Archive | January 2015

Flawed MLB Format May Screw 2015 Padres

A Bad Jeff

Evil Jeff totes loves the current MLB format

Baseball is unique. Because of it’s relatively mellow nature, it can be played nearly every day for 5 months, producing large sample of data. But due to the flukey nature of a single baseball game’s outcome, the sport also happens to necessitate large sample sizes in order to determine which clubs are really better than others in a given season.

So not only can you play a 162 game schedule, you kind of need to, in order to determine who the best teams are. That is the purpose of the regular season afterall.

Unfortunately, the current playoff format, along with a weighted divisional schedule undermines the value of a large sample and could have serious implications for the 2015 Padres.

The Wild Card game provides a real incentive for winning your division, which is good. It levees a disadvantage to the Wild Card team that advances, which is good, too. It kickstarts the playoffs off with a thrilling winner-take-all contest, which is fantastic. The issue is that teams are awarded a spot in this game based on their win-loss record, but they’ve played totally different schedules.

Take 2015 for example.

Teams play 76 games against their own division and just 33 against each of the other two divisions in their league.

If you’re the Marlins and you added some helpful if deeply flawed pieces to a nice young core, you can consider yourself a contender because you get to play 57 games (nearly a third of your schedule) against the shaky Mets, the rebuilding Braves and the clueless Phillies. The 19 games against the Nationals are admittedly no picnic.

But if you’re the Padres, you play 38 games against the World Champion Giants, and the super-talented and super-funded Dodgers. In the NL West even the bad teams, the Diamondbacks and the Rockies, despite being no serious threat to make the playoffs, will at least cause problems for 38 games.

Again, the Padres play the NL East only 33 games compared to the Marlins’ 76. This means that in total, the divisionally weighted schedule accounts for 43 games where teams in different divisions see their schedules diverge.

Interleague play further piles on to the “strength of schedule” problem. The 2015 Marlins/Padres example doesn’t look too out of balance here (the Marlins play the AL East and the Padres play the AL West), but it adds another 20 games to the schedule where the two teams play different opponents.

That brings us to 63 games against competition that differs from the team you are directly competing with for a Wild Card spot. It’s safe to assume those 63 games affect playoff outcomes every season in at least one league. This imbalance, which is at extreme logical odds with the win-loss based assessment of who gets to go to the playoffs, shouldn’t exist. Furthermore, it doesn’t need to.

The only reason the schedules are so damn whacky in the first place is because of Interleague play, which MLB is convinced fans love. The debate over whether that is true is the topic for a different article, but suffice it to say that if people actually do like it, they probably wouldn’t if people actually understood what it’s costing the game.

If Interleague didn’t exist you could use the 20 games you’re currently wasting against teams against whom you aren’t even competing against for a playoff spot and say, play them against teams you actually ARE competing with for a playoff spot!

That would leave us with a 162 game season played against 14 opponents. That’s 11 games against each team in your league, with 8 left over. So you play 12 games against 8 teams and 11 against the rest. This of course also means that one team in each league would always be without an opponent. The solution? Give more days of rest for teams. I have a feeling three extra days off every month or so would be a welcome change for players.

A bit untidy? Yes. But not nearly as messy or stupid as adhering to a system where 38% of your schedule directly interferes with the goal of ensuring the best teams get in the playoffs.

For teams like the 2015 Padres, who are fringy contenders, this incredible imbalance could mean another year without post-season baseball. For the Marlins, it may provide a way to divert attention from five years of stringing fans along with a sequence of front office decisions that were not in the best interest of baseball, mixed in with the occasional bold-faced lie.

[RA ROWE]

Spreading out Football’s Entrails

What’s that familiar stench?

Sniff sniff… oh boy, looks like it’s Super Bowl time again. Every year I look forward to the Super Bowl because it is almost invariably a glorious rooster tail of diarrhea, a perfect picture of how worthless American Football is. And there is nothing I like better than to do play-by-play of the death of something shameful that people genuinely love. Let’s get straight to the action:

It’s been very well publicized that all but 11 minutes of an NFL broadcast consists of filler shots of standing around, fans, replays and commercials. So.many.commercials. My favorite pie chart in the world has my back on this one.

