Archive for Daily Graphings

The Astros Were Caught Doing… Something

Before the Astros were dispatched from the playoffs by a changed-up David Price, before Jose Altuve was robbed of a home run by Mookie Betts and possibly Joe West, there was a kerfuffle in the Red Sox-Astros League Championship Series — a kerfuffle involving, of all things, a camera, trickery, and a media credential. Per Dan Shaughnessy:

The 2018 American League Championship Series took on a new dimension at Minute Maid Park this week when the Boston Metro first reported that a guy with a camera working for the Astros was kicked out of the photographer’s well by the first base dugout at Fenway Park during Game 1. Turns out the same guy got the heave-ho in Cleveland when the ’Stros were beating up on the Tribe in the Division Series.

MLB investigated, and then explained:

In other words, the Astros were surveilling the Red Sox to make sure that the Red Sox weren’t surveilling the Astros. That has something of the absurd about it, but who knows? Maybe that is, in fact, what happened.

But there are a lot of unanswered questions. The first is why the Astros used Kyle McLaughlin, a friend of Astros’ owner Jim Crane but not an Astros employee, to monitor the BoSox. And second, MLB conspicuously didn’t address that this wasn’t the first time this postseason that McLaughlin had been caught monitoring an opposing team with his cell phone; he was doing the same to the Indians during the Division Series. Jeff Passan had a typically excellent explanation of the questions MLB’s lack of action left in its wake.

The league offering Houston the free pass enraged executives around baseball, who reached out to Yahoo Sports trying to understand the rationale. If the Astros were allowed to monitor another team’s dugout in-game without penalty, one wondered, shouldn’t every team be allowed to do the same? If the Astros were so concerned with opponents’ nefariousness, another said, why did they send a kid in his early 20s whose role with the team is opaque and not simply request MLB send a security professional to examine the dugout from the same spot and ensure everything is above board? Most of all, taking at face value the Astros’ explanation for using McLaughlin, if there is a rule forbidding in-game technology to help steal signs, why is a team allowed to use in-game technology to investigate whether its opponent is illegally stealing signs?

We can answer at least a couple of Passan’s questions here. First, there is no official rule that bars sign-stealing. There’s no such provision in the Major League Rules, and there’s no such rule in the Official Baseball Rules. There’s also no provision in either concerning the use of technology to monitor another team. In short, there isn’t a rule covering this. David Schoenfield summarized the state of the rules in this area last year, after the Red Sox and Yankees famously tangled over the Apple Watch incident.

It is not illegal to steal signs. There is no rule against it, and certain players and coaches excel at the art. There is, however, a directive dating to 2001 that prohibits the use of electronic devices in the dugout or the use of binoculars. The use of the Apple Watch would clearly violate this directive.

That directive, it should be noted, isn’t publicly available, so we don’t know what its scope is. But MLB hasn’t exactly clamped down on the use of binoculars since then — and note that Schoenfield says that the Apple Watch in the dugout violated the directive. That’s because the directive evidently concerns the use of electronic devices in the dugout. McLaughlin, of course, was not in the dugout. So it is entirely possible — and I’d even say probable — that there isn’t technically a rule against what McLaughlin did, which explains MLB’s decision to wave it away.

There are two problems with this resolution, however. First, there’s no clear line regarding what use of electronics is and isn’t permissible — besides, perhaps, inside the dugout walls. That can lead to uncomfortable situations, like this one earlier this year in which the Astros found themselves on the other side of the issue.

An Astros official confronted a Yankees employee operating a high-tech camera during their late-May series at Yankee Stadium, leveling a charge of cheating and threatening that the culprit would be barred from working in the major leagues for life.

The matter was quickly defused when the Yankees proved that the Commissioner’s Office already had given its blessing for use of the camera.

And what about non-electronic means?

This is not the first investigation into the Astros’ attempts to gain competitive advantages this season, three sources told Yahoo Sports. During a late-August game against Oakland, A’s players noticed Astros players clapping in the dugout before pitches and believed they were relaying stolen signs to pitchers in the batter’s box, sources said. The A’s called the league, which said it would investigate the matter. It’s unclear what the result of the investigation was or whether it remains ongoing. Two major league players said they have witnessed the Astros hitting a trash can in the dugout in recent years and believe it is a way to relay signals to hitters. The Los Angeles Dodgers also believed the Astros were stealing signs during the World Series last season, according to two sources.

Remember, however, that there is no rule against sign-stealing generally. And that means that so long as the clapping or trash can signals were non-electronic, the Astros are technically not violating any rules. And that leads us to the second problem with MLB’s ruling: McLaughlin arguably broke the law. That’s because of something called a license. Not the driver’s license kind. It’s something else.

