I’m putting the finishing touches on today’s post, regarding Jake Odorizzi’s no-hit bid.

Please enjoy this if you haven’t seen it already

The absolute unit that could.
13 Sep 2018
Jay Jaffe: OK, back, and as noted, working at a slight disadvantage due to a bandaged left thumb, which I sliced off the tip of on Sunday morning in the service of chopping garnishes for my breakfast tacos. A LOT of blood a trip to urgent care, two stitches, all while trying not to freak out our two-year-old daughter.

The tacos, which used chicken from this recipe (… — I used all thigh meat), were delicious nonetheless.

Ozzie Ozzie Albies Free: Why are so many helmets flying off players heads? Shouldn’t they be a bit snug to where they don’t?

Jay Jaffe: I can’t believe Rob Manfred hasn’t corraled a blue-ribbon committee to look into the matter, because you know Bud Selig would have been on it like… like a toupee on Bud Selig

Jonny: With the Cardinals being in the thick of the race now, and Tommy Pham putting up a 166 wRC+ and 1.1 WAR so far with the Rays, do the Cardinals regret that trade now? Or do they really think Pham is a net negative? Or do they just really really like Justin Williams?

Jay Jaffe: We know that tensions were pretty high between Pham and the team based on a number of issues, including playing time, his contract renewal, and his long road through the minors. We also know that the Cardinals have had tremendous outfield depth in recent years, depth that led them to trade Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk this past winter and not miss them at all. I can’t say I know much about Williams, but I do know they wanted to create more space for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill

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Manaea’s Loss Further Thins Oakland’s Decimated Rotation

Does anybody have a phone number for Vida Blue or Dave Stewart? Maybe Tim Hudson? The A’s could use another starter for their playoff push, because on Tuesday, they got the definitive news on Sean Manaea, and it was quite bad. The 26-year-old lefty hasn’t pitched since August 24 due to what was initially diagnosed as shoulder impingement and then revised to tendinitis in his rotator cuff. Not only will he not return this season, as initially hoped, but he’ll undergo arthroscopic shoulder surgery next week, and is expected to be sidelined through 2019.

The timeline isn’t unlike that of a late-season Tommy John surgery candidate such as the White Sox’ Michael Kopech, but returns from shoulder surgery are far less predictable than those from ulnar collateral ligament repair. In Manaea’s case, the exact diagnosis is unclear, at least as far as the general public goes; the range of possibilities could include a bone spur in his shoulder, and/or a tear in his rotator cuff, labrum, or anterior capsule — or some combination of those injuries. Manager Bob Melvin told reporters, “The specifics we’ll talk about more after the surgery, so we’ll know exactly what was repaired.”

Ouch. Say, what’s Barry Zito doing these days?

Manaea is the 10th Oakland starter to land on the disabled list (a total of 13 stints, according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser) and the fifth to suffer a season-ending injury. The other four were Tommy John recipients: Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk were cooked before the season even started, while Opening Day starter Kendall Graveman and April 1 (game four) starter Daniel Gossett combined for just 12 starts before going down. Indeed, the first cycle through the A’s rotation looks like the dwindling cast of a horror movie, with Manaea (who started the season’s second game) and Andrew Triggs (who started the fifth, and is now on a rehab assignment, recovering from a nerve irritation issue) currently sidelined. Daniel Mengden, who started the season’s third game, is the only one currently active; in late June and early July, he served a DL stint for a sprained right foot. Also out are lefty (and perennial DL denizen) Brett Anderson, who is nearing a return from ulnar nerve irritation, and righty Paul Blackburn, who’s without a timetable as he works his way back from lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow).

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The Swiftly Mounting Legend of Rowdy Tellez

If there’s an upside to the Blue Jays’ decision to avoid promoting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. for service-time reasons — which is to say if even the dumbest of clouds has a silver lining — it is in the arrival of Rowdy Tellez. The burly 23-year-old, who has endured not only the fall of his star as a prospect but also the recent death of his mother from brain cancer, recently began his major-league stay with a bang while taking advantage of playing time that might not have been available with Guerrero’s arrival. But really, what the hell more do you need to know before you embrace a player who acquired the nickname of Rowdy while still in the womb?