The idea that American Football is inhumane is also gaining traction in the form of many a brain injury study and an increasingly intelligent discussion and culture surrounding this major problem.

The NFL is simply an exploitative combat demonstration. It ravages it’s players minds and bodies to such an extent that a reasonable schedule of games cannot be played.

Why is that an issue? Because we want to watch the best athletes in the world play more than 16 days out of the year.

In a game like football, where your favorite star plays only half the game, on either offense or defense, and the game action is a total of 11 minutes, nobody actually plays football more than 6 minutes a week. Lolz, six!

Listen, if you can only play a game for 6 minutes, one day a week, for just 16 weeks a year, maybe you don’t have a sport yet. Maybe England got football right the first time.

In an average futbol season, your favorite player is on the pitch 90 minutes a game, 60 times a year. In American Football minutes, that’s the equivalent of 56 seasons. If you don’t feel you’re being swindled by now, you will soon.

If Russell Westbrook played for a playoff team in baseball he’d top 160 games, a basketball playoff team; around 100. And he sure as hell would play for more than 6 measly minutes.

Imagine if LeBron James only played one of every 5 games on the Cavs schedule and then only played 6 minutes before getting yanked off the court. People would be howling for him to get more playing time. But since the NFL is our sacred macho obsession, people laugh when you suggest the format is flawed.

But don’t worry, American Football will die.

American Football, unlike baseball or basketball has no counterculture among the younger generation of people who follow it. There is no intelligent discussion in American Football that rivals the modernity and vibrancy of the dialogue associated with the advanced stats communities, which have sprung up among MLB and NBA fans.

American Football is so saturated with dying macho “virtue” and unquestioning loyalty and science denial that it resembles a religion more than a sport, and lucky for every species on earth, those are all passing ever more swiftly from modern cultures around the globe.

American Football’s most ravenous fans are cavemen, relics of an epoch which celebrated playing through a quality-of-life threatening head injury as an ultimate feat of manliness. Those cavemen will be around for quite a while, but most of us will move on. And without a vital “new school” of thought to take the place of this throng of cock wavers, the cracks will begin to appear.

However, the NFL’s most destructive exodus will occur when, at some point, the players begin to opt out of their horrible conditions. The extremely poor pay compared with other sports, an almost total lack of guaranteed money, the destructive toll the game takes on the players bodies, and the unbelievable appeal of other sports will win out.

Adrian Peterson has said he wished he’d played baseball rather than Brute ball. I suspect many others feel the same way, but aren’t daft enough to say so publicly. Surely former NFL players, who’ve had their bodies and brains dismantled by a short, unprofitable stint in the league must privately advise younger men to reconsider. It’s only a matter of time.

When the players walk out, that is when the sport will truly crumble, because Americans refuse to watch an inferior product. We’re used to the best of the best.

Our baseball, basketball and even hockey league are unrivaled in the world. Conversely, our domestic futbol league, the MLS, has struggled to gain traction because we know it’s an inferior product. It’s glaringly obvious even to a newcomer. I myself became a futbol fan by watching the Premier League, which is widely regarded as the world’s most competitive league top to bottom.

Once American Football has been rinsed of everyone but brain damaged, second rate athletes with no other options, and once our culture has turned away much of the macho bullshit that the NFL feeds off, the only thing that will be left of the NFL will be owners and television executives clinging to something that used to make them lots and lots of money. Sounds a lot like cable to me, and we all know how that story ends.

It might take 30 years, but turn on the Super Bowl next Sunday and I guarantee you’ll see just how much water the NFL has already taken on.

For an extended look at how the Super Bowl is not about football, read my Super Bowl Preview from last year.

[RA ROWE]

Austin Hedges Won’t Hit

When baseball writers started watching Austin Hedges in preparation for the 2011 MLB Draft, pants began to tighten everywhere. If his elite defense and his 6-1 frame weren’t enough to send prospect analysts and pro scouts into full swoon mode, his makeup, work ethic and intelligence surely did. In fact, people got so carried away with all that was (and still is) right with Hedges, they thought, “well there’s no way he won’t figure out how to hit, he’s just so dreamy.”