In the British common law (and, again, this oversimplifies things), there are many different types of ways to legally enter real property. Most often, you think of leases (when you rent a property, or essentially “buy” the right to possess that property for a limited period). But there’s a more limited type of access right called a “license.” Essentially, a license is when an owner allows you a short-term access to a property for a limited purpose. When you go to the movie theater and buy a ticket, you’ve purchased a license to be present for the duration of the movie. It’s similar with a baseball game: by buying a ticket, you purchase the right to be present in the stadium for the duration of the baseball game. If you were to get in without the license (i.e., without buying a ticket), you’d be trespassing. If you stay afterwards to build a yurt, you’re also trespassing, because the license doesn’t allow you to build a yurt whilst there. A media credential is similar. With it, a writer or photographer can do their job. What they can’t do is build a yurt.

Now, there are a few things that a license allows. It allows you to watch the game, of course, but it isn’t limited to just that. It allows you to eat, and use the washroom, and walk around the stadium. But there are limitations on what you can do while there, and it’s reasonable to assume that espionage isn’t one of them. In other words, it’s likely a violation of the license agreement to enter the stadium and begin recording the game for the purposes of relaying data to one of the dugouts.

It’s not, of course, that simple. Teams allow advance scouts into games, for instance, and they aren’t exactly there for pleasure (although watching a baseball game is undoubtedly pleasurable). But at the same time, advance scouts aren’t directly impacting the game they are watching. (I am well aware that this is not the case at the quantum level.) Instead, advance scouts are watching the game like you and I are; they are just recording the information differently. McLaughlin, on the other hand, wasn’t there to watch the game, and he wasn’t a team employee. In theory, then, he was just a trespasser.

I highly doubt that the Red Sox or Indians will press charges. But it is something about which teams should be cognizant. There is a line past which surveillance of an opponent may well become illegal, depending on who the spy is and where they are situated. The Astros may have gotten lucky this time.


The Ties That Bind the Red Sox and Dodgers

Given that the Dodgers have won 20 pennants and the Red Sox 13, and that the two teams have combined to make 25 trips to the postseason during the Wild Card era, it seems improbable that this World Series will be just their second meeting in the Fall Classic — and more than a century since their first. Both franchises have endured ups and downs over the decades, but in general have been among the majors’ most successful, with the Dodgers owning the third-highest winning percentage since 1901 (.526) and the Red Sox the fifth-highest (.519).

What follows is an exploration of nine shared aspects of the two teams’ rich histories, listed in vaguely chronological order. Not all of them will come to bear directly upon the action, but for a sport and an event where the present is always linked to the past, it’s worth keeping these relationships in mind.

1916: The Original Matchup

The Red Sox were one of the nascent American League’s most successful teams, winning six pennants in the Junior Circuit’s first 18 years and going undefeated in five World Series during that span: 1903 (the inaugural one, against the Pirates), 1912 (against the Giants), 1915 (against the Phillies), 1916 (against the Dodgers), and 1918 (against the Cubs). (John McGraw’s Giants refused to play them in 1904, and so there was no World Series.) As for the Dodgers, they began life as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association in 1884 and were known variously (and unofficially) as the Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. They enjoyed some success in the 19th century, winning the 1889 AA pennant and the 1890, 1899, and 1900 NL ones, but they didn’t win their first of the 20th century until 1916, when they were known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson (a moniker that bore special significance to this scribe and expectant father a century later). Not until 1932 did they officially become the Dodgers, though a program from the 1916 World Series did bill them that way:

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Elegy for ’18 – Pittsburgh Pirates

They’re contenders! Or wait, they’re not. No, they actually are! And… it’s gone. In 2018, the Pirates experienced a season of dramatic highs and lows only to end up with basically a .500 record, as if Odysseus had endured war and other dangers simply to end his journey at an Olive Garden.

The Setup

In a lot of ways, the Pirates are a bit of a cautionary tale for rebuilding teams. You can be smart, careful, forward-thinking, but if too many things go unexpectedly awry or you don’t push ahead at the right moment, your team’s peak can still be rather short-lived.

That’s not to say the Pirates are without accomplishment, having made three straight playoff appearances from 2013 to -15, the team’s first since they were giving a regular paycheck to a prime-age slugger by the name of Barry Lamar Bonds. The team of Frank Coonelly and Neal Huntington largely reversed the effects produced by 15 years of mismanagement from the Dave Littlefield and Cam Bonifay eras. Even when the team struggled in 2016-17, they never descended to the level of hapless joke, as had previously been the case.

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Sunday Notes: Will Flemming is Next Up in the PawSox Pipeline

Gary Cohen (Mets), Dave Flemming (Giants), Andy Freed (Rays), Aaron Goldsmith (Mariners), Dave Jaegler (Nationals), Jeff Levering (Brewers), and Don Orsillo (Padres) share something in common. Each began broadcasting for a big-league team after honing his play-by-play skills with the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox. The pipeline runs deeper still. Dan Hoard (Bengals) and Bob Socci (Patriots) came to the NFL via the PawSox radio booth.

There’s a good chance that group will grow in the not-too-distant future. Will Flemming — Dave Flemming’s younger brother — has been calling PawSox games for the past four seasons, and many in the industry feel he’s of MLB quality.

He passed an important test this summer. Filling in for Tim Neverett, who was away for his father’s funeral, Flemming was alongside Joe Castiglione when the Red Sox hosted the Phillies on July 30. The game was a thriller, with Boston winning 2-1 in 13 innings.

