The Semi-Punctual 2019 Mathematical Eliminatory

cannonball 1729

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All right....time for another year of lamenting the fallen! For the second year in a row, I'm releasing an album right during the height of elimination season, so I make no promises as to the punctuality of these writeups, but nevertheless...here we go....

25741

On August 9, the Orioles lost to the Astros by a score of 3-2 in a close and exciting game. After the game, manager Brandon Hyde was complimentary of his squad, noting that the O’s had “played a good baseball game [against a] tough team.” Indeed, Hyde's positivity was well-placed; there’s no shame in losing a squeaker to a juggernaut.

The next night, the Orioles lost to the Astros by a score of 23-2. Similar comments were not made by the manager after that game.

Such is life on a team deep in the throes of a rebuild. This season, the Orioles have flitted between looking sort of like a major league team and looking like an expansion team. Certainly, there have been rare bouts of competence, like their .500 July, or when the middle of the order (Mancini and Villar) is rolling, or any time John Means or pre-trade Andrew Cashner have taken the mound. Most of the rest of the year, though, has been a disaster; the Orioles have four months where they haven’t cracked ten wins, they’ve had three losing streaks of seven games or more (7, 8, and 10 games), and they’ve won one or fewer games against 10 of the 18 teams they’ve faced this year. They’ve lost by five or more runs 39 times, and they’re getting outscored by over two runs a game on average. The Orioles didn’t quite match the record that they set last year for earliest division elimination in history, but they’re only about a week behind that pace.

The biggest problem for the Orioles has undoubtedly been the pitching. The launch angle revolution has baseballs flying out of the park at unprecedented rates, and no team has borne the brunt of that change more than the O’s. So far, the Orioles have given up 261 home runs this season; in doing so, they’ve already set the record for most home runs in a season….and it’s only August. The O’s are currently on pace to give up almost 330 home runs, smashing the previous record by 70 home runs; their 61 home runs allowed to the Yankees also smashes the old “HR allowed to one team” record by 13, and also happens to be a big reason for the Yanks’ 16-game winning streak against the O’s. The Orioles’ current team ERA+ is 78, which is on par with some of the worst-pitching teams in history like the 1908 Highlanders, the 1962 Mets, and the 1939-40 St. Louis Browns; it’s no stretch to say that this year’s pitching staff is the worst in the history of the Baltimore Orioles.

And then, of course, there’s still the silly saga of Chris Davis. I suppose it doesn’t hurt a rebuilding team to pay a big salary for no production (it’s not like that salary is preventing them from signing someone, because no one will sign with them anyway), but….it’s still painful for O’s fans to watch the big first baseman who forgot how to hit. Last year, Davis cratered, hitting .168 with minimal power (28 extra-base hits) while cashing a check for $23 million from the Orioles. This year, he picked up where he left off….. literally; he began a hitless streak in September and continued it through the middle of April, eventually setting the record for longest hitless streak in MLB history. So far this year, Davis has “improved” to .177, although he’s down to 17 extra-base hits. For the first time, Davis even began to show some visible signs of frustration, leading to a verbal altercation in the dugout between Davis and the rookie manager in August. Not to worry, though – only three more years and $69 million left on that contract!

New GM Mike Elias has promised to bring in a new Orioles way with lots of statistics and video scouting, and after a gradual start, he’s ramped up the organizational turnover/purge as the season has gone on. VP of Baseball Operations Brady Anderson was slowly edged out over the course of the season, and in August, Elias fired a dozen top scouts (which has drawn a bit of concern as he hasn’t replaced them yet). He inherited a farm system that’s good but young; the top players are all at least three levels away from the bigs, and the top prospect of the system is recent-draftee and still-in-short-season-ball Adley Rutschman. There’s some reason for long-term optimism in Charm City, but between the eternal MASN fight with the Nationals, the fact that they’ve had four winning seasons out of the last 22, and a lingering city-wide pall from the whole Freddie Gray fiasco, Baltimoreans aren’t the most optimistic lot right now. For now, O’s fans may just have to amuse themselves with the barrage of souvenirs coming off of the bats of opposing hitters.

The O's last made the playoffs in 2016. Their last World Series was in 1983.

25742


Unlike other sports, MLB rebuilds are usually an attempt to turn over the roster without tanking it. Sure, refusing to tank may lead to a worse draft pick, but one player doesn’t make a team, and there are real financial costs to completely bottoming out – not to mention that establishing a losing culture isn’t exactly how you want your young core to develop.

It goes without saying, then, that when a team is on pace to win fewer than fifty games, something has gone a little bit wrong with the rebuild.

Entering the second year of the rebuild, GM Alex Avila decided that it was time to bring in some veteran presence to help the youngsters and give the Tigers a bit of respectability (also, veterans can be traded at the deadline). He signed middle infielders Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison from the Pirates to anchor the middle of the diamond, and starting pitchers Matt Moore and Tyson Ross were also added to bolster the otherwise young rotation. Certainly, these moves weren’t exactly a cue to start printing Tigers’ playoff tickets, but they would at least lend the Tigers some respectability as they spent the year trying to figure out which youngsters to keep and which to get rid of.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, all of those signings failed spectacularly, and all four have spent most of the season on the IL. Matt Moore looked dominant (posting a 0 ERA!) in his brief Tigers’ tenure; of course, that tenure lasted just ten innings before he was felled with a torn meniscus. The other three, however, have been both injured and bad, which is the worst of all worlds: Jordy Mercer has played 53 games and amassed a -0.1 WAR; Harrison posted a .176/.219/.265 line in 36 hapless games; and Ross went 1-5 with a 6.11 ERA before blowing out his right elbow.

