Miami Marlins Fire Mike Redmond and Hire GM Dan Jennings to Fill Role, Continuing Jeffrey Loria’s Incompetence

Miami Marlins Fire Mike Redmond and Hire GM Dan Jennings to Fill Role, Continuing Jeffrey Loria’s Incompetence

It has been announced that the Miami Marlins have fired manager Mike Redmond. This came on the heels of nearly getting no-hit by Shelby Miller, which was likely the last straw after a disappointing 16-22 start. Jeffrey Loria then added to his long, long list of terrible decisions by deciding to have his GM, Dan Jennings, step into the manager’s role.

Like I wrote in my Brewers post, firing a manager a month and a half into the season because the team is underperforming is asinine. It is impossible for a manager to have that big of an effect on his team over such a short period of time. The Marlins were not projected to be that good anyway. Firing Redmond because the front office believed the Marlins were a .500 team is not an indictment of Redmond, but of the front office’s ability to evaluate its own roster. Fangraphs had them projected as a 78-win team. They are currently on pace for 68 wins. They have some serious positive regression coming their way. I’d even go as far as to say that Marlins have been overperforming, all things considered.

The reasons why the Marlins have underperformed has nothing to do with Mike Redmond. Some of their best players have missed a ton of time. Christian Yelich and Henderson Álvarez have barely played. José Fernández, one of the best pitchers in baseball, is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

What was supposed to be one of the best outfields in baseball has been anything but. Yelich, as I mentioned, is on the DL. Although Giancarlo Stanton has been filling the highlight reels with his many tape measure home runs, he has not done as good of a job at filling the bases. He only has a .329 OBP so far this season. His .296 BABIP is low for him, though, so we’ll see some positive regression coming. Stanton has been more aggressive at the plate and, as a result, his contact rates have dropped. It could be small sample size, or it could be a real change in his approach at the plate. Only time will tell.

The slick fielding Marcell Ozuna has been especially disappointing this season. He had a great 2014, where he hit .269/.317/.455, which was good for a 114 wRC+, and his excellent center field defense contributed to his 4.5 WAR. Currently his defense is the most worrisome aspect of his game. He clearly gained weight during the off-season and it’s negatively impacting his speed and range. He also had a terrible April in which he had only a .312 wOBA. He has enjoyed some positive regression in May with a .346 wOBA, which has raised his season wOBA to .328. That’s actually right in line with his projections! However, his bad start obviously contributed to Redmond’s firing.

It’s not Redmond’s fault that he has gotten nothing from 1st base or catcher. It’s especially not his fault that prior to getting cut, Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s .063 BABIP had him rivaling Chase Utley for unluckiest player in baseball. It’s also not Redmond’s fault that Martín Prado has underperformed. He’s been ok at 3rd base, but he hasn’t hit at all. He wasn’t projected to be a league average hitter going into this season, but his current .294 wOBA is really bad. With him, other than a slightly low HR/FB, I see nothing wrong with his batted ball rates or plate discipline. His current struggles are nothing more than small sample size. He’ll bounce back to the .314 wOBA that he is projected to have. I don’t see how Redmond is to blame for any of that. He totally got screwed.

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Thoughts on the Departure of Bill Simmons from ESPN, Grantland,  and Sports Journalism in General

Thoughts on the Departure of Bill Simmons from ESPN, Grantland, and Sports Journalism in General

Yes, this is a site dedicated to baseball analysis, but I follow other sports too, and I just have too much to say on the topic to not write it down. I’m surprised I haven’t done something like this sooner. Obviously, everybody knows about the Simmons news. It’s being covered and speculated on everywhere.

I was shocked when I heard the news, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been. I had believed that Simmons was too important to the network for them to let him go, despite his history and the clear animosity growing between him and the network. I guess I just didn’t see the writings on the wall.

To my surprise, I am actually a Simmons fan, but have not been for that long, and also not as much as I used to be. I had only started following him about a year or two before he launched Grantland because, believe it or not, I just hadn’t heard of him before that. I was first introduced to Simmons on an episode of PTI. Yes, as embarrassing as it is to admit, I used to watch that show sometimes1. This was back before I actually engaged my brain when consuming sports content. I thought Simmons was smart, funny, and likable. The fact that he’s originally from my adopted home town of Boston was intriguing. I looked into him further and read his content, including some of his old stuff. I enjoyed it.

I had to start taking mass transit to work in late 2010, and eventually I wanted something different to listen to besides music. I ended up gravitating to podcasts, beginning with the B.S Report. I thought it was great, especially the basketball content. More than anything I just thought it was fun, which is what I believe is what made him so popular. His sports analysis has never come close to that of the level of the writers that he hired at Grantland, but he rarely said anything especially stupid, in my opinion, and his content frequently was fun and entertaining.

Simmons is why I checked out Grantland when it first debuted. Ironically, Simmons had nothing to do with why I continue to frequent that website. This is not meant as an insult, but his influence there seems invisible. His sports writers don’t write anything like him2. However, I do feel confident in crediting Simmons with being smart enough to hire the sports writers that he did. They are phenomenal. Say what you will about the man, but he knows talent when he sees it.

All Grantland’s sports writers are great, but Jonah Keri, Bill Barnwell, Zach Lowe, and Sean McIndoe are some of the best writers on their respective sports. I’ve mentioned Keri before on this website. He combines excellent baseball analysis with an almost child-like love for the game. He never comes off as pretentious or arrogant. I’ve mentioned Barnwell before, and he’s easily my favorite football writer. He provides excellent, objective, fact-based driven football analysis. I never miss his Monday morning columns during the season, and the Grantland NFL Podcast is currently my favorite overall podcast3. I’ve barely read McIndoe because, while I enjoy hockey, I barely follow it. However, what I’ve read from him is great.