“There were no low lights,” Flemming.said of his MLB debut “Not one. All of us in this profession dream of that moment, and to have it realized in that ballpark, with this Red Sox team against a good Philadelphia team — Price versus Nola — it was more than I ever could have dreamt of.”

He’s been imagining the moment for years. Despite his relatively young age — Flemming has yet to reach the big 4-0 — he’s no neophyte. His journey has included stints in Lancaster, Potomac, and Indianapolis. At each stop along the way — this is something all minor-league broadcasters can attest to — the frills have been few and far between. Read the rest of this entry »


Those Left Behind With a Piece of the Journey

Here is one list of names: Matt Albers, Chase Anderson, Jett Bandy, Jacob Barnes, Ji-Man ChoiOliver Drake, Eric Sogard, Brent Suter, Eric Thames, and Jonathan Villar.

Here’s another: Scott Alexander, J.T. Chargois, Tony Cingrani, Kyle Farmer, Josh Fields, Logan Forsythe, Wilmer Font, Corey Seager, Ross Stripling, and Chase Utley.

These are the 20 men — ten Dodgers and ten Brewers — who appeared on their clubs’ 2018 Opening Day rosters but will not — for one reason or another — appear in any of the seven games of this year’s National League Championship Series. One of the two teams they played for this year will advance to the World Series tonight, and will do so without these men. And yet, for some portion of the season at least, there they were, willing their teams along. And so, let us celebrate a few moments in which these guys were glorious, before the inevitable offseason cries of “That guy was a Dodger?” and “Oh! I’d forgotten about him!” set in.

Villar Takes Harvey Deep (+.238 WPA)

Unless you’re a Milwaukee fan, you might not even remember that Jonathan Villar was a Brewer this year. I’d understand. He spent the second half of the season toughing it out for the Orioles, who are best forgotten, and in my mind he is still most closely associated with the Astros. But the fact is that, yes, Villar was indeed a Milwaukee Brewer until July 31st, and on April 14th he was tasked with playing second base for the Crew against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Harvey, brilliant in his home whites, set down Lorenzo Cain, Eric Thames, and Ryan Braun in order in the first, but then ran into trouble almost immediately in the second, yielding a double to Travis Shaw, before walking Domingo Santana ahead of an Eric Sogard strikeout. That brought Villar — then the owner of a .298 batting average (and a .298 OBP, but let’s pay that no mind) — to the plate. Harvey’s first pitch, a slider, missed badly down and in, and Villar wisely didn’t offer at it. On Harvey’s second pitch, however, Villar flicked his bat out and, almost apologetically, took Harvey deep down the left-field line. Here it is:

I think we can all agree that that was a nice moment for Jonathan Villar.

Chase Utley up past his bedtime in the desert (+.350 WPA)

It feels a little odd to include a guy like Utley on a list like this, which is meant to celebrate the little guy, but he meets all the criteria so I suppose we’ll let him in on a technicality. On April 2nd, which was the Dodgers’ first road game of the season, they played 15 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They were a good 15 innings, too — the Dodgers went up 3-0 in the top of the first, only to see the Diamondbacks tie it with runs in the first, third, and fourth; then the Dodgers added on in each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth to make it 6-3, only to have Arizona tie it in again the ninth and send it to extras. The game proceeded at 6-6 for five innings of taut bonus baseball, until — in the top of the 15th, and presumably somewhat less fresh than he’d been five hours before, when the game began — Chase Utley came to the plate with Cody Bellinger on second, and proceeded to do this:

The Dodgers went on to lose 8-7. But that was nice, Chase.

Scott Alexander shuts it down (+.372 WPA)

Scott Alexander had kind of an anonymous season, as far as seasons by 6’2″ lefties go. His ERA was 3.68. His FIP was 3.57. Both numbers were fine. Scott Alexander was fine. Scott Alexander is not on the Dodgers’ NLCS roster. But on July 13th, he was asked by his manager to go out in the ninth inning of a one-run game against the Los Angeles Angels of Angel Stadium in Anaheim and close things out. Being presumably in search of something to get the ol’ heart moving, he proceeded to allow a double to Shohei Ohtani, which was understandable, and then a single to José Briceño, which was not. That single brought the Dodgers’ win expectancy down from 91 percent at the start of the inning, to 63 percent, when David Fletcher stepped up to the plate with one out. Which made it rather relieving for reliever Alexander that David Fletcher promptly did this:

Ji-Man Choi has a good night (+.463 WPA)

Sometimes you get a lot of WPA because you come to the plate with the game on the line in late innings and do something ordinary, like hit a single or draw a walk. And sometimes you get a lot of WPA because you come to the plate in some random anonymous middle inning and do something very good, like drive in four runs with one swing of the bat. That latter thing is what Ji-Man Choi did against Luis Garcia in the sixth inning of an otherwise unexciting game between the Phillies and the Brewers. This was Choi’s final swing as a Milwaukee Brewer–he was traded to Tampa Bay the next day:

Bonus Jake Arrieta Is Mad content in the above.