Adding insult (and more injury) to literal injury, former Rookie of the Year Michael Fullmer was shut down in spring training to focus on his lower body mechanics, which apparently turned out to be a really odd euphemism for Tommy John surgery. Throw in Jordan Zimmerman’s complete collapse, and the Tigers were already down four starters by the end of April…which means that the Tigers have spent the season giving starts to pretty much anyone with a functioning arm, from overmatched AAA/AAAA players like Gregory Soto and Ryan Carpenter to over-the-hill castoffs like Edwin Jackson. As of now, Tigers starters have only won 19 games this year, which is just four more than ex-Tiger Justin Verlander has won all by himself for the Astros this season; in fact, from June 5 to July 3, Tigers' starters didn't win a single game. The surprise, then, isn’t that the Tigers’ pitching hasn’t been good – the surprise is that they haven’t been worse. Their surprisingly not-awful 94 ERA+ is a result of good seasons from the Matthew Boyd/Daniel Norris/Spencer Turnbull trio in the rotation, as well as (pre-trade) closer Shane Greene’s unwillingness to give up runs in the ninth inning.

The hitting, however, has had no such saving grace. The Tigers’ 77 OPS+ is 12 points clear of the next-worst AL team and is, in fact, much closer to awful historical comps like the 1955 Orioles and the 1979 A’s than any team playing in the American League today. This season, the Tigers’ lineup has featured exactly one player with a 100 OPS+ (Nicholas Castellanos)…and that player was sent to the Cubs at the deadline. Castellanos and Niko Goodrum are the only position players worth at least one win above replacement; in fact, Matt Moore, who pitched exactly ten innings this year, has a higher WAR than all but three of the 2019 Tigers’ position players. Tigers’ catchers have been particularly bad; they’ve actually been less valuable at the plate (.160/.216/.297) than Mets’ pitchers (.189/.224/.289) this season. There are any multitude of stats that one could use to explain just how bad the Tigers hitters are this year - they’re getting a .294 OPS from the leadoff spot and a .205 batting average from the #5 spot, they’ve scored more than four runs in just 28% of their games this year, they’re the only AL team to average less than one home run per game in the year of the juiced ball - but the bottom line is that the Tigers’ offense has been absolutely, unbelievably, historically bad.

And much like the Orioles, the Tigers also have an aging slugger who has turned into an albatross for the team. Miguel Cabrera, the greatest Tigers’ hitter in history, whom the Tigers acquired for Cameron Maybin/the terrible-starting-pitcher version of Andrew Miller/four guys you’ve never heard of, the guy who’s definitely going into the Hall of Fame with a Tigers’ hat on his plaque, the first triple crown winner in forty years….is currently a shell of his former self. He’s been battling leg issues all season that have sapped his power, which is a problem because he doesn’t exactly do anything else besides hit; a .280 batting average with nine home runs and 19 doubles isn’t going to provide a whole lot of value from a full-time DH. Five-and-a-half years ago, Cabrera was signed to an inexplicable $248 million contract extension through 2023 despite the fact that he still had two years left on his then-current deal; now, Cabrera has a persistent knee “soreness” that may never go away, which means that the Tigers are on the hook for $30+ million per year for a player who can’t hit for power or field any position. Cabrera had a nice dead-cat bounce last year, and he's beloved in Detroit, but now there’s not much he offers the Tigers except memories.

Detroit last won the World Series in 1984. They were last in the playoffs in 2014.
 
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JMDurron

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These are always enjoyable, thanks for posting whenever you can. There was one thing that confused me about the Orioles, though.

There’s some reason for long-term optimism in Charm City, but between the eternal MASN fight with the Nationals, the fact that they’ve had four winning seasons out of the last 23, and a lingering city-wide pall from the whole Freddie Gray fiasco, Baltimoreans aren’t the most optimistic lot right now.
If I count from 1997-2019, I see 6 winning seasons (1997, then 2012-2016), not 4, unless you mean something other than "above .500" when you say "winning seasons."
 

cannonball 1729

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These are always enjoyable, thanks for posting whenever you can. There was one thing that confused me about the Orioles, though.



If I count from 1997-2019, I see 6 winning seasons (1997, then 2012-2016), not 4, unless you mean something other than "above .500" when you say "winning seasons."
Should be 22. In 2015, they went 81-81.
 

donutogre

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Yay, this is always a good time.

