Archive for Featured Photo

David Price’s Playoff Problem Might Be a Cutter Problem

It’s perhaps easy to forget, given his postseason woes and the presence of a dominant left-handed rotation mate, but David Price remains, at age 33, among the premier starting pitchers in baseball. Price, in his career, owns a 3.34 FIP, 80 ERA-, and 82 FIP-. (For comparison’s sake, Justin Verlander is at a nearly identical 80 and 81, respectively.) Even in his injury-shortened 2018, Price still approached three wins, and his 24.5% strikeout rate in 2018 remains among top-25 marks in the major leagues.

Though he’s now a couple of years removed from his prime — during which he rattled off seven seasons of 4 WAR or more — he retains a five-pitch arsenal, three of which (fastball, cutter, and sinker) posted positive run values this year. He doesn’t throw as hard as he used to — Father Time is, after all, undefeated — but a 93 mph fastball and an above-average cutter and sinker should still be enough to get hitters out. They were, after all, during the regular season.

Except that, in his postseason career, David Price has posted a 133 ERA-, 115 FIP-, and -0.92 WPA. In 2018, in the postseason, Price has a 222 ERA- and 259 FIP-, “good” for a -0.38 WPA. In other words, David Price, regular-season ace, makes his teams worse in the playoffs. Price’s failures in the postseason are by now a well-known narrative. The Wall Street Journal‘s Brian Costa and Jared Diamond called Price’s playoff misery one of “the Great Mysteries of October Baseball.” After the Sox’ October 6 loss to the Yankees in the Division Series, Bob Nightengale openly wondered if Price would even start again in the playoffs.

Let me start by saying that I am very much a lawyer, and not what one might term a “sabermetrician.” In other words, I profess no great or singular skill, unlike Dan Szymborski or Jeff Sullivan or Jay Jaffe. What I do have, on the other hand, is a healthy curiosity for this game we call “baseball,” and more specifically why things happen the way they do. Lawyers like patterns and predictability. We dislike anomalies. David Price is an anomaly.

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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.


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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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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Catchers Aren’t Catching the Ball

This is a simple game.

You throw the ball.

You hit the ball.

You catch the ball.

You got it?

I didn’t have to look far and wide for the clips above. Every single one of them is from the first few games of the League Championship Series. Every team is represented, and the collection is hardly exhaustive. I’ve omitted many wild pitches and all of the postseason’s passed balls. So far, during the 2018 playoffs, here have been 24 of the former and six of the latter. Among postseasons since 2002, the current one has already produced the fourth-most wild pitches — with 10 or more games to go. Only once since 2004 have there been more passed balls than during this postseason.

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Elegy for ’18 – Philadelphia Phillies

“I love September, especially when we’re in it.”

Willie Stargell

“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

– Albert Camus

“@*%(#*&%.”

— Phillies fans, 9/18

The Setup

What precisely makes a dynasty is a point of some contention. Many believe that, however strong a run a team produces, if that run ends in something less than multiples titles, then the result can’t possibly be considered dynastic. I’m a little more liberal with the term than most, however, and I think the late-00s and early-10s version of the Phillies can rightly be regarded as a dynasty, simply for the length of time for which they remained one of the best clubs in the league. As for championships, they claimed just the one, but it’s also a lot easier to win the World Series when only two teams qualify for the playoffs, as was the case in baseball for a long time.

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The Most Unhittable Pitch Is in the Astros Bullpen

There are a lot of pitchers, right? There are a lot of pitchers, and, therefore, there are a lot of relievers. Some of them have long been great. Some of them have more recently been great. Others have just kind of hung around. Many of them are relatively anonymous. Ryan Pressly has been one of the more anonymous ones. He’s been in the majors since 2013, but we’ve almost never written about him here. Rian Watt did change that a month ago. He wrote a whole article about Pressly, who was dealt from the Twins to the Astros near the end of July.