Kyle Farmer Drives in Barnes (+.678 WPA)

Kyle Farmer was, before the 2018 season began, featured in articles on this site that referred to him as, variously, one of “seven scrubs” and a “fringe prospect.” Neither of those characterizations are necessarily untrue, but they also failed to anticipate this one wonderful moment from June 19th, when Farmer came to the plate with runners on first and second in a game his team trailed by a run. It was the first game of a doubleheader the Cubs and Dodgers played that day, and Cubs pitcher Justin Wilson was a little bit rattled. After battling to a 2-2 count, and with an almost-casual delivery, Wilson left a 90 mph cutter just a little bit too far over the plate, and within seconds the Dodgers were ahead, as it turned out for good:

Eric Thames Sinks Wade Davis (+.822 WPA)

Here it is: The single most impactful moment by a Dodger or Brewer not featured in tonight’s game, and it’s a classic. The Brewers entered the bottom of the ninth inning of their August 3rd game against the Colorado Rockies down 3-2. They trailed the Cubs in the NL Central standings by one game. The Cubs had won that afternoon behind a José Quintana dandy, and a loss would have put the Brewers two games back headed into the long month of August. Which all made this ninth inning rather important for Milwaukee. Wade Davis managed to retire Mike Moustakas swinging, then walked Jesús Aguilar and Travis Shaw in order before retiring Jonathan Schoop on a pop fly. That brought Thames to the plate — still struggling, as he had been all season, and about to enter a spiral that would pull his average from .244 that day to .219 on September 30th. He did, however, have one more good swing in him:

Villar, Utley, Alexander, Choi, Farmer, and Thames. I’d wager they’ll be watching the game tonight. They helped these teams get to where they are right now. They’ll own a little bit of whatever celebration comes next.


Adventures in Playoff Leverage and Win Probability Added

Playoff baseball is interesting as a concept. After a regular season of 162 games to determine the game’s best teams, the sport’s champion is then determined by a few best-of-five and best-of-seven series. It’s not unlike asking the top 10 finishers of a marathon to run a 5K in order to decide who should receive first place. The sprint-like nature of the postseason is baseball’s Theatre of the Absurd (especially where small sample sizes are concerned): entertaining and a bit preposterous at the same time.

One of the areas where the effect is most pronounced is in the realm of Win Probability Added (WPA) and Leverage Index (LI). Championships are on the line and the lens of the postseason only serves to magnify what would be tense moments even on a quiet night in July. A big WPA day turns a player into a legend, while going the opposite direction turns a player into the goat. But not every intriguing event with a high WPA or LI is a starring turn. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the stranger WPA- and LI-related things we’ve seen during the League Championship Series.

Caleb Ferguson and Playoff Stress

Caleb Ferguson was a 38th-round pick out of high school for the Dodgers in 2014. A starter through his whole minor-league career — he recorded only three relief appearances in the minors prior to this year — he found a home in the Dodgers’ bullpen this year. While he doesn’t have an incredible arsenal — Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel graded his fastball as a 50, curveball as a 45, and changeup as a 45 — he put up solid numbers as a reliever, striking out over 30% of batters and produced a 2.55 xFIP. After that solid rookie season, Ferguson joined the playoff roster as one of three lefties — the other two being Alex Wood and Julio Urias — in the Los Angeles bullpen.

Generally speaking, he didn’t pitch in high-leverage situations this season. With an average leverage index of 1.08 (Overall average is 1), he ranked 123rd in baseball for relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. In the League Championship Series, however, things have been a little different.

2018 LCS Leverage Index Leaders
Player pLI WPA/TBF
Kenley Jansen 2.48 0.031
Caleb Ferguson 2.14 0.017
Jeremy Jeffress 2.09 -0.026
Junior Guerra 1.87 0.004
Ryan Brasier 1.66 0.018

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The Astros’ Doomsday Scenario

The Houston Astros won the World Series last year. They had a really good chance of winning it again this year. Unfortunately for the team, a really good chance in the playoffs still topped out below a 50/50 shot, and they ran into a really good Red Sox team that played well. Winning back-to-back championships is hard. No team has done it since the Yankees won three in a row from 1998 to 2000. Even making it to the World Series in back-to-back seasons is difficult. Since that Yankees’ team made it to the series again in 2001, only the Phillies in 2008 and 2009, the Rangers in 2010 and 2011, and the Royals in 2014 and 2015 have participated in the World Series in back-to-back years. The odds were in the Astros’ favor and simultaneously stacked against them. Always take the field.

The Astros are incredibly well set up for the future. In Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa, the team has not only three legitimate stars but potential MVP candidates. This 2018 season was not a good one for the 24-year-old Correa, whose lower-back problems sidelined him at times and rendered him an average player when he was in the lineup. Consider how well the Astros persevered, though, despite lacking the services of six-win player. Kris Bryant of the Cubs had a similar season, for example, and the Cubs’ offense struggled to score runs, eventually losing in the Wild Card Game and firing their hitting coach. The Dodgers were huge favorites in the National League West. Without Corey Seager, however, they struggled to 90 wins and a 163rd game for the division after acquiring a similar player for half the season in the form of Manny Machado.