Also, I cannot believe that Cabrera has four seasons left on that contract. FOUR. He's had a hell of a career, no disrespect for having hit the downside.... but yeesh. You'd think GMs would have learned about signing guys into their late 30s and and beyond, and yet... Bryce Harper. Anyhow. Looking forward to this bloodbath of a thread, Sox inevitable demise aside!
 

cannonball 1729

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Continuing onward

25761

One of the pieces of wisdom that every novelist or composer discovers is that the writing the beginning is much easier than writing the middle. Starting a work is (relatively) easy – you string together a few meaningful words or notes, or you introduce a few interesting characters, and you’re off to the races. The middle, on the other hand, is much more difficult – creating something new without uprooting what you’ve already done or falling into clichés is a narrow path to tread. The old saying in Hollywood is that "everyone has an idea for a movie"..…but that’s just the beginning; the good writers get paid for their ability to write an end.

In many ways, the same thing can be said about being a GM. In today’s baseball, turning a cellar-dweller into a contender doesn’t appear to be a ridiculously tall order, given that the Orioles, Royals, Astros, Pirates, Reds, Braves, Indians, Twins, Rockies, Athletics, Blue Jays, Cubs, Nationals, Mets, and Brewers (and probably others that I’m forgetting) have pulled themselves out of a tank and into the playoffs in this decade alone. Sure, there are teams that get lost in the desert like the Padres or Mariners or Marlins, but for the average GM, wiping the slate clean and building a contender is an achievable task. Keeping that team in contention, however, is another matter entirely; cheap players become expensive, and teams are forced to either expand payroll, find scrap-heap pickups, or somehow keep a pipeline of young players open (despite low draft picks and farm-sapping deadline deals).

The Royals are a great example of this maxim. Given a completely blank slate and years of high draft picks, Dayton Moore slowly built the Royals into a contender, eventually winning the 2014 AL pennant and the 2015 World Series crown. Then, tasked with the challenge of extending the window, the Royals completely whiffed, handing out ill-advised contracts to Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy, and Danny Duffy, and Salvador Perez , failing to find decent free agents, and letting the farm system go completely fallow. 2016 and 2017 saw the Royals descend into mediocrity (81-81 and 80-82, respectively), and 2018 saw Moore throw in the towel as the Royals descended back into the murk of triple-digit losses.

2019 has been a continued reckoning for the Royals’ recent missteps. The Royals are still paying $63 million a year for Gordon, Kennedy, Duffy, and Perez; for that money, Kennedy has been turned into a very expensive closer, Duffy has an ERA around 5 (and is injured), Gordon lost his power stroke, and Perez had Tommy John surgery. Having hamstrung themselves with such budgetary misfires, the Royals have had to go cheap with the rest of the roster, which is understandable..but it's not a formula for winning many baseball games. The good news is that Kansas City finally had the breakout performances by Hunter Dozier and Jorge Soler that they’ve been waiting for (and a less-expected one from pitcher Brad Keller); also Whit Merrifeld continues to hit, and the Royals have derricked their minor league system out from the depths of the league to somewhere around average. The bad news is pretty much everything else. Their lineup doesn’t hit for power (14th in the AL in home runs) or for anything else (14th in the AL in OPS+), their pitching staff can’t throw strikes (2nd in the AL in walks allowed, 1st in HBP), and their starters aren’t particularly good (tied for 4th in game score average) but are repeatedly hung out to dry by the offense (3rd in quality starts lost), the manager (3rd in bequeathed runners), and the bullpen (2nd in bequeathed runners scored, 2nd in relief losses, 11th in save percentage). Oh, and they’re not so good at fielding, either (10th in the AL in defensive efficiency). The Royals free agent signings, ostensibly signed to be flipped in July, were mostly washouts; Jake Diekman was the only major piece traded at the deadline, largely because offseason signings Billy Hamilton, Lucas Duda, and Chris Owings were released or waived.

The next few years will likely see a good bit of turnover, including a new ownership regime. Yet again, the Royals will go through some sort of Process, picking at the top of the draft, attempting to flip veterans for prospects, and generally waiting for the talent on the team to mature. Although a happy end to the Process 2.0 is far from guaranteed, the fact that Dayton Moore eventually found his way to the playoffs once gives hope that he can do it again. But is that what the new owners are even looking for? Would they be happy with two years of playoffs every decade, followed by a disastrous attempt to extend the window? Or will they look for someone who can write the beginning of the success story….and a middle?
 

cannonball 1729

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Shockingly, I think this one's actually punctual, since the Jays were eliminated tonight:

25798

Baseball rebuilds are like political revolutions: they’re far easier to start than they are to control. Three years ago, President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins decided that it was time to blow things up a little bit - but not completely; they would rebuild, sure, but they would still keep enough major pieces to roll out a team that Jays fans would come to watch. After all, the mini-run of playoff teams in 2015-16 had minted a whole lot of new Jays fans, and management didn’t want to chase those new fans off with a full-fledged tanking effort.