As for Zach Lowe…wow, just wow. I was initially disappointed in his hire since I wanted Simmons to provide the basketball analysis for the site. Obviously he realized that between being the boss, his podcasts, and his work on the “30 for 30″ series, he just didn’t have time to devote to writing. Since I liked Keri and Barnwell so much, I gave Lowe a shot.

I was stunned. I used to be a big basketball fan as a kid, but nowadays I’m more of a casual fan. That being said, I was floored by the quality of Lowe’s content. Forgive me for the hyperbole, but Lowe is the greatest basketball writer on the face of the planet. The quality of his analysis is truly phenomenal. It’s the perfect blend of analytics and observational analysis. My thoughts when I first started reading his stuff: How can somebody possibly be THIS good? I regret that I don’t read him more. There are only so many hours in the day.

I believe that Grantland contains the best sports writing that you can read for free. It’s really pay-quality stuff, and Simmons made it happen. It’s far, far, far, far, far, far superior to the content that ESPN provides on its main site outside of the Insider paywall. Don’t misunderstand me, there are good writers on the free part of the main site. Unfortunately, there’s too much narrative driving, too much clickbait, too much news that isn’t news, and too much content from writers who’ve never bothered to learn how to analyze their respective sport.

And why is that? Because it gets clicks, which in turn generates revenue. Here’s the sad truth about the economics of journalism in the age of the internet: Good journalism is bad for business. People want juicy narratives and controversial topics and opinions. This is how Bleacher Report became successful. Good writing was eschewed in favor of whatever would get the most clicks. Articles were reverse-engineered from headlines. Content was generated for SEO optimization. How “good” a writer is was determined by the number of pageviews and comments. They generated tons of content from unpaid interns. It’s the journalistic equivalent of McDonalds.

The tragedy of it all is that it worked spectacularly well for Bleacher Report. They proved that the business model for journalism is broken. They were bought for $200 million and are now apart of Turner Sports. Also, thanks to TNT’s affiliation with the NBA, they’re a potential landing spot for Bill Simmons. They can certainly afford him!

Bleacher Report had reportedly gotten better in the past year or so. I checked out the website just now. I perused through a few MLB articles and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. It was quite good! It was far better than what you find on the free part of the main ESPN site, which gets to my main criticism of ESPN’s decision.

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Milwaukee Brewers Fire Manager Ron Roenicke, Hire Craig Counsell

Milwaukee Brewers Fire Manager Ron Roenicke, Hire Craig Counsell

The Milwaukee Brewers recently announced the firing of manager Ron Roenicke. This was immediately followed by the announcement of Craig Counsell to take his place. Presumably, Roenicke’s firing was the result of the Brewers 7-18 start.

None of this makes any sense, which isn’t surprising since the Brewers are one of poorer run organizations in MLB. It’s not the fact that Roenicke got fired at all that I find perplexing, because he was not a good manager, but the timing. Had Roenicke’s firing been the result of his entire body of work, which includes an embarrassing collapse at the end of last season, then the reasoning behind the timing of his firing would make more sense. However, the Brewers picked up Roenicke’s 2016 option before the season started. So by firing him now, the Brewers are basically conceding that they screwed up.

And boy did they screw up. First of all, although I was unable to find Roenicke’s salary, they’re on the hook for paying him for this season and next. The small-market Brewers cannot afford to be throwing money away like that. Secondly, firing a manager because of a poor start is asinine. If a team goes 7-18 in the middle of the season, it either gets unnoticed or downplayed, even if it’s a great team, and believe me it happens to great teams more often than you’d think. It’s folly to draw conclusions from arbitrary endpoints. As I’ve said before, variance and randomness are the most powerful forces in baseball. Winning streaks will happen to inferior teams, such as the Mets and Astros, and losing streaks will happen to superior teams, like the Nationals and Red Sox.

Streaks and arbitrary endpoints are just media-driven narratives. Sure, they can be fun and interesting, but ultimately, they’re meaningless. All that matters is what the team’s record is at the end of the season. It’s analogous to a state function in thermodynamics. It doesn’t matter how you get there. If a team finishes at .500, it doesn’t matter if they alternated wins and losses throughout the entire season, or if they won the first 81 games and dropped the next 81, or vice versa. At the end of the season all those results are the same. The only difference is in how it’s all perceived. To drive the point home even further, how a team finishes is perceived to be more important than how it starts. In other words, fans and the media will treat a team with 85 wins, just to pick an arbitrary number, better if they had a strong September than a team with the same amount of wins that had a poor September. But games count just as much in September as they do in April. A win is a win regardless of when it’s achieved. Again, it’s just narrative driven nonsense. The bottom line is that the Brewers grossly overreacted to a poor start.

Wait! It gets worse! Not only are the Brewers essentially blaming Roenicke for a poor record over only the first 25 games of the season, the team’s best two players have missed substantial time over that time period. Carlos Gómez missed two weeks due to a hamstring tear and Jonathan Lucroy is still on the DL with a broken toe. They only played together for 7 of those first 25 games. Going into this season, the Brewers were at best a decent but below average team. Take the two best players away from such a team and that team will start to suck very quickly. Earl Weaver or Whitey Herzog would not have been able to do any better with this team. Even if they could, it would take an entire season to see its effects. Regardless of how good or bad a manager is, his effects on a team over a 25 game sample is noise.