Alex Bregman emerged as a star, Jose Altuve put together a very good season despite his own injury issues, and George Springer turned in another good season. On offense, the team took a step back from its MLB-best 123 wRC+ in 2017, but still put together the fourth-best offense (110 wRC+) in the majors. The downturn in offense made little difference, as the pitching stepped up. A full year of ace Justin Verlander plus a trade for co-ace Gerrit Cole paced the team with 13 combined WAR, while Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., and Charlie Morton all put together above average seasons. Those five pitchers made 152 of the team’s 162 starts. The rotation’s 22.5 WAR placed them just behind Cleveland’s and meant the bullpen had to cover just 499.2 innings. Houston didn’t have a problem with middle relievers because they never had to use them.

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David Price Sheds an Albatross

To date, there have been 71 pitchers who have thrown at least 60 postseason innings in their careers. Entering Wednesday, David Price owned a 5.42 ERA, the second-highest of the bunch:

Highest Career Postseason ERAs
RK Player Yrs IP HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 ERA FIP
1 Tim Wakefield 1992-2008 (9) 72.0 1.6 4.8 6.8 6.75 5.63
2 David Price 2008-2018 (9) 79.2 1.7 2.5 8.1 5.42 4.67
3 Al Leiter 1993-2005 (5) 81.2 1.0 4.0 7.5 4.63 4.29
4 Charles Nagy 1995-1999 (5) 84.2 1.5 3.2 5.8 4.46 5.11
5t Vida Blue 1971-1975 (5) 64.2 0.8 3.2 6.5 4.31 4.02
5t CC Sabathia 2001-2018 (9) 129.1 1.0 4.4 8.4 4.31 4.30
7 Kevin Brown 1997-2004 (3) 81.2 0.9 3.4 7.8 4.19 3.87
8 Clayton Kershaw 2008-2018 (8) 140.0 1.2 2.6 9.8 4.11 3.66
9 Matt Morris 2000-2005 (5) 73.1 1.1 4.2 5.4 4.05 4.99
10 Zack Greinke 2011-2017 (5) 67.0 1.2 2.0 7.9 4.03 3.86
11 Livan Hernandez 1997-2007 (4) 68.0 0.8 4.8 6.2 3.97 4.55
12 Andy Pettitte 1995-2012 (14) 276.2 1.0 2.5 6.0 3.81 4.16
13 Jack Morris 1984-1992 (4) 92.1 0.9 3.1 6.2 3.80 4.12
14 David Cone 1988-2000 (8) 111.1 1.0 4.7 7.6 3.80 4.48
15 Don Gullett 1970-1977 (6) 93.0 0.5 3.7 5.8 3.77 3.83
SOURCE: Stats LLC
Minimum 60 innings. Numbers in parentheses are years appearing in postseason games.

There are some very good pitchers in the above group, including one who’s already in the Hall of Fame for his, uh, postseason reputation and a few more who have a very good shot. The best of them, Clayton Kershaw, has been dogged by inconsistent performances in the postseason, but he’s had big moments as well, including Wednesday’s NLCS Game Five performance against the Brewers.

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The Red Sox Do Have an All-Time Outfield

Let’s try, for a moment, to forget all about Game 4’s fan-interference controversy. It was a moment that looms incredibly large, absolutely, but it was also just one moment of the game, a moment that occurred in the bottom of the first. Maybe Jose Altuve was robbed of a home run by Joe West. Maybe Jose Altuve was going to be robbed of a home run by Mookie Betts. It didn’t resolve itself cleanly, but, what can you do? The rest of the game played out. The Astros even took the lead. It wound up as one of the longest nine-inning games in baseball history, but it didn’t feel like it dragged, because it included so much action.

We should consider some of that other action. And we might as well start at the very end. With two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Alex Bregman swung at Craig Kimbrel’s first pitch and sent a shallow line drive into left. Andrew Benintendi charged, and he laid it all on the line. Benintendi made a do-or-die dive attempt. The Red Sox did. The Astros died.

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The Red Sox’ Unsung Heroes

During his tenure as an MLB executive, Dave Dombrowski has earned a reputation for failing to build quality bullpens. Currently the president of baseball operations with the Red Sox, that reputation grew during his time with the Tigers and has followed him to Boston. Dombrowski took over Detroit in 2002. In 2003, the team lost 119 games. From 2004 to -15, Dombrowski’s Tigers won an average of 83 games per year, made two World Series appearances, qualified for the ALCS four times, and reached the playoffs five times overall. Those teams routinely had the worst bullpen in baseball, however.

The graph below shows average wins per year and reliever WAR from 2004 to -15.

At the end of the 2015 season, when Dombrowski came to a Boston organization with a great farm system, he shored up at least one inning’s worth of bullpen by trading for Craig Kimbrel. Dombrowski’s reputation might have come with him to Boston, but the Red Sox have gotten solid performance from their relievers the last few seasons.

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Eric Longenhagen Chat: 10/18/18

2:01
Eric A Longenhagen: Hey there, everyone. Time to chat.