The problem is that it’s tough for a team to sort-of-tank because there’s so little room for error. If you’re trying to build a 100-win team and things go wrong, you still probably have an 80-90 win team; if you’re trying to build an 80-win team and things don’t work out, you’re in the cellar. Moreover, once things start to go wrong with a team whose best-case scenario was “feisty but not contending,” the white flag goes up in a hurry and players play accordingly. Sure, the Jays still had a top closer in Ken Giles; they had a rotation fronted by Marcus Strohman and Aaron Sanchez; and they had a lineup with a little bit of veteran thump (including Randall Grichuk, Justin Smoak, and Eric Sogard) and a cavalcade of young batsmen. But the Jays tumbled through a disastrous May, and once a team with limited firepower is pushed out of contention, there’s no coming back. In June, Sanchez noted, “It’s definitely different from being on teams where you’re expected to show up and win every night and do your part and then being on a team where, I don’t want to say it’s not expected, but it doesn’t matter if you do or don’t.” Sanchez may have been a walking example of the toll that losing takes; after two years of increasingly terrible pitching in Toronto (including a 6.07 ERA this year), Sanchez was traded at the deadline and immediately threw a no-hitter for the Astros with the help of former Jay Joe Biagini. (Of course, learning to throw a four-seamer up in the zone in Houston may have helped Sanchez, too.)

Whether because of the losing or some other reason, the Blue Jays have suffered underperformances all over the diamond. Young hitters like Teoscar Hernandez, Rowdy Tellez, and Danny Jansen all took huge steps backwards after breakout campaigns last year; Tellez was so lost (and so flummoxed by sliders up and in) that the Blue Jays sent him to AAA to sort things out. Justin Smoak has regressed back to a three-true-outcomes player, with his batting average going from .270 to .242 to .215 over the last three years. Randall Grichuk’s slugging has collapsed, and his fielding has gotten increasingly erratic, with this year’s fielding performance “highlighted” by his misplay of an Avisail Garcia pop-up into an inside-the-park home run. (Grichuk also just signed a five-year extension for $52 million. And he revealed himself to be very anti-batflip this year, which seems like a very un-Blue Jay position to hold.) The rotation has been a patchwork all season; Jays starters have thrown fewer than 80 pitches more often than any other AL team besides the Rays (who use starters a little differently), and they have the fourth-worst average game score in the AL.

All that being said…there are few teams with as many exciting young players as does Toronto. While the Jays’ season started in March, the buzz around the Jays’ season started in late-April when Vlad Guerrero, Jr. arrived in the big leagues and immediately started smashing the ball all over the park. He was joined in the Parade of Sons of Former Big Leaguers by Bo Bichette, who arrived in mid-July and has hit at an ungodly .328/.361/.613 pace ever since (even though he was the last out of a no-hitter two days ago). The list of highly touted under-26 Jays is lengthy, including Guerrero, Bichette, Telez, Jansen, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., in addition to 26-year-old Hernandez and 27-year-old Grichuk. (Not to mention mega-pitching prospect Nate Pearson rocketing up through the system.) What’s more, the Jays still have a few pieces to be traded; for instance, Ken Giles is a good bet to be dealt in the offseason (he would have been traded already if not for elbow inflammation in late July). If the Jays had announced three years ago that they were simply tanking for prospects, we would consider their roster turnover a success to this point, and between the young talented team and a #4 farm system, there’s no doubt that the Blue Jays future is bright. The whole “stay in contention while retooling” thing hasn’t quite worked out, but hey – if the young core can spark the next round of contention, all will be forgiven.

The Blue Jays last made the playoffs in 2016. Their last title was in 1993.
 
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cannonball 1729

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On Tuesday we added:

25836

It’s funny how some franchises always seem to have issues with their owners. The Marlins were founded under Wayne Huizenga, who would build the Marlins from expansion in 1993 to a title in 1997 and then, frustrated that South Florida hadn’t taken to the Marlins after exactly one winning season, immediately disband the team. The next ownership group was led by John Henry, but they quickly sold to Jeff Loria; Loria would build the team that would win a title in 2003 but would subsequently hold the club for a decade and a half and manage to anger nearly every interested party while acquiring a stadium and sending the bill to the city of Miami. After Loria sold the Marlins, the bar for the next ownership was very low, and if the new post-Loria owners were only marginally affable or vaguely committed to fielding a winner, they could have easily won over the Marlins’ few diehard fans…or at least reached a détente with them.

Instead, the Marlins got the Bruce Sherman/Derek Jeter team. Jeter/Sherman began their tenure by firing anything that was Marliny about the Marlins, getting rid of team ambassadors Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Jack McKeon, Tony Perez, and Billy the Marlin, as well as the home run statue in center field. Next, they traded away Giancarlo Stanton, JT Realmuto, Christian Yellich, and Marcell Ozuna, turning the Marlins into a Triple A team in a major league stadium. Of course, tearing down is always the easy option; it’s easy, it’s cheap, and it buys time for the front office since no one expects a teardown to bear fruit for 5-7 years. That the Marlins were bad last year was a foregone conclusion; that the fans would respond by staying away in droves was the obvious corollary; that the Marlins will get better is still an open question.

As of now, though, opinions of the Marlins’ firesale haul have been mixed. MiLB.com currently has their farm ranked fourth; Bleacher Report has them at 23rd. The bad news is that most of their trade chips are now cashed; this year their only available chips at the deadline were a decent middle reliever (Sergio Romo) and a negative-WAR second baseman (Starlin Castro). The Marlins’ system seems high on toolsy players, which means that the ceiling for future Marlins is very high but the floor is very low.