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports asked Brewers GM Doug Melvin if Roenicke had lost the clubhouse. This is what he said:

“I don’t think he lost them, but he and I sat down a few weeks ago. I said, ‘Ron, how do we stop these losing streaks, going 2-8, 1-9?’ I don’t know why that is. That’s what we’re going to find out, what Craig is going to find out. I know we don’t have a No. 1 starting pitcher like a Kershaw. But there is no reason we shouldn’t be better than 7-18.”

I don’t understand how in this day and age, with everything that we’ve learned about the game of baseball, how a GM does not understand the game better. A major league GM needs to understand how random and flukish the game can be. There’s no fixing a losing streak, especially when you don’t have your two best players. I am reminded of one of the most common clichés used by players in post-game interviews: You just have to take it one game at a time.

The above quote also shows that Melvin has a poor assessment of his team and a poor understanding of how much a manager affects outcomes. To top it all off, the Brewers have one of the worst farm systems in all of baseball as a result of consistently poor drafting. That’s especially bad for a low payroll team. These are all pretty damning indictments of Melvin’s competence.

Melvin didn’t really do anything to improve the team during the off-season. For all the problems that the team has, all Melvin did was upgrade at 1st base by acquiring Adam Lind. To be fair, it was a good upgrade. Last season 1st base was split between Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay, both of whom combined for replacement level play. Lind was sure to to be a 1-2 win upgrade, but he’s been so much more than that so far, and although he has been secretly very good the past couple of seasons, it’s not going to continue. His .369 BABIP and 20.7% HR/FB are not going to continue. Still, he’s likely to be a 2-3 WAR player this season this season, which makes for a nice acquisition given his $7.5 million salary.

Lind has a team option for next season. If the Brewers are going to tank (more on that shortly), then it would behoove them to try to move Lind as soon as possible before his performance regresses. He’s almost 32 years old and is clearly not going to be apart of the Brewers future. The farm system is barren, so anything they can get from a team with a need at 1B/DH would be beneficial.

The Brewers immediately announced the hiring of Craig Counsell to take over managerial duties. This hiring makes no sense. He’s stepping down from the front office to do a job that he has no experience doing. Counsell is very familiar with the minor leaguers in the system, but he has no real experience in developing players himself. Even if he did, he doesn’t have much to work with.

According to Rosenthal, Melvin told Counsell, “…to go out and win as many games as possible.” Either Melvin is clueless as to the state of his team, or he didn’t want to openly confess his desire to tank on the record. Regardless, tanking is the best way to go. The Brewers are currently 12.5 games back in the ultra competitive NL Central. Although I’m not a big fan of playoff odds so early in the season, their Fangraphs projected odds of a 1.3% chance to make the playoffs sounds about right to me.

It’s time to tear it down. The team doesn’t have the money to get the big free agents and they’ve got little in the minors. Carlos Gómez is 29, Ryan Braun is 31, and Jonathan Lucroy is 28. By the time the Brewers are competitive again, these players will be past their prime. Braun is probably already there. I understand that fans would be heartbroken to see these guys go1, but if the right trade offer comes in, the team should absolutely pull the trigger. Again, that’s only if the right offer is made. Don’t give these guys away.

It’s entirely possible that Counsell was hired as a cheap fill-in while the Brewers rebuild, not unlike Bo Porter was for the Astros. If he turns out to be good, keep him. Otherwise, get a better candidate for the managerial role once the Brewers are competitive again.

Regardless of what you think about Roenicke, Melvin was the one who gave him the players with which to work. He gave him no top-tier free agents, nor did he supply him with top-tier talent from the draft. When you’re running a small market, low payroll team, you have to be clever enough and shrewd enough to outsmart the competition. This is how Billy Beane and former Rays GM, and current Dodgers President, Andrew Friedman were successful with their respective teams. Perhaps the Brewers fired the wrong guy.

  1. Well, maybe not Braun. 
Baseball Reactions: Jimmy Rollins Leading Off, Cincinnati Reds, and Dee Gordon

Baseball Reactions: Jimmy Rollins Leading Off, Cincinnati Reds, and Dee Gordon

Why is Jimmy Rollins hitting lead-off?

I had heard before the season started that Dodgers manager Don Mattingly had made the decision to slot Rollins there and sure enough, he’s still there. Since it’s Don Mattinlgy, I’m not surprised. He was a great player back in the day, but has continually added to the mountain of evidence that having played doesn’t mean that you can manage1. Playing and managing are two different skills. Mattingly has shown time and time again that he is clueless when it comes to lineup construction, bullpen management, and in-game tactics in general.

Filling out the lineup card is said to be some sacred act by the manager with which nobody can interfere. This needs to stop. GMs need to find the courage to reign in their tactically incompetent managers. In any other line of work, employee incompetence reflects poorly on his manager. Why isn’t baseball the same way?

Dodgers President Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi, both new to the organization this year, come from a strong analytical background. Friedman used to be the Rays GM and Zaidi worked in the A’s analytics department. If not Friedman, then at least Zaidi must be cringing with the decisions that Mattingly makes.