After consistently underwhelming with the bat outside of a solid season in the Midwest League (full season single-A ball) in 2012, his face has appeared on the cover of Prospect Geek Tiger Beat less and less frequently.

People who are still bullish on Hedges often cite Yadier Molina as the example of a great defensive catcher who learned how to hit in the Major Leagues. I am here today to take exception with that stance and to explain why that will not happen with Hedges and how even if he improves at the same rate as Yadier Molina, that doesn’t mean he will become Yadier Molina.

The most important thing to consider when projecting the possibility that Austin Hedges will improve enough to be serviceable for the Padres, is the fundamental difference between his skill set and someone like Yadier Molina’s. The difference is simple but enormous.

Yadier Molina has the ability to hit the ball extraordinarily often and Austin Hedges does not.

In 2004, at age 21, Yadier Molina had 150 PA at AAA Memphis. He struck out less than 10% of the time. In his whole minor league career Yadi struck out in only 10.27% of his plate appearances. He always had the ability to make contact. He later translated that ability into the skill of making more meaningful contact, while playing at the Big League level.

This natural ability was the foundation of his progress. Hedges lacks that ability, that foundation.

Last year, at age 21, Austin Hedges struck out 19.5% of the time, twice as often as Molina at the same age, and at a lower level of the minors. This K rate pushed his career minor league mark to 17.6%. He is hitting the ball less often as he faces better pitching.

Molina slashed .281/.338/.373 in minor league ball. Hedges has managed .251/.311/.382. Once Yadi got to the big leagues his offense took a few years to improve to the level we hope, in our wildest dreams, that Hedges might attain.

Molina’s career line in the MLB is, however… awfully similar to his career minor league numbers.

Molina has slashed .284/.339/.402 for the Cardinals. Compared to his MiLB numbers, he’s essentially been flat in terms of BA and OBP, with a 7.8% improvement in slugging. Every player is different, but I think most analysts now agree that Hedges’ bat won’t progress significantly from where it is now. However, many think he has the ability to add power. So let’s be extremely generous for the purpose of this exercise and envision a situation where Hedges miraculously maintains his minor league AVG and OBP while also adding the same SLG boost that Molina achieved.

That puts Hedges at .251/.340/.412. If he gets there, his .742 OPS puts him at about the level of Wilin Rosario’s 2014 season at the plate. Combined with elite defense, we’re talking about him landing around 2 WAR.

Again, that is based on the most optimistic assessment of what is reasonably possible for Hedges.

But if you stray from the Molina comparison as I tend to, due to the fact that he is extremely unique, and you think more carefully about why catchers tend to develop more slowly at the plate, you run into another reason why Hedges probably won’t get better.

A lot of catchers do develop more slowly on offense, but why? It’s because they are busy learning to catch and throw and call a game. Now, I’m sure Hedges has had to come along in calling a game, but defensively he was touted as being near Major League ready on draft day. He simply didn’t have as much to learn as other prep backstops.

This means, that for much of his career, the emphasis with Hedges has been on progressing at the dish, rather than behind it. And he hasn’t, which is the next hole in the “he’ll hit” argument. As he has climbed the ladder, his production has gotten worse. He was 20% above average in 2012, 2% above average in 2013 before a short stint in AA. Then in his first meaningful sample at AA, he was 33% below average. For almost every hitter, entering the Major Leagues means another big divot in their numbers. Expecting Hedges to maintain that slash line I quoted earlier is at the precise edge of what is reasonable, but it is incredibly unlikely. He hasn’t even shown he can approach it at AA.

Now, it warrants mentioning that Hedges was 3.1 years younger than the weighted average of that league (per Baseball Reference). But time is about the only thing on Hedges’ side and people around baseball are steadily trickling off the bandwagon as they realize that.