Watt focused a lot on Pressly’s curveball. He’s been leaning heavily on that pitch, especially since arriving in Houston. Pressly, who’s a righty, throws a four-seam fastball, a curveball, and a slider. It’s an interesting mix for a reliever to have, and it’s further interesting how easily Pressly goes from one pitch to another. He’s not a one-pitch specialist. He’s not a two-pitch specialist. He mixes. He likes everything he throws.

He throws that slider more than a quarter of the time. He’s had a slider for a while. Most pitchers have. But there’s something different and special about Pressly’s slider today. Absolutely, the curveball is important. The fastball’s important, too. It all works together. But Pressly’s slider in 2018 has been baseball’s single most unhittable pitch. That’s measured by how infrequently it’s been hit.

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If Relegation Existed in Baseball


Elegy for ’18 – San Francisco Giants

With the Giants’ core likely entering its decline phase, a rebuild may be in the cards.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, even-year World Series wins. Goodnight, bowl of mush. Goodnight, even-year playoff appearances. Goodnight, Jeff Samardzija’s arm…

In 2018, the Giants beat out the Padres in the NL West. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much else.

The Setup

With three World Series championships over the decade and a fourth playoff appearance, it’s hard to have that much pity for the Giants, who have won more than their share of trophies.

Having aggressively spent after the 2015 season, signing Johnny Cueto and Samardzija in free agency just a week apart, the Giants can’t be blamed for lack of effort. The $251 million invested in the team that offseason was third in baseball. And it paid off, too, with Cueto and Samardzija combining for over 400 innings and 8.1 WAR, in addition to Madison Bumgarner, who had yet to start suffering a freak injury at the start of consecutive seasons.

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Scouting the Mesa/Gaston Workout

Marlins Park hosted three Cuban prospects — CF Victor Victor Mesa (our No. 1 international free agent on THE BOARD), RHP Sandy Gaston (No. 20), and OF Victor Mesa, Jr. (not ranked) — for a workout on Friday. The media was not allowed at this scouts-only event, but we’ve collected thoughts from some evaluators who attended the showcase, which featured a standard array of activities for a baseball workout, including a 60-yard dash, outfield drills, and some reps against live, Marlins instructional league pitching. We’ve compiled some thoughts from people who attended the workout below, as well as some of our own thoughts on what kind of bonuses talents like this typically command on the pool-capped, international-free-agent market.

Cuban prospects have sometimes undergone drastic physical transformations between the point at which they’ve last been observed in Cuba and their workouts for teams. Sometimes these changes are positive (as with Luis Robert, who looked like an Ancient Greek sculpture when he worked out for teams in the Dominican Republic in 2017) and sometimes they are not (Yasiel Puig’s living conditions made it impossible for him to remain in baseball shape for his eventual workout in Mexico), but this was not the case on Friday. Victor Victor Mesa, 22, looks to have retained the sort of physicality he possessed the last several years in Cuba. He ran his 60-yard dash in about 6.5 seconds (give or take a few hundredths of a second, depending on the stopwatch), which is in the 65-70 range on the 20-80 scale, and he’s a 60 runner in games as he was in the past, while his arm remains above average.

Mesa hit some balls out to his pull side during batting practice, showing 50-grade raw power, but he has a linear, contact-oriented swing that we think will lead to below-average power output in games. There’s no question he can hit, defend, and add value on the bases, but there’s real doubt about the game application of his power. In aggregate, it looks like an average to slightly below-average offensive profile on an above-average defender at a premium position. Scouts think Mesa is a low-risk, moderate impact prospect who should be ready for the big leagues relatively soon. He garners frequent comparisons to Cubs CF Albert Almora. There’s a chance Mesa has a three-win season or two at peak, but expectations are more of a solid 1.5- to 2.0-win type player. He’s a 45+ FV on our July 2nd version of THE BOARD, which would be somewhere in the 130 to 175 range overall in the minors.

Mesa’s talent would typically be valued between $5 million and $10 million (depending on market conditions when he became a free agent) in the prior, non-pooled international environment, and that would come with a matching tax for exceeding pool limitations, so call it about $15 million in a total outlay. That kind of money isn’t available on the July 2 market anymore. The lack of comparable talents still available at this point, however, could help Mesa earn a larger bonus than Shohei Ohtani ($2.3 mil) did last year, even though Mesa isn’t nearly as talented, because everyone with money left wants to land him. We consider the Marlins the favorites to do so.