Tellez (pronounced Tuh-LEZ) spent the entire 2018 minor-league season at Triple-A Buffalo, an assignment he repeated after bombing in 2017 (more on which below). His modest final line (.270/.340/.425 with 13 homers) doesn’t exactly suggest an impact bat at first base or designated hitter, though he did improve over the course of the season, hitting .248/.329/.382 with six homers in 280 PA before the All-Star break and .306/.360/.497 with seven homers in 164 PA after it. What’s more, that improvement occurred against the unimaginably sad backdrop of his mom’s decline and, ultimately, her death on August 19 at the too-young age of 53.

Just over two weeks after Lori Tellez passed away, on September 5, her son was wearing a Blue Jays uniform, pinch-hitting for Jonathan Davis in the eighth inning, roping an RBI double into the right-center gap on the first pitch from the Rays’ Jake Faria, and, after receiving a rousing ovation from the Rogers Centre crowd, pointing to the sky in tribute to his mother:

Did it just get dusty in here, or is that my contact lenses going off? Pardon me for a moment… The next night, Tellez collected three hits, all doubles, off Shane Bieber (two) and Cody Allen (one). The night after that, he hit a pair of doubles off Carlos Carrasco, and then on Saturday, his first big-league homer, off Adam Plutko:

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Michael Kopech and the Cold Comfort of Tommy John Trends

Just 14.1 innings: that’s all we’ll get from Michael Kopech at the big-league level until 2020. On Friday afternoon, the White Sox announced that the 22-year-old fireballer has a significant tear in his ulnar collateral ligament and will require Tommy John surgery. Unlike the previous gut punch that baseball fans were dealt just two days earlier — that Shohei Ohtani needs the surgery, as well — there was no dramatic buildup, no injection of platelet-rich plasma after the first report of a UCL sprain, followed by rest and hope backed with worry that it wouldn’t be enough to stave off surgery. On Wednesday, Kopech was pitching. On Friday, he was cooked, though he’ll go about getting a second opinion before the fork, and ultimately the knife, are stuck in him.

Granted, there were signs on Wednesday: Kopech exhibited diminished velocity even before sitting through a 28-minute rain delay. When play resumed, he surrendered three homers and six runs to the Tigers while retiring just one hitter in the fourth inning. The guy who, two years ago while still in the Red Sox organization, was reportedly clocked at 105 mph threw just one first-inning fastball that topped 95, according to the data at Brooks Baseball. His average four-seam fastball velocity for the first inning declined for the third time in a row — in a major-league career that’s four outings long:

Kopech’s Declining Fastball Velocity
Date Opponent 1st Inning Overall
August 21 Twins 97.1 97.1
August 26 Tigers 96.3 95.7
August 31 Red Sox 95.3 95.8
September 5 Tigers 94.0 94.2
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

Oddly enough, rain affected Kopech’s first and third starts, as well, also in Chicago. His debut ended after two rain-shortened innings and his August 31 start ended after three. He didn’t allow a run in either outing and conceded just one in six innings in his lone road start, in Detroit, on August 26. His tally entering the fateful start was thus one run allowed in 11 innings, with 11 hits, nine strikeouts and one walk, an extension of the second-half strike zone-pounding roll that carried him to the majors in the first place. Because he has learned to dial back his velocity in order to improve his control, he didn’t crack 99 mph on any pitch, let alone 100.

Kopech didn’t sound any alarms about his elbow in Wednesday’s postgame interview, telling reporters, “I missed a lot of spots and got taken advantage of, which is going to happen when I’m not throwing the way I need to. I was pitching like I was throwing 100 [mph], and I was throwing 93-94.”

After the news of his diagnosis, however, Kopech was reported to have experienced trouble getting loose during warmups, believing that he was simply dealing with stiffness:

“If you’re looking for a specific pitch or date, I couldn’t tell you,” Kopech said. “It’s been gradual.”

“I thought it was just a little discomfort. I thought it was something I could throw through,” he said… “[I wanted] to see if there was something I could fix. This isn’t the answer I expected.”

“There were no inklings whatsoever,” said general manager Rick Hahn while delivering the bad news. “Nothing that he reported, nothing in the injury reports, nothing with his delivery, nothing with any of the analytics of his mechanics, nothing until yesterday, when he rightfully shared with us that he didn’t feel quite right getting loose during that start against Detroit.”