Given their respective backgrounds, Zaidi challenging Mattingly is extra difficult. Mattingly was arguably a top ten player in the league during his prime. Zaidi, on the other hand, is likely perceived by his players as a nerd who doesn’t know anything because he never played. It’s a ridiculous perception that are strawman and tu quoque fallacies, but that’s the way players and coaches think. Maybe some day they’ll learn that analyzing the game and playing the game are two different skills. Regardless, at the end of the day, Zaidi is the boss. Mattingly is easily costing his team two games a year at the absolute minimum, possibly more, and that doesn’t even take into account his miscues in the playoffs. It won’t be easy, but Zaidi is just the kind of GM to hold his manager to a higher standard.

Back to Rollins, I can guess why Mattingly mistakenly believed that he was the best choice for the top of the lineup. Rollins has plenty of experience doing so and is still a good baserunner. Last season he stole 28 bases and had a 5.6 BsR, which was especially impressive as a 35 year-old shortstop. Mattingly still subscribes to the outdated, disproven belief that speed and good baserunning is the most important attribute for a leadoff hitter to have. It is not. Leadoff hitters, obviously, get more plate appearances than anybody else in the lineup, so a good OBP is especially important. As the saying goes, you can’t steal first.

Even in his prime, Rollins was never a high OBP guy. He only had an OBP above .340 twice in his career. Don’t get me wrong, an OBP that can best be described as above average is great when combined with great baserunning and defense at shortstop. Furthermore, an above average OBP combined with speed makes for a good leadoff hitter. Although Rollins is still a good baserunner, he just makes too many outs to be at the top of the lineup. Last season he had a mediocre .323 OBP. Going into this season, ZiPS had him projected at a .305 OBP. What’s the logic behind putting an out machine at the top of the lineup? Rollins is still a solid player overall, and I lauded the Dodgers for acquiring him, but he’s being misused as a leadoff guy.

Howie Kendrick is a significantly better option to be batting leadoff. He had a .347 OBP last season and that’s projected to be only slightly lower this year. You don’t normally put somebody with a .526 SLG at the top of the lineup, but that’s a total fluke. He’s hitting in a pitcher-friendly stadium and that 25% HR/FB is grossly unsustainable. He has a career .134 ISO and currently has a .231 ISO. It’s not going to continue. Put Kendrick at the top of the lineup and enjoy the extra runs.

Billy Hamilton, Joey Votto, and !@#$ Bryan !@#$ Price

Ok, since it’s been covered to death and is kind of old news at this point, I’ll only briefly discuss Reds manager Bryan Price’s profane tirade. I completely understand his frustration with the media, but he was wrong. You can’t get mad at reporters for reporting. It’s their job. While I believe that the value of a lot of baseball reporting is greatly diminished as a result of social media and the internet in general2, as long as Price’s employer chooses to continue its current relationship with press, Price needs to be professional and show those journalists some respect. Maybe since Price is so bad at his job, he believes that nobody should do their job well?

Take Billy Hamilton for example. Price is making the same mistake with him that Mattingly is making with Rollins. PECOTA projects him to have a .298 OBP and he had a .292 OBP last year. That sucks. Hamilton may literally be the fastest player to every play the game (seriously), but again, you can’t steal first. It makes no sense. Only Zack Cozart projects to have a lower OBP. Put him 8th. Dare the opposition to intentionally walk him in order to face the pitcher.

While we’re on the subject of Hamilton, I have to say that he’s turned out better than I thought he would. Going into last season, he appeared to have 20 power and was at risk for having an OBP that was much lower than it turned out to be, but would steal ~70-80 bases. Ironically, he ended doing better at the plate and worse on the base paths. He hit 6 home runs, and while his 79 wRC+ is really bad, it surpassed my expectations. He stole 56 bases but was caught 23 times. A 71% success rate is hurting more than it helps, although he still turned in an excellent 7.6 BsR.

Hamilton is likely not going to improve much offensively if at all, but he has made improvements in other aspects of his game. For one, his defense is getting better and better. He’s a converted center fielder who played the position well even when he was raw and inexperienced at it. He didn’t always take the best routes to the ball due to his inexperience, but was frequently able to make corrections because of his blazing speed. Hanging an 80 grade on any tool is an understatement in only the rarest of instances, but Hamilton’s speed is one of those instances. Hamilton has learned center field well and has become an excellent defender there. Last season he had 14 DRS and 20.1 UZR. His defense is really where most of his value came from, and he’s on pace to do even better this year. According to Fangraphs prospect writer Kiley McDaniel, Hamilton grades out as a 70 defender with a 50 arm. He’s not going to throw out a lot of runners, but range is far more important anyway.

The biggest improvement that Hamilton has made so far is with his baserunning. He has 13 stolen bases and has only been caught once. Furthermore, he currently has a 4.1 BsR. In April. That is ridiculous. Even if you project some regression, he’s still on track to add 2 WAR solely through his baserunning. That’s twice as good as the best baserunners generally do.

Back to Price, he is one of many managers who misuse his closer, and when that closer is Aroldis Chapman, that is especially egregious. Chapman has arguably the greatest fastball of all time and is coming off a season where he struck out a ridiculously, incomprehensibly absurd 52.5% of the batters he faced. Why restrict such a weapon for save situations? If you’re in a jam in the 8th, 7th, or even 6th inning, strikeouts are exactly what you need. A pitcher who has the rarest of abilities to be able to have a 50/50 shot at striking out a batter is the best way to put out a fire.

Price is going to lose games due his obstinacy over saving his closer for a save situation, if he hasn’t already. The NL central is going to be the most competitive division this year, and the Reds can ill afford to throw away games.