Cuban righty Sandy Gaston, just 16, ranked 20th on our July 2nd board as the lowest 40 FV, and he was the clear second-most interesting prospect at the event. Kiley saw him in February when he topped out at 97 mph and flashed an average curve and change, but Gaston also sent four balls to the backstop in a one-inning showcase against other 16-year-olds. Last Friday, Gaston worked 94-97 with similar secondary stuff, but with better feel, particularly in his first inning. There’s still a reliever look to him due to his delivery and mature physicality, but at age 16, so much will change that you can’t project that with certainty at this point, and Gaston has one of the most talented pure arms in the world at his age.

There generally is not a market for $2-plus million bonuses for 16-year-old pitchers, as teams tend to spend more on hitters. The track record of flame-throwing teenagers is not good. We consider Gaston to be a seven-figure talent but think many teams probably have him valued a bit lower than that because of the risk associated with his demographic. New Phillies RHP Starlyn Castillo is pretty similar to Gaston (we ranked Castillo 18th in the most recent July 2nd class) and he got $1.5 million, which is close to where we think Gaston’s bonus will be if teams engage in a bidding war for him after Mesa signs. Gaston was rumored to have a deal for that much or more with the Marlins around July 2nd, but it never materialized.

Victor Mesa, Jr. ran his 60-yard dash in the 6.9 second, which is average. He also showed a 55 arm and a linear swing geared more for contact. He’s 17, so there’s still room to project improvement based on maturing physicality, but he’s currently a tweener with hit and throw being his only above-average tools — and some scouts lower than that on the hit tool. On talent, we think he fits in the low, six-figure range.

Reading the Market

So what teams are best positioned to sign these guys? A glance at the market reveals that the Orioles have the biggest hard-capped pool amount remaining at about $6.7 million. That’s the most anyone can offer a single player, making any price that a team pays for Victor Victor a bargain compared to what he’d get in an open market. The Orioles ($6.7 mil) and Marlins — who just traded fringe pitching prospect Ryan Lillie to Cincinnati and reliever Kyle Barraclough to Washington in exchange for pool money — can offer the most at this point.

For reference, Jon Jay is a past-his-prime version of Mesa, and he garnered $4.4 million in 2018 ($3 mil plus what he earned in attained incentives) for his age-33 season. Victor Victor will likely get close to that amount, but represents six years of similar production instead of one and, at age 22, also possesses the possibility of turning into a better player than we’re projecting, He’d also be very marketable in Miami.

The Marlins, as noted, have made some moves to increase their pool size, and buzz among scouts and executives is that they’re looking to add all three players (the Mesa’s are likely to sign with the same team), which would cost at least $5 million, possibly over $6 million. The Orioles are obviously already in position to offer something like that, but that organization is currently in a state of flux due to the recent departures of the manager and GM, and you’d understand if the three Cubans would prefer a comparable offer from the Marlins. Thus, it seems reasonable that they’ll wait and see how much the Marlins can add to their pool.

As for what will be left over for the clubs that don’t land these Cubans, there’s some chatter among scouts that some clubs have deals with Mexican prospects who aren’t eligible to sign at the moment, as MLB has shut down the country to clubs for an unspecified period. If it doesn’t open before next July 2nd, then those clubs would have to find somewhere else to spend their pool money. We think they’d try to spread it around across several six-figure talents and that prospects in Asia may be targets.

There’s more intrigue surrounding this process due to the recent Sports Illustrated report regarding the U.S. Department of Justice investigation of MLB affairs in foreign countries. All three of these Cuban players are represented by Scott Shapiro and Barry Praver of Magnus Sports Agency. Praver and Shapiro once employed Bart Hernandez who in 2017 was convicted of illegally smuggling Cuban ballplayers to the U.S. via other countries.


The Astros Gave the Indians an All-Time Beating

We know half of the ALCS, as the Astros on Monday wrapped up a sweep of the Indians. And the way I see it, there are two ways you can read the brief series that was.