It’s been a particularly rough year for the UCLs of top prospects. Going back to the FanGraphs’ top-100 list from February, we’ve lost not only Kopech (No. 20 on that list) and Ohtani (No. 1) but also the Rays’ Brent Honeywell (No. 15), the A’s A.J. Puk (No. 30), and the Reds’ Hunter Greene (No. 42). Per Baseball America’s list, those five were all in the top 30. Depending upon which of those lists you’re consulting, that’s five of the top-18 (FG) or -14 (BA) pitching prospects felled, counting the two-way players (Ohtani, Greene, and the Rays’ as-yet-unharmed Brendan McKay) as pitchers because that’s where the risk is. Whether their UCLs are actually more vulnerable due to double duty is a question for another day.

The more important question from an industry-wide perspective is the extent to which the UCL tears of this cohort of blue-chippers and so many others are connected to the game’s trend towards increasing velocity. (According to Pitch Info’s data, this year’s average four-seam fastball speed of 93.3 mph is down 0.3 mph from the previous year but still 1.1 mph higher than in 2009.) In a 2015 study by Julien Assouline published on the FanGraphs Community blog, Assouline used PITCHf/x data dating back to 2007 and Baseball Info Solutions data dating back to 2002. He found higher rates of Tommy John surgery among major-league pitchers in the 92-95 mph bucket (~27% for both sources) than the 89-92 bucket (20-21%) — and higher still in the 95-plus bucket (31-35%). The trend was generally applicable both to relievers and starters, though regarding the latter group, he found some ambiguities when using BIS data, which had a larger sample size.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital, published in the April 2016 Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery (abstract here via PDF), found a connection between higher fastball rates but not necessarily higher velocity. The study, which covered 83 pitchers who had endured the surgery over an eight-year period (a smaller sample than Assouline’s study) and compared them to a control group matched for age, position (starter/reliever), size, innings pitched, and experience, found no differences in pre-surgery pitch velocities for fastballs, curveballs, sliders, or changeups. However, research also revealed that the pitchers who received Tommy John surgery threw significantly more fastballs than the control group, with a 2% increase in risk for UCL injury for every 1% increase in fastballs thrown, and that fastball usage above 48% was “a significant predictor of UCL injury.”

For what it’s worth, the small sample of Kopech’s Pitch Info data for his four starts shows him throwing four-seam fastballs 62.5% of the time. For Ohtani’s 10 starts, he threw four-seam fastballs 46.3% of the time and split-fingered fastballs — which went unmentioned in the study, as did cut fastballs and any distinction between two- and four-seamers — 22.4% of the time (sinkers just 0.1%). For what scant data we have from Honeywell (the 2016 Arizona Fall League and the 2017 Futures Game) and Puk (that Futures Game and one 2017 spring-training outing) via Brooks Baseball, the aggregated rates of fastball usage are well above 50%, but the sample sizes and relief-length outings make it unwise to draw conclusions.

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Chris Sale’s Abridged Cy Young Case

When Chris Sale started for the American League in the 2018 All-Star Game, he was in the midst not only of a fabulous season that was worthy of the honor, but quite probably the best stretch produced by any starter this year. A year after he became the first AL pitcher to notch 300 strikeouts in a season since the turn of the millennium, it appeared that the 29-year-old lefty, an All-Star and Cy Young vote recipient every year since 2012, might finally take home the hardware that had eluded him in the previous six seasons. Alas, shoulder inflammation sent Sale to the disabled list on July 31 and has limited him to just one start since. While he still leads the league in a host of key categories, it seems entirely possible that his missed time could cost him the award he deserves.

Sale missed two starts in his first stint on the DL. Upon returning, he threw five innings of one-hit shutout ball against the Orioles, striking out 12 — his 11th double-digit game of the year — despite throwing just 68 pitches, 19 fewer than any of his other outings this season. Though he has since said that his shoulder feels “like Paul Bunyan’s ox” and recently declared, “There was never any major issue with my shoulder… This wasn’t something that happened on a single pitch or a mechanical issue or anything,” he returned to the DL after that start. He has been throwing bullpen sessions lately, and while the Red Sox have not announced when he will make his next start, manager Alex Cora said this past weekend that “he might become an ‘opener’ for one or two starts” during the team’s September 7-16 homestand. “We’re not worried, he’s in good spirits, he should be fine,” added Cora.