I will give Price one piece of credit. Batting Joey Votto second is exactly what he should be doing. It has been proven that the 2-hole is where you should be batting your best hitter3, and not third as it has been traditionally believed. You want to give Votto and his plus-.400 OBP as many plate appearances as possible. I’m not sure how a traditionalist like Price came to bat Votto second instead of third, but you have to give him credit for it. That small change can gain the team one extra win over the course of the season.

Dee Gordon: Another Who Shouldn’t be Leading Off

Are you detecting a theme here?

Dee Gordon is off to a torrid start this season, hitting .409/.418/.484, which is good for an excellent 150 wRC+. So what’s the problem with him leading off? If he were a true talent .418 OBP player then he’d be perfect to lead off, but he’s not. He finished last season with a mediocre .326 OBP and was projected to have a .311 OBP going into this season by PECOTA. Gordon’s current success can be chalked up to a ridiculously high .463 BABIP. His line drive rate is a little higher than normal, but that doesn’t explain what we’re seeing here. Of course, small sample size explains everything.

Remember, he pulled this same trick last year. Through April 2014, Gordon had a 143 wRC+, thanks in part to a .385 BABIP. He then turned in a 94 wRC+ the rest of the way. Simply put, he turned back into Dee Gordon.

I believe that Gordon is going to crash harder than simply a regression to the mean. It’s disturbing how he has been a non-factor on the base paths so far. He’s stolen 8 bases but has been caught 6 times. He currently has a -0.1 BsR. Furthermore, while he’s always been bad at drawing walks, his current walk rate is sitting at a paltry 3.0%. What I really find worrisome is that Gordon has turned into more of a hacker than ever. The percentage of balls outside of the strike zone that Gordon is swinging at has risen by 6.3% over the previous season. His swing rate overall has gone up by 8% over the previous season. It’s working out for him so far, his strikeout rate is actually sitting at 3% lower than his career rate, but I guarantee you that the opposition is going to discover this and adjust. Gordon’s free-swinging ways are going to start to cause him a lot of outs.

The other night, I was watching my Mets play the Marlins and heard the guys in the Mets booth praise Gordon for a great defensive play that he had made. It was a great play, but then they went on to credit Gordon for generally being a great defensive 2nd baseman. That part is just not true.

Gordon’s speed and athleticism tends to fool people into believing that he’s better with the glove than he really is. It’s similar to when people overrate Adam Jones’ defense. He’ll make great plays, but then he cancels them out with misplays, which for whatever reason people tend not to remember. However, Gordon has been more consistent in his defense so far this season. If he keeps it up, he may grade out as a plus defender in 2015.

Dee Gordon can be a useful baseball player. He needs to learn to take a walk and be more selective at the plate. Of course, he also needs to come out of his baserunning slump.


  1. One of the best examples of this was Ted Williams. He was arguably the greatest hitter of all time, but was a lousy manager. One of his problems was that hitting came so naturally to him that it was difficult for him to teach others. 
  2. That’s a post for another day. 
  3. The proof for this is contained in The Book by Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin. Don’t let the boring name fool you. This is one of the best books ever written on baseball strategy. If any manager actually followed the advice in this book, he could easily add 2-3 wins to his team. Maybe more. 

ESPN Releases its Top 100 Players in MLB

ESPN recently came out with its top 100 players going into the 2015 season. To accomplish this ranking, ESPN assembled a panel of 60 “experts” consisting of “writers, analysts, and contributors”. Players expected to miss the season due to injury were excluded. Contracts were ignored as well. The ranking was simply determined by expected 2015 performance.

I generally have zero interest in such things. Ranking players, power ranking teams, and just lists in general serve no purpose. It’s just clickbait intended to garner attention and get fans talking about it by getting fired up and arguing over it, as if such rankings carried any weight whatsoever. I don’t need anybody to rank players for me. Thanks to, I can watch them whenever I want, and thanks to Baseball Reference and Fangraphs, I can look up any stats that I want. Getting input from others is helpful, but in this day age comparing players to one another is not something for which you need to rely on others. Team power rankings are even worse. I just don’t get it. The only way to do that well is to go into depth on each team that you ranked in order to show why they’re ranked where they are. Nobody does that because, you know, that would be work. Even if they did, it’d probably be too long for anybody to want to read. Why work hard to get clicks when you can just throw out a top 10 list with little to no explanation given and still get clicks1?

I cannot for the life of me understand why people get so worked up about these rankings. Reasonable people can disagree on certain players. As for the unreasonable people, the people who unfortunately are most likely to complain in the comment section or social media, who cares what they think anyway? For those of you who get upset over disagreeable power rankings, you know MLB isn’t the BCS, right? Forgive me for stating something so blatantly obvious, but at the end of the season the teams that win the most will get into the playoffs. Things like run differential, strength of schedule, margins of victory, and people’s opinions have no weight on who gets into the post-season.

The one exception to all of this are prospect rankings. It is not possible for fans to evaluate and compare prospects. Even if you get out frequently to amateur and minor league games, it’s still unlikely that you’re seeing every legitimate prospect in the country. Most importantly, your average fan is not a trained, experienced talent evaluator. We need media scouts in order to inform us on who’s who in the prospect world, how they project, and they compare to each other.

Please don’t reward writer laziness by clicking on these rankings. The link I provided at the beginning of this post uses a free service from a website called Do Not Link. You can use it in order to provide a link to a site without giving it credit for the click.