In one sense, the series was closer than it seems. Game 1 was tight until the bottom of the seventh. It was only then the Astros managed to pull away. Game 2 was decided by only two runs, and the Indians actually led into the bottom of the sixth. The contest turned on a Marwin Gonzalez double off Andrew Miller. And then even though Game 3 was a blowout, the Indians led into the top of the seventh. That catastrophic inning turned in part on an excuse-me ground-ball single. It turned in part on a throwing error on a would-be double play. It turned in part on a double well out of the zone that Marwin Gonzalez thought he fouled off. The score got out of hand, and it got there fast, but the Indians had it where they wanted it to be. It all unraveled in the last third of the game.

So based on one reading, the Indians could start, but they just couldn’t finish. Through the first six innings, they were outscored 7-5. Over the final three innings, they were outscored 14-1. It looks very bad, but it’s not like they were all laughers. At some point, the Indians were very much in every game.

Based on another, different reading, the Indians got destroyed. They didn’t even belong on the same baseball field. The Astros coasted to maybe the most lopsided series win in history.

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The Meaningless Cycle

Brock Holt had a fun night on Tuesday, recording four hits in the Red Sox’ commanding 16-1 victory over the Yankees in Game Three of the ALDS. Even more notable than the number of hits recorded by Holt was the type. He followed a fourth-inning single with a fourth-inning triple with an eighth-inning double with a ninth-inning home run. Put all those together and the result is the first cycle in postseason history.

A cycle obviously isn’t the most potent collection of four hits a batter can record. Replacing the single with a double would technically represent a “better” night at the plate. Replacing all the hits with four home runs wouldn’t be so bad, either. A cycle is fun, though. It’s impressive for its offensive impact and unusual for the distribution of hit types.

Brock Holt’s cycle, specifically, occurred in a blowout, so most of the component hits had little bearing on the Red Sox’ win. We’ll get to that in a bit. First, let’s take a look at why there have been no playoff cycles before this one.

For baseball to facilitate 100 years of postseason play without producing a single cycle seems odd. Consider, though, that the modern MLB season features around 2,400 games and that those 2,400 games have yielded only about three cycles per season this decade (and fewer in earlier eras). Meanwhile, there have been only about 1,500 playoff games. In other words, using historical averages, there’s still about a one-in-three chance of no cycles occurring across the entire swath of postseason history. Limiting the calculus to playoff games since 2010 — or roughly 300 postseason contests — there’s a two-in-three chance of zero cycles.

While Holt’s was the first official cycle, history has produced a number of close calls. A few searches of Baseball-Reference’s Play Index reveals 152 player games in which a batter finished one hit short of the cycle. Those hits are broken down as follows:

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The Rockies Were Bad and Still Almost Won

History won’t look back too kindly on the Rockies’ 2018 playoff run. They were outscored 13-2 in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers. They produced one of the most pitiful offensive performances in postseason history. All in all, it wasn’t a great success.

A look at the team’s lineup reveals that the performance wasn’t completely surprising, either. While the club’s .334 wOBA ranked (tied for) fourth in all of baseball, the Rockies’ hitting exploits were much less impressive after accounting for Coors Field. Indeed, their adjusted batting line placed them among the 10 worst teams in all of baseball by that measure. Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, and Trevor Story were the only qualified Rockies hitters to produce a 100 wRC+ or better. By definition, that left two-thirds of the lineup to below-average hitters. That was never going to be ideal, and it showed in their loss to the Brewers.

Nevertheless, the series was far from a blowout. Rockies pitchers, particularly the starters, fared well — especially considering that Kyle Freeland didn’t get a start in the series and Jon Gray, who faltered at the end of the season, wasn’t even part of the NLDS roster. Tyler Anderson, German Marquez, and Antonio Senzatela gave up just five runs in 16 innings, keeping things close enough for their teammates. Overall, Colorado trailed by more than two runs in just five of the 28 innings during which they batted. A bloop and a blast would have given Colorado the lead half of the time they stepped to the plate — and also would have tied the game on another eight occasions, as the graph below illustrates.