2:01
RS: Giants catcher in the AFL, Matt Winn, profile good enough to be a major league backup?

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Several caveats when evaluating AFL catchers: they’re probably tired, they’re catching a whole new staff of guys, they’re catching once or twice a week. So the error bar around evals of catchers here is greater. Having said that, I’d answer your question with a ‘no’

2:03
Jay: Should the A’s let Lowrie walk and give Barreto a shot at 2B, or trade Barreto for pitching?

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: I’d hold onto Barreto

2:03
Pip: Who’s the better prospect moving forward, the National’s, or the Phillies’ Luis Garcia?

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The Gambit Versus the Ace

Early in this NLCS, when the defining feature of it seemed to be the randomness of Brandon Woodruff’s Game One homer off Clayton Kershaw and Wade Miley’s Game Two double off Hyun-Jin Ryu, it was easy to scoff at the hype equating the series to a chess match between managers Craig Counsell and Dave Roberts. As the series has unfolded, however, watching Counsell handle the Brewers’ pitching staff in a fashion largely without precedent in postseason baseball and Roberts use the Dodgers’ roster’s depth and versatility to counter with “line changes” (in the hockey sense) to secure the platoon advantage in as many spots as possible has made for a compelling accompaniment to the action on the field.

Never was that more true than in Game Five, when Counsell’s shockingly quick hook of Miley in favor of Woodruff — echoing a tactic from a World Series nearly a century ago — and Roberts’ persistence in sticking with Kershaw made for the series’ starkest contrast yet. Ultimately, the Dodgers outlasted the Brewers for a 5-2 win and a 3-2 series edge.

The wily, left-handed Miley had pitched brilliantly in Game Two, retiring 17 of the 19 Dodgers he faced while helping to keep the Dodgers scoreless through six. Only after he departed did Los Angeles’s offense show signs of life, ultimately breaking through for a 4-3 win. When Counsell announced that Miley would start Game FIve on three days of rest, the choice seemed logical given the team’s loose definition of a “rotation,” because nobody expected seven innings or 100 pitches. Four innings, give or take, made perfect sense, even with the staff having been stretched for 13 innings in their Game Four loss.

Roberts, whose all-righty starting lineup from Game Two floundered against Miley, sensed an early move might be afoot and guarded towards an early change to a righty by starting two lefties and rejiggering his outfield:

Dodgers NLCS Lineup Comparison
# Game 2 Bats Game 5 Bats
1 Chris Taylor, CF R Cody Bellinger, CF L
2 Justin Turner, 3B R Justin Turner, 3B R
3 David Freese, 1B R David Freese, 1B R
4 Manny Machado, SS R Manny Machado, SS R
5 Matt Kemp, LF R Max Muncy, 2B L
6 Enrique Hernandez, 2B R Chris Taylor, LF R
7 Yasiel Puig, RF R Enrique Hernandez, RF R
8 Austin Barne,s C R Austin Barnes, C R
9 Hyun-Jin Ryu, P R Clayton Kershaw, P L

Muncy, who hit for a 141 wRC+ against southpaws, was starting at second base for the first time since September 11 and just the 14th time all season. Bellinger, Tuesday night’s hero, managed just an 88 wRC+ against southpaws this year.

As it turned out, Miley threw just five pitches, walking Bellinger and getting the hook — not for injury or performance reasons, but because that had been Counsell’s plan all along — to switch to the right-handed Woodruff, who had thrown two impressive, perfect innings in Game One. The idea to bring Miley back to start Game Six in Milwaukee. It was a plan so secret that only the two pitchers, Counsell, and his staff knew ahead of time; Woodruff couldn’t even tell his family, and players such as Lorenzo Cain professed to be caught off guard.

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A Brief Note on Supposed Home-Run Robbery and Certainty

I like the postseason but on this score it fails: it precludes us from saying anything too definitive about baseball broadly understood. The sample size is just too small. Guys are tired. There are so many pitchers, and a lot of them are used in funny ways. We can’t feel secure that the knowledge gleaned there means anything. Still, October does manage to reveal some truths. For all its oddity, it seeks out certainties. It has replay.

To wit, as Jeff detailed Wednesday night’s ALCS game featured a controversial Joe West fan-interference call on a would-be Jose Altuve home run. The call was challenged but was allowed to stand because replay officials couldn’t determine if the fans entered the field of play to prevent Mookie Betts from catching the ball. (If Betts were judged to have entered the stands, the interference question would be moot, under rule 6.01(e) of the Official Baseball Rules 2018 edition, and also the general principle that teenagers in horror films ought to know better than to go into the basement.)

Here are the fans in question. An obvious bunch of leaning scamps, but a blurry bunch at a tough angle.

The officials’ struggle to reach a definitive conclusion, to find “clear and convincing evidence,” was largely the result of this man, whose body happened to block the one view of the play the replay center needed most.

It is here, in our failed quest to be sure, that we learn something. We find that it is possible to be simultaneously quite good and quite bad at one’s job.