So how did I come to this particular ranking when I hate rankings? I came across this article by David Schoenfield stating that the BBTN 100 overrated relievers. I was intrigued, so I clicked. Schoenfield continues to demonstrate that he has a firm grasp on modern baseball analysis. It was good content, but I was horrified by how highly relievers were rated on the list. The relief pitchers who made the list are the best relievers in baseball, but as I’ve said time and time again, even the best relievers just cannot compare to starting pitchers and position players. They just don’t get enough playing time. Dellin Betances led all relievers in Fangraphs WAR in 2014 with 3.1 WAR. That elite relief he provided was the equivalent of a full season of an above average position player. Among all players in baseball, his 3.1 WAR ranked 100.

Craig Kimbrel was the highest rated reliever on the list at #26. He rated one spot ahead of Carlos Gómez. I am not making this up. This panel would rather have 70 elite innings of pitching instead of a full season of an 80 defender in center field who has had a 130 wRC+ the last two seasons and who is projected to keep that going. Not even Dave Stewart nor Ruben Amaro Jr. would rather have Kimbrel over Gómez.

Schoenfield did an excellent job of breaking all this down, so I won’t steal his thunder, and I urge you to read what he wrote. If I were to do my own top 100 list, I can’t imagine that any reliever would be on it. Again, they just don’t pitch enough innings. Furthermore, their performances tend to be quite volatile from year to year, so making a prediction on their 2015 performance could be quite risky. Keep in mind that if any of these elite relievers were really that good, they’d be starters. Remember what Wade Davis was like as a starting pitcher? He had a whopping 5.92 RA9 in 2013 as a starter! That was with that Royals defense behind him, too! As a reliever, he was a world-destroyer with a 1.00 RA9 (though admittedly he has no chance of sustaining that in 2015).

Finally, when you’re in what can be described as the third dead-ball era, that diminishes the value of relief pitching even further. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still important, just not as much as when scoring was higher.

Dan Szymborski, inventor of the ZiPS projection system, also wrote up a criticism of the ESPN Top 100. He, too, also criticized the overrating of closers, though not as in-depth as Schoenfield2. If you look at a few of the players whose ranking he objected with, you’d find that the list also underrates defense. Carlos Gómez, Josh Donaldson, and Manny Machado, who are three of the best defenders in the game, are all underrated. Those who work in the media continue to underrate the value of defense. Since it is difficult to quantify, its impact is hard to perceive. We now know that even though it will never compare to the impact of a big bat, we know how much value defense has. We’ve known for a long time. It’s tough to take somebody seriously as a baseball expert who doesn’t understand this.

It would be easy for me to rip the baseball minds at ESPN who put this list together, but I don’t think that’s completely fair. For one, I feel bad doing so because even though the network has its share of sub-par analysts, I find them all to be nice, humble people. Regardless, the problem with the list is that we have no idea who contributed to it and why they made their choices. I’m not accusing anybody of mailing it in, but think about this: If you were tasked to the same thing anonymously without having to explain your reasoning at all, how much effort would you put in to it? How much effort would most people put in to it?

The whole list is just attention seeking clickbait. Before you say that I’m a hypocrite for complaining about a list when I disapproved of doing so, my point isn’t that Player X is overrated or underrated. My point is twofold: First, lists and rankings that don’t do an adequate job of explaining how they were constructed are pointless. If you go back and check out the ESPN ranking that I linked to in the beginning of this post, you’ll see that not one word was written about the choices. The only thing that is provided is a video clip that is 2:26 long and only discusses the top 10. What on earth are fans supposed to learn from this? Why read anything if you can’t learn something from it?

As to my second point, the media continues to overvalue closers and undervalue defense. To them, the plays that are most exciting are the ones that are perceived to have the most value. It’s really just one big appeal to emotion. However, we’ve known better for a long time. The defense alone of an elite defender can be of equal value to that of an elite closer. Those who continue to fail to understand how to properly value relief pitching and defense really need to get with the times.

At the end of the day, if you find this kind of content enjoyable, then fine. I really don’t want to tell people what they should and should not enjoy. Just understand what it is and, most importantly, don’t take it too seriously.

  1. Grantland’s Jonah Keri has a weekly column called “The 30” where he ranks all the teams in baseball. The thing is that it’s really just a framework for him to go into depth on three or four teams. It’s good stuff. 
  2. When Szymborki’s article first went up, I checked out the comments against my better judgement. I found two large comments by my first ever troll! She inspired this post by claiming there is no such thing as small sample size because she believes that math is an opinion! I’ve seen her once on Hardball Talk, too. Apparently she has nothing better to do with her time than to troll smart baseball writers with terrible arguments. Szymborki mentioned WAR in passing, so according to the commenter that means that’s all the article was about and decided to write a few hundred words about the subject across two comments. It’s not unlike my mentioning WAR in passing in a post that had nothing to do with the construct that also incurred her wrath. I didn’t read the comments on Szymborki’s article because I didn’t want my brain to melt, but apparently they have now been deleted! Which is hilarious! She just won’t rest until the whole world knows that Miguel Cabrera is the greatest player who ever lived! Can somebody try writing an article that doesn’t mention WAR at all but mentions an actual historic war and see if the commenter pops up? I wonder if she has ripped WAR on some history blogs about the Civil War or something. 
Baseball Reactions: Josh Harrison and Juan Lagares Extensions, Nelson Cruz’s Hot Start

Baseball Reactions: Josh Harrison and Juan Lagares Extensions, Nelson Cruz’s Hot Start

As I mentioned in my last post, baseball writing tends to suffer a dip in quality during the first couple of months of the season as a result of writers overreacting and trying to find meaning in small sample sizes. Of course, that doesn’t mean that good baseball writing can’t be done before June. Like Joe Sheehan mentioned in a recent newsletter, one thing that is fair game for analysis is usage patterns. I’d also like to add that roster and lineup construction are also fair game. Here, I’ll cover a couple of extensions and why Nelson Cruz won’t continue on his torrid pace.