More concerningly, Jeter’s right-hand man, Gary Denbo, has chased a number of scouts out of the organization with his mercurial nature, his unwillingness to tolerate disagreement, and (oddly) his fat-shaming of scouts. Denbo has always been known as a good judge of talent, but his reputation for not playing well with others is long-standing and well-earned. Thanks to Gary, the Marlins even lost their affiliation with the single-A Greensboro Grasshoppers; according to Ken Rosenthal, Denbo demanded that Greensboro get rid of its bat-dogs (Greensboro uses dogs to fetch bats and carry buckets of balls to the umpires), leading the Grasshoppers to end their affiliation with the Marlins and prompting Grasshoppers GM to opine, “There must be only one guy in all of minor-league baseball who doesn’t like dogs.” Jeter has decided to take a more active role in curating a relationship with the minor league franchises, which is great, but there’s only so much he can do if Denbo is actively chasing franchisees off.

Long story short, the Marlins are currently terrible with an uncertain future. Through their first 41 games, the Marlins had the third-fewest runs scored of any team in the live-ball era ….and the two teams worse than the Marlins played in 1968, when run-scoring was so depressed that the mound was lowered at the end of the season. Their current OPS+ is 76, which puts them below such legendary teams as the 1962 Mets (82 OPS+) and the 119-loss 2003 Tigers (83 OPS+) and on par with the 2004 Diamondbacks team (77 OPS+) that somehow lost 111 games with both Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb in the rotation. The Marlins have scored two or fewer runs in 63 of their games; not surprisingly, the Fish have gone 3-60 in those games. The pitching looks competent only in comparison to the hitting, as their 91 ERA+ puts them at 14th in the NL. For the second straight year, the Marlins are flirting with the 10,000 fan per game attendance mark; they’re currently just above that number, but they’re in danger of becoming the first team with a four-digit attendance average since the 2004 Expos played out the string on their way to Washington. We’re still only two years into the rebuild, so there’s no reason to assume that all will end badly, but for a fanbase that hasn’t seen the playoffs since 2003, optimism is a tall order.

The Marlins last won the World Series in their most recent playoff appearance, which took place in 2003.
 

Mueller's Twin Grannies

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I know you're hard at work on other, more important stuff, but I think we lost more than just the Jays and Marlins recently... can't wait to read the writeups.

Great work, thank you!
 

E5 Yaz

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I know you're hard at work on other, more important stuff, but I think we lost more than just the Jays and Marlins recently... can't wait to read the writeups.

Great work, thank you!
Only you could make this post after the two preceding it ... from yesterday
 

cannonball 1729

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With this one, I should be all caught up - on Wednesday, the bulb went out for:

25858

Some of you might recall that the story of the 2018 Mariners was that of a mirage followed by a reckoning. The Mariners stormed out of the gate, buoyed by a wholly unsustainable record in one- and two-run-games; in the second half, that record normalized and the Mariners were overtaken by the A’s and Rays.

This year, the mirage only lasted fifteen games. From their early start in Tokyo all the way up to April 11, the Mariners were unstoppable, going 13-2 and outscoring their opponents 117-75. They set an MLB record by homering in each of the first fifteen games, and they set AL records by hitting 36 home runs and scoring 117 runs in that span. Since the start of the division era, there had been eight teams besides the ’19 Mariners who had won 13 or more of their first 15 games; of those eight teams, seven made the playoffs, and the eighth still managed to win 91 games.

Since the completion of that stretch, however, the Mariners have been on track for other types of history. At the end of April, the Mariners’ lost four games by scores of 15-1, 14-1, 6-5, and 11-0; the last time that a team had lost by double-digits in three out of four games was when the A’s did it back in ’90 - that would be 1890, when the A’s were the old Philadelphia A’s of the American Association. In July, the Mariners would be on the receiving end of a combined no-hitter by the Angels; less than a month later, the Mariners would be no-hit again by the Astros, becoming the first team in history to be on the receiving end of two combined no-hitters in a season. The Mariners’ defense is truly awful; through May 1, they were on pace to record the most errors in 40 years, and through May 30, they were on pace for the second-worst UZR since the stat began being tracked in 2003. Their 7-21 May and 45-81 post-hot-start won-loss marks aren’t record-breaking on their own, but the Mariners are still well on their way to becoming the worst 13-2-starting team in the division era.

The undoing for the Mariners this year has been the pitching – or perhaps the aforementioned fielding. The number of starters who started more than two games for the Mariners and posted an ERA+ above 100 is currently at one: Mike Leake, who now pitches for the Diamondbacks after a midseason relocation. Free agent signing Yusei Kikuchi, he of the 5.36 ERA, has been a disappointment, and Felix Hernandez’s greater-than-6 ERA indicates that he’s likely toast. So desperate was the Seattle rotation in June that the Mariners turned to the Rays’ famous “opener” model, and while the Mariners have indeed allowed fewer runs since that experiment began, June was also the point where the Mariners re-arranged their outfield and improved the defense from “historically bad” to “regular bad.” (Unfortunately, July happened to be the month where the Mariners stopped hitting.) Whatever the reason, the M’s have handed the ball to 17 different starting pitchers this year, and a team ERA+ of 87 indicates that whoever was given the ball had no idea what to do with it.