Quite good, because surely displaying a close, keen interest in the goings on at the wall is importantly necessary to assuring the physical safety of both players and fans; quite bad, because, entirely by accident, this security man has robbed us of our ability to be sure, at precisely the moment we crave being sure the most. We are secure in body but unmoored in the mind, and him? He is Schrödinger’s Employee of the Month.

Betts maybe wasn’t interfered with. Joe West probably got the initial call wrong; sometimes we can hazard a confident guess. But absent certainty on either score, there is some value, especially in times when we can claim to know so little, in confirming that humans are possessed of multitudes, even if only in small samples.


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 10/18/18

12:03
Jay Jaffe: Hey hey, folks. Welcome to another edition of my October chat. Forgive me for being a bit late and a bit frazzled. The impact of this crazy-ass postseason on the Jaffe-Span household — late nights and an accommodating but not entirely unforgiving 2-year-old — is taking its toll. We’ll see if I can give you a few good innings, though.

12:03
Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: Two teams are a win away from the World Series. Which is more likely to choke?

12:06
Jay Jaffe: I don’t think you can throw a choke label on a team up 3-2 losing the final two games on the road in the same way that you could with regards to a team up 3-1 with the cushion of going home even if they lose Game 5.

But I’m not really a fan of the term “choke” in general. These are four excellent teams with strengths and weaknesses and very skilled players who nonetheless have their vulnerabilities. The routes they take may confuse us but I’ve seen enough baseball that no outcome from among the remaining series would surprise me.

12:07
stever20: why is Kershaw so hot and cold in the playoffs these last 3 years?  When he’s great like yesterday he’s great (1.13 ERA last 3 years).  When he’s bad, he’s awful(7.63 ERA last 3 years).

12:09
Jay Jaffe: Why does anyone have good days and bad days? How the hell does any pitcher survive throwing the ball hard a hundred or so times a night to various locations while avoiding discernable patterns against skilled hitters outfitted with incredible means of decoding those patterns?

Baseball is hard. That’s why Kershaw, Price and anybody else in October struggles at times.

12:09
Wes: Bregman or Benintendi over the next 10 years?

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The Fan Interference Call Was Probably Good

Let’s just get this out of the way now: That sucked. I mean, the game between the Astros and Red Sox was great, and it couldn’t have ended in a more dramatic fashion, but ultimately, the Red Sox won by two runs. And, in the bottom of the first inning, a controversial call and replay review might well have cost the Astros two runs. Yes, you’re right, the game would’ve played out differently had that call been made differently. We have no idea what that alternate game would’ve looked like. But the Astros have been pushed to the brink now, and a two-run homer would’ve been a pretty big deal. No one ever wants to think a game and season were damaged by umpires. It’s a very unsatisfying kind of disappointment, when the outcomes aren’t solely determined by the players themselves.

I don’t think we’re ever going to know for sure whether the right call was made. As such, it’s the sort of thing that’s going to linger, at least if the Astros fail to advance. Immediately, this has turned into a great What If?, and a target of Astros fan rage. Yet having reviewed all the evidence, I’ve come to the conclusion the call was good. And by that I mean, I think it was more good than bad. In the absence of anything conclusive, some amount of mystery is everlasting. But if you are to render judgment, you go whichever way you’re leaning. I’m leaning toward fan interference.

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A Brief Survey of Postseason Paranoia

The story on the field is that we’ve got a couple of excellent league championship series. The story off the field has been different from that. Yesterday’s headline, from Danny Picard:

Metro Exclusive: Astros may have been cheating in Game 1 against Red Sox

This isn’t about a sunscreen or pine-tar thing. Teams don’t care about that, because their own players partake. This is about a sign-stealing thing. The Indians tipped off the Red Sox about an Astros employee with a camera by the dugout. It seems super suspicious. The Astros, for their part, have insisted the guy was there to make sure the opponent wasn’t cheating. It’s a weird and complicated story. There are other elements, as well, but I’m not going to get into them. Major League Baseball considers the matter closed. The league says it’s taken steps in the playoffs to try to make sure teams aren’t cheating via technology. You can believe they’re doing enough, or you can not believe it. I can’t pretend to have all the necessary information.

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Manny Machado Gets Dirty

Last night, Manny Machado scored the decisive run in an extra-inning walkoff victory to tie the NLCS at two games a piece and put the Dodgers within two wins of the World Series. When discussing Machado and last night’s game, we’d ideally be focusing on his key hit, his smart and aggressive take of second base on a wild pitch, and his impressive dash from second to home on a single to right field that barely beat a strong throw from Christian Yelich.

We aren’t talking about that, though. We’re talking instead about a play in the 10th inning of last night’s game on which Manny Machado made contact with Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar:

In real time, it looked really awkward, but not necessarily malicious. After the game, the Brewers said the play was dirty or insinuated as such by questioning Machado’s general attitude about playing hard. From the MLB.com story:

“It’s a dirty play by a dirty player,” Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich said.

“It looked like it,” Aguilar said. “I’ve known Manny for many years and I don’t know why he would act like that.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell threw shade at Machado when asked if the play went beyond the grounds of hard play.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.”