Josh Harrison Signs Extension

The Pittsburgh Pirates recently signed Josh Harrison to a 4-year, $27.3 million extension that covers this season through 2018 with a team option for 2019.

My initial reaction when I first heard about this was to balk at it. It appeared to be an overreaction to Harrison’s outstanding 2014. Last season, he hit .315/.347/.490, good for a 137 wRC+ and 5.3 WAR. He’s also a good defender or better at multiple positions. It was a huge, breakout season for him. The problem is that, while he will certainly continue to excel in the field, his offense was the product of a grossly unsustainable .353 BABIP. In the three seasons prior, he was never even a league average hitter, and he only played more than 100 games once. On the surface, his 2014 looked like a complete fluke. However, I knew that the Pirates are smart organization with a terrific analytics department, so I decided to dig a little deeper to see if I had missed anything. I did.

I checked out Harrison’s batted ball data and found something interesting. In 2014, he increased his LD% by ~5% and decreased his GB% by ~6% compared to his career rates. That would explain the boost in hitting. In other words, his BABIP is still unsustainable, but not nearly to the degree that I had originally thought. Hitting more line drives and less ground balls will lead to a naturally higher BABIP compared to the league average. Harrison also increased his his walk rate to 4.0%, which is A.J Pierzynski bad, but still better than his career 2.6 BB% going into last season. Unfortunately, that also came with a 2.4% increase in his strikeout rate compared to that of his career. He was clearly being more aggressive at the plate, as evidenced by his lower contact rates and higher swinging strikes rates. He was always a free swinger, to be sure, but last season more than ever.

Harrison clearly made some adjustments going into 2014. Obviously he decided to be more aggressive at the plate, and he might have made some mechanical adjustments, although I don’t know for sure. While it’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that his BABIP wasn’t a complete fluke, just how much of it is the result of his speed and tendency to hit the ball hard?

I did a little research and found a fascinating answer. A newer stat that I only heard about last year holds some interesting insights. A stat called xBABIP has apparently been around for a few years, and has been undergoing further refinements and improvements since its introduction. It’s more predictive than BABIP because it uses batted ball data to estimate what a player’s BABIP should be. Of course it’s more complicated than just that. Click on the link above or here for more information.

According to a Fangraphs article that was written last year, Harrison’s xBABIP number states that his 2014 BABIP was not a fluke. Of course, sample size caveats apply, as a single season’s worth of balls put into play is a small sample. It’s reasonable to conclude that Harrison will still regress, but not nearly to the degree that it looks like on the surface.

When I first saw Harrison’s ZiPS projections before the season started, I thought they were optimistic. It valued him as a 3 WAR player, and evaluating him as a true-talent above-average player seemed optimistic. Well, after doing the work, I can see why ZiPS arrived at that projection. That’s why you should trust the projections.

I have to hand it to the analytically savvy Pirates. They called this one. A ~$6.8 million AAV for an above-average hitter who is a plus defender at 3rd base and can play multiple positions is a good value.

Juan Lagares Signs Extension

I don’t know if I love Lagares’ extension more as an analyst or a Mets fan. A 4-year, $23 million extension with a team option for 2020 is a very team-friendly deal for what Lagares has to offer.

Last season Lagares finally answered the question regarding whether or not he can hit enough to back up his monster defense. In fact, you can argue that he answered that question in 2013. I say that because his defense is truly phenomenal. He is a legit 80 defender in center field, and I doubt you’d find a scout that would say otherwise. When you’re that good of a defender at an up-the-middle position, the offensive bar is extremely low. In 2013, Lagares hit a paltry .242/.281/.352, which is worth only a 76 wRC+. Thanks to his defense, though, he was still a 3.5 WAR player that year!

If Lagares hadn’t improved his offense at all in 2014, I still would’ve approved of this extension. His defense alone is worth TWICE what they’re paying him. That’s not hyperbole, I’m serious. His defense is just that good and it’s a $5.75 million AAV. The fact of the matter is that last season Lagares improved his offense enough to be a league average hitter. However, that was achieved in part by a .341 BABIP. For now, ZiPS doesn’t believe that his true BABIP is that much lower than that and is projecting a .324 BABIP and an 85 wRC+ for 2015. That’s plenty of offense for the elite fielding he’ll provide.

If the Mets believe that Lagares is going to be a league average hitter, then they’re going to be disappointed. Fortunately for them, though, Lagares as he is now will return a tremendous amount of value for the Mets. Remember, also, that defense doesn’t slump. It’s the one thing you can count on in the random, chaotic game of baseball.

Oh, and as to my first statement, who am I kidding? I definitely love the extension more as a Mets fan.

Nelson Cruz Off to Another Hot Start

Really, it’s been a hot one week. Through his first five games, Cruz hit .200/.200/.350 with only 1 HR and no walks. Then he turned into a destroyer of worlds. Since the weak start, he has hit .464/.531/1.214 with 7 HR. That brought his current season line to .354/.404/.854 with 8 HR. He currently leads the league in home runs and slugging. He has already accumulated 1.1 WAR, which is really impressive when you remember that he’s a poor defender in right field1.