While the futility of 2019 may be disappointing for M’s fans, it’s not all that surprising, as it reflects a well-chronicled change in tactics by GM Jerry Dipoto. When he was hired, Dipoto made it clear that he didn’t think the Mariners needed to rebuild; he claimed that the Mariners were close enough to contention that just a few tweaks and smart pickups could build depth and push the M’s to the promised land. After three years of unsuccessfully attempting to do just that, Dipoto finally gave in and decided that, in fact, the dreaded rebuild was the best option. This offseason, Dipoto dealt ace James Paxton to the Yankees, closer Edwin Diaz and second base contract albatross Robinson Cano to the Mets, and shortstop Jean Segura to the Phillies. Later, they would add Jay Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion to the outgoing mail, and Mike Leake, Roenis Elias, and Hunter Strickland would also leave town at the trade deadline. Dipoto has now cleared the team of large salaries; next year, the only remaining players with 10+ million salaries will be Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager, and Yusei Kikuchi….and Gordon stands a good chance of being traded as well if the Mariners can find a taker for a light-hitting second baseman.

One of the problems Dipoto encountered in original plan to remake the team (which remains a problem for the current rebuild) is that he’s had to overcome the Mariners’ long history of draft ineptitude. Since Pat Gillick left the team in 2003, the Mariners have drafted exactly two players who have contributed at least 10 WAR to the club: Kyle Seager in 2009 and James Paxton in 2010. Their first round has been particularly abysmal; the last M’s first-rounder to record 10 WAR for any team was Brandon Morrow, who was picked in 2006…two picks before Clayton Kershaw, five before Tim Lincecum, and six before Max Scherzer. (The last first rounder to record 10 WAR for the Mariners was A-Rod, who was drafted when Kurt Cobain was still on tour.) It’s awfully hard to compete when the pipeline of cheap help and trade bait is cut off; it’s also tough to rebuild when the farm system isn’t giving the team much to rebuild around.

Whatever their previous drafting ills, the Mariners under Dipoto have done a creditable job restocking the farm; Bleacher Report, who had their system ranked 29th after last year’s deadline, now has them ranked 5th, which has to be one of the biggest one-season jumps in history. The rebuild is well on its way, with appropriately woeful major league results to show for it. In a few years, perhaps the Mariners may make a different kind of history; for now, Mariners fans, who haven’t seen their team in the playoffs since Ichiro was a rookie, will have to hold on to those first fifteen games of 2019. Maybe the M’s will sell “Fifteen Games to Glory” DVD’s?

The Mariners have never won a World Series. Their last playoff appearance was in 2001.
 

cannonball 1729

Well-Known Member
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Sep 8, 2005
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The Sticks
Well, before the inevitable Red Sox appearance, let's start getting rid of some of the backlog. As of Thursday, we had three more teams out:


25965

Sometimes, a franchise moves forward with trades, acquisitions, and drafts; other times, the move forward is simply a matter of better instruction. We tend to notice the former more than the latter, but often, the biggest move a franchise can make is simply a manager telling a young David Ortiz to stop trying to hit situationally and just swing away, or telling a Randy Johnson to intentionally hit the batter the next time he has a 3-0 count so he’ll stop being afraid of throwing inside, or a teammate telling Jose Bautista to try swinging earlier.

Last year, Lucas Giolito was the worst pitcher in baseball, posting the highest ERA in baseball amongst qualified starters. This year, he arrived at camp with a more compact delivery that simplified his release point and hid the ball better; he also learned to stop throwing his sinker, relying instead on his four-seamer and a newly-developed change-up. Suddenly, Giolito was one of the best pitchers in the game; after five rough starts at the beginning of the season, the lefty found his stride, and he’s had a 3.12 ERA since then. Giolito currently stands at sixth in the AL in (lowest) ERA, which is one of the most impressive year-to-year turnarounds by a pitcher in baseball history.

Last year, Yoan Moncada struck out over two hundred times; moreover, 85 of those were strikeouts looking, which was not just the highest total in the league but the highest total ever recorded. Pitchers pounded the zone against Moncada with fastballs, and Moncada’s unwillingness to swing put him consistently behind in counts. You might guess what a manager would tell Moncada upon seeing these stats, but “swing earlier and more often” is easier said than done. Nevertheless, Moncada did exactly that, and with a current slash line of .305/.362/.536, Moncada has blossomed into the hitter that the White Sox thought they had acquired from the Red Sox three years ago.

The most surprising story of all, though, might be Tim Anderson. Last year, Tim hit .240; in the offseason, most of the discussion about Tim Anderson revolved around the hope that the White Sox might sign Manny Machado and push Tim Anderson to, well, wherever it is that failed prospects go. At some point this winter, Anderson decided that he should try to focus more on hitting the ball into the middle of the field and stop changing his batting stance; somehow, that change added nearly 100 points to his batting average, and now Anderson is in the running for the AL batting crown. As an added bonus, Anderson has brought some swagger to the club, flipping his bat and flexing on home runs, occasionally getting in trouble for yelling bad words at opposing pitchers, and making the game a little more interesting for a team that has had a short supply of “interesting” over the last couple of years.