Sale has been more than fine this year, he has been flat out, ass-kicking dominant. In 23 starts totaling 146 innings, he owns the league’s lowest ERA (1.97) and FIP (1.95) among qualifiers, and his numbers look even better when you consider that he calls Fenway Park home. Though he’s made just nine of his 23 starts there this year, his 0.05 edge in ERA over second-ranked Blake Snell becomes a five-point edge via ERA- (44 to 49); meanwhile, his 0.42 edge in FIP over second-ranked Trevor Bauer is a nine-point edge via FIP- (47 to 56). Sale additionally owns the league’s highest pitching WAR, “whether you prefer the FIP-driven variety (6.1), our version based on runs allowed (6.7), or Baseball-Reference’s own metric (6.5). He has the majors’ highest strikeout rate (38.7%) and K-BB% (32.9 points) among starters despite toiling in the DH league.

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Luke Voit Has Been the Best Hitter of the Trade Deadline

When the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the Cardinals on July 29 in exchange for pitchers Giovanny Gallegos and Chasen Shreve, the deal seemed like little more than a footnote, an incremental upgrade of a contender’s organizational depth, sweetened by the inclusion of international bonus-pool money. Nonetheless, the deal has yielded the hottest hitter of any who changed teams in the weeks leading up to the July 31 trade deadline — albeit in a limited sample size — and, for the moment, a solution to the Yankees’ ongoing first-base woes.

At the time of the trade, the Yankees appeared committed to Greg Bird, an oft-injured 25-year-old lefty who had started 47 of the team’s 56 games at first base since returning from surgery to remove a bone spur in his right ankle. Bird extended that stretch to 66 starts in 78 games into late August, but by that point he had slipped into an 0-for-21 slump. With a banged-up offense feeling the absences of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius, manager Aaron Boone suddenly turned to Voit (toined to Voit to avoid Boid and fill da void, if you’re speaking Brooklynese), who has started 11 of the team’s past 14 games. The decision has paid off.

Entering Wednesday night’s game against the A’s, Voit — a beefy, amiable lug (6-foot-3, 225 pounds, seemingly with an ever-present smile) — had homered seven times in 65 plate appearances for the Yankees, batting .322/.385/.678 for a 185 wRC+ since the trade. Five of those homers either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead, including this eighth-inning go-ahead shot against the A’s on September 4, which marked Voit’s third straight game with a dinger:

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/6/18

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Team Entropy 2018: Your Introduction to Chaos

We live in interesting times, and despite Major League Baseball’s supposed problems — a lagging pace of play, an excess of strikeouts and homers coupled with a shortage of balls in play, a glut of teams in rebuilding mode, service-time manipulations, and so on — we’ve generally been blessed in recent years with down-to-the-wire suspense when it comes to races for playoff spots. Thanks in part to the expanded Wild Card format (which has its critics and, admittedly, its flaws), only once since 2003 has the full playoff picture been determined before the season’s final day. Unfortunately, it was last year that broke the streak.

At Stake Heading Into Final Day of Season
Year Playoff Spots At Stake
2004 NL Wild Card
2005 AL East, AL Wild Card, NL Wild Card
2006 AL Central, AL Wild Card, NL Central, NL West, NL Wild Card
2007 NL East, NL West, NL Wild Card*
2008 AL Central*, NL Wild Card
2009 AL Central*
2010 AL East, AL Wild Card, NL West, NL Wild Card
2011 AL Wild Card, NL Wild Card
2012 AL East, AL West
2013 AL Wild Card*
2014 AL Central, AL Wild Card, NL Central, NL Wild Card
2015 AL West, AL Wild Card
2016 NL Wild Card
2017 Pfffffffft
* Resulted in Game 163 tiebreaker

Amid the drama of the 2011 races, which saw the Rays and Cardinals snatch spots away from the collapsing Red Sox and Braves, respectively, on the season’s final day, I coined the phrase “Team Entropy” — taking a page from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend toward disorder — to describe the phenomenon of rooting for scenarios that produced end-of-season chaos. I’ve returned to the concept on an annual basis since then, tracking the possibilities for end-of-season, multi-team pileups that would require MLB to deviate from its previously scheduled programming.