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Elegy for ’18 – Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays’ future is about to become the Blue Jays’ present.
(Photo: Tricia Hall)

Toronto flirted with contention in the early stages of the season, staying on the edges of the AL East race through the end of April. But then April showers brought May flowers — lilies — to the pitching staff and while the Jays never lost at the amusing rate of the Orioles, the patient was already in rigor mortis by midseason.

The Setup

The Blue Jays had high expectations going into the 2017 season. Not even expectations I can make fun of, given that the ZiPS projection system had them at 87 wins going into the regular season. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it still doesn’t seem like thinking the Jays had a good shot at the playoffs in 2017 was all that ludicrous a proposition.

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The Brewers’ Best Laid Plans Were Just Good Enough

For eight innings, everything went as planned for Craig Counsell and his Brewers in their NLDS Game One matchup against the Colorado Rockies. Their MVP homered. A non-traditional arrangement of pitchers got them to the ninth inning with a 2-0 lead. Their All-Star closer took the mound needing to record only three outs. It was, more or less, the ideal scenario.

Then things fell apart a little. The closer faltered, and the Rockies tied the score. Counsell was forced to adjust. In the end, everything worked out anyway. The Brewers won the game on their home field and took a 1-0 lead in their best-of-five battle against Colorado. The plan, ultimately, worked.

Let’s take a look at the finer points of that plan to get a sense of Counsell’s logic and the Brewers’ strengths.

The Starter

Ever since the Tampa Bay Rays used Sergio Romo in a one-inning start back in May, the idea of the opener has spread across the league. And while Brandon Woodruff’s appearance could easily have been mistaken for another example of that strategy — Woodruff recorded many more relief appearances (15) than starts this year (4) — that’s not how Craig Counsell saw it.

Said Counsell before the start of the game on Thursday:

I think from our perspective, Woody is — he’s not a reliever. He has the ability to do more than that, if that’s what the game calls for. So that’s — one, he’s throwing the ball really well and, two, I think he has the potential to do a little more than a reliever maybe.

Whatever the case, the decision paid off: Woodruff pumped upper-90s four-seamers and two-seamers to get batters out. The sinkers were a bit of a surprise — Woodruff had only used the pitch during one appearances all season, his final one against Detroit — but were also effective. Only one batter reached base over Woodruff’s first three innings of work — a first inning walk of DJ LeMahieu — and he was erased on a caught stealing. By the end of three complete, Woodruff had produced three strikeouts against one walk while throwing 71% fastballs. But the velocity appeared to be waning, as the graph below indicates.

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The Restoration of Dellin Betances

Although the Yankees ultimately put the A’s away by a somewhat lopsided margin, it was right in the middle that the A’s had some life. Luis Severino was surprisingly allowed to start the top of the fifth, and with the score then just 2-0, he gave up consecutive singles. Matt Chapman was due up. He’d be followed by Jed Lowrie. He’d be followed by Khris Davis. Aaron Boone went to his bullpen, with the game threatening to swing in the other direction. The pitcher he went to was Dellin Betances.

Within a few minutes, the inning was over, and the score was preserved. Betances went 1-2-3 again in the sixth, and then the Yankees pulled away. According to Win Probability Added, Betances wound up making the biggest positive contribution on the Yankees’ roster. Such territory was hardly uncharted; Betances was one of the best relievers in baseball for years. But in 2017, he lost the ballclub’s trust. Joe Girardi didn’t even use him in the wild-card game, and subsequent appearances were mostly low-leverage. A year ago, Betances had nobody’s faith. Wednesday, he was first out of the pen.

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Elegy for ’18 – New York Mets

The Mets had expectations coming into the season, but they whiffed on most of them.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

Some fanbases regard themselves as the best in baseball. Others pride themselves on their ability to hate anything, including Santa Claus. Still others are just a group of eight people cowering in the shadows of a creaky, nightmare-inducing home-run feature. But no fanbase does self-immolation like Mets fans, whose experience is one mostly of mind-numbing frustration peppered by only the occasional highlight.