Now, three young players do not a franchise make (or four if you count the emerging but still-not-quite-where-they-want-him-to-be Eloy Jimenez)…but for a team that has struggled to develop young talent as much as the White Sox, this is an enormous breakthrough. In 2018, the Sox rebuilding project appeared to have stalled out; Giolito looked lost and broken, Moncada was a whiff machine with a clanktastic glove, and Anderson was a defense-only shortstop. White Sox development has lagged behind the rest of the league for years now, a deficiency that traces back to a kickback scandal ten years ago and continued through much of this decade with the White Sox unwillingness to modernize their scouting and development processes. GM Rick Hahn’s (and scouting director Chris Getz’s) biggest challenge was always going to be getting the White Sox development apparatuses up to the level of other teams; if these three or four players are any indication, it seems that they may finally be reaching that point.

If the White Sox are still several players short of contention (and they are), the White Sox have at least given the fans some individual performances to watch. There’s a good chance that Jose Abreu could win the RBI crown, and Tim Anderson could walk away with the batting title; basically, they’re a home run hitter away from winning (as a team) the Triple Crown, which is an interesting distinction for a team as far down in the standings as are the White Sox. Sure, the Pale Hose still have a whole lot more mountain to climb – they’re four starters short of a rotation, and some prospects have taken steps back (like Daniel Palka and his barely believable .019 batting average), and they may need someone to step up and compensate next year if Tim Anderson’s .390 BABIP turns out to be unsustainable - but this is the first time in years that the future has looked somewhat bright. Of course, a decade ago, the White Sox had young stars named Chris Sale, Adam Eaton, and Carlos Quentin and then ended up trading those stars when nothing else developed…..so future success is far from guaranteed.

The White Sox last made the playoffs in 2008. Their last World Series victory was in 2005.

25966

July of 2019 was one of the most momentous months in recent Angels’ memory. Entering July, the Angels were in the midst of one of their standard “win some, lose some” campaigns that they’ve so often endured over this decade. Their complacency would be shattered on July 1, however, when pitcher Tyler Skaggs passed away as the result of a drug overdose. After a dozen days of postponements, road games, an All-Star break, and Skaggs tributes throughout baseball, the Angels finally returned home; on July 13 (Skaggs’ 28th birthday), with the entire team clad in “Skaggs 45” jerseys and Skaggs’ mother throwing out the first pitch, the Angels held a pregame remembrance for Skaggs and then immediately – incredibly – threw a combined no-hitter against the Mariners.

Buoyed by the seemingly Hollywood-style script for the remembrance of their fallen friend, the Angels began to roll. They took five out of six across two series against the Mariners, split a series in Houston, and even swept a two-game series against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. When they returned to Anaheim at the end of the month, the Halos were clearly in position to make a run; just four games out of the wildcard race, the Angels had reached the easy part of the schedule with four upcoming games against the Orioles and three against the Tigers.

What followed in the opener against the Orioles was one of the wildest games of the 2019 season. The Angels would take the lead in the first, fall behind in the fifth, take the lead back in the seventh (on a misplay by center fielder Stevie Wilkerson), lose the lead in the eighth, and fall behind in the ninth before defensive replacement Brian Goodwin hit a solo home run to send the game into extra innings. After both teams went scoreless through the first five extra frames, the Angels put in starter Griffin Canning to start the 15th, and the Orioles struck for three runs in an inning that included two steals, a failed bunt, and an E1 on a pickoff. Not to worry, though – in the bottom of the inning, the Angels would strike back with three of their own, and they would just miss a fourth as David Fletcher was gunned down at the plate. Coming back out for the 16th, Canning allowed two more runs on a home run, and going into the bottom of the 16th, the Angels would have to make up a two-run deficit against….center fielder Stevie Wilkerson, whom the Orioles had brought on to pitch. Inexplicably, Wilkerson set down the Angels’ Brian Goodwin, Kole Calhoun, and Albert Pujols in order, never throwing a pitch faster than 56 mph in the process, thereby closing out a 10-8 Orioles' victory. Tanner Scott became first pitcher in decades to record a win after allowing three runs in the 15th or later. And Stevie Wilkerson became the first position player ever to record a save.

For whatever reason, this loss at the hands of a center fielder-turned-pitcher was the start of an Angels collapse. They would win just one of their four games against the Orioles and one of three against the Tigers. A seven-game losing streak against the Tigers, Indians, Reds, and Red Sox would follow, and by the time that losing streak had ended, the Angels were 11 games out of the wildcard and essentially done for the season. Since the start of that wild Orioles’ affair, the Angels are just 15-33.