The idea is that, if you’re a die-hard fan of a team trying to secure (or avoid blowing) a playoff spot, flag-waving for your squad of choice generally takes precedence, but if you’ve embraced the modern day’s maximalist menu of options that allow one not just to watch scoreboards but also to view multiple games on multiple gadgets, you want MORE BASEBALL in the form of final-weekend division and Wild Card races. You want extra innings and tiebreaker scenarios topped with mustard and sauerkraut. You want TVs, laptops, tablets, and phones stacked like a Nam June Paik installation so you can monitor all the action at once, and you want the MLB schedule-makers to contemplate entering the Federal Witness Protection Program instead of untangling once far-fetched scenarios. Welcome to Team Entropy, friends.

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Byron Buxton and September Service-Time Manipulations

After last year’s long awaited success, Byron Buxton’s 2018 campaign has proven more challenging.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Blue Jays infielder Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who became the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball once Ronald Acuña graduated, has recorded one of the top batting lines at Triple-A since his promotion to that level at the end of July. White Sox outfielder Eloy Jiménez, generally considered one of the game’s top five prospects, has actually been slightly more productive than Vlad Jr. during his own 200-plus plate appearances in the International League. Mets prospect Peter Alonso, meanwhile — who lacks the transcendent talent of the aforementioned players but also rates as a top-100 prospect — leads the minor leagues in homers and plays a position from which the Mets have gotten sub-replacement level production. All three have demonstrated some level of mastery over minor-league competition. None of them are likely to appear in the majors this year.

If the circumstances were different, one could understand. If the Jays or White Sox or Mets were in the midst of a playoff race and were adding veteran talent to complement their rosters, that would be one thing. That’s not the case, though. All three clubs possess sub-.500 records. All three have endured depressed attendance figures (down 24.7% in Toronto, 5.7% in Chicago, 7.4% in New York). All three are looking towards next year.

Despite this emphasis on the future and development, executives have found excuses not to recall any of aforementioned players, ranging from a lack of available playing time to defense (always defense) to checklists to which the public isn’t privy. If the formula holds, not only will Guerrero, Jiménez, and Alonso fail to appear in the majors this year, they also won’t break camp with their respective clubs at the beginning of next season. Instead, their teams will head north from spring training without them and then, a few weeks later in April, summon them to the big club — as soon as they’ve acquired what amounts to another year of control.

What’s happening with this particular group of young players isn’t uncommon, of course. We’ve been here before — with Evan Longoria in 2008, with David Price and Matt Wieters in 2009, with Mike Trout and Bryce Harper (2012), with George Springer (2014), with Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco (2015), and with Gleyber Torres (who at least was returning from a season-ending injury) and Acuña this year.

From a cutthroat, competitive standpoint, it makes sense. Acting in their own self-interest under the rules of the collective bargaining agreement, teams want to retain their best young players for longer while paying them as little as possible. The executives’ euphemisms are all the more tiresome, however, because fans have become conditioned to accept (or even defend) them, taking the sides of billionaires (the owners) against millionaires (if, in this case, they got a handsome signing bonus). The teams’ actions may not be illegal (though colleague Sheryl Ring offered a legal argument on their behalf concerning their postponed entry into the union). We’ve become hyperconscious of it in the wake of Bryant’s delayed arrival and subsequent grievance, which three years later remains unresolved.

The problem is, the subject of teams manipulating the service time of young players is diverting attention away from the games themselves and becoming it’s own story. It’s a bad look for the sport, particularly in a year where nearly one-third of the teams are noncompetitive by design, where leaguewide attendance is down 4.6% relative to 2017 and slated to finish below 30,000 per game for the first time since 2003.

Instead of any collective effort to address the problem, however, the sport has recently produced a novel kind of service-time manipulation — in this case, involving former consensus No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton.