In Kiley McDaniels’ recent article on Padres prospects over at Fangraphs, he included two troubling quotes from people outside of the Padres organization.

“(The bat) could be really light…I started to get nervous about the bat and wondered if he was even a big league backup”

“He’s more like Drew Butera than people want to admit.”

So I skated on over to Butera’s fangraphs page and noticed that in a taste of AA in 2008 very similar to Hedges’ own in 2014, Butera actually produced a season just 20% below average by wRC+, as compared with Hedges’ 33% below. Granted, Butera was 24 at the time, but the substance of the comparison is apt: Austin Hedges is probably not going to be a Major League regular.

While his defense is eye popping, having followed Hedges closely and having seen him flail at the plate in person several times over the last couple years has me thinking one thing: I don’t see it. It sounds like other people are realizing they don’t see it either. If you still think there is a chance, I’m sorry in advance for how disappointed you will almost asuredly be.

But let’s not fret too much. Let us instead adjust our gaze in the direction of Hunter Renfroe. It’s where all the loud sounds are coming from.

 

[R.A. ROWE]

 

Reflections on the Dawn of Preller

I don’t think I need to convince anyone of the upside the Padres have added this offseason.

If Justin Upton, Derek Norris and Matt Kemp produce at the same level as they did in 2014, they will be better than any Padres offensive top three since 2004, when Mark Loretta, Ryan Klesko and Phil Nevin all notched a 129 wRC+ or higher.

If Will Middlebrooks can turn himself around, he could provide as much offensive value as Pablo Sandoval did in 2014 (111 wRC+), while providing adequate defense.

Wil Myers clearly has the ability to be an All Star and produced near that level in the big leagues during his rookie season. Many attribute his down sophomore campaign to nagging injuries, and even typically conservative projection systems like Steamer, which can’t truly account for injuries, think he’ll bounce back significantly.

It’s obvious that this Padres roster has the potential to go to the postseason and it’s important to acknowledge that upside. But it’s equally important to acknowledge the risk associated with this upside.

Kemp has arthritic hips and his defensive stats caved in last season, even as he got better and better at the dish as the season wore on. And we had to give up some serious upside in Yasmani Grandal in order to bring him into the fold.

Norris was bad after the All Star break. As his BABIP regressed to the mean, his BB% was cut nearly in half and his ISO dropped over 100 points.

Middlebrooks and Myers may have produced the best seasons of their careers as rookies, and may never recapture their initial success, with the league having built an effective scouting report against them.

Upton stands a good chance of being a free agent at season’s end.

AJ Preller knows there is risk, but decided to take it on, in order to put together a roster with meaningful upside. The aggressiveness of the terraforming he has undertaken with the Padres forces us to see that he is not afraid to do so. And to me, that’s the real success of the Padres offseason.

Prior to what I have dubbed the Dawn of Preller (the flurry of activity AJ unleashed on the baseball world), the Padres had been obsessed with retaining as many safe, low ceiling players as possible, on the off chance that one of them might surprise us all by producing more than expected. Players like Jace Peterson, Joe Weiland and Reymond Fuentes were sure bets to be utility players, fifth starters and fourth outfielders with a slim chance to be slightly better than that, and that used to scare the Padres away from trading them.

Even scarier to part with were the prospects that had a chance to be above average because of their natural ability, but whom had never actually produced at any level. Players like Dustin Peterson and Max Fried would never have been traded for high upside talent, because of the remote chance they would figure out how to actually succeed in the game, instead of just impressing with raw ability and good bodies.

Regardless of how the team produces on the field this year, and regardless of whether Max Fried becomes a number two starter some day, Preller has demonstrated that he is not afraid of doing what is necessary (not just what is ideal) to generate a roster of major league talent with significant potential.

The end result is that now we get to worry about whether players like Myers, Kemp, Norris, Upton and Middlebrooks will do it again, or keep doing what they are doing, instead of wondering if players like Mallex Smith and Jake Bauers will ever do it at all.

That’s a damn good trade and a sign that the Dawn of Preller is truly upon us.

 

[RA Rowe]

 

 

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