That staring-into-middle-distance sadness is, of course, justified given the team’s history — and, more relevant to this post, the ups and downs and ups of 2018.

The Setup

New York’s 70-92 record in 2017, during which almost everything went wrong, was bleak enough to obscure the club’s recent success, including a World Series appearance in 2015 and return to playoffs in 2016.

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Yankees Defeat Surprising A’s Bullpen in Less Surprising Way

NEW YORK — It was a nice, tight AL Wild Card Game until Fernando Rodney showed up. Through five-and-a-half innings, the Yankees led the A’s 2-0 on the strength of a two-run first-inning homer by Aaron Judge off opener Liam Hendriks and an effectively wild four innings from Luis Severino, backed by a pair of dominant frames from Dellin Betances. The Oakland lineup had managed just two hits to that point while striking out 10 times, yet the A’s were still in the game thanks to the four scoreless innings they got from the two pitchers who followed Hendriks — namely, Lou Trivino (who matched his season high with three innings) and Shawn Kelley. A’s manager Bob Melvin, who had elected to bullpen his way through the game, had another decision to make with Judge, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton due up for the sixth.

He chose poorly. The much traveled 41-year-old Rodney, who had been acquired from the Twins on August 9, had not pitched particularly well for the A’s, turning in a 3.92 ERA and 4.52 FIP in 20.2 innings; in September, he was rocked for an 8.38 ERA while walking 10 in 9.2 innings. Melvin literally had half-a-dozen alternatives upon which to call for what might be the most daunting and important stretch left on the table. Nobody would have raised an eyebrow if he’d tabbed Jeurys Familia, Yusmeiro Petit, or rookie J.B. Wendelken, all of whom fared better than Rodney in September.

Rodney got a called strike on a first-pitch sinker, but his second offering was doubled down the right-field line by Judge. Two pitches later, Hicks doubled to center field, expanding the Yankees’ lead to 3-0. A wild pitch sent Hicks to third base as Stanton stepped in, and Melvin had no choice but to pull him and call upon Blake Treinen to save not the game but the season.

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Mookie Betts Is the WAR Champion of 2018

Before examining Mookie Betts and Mookie Betts’ excellent 2018 season in earnest, allow me first to address some claims I have no intention of making in what follows. I will not, for example, state definitively that Mookie Betts is the most talented player in the majors. I will not suggest that Betts ought obviously to be the MVP of the American League. I will not argue that Wins Above Replacement is an infallible measure of player value. I will also not contend that FanGraphs’ version of WAR is necessarily superior to others that exist.

What I will say is that WAR is a metric designed to account for the ways in which a player contributes on the field and to translate those various contributions into wins. While the methodology employed by FanGraphs differs slightly from the one used by Baseball-Reference, for instance, both are constructed with the same end in mind — namely, to estimate the value of a ballplayer relative to freely available talent. Each represents an attempt to answer a good question in a responsible way.

According to the version of WAR presented at this site, Betts was the major leagues’ most valuable player this year. By FanGraphs’ calculations, he was worth just over 10 wins relative to a replacement player. As Craig Edwards recently noted, that 10-win threshold is pretty significant: the “worst” player to reach it since the beginning of last century is Norm Cash. Cash, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, was more or less his era’s Mark Teixeira. Whatever one’s opinion of Mark Teixeira, it’s encouraging if he represents the floor for a player’s career projection. It’s difficult to record a 10-win season by accident. Mookie Betts is very good.

What follows is an account of how Betts produced those 10 wins — an anatomy, as it were, of a historically great season. By examining the constituent elements of WAR — and Betts’ performance in each category — it’s possible perhaps to arrive at a better sense of what is required for a player to distinguish himself amongst his peers. It might also possibly allows us to better appreciate what a special talent Betts has become.

Batting Runs: +62.2
The batting element of WAR is calculated, more or less, by translating all the hitterly events (walk, single, double, etc.) into runs. By this measure, Betts ranked second among all major leaguers behind Mike Trout — and finished just ahead of teammate J.D. Martinez.

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