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The Return of Shohei Ohtani, Pitcher

Shohei Ohtani is coming back. Not Ohtani the hitter, who has thrived in his capacity as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter since his return on July 3 from a Grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. No, it’s Ohtani the pitcher, the one who we were afraid we might not see again this year — and maybe not even next year — will start Sunday night’s game against the Astros, announced Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday. It will be the first time the 24-year-old two-way phenom taken the ball in that capacity since June 6.

If you’re not awaiting this start — and the return of this incredible athlete’s filthy stuff — with bated breath, consult your doctor.

Ohtani left his June 6 start — his ninth of the season — against the Royals after just four innings due to a recurrence of a blister. While getting the blister drained, he complained of soreness in his elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed the sprain. With the Angels optimistic that he could avoid Tommy John surgery, he underwent both platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections and was placed on the disabled list. He was cleared to begin taking swings again three days later, returned to action without even going on a rehab assignment, and, despite some ups and downs, has more or less equaled the impact of his early-season work, if not exactly replicating its shape:

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 8/30/18

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David Wright, the Mets, and the Cost of Goodwill

Update: Less than an hour after this was published, the Mets announced that Wright would join the team for this weekend’s series in San Francisco “to continue his rehab under the watch of our training staff” and adding that he “will remain on the DL [disabled list].” Via the New York Post, “Sources said the Mets most likely would not activate Wright on the current road trip but would be more likely to do so Friday [September 7], when they return home.”

In the latest demonstration of their 80-grade ability to transform good news into bad, the Mets have turned David Wright’s promising rehab assignment into another illustration of the club’s parsimony and clumsy relationship both with players and fans. Even while promoting the 35-year-old third baseman and team captain from their High-A affiliate to their Triple-A one on Tuesday, the team — which has gone 48-73 since April 13, just half a game better than the NL-worst Padres — indicated that it’s unlikely to promote Wright to the major leagues this year, even for a September cameo, because of the insurance implications.

A seven-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner and career .296/.376/.491 hitter, Wright hasn’t played in the majors since May 27, 2016 and has played just 75 big-league games since the start of 2015 due to chronic spinal stenosis (a narrowing of his spinal column) and problems with his right (throwing) shoulder. He has undergone three surgeries since his last MLB appearance, one to alleviate a herniated disc in his neck (June 2016), one to repair his right rotator cuff (September 2017), and one to alleviate pressure on a nerve in his back (October 2017). In August 2017, before the shoulder and back surgeries, he attempted a rehab stint, but it lasted just three games before he was shut down again.

In the wake of that operating table double whammy, Wright wasn’t cleared to resume baseball activity until June, and had to re-learn the mechanics of throwing. His pregame exercises to prepare his neck, back, and shoulder start at 1:30 pm for a night game, and he deals with pain on a daily basis. As The Athletic’s Marc Carig described it in his recent profile of Wright:

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Things Aren’t Going Well for Greg Bird

As a Baby Bomber, Greg Bird is considered part of the young foundation of the Yankees’ lineup, alongside Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres, Gary Sanchez, and now Miguel Andujar. In the wake of his tantalizing 46-game, 11-homer late-2015 debut, the Yankees have waited out his seemingly endless string of injuries, yet despite a clean bill of health, he’s been curiously unproductive — the majors’ worst regular in August, in fact. The 25-year-old slugger’s hold on the starting first base job might be summed up with this clip from Tuesday night’s game:

“It’s not what you want,” as Bird’s former manager Joe Girardi would say, but that dropped throw aside — it did not figure in the scoring of the Yankees’ 5-4 win over the White Sox — defense hasn’t been Bird’s primary problem. At a time when the Yankees have been without Judge, Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius due to injuries, Bird is in an 0-for-21 slide since homering in his first plate appearance against the Blue Jays on August 19, and hitting .114/.186/.228 with two homers in 86 plate appearances in August. His 10 wRC+ for the month is the lowest of 177 qualified hitters in that span. And that’s after I suggested it was fair to quibble with including him on the first-base list in my Replacement Level Killers series just prior to the July 31 deadline. Overall, he’s hitting .196/.284/.384 (80 wRC+) this year, and through 640 PA over his three-season major-league career, he’s at .213/.302/.435 for a 97 wRC+. That’s not going to cut it.

Bird’s short career has been one of extremes:

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