I hope that it’s obvious that I’m only bringing this up to show how unsustainable it is. Waving it all away with small sample size (SSS) is enough to defend that argument. If that’s not good enough for you, I would love to hear why you think that Cruz will continue to be 2001 Barry Bonds2, especially in spacious Safeco Field. Anyway, even though SSS is good enough, I’ll strengthen the argument even further.

Last season, Nelson also enjoyed a great start where he was significantly outperforming his true talent level through the first two months of the season. His .313/.379/.662 line with 19 HR through May was a function of a .324 BABIP and 27.9 % HR/FB. From the rest of the season on, he hit .249/.308/.451. In other words, he turned back into Nelson Cruz.

His hot start to this season is really just one awesome week, and in baseball anybody can have an awesome week. During this Bondsian week of his, he’s had a .429 BABIP and 53.8% HR/FB. I cannot put into words how grossly and ludicrously unsustainable that is. Do you really think over half of his fly balls are going to continue going over the fence? Do you really think the man with a career .299 BABIP is going to continue with a .429 BABIP? Crazy stuff like that is commonplace when you’re talking about minuscule sample sizes of one week. Also, the list of the pitchers off whom Cruz has homered can be found here. There are three lefties on that list and Brandon McCarthy was having a strange night when he gave up 2 HR to Cruz3.

Make no mistake about it, though, that Cruz has been a tremendous help to the Seattle Mariners so far. They may only be 5-7, but if not for Cruz’s performance they’d probably have one or two less wins. He’s already added 1 WAR to his preseason projections. While I still don’t like the signing for the Mariners, (remember that he’s 34 and signed to four years) if he turns back into Nelson Cruz today, he will have returned good value for the team. For this season, anyway.

  1. He already has a -3 DRS
  2. That’s not intended to be a steroids comment. 
  3. That night, McCarthy surrendered 4 HR in pitcher-friendly Dodgers Stadium, yet struck out 10 and walked nobody. Like I said, quite strange. 

Stop Overreacting to Small Sample Sizes!

We’re one week into the 2015 season and here are all the conclusions that are reasonable to draw about teams and players so far:

Yeah, that’s a whole lot of nothing.

The first 1.5-2 months of the season is when you see baseball writing at its worst. Even writers who should know better will try to draw meaning from small sample sizes (SSS). Nothing that has happened so far has any meaning whatsoever. Calling one week SSS is being too kind. It’s noise.

I was at the Angels game last night and overheard a gentleman nearby griping that Albert Pujols was only hitting ~.100. ZiPS projects Pujols to hit .274 this season and he hit .272 last year. I’m sure that had I asked the gentleman if he truly believed that Pujols’ current average was representative of how he will hit this season, he would’ve said no. Yet, his statement is representative of the kind of thinking we see all the time early in the season before the stats stabilize.

Even in his prime, I’m sure there were five game periods where Pujols hit .100 or less. Same can be said about Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, Tony Gwynn, or any prolific hitter. Baseball is crazy random and you can do amazing things with arbitrary endpoints.

The same thing is being done with team performance. ESPN’s Buster Olney, a writer who I like and respect very much, tweeted out his power rankings earlier today. I’ll discuss how little I think of power rankings in general another time.

Nationals at 9? If they were the best team in baseball heading into the season, then they still are one week into the season. I don’t care that they’re 2-4. Like with Pujols before, I’m sure there are many, many instances in major league history when the best regular season team had a six game stretch where they went 2-4. It probably happened more than once in a season!

Olney ranked the Braves at 10 because they’re 5-1. The Braves are going to be terrible this season. One good week doesn’t change anything. Their success so far can be attributed to an unsustainable .308 BABIP and a ludicrously unsustainable line of .405/.457/.571 with RISP. Like with the points I’ve already made, there are countless times in MLB history when a bad team went 5-1 over a six game span.

I don’t want to breakdown the entire list, so I’ll finish by saying that the Royals at 2 is baffling. So what if they’re 6-0? They are not going to continue to have the second best offense in baseball. They are benefitting from a ridiculous .340 BABIP, a 13.3% HR/FB, and a line of .355/.394/.677 with two outs and RISP. Remember, this team had a below average offense last season. To think that they’ve improved that drastically because of the result of six games is completely illogical.

If I had an editor that forced me to do power rankings, this is what I would do: I’d rank all thirty teams before the season started and, short of major injuries, not even think about changing anything until late May at the earliest. You just cannot logically conclude that teams are anything other than what they were projected to be without a significant sample size of games. Obviously I had to look up some stats for the purpose of this post, but normally I don’t check stats or standings until June.

As for player performance, trust the projections and trust the scouting. The great thing about scouting, especially, is that it is small sample size independent. It’s qualitative analysis so it’s not a slave to sample size like statistics are. Just remember that there’s a big difference between the eye of fan and that of a trained, experienced scout. I always defer to a scout.

It’s not completely fair to blame writers for this. It’s not like they can take April and May off during the season. Editors always need to fill column inches and get clicks. However, writing good pieces is still very possible, albeit more challenging. My next post will have such content.

The same thing happens every year. It’s only natural to want to glean some meaning from so little data. Writers and fans need to understand that you can’t learn anything new so early in the season. Curious about when the variation stabilizes in the numbers? It’s dependent on what stat it is. Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus researched this topic and you can find the results here. Click on that link if you’d like to learn what constitutes a significant sample size for many relevant stats.

Don’t concern yourself with the performances of any teams or players right now. There’s nothing to learn so early in the season. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy watching the greatest game on earth.