Machado didn’t really back down either:

“If that’s dirty, that’s dirty,” Machado said. “I don’t know, call it what you want. I play baseball. I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments. I can’t do nothing about that.”

Let’s start by giving Machado the benefit of the doubt and assume, for sake of argument, that it was just a weird play. In that spirit, let’s take a few closer looks at it to see what kind of determinations we might be able to make. Here’s another angle from directly behind Machado.

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Jose Reyes Has Been Honored for His Off-Field Behavior

Known primarily for his work as the former executive director of the MLBPA, Marvin Miller was an NYU-educated economist by training. His efforts as union head eventually led to the elimination of the reserve clause and start of free agency for MLB players. It was Miller who negotiated the players’ very first collective bargaining agreement, brought arbitration to professional sports, and did all of this despite contending with anti-semitism from the team owners on the other side of the bargaining table and a disability leaving him with limited use of his right arm. Miller was called by Hank Aaron “as important to the history of baseball as Jackie Robinson.”

In light of Miller’s relevance to the livelihoods of its members, it’s not surprising that the MLBPA makes some effort not only to preserve his legacy but also to honor those who continue it. To that end, the union gives an award every year for off-field service and community leadership. The Marvin Miller Man of the Year Award, started in 1997 and rebooted in 2000, is considered “one of baseball’s top honors[.]” The award is based on popular vote by the players, with the recipient being the teammate whom the voters “most respect based on his leadership on the field and in the community.” Each team has its own top vote-getter honored by the MLBPA.

In 2017, the list of top vote-getters contained an impressive collection of players notable not just for their exploits on the field, but for their charity work off of it, as well.

Among [2017]’s nominees are players involved in providing clean water and other necessities to poverty-stricken villages in remote parts of the world, supporting the needs of servicemen and women and their families, building schools, ensuring clothing and meals for inner-city poor,  raising funds for research and respite to cancer victims and their families,  rescuing abandoned and mistreated animals,  and sending truckloads of emergency supplies to victims of natural disasters.

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Cody Bellinger Wasn’t Clutch Until He Was

Postseason baseball has not come easily to Cody Bellinger. After setting an NL rookie record with 39 home runs in 2017, the then-22-year-old endured ups and downs last October, coming up big in the Dodgers’ Division and League Championship clinchers but going 4-for-28 with a record setting 17 strikeouts in the World Series. Those struggles had continued this fall, in the form of a 1-for-21 skid through Game Four of the NLCS and a spot on the bench for Game Four, as lefty Gio Gonzalez started for the Brewers. Nonetheless, in a five-hour, 15-minute slog that he didn’t even enter until the sixth inning, Bellinger played the hero, first with a diving catch on a potential extra-base hit off the bat of Lorenzo Cain in the 10th inning and then a walk-off RBI single in the 13th, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 victory.

The hit was actually Bellinger’s second of the night. His first came in the eighth inning, when he countered the Brewers’ defensive shift with an opposite-field single off the nearly unhittable Josh Hader, a Nice Piece of Hitting.

Bellinger, despite his pull tendencies, ranked ninth in the majors on grounders against the shift during the regular season, with a 98 wRC+. His 111 wRC+ overall on balls in play against the shift ranked 24th among the 123 hitters with at least 100 PA under such circumstances, which is to say that he’s fared well in this capacity — among the many other ways he’s fared well — despite this October slump.

Paired with Max Muncy’s leadoff single earlier in the inning, it was the first time all year that the Brewers’ fireman yielded multiple hits to left-handed batters in the same outing. The Dodgers couldn’t convert there — more on which momentarily — but Bellinger would only come up bigger.

Here’s Bellinger’s catch off Cain’s liner, which led off the 10th inning against Kenley Jansen. According to Statcast, it had a hit probability of 94%:

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Where It Went Wrong for Clayton Kershaw Last Time

Five years from now, when we think about Game One of the NLCS between the Dodgers and Brewers, I’m guessing we’ll probably think about the ninth inning: taut, suspenseful, and fundamentally baseball-y in the best way. If the Brewers go on to win the World Series, completing the job the 2008-11 versions of the club never could and exorcising some of the demons still haunting the area formerly occupied by County Stadium (which is actually just the parking lot right outside Miller Park), that ninth inning will be remembered as a key step along the way. I hope it is. The ninth inning was The One Where the Brewers Hung On. But I hope that fond memory is not eclipsed, at least today, by our shared memory of the third inning: The One Where Clayton Kershaw Couldn’t Hit His Target.

For the sake of narrative appeal, it would have been ideal for Kershaw to have entered the inning all youth and innocence, grown in stature by vanquishing a series of increasingly insalubrious foes, and then fallen to an antagonist at the dramatic climax of the tale.

That is not what happened, however. What happened instead is that Kershaw just began the inning by allowing a home run to Brandon Woodruff. Here is a picture of where Yasmani Grandal wanted the pitch that Woodruff ended up hitting out:

And here is a picture of where the ball ended up right before Woodruff blasted it into Toyota Territory™:

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