Stepping back a bit, if one looks at the Angels season from 30,000 feet (and ignores the vicissitudes of the long season), they’ll notice that LAAoA have the same problem that they always have: a complete and total aversion to competent role players. Nearly every player on the Angels seems to be either a star player or a player who wouldn’t look out of place in Triple A. In the lineup, the Angels never have a problem filling four of the nine positions with big bats, but they also currently have five positions (C, 1B, 3B, SS, LF) where their hitting is well below that of a league average player at that position. The 2019 Angels have had a number of fairly competent starts by (when healthy) (or alive) Griffin Canning, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and Cam Bedrosian; on the other hand, they’ve had no fewer than fifty-nine starts made by a starter whose ERA is currently above 6 (Jose Suarez, Jaime Barra, Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Taylor Cole, Chris Stratton, and Nick Tropeano).

How one team can have the same problem over and over despite different general managers is a mystery, but “stars and scrubs” has consistently been the story of the Angels throughout the current decade. The good news is that a mediocre team with stars and scrubs is cheaper to upgrade than a mediocre team with no stars (since signing complementary players is more expensive than signing stars). The better news is that the stars are largely locked up, especially as Mike Trout won’t be going anywhere until 2030. The bad news is that the Angels haven’t shown themselves capable of fixing said problem, and their last major free agent foray/attempt-to-vault-themselves-into-the-Promised-Land netted them a dead albatross tied to the first base bag. The worse news is that the Angels play in a division with two playoff contenders and a possibly ascendant Rangers team. With the current assemblage of talent, the Angels fortunes will never be completely hopeless, but unless they can find a #4 starter or a #6 hitter, they’ll continue to mope around in the murk of mediocrity for the foreseeable future.

The Angels last made the playoffs in 2014. Their only championship came in 2002.

25970


“Coors Field, in a vacuum, is an offensive place to play,” Blackmon said. “The problem of playing there is it tears your body up. It’s pretty tough physically to play there.” As he summed things up a few minutes later, he shrugged. “It’s bad for your body.”

- Charlie Blackmon in The Athletic


The problem with the 2019 Rockies is the same problem that has always plagued the Rockies. Ever since their inception, the Rockies have searched for ways to combat the effects of high altitude. They’ve put baseballs in humidors; they’ve gone to six-man rotations; they’ve tried thirteen-man pitching staffs; they’ve constructed a hitting-first roster; they’ve constructed a pitching-first roster. It’s not that the Rockies have never had success; it’s that their success always seems transient and temporary, as though their solutions are merely plugs in a dam that always finds new places to spring leaks.

No player has been more emblematic of the home/road divide this year than Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies’ longtime leadoff hitter. At home, he’s hitting an incredible .391/.443/.753; on the road, he’s hitting an incredible (for different reasons) .256/.291/.420. That split between road OPS and total OPS is the largest since Chuck Klein took aim at the 280-foot right-field line at the Baker Bowl all the way back in 1933.

Complicating matters significantly, the pitching completely fell apart….but they did it in the opposite way from the hitting. At home, they had a 6.33 ERA; on the road, their ERA was a more respectable 4.89. A large part of the regression from last year to this came from Kyle Freeland’s collapse; he fell from fringe Cy Young contender to 7 ERA. Defrocked closer Wade Davis suffered a similar fate, watching his ERA balloon to 7.87, although his road ERA is just 3.50 (as opposed to 11.10 (!) at home). The biggest problem, though, is the collapse of the middle of the rotation; other than German Marquez (currently injured) and Jon Gray (also currently injured), no player has started more than five games for the Rockies and posted an ERA+ of more than 81.

All of that said, the Rockies were cruising along with their typical Rockies-esque high-offense season into late June, when they would have a fateful meeting with the Padres for one of the most Coors series (92 runs in four games) ever witnessed. After a win in game 1, the Rockies held an 11-4 lead going into the eighth inning of game 2 before the Padres scored one in the eighth, six in the ninth, and five in the twelfth to win the game 16-12. The Rockies would win game 3, but then the two teams staged a game 2 reprise in game 4, when a 13-8 Rockies lead going into the seventh set the stage for a huge Padre comeback, capped by a four-run ninth that gave the Padres a 14-13 victory. Although the Rockies split the series, Rockies fans and personalities began to see that as the series that got away, and many began to point to that as a turning point in the season. The Rockies would tread water for the next couple of series, but a collapse began in earnest on July 1 when the Rox embarked on a 6-19 July that marked the worst month in Rockies’ history. The Rockies’ July dropped them from contenders to last-place residents, and their 13-26 August and September have only been marginally better.

And once again, the Rockies are faced with the age-old Rockie question: how do you sustain success in high altitude? The Rox recent idea of filling the roster with young players (who can bounce back more easily in altitude) led them to the playoffs in each of the last two years, but young players also tend to be inconsistent, which appears to be what ailed the Rox this year. Of course, given that the Rockies have never had back-to-back postseason appearances before 2017-18, the mantra of "build around youth" seems to be working better than all of their previous team-building-mantras. That said, we still don't know if it's possible to have sustained success in Colorado; the altitude continues to tear people up (to borrow the phrasing of Mr. Blackmon), which makes constant roster turnover an unfortunate necessity. It's strange that MLB has a franchise whose location essentially ties one hand behind its back, but such is life in the bizarre baseball outpost of Colorado.

The Rockies have never won a World Series.